Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Harman and Wittgenstein, a Quickie

I’ve been reading my way around (pp. 1-40 complete, dippings throughout the rest) in Graham Harman’s The Quadruple Object (originally published in French in 2010), a short dense book. Rather like Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (original German edition, 1921), perhaps my favorite work of philosophy. They’re similar in page count, c. 150 pp., which means the Wittgenstein is rather shorter as it’s published in German and English on facing pages. So it’s only 75 pages or so.

And in a radically different style. Wittgenstein’s text is written in short, often single sentence, paragraphs, which are individually numbered. As you move to the middle logical notation and truth tables appear. In the end, mysticism:
7 What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence.
Thus it came as something of a mild shock to see all the object language up front (note: I’ve not studied the book in over 30 years and have only skimmed it now):
2.01 A state of affairs (a state of things) is a combination of objects (things).

2.0123 If I know an object I also know all its possible occurrences in states of affairs.

2.014 Objects contain the possibility of all situations.

2.01 Objects are simple.

2.021 Objects make up the substance of the world. That is why they cannot be composite.

2.03 In a state of affairs objects fit into one another like the links of a chain.
I’ve left out much, and there is, of course more later. And all is subject to interpretation (what to make of 2.021?). Still, on the surface, a certain congeniality appears.

Then, way later, but before the mysticism (which enters consequent to 6.4), we have:
6.343 Mechanics is an attempt to construct according to a single plan all the true propositions that we need for the description.

6.3431 The laws of physics, with all their logical apparatus, still speak, however indirectly, about the objects of the world.
Note that 6.343 takes the form of a description, “this is what mechanics is.” Wittgenstein does not explicitly endorse that description. Nor does he deny it or endorse a possibly competing, possibly more comprehensive description. When it comes to talking of the world, one talks, ultimately, of mechanics.

Which is not AT ALL what Harman is up to. Not at all.

Might one then, somewhat quixotically, read Harman’s project as one of liberating (Wittgensteinian) objects from the prison house of mechanics and thereby allowing the many silent beings their voices?

Not a bad 89-year run.

I am aware, of course, that mystical experience is said to be, and in fact really is, ineffable. But I’m not aware that it is any more ineffable than the scent of a rose, or of piss, than the colors of the rising sun, or those of a rotting corpse, or the feel of a body majestically vaulting over a six meter bar, or crushed beneath a falling star. Is not all experience ineffable?

1 comment:

  1. ". . .
    so, so much talk to think. Survive.
    and silences convene, complacent.
    who are viscous with skin showing

    hands washed of the certainty of life after sex
    when death is pleasure's jealousy
    disspelled of all color and shadow."