I’ve just finished Harman‘s chapters on Metaphor and Humor in Guerrilla Metaphysics. He explores the meaning-making capacities of language and laughter in the hopes that they might help account for how objects are capable of interaction despite their infinite concealment from one another. Through his explorations into Ortega y Gasset‘s ontology of metaphor and Bergson‘s account of humor, Harman develops the concept of allure, which functions as a sort of atom-smasher to reveal the molten core of objects, what he calls their style. Harman marks a difference between normal experience, wherein we habitually assume that an object can be defined by the sum of its properties, and the experience of allurement, wherein “a special sort of interference occurs in the usual relation between a concealed sensual object and its visual symptoms” (p. 150).
In the case of the construction of a metaphor, normal experience leads us to assume that saying “the sky is an ocean” really only means that the sky has qualities (blueness, vastness, etc.) similar to the ocean. But, suggests Harman, this is to reduce a metaphor to a simile, when in reality, what fascinates us about an especially beautiful metaphor is that it brings to our attention a connection between things that are supposed to be separate.
“The result, says Ortega,
“is the annihilation of what both objects are as practical images. When they collide with one another their hard carapaces crack and the internal matter, in a molten state, acquires the softness of plasm, ready to receive a new form and structure” (quoted on p. 107).
In this way, metaphor allows us to allude to the elusive inner core of things, their “I,” as Ortega puts it (which reminds me of how Christopher Alexander describes the I-beings that manifest in certain architectural forms). But the poet cannot actually produce an identity between such things as oceans and skies. The poet is “an audacious liar who claims absolute identity” between different objects, when what has actually been produced is an identification of our feeling for the style of the ocean and the style of the sky. The style or image I have of the sky forms a distinct unity in my experience, as does my image of the ocean. Through the surprise of the metaphor, both these images take on a new formation in my imagination.
“The [ocean] is not only an image sparkling with diverse features, but also a murky underground unity for me, and not just in its inner executant self. And it is from this strange concealed integrity of individual images that metaphor draws its power–not from the genuine reality of each thing, which language is powerless to unveil” (p. 108).
What Harman seems to be saying here, with both his style of writing and the content of his argument, is that an object-oriented view of the world demands a more imaginative view of language that takes metaphor seriously as a form of expression whose meaning cannot be conveyed literally. It is impossible to exhaust the significance of the identification between the ocean and the sky by cataloging the many properties they may share. Something exceeds every attempted reduction of this identification to a list of similar qualities, preserving a good metaphor’s ability to “dig underground into the cryptic life of things” (p. 122).
In short, philosophies of human access seem to have been shackled by simile, comparing properties instead of forging new objects; the return to speculative realism is made possible by the ontologization of metaphor. Normal perception is pushed to the point of a paradigm shift (see p. 152) by alluring objects that forever recede from their appearances. What really makes the concept of allure interesting is Harman’s demand that we
“globalize the rift between a thing and its features, no longer placing it under quarantine at the unique fissure where human meets world, but allowing it to spread throughout the cosmos to account for all interactions, including inanimate ones” (p. 152).
I’ll have to read on to better understand the implications of this more-than-human allure between objects.
What do you think?