New Materialist Aesthetics and Theory of the Image

Katve-Kaisa Kontturi, Milla Tiainen & Adrian Mróz have edited a special issue of The Journal of Polish Aesthetics titled, “New Materialism. The mattering of the arts, crafts, and aesthetics.” There are several interesting articles and book reviews of the first two monographs written on new materialist aesthetics: Ways of Following: Art, Materiality, Collaboration, by Katve-Kaisa Kontturi and my book Theory of the Image. I am thankful to Katherine Robert for her thoughtful review of Theory of the Image.

“Nail’s theorization and demonstration of kinesthetics is a stunning contribution for the growing interdisciplinary interest and application of new materialist theories … His knowledge of Western art history and contemporary art are extensive enough to supply his kinesthetic theory with visual examples that greatly aid in understanding, ranging from visual conceptual models to art, historical, and scientific images.”

Download the full review here or here.

Time Will Tell: A Series on the Philosophy of Time | Blog of the APA

The Blog of the APA is happy to announce “Time Will Tell,” a series of interviews about the philosophy of time. The interviews were conducted by Dr. Chris Rawls of Roger Williams University. To introduce the series, Rawls talked with the Blog about how her interest in temporality developed and where she would like studies of time to go in the future.

What is the purpose of this series, “Time Will Tell”? Describe how the series will work.

“Time Will Tell” is a series of professional interviews with scholars, both within and outside of philosophy and all with a social justice conscience, all academics who work on some aspect of time and/or temporality and human consciousness. Having worked on the concept for my Master’s thesis in 2004, I’m very interested in everything related to time. We all think about time. The four scholars who graciously agreed to the interviews are doing important and often utterly fascinating work on these topics.

How did you develop an interest in the concept of time?

As a young child, I had mini seizures occasionally. I had (and still have) a language difference/disability where I heard words backwards, but by syllable! It’s not that way today, of course, but the things my brain did to create what it needed in order to understand external language are unique. It is a form of Auditory Processing Disorder, but I’ve been calling it auditory dyslexia most of my life. The science on it only began in real depth about two decades ago. There is much disagreement still. I’ve recently learned of cutting edge neural mapping research that proves folks with APD have unique neuron development that is not like your average human brain development. This is both good and bad. It does not make me special. We all have individual, fluid brains (plasticity) because we all have individual, personal, emotional experiences. I’ve suffered and struggled because of the learning differences with language all my life, especially with communication. I’m being tested by specialists currently for the first time in my life. I also don’t think in images very easily most of my waking hours, but I dream vividly and often can recall my nightly dreams. This is known as partialAphantasia. Good health insurance and having the funds to get tested is needed for all this, which should give us pause. Both of these differences combined altered as I learned to read, write, speak, but they have always caused difficulties in reading, writing and communicating into adulthood, enough to cause a lot of unnecessary pain and struggle for myself and others. I wish I could have been tested decades ago.

It’s a small miracle I finished the doctorate in philosophy at all, and I didn’t do it alone. It was a really rough road and I would never have made it if my professors didn’t believe in me or find ways to hold me up, even if some worried about me circa 2009 when I lost a potential Fulbright scholarship and a scholar in residence position in Holland. This is important and related to consciousness for me personally not only because time will tell, but also because I survived horrific crime in Holland, an experience that caused not only time to stop for me but that caused others to question the validity of my actual conscious and bodily experiences. Duquesne University philosophy professors helped me stay in the PhD program. Sometimes I think only my former dissertation director, who I had worked with from 2004 to 2015 on and off, could understand my language. He used to translate for others what I was trying to say. I mention all this because the seizures in childhood, as well as what I went through in Holland, are what forced me to think about time and consciousness.

If we learn language and words by sound and image, and we then attach those sounds to meaning and memory, and if I had a brain difference related to both sound andimages, not to mention anxiety which can also effect memory, then it makes some real sense that I had to find novel ways to understand, interpret, memorize, read, write, and describe what I was learning. I often used my own symbolism, much based on sound and feeling or emotionally oriented experiences. It took five years to write, organize, and defend the dissertation on Spinoza. I had three editors for spelling, grammar, and organization in addition to the thesis committee. To this day I still struggle with spelling and grammar. APD Specialist Dr. Teri James Bellis writes: “But the distinction between ‘language-like’ and ‘auditory-like’ is extremely fuzzy and involves subtle judgements, not scientific distinctions.” Bellis is referencing the challenging testing and diagnosis process. The meanings I attach to vocabulary are, primarily, my own and not what culture has shaped necessarily.

The main point is that when the childhood seizures occurred I felt time as delayed. I visually saw things unfold in real time, but auditorily time was experienced as delayed. I heard sounds around me as if they were one connected whole on the wrong speed of a record player, like a sound image in slow motion that I was having an experience of while also functioning within clock time. This only lasted a few minutes. So, I was directly aware of two experiences of time simultaneously, but the seizures were uncomfortable and frightening. I couldn’t find the right words to describe them and we didn’t have any money for testing. It was always just chalked up to stress, something some still do today around me. I was forced to pay attention to the changes in my temporality specifically. The slowing down of time, and the intervals in-between, fascinated me even as a child. Studying, reading, writing, and teaching philosophy has helped my mind, brain and body make even more progress, but so many have accused or labeled my challenges as a mental health issue. Not knowing about my APD, and the challenges that caused, is the most difficult experience I have ever had next to attempting to write the doctorate.

