Forvandle velkendte problemer til ukendte

Det er næsten blevet en kliché at sige, at spørgsmål er vigtigere end løsninger i filosofien, og at problemer aldrig rigtig er løst. Men selvom jeg ikke helt tror på det, tror jeg heller ikke at et filosofisk system hovedsageligt retfærdiggører sin egen eksistens gennem sin evne til at løse alle mulige tilfældige spørgsmål, som folk der måtte støde ind i det på fortovet kunne finde på at stille det. Behovet for at besejre alle nyankomne, for at være urørlig for alle indvendinger, er mere et socialt behov end et strengt intellektuelt; de mest aggressive debattører vi kender er sjældent de mest interessante tænkere. Enhver mægtig filosofi forbliver hjemsøgt af talrige besværligheder som den aldrig rigtig løser, og som en person med selv minimal træning let kan udpege. Uden den slags problemer, ville dens drivkraft forsvinde og den ville sygne hen til ligegyldighed. Når en filosofs efterkommere tackler dem effektivt, afgøres disse problemer heller ikke for altid, men efterlades heller ikke som et melankolsk mysterie. Hvad der virkelig sker er, at de oversættes til nye eller mere interessante problemer, måske endda større problemer – og en ny oversættelsesstil er hvad vi kalder et nyt filosofisk standpunkt. Intellektuel stagnation stammer ikke fra sindets uløste problemer (disse er aldrig fraværende) men fra en dalende evne til at forvandle velkendte problemer til ukendte. Hvorimod betydningsfulde perioder i filosofien kanaliserer deres samlede problemer gennem friske vandløb og kanaler, behandler mere rigide perioder de samme problemer via halvkvalte, falske modsætninger der udgør  det hengemte konsensus. Det er ikke meget anderledes end den måde daglige rutiner kan begynde at udmatte os, ens by kan føles som et fængsel,  arbejdsopgaver kan føles utålelige og psykiske besættelser kan opstå fra begærets uelastiske tilstand. Intellektuelt helbred lader lige som følelsernes elegance til at kræve et vist princip af variation.

– Efter Guerilla metaphysics, Graham Harman, s. 89.

Controversial things, or the dual sense of ‘saklighet’

A quick comment on the translation of the term ‘nysaklig’ into ‘new-thingly’

It seems to me that ‘thingly’ loses one aspect of the dual nature in ‘saklig’. A ‘sak’ can actually refer to two things: First, a thing or an object in the most concrete way; crystals, ants, computers, gay bath houses or supernovas; the second aspect of the word ‘sak’ is more relational and refers to an affair or a controversy, the fact that something matters and have become important or crucial in some sense to certain actors; a quarrel between friends, a scholarly disagreement or the scandals of classical politics. ‘Sak’ can even refer to a cause, as in fighting for a cause etc.

I’m not sure that Rasmus Fleischer intended this, but then again that’s not the point.

What I like about the second aspect, which seems to me to have been lost in the translation, is that it places relationality by way of controversy, confrontation and affairs at the center of how to study objects. This does not mean that objects are merely reduced to their relations, that relationality “undermines” the independent being of things, as Graham Harman likes to say it. Rather, it brings forth the idea that to know, study or encounter a thing (a parrot, boulder or para-military group) is always in some way dramatic, or at least political (in the cosmopolitical sense of Isabelle Stengers, whom I haven’t read, but at least in the way Latour has made sense of it [pdf]).

In danish, this aspect becomes even more clear, as the corresponding word ‘sag’ specifically is used to refer to law suits or other legal disputes between parties. Also, the news media are especially obsessed about ‘sager’, ie. affairs, that are scandalous or revealing.

Curiously, ‘saklig’ (or in danish, ‘saglig’) also refers to a manner of discussing focused on facts – for some people this even implies so called “neutrality”, but I guess that sense comes from the party of dusty scientism. In a broader sense ‘saklig’ refers to an attitude of being to-the-point. But most interestingly, ‘saklig’ is usually used synonymously with being objective, which should be understood very literally in the OOOsense: oriented towards the objective, ie. the involved objects and what concerns them. Similarly, ‘saklig’ is also usually used synonymously with the expression ‘matter-of-fact’ (which is similar with to-the-point, but at least makes a for me still unclear reference to Latour in the article ‘Why has critique run out of steam? From matter-of-fact to matter-of-concern’)

This should be enough to give an idea of some of the richness that the term ‘saklig’ could reveal. To sum up the dual sense of the term that I have outlined above: ‘saklig’ implies both an object-orientation, but also an orientation towards confrontation, dispute and drama. If anyone was ever uncertain of the political implications of OOO and might have thought that it implied static or reactionary conservatism, where the subterranean qualities of object are always preserved and all the shallow entanglements and collisions between them are merely fleeting changes in a hard-as-diamond state-of-things, then the scandinavian expression might evoke a quite different idea of the object-orientation, of sakligheten.

To make a closing association (and I’m aware that this post has been almost entirely associating), we might consult Karen Barad and her agential realism in Meeting the Universe Halfway. Barad is certainly a philosopher of the speculative sort – in one occurence calling for a “weird materialism” – by audaciously launching her grand metaphysics by merging the micro-physics of Michel Foucault with the quantum physics of Niels Bohr. There are important differences between her and OOO though, and I feel that the concepts of apparatus, entanglements, intra-action and especially the Bohrian term phenomena bring up crucial problems (Instead of objects, at least in the non-entangled sense, Barad argues that ‘phenomena’ should be the real objective referents; a term that could also fruitfully be named situation). Nonetheless – or maybe exactly for that reason – Barad can help us grasp the dual sense of ‘saklighet’ in her discussion of “onto-epistemology”. The argument is fairly simple, because of an elegant wordplay, that she borrows from Judith Butler. Barad’s metaphysics can be summed up in a sentence: the universe comes to matter. Every thing comes to matter in two ways: comes to matter as in materialize; comes to matter as in having meaning, or making sense. It is in this way that epistemology always has ontological consequences (and vice versa). Every process of mattering (e.g. an experiment on the behavior of light) involves what Barad calls an ‘agential cut’ in the object (e.g. light), that makes certain aspects of the object come to matter (e.g. its particle-quality) and certain others not come to matter (e.g. its wave-quality). Agential cuts make certain things appear and other certain things disappear. It’s in this way that the ontoepistemological process in a profound way always implies ethics: in an almost literal sense to ‘take sides’ when making agential cuts, in a particular controversy between objects (where the ethical actor in question naturally becomes one of these objects).