tracing thoughts

The most exciting ideas, the ones that lure with a tantalizing vagueness as a rule solicit and, what is more, outright impose a demand on every inquiring mind. These kind of ideas are (like) objects that show only a partial aspect of their bodies and overall are almost entirely withdrawn. You have the general contours but without the flesh, a faint outline without texture. When in your mind’s eye you glimpse a facet of these delicate yet elusive objects you are called and, in effect, drawn to untangle all of the mesh of their flailing filaments in the pursuit of the shining, radiating body hiding beneath them. Basically, the core of an idea is approached through the constant testing and experimentation with the hints its extended application entails.

One characteristic feature of this pursuit is that the alternative horizon that a novel idea brings with itself gradually infiltrates and permeates my previous horizons of understanding, or to use another metaphor, as the new idea gets grafted onto the stock of my older ideas and beliefs in merging with them it yields new aspects of those ideas and beliefs and perhaps even new branches growing out of them. Now, whether (these) ideas are awaiting their gradual (yet never complete) disclosure or are involved in the very act of their articulation (or mining) and thus continually grow and evolve is an open question from my perspective. Similarly, the actual number of concurrent ideas an individual may simultaneously entertain (if not probably one central governing one that shapeshifts somewhat all the time it encounters and blends with other ones), remains a mystery too. The only certain thing that seems to characterize this dynamic in my mind is the general way this process unfolds. The invite of the partial purchase on offer ignites the explorative movements after the traces one senses. The trajectory of this tracking activity is propelled by the engine of the felt sense of not-quite-there-yet which is coupled with the collateral sense of almost-already-there.

Here, in explaining the sensual aspect inolved I think it might be helpful to invoke JJ. Gibson’s (the famous ecological psychologist) idea of affordances. Tersely put, the idea behind affordances is direct perception or perception for action. What we perceive is not something ‘out there’ which is represented and then subsequently interpreted within the mind of the perceiver but rather is already an opportunity for action. The distinction between subject and object becomes meaningless in the framework of this idea, since perception is not about mirroring the things in the world but about sensing things in terms of action. We perceive stuff in order to do things, that is, we perceive affordances.

By invoking the idea of affordances in the context of the allure of ideas is to suggest that we perceive affordances not only in physical terms but in affective and conceptual terms as well. An idea affords certain actions for thought just as an affront affords certain emotional re-actions (ego-defence) in the individual or as a pavement affords
walking, the only difference being immediacy and intensity through these (ever-abstract) scales. We can grasp an idea only if it affords some kind of sense, and the more clear and more coherent it is the more compelling it will be. Vagueness can also be compelling, though, or rather, quite impelling as I have implied. It’s a matter of intuitions perhaps.

Now, as an example let’s take Graham Harman’s idea about objects in his object oriented philosophy (otherwise known as OOO). (In point of fact, it would be rather interesting to apply Graham Harman’s ideas to all this, wherein ideas could be seen as sensual objects with an entailed horizon of vague conceptual affordances). Harman’s main intuition, the thread that lures him ever deeper into untangling the phenomenal mesh is the idea that all there is is objects all the way up and all the way down (well beyond the phenomenal mesh as well). Even the human subject is an object, merely one kind of object (a sentient one) among many other kinds of objects. Also, no relation ever exhausts an object since any form of access to an object yields only a partial aspect, a caricature of that object. What is more, objects never even relate directly, they are external to their relations, they are infinitely withdrawn and can only relate vicariously, by dint of their sensual dimension. Aesthetics is, understandably, quite an important theme in the scheme of this thought.

Without going into any more details about OOO I would say that it is a really powerful idea indeed. To put it bluntly, OOO leads its speculative followers into a renewed and fresh understanding of the world: once sufficiently attuned to it, the alternate horizon of this idea won’t let previously held ideas or beliefs untinged, our basic categories shift, (and hopefully, our hubris descends one more notch during the process). As Harman weaves and articulates this idea it re-forms his (and our) previous set of ideas and beliefs. Things yield new aspects of themselves and new questions arise. Consider, for example, the consequences of addressing the following question from an object-oriented perspective: are the psychological hangups of an individual part and parcel of (the very fabric of) his personality (which could be regarded as a certain kind of object), or are they only the folds and the distortions within that fabric?…


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