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09/09/2009

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Man I love Ian, but I don't like the direction this debate is going. Maybe it's just the analytic philosopher in me, but what we need is more clarity and careful exposition and less of the name and ism dropping. The fact that we have to go offline to try and figure out the point (much less the argument) is not encouraging.

Hey Peter, I don't understand. I mean, I understand if you don't want to like my move here (that's up to you), but going offline and figuring out the point? Wha?

Maybe it's just me. I like papers that tell me what they are going to tell me, then tell me, then tell me what they told me. I didn't last until I got to your positive proposal (or move or whatever it is), nor am I even sure I located the part of the paper where the point is supposed to be. I also don't like seeing papers flooded out with obscurantist overrated philosophers (Zizek, Derrida, Heidegger, Hegel, Latour, etc). What is all that name dropping supposed to accomplish? If there is a point to make then make it; don't expect me to distill it from seeing the name of some philosopher who wrote tens of thousands of pages of obscure prose. That doesn't help explain anything. It just layers on the obscurity in the hopes of what...making one look learned? I don't get it.

I thought that the beginning sections of the paper, leading up the the conclusion that "This first ontology of games is really a rhetoric, not an ontology at all," were first rate. Bogost puts his finger on the central problem with the whole L vs. N debate that I'd always suspected was there, but never felt fully able to articulate.

The paper lost me too, though, eventually, and even a little earlier than it did Peter. I found the Bogost/Montfort "model" of "computational creativity" totally inscrutable. Any author who attempts to depict the propositional content of a theory using a diagram that isn't even properly annotated (and it's a surprisingly common trick, especially in the cognitive science literature) needs to spend more time thinking very carefully about what (if anything) he actually has to say. And the idea that Kant, Berkeley, Hegel, Heidegger and Derrida all belong to some grand unified tradition of "anti-realism" is a grotesque caricature.

Mark,

While I recognize that it's a cartoon, I wouldn't go so far as to say grotesque caricature. Lee Braver makes too good a case in the 500 and some odd pages he spends telling the story (Kant, Hegel, Nietzsche, early Heidegger, late Heidegger, Foucault, Derrida). There are places you can quibble at each point (and I do at several), but it's a story that repays philoosphical reflection.

As far as the model of creativity, given the level of depth you've been thinking about this very issue I can see how Bogost's comments in this paper are frustrating. But I do think this just shows that both of us desperately need to read both Racing the Beam and Unit Operations, as well as how he's pulling in the speculative realism stuff. (1) If we want to push further our own model of creativity/emergence ( (M. Silcox and J. Cogburn, “Computability Theory and Literary Competence,” The British Journal of Aesthetics, 46.5, (2006), pp. 369-386, J. Cogburn and M. Silcox, “Computing Machinery and Emergence,” Minds and Machines, 15.1 (2005), pp. 73-89, and Chapters 5 and 6 of our book) ) we'll need to minimally flesh it out in terms of the things to which Bogost calls attention in those books. (2) On our model of computational emergence there are things that are reducible to others, and I think we'll have some nice counterexamples to the kind of generalized irreduction that Levi Bryant is arguing. If/when that stuff get's published somewhere other than a blog, we will again be able to develop our view in reaction to it. (3) "the Scylla of correlationism, a common problem with media studies and social scientific analyses of games, and the Charybdis of reductionism," is a very good way to think about a certain problem space.

All this being said. As an analytical philosopher I share you guys' frustration, but mine is with some of the philosophers from whom Bogost is drawing.

It's actually really great that some Continental philosophers are starting to reject the most dysfunctional aspects of phenomenology. Following Meillassoux (whose book "After Finitude" is very good) Brassier, Hamilton, Harman, and Bryant all reject the implicit idealism/anti-realism in the tradition of philosophy that has grown out of late Heidegger partially on the continent but to a much larger extent in the United States (but still oxymoronically called "Continental Philosophy") The basic move away is pretty fascinating and often incisive stuff (read Meillassoux as well as the first two thirds of Harman's "Tool Being," for example).

