The ontology of Carpentry, or; The Carpentry of Carpentry

Darius Kazemi posted the first reaction to Ian Bogost’s Alien Phenomenology that I noted (we happen to have a fantastic book club together, open for anyone to join and we’re reading AP at the moment). One of Darius’ main questions for Ian was what separates ‘Carpentry’ (loosely defined as an object that ‘does’ philosophy) from the more general term we usually give to stuff that illuminates philosophically, namely ‘Art’. Darius finds Bogost’s answer to be “an unsatisfying distinction” because, for Bogost: “unlike tools and art, philosophical carpentry is built with philosophy in mind. […] Carpentry is philosophical lab equipment.” (p.100)

Darius makes a reasonable point, saying the following:

That’s an unsatisfying distinction. I find intent-based arguments wearisome, and it’s somewhat ironic to hear an intent-based argument come from an object-oriented philosopher.

But back on up a second – if we’re doing OOO then ‘carpentry’ is itself an object, and we can look at what that object does.

As it just so happens, the object that is the Bogost-coined-term ‘carpentry’ does carpentry itself, by (philosophically) reminding us of the limitations of the human position and our reliance upon words and language. Remember that OOO (at least, OOO as found in Bogost’s book) is not about denying the correlation, but rather it’s aim is to unseat the human-world correlate from it’s throne and cast it into the messy parliament of all correlations –  just one amongst a universe of object relations.

What does this do to the ‘intent-based argument’? Well, frankly I’m not certain. But one interpretation could be that it reminds us that carpentry is not (and in fact, no word possibly can be!) a ‘universal’ object (Cf. Levi Bryant quoted on p.12: “The world does not exist…“there is no ‘super-object’ . . . that would gather all objects together in a harmonious unity.”). Instead the carpentry object points back to us as already-in-the-world, as objects in our own right.

No ‘carpentry quality’ could exist out there in ‘real’ objects… because to think in this manner is already to betray the OOO insight – there is no single “world” collective-standard to which can apply a measure of whether-or-not carpentry really exists in the object at hand. Anything we say (“It’s carpentry!”, “It’s not!”) is going to be already linguistic, it’s going to already be human. Our only method of access to The Great Outdoors is via speculation.

Carpentry does exist, but perhaps one of it’s (intended? unintended? does that matter to the object itself? to us?) most important functions will be to remind us of the carpentry of carpentry, and the carpentry of words. (A different scholar might poo-poo this notion and just say that “we’re back at the linguistic turn!” but I suspect others would disagree – we also retain speculation…)

As an addendum – perhaps I am mis-using carpentry here, but… perhaps that in itself is an act of carpentry? Maybe I’m doing philosophy with someone else’s tool and I’m holding it all wrong. Or perhaps I’ve just been infected by the meme of “going meta“. It certainly is catching.