I like to think about time, temporality, and consciousness together, especially as we all start taking more seriously such topics as advanced AI, quantum computing, or even the scientific studies on evidential mediumship, and there is legitimate science about the latter. William James knew. These topics can get wild when combined with the reality of what Antonio Damasio, the Spinozist that he is, calls “extended consciousness,” as opposed to “core consciousness.” Damasio has one of the most credible explanations on human consciousness of the past two decades. Briefly, Extended Consciousness is an individual autobiographical, rolling, flexible experience that cannot be coded as the same for any two humans. Sort of like, or possibly related to, having a soul some might say, metaphorically speaking or otherwise. The implications of such combinations are significant. Alternatively, the functions of Core Consciousness are what can be replicated by AI, but extended consciousness cannot. Recently, I started making podcasts for my students and for coping through Anchor. The international magazine New Philosopher tweeted one of my episodes on Kant about some of these new questions which was a silver lining in these challenging times.

We can read what top consciousness researchers or scholars say, such as bell hooks, Robert Lanza, Antonio Damasio, David Chalmers, Ernst Sosa, Tom Nagel, Patricia Churchland, Time Crane, Daniel Dennett, Patricia Hill Collins, Kelly Oliver or Judith Butler, as some important examples, but we can also legitimately consider the work of Jim Tucker at the University of Virginia, Dean Radin (massive, amazing history and scientific work), Gary Swartz, Lynn Buchanan of The Seventh Sense or study the results of those scientists who test individuals for what is sadly called ‘super-natural’ abilities, such as former Navy commander (and highest ranking female Navy officer in U.S. history) now turned evidential medium, Suzanne Geisemann. There’s always the work of Husserl, Heidegger, McTaggert, Sartre, etc. on human temporality that is also incredible, some of which I have studied, but it seems we might want to talk about other, more controversial theories too, those that apply to recent work in animal consciousness and intelligence, as another example, or current discoveries on the Observer Effect (OE) in quantum physics (thinking here of the work Biocentrism), the possibility of time travel that even Einstein took seriously, or more studies on human consciousness done by those who work specifically on near death or life after death phenomena (such as those who die on operating tables yet survive surgery only to somehow be able to report back to doctors exactly what occurred when they were otherwise reported as “brain dead”).  The OE is a series of verified experiments in physics (to say nothing of the research of the PEARS experiments at Princeton U.) that have concluded ‘matter’ understood in a deterministic (physicalist) way is just not enough. It’s not that materialism or determinism is wholly wrong, not at all. We know it works and is real, but only that it’s not the whole explanation of actual reality and the experiences of human beings. Consciousness and the brain are separate, but work together, often for biological reasons, but not only for these reasons according to this kind of research. It’s incredible and a game changer for all fields of study if so. The annual IANDS conference, the International Association of Near Death Studies, this past year had its largest attendance to date of researchers, neurosurgeons, philosophers, psychologists, and more. I was there for some of it with my friend and fellow Spinoza philosopher, Neal Grossman, now retired, but who worked for decades alongside both Ed Curley and Charles Mills at the University of Illinois, Chicago. Neal has a new book that deals directly with the philosophical problems involved in these areas of interest and experience titled Conversations with Socrates and Plato.

How does time influence contemporary philosophical studies?

The past few centuries have seen intellectual and scientific revolutions on the nature of time, including especially in philosophy and physics, not to mention quantum computing currently. I’m thinking here of the systems of Leibniz, Newton, Kant, Bergson, Einstein, Husserl, Heidegger, or Deleuze on the time image. I’m an advocate of bridging the gaps between Continental and Analytic methods. Studies on time, temporality, and consciousness have already been used by several philosophers to bridge these types of methodological gaps, for example, in the philosophy of film or the film as philosophy (FAP) problem. Artists and film makers know how to think about time! So too do surgeons for that matter. Of course, St. Augustine and other philosophers knew a lot about time many centuries ago, a point some Western philosophers always seem to enjoy bringing up repeatedly when you mention someone new who we should know about on this topic. Some even say Plato was a mystic, in the Eternalist sense…and I’m starting to believe they’re correct. If so, he was both inside and outside of time! His work is timeless, no? I think he was a mystic.

What thinkers or methodologies have you found most useful in pursuing your studies of temporality?

Time vs. temporality, as we are well aware in philosophy, address very different problems. When you add in human consciousness….the challenging logic problems multiply. An example can be found in both Spinoza and Bergson, as well as W.E.B. Du Bois, Frantz Fanon, Ralph Ellison. The ‘argument against the man’ used in formal logic, as another example, is still valid in certain settings, but it doesn’t work at all as an objective rule (nor should it be used) when talking about and studying certain philosophical problems in the critical philosophy of race and whiteness studies or phenomenology, for example. As Ralph Ellison writes in The Invisible Man, “Did the word apply to an invisible man? Could they recognize choice in that which wasn’t seen…?” Which logic do you put first? Although, I wrote my doctoral thesis on Spinoza’s dynamic epistemology found in his Ethics, I am also a race theorist and studied and grew with and because of George Yancy’s mentorship. There’s so much to think about here yet.

In Spinoza, we learn that the laws of Nature for human beings are all we have access to, but that temporality and our experience of time is both in accordance with these laws of Nature as an experience of the partially imaginative sort, as well as a kind of necessary, partial negation (i.e. limited, individual sense data, a singular expression of partial knowledge of a mode of substance conceived through its two attributes respectively, etc.). Spinoza provided an exhaustively rigorous, systematic philosophical text on the logical possibilities and limitations of human knowledge and the Laws of Nature before some of what Leibniz and Kant would attempt next. At the end of the day, I am not a Spinozist in the modern materialist sense, no matter how much I love Lucretius and those who taught me Spinoza. I’m more of a misfit metaphysician, but I definitely understand today’s ingenious atomist arguments, and my mentors are great at understanding this kind of materialism in affectively creative ways. There’s an interview coming up in this series for the APA on some of these topics with Thomas Nail.

