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Harman’s Tensions of Space and Time

by on January 31, 2013

As we discussed in class, Harman’s conceptions of  space and time seemed particularly problematic, and though the second half of his book  attempts to clarify his notion of  both, he fails to articulate a fully-thought or particularly strong description of either. In his quadruple ontology, time and space are two of the four “tensions” between the four “poles” that compose existence. Now the notion of “tension,” could perhaps be understood as a generalized relation, so that any relation between X quality and Y object must take the form of the particular tension Harman ascribes. If this is the case, then “tensions” such as space and time function as two of the four forms of object-quality relation. Specifically, time is the form of relation between Sensual Objects (SO) and Sensual Qualities (SQ). Space is the form of relation between Real Objects (RO) and Sensual Qualities (SQ).

By describing time and space as tensions, and thus as the forms of relation, Harman also indirectly gives them objecthood (p.116). For relations, even mental relations, for Harman are objects, however asymmetrical. As such tensions, space and time would also be objects. And as objects, they would follow the same quadruple polarization and tensions any other object does. It follows from this and Harman’s flat ontology, in which the inanimate interact or even perceive as much as humans do, that time and space would have to “perceive”(122) themselves as tensions. Moreover, time and space would have to exist as real objects, real qualities, sensual qualities, and sensual objects.

Perhaps more confusing than the objecthood of space and time, is Harman’s reduction of them to specific tensions with limited roles. For Harman, time is the “name for this tension between sensual objects and their sensual qualities” (100). Note that time here would have no function, no place, no relation to the real. Real objects and real qualities exist outside of this time relation, and yet somehow initiate relationships with the temporally determined sensual world. Furthermore, the “contiguous” relation between different sensual objects does not draw upon or exist in time either according to Harman, and neither would the “emanating” relationship between different sensual qualities.

Space for Harman likewise poses problems. Phrased as the site of “relation and non-relation” (100), the non-relation of space for Harman is much more a matter of degree than anything else. His argument that no spatial quality of any object can reveal the real object might be true, but space is not the only difference. Time here is equally in play. His choice of one over the other for this relation seems arbitrary. But his distinction that the real Osaka can never appear in any spatial quality, seems to point to the notion that the real Osaka is immaterial. He thus is left with two options: the first in which the real Osaka is spatially real and existent, and its self-withdrawal is simply a matter of being really inscrutably far away, or unrecognizable, or that the real Osaka is immaterial, and thus not too different from the Kant’s notion of the noumenal, beyond experience space and time can offer.


From → Quadruple Object

  1. 7sshare permalink

    Great dissection of Harman’s arguments here, really helps me to put everything into a critical perspective.

    “By describing time and space as tensions, and thus as the forms of relation, Harman also indirectly gives them objecthood” – I agree, but isn’t Harman explicitly NOT describing time and space as forms of relation (although certainly as tensions)? On page 100 he defines space as “site of relation and non-relation,” which would make space not just a regular old relation but something more complicated, which apparently warrants a different status in his metaphysics. It would seem to me that Harman is aware that it poses serious problems for his theory if time and space are taken to objects like anything else, and is perhaps bending over backwards here in order to avoid that.

  2. This post articulated so many of the of the arguments I had with this section, especially in relation to time being an object according to the definition Harman poses. Space being an area of “non-relation” was particularly troubling for me. Every point of space seems to have some relation to every other, even if that relation renders it inaccessible, so if we can have a non-relation with something that exists in space, wouldn’t that also imply that space can do away with an object’s Sensual Qualities? I’m not sure if this is on par with the idea of an object hidden from view (which is obviously real according to Harman), but for a non-relation to even be possible, wouldn’t that imply that a given amount of space can do away with Sensual Qualities at some point, thus meaning the object in question is not an object at all?
    Secondly, I can’t grasp how time is not in direct relation with Real Qualities, since time is the very force responsible for the slow change of Real Qualities. If the erosion of time on the face of the Sphinx causes grains of limestone to slowly flake off hasn’t that affected the Real Qualities? Maybe the better example is that of the half-life of a radioactive element. If a quantity of enriched uranium goes through half-lives, thus changing the Real Qualities of the object, isn’t that time’s affect? I can see that may not be the case since the object is still undeniably uranium, but it is still distinctly different. For that matter, wouldn’t arguing otherwise bring us back to reductionism since it would rely on the molecular stability of the remaining atoms which in turn undermines the object-hood of the initial quantity of uranium?

  3. I wonder if it is useful to think about real objects have an internal time. Since all objects are composed of other objects in relation to one another, those objects are producing sensual relations and thus time, inside the object.

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