But it can be frustrating in the blogosphere to see people reinventing so many wheels. I mean, analytical philosophy has over fifty years of work moving away from unreconstructed logical positivism now, and a lot of the resulting first rate work in "realist metaphysics" is easily accessible these days on the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (and the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy too) to anyone willing to spend a few hours reading clear essays. When I was more involved on continental realism part of the blogosphere I abrogated to myself the job to try to bring these resources to bear, but without much luck. Here's an example of a recent posting in relation to flat ontologies and fictional entities:
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. . . .it must be noted that some ferociously good philosophers have already dedicated much of their lives to thinking these things through, and that the fruits of their labor are available free.

In the Stanford Encyclopedia alone there are very nice, genuinely accessible to someone without a lot of background, articles such as: (1) fictionalism ( http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/fictionalism/ , (2) the paradox of suspense ( http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/paradox-suspense/ ), (3) possible objects ( http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/possible-objects/ ), (4) nonexistent objects ( http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/nonexistent-objects/ ).

I could make a comparable list about work on causation, scientific naturalism, the problem of the external world (in metaphysics, epistemology, and cognitive science), or any of the debates that the SR blogosphere circles around.
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But this kind of thing actually usually comes across little better than when Andy Kaufmann played a wrestling heel in the American South and would show the marks how to use soap. And when I tried to get someone to read Loux or Lowe's great metaphysics textbooks it was like Kaufmann with the toilet paper.

So this has been frustrating and I've stopped doing it.

The question I think for an analytical philosopher (with regards to continental philosophy being presupposed or used in cultural studies) is whether it is worth it to meet the continental philosophers 4/5ths of the way there. This is a decision we all have to make, but unless some of us are willing to do it there is going to still be an unfortunate divorce between most academic study of popular culture and most philosophy. American Continental Philosophers don't have to face this, because the 68 Parisians were such successful cultural exports to American non-philosophy departments (to the chagrin of the French, read the Sorbonne Literature Professor (member of the Acadamy) in the "Theory's Empire" anthology discuss Derrida's non-reception in France).

But please read Bogost's essay again and compare it to the madness of the heyday of Derrideana here, when you'd get bad phenomenological verbiage combined with painfully unfunny puns and instance after instance of stupid forced chiasmus so that either no significant point is made, and the need to argue for such a point is voided by the rules of the game. Bogost's thoughts throughout the essay are relevant and interesting. After really skillfully setting aside the ludology brouhaha, he is able to raise the problem of primary and secondary qualities and the problem of emergence as they apply to video games in a very clear manner. This is no small victory.

If we think the dialectical space concerning these issues (and how they apply to video games) can be presented fairly without the flat ontology work (or more likely with all of the other factors relevant to that debate that are being left out because of the odd refusal by some of the philosophers Bogost cites to read Stanford Encyclopedia and Internet Encyclopedia articles on these very things written by analytic philosophers), then it's the job now of analytic philosophers to do this work so that it is accessible to social critics that don't have a background in analytical philosophy.

I'll get down off my soapbox now. Sorry I strayed too far from the discussion of the actual piece. Feel free to refute me.

[At the risk of going further afield: (1) I should note that things go the other way too, Dermot Moran's book on Phenomenology is extremely clear and accessible to analytic philosophers, as is Lee Braver's "A Thing of this World," Dreyfus and Okrent's work on Heidegger, and most of Harman's work, and (2) clearly there's only a finite amount anybody can read, and nobody's going to be able to read all the stuff they think they should.]

Peter, Mark, the "paper" in question is the text of a live address. Its rhetorical mode took that context into account first and foremost. That said, myriad other readers, many unburdened by philosophical backgrounds of any kind, have successfully made it through the 6k words or so of the text version, and they seem to have walked away unscathed, and even at times satisfied.