I’ve always felt and worked in the capacity of interdisciplinary interests regarding time, and ideas or research others ignore. I know some would say that I waste time (some track my time stamps), and I do, especially when overwhelmed, but it’s just that time, as a sort of metaphysical illusion in some respects, slows one down to consider it to begin with (just like my mini seizures did as a child), and if you are having certain kinds of rare experiences that do not have full explanations (still today!) that satisfy even the best of philosophers around you, then it seems there’s a lot left to discuss. Even Roger Penrose said in a recent interview this year that we do not have a sufficient explanation for consciousness yet, as he works on quantum consciousness and the microtubials of neuron cells. So more neuron mapping please!

Practices such as meditation, as another example, slow down our pre-frontal cortex’s need for speedy, linear temporality and future oriented goals or tasks. Our bodies benefit from meditative practices within and without our direct awareness (science now validates this). So, are we only future temporally driven? No. Human bodies, brains, and souls also respond to not being future oriented, which is why meditation works so well. It builds new gray matter scientists now know, and we become more present when we meditate. One is truly not thinking about what’s next, biologically or otherwise, unless forced to or when the meditation moment ends. I like this kind of experience. Always planning ahead has its benefits, obviously, but it’s not all we are or do or need. Not at all.

Some of these experiences change, nonetheless, if you live in a continuously threatening environment, for anyone. Yet, a person of color in America is forced to face death every single day one way or another, much more immanently than a white man. #justiceforgeorgefloyd. Think about who is dying the most, too, with Covid-19 and why. The research on and experience of time (and space), as well as of one’s temporality, has limits based on the current acceptable paradigms of thought in Western science, but one’s environment can also alter these experiences drastically, including altering one’s sense of space and time, literally altering one’s experience of what it is to live each day. Lacan’s categories of the Imaginary, Symbolic, and Real need re-thinking, mostly because of, at the least, the new metaphysics research in science and metaphysics.

Kelly Oliver has a new essay in Sophia on what she calls “social melancholy” and how it, as a real experience, drastically differs from the psychoanalyst version of melancholia. I think she’s on to something. One legitimate critique of psychoanalytic theories and practices regarding temporality and consciousness are the above experiences I have had in combination. How would folks of this theory account for meaning, symbolic or otherwise, when I had my own language, including problems with the usual social language and, give or take, always have? The thing about learning disabilities/differences is that they are, sadly, often filled with tremendous shame, loneliness and/or isolation. The learning differences are also not uniform across tasks. Just because I can read philosophy doesn’t mean I can read all philosophical texts, or that I can read and understand anything else as complex either just because philosophers rely on the use of intense and rigorous logic, much of which I can systematically unpack. My philosophy skills are limited and yet, at times, not limited. It’s hard to track fully.

I’m now ready, knowing the name of my diagnoses, such as APD, to grow, to expand, to add to understanding, and to work even harder within the use of the tools that I need or that help, such as audio books! I had to solve this puzzle alone. There is no shame in using audio books, especially if you need to, but it can get expensive. Learning of any kind (in almost any creative or healthy way) is good. Yet, imagine asking for even more help in a well-known PhD program in philosophy, that you need audio books, editors, and testing to accompany the reading of the usual and expected texts, not to mention to complete all your work to the best of your ability? There was no real funding or money (or public understanding) yet for all that and as I tried in any way I could to explain, my words just dragged on and on. It seems one might need to be able to have and use internal, mental images in order to develop their language skills and use? To this day I cannot internally produce or think in images regularly.

Where would you like studies of time, both in philosophy and other disciplines, to go in the future?

Everywhere, especially in environmental ethics or the philosophy of quantum physics, or our criminal justice system and its insane need for complete reform, including eradicating solitary confinement, something philosopher Lisa Gunther works so hard on. AI is an interesting and important place to look as we move into more of a technologically infused and rapidly advancing society. I often ask students on the first day of class where space goes or to put their ideas in my hand? They get the rational point immediately, in an instant, if you will. I ask them to think deeply about infinity and our ideas about such things as space, and then to pay attention to their existential and often biologically oriented anxieties that set in which can be observed in reflection when one realizes we don’t know where space ‘goes.’ Physics and philosophy have a lot in common, they always have. Any aspect of interdisciplinarity with an emphasis on creativity have profound effects in furthering understanding (or at least add to it), especially for our university students. And now that Covid-19 is here and all forms of education are transforming radically and immediately, we have new things to think about and need to come up with novel, creative ways to teach, both virtually and otherwise. We have a chance to improve centuries old binary methods that have not worked for so many different reasons.

I like how John McCumber once addressed the Continental-Analytic divide by asking each group to take up the study of time more fully. Analytic philosophers could benefit, he noted, from reading more continentals or pragmatists on time and temporality. Continental philosophers can benefit from looking into the new problems of time in theoretical physics or the philosophy of mathematics. There’s something to be said for theories of reverse causation in Hegel, for example, a topic I have written a paper on that I’m particularly proud of and was asked to present at an APA Eastern conference with the North American Society of Hegel Studies once. Perhaps, if we pay as much attention as we can to social justice and environmental ethics and ills (as in it’s way overdue), we could eradicate some of the diseases of the human species that involve extreme forms of cruelty, human suffering, and irrationality. We are capable of affirmative action and rational organization on large scales and with highly rational, compassionate groups of individuals, as long as we have the information correct and are loving in our ways. Look at the world-wide protests now for #BLM in the midst of a global pandemic! Incredible. We can change the course of time…and we can do it with heart. Something I wish I understood better in the past. However small the gesture, we have the ability (i.e. the motion, options, action) to become healthier, happier, and truly, qualitatively enlivened with safety and fun together. And we need this now more than ever, some might say, as we are all facing the perfect storm, economically and otherwise, that is Covid-19.

