February, 2010 Core Group Meeting
and Continuing Discussion
of ... OOO
Anne Dalke & Liz McCormack
I. group upkeep
For Wai Chee Dimock's visit on Tuesday, March 16,
read intro & chapter 6 from her book on
American Literature across Deep Time
("Planet as Duration and Extension" and "Nonstandard Time")
Also: dinner (?), then public talk Tuesday @ 7:30 on
"Literature as Public Humanities"
(re: Facebook page re: Re-thinking World Literature,
and PBS/community college Series on "Reading the World")
she's looking forward to conversation with scientists, among others
any interest in proposing a Kaleidoscope?
Today we'd like to try and "hook up" our various trajectories.
After being lead by Paul into considerations of subjectivity/objectivity,
by Ben into the practices of the I-Ching,
by Alice and Bharath into a consideration
of the usefulness of the idea of "heaven,"
(a fall-long focus, in other words, on human actors)
--we were invited, by Arlo, last month, to consider a
deep "dislocation" in the realm of scale:
he called out the "human-centric-ness" of our conversations.
We want to continue experimenting with this dislocation,
but take it in another direction entirely,
to take you now on a "deep" journey
into "the thing-y ness of things."
The microscopic mite or demodex that dwells in our eyelashes
is a thing. Makes a difference. Is different. Is.
That it is : what difference might it make
to the world? And/or our explorations here?
In November 2009, we attended for the first time
the annual conference for the Society for Literature, Science and the Arts.
The topic this year was "decodings," and with our friend and visual artist Ava Blitz,
we presented a roundtable, "From Encoding, Through Decoding to Transformation,"
in which we disrupted the expectation (in making art,
doing science, and performing literary criticism) that
decoding will lead to clarity, and highlighted instead the
production of mystery that inevitably occurs in that process.
For a sense of the "mood": Ava's In the Garden of Good and Evil
Rather than sharing that presentation, we decided that
it might be more pleasurable/interesting/instructive
if we explored with you all some of what we got
a scent of there: the new work (is it really new?)--
now being done in the interdisciplinary arena where
science and the arts (particularly biology and literature)
converge--called OOO (Object-Oriented Ontology).
We are going to start with some shared experiences.....
1. Take a moment to take the point of view of
some ONE THING in this room, something material but not alive.
What does the the world look like from the perspective of that object?
For example: how is the world organized?
What is foregrounded, what backgrounded
-- in both space and time -- from this point of view?
Record your thoughts on a piece of paper.
2. Do this again with some part of your body.
Recognizing that your body is a system, break it down:
How does the world look like from the perspective of some part of "you":
your fingernails, or your hair?
What does the system called "you" look like,
from the perspective of this part?
Record this also.
3. Turn to your neighbor and exchange with one another
the two most interesting things you wrote down.
4. Report out, with this dislocation:
what did your neighbor say?
5. Large group discussion:
--In taking the point of view of a thing other than ourselves,
were we simply engaging in anthropomorphic projection,
or some more meaningful type of dislocation?
(What might that be?)
--CAN we think otherwise than
from the self (or as a part of ourselves)?
--What might be gained/what value is added
if we try to think "as" something
that is not our (conscious) selves?
What does it mean -- and how useful might it be --
to think not from the self, but otherwise?
--Does it invite us into new questions that we
might otherwise not have been able to access?
--How might it help us understand systems?
Further Resources and Questions...
Meeting summary (Bharath)
Anne and Liz started our conversation with an exercise of “dislocation”. The task was first to focus on an object in the room and describe the world from its perspective, in terms of what is in the foreground and background for it. The next task was to focus on a part of one’s body and describe the world from its perspective.
The exercises gave rise to a wonderful discussion, which involved many different questions. Here are some of those questions, though perhaps not in the order in which they arose in the discussion.
Could we see the world from the perspective of an inanimate object? Some people seemed to have no trouble doing this, or at least going along with it to some extent. Others felt this was not possible and resisted the activity, or found doing it an exercise in make believe, since “really” the inanimate objects (including parts of one’s body) don’t have perspectives.
If things or inanimate objects don’t have perspectives, does that somehow diminish them with respect to beings such as ourselves which have perspectives? The answer of yes seemed to be suggested by the very fact of calling things "things", since that has the connotation of things being mere things. The alternate thought was also voiced that it might be exciting or liberating for humans to try to take on the perspectivalness of things, and so calling something a thing is not to devalue it.
Is there a difference between things and humans? It was for the most part assumed that there is a difference since humans have perspectives and things don’t. But even this assumption was questioned by some who suggested that in the grand scheme of things, humans are miniscule and so they don’t really have a perspective “on the world”. It might be like saying that a single cell in my body has a perspective on my life, which might not be possible if it knows next to nothing about my life. Are humans in such a situation with respect to the world?
Other issues which surfaced were: Are objects separate from the environment? Is objecthood itself a construct of a being with perspectives? Is it beneficial for us to think of the world in terms of a flat ontology without any flutuations of what is more or less important? Could talk of such an ontology be possible, if language and thought are themselves perspectival?
Continuing conversation in on-line forum below