Saturday, January 14, 2012

Dancing in Time, Singing in Tune: Harman and Temporality

Ian Bogost, in response to my question about temporality in a comment, gave me some references in Bryan and Harman.  Ian,  thanks, as your citations are extremely helpful.  Below is my response, which is a quick exposition of Harman.  

The most appropriate part of that selection is the first full paragraph of p. 249:

“The question can be rephrased slightly to ask whether time and space are autonomous substances or only interlocked systems of events. When stated in this way it forms an exact parallel to the question of whether objects should be regarded as indivisible and substantial ultimates, or whether they are merely a nickname for a certain series of tangible effects or bundle of qualities. In the case of objects we were forced to reject both alternatives, since both turned out to be exaggerated and untenable. For precisely the same reason, we must reject both the Leibnizian and Newtonian views of space-time . On the one hand, we must agree that space and time cannot be empty objective containers, and that all of the paradoxes Leibniz ascribes to absolute space and time remain insoluble. On the other hand, it cannot strictly be true that space and time are merely relational: this is at best a half-truth, for if the whole of space and time were relational, all objects would be sucked into these relations entirely and could not be carved up into districts in any way at all. Sheer relation without barricades and boundaries would mean the pure totality of apeiron, and this is not what experience shows us. If space and time are relational in one sense, there is another sense in which they must be anti-relational, since we can easily speak of parts of space or eras of time in the plural.” (249, emphasis omitted throughout)

Ha, “apeiron” comes up again.  I’ve been talking about that on the blog for the last day.  I wholly agree with all these points and love to see them, as it makes going through this more interesting (for me).  Then he writes,

“Time is the strife between an object and its accidents or contiguous relations. Time is black noise: not the con­ dition of possibility of this noise, nor the ecstatic structure through which humans encounter it, but simply this noise itself.” (250)

Here, we have an answer to the question of what is time for Harman; “time is black noise.”  The first discussion of the three forms of noise and black noise in 181-183.  I have to hand it to Harman; he’s such an excellent writer.  I appreciate such summaries as [first form of noise] “Here we have nothing less than a duel between the thing and its notes (or substance vs. quality)” (182), [second] “…there is the thing as composed of all its notes, and on the other the various fluctuations that play on their surface (or substance vs. accident)”. [And the third form] “We can call this the duel between an individual thing and all else that inhabits the field of experience (or substance vs. relation)” (183).  Finally, “black noise” is the dual “cloud of qualities surround such an object” and the “kind of a black hole whose interior has receded infinitely from view, but which also leaks a certain amount of radiant energy … inscrutable holes of withdrawn energy that somehow still emit fragrance or radio signals…” (183-184).

Much of this clarifies my earlier question of time and generativity.  I do not immediately see anything that I would critique, and on the face of it this definition is worth interrogation.


  1. Hi Jason, not sure if you have seen this more recent (2010) piece by Harman on time. The paper is called: 'Time, Space, Essence,and Eidos: A New Theory of Causation'. You can find it here. I think this sets out Harman's theory of time much more clearly than in Guerilla Metaphsysics.

  2. Thanks, I have not. I am interested in this, aside from the curiousity that drives much of my OOO exploration, but also because I have been working with temporality in my own work. The earlier book was more than enough to convince me that he didn't make the common mistake of spatializing time, and that alone is reason enough to read all that I can on the subject.