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Are psychotic delusions real?

by on January 31, 2013

As I said before, I enjoyed Harman’s whirlwind tour through philosophy’s treatment of objects. I felt like I was being led toward some ultimate thrilling conclusion. But upon finishing this book, I feel rather let down. Harman’s theory of objects is quite brilliant and really clever at some points (I particularly enjoyed the way that he accounted for space, time, essence, and eidos), but he had to bend over backwards and contort into so many strange postures in order to make everything fit that I found myself quite skeptical of his whole argument. I grew tiresome of having to keep track of all of his bizarre permutations, and towards the end I just didn’t care anymore – it was all too much. I felt like he took a really good idea (rethinking the anthropocentric nature of philosophy) and backed himself further and further into a corner until he reached this esoteric, idiosyncratic model that overlooks everything that doesn’t fall into its object-obsessed domain. I am left with the lurking suspicion that there are countless phenomena that this theory cannot account for (for one, causality, as Harman openly admits on p.130). If this whole book was just the single sentence on p. 140: “The more important principle is to put object-object relations on exactly the same footing as subject-object relations,” I would be totally down with Harman here. Right on, this is an interesting, prescient idea. But it took so much contortionism to get there…perhaps I’m just not used to reading analytical, academic philosophy. I don’t plan on becoming a fan anytime soon.

But in struggling to grasp exactly what Harman was trying to say about the nature of the Universe, I was forced to think about what I hold to be true about the nature of the Universe. I am left unconvinced that objects are autonomous. Harman does not provide an adequate description of where objects begin and end. I don’t believe in objects. I remain a filthy undermining Monist. Everything is a constant continuous flux of a not-one One. I see no reason to suppose that objects exist apart from a single underlying substance. I think that Harman’s ethereal, ultimately unsatisfying conviction in the autonomy of particular objects is the result of the defensive structure of human consciousness (defensive against the impossibly overwhelming stimuli of the Universe). We exist in an infinite vacuum of space and time, and we have to organize things in a way that make sense to us. What we experience as a stadium has, from a truly objective viewpoint, no more right to be called a stadium than a pile of rubble. Unless we are being pragmatic, which I don’t think that Harman is doing. I think that like the idealists he opposes, Harman is still left unable to say anything about the universe not tinged by the defensive nature of the human psyche. In fact, I think that psychotic delusions may throw a wrench into his whole system. The nature of psychosis alerts us to the fact of just how highly filtered our perception of the universe is. Lacan explains psychosis as the lack of the “button-tie” – that is, the function, instated in early life, that serves to tie signifier to signified and allow language to create meaning. Without this button-tie, words cannot tie themselves to objects, and reality comes apart. Objects talk and live and behave in all sorts of ways that they don’t for “normal” people. What are the implications of this for Harman’s theory? Are psychotic delusions objects? I can’t even really begin to conceive…does anyone want to attempt thinking that through? I will at some point, just…not now.

In sum, what am I saying here…I think that speculation about objects outside of human perception is doomed to tie itself up into all sorts of crazy knots because objects (and for that matter, the Universe) simply don’t exist without a necessary defensive filter. I maintain a rather mystical cosmology: there’s no need to speculate any further about the Universe beyond the mind / Universe dichotomy, because that is the very structure of the Universe. Whatever applies on one level applies on all levels. As above, so below.



From → Quadruple Object

  1. jmdaven permalink

    The dialogue with Lacan here is interesting, and though I think Harman did not answer the relationship with psychoanalysis when he visited last semester, there seems to be some tension. What for instance would the Lacanian notion that “there is no other of the other” make of object-object relations? It seems that Lacan would accuse Harman of dogmatism, of having faith or speculating about a metalanguage that does not exist. I think for Harman a psychotic relation to an object would be as real as any other relation. The psychotic relation would be as much an object as anything else although how real it is would be more tricky. Here Harman’s opaque regulation of reality becomes more clear, for if Popeye isn’t real, then is my psychotic relation to a tree more or less real?

  2. Could not agree more! I cannot escape viewing reality as a unified plain. While the academic in me is naturally resistant to the mysticism often forced into a Monoist interpretation, I found Harman’s rejection as a willful resistance to science. Science has made enemies of theologians and philosophers alike by pulling such questions from philosophers who now feel slighted since the reality they have been bickering over for centuries is in fact reducible to levels that are completely indifferent to the lofty romanticism of intellect. Quite frankly, I see Object Oriented Ontology as being on par with Creationism as it seems to willfully reject modern science by trying to grant “greater meaning” to objects that are well understood in terms of basic physicality.

    Isn’t Harman just incessantly overmining the atom by claiming that it is not an object if connected to other atoms? It’s undermining to claim that atom is what defines an object if we are talking about a unified collection of many atoms that form a larger whole, but if the atom stands alone, then it suddenly is an object, and trying to understand it in electrons, neutrons, protons, quartz and strings is undermining that very same atom, but trying to claim that atom (let’s say it is hydrogen) is just a separated piece of a raindrop is then overmining again? Am I to believe that when several atoms are joined they suddenly take on a unified “consciousness” as some object? Wouldn’t that just imply a flat plain of reality as it is since all of said atoms just take on a singular whole anyway?

    By claiming that viewing objects in terms of molecular physicality somehow undermines the fabric of reality, which seems to be undeniably founded in these basic components of matter regardless, to me grants privilege to objects as they appear here and now, which again just brings us back to human privilege and a temporal sense entirely rooted in our perception of time, which science has already undeniably proven is relative to begin with. While I tremendously enjoyed many of the points Harman has made, I think his arguments ultimately fall back on that old religious trap of faith: we should have faith that an object has its own reality even if we can never have access to it. Spacious at best, regardless of how philosophically well informed Harman might be (which he undeniably is).

  3. I would think that the problem of psychotic delusion is greater for correlationism than for speculative realism. For OOO, there is a world of real objects that can have real relations with one another: even it it is only through sensual objects and even though those relations are always incomplete. So delusions are easily understood on a continuum of relations. Personally I am probably closer to Bryant or DeLanda or Latour in my own ontological perspective, but I recognize the problem Harman sees with the Deleuzian plane of consistency as it is often understood. I actually don’t see OOO as being in that much tension with contemporary science. I think that will be clearer when we read Morton. Though physics can search for a smallest particle in the universe, I don’t think it would claim that everything in the universe can be explained through that particle. I don’t think a physicist would argue that humans can be fully understood through an analysis of their atomic structures.

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