Media Objects – Bogost chapter 1

Hey there blog-o-verse,

I thought i’d take a moment to document my initial thoughts and feeling from yesterday’s media objects class, the first media objects class I have attended..

My first honours Lab class was last Wednesday, but in the Non-fiction lab rather then Media objects.. This lab was a good option for working on my first batch of ideas, but i soon realised that the notions and ideas raised in Non-fiction were not going to be suitable if i were to pursue research on such areas as the full length album, or on ‘Prince’ for that matter (as both subjects could be seen as ‘media objects’ in themselves)…

In Media objects, the group have been studying a text titled ‘Alien phenomenology’, by Ian Bogost – which I have been reading intently to get up to date with the rest of the class.

(Bogost, Ian. Alien Phenomenology: or what it’s like to be a thing. Pub. University of Minnesota Press, 2012)

I have found the first few chapters to be a challenging but rewarding read that has insofar explored some interesting ideas about the place and representations of objects, things and units in the world – and their relations to us as humans.

A large emphasis of Bogost’s study seems to be on the removal of the human instinct when considering these ‘objects’. The notion of ‘speculative realism’, which involves not neccesarily treating the objects within our world as singular or separate to our human existence – but ‘abandoning the belief that human access sits at the center of being’ is one that i have found quite stirring..

The following quotes and observations have each provoked  some pure, yet fascinating personal thoughts, and helped me grasp some of the intricate concepts in these early parts of Bogost’s work.

Our treatment of objects and ‘things’ that surround us in our daily lives is generally narrow-minded, as Bogost observes..

‘If things exist, they do so only for us’..

‘We’ve been living in a tiny prison of our own devising, one in which all that concerns us are the fleshy beings that are our kindred and the stuffs with which we stuff ourselves.’ (p.3)

Using ideas originated from the work of Graham Harman, Bogost (p.6) explains that ‘If ontology is the physical study of existence..’ – then we can refer to such philosophical studies of objects in this context as ‘Object Oriented Ontology’.

A large emphasis of ‘OOO’ is on the equal existence of everything.. that nothing has ‘special status’, particularly humans..

“For ‘OOO’, one object is simultaneously a part of another object and an independent object in its own right.”(p.49)

The next area mentioned was ‘flat ontology’ – a subject which was introduced with the simple quote ‘all things equally exist, yet they do not exist equally’ (p.11)

This quote floored me, as it echoed, yet contradicted what i had just read in the previous segment. As i read on, i did realise what Bogost was insinuating. ‘Things can be many and various, specific and concrete, while their being remains identical..’ (p.12) Bogost’s flat ontology example of the E.T video game from 1982 was helpful, detailing the game’s many components and computational relations – as well as its packaging, it’s inspiration (the movie), it’s connection to humans as players and it’s current standing as a ‘scarce’ object due to it’s age and status as a collectable.

“E.T is never only one of the things just mentioned, nor is it only a collection of all of these things. Paradoxically, a flat ontology allows it to be both and neither. We can distinguish the ontological status of computer program-as-code from game-as-play-session without making appeal to an ideal notion of game as form, type, or transcendental. The power of flat ontology comes from its indiscretion. It refuses distinc­tion and welcomes all into the temple of being.” (p.19)

Branching out from flat ontology comes ‘tiny ontology’ and ‘unit operations’, more specific extensions.. Tiny ontology in my view focuses on existence in it’s simplest, often overlooked form.

“Theories of being tend to be grandiose, but they need not be, because being is simple. Simple enough that it could be rendered via screen print on a trucker’s cap. I call it tiny ontology, precisely because it ought not demand a treatise or a tome. I don’t mean that the domain of being is small- quite the opposite… Rather, the basic ontological apparatus needed to describe existence ought to be as compact and unornamented as possible.” (p.21)

The stanza concludes.. “Flat ontology suggests that there is no hierarchy of being, and we must thus conclude that be­ing itself is an object no different from any other. The withdrawal of being is not merely a feature of yogurt or tonsils or Winnie the Pooh, but also of its very self. The embroiderable shorthand for tiny ontology might read simply, is, but only because semantic coherence cannot be contained in the tittle atop the ‘i’ alone.” (p.22)

When we hear of ‘unit operations’, in relation to objects, “It is a process, a logic, an algorithm if you want, by which a unit attempts to make sense of another… Since objects are all fundamentally different from one another, each one has its own approach, its own logic of sense making, and through this relation they trace the real reality of another, just as the radiation around an event horizon helps an astronomer deduce the nature of a black hole. “Unit operation” names the logics by which objects perceive and engage their worlds.” (p.28/29)

I was curious to continue reading about this ‘OOO’ business, and chapter two provided me with this possibility – applying many of the concepts introduced in chapter one using historical examples and suggesting applications of various theories. As i didn’t completely comprehend ‘OOO’ at first.. i feel lucky that the activities to be completed for class tie in nicely with this – as we are to make ‘ontographs’ that explore the object oriented ontology of an item of personal interest to us.. i have been exploring the OOO of the ‘album’, as it provides a way for me to tie Bogost’s study in with my area of research and further unpack it’s mysteries and discover more about the albums place and operations within society..

My next Media objects post will detail some of the studies i found interesting in chapter two (the relationships between various objects when expressed in list form, exploded view diagrams, Stephen Shore’s unusual photography and more) and i will also share my personal Object Oriented Ontograph..  perhaps reading chapter three before I begin in order to add further credence and understanding to my studies!

Au Revoir.

About simonwoodhonours

Simon Wood (Honours in Media and Communication) is an RMIT student whose specialist discipline is in the 'contemporary music industry'. For his honours study in 2013, Simon will be researching the ‘concept album’, and its significance within the contemporary music industry.
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