Bogost’s talk not being streamed (by his request).

Ian Bogost, “The Aesthetics of Philosophical Carpentry”

A talk about philosophy and the objects of which it’s made, in 12 parts (first 11 are pretend)

I. Enjoying This Presentation

II. The Things We Do: Airport tarmac. Philosophers in a lecture hall not unlike an aircraft approaching the runway. Multiple dancer airport performances. Air traffic controllers and graduate students. We do the things we do. Questions, comments. Thank you for flying.

What do we do when we do philosophy. I am completely freaked out about it.

III. The Non-Human Return: All the world’s Bogosts can be traced back to Milwaukee. Previous visits, family visits. Frozen custard. OOO is a reclamation of a sense of wonder lost in childhood. The rhubarb grown in the summer on Marion Street. Things. A re-turn to the things that were always here, waiting.

IV. Carpentry, Part One: Alien Phenomenology advances “carpentry” as a theory of philosophical productivity. I’m performing the act I critique, the commitment of philosophical work to esoteric writing, professional validation, publication “to have been written,” inaccessibility. Problems: (1) Academics aren’t good writers. (2) Writing is dangerous for philosophy, because it’s just one mode of being. We underwrite our ignorance of everything else. We miss the Great Outdoors.

V. Cows, Part One: Rejoinders against arm-chair cogitation of philosophers.  One trend is experiemtnal, cognitive philosophy. Or field philosophy (Frodeman). Ethics is so far a field only for human interests. Is it daft to admit that the world is full of interesting and somewhat secretive things? The cows would make better field philosophers; they work in the fields.

VI. Carpentry, Part Two: General carpentry extends woodcraft to any material. Special carpentry takes up a philosophical position, speculating about the experience of things. Harman’s “the carpentry of things” (Lingis), the way things fashion one another in (and?) the world at large. E.g.s of online things Bogost has made. Ontography (Latour Litanizer); metaphorism. Aesthetics as first and last philosophy.

VII. Cows, Part Two:  Custard-making. It trumps philosophy reading/writing. Video games industry schism (traditional developers vs. social game developers). “Social games on trial” game theory seminar. Theory-practice dialectic often more of a panegyric. Cow Clicker facebook game about facebook games; most successful work I’ve ever produced, more than 50,000 people played it. Cowpocalypse VR game. I’ve spent more time making & tending virtual cows than reading philosophy.

VIII. Carpentry, Part Three: What does it feel like to make cows, custard, things? Consider books. Thacker & Galloway prototype print-on-demand Lulu book. [Mark Hansen is watching hockey on his laptop in front of me. (!)]  We say we write books, but we write words that we send to someone to make books. Print-on-demand is even less design-controlled, like the lunch meats of publishing. Schaber/Yakoch book ‘Checking In/Checking Out’. Still a chasm between academic writing (to have written something) and authorship (to have produced something worth reading), and then to bookmaking.

IX. Materials:  Approaches: embracing the materiality of things; the use of computational models. Procedural rhetoric: making an argument out of a model. McDonald’s game: intended as a critique, but many students “really feel” for the corporate executives. “Oiligarchy” game. But if the game is incapable of doing that work, if traditional text media are better, then why make games? Purely aesthetic, an accessory? An orary (?), model of celestial motion.  Contrast with Jared Diamond’s “Guns, Germs, and Steel.” One page (with chart) stands in for the rest. Text message exchange with daughter. Tim Morton after yesterday’s talk: asked why did you do what you just did? But no on asked Shaviro: why did you do what you did (cited philosophers and commented on them)?  We don’t question our materials.

X. Cows, Part Three: Dedicated Cow-clickers. “2-1/2 Men.” “Shit-crayons.” Wole Soyinka in prison using whatever materials he could find. Cowpocalypse: they have been raptured.

XI. Idiots: Winograd: photograph tells us how a piece of time and space looked to a camera. Gentle tragedy of carpentry: we somehow make things, and with practice make been beautiful things. I still like writing where the writing matters. The work I want to do with objects is metaphoristic; to write well rather than to write to completion. What if we took a break from philosophical history, from making arguments? The objects were there all the time, it was me who wasn’t. What if I listened to them? One day I hope this might be philosophy.

XII. While You Were Out: The city (Seoul), underground travel, platform screen doors. The doors are raised on specialized farms, near a Buddhist temple. Woman, mourning her love, turned into a dragon. The dragons who move people. The transit system expanded beyond the city. [ai: I can't capture the exquisite literary craft of this section, so I won't try. Read it when it is published, which I presume will take an appropriate book-like form.]

Q & A:

Q @ object-formation in children: a bag of onions, to an infant, is a bag, but when opened they are astonished. Can grown childhood lead us productively to thinking this?  IB: Yes. Harman’s “withdrawal” is that, that other-worldliness of things.

Q @ Winnicott’s play and transitional objects. These theoretical concepts are play objects. Pushing in another direction is easy for tenured folks, but divisions of knowledge where tenure is given still require playing by the old rules. How do we change that?

IB: Fear is the main problem. When you get enough attention, then it’s impossible to ignore you. Tenure is not about productivity, but impact. Those who achieve the goal the easiest are those who think the least about it.

Q: OK, the objects were always there, but were the mental objects always there?  IB: [missed, sorry]

Q (tweet): The beauty of non-scholarship: you can just claim you just thought of it. My students do that all the time…  IB: That’s true. So what? I don’t care about being new; it’s about what we use these things for.

Q (Erin Manning): I get it, you’re a good writer, etc., but why so many mean tweets over past 2 days? Why shut it down.  IB: My Twitter persona is different from me. What do we do about these intersecting worlds, me on Twitter different from me in this room? What if we took that seriously.

EM: There are people who are insecure in academe and have lost jobs because they’ve pushed those positions. How many philosophers do you know who are in philosophy departments? Many of us have had to find our ways of living, through having children, writing, spending weeks crafting a concept and then watching it fall apart. In Montreal students are striking… Since there are so few places to have these conversations, don’t we want this to be a venue when we can have this conversation, rather than posing one way of thinking against another?

IB: This (confernece) format of ours is broken.

EM: People have been incredibly willing to have a conversation. I’ve been surprised by it, because I don’t go to conferences. We can continue to pose, or we can say “hey, you’re making a real effort here.”

IB: I think you’re right, but we need to offload a lot of this stuff off of our persons. Try alternative formats: e.g., short statements, conversations, breaks. This is not a criticism of this event (Expletive deleted, from conference organizer. Laughter.)


Concluding comments by Richard Grusin

Are conferences broken? This has been a great 2-1/2 days, according to what I’ve been hearing. Some shorter papers maybe even better than plenaries, for some.

Many models for conferences. Erin, NAthaniel, Brian et al’s ideas for art, ThinkMakeDigital folks originally all wanted to craft the environment to break down those conferency things. Maybe that did work.

Relationship between conference in this space and conference in connected spaces (Twitter, etc.). Some say “No Tweeting! Do you let your students do that?” All of us are in this room, but not all of us are in that other conversation. I don’t think it’s disrespectful (’cause I do it), but we’re going to have to think about it.

But bringing people together physically is essential for knowledge. Online education is good for access, but for me education has been about sitting in a room with some quirky professor, some modeling, affective something-going-on. I hope we keep these things going in some fashion, and these universities.

Maybe, despite hesitancy (because there’ve been so many), a different kind of conference on the future of higher education?

Thank you, Mary Mullen. Thank you, everybody.

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