As Jon suggests, a more detailed explanation of Nick and my layers of computational creativity does appear in _Racing the Beam_. But really, the example is illustrative here, not of central concern. Mark, I'm not sure how you could find it inscrutable, unless you are assuming that it is making a claim more far-reaching than it really is. I take the scare quotes you put around "model" to suggest as much.

The argument that a problem has been solved already, via [insert favorite figure] or [insert favorite tradition], and that other discourse is ignorant and therefore invalid, is to me unfortunate way to converse about things, a way that can only end a conversation. FWIW, I took a degree in analytical philosophy as well as in comparative literature, so I've read my Kripke just as I've read my Derrida, although admittedly I've read a lot more of the latter a lot more frequently than the former. But the move we are all trying to make in object-oriented ontology is, I think, not simply reducible to problems of naming, fiction, possible worlds, and related questions. I've had the same issue come up with the STS folks, who of course also assume that this is "all in Latour," something I also disagree with. Indeed, we may be proceeding from entirely different modes, ones borne partly from the rift that frustrates folks like you. As Harman has said, "Analytic philosophy has given us more 'knockdown arguments' than the human race has ever known, yet it is not clear that we have achieved a Golden Age of philosophy in return."

You don't have to like my approach, my direction, my influences, or my style. But I also don't have to defend their very existence. There are likely plenty of commonalities for us to explore if we choose to, but we're hardly going to get anywhere asking for passwords and club cards and secret handshakes. I'm with Jon, let's see what we can do in the weird discomfort of one another's company, like adolescents at a high school dance rather than football hooligans at a pub.

Ian, I get that you are trying to turn this discussion in a more positive direction, but honestly, what is up with this?;

>we're hardly going to get anywhere asking for passwords and club cards and secret handshakes

All I'm asking is that you clearly state your thesis and not load up the paper with jargon and pointless references to epically obscure philosophers. That isn't asking you for passwords, club cards, and secret handshakes; it is asking you to be CLEAR and to DROP the passwords, secret handshakes, etc.

I don't doubt that a lot of people high five your work these days. You are a big deal. Personally I don't pay a attention to high fivers, I pay attention to people that criticize me, because if they are nodding their heads in agreement it probably means they haven't understood me.

Anyway, sorry if I come off as a football hooligan at a pub. We don't have football hooligans in this country. Do they make a habit of demanding clarity too?

Is this really happening? Peter, you aren't criticizing me. Not my ideas, anyway. You're criticizing my delivery while refusing to read it for my ideas, and then demanding that I meet you not partway, but all the way, and to feel good about it at the same time. Can you understand the bad taste this leaves in my mouth? I honestly don't know how to proceed here, except to express sorrow that I feel unable to do so.

"And it is here I stagger into the pub, with my heels off shouting like a terrier"

I'm not sure how much more clearly Bogost has to clarify his position on 'Videogames Are A Mess', his ideas are right there for all to see. Please can Peter acknowledge that this paper was not written for philosophers of a particular tradition, but for Game Studies academia at the DIGRA conference, namely a myriad of programmers, designers, sociologists, journalists and other disciplines. Therefore the rhetoric should not be anything but simple to follow as it is supposed to be accessible to many not familiar with reflections on metaphysics.

>I pay attention to people that criticize me, because if they are nodding their heads in agreement it probably means they haven't understood me.

Touché' , I could have written the obvious statement here, but that would be too easy.


Aside from this, I'd like to ask Bogost (although not extensively), how Unit Operations differs from ANT as mentioned in the paper. I can imagine that units can be reconfigured according to the specificity of the copulationism you mention, (Badiou's restructuring of a situation), entailing some 'void' or 'Real' entity in units, rather than a unit solely built on relations, or in you terms operations.

Perhaps there may even be significant similarities (so significant so as not to ignore) between say, a system operation and Latour's 'Black Boxes'

But I'm thinking this may conflict with the de-emphasisation of the human in Object Oriented Ontology, in it may perhaps spark a return to privileging the Human 'unit' once more, after all Badiou never really specifies who does the counting in making multiples consistent other than the Human.

