invisibleculture on Alien Phenomenology

By Sandy Alexandre, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

bogost_alien coverWhat does it mean to ruminate on and indeed end up insisting upon the limitations of human understanding, particularly with respect to what turns out to be the human impossibility of ever knowing what it must be like to be a thing? The approximation suggested by the word ‘like’ and that word’s simultaneous evocation of the figure of speech known as simile, in the book’s very title, offer something toward an accurate description of this human inability to apprehend in Ian Bogost’s pointedly circuitous Alien Phenomenology. According to Bogost, humans (who are also things, which are renamed “units” in the book) get closer to understanding these nonhuman units and their internal systems of operation through human manipulation of language. Metaphors, in particular, are used to facilitate and finagle the kinds of inter-unit relations that Bogost imagines can at least help remind humans that the world does not revolve around us. These metaphors can also begin to help us imagine and express what intra-unit relations among nonhuman objects might look like.

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