Who are you interviewing for the series and what do readers have to look forward to?

I’m thrilled about these interviews! They are with Prof. Kristie Miller, Co-Director at the Center for the Study of Time, School of Philosophical and Historical Inquiry, University of Sydney, Prof. Thomas Nail from the University of Denver, and Prof. Boram Jeong, University of Colorado at Denver, who are all practicing philosophers. The series will end with a provocative interview with the biological anthropologist, Prof. Michael Masters, on human evolution, time, and aliens, a theory and recent book his Dean congratulated him for.

Prof. Miller is at the forefront of the study of the philosophy of time with the many different aspects of research that are being done at the University of Sydney. Her interview addresses some of the more traditional problems with the philosophy of time and temporality, but in novel ways. Prof. Nail’s work is ground breaking, especially Being and Motion, and his work on Lucretius, not to mention immigration. I have audio booked B&M, which I felt, sound wise, was a great way to get through it while literally being in motion (walking in the sunshine while thinking, while learning, instead of sitting reading as sitting still is a challenge ironically), and I have used various audio clips with permission in my Anchor podcasts. Many philosophers and artists, not to mention some scientists, will enjoy reading, hearing, and thinking about Nail’s important (and what will be) lasting contributions to the history of thought. Prof. Jeong’s interview and contributions are also relevant to our time. They are important contributions to very specific areas of philosophy, and, as she addresses the connections between time, money, freedom, Deleuze, race, and philosophy, we can all also benefit from her research and insights, and will be reading her philosophy about the future indefinitely I feel.

Prof. Masters has a new, interdisciplinary work on how humans might naturally evolve into a technologically advanced (alien) species. It’s wild, and awesome. His logic is valid and sound, and his research is currently being internationally recognized, including by philosophers and scientists alike. All interviews, including my own, are somewhat personal and about each scholar’s individual interpretations on time, temporality, and consciousness. I’m thrilled they agreed to do this series and I hope all will enjoy reading the interviews. I thank all the contributors for sharing their work.

Chris Rawls 

Chris Rawls teaches philosophy full time at Roger Williams University. Chris received her Ph.D. in philosophy in 2015 from Duquesne University writing on Spinoza’s dynamic epistemology. Chris recently co-edited an interdisciplinary anthology Philosophy and Film: Bridging Divides with Routledge Press’s series Research on Aesthetics (an experiment for the ages!) with Diana Nieva and Steven Gouveia. Chris also studies/teaches within the Critical Philosophy of Race and Whiteness Studies since 2006 and helped co-found the Society for Women in Philosophy (SWIP) archive at the Pembroke Center for Feminist Theory, Brown University.

Against Borders: Why the World Needs Free Movement of People (2020)

 

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Can’t wait to read this!

This book provides a philosophical defence of open borders. Two policy dogmas are the right of sovereign states to restrict immigration and the infeasibility of opening borders. These dogmas persist in face of the human suffering caused by border controls and in spite of a global economy where the mobility of goods and capital is combined with severe restrictions on the movement of most of the world’s poor. Alex Sager argues that immigration restrictions violate human rights and sustain unjust global inequalities, and that we should reject these dogmas that deprive hundreds of millions of people of opportunities solely because of their place of birth. Opening borders would promote human freedom, foster economic prosperity, and mitigate global inequalities. Sager contends that studies of migration from economics, history, political science, and other disciplines reveal that open borders are a feasible goal for political action, and that citizens around the world have a moral obligation to work toward open borders.

 

Check it out here.

 

Gilles Deleuze, Letters and Other Texts (Semiotext(e)) June 23, 2020

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A posthumous collection of writings by Deleuze, including letters, youthful essays, and an interview, many previously unpublished.

Letters and Other Texts is the third and final volume of the posthumous texts of Gilles Deleuze, collected for publication in French on the twentieth anniversary of his death. It contains several letters addressed to his contemporaries (Michel Foucault, Pierre Klossowski, François Châtelet, and Clément Rosset, among others). Of particular importance are the letters addressed to Félix Guattari, which offer an irreplaceable account of their work as a duo from Anti-Oedipus to What is Philosophy? Later letters provide a new perspective on Deleuze’s work as he responds to students’ questions.

his volume also offers a set of unpublished or hard-to-find texts, including some essays from Deleuze’s youth, a few unusual drawings, and a long interview from 1973 on Anti-Oedipus with Guattari.

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Congratulations to David L. This looks like a great collection. Just bought my copy today.

I had forgotten when this book was supposed to be released and then saw Vern’s post and got excited again for it.

THE EXPERIENCE OF THE WORK OF ART

 

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The experience of the work of art contains two double-genitive dimensions rarely attended to in the philosophy of art.

The first double genitive concerns the experience of the work of art. Experience in is this sense is both something the work of art has—as its own material capacity for sensory receptivity—and something the work of art makes possible in the form of an experience for something or someone else.

In the first sense, works of art, as material processes, have an experience defined by their sensitivity to light, sound, temperature, and so on. Insofar as they are defined by a field of images, those images are, like the ship of Theseus, constantly breaking down and being disjoined while also being supported by new flows of matter. At the level of the activity of matter itself, we can and should therefore speak of a kind of agency, activity, or subjectivity of matter and the work of art itself. It is affected by matters.

