Harman and Hillman
by Adam Robbert
A small exchange between Matt Segall over at Footnotes2Plato and I about the parallels between the speculative realism of Graham Harman and the re-visioned archetypal psychology of James Hillman. I sent him the following quote from Graham Harman, mostly because I thought it was aesthetically so competent, and he linked it to his own thoughts on Hillman.
Harman quoted by me (ellipses are used to increase continuity):
“Amidst all the repetitious manifestoes and dry meta-descriptions of human consciousness, we also find the works of Merleau-Ponty andLevinas. In the writings of these authors, we encounter the lascivious warmth of the sun and air and the mystery of strange flashes at midnight; we adjust our postures to the resonance of bird calls and acoustic guitars; we enjoy bread and raspberries, and respond to the demands of orphans. One living author who speaks in the same style as these figures is Alphonso Lingis, who began his life as their professional translator. Almost alone among contemporary philosophers, Lingis takes us outside all academic disputes and are placed amidst coral reefs, sorghum fields, paragliders, ant colonies, binary stars, sea voyages, Asian swindlers, and desolate temples…We find ourselves mesmerized by the objects in the world, rooted in a carnal setting where our bodies meet with the voluptuous texture of entities…the carnal medium in which we dwell can only be some sort of elusive ether or medium of nonobjective qualities, though not just of raw sense data…By discovering an apparent nonobjective realm in which objects nonetheless sparkle and recede, all of them shed some light on the glue that binds the material perception…But over the past few years, it gradually became clear to me that this sensual medium of the carnal phenomenologists is really just the human face of a wider medium that must exist between all the objects of the world.” (Guerilla Metaphysics, pp. 2-3)
This is so relevant to what I’ve just been reading in James Hillman’sRe-Visioning Psychology. The notion of the human face being a particular mode of a wider medium, one possible form of hyper-complexification of the flesh-like material that glues all the objects of the world together (into… the face of an inexistent God?) is a lot like Hillman’s move toward a non-anthropocentric polytheistic animism, where the universe is full of non-human persons with autonomous motives. Hillman’s persons are Harman’s objects (are Latour‘s actants).
Yes, I think there is a strong connection there. Objects, actors and gods could definitely be thought as similar (the first two explicitly so). I haven’t read my Hillman in a while and I am wondering what he makes of the phenomenal/archetypal distinction. I know Latour and Harman probably wouldn’t reject the notion of a polytheistic animism, but they would reject a line drawn between the archetype and its representation. For both Harman and Latour nothing is reducible to anything else (though through certain acts of labour objects can be transformed into other objects, such as through the use of scientific instruments and methods an organism can be translated into its chemical proceses but never reduced to them or explained full by them). I think they would reject the idea that there is a polytheistic/animistic ‘undercurrent’ that pervades all phenomena if that undercurrent is viewed as more primary (i.e. more real) than the particular objects themselves. I think they would also push us to consider the polytheism of rocks, snowflakes and bunny rabbits in addition to the polytheism that humans experience. In a sense then an object-oriented polytheism would radically multiply the number of gods (since there would be a polytheism of all objects) and thus leave us in thoroughly god-saturated multiverse- this of course still leaves open the huge question of what a ‘god’ will reveal itself to be. I think Hillman would probably be ahead of the curve in a conversation about what a ‘god’ is from an object-oriented perspective,
I’ve never read my Hillman until just recently. I’ve always found comfort in Jung‘s archetypal perspective, however limited to the phenomenal it sometimes reveals itself to be. I studied Jung before I studied Kant, and so didn’t come to see the former’s indebtedness to the latter’s ontological skepticism until later. Hillman seems to want to overcome the skepticism by, first, reminding the transcendental ego of it’s relative status in relation to the other centers of agency and order within the psyche (not to mention the peripheral archetypes of passivity and disorder), and second, by personifying (or ontologizing) archetypes so as to make Gods of them. It might seem like bringing the conscious, knowing, willing ego down to size would only increase skepticism, but what Hillman seems to be suggesting is that psyhe, and not ego, is the true source of knowledge and power; that each of us as “individuals” is also a community of merging and diverging personalities. My thinking, feeling, and willing are polymorphic and relational, not autonomous and private. Archetypes become just as real and agentic as the ego, which is not longer understood to be the sole perspective of privileged objectivity. The idea of “representation” no longer seems to apply, since the ego is no longer the only person in the theater of the mind witnessing from some perspective of transcendence the passage of a merely phenomenal world across it’s screen. If anything, there is multipresentation: the world appearing in many ways to many different personal perspectives mingling in and between each of our psyches. I think Hillman is suggesting that what is finally real are persons, their scenes, and the stories they tell each other. This seems akin to an ontology of objects, events, and a sort of vicarious causality (which I’m assuming are the fundamentals of Harman’s realism).
I think Harman and Hillman are motivated by different ends, one being a metaphysician and the other a psychologist. This suggests to me that Hillman will always come off as more anthropocentric since his focus is psychological health. Not that be isn’t making cosmological moves to achieve this end, though…
Yes, thats a good point about the difference between a psychologist and a metaphysician. Still, Harman’s ‘Guerilla Metaphysics’ is essentially all about phenomenology and the infinite obligation (a la Levinas) to the other, the crucial shift being that one is now also asked to consider the broader understanding of objects as in some way also being thrown into obligations with one another sans human mediation, either in actuality or perception. So I am wondering if Harman’s metaphysics doesn’t also land him in a thoroughly experiential frame bringing him back in touch with psychology.