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  • Writer's pictureChristine Skolnik

The Quadruple Object and Weird Realism

I'm reposting this Environmental Critique review from 2016 as a precursor to a forthcoming comment on a recent Galileo Commission talk, "Quantum Panpsychism and the Extended Self," delivered by Emmanuel Ransford. Ransford's hypothesis resonates with Graham Harman's quadruple object concept because both thinkers posit a real inner and outer 'reality' for objects. Ransford focuses on causality while Harman's focuses on ontology, but the hypotheses compliment each other in productive ways. See more about Ransford below the excerpt.

Please note: this Environmental Critique post may be tough reading for those unfamiliar with Graham Harman's work, but I hope it inspires some readers to engage with Harman's core texts. I'm a huge fan, though I'm hard on Harman in the opening of this review.


Weird Realism: Lovecraft and Philosophy is an eccentric monograph that misses various marks of contemporary literary criticism and yet presents a useful tool for reading weird literature. Harman’s references to a few Mid-Century Modern critics including Edmund Wilson and Cleanth Brooks effectively dismisses criticism published in the last fifty years. Admittedly this Cthulu-like body of data is daunting even for literary critics, but Harman doesn’t even gesture to the current discipline. [ . . .] Nevertheless, Harman’s primary conceit is original, and his application persuasive enough to warrant the serious attention it has received from a cross-section of the critical theoretical community. Within the context of speculative realism, “hyperobjects,” alien phenomenology, and panpsychism, the weird has become a category not only for fiction and philosophy, but also for contemporary readings of the built and natural environment, and the fuzzy borders between any number of given categories of experience.

Let me summarize Harman’s thesis, which is closely based on the “new fourfold,” introduced in his Tool-Being, and is the focus of The Quadruple Object. Harman’s matrix is derived from combining Husserl’s distinction between qualities and objects, and Heidegger’s distinction between sensual the real objects (4-6). (Sensual objects appear to the subject; real objects categorically withdraw, even from themselves.) From these two axes Harman arrives at sensual objects (SO), real objects (RO), sensual qualities (SQ), and real qualities (RQ). This fourfold is intended as four aspects of all objects (rather that four categories of objects). Nevertheless, these four aspects interrelate in distinct ways, and these interrelationships are the focus of Harman’s “ontography,” as well as his reading of Lovecraft. (See a recent review of The Quadruple Object here, though the present post contains a better summary of Harman’s basic thesis in that work.)

Sensual objects are comprised of sensual qualities but are distinct from those qualities because not all qualities of a sensual object are apparent at once. Sensual objects and their sensual qualities are accessible but dynamic. Thus Harman denotes this relationship (SO-SQ) as “time” (32). Because they withdraw, real objects do not interact with one another; however, real objects can interact with sensual objects. The relationship between real objects and sensual qualities (RO-SQ) is termed “space” because both withdrawal and access are presumed to occur within this dimension (239). Real objects also have real qualities. Neither is accessible, but real qualities differ from sensual qualities because they cannot be separated from the object—hence Harman’s choice of “essence” to define the RO-RQ relationship. And real qualities can indirectly affect sensual objects. This indirect relationship (SO–RQ), is illustrated by the visible effects of an inaccessible object, like Harman’s example of a black hole indicated by swirling light (238). Harman argues, referencing Husserl, that we can derive real qualities from sensual objects through a form of theoretical inference he terms “eidos” (31-32). This scheme does not exhaust the possible relationship between the four aspects of an object or between two fourfold objects; however, it provides a powerful heuristic for understanding allusive language and for reading literature, which is categorically allusive.

Continue reading here.


More about Emmanuel Ransford:

"Emmanuel Ransford’s core expertise is in the foundations of quantum physics. He has developed a view of matter that endows it with a hidden dimension. It turns it into something richer, a ‘super-matter’ dubbed holomatter. The latter is a quantum-friendly stuff that (a) helps to make sense of the baffling and notoriously counter-intuitive quantum weirdness, and (b) shine a new light on the enigma of brain-mind interplay. The holomatter approach isn’t materialistic and could be dubbed a “quantum panpsychism”. Ransford has written a few books on these issues. He is currently posting articles on the GalileoCommissionwebsite (see here)."

--Galileo Comission, Expanding the Scope of Science

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