In the second sense, the work of art is something experienced by another aesthetic field. Insofar as another field of images (no matter what that field is, whether rock, plant, animal, or human) is composed of ordered affects receptive to and capable of being changed by a work of art, then it also has an experience of the work. Taking together both senses of this first double genitive, it becomes clear that it is the kinetic process and flow of matter that is, in fact, primary in the work of art; it is simply circulated differently into different but entangled subjective and objective structures. On the one hand, the work of art and the sensorium that experience the work of art both have their own sensitive (subjective) experiences. On the other hand, insofar as both rely on the other as their material condition of experience, both act as the object for the other. The double genitive shows us that subject and object are simply two sides of the same material kinetic process of distributed images.

This leads to exposure of a second double genitive in the work of art itself. A work is the product of artistic creation. The work is the delimited region of affective composition—although to some degree it also recedes and exceeds these limits through degeneration and expansion. The work of art is a receptive object of creation insofar as it is capable of being contracted through destruction and expanded through further creation. The work of art is created.

In another sense, however, the work of art refers to the active agency of the work itself to affect others outside its limited field. A work of art is not a merely passive object; it affects the light, sound, texture, and smell of the world around it. The spectator is then affected and changed by this work. This is not a metaphor. The world around and the body of the spectator are literally and materially changed, no matter how slight, by the introduction of this new distribution of images into the world by the work of art. New flows of matter (light waves, sound waves, scent waves, and so on) are introduced. The work of art creates.

In these two double genitives—“experience of” and “work of”—we can see two dimensions of the same material kinetic process. The subject and object are two dimensions of the same distribution of images. It is strange to say, but insofar as the work of art becomes both subjective and objective, so too does the experience of the work of art. The division between subject and object and the theory of representation is exposed for what it is: an arbitrary historical creation desperately in need of a new theoretical framework that takes seriously the primacy and activity of the image itself.

The kinesthetic theory of art proposed here is substantially more expansive than most, but it is not absolute or ontological. It is both historically situated in the present (since it is focused on the primacy of motion in the image) and excludes a number of things from being art. For example, relatively insensible flows of matter are not art. Fragmented affects are not art. Works of art require an aesthetic field.

The kinesthetic theory of the experience of the work of art proposed here is based on the idea that the image is nothing other than matter in motion. When one field becomes materially entangled with another, both undergo a change that must be taken seriously in any philosophy of art.

From Theory of the Image (Oxford University Press, 2019), pages 86-87.

 

What is the Philosophy of Movement? V: Art and Objects

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This is a short excerpt on the philosophy of movement from a recent interview I did with Nico Buitendag for Undisciplined Podcast.

Nico: I can imagine and I take my hat off to you. So I also want to move on to some of your other work but still within this broader theme. I believe it’s your newest book, called Theory of the Image, where you do a philosophy of art or aesthetics that naturally focuses on the mobile aspect of images, which is something I’ve never thought of before. So kind of like my first, earlier question about what does mobility or movement reveal, but more specifically this time, in the case of the image, what avenue or what point of view is opened up to us when we look at the image as a moving image?

Thomas: Yeah so the Theory of the Image book, that research also came out of migration and border stuff. I was already kind of collecting little bits from history toward that book because I started to see some of the same problems, which is that there are two main ways of thinking about aesthetics and what an image is.

One of those is, you could say, is the classical model where if you think of Plato and the Forms, art represents the Forms. So it’s a copy of an original, and that’s what an image is, is it’s supposed to be a duplicate, but the duplicate is always inferior to the original model for Plato and that’s why philosophical knowledge is about the Forms and art and aesthetics are about being in a cave just looking at shadows. When you think about the Great Chain of Being, Being, stasis, and Form are at the top of that, and matter and motion are at the bottom. And that’s certainly what’s going on in Plato.

Then, on the other hand, you have the other major tradition, the Kantian one, which is where the image and sensation are understood hermeneutically, or by what does it mean for humans—“what does art mean? What is the meaning of art? What is the experience of a work of art?”—and that’s more Kant and Dewey. And then you have more social dimensions of that, which are the Frankfurt School and so on, kind of a more social hermeneutics that has to do with what the meaning of a work of art is for society or what it tells us about society. On that one, my problem is that we’re still—in both of these cases, in the Platonic, classical and in the more modern one—we’re not really talking about the image, we’re not really talking about art. What we’re talking about is the Forms which are more important—that’s the real thing that we care about—and then in the case of the human version, we’re interested in what humans think. We’re really studying ourselves more than we’re actually caring about the image itself.

So my orientation in Theory of the Image was to do basically what I did for Theory of the Border and Figure of the Migrant which was to sort of flip it upside-down and start with the mobility and movement of the image, track it from a kinetic systems approach, and think about the patterns of motion that the image does. So instead of thinking about what art means, or what it represents, just looking at what it does materially, practically, historically, and then looking at these different regimes and the way in which art and images are shaped and circulated; not how they’re represented or what their meanings are.

So it’s a very different approach to thinking about aesthetics that’s materialist and that is non-anthropocentric. It doesn’t focus on human interpretation of art and that’s mostly what art theory is about. So this is a very weird book to think about if we’re not interested in what humans think art means or what it makes them feel. Not that those are not relevant, it’s just that they’re not the primary focus, those are just a part of it. So human experience is part of a larger circulation, but that larger circulation is what we’re looking at, and humans are just one aspect of that larger process.

