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Lists, lists, lists, and other stuff

by on March 14, 2013

I definitely appreciate the practicality of Alien Phenomenology. Rather than just writing about some sort of impending or already-happening-but-mysteriously-elsewhere speculative turn in philosophy, Bogost is actually doing the speculation. I found his digressions into fields like photography and video games entertaining and illuminating. I was particularly interested in Bogost’s exploration of the rhetoric of lists. It’s something we’ve seen over and over again this semester in various readings, but Bogost tackles the list phenomenon explicitly. According to Bogost, lists serve to break up the illusory sense-making of literary prose and remind us that “no matter how fluidly a system may operate, its members nevertheless remain utterly isolated, mutual aliens” (40).  They represent an alternative to the representational character of narrative literature, which “acts as a correlationist amplifier.” So here we have a glimpse of an OOO poetics, in the form of lists. As dry and boring as this may seem to some, I think there’s actually a wide range of aesthetic possibility here. Lists of mutually exclusive but interactive units can work together to suggest rather than represent, in haiku-like fashion. Or the reader can be left to piece together and puzzle over the seemingly bizarre and arbitrary yet cleverly chosen group of terms that you’ve selected. Poems and short works in list form would be easy and fun enough, but perhaps someone skilled enough could write an entire novel in list form? Crazier things have been done. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if this has already been written.  

The kind of philosophy that Bogost and the rest of the OOO crowd is innovative and interesting. It is certainly time to remove humans from the center of the Universe and restore everything else to its rightful ontological equality. But there’s a reason why this hasn’t been done until now. Well, there are many reasons, but one in particular came to my mind when reading Bogost. We are interested in how other objects work to the benefit of humans because we are humans. This is obvious, I know, but I think it represents a real problem for the future of speculative realism. Sure, it is one thing to say that you care a whole lot about the way that bromide ions (or whatever) interact with one another on an ontological level, but do you really? Do you care enough to write a book about it, and would anyone read it? On the other hand, the structure of academia has already pushed scholars and scientists into devoting their careers to miniscule niches of the universe, things that few others would ever be interested in or read about without falling asleep. But maybe Bogost’s point here would be such people (say, marine biologists who devote their lives to studying the mating rituals of manatees) (or whatever) still need to remove their anthropomorphically-tinted glasses. But perhaps, with the impending ecological catastrophe that seems to have cued much of the speculative realist crowd, it is the time now more than ever to be totally anthropomorphic. Global warming is a human-centric problem, and humans are at the center of how it can be solved (if it can be solved). Humans and the way that everything else on planet Earth relates to humans is at issue right now.

Anyway, the point I originally intended to make in the above paragraph is that Bogost’s call for such a de-anthropomorphized philosophy seems unfeasible. If it doesn’t concern us, it wouldn’t concern us.

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From → Quadruple Object

3 Comments
  1. jmdaven permalink

    I did not find Bogost’s analysis of lists particularly illuminating, especially considering the amount he wrote about them compared to anything else in his book. I agree they have some potential, especially if say a machine could read, and enjoy, or even draw inanimate jouissance from such a list. What is more troubling is how a list could not represent? After all allusion still operates in the signifying realm. Bogost doesn’t convince me as to why lists should or need be read or treated much differently from a novel. After all lists are lists still for one, for man. This returns to our class discussion of the caramel coffee sale poster. A list or a poster is not a list or a poster to a slug. to remain thinking the list as a list is to remain in some anthropocentric field, and simply acknowledging this does not mean that one has exited or moved beyond this ideology. The problem is unsolved, indeed it seems he and other OOO thinkers fall even deeper into ideology in the mere thought that they can or have escaped it. Lists separate, individuate, differentiate, and divide. And they do so specifically from the human point of view.

  2. On the level of semantics, I agree that lists are absolutely still anthropocentric, but I thought Bogost’s point was that a list symbolically demonstrates (I wasn’t clear if he felt that it literally demonstrates) the isolated qualities of signifiers in similar fashion to the isolated qualities of the signified object (this is the main point that I took from it: that the human concept of signifiers also alludes to the qualities of withdrawal of objects by way of semantically representing that isolation through textually distinct concepts… I hope that made some kind of sense). I didn’t interpret Bogost’s point as saying that lists were a way of transcending this anthropocentrism, but rather that our concepts acknowledge this inherit separation, even if we use lists as a way of combining concepts (which can’t be done even in the symbolism of language, since the word “peach” cannot mean both “peach” and “apple” in the same sentence, or any sentence. For that matter, even if just an established mechanical norm, the distinct members of a list are only rendered distinct by use of commas or conjunctions, still pointing to a semantic necessity of representing their fundamental separateness or withdrawal from each other). In a way, I guess I kind of saw lists as an example of OOO currently in practice, even if unconsciously so, and that even our conceptualizations maintain this fundamental detachment of everything.

  3. It is important remember that the point of OOO is not to circumvent anthropocentrism but rather to recognize that humans are not exceptional in experiencing this self-centered orientation: all objects encounter the world in terms of themselves.

    As for the lists, my understanding of this is as a rhetorical/stylistic device, one that is certainly “for humans,” one that is designed to disrupt conventional human-oriented thinking. Morton will also address this. We can certainly disagree about the rhetorical effectiveness of Latourian litanies, and no doubt they lose their power as we become familiar with them (the fate of all rhetorical tropes).

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