Posted by: Johan Normark | December 27, 2012

Moving away from the future

It is about time I post something that is not related to that failed apocalyptic event (well not completely unrelated as you will find out if you continue to read). In this post I will summarize Graham Harman’s summary of the French philosopher Tristan Garcia’s object-oriented ontology.

For Garcia the thing is not a self-contained durable Aristotelian substance and it is not an evental flux a la Deleuze or Bergson. The thing is rather the difference between its components and its external relations. There are two senses of things: what is in the thing and that in which the thing is. Crucial for him is what everything is composed of and what all things do compose. Human beings are composed of genes, water, tissues, neurons, etc. but we also compose families, buildings, cars, empires, etc. Every sum of composition suffers from not being a part of the composition. What encompasses other things can never be that which it encompasses. Hence, whatever we are we do not encompass it and whatever we encompass that is not what we are.

What all things share is that they are on their own, not that they are one, a unity-in-itself. A thing is alone and it only relates to a thing that is not another thing and that is the world. Since we relate to the world, the world is something other than us. Each thing is in the world but the world is in nothing. Nothing can be in itself because everything is in something else.

What usually interests me most in various ontological perspectives is the way time is understood because the relation between object and time is of crucial importance in archaeology. Recalling Bergsonian duration, past and present are one and the same for Garcia, albeit of different intensity, but the future is pure indeterminacy. The future is absent. However, in the usual model of time we imagine a homogeneous time that unrolls towards the future. In this view the future is simply conceived as a past that has not yet happened. The future is that which not yet is History but which will become History. What gives meaning to human history is therefore not the origin but the future that will become historic. This is a belief that also has fed the 2012-phenomenon, the hope that sometime in the future a prophecy will be fulfilled, it will become a historical event.

In contrast, Garcia argues that all past and present moments exist. In his view we move constantly backwards, away from the future because no events have ever existed in the future, a determinate event does not begin by being forthcoming. Hence there have never been and there will never be a future event that has been predetermined in the distant past.

Harman, Graham (2012). Object-oriented France: The philosophy of Tristan Garcia. Continent 5(1): 6-21

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