Nico: I’m wondering if you talk about getting rid of the anthropocentrism and the movement and real effect that art or images have, and also in the same way we’re talking about the border as almost a concrete thing—do you see any relation between kinopolitics and, for example, object-oriented ontology (OOO), or do you think there are important differences or distinctions that you would want to keep between the two? Do you think there is some overlap or link between these two?

Thomas: That’s a good question. I’m just going to give what my definition of what I think OOO is and then say what I think the differences are. OOO is looking at objects, and what an object is something (and here I’m just reading Graham Harman’s definition) that is discrete, vacuum-sealed, and separate from one another. Tristin Garcia Form and Object has a very similar definition where the objects are completely extensive and by definition, they are not what the other object is.

There are objects that contain and objects that are contained, and that’s what defines an object. So they’re discrete, they’re vacuum-sealed, and at the center of them has an essence which Harman says does not change, it does not move, it is not material, and it withdraws any attempt to empirically identify it. So whether that’s right or wrong that’s at least my understanding of what that tradition is doing.

The philosophy of movement is really about process, it’s not about objects as primary. In many ways, the philosophy of movement is the opposite of OOO where it doesn’t start with discreet, separate objects. It starts with processes and it starts with objects as metastable states, like a whirlpool or eddy. They’re there, but they don’t have any discreetness, they don’t have any isolation. Graham Harman emphasizes very strongly that the essence of the object is non-relational, it doesn’t relate to anything else. And for me that’s very much the opposite. Objects are metastable states and it’s not that there are relations before there are objects, it’s that relations and objects are completely immanent to one another, they’re not separate, they’re just two different ways of talking about the same thing. And of course, the static, unchanging, withdrawn essence to me is just metaphysics.

The philosophy of movement is a materialist philosophy that’s interested in thinking about things that move. And that’s the thing about matter—it’s a shape-changer. It’s always moving and changing shapes so there’s nothing that withdraws, nothing that doesn’t change—everything is in motion and movement. On that point this is not a metaphysical claim this is where we’re at, this is what we know in physics at this point in history, is that there is nothing in the universe that doesn’t move. So stasis is not a real thing. It’s always relative down to quantum field fluctuations: they are moving, and they’re active; nothing is a static, withdrawn essence. So Harman’s OOO is not consistent with what we know in physics. Maybe physics could be wrong and I’m open to that, but for the moment I’m not going to speculate metaphysically about things that we have no idea about.

 

What is the Philosophy of Movement? V: Art and Objects

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This is a short excerpt on the philosophy of movement from a recent interview I did with Nico Buitendag for Undisciplined Podcast.

Nico: I can imagine and I take my hat off to you. So I also want to move on to some of your other work but still within this broader theme. I believe it’s your newest book, called Theory of the Image, where you do a philosophy of art or aesthetics that naturally focuses on the mobile aspect of images, which is something I’ve never thought of before. So kind of like my first, earlier question about what does mobility or movement reveal, but more specifically this time, in the case of the image, what avenue or what point of view is opened up to us when we look at the image as a moving image?

Thomas: Yeah so the Theory of the Image book, that research also came out of migration and border stuff. I was already kind of collecting little bits from history toward that book because I started to see some of the same problems, which is that there are two main ways of thinking about aesthetics and what an image is.

One of those is, you could say, is the classical model where if you think of Plato and the Forms, art represents the Forms. So it’s a copy of an original, and that’s what an image is, is it’s supposed to be a duplicate, but the duplicate is always inferior to the original model for Plato and that’s why philosophical knowledge is about the Forms and art and aesthetics are about being in a cave just looking at shadows. When you think about the Great Chain of Being, Being, stasis, and Form are at the top of that, and matter and motion are at the bottom. And that’s certainly what’s going on in Plato.

Then, on the other hand, you have the other major tradition, the Kantian one, which is where the image and sensation are understood hermeneutically, or by what does it mean for humans—“what does art mean? What is the meaning of art? What is the experience of a work of art?”—and that’s more Kant and Dewey. And then you have more social dimensions of that, which are the Frankfurt School and so on, kind of a more social hermeneutics that has to do with what the meaning of a work of art is for society or what it tells us about society. On that one, my problem is that we’re still—in both of these cases, in the Platonic, classical and in the more modern one—we’re not really talking about the image, we’re not really talking about art. What we’re talking about is the Forms which are more important—that’s the real thing that we care about—and then in the case of the human version, we’re interested in what humans think. We’re really studying ourselves more than we’re actually caring about the image itself.

So my orientation in Theory of the Image was to do basically what I did for Theory of the Border and Figure of the Migrant which was to sort of flip it upside-down and start with the mobility and movement of the image, track it from a kinetic systems approach, and think about the patterns of motion that the image does. So instead of thinking about what art means, or what it represents, just looking at what it does materially, practically, historically, and then looking at these different regimes and the way in which art and images are shaped and circulated; not how they’re represented or what their meanings are.

So it’s a very different approach to thinking about aesthetics that’s materialist and that is non-anthropocentric. It doesn’t focus on human interpretation of art and that’s mostly what art theory is about. So this is a very weird book to think about if we’re not interested in what humans think art means or what it makes them feel. Not that those are not relevant, it’s just that they’re not the primary focus, those are just a part of it. So human experience is part of a larger circulation, but that larger circulation is what we’re looking at, and humans are just one aspect of that larger process.

Nico: I’m wondering if you talk about getting rid of the anthropocentrism and the movement and real effect that art or images have, and also in the same way we’re talking about the border as almost a concrete thing—do you see any relation between kinopolitics and, for example, object-oriented ontology (OOO), or do you think there are important differences or distinctions that you would want to keep between the two? Do you think there is some overlap or link between these two?

