I can’t seem to sign in to comment on his blog, but Graham Harman very generously replied to my comments on his talk and Speculative Medievalisms II in NYC. It’s a clarifying & informative comment, & a great example of how the blog-interface speeds up intellectual exchanges: now I know at least one good way to pronounce OOO (“triple-oh”), and I have another reason to read Meillassoux‘s After Finitude, to source the “great outdoors” phrase I’ve seen in a few places.
Some interesting thoughts too on “Latour litanies,” which I had mis-cited as “Latour lists,” and for which Harman posits a literary genealogy going back to Homer’s catalog of ships, any mention of which makes me want to quote Mandelshtam:
Sleeplessness. Homer. Taut sails.
I have counted half the catalog of ships,
That caravan of cranes, the expansive host,
Which once rose above Hellas…
On these lists, however, I wonder if we’re thinking about two slightly different but related versions of the literary catalog. The Borges lists I was thinking of work by being internally off-kilter; they set up one kind of accumulative logic and then violate or distort that logic, so that the list — perhaps, for Borges, like systematic thought itself? — becomes a dynamic, shifting, unstable system. The canonical example in Borges, which has generated its own accurate-seeming Wikipedia page, is the one Foucault made famous in The Order of Things, a catalog of possible types of animals —
- Those that belong to the emperor
- Embalmed ones
- Those that are trained
- Suckling pigs
- Mermaids (or Sirens)
- Fabulous ones
- Stray dogs
- Those that are included in this classification
- Those that tremble as if they were mad
- Innumerable ones
- Those drawn with a very fine camel hair brush
- Et cetera
- Those that have just broken the flower vase
- Those that, at a distance, resemble flies
I’d have to go back to Latour to think about whether his signature style is list-eating lists a la Borges, or a more straightforward or comprehensive catalog such as Homer’s — though for me at least the corrosive effect of Borges’s lists is to make all such litanies seem unstable or provisional attempts at ordering an inherently disorderly and dynamic cosmos. My guess is Latour’s litanies work this way too. Borges certainly isn’t the first to write such thought-fracturing lists; Shakespeare’s “Where a malignant and a turbaned Turk,” one of Borges’s own favorite lines, probably fits into this category despite being a list with only two terms in it. It would be easy to find other examples.
In some sense, perhaps, might Borges anticipate OOO’s world of withdrawal and circulation? Or, perhaps, is it just that it sometimes seems to me that Borges started, anticipated, or proleptically critiqued almost all the really interesting intellectual trends I know?