Sense and Sensibilia: Object Oriented Perception

 

“Without an image thinking is impossible.”

I want to linger in the Aristotle pieces—Sense and Sensibilia and On Memory (translated? by J.I. Beare)—to try to work through the language and ideas because something is there for me that I don’t quite have the senses to perceive (an object of my thinking).

Aristotle seems to commit himself to a claim to the effect that a sense organ in one way or another becomes like its object when it perceives—“what can perceive is potentially such as the object of sense is actually”. Aristotle questions if several objects can be perceived simultaneously (at once and individual to one another). After posing the question, he opens by positioning perception in the soul; if different things were being perceived, he questions if different parts of the soul would be perceiving by describing perception as “genus” or subdivided classes of perceiving. Using the eyes as anaology, two organs that function as one and perceive as one, he posits that the perceiving subject is one. He describes the senses as simultaneously one and many (I’m unsure if he’s explaining that we can use more than one sense at a time to perceive or if each sense is singular but heterogeneous in all that it is capable of perceiving with that one faculty). He states that there must be one resultant of perception “But there must be such one, inasmuch as the general sense-perception is one” but then questions on the next line what one object is perceived by one faculty. He states that “no one object arises by composition of these”, concluding that there is one faculty in the soul that perceives all precepts but that it perceives each “genus of sensibles through a different organ”. Although the faculty of perception is one and the same it is different in that “in genus as regards some of its objects, in species as regards others”; this leads Aristotle to the claim that although different objects can be perceived simultaneously with a faculty that is numerically one and the same, it is not the same in its account. He ends on a statement of impossibility that reminds me Graham Harman’s concept of withdrawal—that all objects are withdrawn such that they never touch; Levi Bryant explains withdrawal as

a protest against all ambitions of domination, mastery, and exploitation.  What withdrawal says is that all entities harbor– as Graham likes to put it –scarcely imagined volcanic cores bubbling beneath the surface that we are never completely able to master or control.  It is this from whence his profound respect for things– human and nonhuman –indeed his indignation against those that would try to reduce things to signifiers, concepts, sensations, lived experiences, intuitions, etc., arises

This withdrawal, this inability to pinpoint sense, is described by Aristotle through distance and contact, visibility/invisibility, and perceptibility/imperceptibility. He explains that every sensible object is a magnitude and that the distance at which an object is visible is determinate, while the distance at which an object cannot be seen is indeterminate (the same applies to all sensibles not discerned by actual contact). He sets up the object in an interval of distance “the last from which it is invisible, and the first from which it is visible” that is indivisible—this place, he describes, is where imperceptibility ends and perceptibility begins. This place, this perception, is impossible.

This is a fruitful place of im/perception for me, but for now, a few questions:

What does it take for a sense organ to become like its object in perception? What parallels can we draw to our constructed sense organs (tool and technological sense extenders and registers)?

This is perhaps a little too playful, but I can’t help but read Aristotle alongside speculative realism (the inability to perceive/access a thing, especially as a human alone). I am thinking of Ian Bogost’s provocation in Alien Phenomenology that language is only one way of knowing and the challenge to make things other than texts. Instead of thinking of perception and memory as captured (or not) in oral language or in imprinted language (both focusing on the human symbol systems), what might we be afforded if we looked at the objects of perceiving and remembering—not the ideas expressed as what we know/don’t know, but the objects expressing?

Thinking is made im/possible by the objects through which we perceive.

Advertisements

Carpentry

This week we read “Carpentry” from Alien Phenomenology, or What It’s Like to Be a Thing by Ian Bogost (I almost typed Alien Bogost…) and “Composing the Carpenter’s Workshop” by James J. Brown Jr. and Nathaniel Rivers, which have left my brain in a state of

in a good way! (gif shoutout to the Rhetoric of Craft Collaborative) Having read Bogost before with the Optatio Reading Group at EMU, it was a lot to think about. I took interest in his “Carpentry” chapter before, even making attempts to work with it, but I feel like this revisiting in the context of a seminar on rhetorics of craft, and in relation to the Rivers and Brown piece, brought new possibility to the work (that I would like to turn into a project…) While I don’t see carpentry as synonymous with craft, there’s a relation there that I am deeply curious about (in relation to rhetoric and composition).

