Saturday, March 08, 2008

Weird Realism

A discussion of Harman, Heidegger, and Latour at Frieze.
Whereas continental philosophy has turned endlessly, and increasingly fruitlessly, around problems of human consciousness and language, Harman, along with a small group of other ‘speculative realist’ philosophers, including Ray Brassier and Quentin Meillassoux, is fascinated by non-human worlds, by the interactions of dust mites in a carpet as much as by the dark sides of planets on which no human foot will ever tread. Harman asks us to stop being anxious about what an object means for us, the way in which it is supposedly constructed and constituted by our minds, and consider the object itself, alluring in its partial opacity. He calls his work ‘weird realism’, and wants to attune us to the strangeness of objects once they are liberated from commonsense’s somnambulant gaze...

Deconstruction in particular preached against making definitive judgements about texts or artworks, favouring strategies of deferral and equivocation that suspended interpretative closure. The ostensible motivation for these evasions was a reverence for the irreducible complexities of the text. But instead of illuminating cultural objects, this often only obscured them; rather than engaging with the object, theory was induced into interminable meditations on how it was impossible to write about it. Harman shows that any encounter with an object must caricature it – but it is only through such caricaturing that a glimpse of the object’s hidden richness can be gleaned.

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