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Alien Phenomenology, or What It's Like to Be a Thing (Posthumanities) Paperback – March 19, 2012

3.6 out of 5 stars 13 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"This book needs to be read by many different audiences since it is not only fascinating but also of considerable significance. As the task of thinking through things as actors in their own right according to Ian Bogost’s maxim ‘all things exist, yet they do not exist equally’ becomes a real intellectual project so the implications of this stance start to multiply. In turn, they begin to produce the outlines of a landscape in which things aren’t just are. Rather, they form an active cartography which is always and everywhere—an alien ontography." —Nigel Thrift, Vice Chancellor, University of Warwick

About the Author

Ian Bogost is professor of digital media at the Georgia Institute of Technology. His most recent book is How to Do Things with Videogames (Minnesota, 2011).

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Product Details

  • Series: Posthumanities (Book 20)
  • Paperback: 168 pages
  • Publisher: Univ Of Minnesota Press; 2/18/12 edition (March 19, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0816678987
  • ISBN-13: 978-0816678983
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #453,030 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
An entertaining rollercoaster of incoherence and contradiction. Don't pay too much attention. But then again; do. It's thoughtless, incoherent fun. Bogost admits as much himself: `..speculative realism must also make good on the first term of its epithet: metaphysics need not seek verification, whether from experience, physics, mathematics, formal logic, or even reason.' And so he doesn't concern himself with these. Like John Law, whom he quotes, Bogost promotes `mess to a methodological concept.' Stripping his text [as he does objects] of relationality even to itself, structure and coherence over a larger scale can be disavowed. He teases such pedants: `Among the consequences of semiotic obsession is an overabundant fixation on argumentation, such that pedantry replaces curiosity.' This is an in joke running through the book, to catch out anyone who imagines this might be other than a jaunting romp.

Bogost grants all objects the same ontological status - as objects! And so demonstrates the ridiculousness of presumptive, self serving definitions. The book is a deliberately profuse bricolage, a random pile of gewgaws like the lists of things he fetishizes and pretends have nothing to do with him or his particular social environment and political context or personality. He is rife and undisciplined in his own speculations, going wherever his objects [whatever they are] take him; one moment apparently siding with things, the next abusing them as dumb, but always as a winking paraphrase of someone else he has skimmed and taken on board perversely. He evidences philosophers like CP Snow in a parody of appealing to authority to justify what he's saying. What he's actually saying doesn't matter because, `Things are independent from their constitutive parts while remaining dependent on them.
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Philosophy has always been a field I admired from afar, and this book was my first entry into the subject. I chose it because as a video game programmer I was interested to hear Bogost's unique perspective on the topic. It addresses (in the most general way possible) the problem of experience, from the viewpoint that humans must occupy no special place in the order of things, and they are simply one of an infinite number of objects capable of 'experiencing' the world. How then does the coffee cup, camera, or chile pepper's experience compare to our own? 'In ways impossible to understand', Bogost argues, and it is taken for granted that these objects do indeed 'experience' in some sense of the word. He asserts that the only way we can approach an understanding of this experience is through the blunt instrument of metaphor, as blunt as describing to a blind man that the color red yields a sensation like fire.

What drew me to this book was the idea of addressing the problems that will be posed by artificial intelligence in the (surely) not too distant future, specifically how we might construct a sense of meaning such that AI beings could be regarded on the same level as their human counterparts. I found what I was looking for in this book, albeit indirectly as Bogost doesn't touch on the subject of AI at all. Perhaps more correctly, he instead focuses on the much lower-fidelity objects of our universe: houses, cameras, the microchips of the Atari, etc.
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Alien Phenomenology has replaced Prince of Networks as the best introduction to object-oriented ontology for someone who may only have a few undergraduate philosophy surveys under their belt. (This is not surprising, considering that the author's blog contains the definitive layperson's definition of OOO.)

Enough of the other reviewers here have talked about the chapter on what Bogost calls 'carpentry,' and with good reason, as it's the highlight of the book. However, I want to highlight the chapter on 'metaphorism' as well--it's equally valuable and is in fact the concept that makes philosophical carpentry possible. As Bogost puts it, metaphorism is the deployment of "metaphor itself as a way to grasp alien objects' perception of one another." Perception IS metaphor, and this concept leads into a six-page section probing an intersection of ethics and OOO. Does an automobile engine "have a moral imperative to explode distilled hydrocarbons? Does it do violence on them? Does it instead express ardor, the loving heat of friendship or passion?" This may seem like anthropomorphism or panpsychism, but Bogost defends himself well against those claims. Where panpsychism emphasizes how objects are similar to humans, Bogost's phenomenology is interested in emphasizes their differences--hence the 'alien' descriptor.

Beyond all that, the book is a joy to read. The language never veers into that intentionally obscure academic style, yet retains intellectual value (shocking, I know). But beyond mere accessibility, the prose is beautiful. Opening the book at random and skimming a page, I'm treated to a passage about philosophical speculation as a concrete, pragmatic activity, concluding: "The result is something particular whose branches bristle into the canopy of the conceptual."
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