Bogost begins his carpentry chapter by calling attention to the dominance of writing as the work of philosophers, which I would extend to academics, by explaining that its unquestioned dominance comes from convention (89); “writing is only one form of being. The long-standing assumption that we relate to the world only through language is a particularly fetid, if still baffingly popular, opinion. But so long as we pay attention to only language, we underwrite our ignorance of everything else” (90). This is reminiscent of conversations we’ve had about craft  and it’s difficulty communicating knowledge – the knowledge that is embodied in making something doesn’t necessarily render well to written accounts, thus the struggle in legitimizing craftsmanship (making objects) as valuable. Bogost defines carpentry as the “practice of constructing artifacts as a philosophical practice” (92) that “entail making things that explain how things make their world” (93). He borrows carpentry from woodcraft (perhaps a bit too easily) and extends it to any material – “to do carpentry is to make anything, but to make it in earnest, with one’s own hands” (93), and combines it with the philosophical sense of “the carpentry of things” (from Graham Harman and Alphonso Lingis) that refers to “how things fashion one another and the world at large” (93). To Bogost, making things (with things) remakes us in the making by opening a “non-human, alien perspective onto everyday activity” (106) (maybe this is where his use of carpentry becomes odd). This is his work toward representing practice as theory – moving beyond putting theory into practice (111).

While I think there are some issues with how Bogost utilizes carpentry (even though it is smartly done), I see this chapter as material potential for situating rhetoric and composition in objects, which Rivers and Brown take up.

Rivers and Brown look at how rhetoric and composition (“R/C”) have taken up ecologies in scholarship that have focused on human to human relationships or human to world relationships, as compared to object oriented ontology’s consideration of ecology. But by highlighting the work of Collin Gifford Brooke, Marilyn Cooper, Jenny Edbauer, and Jody Shipka, they demonstrate “that R/C can be hospitable to various projects that take up the agency and existence of objects” (1). They state “the composition classroom presents a promising space for what we call, by way of Ian Bogost, rhetorical carpentry. The field’s recent focus on ecology is one that is mostly concerned with making and with production. This is in keeping with R/C’s long tradition of focusing on rhetorical invention (1)”. Building from Bogost’s carpentry, which they summarize as both a description of how objects make one another and a practice of doing philosophy (2), they extend carpentry one step further “suggesting that such making can be undertaken in an effort to do rhetoric” (2). In doing rhetorical carpentry, we would be engaged with “how we might ‘construct objects (and conversations among objects) in order to demonstrate approximations of the strange, alien conversations happening around us’” (quoting Brown) (2). Rivers and Brown carefully work to show R/C as not only a hospitable space for carpentry, but a vital space –

“The field’s interest in ecologies of writing and its pedagogical commitment to making strongly indicates that it can be yet another place to explore how objects carpenter one another and the world. An ecological approach to rhetoric and writing can fold together the work of making and relating, while keeping in place the withdrawn actuality of all objects” (3).

material scraps

audience as object (working from Graham Harman’s Guerilla Metaphysics) because “rhetoric is always speculative” (3) – shifting our scale to “in media res, in the middle of the thing and things” (3)

what this looks like/does in the composition classroom: While I can say that my pedagogy is an attempt at employing this theory as methodology, I have much room to improve. Rivers and Brown end their article with a description of a classroom as carpenter’s workshop from the view of an outside observer – “Part of what throws visitors and colleagues alike is that the class is not about the objects; the objects under composition are part of the class (they are what the students work on, of course), but, more importantly, the objects are also what the students work with” (5). I realize in the FYC classroom I inherit certain burdens (not all necessarily negative) about what I am expected to engage with in terms of textual materiality. But what I keep returning to is what makes the concept of working with/against objects in making material texts that account for and acknowledge their ecological situatedness so alien? What keeps us lingering in the theorizing about something that they are not doing in earnest?

“This range of compositions enacted ecologically introduces students to a multiplicity of composing skills, moves them to many scholarly activities across campus, weaves in an object-oriented approach, and positions rhetoric not simply as humans changing the minds of other humans, but as the work of relations, relations that remain strange and sometimes strained” (6) [bold emphasis my own] The idea of the alien or made strange-d classroom is something I’m thinking about…”rhetorical carpentry is focused on how we might “construct objects (and conversations among objects) in order to demonstrate approximations of the strange, alien conversations happening around us” (2)