Author Archive

The personal file

May 7, 2009


I. There are basically three players in this game. In order to protect their identities, they will hereinafter be referred to as:

1. Mr. K:

“K. now had no more thoughts of shame, the documents had to be prepared and submitted… Above all, he could not stop half way, which was nonsense not only in business but always and everywhere.  Needless to say, the documents would mean an almost endless amount of work.  It was easy to come to the belief, not only for those of an anxious disposition, that it was impossible ever to finish it. This was not because of laziness or deceit, which were the only things that might have hindered the lawyer in preparing it, but because he did not know what the charge was or even what consequences it might bring, so that he had to remember every tiny action and event from the whole of his life, looking at them from all sides and checking and reconsidering them”. Franz Kafka, The Trial

2. The collector:

“33) NATIONAL CORPORATION OF THE BLESSED KEEPERS OF COLLECTIONS AND THEIR HOUSES OF COLLECTION (all the houses of collection, and idem, houses, warehouses, stores, archives, museums, cemeteries, prisons, asylums, institutions for the blind, etc., and also all employees in general of those establishments). (Collections: example: an archive saves files in collection; a cemetery keeps corpses in collection, a prison keeps prisoners in collection, etc.)”. Julio Cortazar, Rayuela.

3. Everyone else involved (a veritable legion, for there are many, medley, noisy, and meddlesome).

II. The Godhead will have to remain absent in its presence (or vice versa).

Things thinging and Bruno-in-the-box

April 29, 2009



Personally, I liked Harman’s text, specially the way he linked Latour’s networks with Islamic ‘occasionalism’. I believe that many of its faults are produced by the eeriness of its aim. Harman’s Prince of Networks attempts to trace a coherent philosophy in several of Latour’s texts. It could be said that it translates ‘Latour’ into a metaphysical idiom –something that, as a first step, requires black boxing Latour– and, afterwards, tries to link the translated Latour with Heidegger’s philosophy. This operation, of course, could not be done without ‘paying the cost’… something quite brave, given that Latour is alive, healthy, and a relentless opposer to Heideggerian philosophy (e.g.  

The first Latour that Harman considers, that of Irreductions, provides the general features of the Prince of Networks. This is the Latour for whom “nothing is, by itself, either reducible or irreducible to anything else”  (The Pasteurization of France, p. 158) and the foundation of the black box called Latour. Through it, Harman is able to condense several of Latour’s texts. However, I am not sure he manages to successfully establish a connection with Heidegger. In fact, within Harman’s text, Latour seems more akin to Husserl than to Heidegger –if, as Harman tells us, Husserl philosophy can be understood as an attempt to displace the science of his time to a theoretical realm, one that necessarily exceeds our experience of any phenomenon. Similarly, for Latour, the disputes around scientific facts could be understood as an exercise in rhetoric, one that attempts to recruit allies in order to produce a convincing proof, a matter of “assembling of as many black boxes as possible to force one’s opponents to give way” (Prince of Networks, p. 54). In this sense, Heidegger criticism to Husserl, as seen in his characterization of the ‘present-at-hand’ as a second order experience and in his distinction between things and objects in “The Thing”, could also be applicable to Latour. In other words, from a Heideggerian point of view, Latour would be an advocate for a more effective approach to things, but one that remains technical in its aims and ontotheological in its presuppositions; while, for Latour, “Heidegger treats the modern world as the visitors treat Heraclitus: with contempt” (We Have Never Been Modern, p. 66).      

I am not sure that Latour, or even Harman’s Latour, treats Heidegger fairly. Heidegger’s notion of “things thinging” might be troublesome, but not because of what it proposes. Its problem seems to be of scope: it appears to exclude most of the non-human that Latour’s ANT can include. This might be partially attributed to the form of “The Thing” as an essay, cryptic and aphoristic. It focuses too much on the jug. In a way, the Heidegger’s jug traps us within its void, making the gift, the outcome of a balance between holding and pouring, excessively difficult to grasp. As a result, other things remain concealed within the text.

