As an extremely new comer to the discussions of Object Oriented Ontology -and also as someone still in the process of clarifying several philosophical concepts in the Western and as well as Eastern philosophies- I am trying to closely follow the steps of the thinkers of the OOO in establishing my relationship with a certain philosophy that I find myself getting gradually attached.
I am not sure if it is fashionable to open a very personal account in this manner on an online platform. But I will assume that it is not so much the question of personal or public, but a question of tuning into one’s experience and finding a way to share it. No one is obliged, of course, to engage with everything that is shared in the world. However, I guess, there must a be a reason why humans write, sing, dance, enact, paint, sculpt or give form to things in general. In this post, I am just sharing a very rough sketch -tissue paper directions- of my encounter with philosophical writings over the last decade or so -as clearly as I remember.
One of the conditions of being born in a small city in India and not necessarily moving the circles where speaking of high art is a common thing is that one stumbles upon any kind of philosophy slightly late in one’s life. One of the memorable book series of my childhood was a 14 volume Encyclopedia that my father had purchased from a random salesperson. Some of the painted illustrations from the encyclopedias are still vividly clear in my head -especially rubber extraction process and some Dali’s paintings.
However, as an architecture student you do tend to get caught in some buzzwords and trends that borrow from philosophical concepts (which at the time one is hardly capable of grasping the origins or key authors -or the concept of key authors and key literature to begin with. We never had the key, someone or something usually spilled certain contents from the philosophical wundercammer and we usually went with whatever shone the most at the moment). I had cautioned myself against such trends myself from my early years as a student. However, I must admit I did get fancy myself some de-con projects. Perhaps it was the idea of breaking things that really appealed many of us -if not the flying buildings.
Soon, some of us were introduced to Deleuze by architect Praveen Bawdekar -particularly folds. Which of course, as deconstruction simply translated in several of our projects as folding floors into ceilings -none of us really read Deleuze thoroughly -not until recently. Perhaps an interesting outcome of such accidents was my encounter with Manuel Delanda and particularly his A Thousand years of Non-linear History. Like I mentioned earlier, for several of us, for whom, philosophy was like a strange, alien, and mythical object, we were absolutely unprepared and untrained to make sense of anything spoken in those books. Books that often worked better as showpieces, coasters, paperweights, bolder or perhaps in their best moments as design objects worth paying some attention to.
One of the most enchanting books during those years was an illustrated book of Dante’s Divine Comedy. I had borrowed the book from a dear friend’s father who was a sculptor by profession. I regret having never returned that book.
Eventually, the post-graduate courses got me close to the big names of philosophy Foucault, Benjamin, Adorno, Situationists, Norbert Weiner, McLuhan, Zizek, Deleuze and Guattari, Derrida, Barthes, Agamben, Latour and so on. With no conceptual tools and orientation engaging with philosophy often felt like an active lose canon or a badly remixed tape. This is already 2014. Between 2017 and 2020, at SEA, I am getting familiar with authors like D D Kosambi, Dhasal, Ambedkar, Ranciere, Heidegger and so on – albeit cursorily.
However, by this time, one thing became quite clear. Like the tradition of philosophy, it is interesting for architects to take a historical stock of key architectural thinkers and ideas, regardless of one’s engagement with philosophy.
Before I continue, I must confess that my cultural milieu has somehow always kept me closer or oriented to certain kind of ‘flat ontology’, but perhaps it is too anthropocentric to be referred to as ‘flat’ or even ‘object oriented’ -it is perhaps closer to, what Graham is interestingly accused of, pan-psychism. In my family, for instance, we have been repeatedly taught the principle of non-violence towards all beings. However, we were also told that, if we do impart violence on any being then we would face reparation, or we will have to atone in our afterlives. Not only that, we will continue to be stuck in the cycle of worldly life forever -never attain moksha. Of course, I have never had faith in any of the ‘causal’ aspect of such a dogma -but perhaps, somewhere the idea of non-violence towards all beings has sustained with me. Is this why, perhaps, why I find myself attracted to OOO or realism in general? I cannot say that for sure.
I did not encounter Graham Harman until the fourth quarter of 2019. I do not even remember how I encountered his work -A new Theory of everything. Perhaps, it was Amazon’s recommendation? I was 32 then. Reading Graham was refreshing. For several reasons. Let me see if I am able to locate why so:
1. Graham’s writings are like those sharp architectural diagrams that explain the essence of a project explicitly. They offer a generous tour of the neighborhoods of philosophy without making one feel over intimidated by the giants.
2. Besides the lecture that Delanda gave at the European Graduate School, perhaps even contrastingly, first few pages of Graham’s writings helped in clarifying the philosophical schools and their underpinning theses. I had been struggling with such clarifications for over a decade and found myself roaming the gardens of philosophy without knowing what to really look for / find there -until I came across Graham’s writings. Although, I wish Graham writes a sharp volume on introduction to philosophy for a rather more detailed account. Accounts that he could not accommodate in several of his books due to word-length / budgetary constraints and so on. But until that happens, if ever, any of his books are great starting points to clarify the basic arguments and considerations of most western philosophy.
3. More often than not, there is a general dismissal and a sense of uninvited-ness in most philosophical writings which is surprisingly reversed in Graham’s writings. You feel welcomed. Even in his first book Tool Being, although which is much more complex and opaque in its sentence and paragraph structure than any of his later works, there is a humbleness that is not the usual trait of the philosophical big guns.
5. Graham’s writings offer an interesting way to think about the questions of form and space – which is of personal interest to me.
4. Very rarely do you find a philosopher thinking directly and dearly about architecture.