Jon,

Thanks for the links. A couple of points. As others have pointed out in this thread, I believe that it's tremendously important to keep in mind the rhetorical dimension or situation of Bogost's paper. He was presenting a paper to an audience of cultural theorists steeped in Continental thought. As a consequence, it is necessary for him to work with theorists that they regularly work with. Suppose that you were to enter an Anglo-American conference with guns blazing, presenting a paper drawing on all sorts of Continental thinkers with which your audience was thoroughly unfamiliar. Do you think that paper would be well received or even understood? I often get the sense that discourse communities on both side of the puddle confuse familiarity with clarity. I personally found Ian's paper exceptionally clear, but then again I am intimately familiar with the discursive framework and tradition he's working within, it's problems and questions, it's basic concepts and so on.

Second, as you may or may not know, a significant portion of my education was Anglo-American. I did 116 hours of course work at Ohio State as an undergrad that was almost entirely Anglo-American in scope. I specifically chose Loyola of Chicago for my graduate work because it was an eclectic and mixed program. There I did as much work in Anglo-American thought as I did in Continental thought. Ian has a similar grounding in Anglo-American thought, as does Harman who works with a number of Anglo-American thinkers. It is not as if there is a lack of familiarity with these things, though I would concede it doesn't rise to the level of expertise.

Finally, I have to take umbrage with the thesis that SR is somehow reinventing the wheel. This might be the case with Meillassoux and Brassier as both appear to be representational realists that hold that being consists of physical reality independent of mind and culture. Brassier's aim, it seems, is to show that science delivers us to "true reality". However, again both are to be defended on the grounds of the audience they are addressing. I do not know Meillassoux's background well, but I do know that Brassier is deeply intimate with Anglo-American though. The game he seems to be up to is one of introducing representational realism to a Continental crowd, and this requires working with concepts that primarily have a Continental pedigree.

With OOO matters are different. Here I'll distinguish between Graham's position and my own. The links you sent me above suggests that we're interpreting the term "flat ontology" very differently (and given that they deal heavily with fictional entities I get the sense that you're responding to claims I've made). When I endorse the thesis of a flat ontology, this ontology is absolutely flat. In other words, there is no distinction between the "really real" and some other type of thing that only belongs to culture or mind. If something makes differences within the framework of this ontology, then it is without qualification. To make the point more starkly, the thesis is that if something produces differences it exists. All of the articles you linked to are implicitly premised on the modernist division between a pure, absolutely transcendent nature on the one side (composed presumably of the "really real" or as the article on fictionalism articulates it, the existent), and on the other hand, of the social, the cultural, and the mental or the subjective. No variant of OOO accepts this distinction, nor works within this framework. Unlike the representational realisms of Brassier and Meillassoux where the issue is the epistemological question of how minds can represent a mind independent reality as it is in itself, OOO is an ontological thesis about what exists and about the nature of this existence. In my variant, this ontology is "flat" in the sense that a sign or a fiction is treated as no less of an object than the moon. Note, I am not saying that Bartleby is equally as strong as the moon, that it acts in exactly the same way, or that Bartleby, the fictional character, sleeps, eats, etc., etc..

None of the articles you reference above even remotely approach this sort of weird realism that would go all the way in treating Bartleby as a real object, so it's exceedingly difficult for me to see how there is something like the re-invention of the wheel taking place here. When I ask after the ontological status of fictions, I am not seeking to determine whether or not fictions might be linguistically useful, how the mind uses fictions, etc. I am engaging in a regional ontological investigation of how a particular type of entity is structured, functions, behaves, etc., as a real object that certainly could not exist without humans-- but neither could I without my parents or the planet's oxygen --but which is nonetheless independent of any particular mind once it comes into existence.

