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Wildhood is kinship of the wild in all people, places, and things.


Welcome the wild.

Bogost’s (2012) Alien Phenomenology – Chapter 3 – Metaphorism

Mark Douglas

We begin by asking not of the human experience of objects, but rather, what’s the deal amongst objects? That’s easy, science; but maybe not. But “alien phenomenology is not a practice of scientific naturalism, seeking to define the physical or causal relations between objects” (Bogost, 2014, p. 62).

Briefly we delve into Nagel’s famous question asking what it’s like to be a bat. In that regard we can say that my project wonders what it’s like to be wilderness. To my thinking, what’s it like to exist as wilderness is what it’s like to be wilderness. The best I can do is find out what wilderness means to people and in that way gain insight into the being of wilderness. That’s wilderness  character and “the character of the experience of something is not identical to the characterization of that experience by something else” (p. 63). We are interested in what it’s like for wilderness to be wilderness but as Nagel (1974, p. 439) tells us, “if I try to imagine this, I am restricted to the resources of my own mind, and those resources are inadequate to the task.”

There are two quadrants of interest here with wilderness. We’re interested in the background context (understanding) and the background content (meaning) of wilderness. And so we must keep in mind that “to understand how something operates on its surroundings [foreground content and context, i.e., interpretation and significance], or they on it, is not the same as understanding how the other thing understands those operations” (Bogost, p. 63). This shakes out toward the tenet: “the only way to perform alien phenomenology is by analogy” (p. 64). This means that “anthropomorphism is unavoidable, at least for us humans. The same is true of any unit (for the bats, chiropteracentrism is the problem).

The subjective nature of experience makes the unit operation of one of its perceptions amount always to a caricature in which the one is drawn in the distorted impression of the other” (pp. 64-65). The means that the background content of being a thing makes the execution of that thing a “distorted impression” of the thing to which it is compared. Wilderness executes itself through wildernessacentrism. If we say wilderness is fountain then the meaning of wilderness gets executed through a “distorted impression” of a fountain.

Bogost leans on Bennet (2010) to encourage acceptance of these –pomorphic and -pocentric standpoints. Bennet claims that anthropomorphism “works against anthropocentrism: a chord is struck between person and thing, and I am no longer above or outside a nonhuman ‘environment’ “ (Bennet, p. 120). 

Even though objects withdraw, their qualities remain. “Objects float in a sensual ether. When they interact through vicarious causation, they do so only by the means they know internally but in relation to the qualities in which they ‘bathe’ “ (Bogost, p. 66). What this means to Bogost (by means of Harman’s work) is that “we never understand the alien experience, we only ever reach for it metaphorically” (Bogost, p. 66). “When one object caricatures another, the first grasps the second in abstract, enough for the one to make some sense of the other given its own internal properties” (p. 66).

Bogost adds some color to Harman’s metaphor story by introducing the metaphorism of the Russian “metarealist,” Voznesensky. “Such work strives to apprehend reality in metaphorphosis, rather than merely use metaphor representationally” (p. 66). “Metaphorism offers a method for alien phenomenology that grasps at the ways objects bask metaphorically in each others’ ‘notes’ (Harman’s name, following Xavier Zubíri, for the attributes of a real object) by means of metaphor itself, rather than by describing the effects of such interactions on the objects. It offers a critical process for characterizing object perceptions” (Bogost, p. 67). It is the perception itself that recedes and we’re left to characterize the object’s perceptions metaphoristically. 

Bogost gives us the way a camera apprehends reality as an opportunity for metaphorism. Our task is to “trace the edges of the device’s qualities, nipping at the event horizon that conceals its notes from public view” (p. 70). Using Fovean camera operation as an example and its interpretation by perceptual psychologist Charles Maurer, Bogost demonstrates how “the Foveon-equipped Sigma DP provides us with exhaust from which we can derive a phenomenal metaphor to chronicle that experience” of what it’s like to be a camera sensor as “the sensor’s perception as a whole is metaphorized as mesopicism” (p. 72).

Bogost goes on to warn against thinking metaphor as a copy when in fact metaphor is a trope. This gets unpacked to the conclusion that metaphor gives no ethics, only endless correlates. This leads to important considerations of the distinct difference between withdrawn and sensual realms. Metaphorism is “an attempt to reconcile the being of one unit in terms of another. We mistake it [the reconciliation] for the object’s withdrawn essence” (Bogost, p. 79).

In the next section we learn that “metaphorisms are always self-centered. The photographer’s metaphorism of the sensor can’t help but draw its notes into the event horizon of human experience” (p. 80). Now we move to Husserl and his “categorical intuitions [which] can function in what Husserl calls an ‘ideative’ manner” (p. 80). Metaphorism is a rendition of the way wilderness caricatures the world “as it exerts an impression on it” (p. 81).

And this is just a good quote for future appropriation: “a metaphorism germane to its host becomes alien to the subsequent objet it sequences, unable to pierce its veil and see the face of its experience” (p. 83). He finishes up telling us “[i]t’s not turtles all the way down, but metaphors” (p. 84).