The significance of the Harman/Zizek “Duet+Duel” discussion.
The Irony of Biology and the Ontological Problem with Philosophy.
We are biological creatures. If we are anything more than biological creatures, then we have a problem, as Slovoj Zizek say, ‘something terrible happened’. Implicit to all philosophy is this disaster: Consciousness. To be absolutely proper, the issue of consciousness is transcendence, because without transcendence, nothing else appears. We can have no argument about what is true or more true, we cannot have issues over the use of discourse, we cant have humans making models that are only human models, we cannot have an essentially unknowable universe, we cannot even have immanence. The first problem of philosophy, the problem upon which all other philosophical problems exist, is the problem of transcendence. There must be something more than the human thought in order for there to be anything at all. This is the disaster.
When we grab hold of this, when we really absorb what this is meaning as we come across it, then we do find what is disastrous, because then we have to come clean and admit some stuff. We have to admit that the history of philosophy has been a coming to terms with transcendence, for one. It is not so much a coming to terms with immanence because, again, if we are truthful, the plight of all human endeavor has been a concern with getting things right, and immanence is an issue, a solution, about discrepancy, or disparities. If we like to think by an historical sensibility, transcendence must be prior to immanence, or, immanence was the state of thinking that was consistent with what we cannot know without the dependent transcendent clause. Perhaps it was ‘animal’, but even that is a transcendental thought.
Biology, even, is likewise a grounding that is based in transcendence; this is the irony of having human beings be first a biological creature. We must first be able to view ourselves as an object that is not exactly the special intelligent thinking being. Graham Harman solves this, or makes an approach upon this, by saying that human beings are not alone in their qualities of Being (ontological qualities), that we are having this problem not because we are undergoing some sort of test of progress, but because this is simply what universal Beings do, human beings are universal objects, and that all objects ‘think’ and ‘have sense’, and basically do all the things that human beings consider unique to themselves. And the significant aspect of all objects is that they withdraw from view.
This is the irony that philosophy has been dealing with since the dawn of reflective critical thought. In one way or another, philosophy has been attempting to nail down what thought is reflecting. Martin Heidegger comes to near the end of this effort when he asks us to ‘think what must be thought’. Like his tools, that which must be thought is the beginning of thinking and yet in the attempt to think this, itself withdraws. Harman caught onto this for his work, and it is this withdraw that forms the core of my work.
The problem with the Being-ness of philosophy, the ontology of philosophy itself, is that if pursued with unrelenting honesty, it brings itself to this cliff. We find ourselves at a point of fracture, a point when words leave us; if we are calling up the history of this event, and we consider historical events as indicators, informers, of this furthest event, then it often seems that we find ourselves not at a cliff so much as a crossroads.
There are many possibilities involved with what occurs, but perhaps the most significant for philosophy is the confrontation with transcendence. Whether it be logos, the unknowable absolute transcendent YWYH, spirits, devils or other supernatural entities, all must qualify as apsects of knowledge that arrive from what is ultimately foreign to us, to interact and allow us knowledge from that land beyond. Nevertheless, as philosophers of truth, we find that all these emanations of transcendence must be dissolved.
The problem behind these visitors is the sign, because the sign always points to what is beyond what is occurring. The sign typically and commonly takes what is actually occurring and displaces it such that what is actually occurring, what is occurring as and in knowledge, indicates something occurring elsewhere, for a larger purpose, significant in the Big, Big picture. We are not here to question if what we might find is true or false, but for philosophy, this following of the signs eventually leads to the place where the largest and most significant indication of beyond can no longer be displaced, no longer be held out for faith to apprehend and appropriate us to go somewhere else. For philosophy, we find that the most significant place to which the sign leads us is ironic.
This ironic place has, in our modern times, meant nowhere and nothingness. But what do we know of irony? What do the philosophers as old as Plato tell us of irony? They tell us that irony marks a significance of spirit. It is no wonder, then, that 3000 years after Plato that Heidegger talks about the destitution of spirit. This is because the crossroads of this moment no longer refer us to something ‘more true’; no longer do we get to sit comfortably in what is removed. We must confront our addiction to displacement.
We must accept that we are biological creatures.
Yet, then arriving here, we are left with a strange situation where what is innately transcendent in its operation has let us to knowledge of our own objectivity; we have been lead in a circle with definite conclusions that indicate something greater is at work. Where do we stop? Again: How do we know?
Philosophers call this kind of disappointment ‘disenchantment’, and Graham Harman makes a startling statement about this: He says we have always been disenchanted, that ‘history’ has not been moving progressively ‘toward anything.
Zizek and Harman “Duel+Duet”.)
I am not too sure exactly what he means by this, but I think if he means anything else, it should be that there is no progress in the sense of getting anywhere that we have brought about. What this means, then, is we have to re-approach what Heidegger says of technology (this could be why Harman has moved over to SciARC, an architecture school, that area between technology and subjectivity); it is not a s simple as talking about our relationship with technology as though we wouldn’d have to have a relationship with it in some manner. It is more a manner of accepting our relationship with it, of understanding how philosophical concepts are perhaps not so much technological tools to use, as distant objects to be ‘put to use’, but then also seeing that such a conceptual approach never occurs. Then the problem again reverts back to itself: This is exactly what will happen (displacement; changing the past) Human beings will take the ideas and put them to use as if they have been bestowed upon them from a transcendent ‘giver’ (who gives us what is philosophically given). We therefore cannot advocate some sort of progressive knowledge, cannot then say, with honesty, that we can have a discussion about what this means or what we should do with it: To do so makes a noticeable mark. And this is what is meant by disenchantment: This occurs all the time, at all times, we never get anywhere, and are not ‘learning something more’ about ourselves to thereby be able to move beyond (transcend) ourselves. No. We are merely doing what humanity does. Individual human Beings must necessarily transcend their situations all the time and they must see their subjective investment in terms of a larger progression that will pay off, even while we philosophers (as a minority group) with longing and forlornness must stay put, for, such individuation of meaning does not transcribe into a Hegelian History. We (as the larger group) are always positing a progress and even its fulfillment, but it never gets fulfilled, never comes to pass, yet always gets renegotiated in the context of passing, of fulfillment. But at the same time, we cannot stand this condition, and so, we ultimately forget about it, and behave as if we are moving in some direction, indeed; we appropriate the terms of discussion to indicate that we have a say in our future, and that this future is necessarily better, a progression, from where we were. We get what is discussed and use it to ignore what is happening at this moment for the sake of the teleology that is invested in the ontological act, the event of Being. We erect a condition that is problematic, and we move into the problem for the purpose of its own meaning. Then, whatever occurs, we create meaning around the event to justify ourselves as thoughtful and respectful agents of transcendence, regardless of what occurred. This is the meaning of ‘changing the past’ that Zizek talks about.
It is by this situation, the situation into which we have been lead philosophically, that we find, suddenly, out of nowhere, that we have the autonomous universal object in front of us. And due to this lack of conceptual reduction, the inability to apply what should be a necessary progress in knowledge that argues no progress being made, we have a necessity for two routes: The question that prompts “know thyself” that is at the heart of Philosophy.