If I've been led to talk a good deal about fictions lately this is for two reasons: First, I think this thesis follows logically from my basic ontological hypothesis (or as you Anglo-Americans like to put it) "intuition" that the criteria for existence consists in producing differences. Second, however, I think that the analysis of fiction allows the OOO theorist to examine, in a pure state, a whole class of entities (symbolic entities or signs, language, etc) precisely because in fiction the referent is bracketed or suspended. As such, it allows us to get at the proper being of the sign, independent of the confusion that so often emerges where we focus on what signs, propositions, statements, and so on refer to, thereby treating the issue of reference and whether or not reference obtains as a criterion of the real.

Apologies if my tone here sounds a little cantankerous. I take exception to a friend and ally being unjustly dragged across the coals for his style ("why can't you write in a way that I'm familiar with!") rather than on the grounds of his ideas, and having it suggested that somehow this is all just reinventing the wheel. It might be madness, based on all sorts of faulty reasoning, etc., but I can't say that I've seen anything like this in other forms of realism. The closest analogues would be Latour, Peirce's semiotic realism, or perhaps certain moments in Searle's Construction of Social Reality. Yet even Searle, sensing that symbolic entities like money cannot be reduced to an intentional relations between a subject and an object nonetheless backslides in developing the thesis that symbolic entities are real objects, instead treating them as dependent on collective minds and intentions. With that said, I do draw a lot from my Anglo-American friends and will take good ideas wherever I might find them.

And just to add, I think part of the confusion here might arise from the resolute anti-anthropocentrism of OOO. Given this vigorous rejection of anthropocentric or Copernican philosophizing, one might get the impression that the claim is that the "really real" is that which is independent of humans. But that's not the OOO thesis. First, humans are objects too. They belong to being. Second, OOO is happy to concede that there are objects that wouldn't exist without the existence of human collectives. New York is such an object. The OOO thesis is two-fold: First, that it is not the case that all relations among objects involve a relation to the human. Second, that objects are independent of whatever generated them (e.g., New York is an entity in its own right, independent of whatever humans happen to live in it). The example of New York should underline that the OOO thesis is not that of physicalism or materialism, which claims that only material beings are real beings.

Levi,

Thanks, good stuff all around.

I'm sorry that my initial post was cantankerous (and I didn't find your posts to suffer from that). I never know how to react when philosophers I have immense respect for (here- Ludlow, you, and Harman) end up at cross purposes on the internet. This happens a fair bit. Sometimes I rise to the occasion, and sometimes I just manifest weird frustration and crankiness. And for all sorts of psychological and sociological reasons, blogging clearly exacerbates frustration and crankiness for everyone.

Another crankiness inducer is the bare fact that nobody who is delving deeply enough into philosophical issues can read all of the stuff they feel they need to. For example, for me right now it's clear I need to get at least minimally literate in Badiou, but I have all this other stuff I'm rewriting and I just don't have the time or left over mental resources. I'm also supremely and tremendously frustrated that I probably won't be able to get to Bogost or Ludlow's game books until next Summer (and that I haven't finished your Deleuze book, which is pretty great). So I think that my cantenkerousness above is in part a typical Freudian reaction to that, berating others for supposedly not doing what I'm not doing.

This being said, I guess it's better to always have more stuff you want to read, than to be bored.

Jon

I shouldn't be too fey about this though.

I do share a bit of Ludlow's frustration with what you and Graham are doing these days. I've taught two upper level metaphysics classes last year (using Loux and Lowe's books: (1) http://www.amazon.com/Metaphysics-Contemporary-Readings-Routledge-Philosophy/dp/0415962382/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1253286022&sr=8-3 (2) http://www.amazon.com/Metaphysics-Contemporary-Introduction-Introductions-Philosophy/dp/0415401348/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1253286022&sr=8-1 (3)http://www.amazon.com/Survey-Metaphysics-E-J-Lowe/dp/0198752539/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1253286076&sr=1-1 ), and I can't help but to feel like the recent more insular blogging sort of reinvents the wheel.