Thomas: That’s a good question. I’m just going to give what my definition of what I think OOO is and then say what I think the differences are. OOO is looking at objects, and what an object is something (and here I’m just reading Graham Harman’s definition) that is discrete, vacuum-sealed, and separate from one another. Tristin Garcia Form and Object has a very similar definition where the objects are completely extensive and by definition, they are not what the other object is.

There are objects that contain and objects that are contained, and that’s what defines an object. So they’re discrete, they’re vacuum-sealed, and at the center of them has an essence which Harman says does not change, it does not move, it is not material, and it withdraws any attempt to empirically identify it. So whether that’s right or wrong that’s at least my understanding of what that tradition is doing.

The philosophy of movement is really about process, it’s not about objects as primary. In many ways, the philosophy of movement is the opposite of OOO where it doesn’t start with discreet, separate objects. It starts with processes and it starts with objects as metastable states, like a whirlpool or eddy. They’re there, but they don’t have any discreetness, they don’t have any isolation. Graham Harman emphasizes very strongly that the essence of the object is non-relational, it doesn’t relate to anything else. And for me that’s very much the opposite. Objects are metastable states and it’s not that there are relations before there are objects, it’s that relations and objects are completely immanent to one another, they’re not separate, they’re just two different ways of talking about the same thing. And of course, the static, unchanging, withdrawn essence to me is just metaphysics.

The philosophy of movement is a materialist philosophy that’s interested in thinking about things that move. And that’s the thing about matter—it’s a shape-changer. It’s always moving and changing shapes so there’s nothing that withdraws, nothing that doesn’t change—everything is in motion and movement. On that point this is not a metaphysical claim this is where we’re at, this is what we know in physics at this point in history, is that there is nothing in the universe that doesn’t move. So stasis is not a real thing. It’s always relative down to quantum field fluctuations: they are moving, and they’re active; nothing is a static, withdrawn essence. So Harman’s OOO is not consistent with what we know in physics. Maybe physics could be wrong and I’m open to that, but for the moment I’m not going to speculate metaphysically about things that we have no idea about.

 

Theory of the Image is now available on audiobook

We live in an age of the mobile image. The world today is absolutely saturated with images of all kinds circulating around the world at an incredible rate. The movement of the image has never been more extraordinary than it is today. This recent kinetic revolution of the image has enormous consequences not only for the way we think about contemporary art and aesthetics but also for art history as well.

Responding to this historical moment, Theory of the Image offers a fresh new theory and history of art from the perspective of this epoch-defining mobility. The image has been understood in many ways, but it is rarely understood to be fundamentally in motion. The original and materialist approach is what defines Theory of the Image and what allows it to offer the first kinetic history of the Western art tradition. In this book, Thomas Nail further develops his larger philosophy of movement into a comprehensive “kinesthetic” of the moving image from prehistory to the present. The book concludes with a vivid analysis of the contemporary digital image and its hybridity, ultimately outlining new territory for research and exploration across aesthetics, art history, cultural theory, and media studies.

“This is an engaging book with a fascinating argument. Thomas Nail stakes out new territory, building a theory from the group up of the image as kinetic” — David Morgan , Duke University

“Thomas Nail’s Theory of the Image is an ambitious and original attempt to re-theorize the material and cognitive dynamics of the image. In this respect, his model is kinetic as opposed to representational, mimetic, or hermeneutical. The book is eminently suitable for use on a range of undergraduate and postgraduate courses, in particular, philosophy, cultural theory, and art history.” — John Roberts , University of Wolverhampton

Listen now on Audible! 

 

 

 

 

Black Hole Materialism

First ever picture of a black hole may be revealed this week | New Scientist

Chris Gamble and I have just published our article on black hole materialism at Rhizomes. You can also download the article hereRhizomes: Cultural Studies in Emerging Knowledge: Issue 36 (2020)

Black Hole Materialism

Christopher Neil Gamble University of Washington

Thomas Nail University of Denver

Abstract: The Euro-Western tradition has long considered matter to be essentially non-relational, passive and mechanical. Matter, that is, is thought to consist of elementary particles that remain internally unchanged while moving inside of, or against, an equally unchanging or fixed background of space, time, or both. Consequently, matter’s behavior has been seen as obeying—either fully or probabilistically—preexisting and invariant natural laws.

In our paper, we first take a brief tour through three major traditions of Western materialism in order to demonstrate how this basic picture has remained remarkably stable up to the present. We then argue that recent physics research and quantum gravity theorizing about black holes provide an unprecedented opportunity to revolutionize our understanding of matter by understanding it as inherently relational, indeterminate, and generative. Our aim in doing so is to show that black hole physics has enormous interdisciplinary consequences for the history, philosophy, and science of materialists.

I. The History of Materialism

Classical Mechanics. The first major Euro-Western tradition of materialism was Greek atomism. As is well known, Leucippus, Democritus, and Epicurus all taught that all things—from the biggest stars to the smallest insects or speck of dirt—are formed by the collisions, compositions, and decompositions of tiny, discrete, and indivisible “atoms”[1] careening perpetually through a vast spatial void. Eternal and unchanging, the atoms’ only differentiating attributes were their varying shapes and sizes, which enabled them to join together into countless combinations that resulted in the full scope and diversity of the perceptible world at large. For Leucippus and Democritus, these fundamental particles moved only along unique predetermined trajectories, whereas in Epicurus they occasionally swerved spontaneously onto others. In finding reality to have a fundamentally closed, immutable nature, however, both accounts nevertheless maintained the very same mechanistic conception of matter and its relationship to void or space.

