On behalf of form

The view from archaeology and architecture

Authored by: Graham Harman

Elements of Architecture

Print publication date:  March  2016
Online publication date:  February  2016

Print ISBN: 9781138775411
eBook ISBN: 9781315641171
Adobe ISBN: 9781317279228


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The key principle of object-oriented philosophy is that real objects have an autonomous reality, withdrawn from their relations (see Harman 2011a, 2011b for introductions to object oriented philosophy; see also Bryant 2011). This does not mean that nothing relates to anything else, since in that case we would have neither causality nor proximity, and would have a hard time explaining how anything happens at all. What the withdrawal of objects really means is that no real object is exhausted by its current relations, or even by all of its possible relations. The object is a determinate though elusive surplus that can never fully be mined. Insofar as objects escape the grasp of any privileged human subject, it is often assumed that object-oriented philosophy is a form of “materialism.” But given that each withdrawn object has a specific individual structure, objects are best viewed not as matter, but as hidden and definite forms. This preoccupation with objects and forms cuts against the grain of most recent avant-garde theorizing in the arts, humanities, and social sciences. Usually objects are either dissolved downward into material components and sub-individual, blob-like masses (“undermining”), or they are dissolved upward into holistic networks of relations, events, and practices (“overmining”), or both of these at once (“duomining”). Form, for its part, has been so marginalized by the repeated waves of materialist theories that it is usually mentioned only in the context of mathematical formalization (for recent examples see Badiou 2006; Meillassoux 2008), precisely the opposite of what object-oriented philosophy means by form: a surplus beyond any access, mathematical or otherwise.

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