Harman's Heidegger and what you were doing with Deleuze and Lacan and Meillassoux (though a study of the relationships between him and Graham Priest needs to be written) all introduced new things to the analytic conversation. But when you start talking about reducibility, emergence, fictional entities, and yes time and temporality with the vocabulary of your theory (always a dangerous move!)- I'm just not seeing it. What you do with these notions ends up presupposing that a lot of open debates in analytic philosophy are a priori solved. I mean, there are huge debates about what reduction actually is when just limited to the sciences (see Mark Wilson and Robert Battermans' brilliant but really difficult books just to start), and claims about irreducibility don't make any sense unless one has a clear stand on those debates- which are among the hardest in contemporary philosophy. Likewise with respect to fictional entities (see the Stanford Encyclopedia articles above). What is a fictional entity supposed to be? Saying that your theory is or isn't committed to them just doesn't make any sense unless your theory has something substantial to contribute to these quite profound existing debates.

It can be extremely frustrating if your exposure to a debate gives you a finer sense of intensionality relative to the constitutive notions to then see them bandied about in a course-grained way. This is what I take to be Ludlow's frustration.

And introduction of a new vocabulary often works in a reifying way, to make the relevant concepts seem more determinate than they are in the debate, and as an excuse to ignore extant literature (the continental trope of "rethinking" does this in a vastly worse way). Philosophers should be (and are) constitutionally uncomfortable with new vocabularies for just this reason.

So I do to some extent share Ludlow's frustration when Bogost cited recent discussions from your blog for a theoretical framework (though I'm not taking back anything I said above). But, if possible, please realize that this discomfort does not diminish my high regard for you as a thinker. I think you are quite brilliant and will enthusiastically read whatever book comes out of this stage in your thinking. But, I was a big fan of your blog before you had a proprietary vocabulary for your theory and before you dedicated many of the posts towards self-consciously incorporating everything into it. And, not incidentally, when there was more fundamental dissent in the discussion (I'm not blaming you, or anybody, for blogospheric breakdown of that conversation).

The primary model in analytic philosophy is peer reviewed journal publications. This forces most work to be in dialogue with existing work (if you don't cite something relevant the reviewer's hammer you). It really sucks to have your ego crushed by bad reviews and rejections (journals in analytic philosophy have the lowest acceptance rate of all disciplines; rarely above 15% and often as low as 3%). It really sucks to have to rewrite the same paper a fifth time before sending it out again. But my experiences in the philosophical blogosphere make me value these norms more and more.

I know that you are developing your thoughts in public on the blog (in contrast, I actually never blog in any detail about the papers I am currently working on, which accounts for the high percentage of cute pictures of my son, rhapsodes about professional wrestling, and youtube videos of things that rawk). It's kind of a new thing and you get a lot of unjustified crap for it. I'm sorry if this post is contributing to the crap pile. . .

Sorry this is so far afield of the discussion of Bogost's presentation. Whatever one feels about this teacup tempest, I think we can all agree that the presentation is interesting and philosophically fruitful enough to justify reading his books.

Not sure how fruitful the whole discussion "what a video game really is" can be. Most concepts and phenomena referenced in this discussion are not well understood and need a lot of research to clarify them. One can't help thinking that it is a sign for the youth of this discipline that it is so fascinated by sentences starting with "all games are ..." instead of concentrating on genres and single titles in order to probe the variety of phenomena. So instead of looking at notions which are even more general but are linked to highly valued names it seems to me to be more promising to narrow the scope of our perspective thus achieving a higher resolution and enabling us to see more details specific to the object we are interested in and not those which these objects have in common with a more general class of objects.

Small aside - IB said/wrote:
"But Frasca gets narratology wrong. It was never a term that unified scholars from different disciplines; indeed, narratology remains a very particular structuralist approach to the study of narrative—not story mind you, but the differences between stories and their telling."

This is probably a misunderstanding. Narratology exists since structuralism but nowadays it is very far from being a structuralist approach but covers very different perspectives on narrative (post-structuralist, feminist, cognitive etc.), just look for example at the Routledge Encyclopedia of Narrative Theory. What IB describes is often called 'classical narratology' in contrast to those modern approaches.

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