Graham Harman at the Universität der Kunste

Last Monday I heard Graham Harman give the International Flusser Lecture in Berlin. The lecture was in German and for me as a non-native speaker somewhat hard to follow, but the present Germans loved it. ‘The English dominated academia’ seems to be problematic for them1.

Harman put Heidegger, McLuhan and Clement Greenberg through a comparison and treated their views on the surface of things and their essence. Greenberg sounded to have been thrown in to make a connection to the art world.

Given that being can only show itself on the surface, I started to wonder whether a object based approach to ANT borrowing from programming might not be a useful analogy? The links between objects are along API surfaces that can be made to interact with each other under certain circumstances. The trajectory of an object is its internal state. A state that is in a black box that we cannot access except through the API it exposes. We may be able to open the black box but that could have unintended consequences such as breakage or discovery.

A final example that Harman gave was about writing about something such as wine. He said that by putting it into a machine, you could get a definite analysis of the wine, but lose its essence. To me it seems that a wine writer, writes about wine for humans and a machine writes about wine for machines. Presupposing that the human’s point of view is the only one that is valid, devolves to the anthropocentrism that we had just left behind us. Of course, wine to a robot is something else than wine is to us, and robots may have electromagnetic pleasures that we in turn cannot fathom, but translations can always be made however much they lose of the ‘essence’ of the object (as translations always do).

Harman’s response dives back into qualia, something which I had hoped to avoid:

And because of the lecture I found this book New Materialism: Interviews and Cartographies and I’m looking forward to reading the interview with Manuel DeLanda that is in there.

  1. I have been in that conundrum myself and experienced that talking in English to a traditional German audience results in a > 75% loss of signal and a total negation of empathy.

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