“The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.”
–Alfred North Whitehead

Questions about Objects: “I” Myself and the Earth

I’ve just finished Harman’s Guerilla Metaphysics, and I’m thoroughly confused by what he had to say about time and space in the final pages. The following is an initial attempt to sort through a small bit of the chaos he has made of the cosmos I am yearning to inhabit.


An object is anything that stands apart from the sum total of its relations. It is an entity defined by its unique difference from every other entity. Yet what exactly this difference is cannot be finally defined, since the object-in-itself recedes infinitely from any attempt to gain access to its essence. But the style of the object in question can still be more or less adequately described, since it leaves hints, omens, and signs in its wake.

Let us pick two objects in particular to examine: “I” myself and the Earth. The first object seems the most nebulous, or even numinous. Am “I” myself an object like every other, or does the self-consciousness represented and enacted by the use of the word “I” make me a singular difference? If “I” am not ontologically distinct, but simply another example of objects in general, then is there something like “I”-ness at the core of every object?

When beginning to examine the second object, Earth, I immediately realize that this object was only very recently translated by spacecrafts with cameras into the blue and green spheroidal shape that I am imagining in my armchair, my body still planted firmly on Earth’s apparently flat surface. I remind myself that a seemingly irreversible rush of technological translation and transformation has entirely shifted our perception of this strange Earth-object in a very short period of time. It makes me wonder if philosophy can return to objectivity without ontologizing the evolutionary process that seems to underly this shift. Can philosophy avoid respecting the way that “time is invention or it is nothing at all,” as Bergson put it? Maybe it is only our perception of the Earth that has changed so radically, but then again, had an alien stopped by to check on this planet’s progress just 20,000 years ago, could it have predicted atom bombs and astronauts? Perhaps these inventions are just newly discovered notes of the same Earth-object’s song, somehow in tune with the essence of this rock since it first cooled down and hid its molten core beneath the surface.

I am uncertain, but intrigued by what the strangeness of this Earth-object might mean for the status of “I” myself in any regime of objects. Must I decenter myself to such an extent that this “I” no longer belongs exclusively to me, but instead to the the inner space of every object? Close up, the Earth-object is evidently flat. From far away, it is round. What is the real object, in this case? Does the Earth know? Can it? Can I?








5 responses to “Questions about Objects: “I” Myself and the Earth”

  1. michael Avatar

    relatively wrong

  2. mary Avatar

    Hey Matt,

    I sincerely think that Harman (with an “a”) intended to dissolve into wonderment the subversion of things into human agenda, where objects usually go. I truly think astonishment is a fully appropriate response. It’s like seeing dishes in the sink the same way T McKenna saw machine elves. Enantiodromia from the false banality, a balance to the counterfeit intimacy we assume with things. In the same vein as De Chardin in “the Heart of Matter”, one is supposed to be rattled; shaken not from the top down, but from the profound interiority of things, this interiority not solely understood as an abstraction, but as an experience. The sister to confusion is lucidity, after all.
    It is perhaps ironic that leveling of a human being out of priviledge could open to the deepest privilege of all, which is how, with heart, the I of a self can bond to the I of the earth,
    To for one instant leave go any sediment of hubris; for one instant glimpse an ontology of objects for their own sake,…

    Then, everything you think you know about the history of earth, its scales which have become and will become available through time, all the changing versions of its altered iconography, earth as a reliquary, all its novelties disclosed and insinuated by maths and instruments and inflections of human transference….and allow Om Tat Sat to all, the I AM allowed to every unique thing…its own chronos, its own kairos…., well, there is certainly enough Being to go around, enough Dasein to imagine extended to the capacities of all, the results of each of those metaphoric seven days of creation in axis with aeons of evolvements of objects’ strivings.

    It perhaps is paradoxical that an aquiescence to the molten core of an object most subtly held as mere prop to a transcendant vision fetishized as a feature of the morrow, could in truth, be at hand (no pun intended)…never not here,.. abundantly generated by the recurrent fourfold.

    Harman says (p 246)”The primary way in which allure expands its scope is simply through building up a physical body with organs capable of alerting us to that which was previously buried.” On what scale does Harman prefer we cease our exploration? Most especially does De Chardin echo here. And Steiner.. And how would Harmon propose to exempt allure from also having a relation to humans such that it be inspired to manifest as imagination and telos within humans? Harmon proposes (p 247) ” humans may be the most sincere creatures the earth has ever seen”.

    GM is reminiscent of the Zen story
    Before I studied, a mountain was just a mountain.
    During my studies, a mountain was more than a mountain.
    After, the mountain was again a mountain.

    how cryptic is that.

    All this buzz about re-enchantment….resurging the real….reinventing the sacred….
    In part, in aspect, in shadow, the transmutation of the profane insinuates itself, eh? what is this supposed to look like, if not the blessed state of confusion, surrendering before a symphony to the tuning of instruments? Harmon too, wants metanoia, I think.

    I am enjoying his book, thanks to you in the noosphere.



  3. Matthew David Segall Avatar


    The mountain is no more than a pile of horse shit and no less than God. This leveling is cryptic if reality is an ascending staircase, but a glorious fact of everyday life if reality is a field of flowers. If it is objects all the way down, it’s objects all the way up.

  4. Will Avatar

    Dear Matthew,

    Meillassoux in his “After Finitude” made the distinction between a subject like “I” and objects, as being a categorical difference: “I” is a condition for objects, not an object itself. You can find cherries, apples, grapes, etc, in the market, but you can’t find “fruit” there in the same way because it is a universal concept that makes instantiations of itself possible. Correlationism has to be understood in this context.

    Spatio-temporal or measurable objects are sensuously detected, whereas subjects are non-spatio-temporal and therefore not measurable and non sensuous. But they make sensuousness possible. The eyeball doesn’t see, the sentient seer sees.

    If a light shines in your eye, the iris will contract autonomically but only if you are still alive. The whole eye is there in a dead body, fully intact, but the iris will not contract when light is shone into it. It is not merely the mechanism that is effective. This is actually a way to test if someone is dead or not. So the sentient condition for sense forms a correlative relation. But the sentient self and the sense cannot be considered the same type of objects.

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