anotherheideggerblog Tuesday, July 21, 2009 Interview with Graham Harman
I probably don't even need to introduce the next interviewee, but I'll give it a bash nonetheless. Graham Harman is the author of Tool-Being: Heidegger and the Metaphysics of Objects, Heidegger Explained, and Guerrilla Metaphysics: Phenomenology and the Carpentry of Things. Many of you will know him via his (awesome) blog Object Oriented Philosophy, and his association with speculative realism. He is currently Associate Vice Provost for Research and Associate Professor of Philosophy at the American University in Cairo. Paul Ennis
The obvious thinkers who have had a great impact on me are Heidegger, Husserl, Whitehead, and Zubiri. But let me name a few others, in chronological order.
First, José Ortega y Gasset. I was reading Ortega before I was reading Heidegger. He writes brilliantly (he nearly won the Nobel Prize for Literature), and is one of the two major influences on my writing style. I’ve tried to emulate his clarity as well as the light touch with which he includes erudition in his works. I also love Ortega’s commitment to writing newspaper articles and other non-standard genres of philosophy rather than dull, plodding treatises. I’ve also heard him called “the intelligible Heidegger,” so in some ways he may have paved the way for my acceptance of Heidegger a bit later. Finally, if there is one essay by anyone that prefigures all of my philosophical ideas, it is Ortega’s “Essay In Esthetics By Way of a Preface,” found in English in Phenomenology and Art. I discuss that essay in detail in Guerrilla Metaphysics. It’s a masterpiece, though Ortega himself went no further along that trail.
Second, I should mention my old mentor Alphonso Lingis, the most dazzling prose stylist and most interesting human character I’ve ever known. He’s one of the few people who took phenomenology in any sort of realist direction. In American continental philosophy he is left somewhat at the fringes... Sort of an amusing character people tell nice jokes and stories about, and respected to some extent, but nowhere near the center of philosophical debate. And I consider this to be something of an indictment of the scene in America, because when all is said and done, Lingis was one of the few original thinkers to be found in American continental philosophy in the 1970-2000 period. A lot of important translation and commentary was done during that period, but few people were in the same league as Lingis in terms of original ideas, and of course no one remotely equaled him as a writer. If Ortega’s clarity and liveliness was the first thing I tried to emulate as a writer, Lingis’ exoticism and spookiness was the second.
Third, Emmanuel Levinas. The fact that Lingis had translated so much Levinas made me wonder what the appeal was. And Existence and Existents had a major impact on me. No one –I repeat, no one—is a better reader of Heidegger than Levinas. He takes Heidegger so seriously, but without ever lapsing into a pious attitude toward him. It was Levinas who first showed me how to be a Heideggerian and an innovator at the same time, though I think Levinas takes the wrong fork in the road.
Yes! Husserl is badly out of fashion these days, and it often feels that I’m fighting a losing battle in my circles of friends when insisting on his importance. Last summer (2008) I went back and reread the whole of the Logical Investigations, and it was a pleasure, despite the work’s obvious difficulty.
The empiricist doctrine that things of the senses are nothing but bundles of qualities enjoys widespread acceptance even among those who otherwise denounce empiricism. The real greatness of Husserl is to have challenged, and in my view destroyed, the notion of a bundle of qualities.
Everyone wants to dump on Husserl for being an idealist, but many of these same people rush to embrace Badiou, who is no less an idealist than Husserl! While I obviously dislike Husserl’s idealism, he is the first object-oriented idealist, followed in this respect by Merleau-Ponty and very few others. Even if we are trapped in a phenomenal realm, this realm displays a mighty duel between various trees or houses on one side and the wildly shifting profiles or adumbrations through which we grasp them on the other.
In my philosophy, this tension between intentional objects and their qualities is one of four great tensions that make up the fabric of the cosmos, all of them involving the tension between an object-pole and a quality-pole. In my recent writings this has become a new fourfold of time, space, essence, and eidos. Without Husserl, despite his idealism, object-oriented philosophy could not exist...
History of the Concept of Time (not to be confused with the very brief The Concept of Time) is a good first thing to read. It contains most of the best content of Being and Time, along with that brilliant 100-page opening about Husserl and his greatest contributions to philosophy. It’s also much better written than Being and Time, since it was a lecture course for undergraduates...
For American students of continental philosophy in particular, it’s also important not to get too sucked into Europhilia. The world is a lot bigger than France and Germany, rich though their intellectual traditions obviously are. It’s a good idea to put one foot in any non-Western tradition, just to make your world larger. And even more simply than this, I would encourage American students to discover the American intellectual tradition as well, which is something we tend not to do. In philosophy there’s William James, who may not be of the magnitude of Heidegger, but can still teach you a lot about how to think and write...
My point is, young North Americans (especially in the USA) working in continental philosophy have a tendency to feel very insecure in relation to Europe, the motherland of most of what we read in our discipline... Posted by Paul Ennis. anotherheideggerblog