Speaking of Tammy Lu’s drawings, I have just come across this recent interview with Levi Bryant, which includes the following exchange on the topic of his book covers (both of which have been featured on this blog, here and here):
The cover of Democracy of Objects features a series of fantastical objects of similar scale and spacing strung on a piece of something like barbed wire. The book The Speculative Turn that you edited with Graham Harman and Nick Srnicek features a pair of pruning shears. Barbed wire was a revolutionary technology that fundamentally shifted settlement patterns across the North American midwest; pruners are the ideal general purpose tool for maintenance and propagation of vegetation. Can you talk a little bit about the choice of those images?
To be quite honest I had no role in choosing the images for either of my books, though I couldn’t be more pleased with the choices of the editors. I’m particularly fond of Tammy Lu’s cover for The Democracy of Objects as I believe it very much captures the spirit of my thought. Seen from afar it looks like flowers intertwined along threads of ivy. This very much captures my conception of objects as something that “bloom” or unfold, just as the Greeks conceived phusis as a blooming or unfolding. However, as you look more closely you suddenly see a hint of menace (the barb wire and fishing tackle), as well as a universe that somehow manages to beautifully interweave natural entities, computer memory storage devices, barb wire, fishing tackle and so on. Tammy Lu’s work captures the sense of a flat ontology where nature, culture, and technology are not distinct ontological realms but rather where all entities are intermingled on a single flat plain of immanence and where there is no supplementary space that contains them but only the relations they forge with one another generating a network space. It is a world of great beauty as well as lurking menace.
The cover of The Speculative Turn is a bit more masculine and difficult for me to decipher. No doubt pruning sheers were dimly chosen to convey the sense of something of the tradition—the Kantian correlationist legacy—being pruned away. This would be the aggressive, warlike dimension that seems especially popular among those speculative realists that fall in the nihilistic eliminativist camp and that seem to revel in death and destruction. Indeed, perhaps a major fault-line in speculative realism is between that camp that emphasizes construction and building (though without a anthropocentric reference for these terms) found among the object-oriented ontologists and the process-relationists, and that side that seems delighted by tearing down, destroying, and death found among the nihilistic eliminativists. A more generous reading of the pruning sheers, however, would be to comprehend them along the lines of the bonsai tree, as the collaborative process that takes place between humans and nonhumans in the cultivation of collectives.
The rest of the interview is also well worth reading: it contains discussions on “intersections between his work and ideas of wilderness, landscape, control mechanisms and the ambivalence of utopian fictions in affecting public space.”