However, we should not forget that the jug is just an approximation to things the problem of the loss of nearness. Heidegger’s description of things and objects can only be translated into metaphysical terms at a great cost. We should read “The Thing” as an attempt to provide an alternative path in the face of a loss. This seems to be the reason why he defines a set of ‘things’, of possible fruitful openings, within a larger set of ‘objects’. In other words, Heidegger suggests that a possibility for the restoration of distance after its ontotheological and technical effacement may be opened up if we focus in the difference between his ‘things’ and his ‘objects’, something that would require a peculiar stance. Heidegger’s insinuation of this stance could be understood as a form of criticism, just as Marx’s argument about the fetishism of the commodity or Latour’s argument about the separation of society and nature. For Heidegger, this stance could allow a relation to technology different to the one that made the hydrogen bomb possible, the hydrogen bomb amongst many other things (objects). I believe that his critique remains fruitful and should continue to be taken into consideration in spite of its annoyingly obscure formulation, as we keep seeking for more inclusive ways to approach the non-human, may these be paintings in a museum, pictures in a magazine, a humble rock, a coat, a land mine, laboratory registers, or an outdated handmade jug.

Thinging gathers: the receding vessel/package

March 27, 2009



It is “produced”.




It “stands on its own”.




It has been “set up before and against us”. 




It  is “a vessel–it contains something”. 




But this vessel is a token of a type. 




It is ‘packaging’… but not of any kind. 


It is box based and, therefore, easy to store. It is relatively weightless and made to be discarded. Its multilayer structure and ‘Ultra-high temperature’ (UHT, of course) and Aseptic processing allow for previously unheard of shelf life, not only redefining Heidegger’s vacuum, but also establishing new boundaries for organic material as “standing reserve”. It is a surface ever so thin, almost to the point of disappearance or abstraction. Because of this, it can be seen as an illustration of analytic binding and its powers to produce manageable objects. But the thing always resists encompassment by the object: it leaks, it agitates, it tends to escape.


March 2, 2009


Proust (1871-1922), at age 16 (or so I’m told)                               

A well-known literary appetizer before Ingold’s debate:

Perhaps the immobility of the things that surround us is forced upon them by our conviction that they are themselves, and not anything else, and by the immobility of our conceptions of them. For it always happened that when I awoke like this, and my mind struggled in an unsuccessful attempt to discover where I was, everything would be moving round me through the darkness: things, places, years.

…sometimes again that little room with the high ceiling, hollowed in the form of a pyramid out of two separate storeys, and partly walled with mahogany, in which from the first moment my mind was drugged by the unfamiliar scent of flowering grasses, convinced of the hostility of the violet curtains and of the insolent indifference of a clock that chattered on at the top of its voice as though I were not there; while a strange and pitiless mirror with square feet, which stood across one corner of the room, cleared for itself a site  I had not looked to find tenanted in the quiet surroundings of my normal field of vision: that room in which my mind, forcing itself for hours on end to leave its moorings, to elongate itself upwards so as to take on the exact shape of the room, and to reach to the summit of that monstrous funnel, had passed so many anxious nights while my body lay stretched out in bed, my eyes staring upwards, my ears straining, my nostrils sniffing uneasily, and my heart beating; until custom had changed the color of the curtains, made the clock keep quiet, brought an expression of pity to the cruel, slanting face of the glass, disguised or even completely dispelled the scent of flowering grasses, and distinctly reduced the apparent loftiness of the ceiling. Custom! That skilful but unhurrying manager who begins by torturing the mind for weeks on end with her provisional arrangements; whom the mind, for all that, is fortunate in discovering, for without the help of custom it would never contrive, by its own efforts, to make any room seem habitable.

Marcel Proust, In Search of Lost Time

Image Anxiety

February 18, 2009


“The potency of these images doesn’t reside merely in their presentness or topical currency but in their status as enigmas and omens, harbingers of uncertain futures. They also exemplify the sensuous spectrum of image anxiety in our time, ranging from the overwhelmingly traumatic spectacle of mass destruction on the one hand to the subtle creepiness of the cloned sheep, which, as visual image, is quite unremarkable, but as idea is a figure of considerable dread” (Mitchell, p. 12)

I found this image on a website … but a few hours latter it was removed. I believe the anxiety it might produce (or at least the one it produced in the person who decided to remove it) is located in between the “overwhelmingly traumatic spectacle of mass destruction” and an idea that is “a figure of considerable dread”, placing both of these terms in opposition.

I wonder if the picture is fake, if I want it to be fake, or if the picture wants me to think its fake. Or, perhaps, what the picture wants makes me want it to be fake… or what the picture want is incongruent with what the twin towers want (or wanted then). Maybe it was “punished” for being fake.  However, fake or not, I kept it in my hard drive, it popped into my mind while reading Mitchell, and it came out today, within this brief show and tell.