Leonardo: Alien Phenomenology

By Brian Reffin Smith
Leonardo Reviews

bogost_alien coverWell, the things they say! Do we attend enough to things? Or to change the emphasis, do we pay enough attention to THINGS? No, it still doesn’t really work. So used are we to dealing, in normal discourse, with things as just stuff, that the title of Alien Phenomenology or What It’s Like To Be A Thing comes as an almost transgressive shock. It goes skipping over living graveyards, shorn of the dead, bats on past the philosopher’s Fledermäusen and past post-humanism.

Connected to the pleasingly named OOO or Object Oriented Ontology, Ian Bogost’s book makes us re-examine our philosophical relationship to that part of the universe that is not the minuscule ‘us’. For those who thought it was a bit of a stretch to include (just some?) animals, systems and artificial intelligences, it may seem absurd - or in this reviewer’s case delightful - to happen again and again in this text upon lists of things that demand, Bogost argues, to be seen as perceiving and interacting, even if he has to use metaphor to do so. But as Gregory Bateson used to argue, we need to see computers as metaphor machines, able to handle syllogisms such as ‘Men die, grass dies, so men are grass’. He told me he wanted a ‘computing Greek, not Latin’, the latter being perhaps too pornographically meticulous. As professor of digital media at Georgia Institute of Technology, and as a video game designer, Bogost may naturally want his ideas to be seen in virtual worlds. But it goes beyond that, beyond ‘mind and nature’ so to say, back into - I was going to say ‘our world’ - the world of things. And that ‘back into’ is just me being human about it, because of course logically there would be no such distinction, though some things are more equal than others.

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