For the atoms, that immutability results in a rather profound irony. Ostensibly, those constituent elements produce all of perceptible reality. Nevertheless, the full range of possible atomic compounds—and hence, of resulting sensible objects—preexists any compound’s realization and so remains just as eternally fixed and unchanging as the atoms own pre-given shapes and sizes. Certain combinations invariably result in lead, for example, whereas others result just as invariably in iron.[2] Accordingly, then, whether they were capable of swerving or not, the atoms exerted zero creative agency over the character of their own productions. Instead, they remained essentially non-generative, non-relational vessels that “create” merely by passively realizing preexisting possibilities.

A similar situation obtains in relation to the immutable (non-)nature of what the atomists called “void.” An infinite background emptiness that persists to a greater or lesser extent in (or as) the space between atoms, void also in fact plays an integral role in constituting the sensible world. For example, in explaining lead’s relatively greater density than iron, Democritus argued that the atoms of the former fit more closely together, and thus permit less void between them, than do those of the latter.[3] As this example illustrates, both metals reliably possess their respective defining properties only on condition that void (a) lacks any positive characteristics of its own (which could differentially interact with the atoms) and (b) remains utterly unaffected by the movements and combinations of the atoms that occur in or through it.

Taken together, the atomists described reality as a closed or bounded system whose productions could be exhaustively explained in terms of specific effects following necessarily and absolutely from particular causes. In doing so, they also positioned themselves as external, objective observers of that closed system, which remained unchanged by their observations of it. From that vantage, they could deduce and discover invariant, preexisting laws that would reveal reality’s underlying causal nature to them.[4]

In short, the atomists’ materialist account of reality entailed a mechanistic conception of matter as inherently non-generative and non-relational, a background-dependent conception of space, and the immutability of both. The importance of this materialist account is difficult to overstate, especially to the history and ongoing practice of science.[5] As we will see, however, as the prevailing cosmology changes, this concept of matter appears increasingly obsolete.

Statistical Mechanics. The second major materialist tradition emerged in the nineteenth century. Treating matter as if it moved randomly, modernist descriptions relied heavily on probability theory and statistics to predict it. However, matter’s seeming randomness was in fact merely due to practical limitations only. Fundamental particles (molecules, atoms, genes, isotopes, and so on) were simply too small and numerous for humans to observe all at once. For Laplace, Boltzmann and others, then, matter continued to be just as fully determined as it was for the atomists (albeit without any Epicurean spontaneity). Moreover, in adopting Newtonian notions of a fixed background of empty absolute space and universal time, modern materialism also continued to see matter as ultimately non-relational, passive, and obedient to invariant natural laws.

Quantum Mechanics. The third major materialism was quantum mechanics. In its initial formulation by Niels Bohr, Erwin Schrödinger and Werner Heisenberg, and much to the disappointment of Albert Einstein, quantum mechanics abandons a deterministic understanding of matter and finds matter instead to be inherently probabilistic. Due to the “measurement problem,” as it has tended to be understood, there is a fundamental limit on the precision with which matter can be known or predicted. As Heisenberg formulated it in his famous uncertainty principle, for example, there is an inherent limit to how precisely it is possible to know both a particle’s position and its momentum simultaneously. Beyond that limit, determinism dissolves into probability distributions.

As developed subsequently in quantum field theory, moreover, particles no longer move within an empty or smooth surface but are understood to be the excitations of fields that constantly jitter like violent waves with the vacuum fluctuations of so-called “virtual particles.” While those vacuum fluctuations are too small to observe directly or individually, collectively they nevertheless exert empirically measurable effects on particles that can be observed.[6]

This account certainly paints a far more lively and dynamic picture of matter’s behavior than what had prevailed previously. Nevertheless, the vacuum fluctuations of the particle-fields of quantum field theory occur only within a preexisting and fixed background spacetime. In other words, quantum field theory works only by ignoringthe gravitational field.[7] Moreover, if the measurement problem is understood as marking a purely epistemological limit,[8] as it generally is, then despite the continual vacuum jittering, matter is still treated as if it cannot generate any novel trajectories for itself. The total set of possible trajectories, in other words, remains just as eternal and unchanging as in the atomists’ account. And thus, matter remains an essentially passive, non-relational substance confined to fixed mathematical and epistemological probability ranges.

Despite their differences, then, all three of these major kinds of materialism nonetheless treat matter as essentially passive and treat space and time as fixed, background givens.

 

 

 

Download Gilles Deleuze, “Kant: Synthesis and Time,” March-April 1978

Deleuze

In Gilles Deleuze, From A to Z, Deleuze describes his motivation for working on a philosopher with whom he had little in common: first, for Deleuze, Kant’s writing constituted such a turning point in numerous ways, and, second, he initiated something in philosophy that had never been advanced previously. Specifically, says Deleuze, he erected a tribunal of reason, things being judged as a function of a tribunal of reason. To do so, he invents a prodigious method called the critical method, the properly Kantian method. Deleuze admits finding all of this aspect of Kant quite horrible, but it’s both fascination and horror because, for Deleuze, this is so ingenious. For Kant created an astonishing reversal of concepts: rather than time being derived from movement, Kant reverses the subordination, with movement henceforth depending on time, and thus, time ceasing to be circular and becoming a straight line. And late in his life, Kant introduces his conception of the Sublime, in which the faculties enter into conflicts, having discordant accords, then reconciling, but no longer being subject to a tribunal. For Deleuze, then, Kant is clearly a great philosopher, with a whole undergirding in his works that makes Deleuze quite enthusiastic, on top of which is a system of judgment that Deleuze says he would like to do away with, but without standing in judgment.

 

Deleuze, “Kant: Synthesis and Time”