It is not human consciousness that distorts the reality of things, but relationality per se. Heideggerâ€™s tool-analysis unwittingly gives us the deepest possible account of the classical rift between substance and relation. When something is â€˜present-athand,â€™ this simply means it is registered through some sort of relation: whether perceptual, theoretical, practical, or purely causal. To be â€˜ready-to-handâ€™ does not mean to be useful in the narrow sense, but to withdraw into subterranean depths that other objects rely on despite never fully probing or sounding them. When objects fail us, we experience a negation of their accessible contours and become aware that the object exceeds all that we grasp of it. This predicament gives rise to the theme of vicarious causation.
Graham Harman’s theory of vicarious causation has been copping a battering around the blogging traps recently. Rightly so. The example he provides of perceiving a pine tree is utterly contradictory. Why should the objectness of the pine tree be defined by the human-centric practice of perception? Surely the great pine tree philosophers equally misguided as Harman would lament our status as not ‘real’ objects because of our inability to ‘perceive’ the sun as a form of energy production. We only have a ‘reality’ and not merely sensuous objects when we become enemies of the trees and attack them with axes and chainsaws.
I agree with the first line in the above quote 100%. To pursue ‘objects’ from this initial thought is incorrect and leads to an impossible theory of causation. It is not human consciousness but relationality per se that ‘distorts’ or, as I prefer, produces the reality of things. There is only ‘sensuousness’ or affect and the capacity to be affected. Harman has inherited a conception of human thought as necessarily being an idealism; it is not. There is an affective threshold to thought. Thought develops through the body like an old photograph develops.
One last note, regarding this proposition from Harman:
CONTIGUITY. The various sensual objects in an intention lie side by side, not affecting one another. Only sometimes do they fuse or mix. Within certain limits, any sensual objectâ€™s neighbors can be shuffled and varied without damaging the identity of that object, as when drifting mists do not interfere with my focus on the tree.
‘Only sometimes’? How about ‘Only in reality as reality’? What I realised during my PhD and am now thinking about again for a book on ‘enthusiasm’ is that intensive relationality has a problematic contiguity. Proximity is not a function of spatial or spatialised-temporal intimacy, it is only in this ‘sometimes’ (that Harman speaks of), which is actually the temporality of Kairos (as per Negri’s essay), does reality ‘develop’ itself into a baroque architecture of events through various (virtual) threshold-singularities.