Participatory Spirituality for the 21st Century
In my research today I came upon this interesting article, “Here comes everything: the promise of object-oriented ontology” by Timothy Morton. (New link, old one broken.) It is of interest not only to speculative realism but also to some recent discussions on Caputo's ontology, modes of apprehension of such, and quantum theory. The article is 27 pages of text so I've culled some excerpts, lengthy in themselves.
Speculative realism...asserts the deep mystery of a Non-Nature....object-oriented ontology (OOO)...goes further than this, rejecting essentialist Matter.... OOO is a form of realism that asserts that real things exist--these things are objects, not just amorphous “Matter”.... OOO extends Husserl's and Heidegger's arguments that things have an irreducible dark side: no matter how many times we turn over a coin, we never see the other side as the other side--it will have to flip onto “this” side for us to see it, immediately producing another underside. Harman simply extends this irreducible darkness from subject–object relationships to object–object relationships.... Causation is thus vicarious in some sense, never direct. An object is profoundly “withdrawn”--we can never see the whole of it, and nothing else can either.... We've become so used to hearing “object” in relation to “subject” that it takes some time to acclimatize to a view in which there are only objects, one of which is ourselves.
The notion of the “withdrawal” of objects extends my term strange stranger to non-living entities. Strange stranger names an uncanny, radically unpredictable quality of life forms. Life forms recede into strangeness the more we think about them, and whenever they encounter one another--the strangeness is irreducible....the uncanny essence of humans that Heidegger contemplates extends to nonhumans.... The more we know about a strange stranger, the more she (he, it) withdraws. Objects withdraw such that other objects never adequately capture but only (inadequately) “translate” them....This is what “irreducible” means.
Rhetoric is not simply ear candy for humans: indeed, a thorough reading of Plato, Aristotle and Longinus suggests that rhetoric is a technique for contacting the strange stranger....[it] amplifies imagination rather than trying to upstage it, and it revels in dislocation, not location.... Harman's imagery differs from ecophenomenological ecomimesis that confirms the localized position of a subject with privileged access to phenomena.... Harman's rhetoric produces an object-oriented sublime that breaks decisively with the Kantian taboo on noncorrelationist scientific speculation....ekphrasis is not about the reaction of the (human) subject, but about rhetorical modes as affective-contemplative techniques for summoning the alien.
The aesthetic, as we shall see, is the secret door through which OOO discovers a theory of what is called “subject”.... Melancholia is precisely a mode of intimacy with strange objects that can't be digested by the subject.... To lapse into Californian, OOO is so about the subject. There is no good reason to be squeamish about this. The more the ekphrasis zaps us, the more we fall back into the gravity well of melancholy. Sentience is out of phase with objects, at least if you have a nervous system. So melancholia is the default mode of subjectivity: an object-like coexistence with other objects and the otherness of objects--touching them, touching the untouchable, dwelling on the dark side one can never know, living in endless twilight shadows. If the reader has experienced grief she or he will recognize this state as an object-like entity that resides somewhere within the body, with an amortization schedule totally separated from other temporalities (in particular, the strict digital clock time of contemporary life). Through the heart of subjectivity rolls an object-like coexistence, none other than ecological coexistence--the ecological thought fully-fledged as dark ecology . The inward, withdrawn, operationally closed mood called melancholy is something we shake off at our peril in these dark ecological times.
Melancholy starts to tell us the truth about the withdrawn qualities of objects. OOO thus differs from theistic ecophilosophy that asserts, “There is a Nature.” It maintains no absolute distance between subject and object; it limits “subject” to no entity in particular. Žižek's suspicion of SR to do with the “feminine” self-absorption of objects: precisely what he doesn't like about Buddhism. Changing “self-absorption” to “withdrawal” or “operational closure” discloses what's threatening about Buddhism: an object-like entity at the core of what is called subjectivity. Like ecomimesis, Harman's passage affirms a real world beyond mentation. Unlike ecomimesis, this world doesn't surround a subject--it's a world without reference to a subject.
If OOO construes everything as objects, some may believe that it would have a hard time talking about subjects--indeed, Slavoj Žižek has already criticized SR in general along these lines. This subjectivity is profoundly ecological and it departs from normative Western ideas of the subject as transcendence. Thus we see off Nature and its correlate, the (human) subject. I argue that OOO enjoins us to drop Matter just as we must drop Nature, and that this means that it can save the appearance of the most coherent and testable physical theory we have, namely quantum theory.
Let's turn our attention to... things....how far “down things” does OOO really go? Are these things made of some kind of substrate, some kind of unformed matter? Does “withdrawal” mean that objects are impenetrable in some non-figurative, nonhuman sense? Do objects have a spatial “inside”? Surely they might. But the principle of irreducibility must mean that this inside is radically unavailable. It's not simply a case of the right equipment passing through it, like a knife through butter. Even a knife through butter would not access the butter in all its essential butteriness. The proliferation of things that ecology talks about--from trees to nuclear power--do not compromise a holistic Nature. Nor yet are they comprised of some intrinsic, essential stuff. To dispatch Matter, we must explore the most rigorous and testable theory of physical Matter we know: quantum theory.
Unlike some thinkers who discovered OOO in spite of deconstruction, I backed into OOO through deconstruction. SR tends to mistake deconstruction for nominalism, subjectivism and Meillassoux's correlationism.... Contemporary physics concurs with a principle tenet of Lacan and Derrida: there's no “big Other,” no device, for instance, that could measure quantum phenomena without participating in these phenomena. All observations are inside the system, or as Derrida puts it, “There is nothing outside the text” (or, in Gayatri Spivak's alternative, which I prefer, “There is no outside-text”). Arkady Plotnitsky has traced the affinities between deconstruction and quantum physics. People commonly misconstrue “there is no-outside-text” as nominalism: we can only know things by their names. Far more drastically, the axiom means: (1) Any attempt to establish rigid boundaries between reality and information results in unsustainable paradoxes; (2) Language is radically nonhuman--even when humans use it. It would be a mistake to hold that (1) is correlationism. “There is no outsidetext” occurs in a passage in which Derrida is analyzing Rousseau's position on Nature, so it's worth pausing here since this issue is directly relevant to ecocriticism. Derrida tacks close to the text he’s analyzing, which is why he appeals to close readers in the first place. He is not making a sweeping generalization about reality. Derrida is only saying, “Given the kind of closed system textuality that Rousseau prescribes, there is no outside-text.” That is, Rousseau can’t go around making claims about nature, not because there is nothing out there, but because the way he models thinking sets textuality up as a black hole....[but] Derrida abstained from ontology: he considered it tainted by the generalization-disease. Unfortunately this defaults to various forms of antirealism. Derrida's is a sin of omission.... OOO shares one thing at least with deconstruction--refraining from assertions about some general essence or substance at the back of things that guarantees their existence.
OOO is troubling for materialisms that rely on any kind of substrate, whether it consists of discrete atoms or of a continuum.... Certain uncontroversial facts, demonstrable in highly repeatable experiments, shatter essentialist prejudices concerning Matter.... Quantum phenomena are not simply hard to access or only partially “translated” by minds and other objects. They are irreducibly withdrawn.
OOO is form of realism, not materialism. In this it shares affinities with quantum theory. Antirealism pits quantum theory against its opponents, since quantum theory supposedly shows reality is fuzzy or deeply correlated with perception and so forth. In fact, quantum theory is the only existing theory to establish firmly that things really do exist beyond our mind (or any mind). Quantum theory positively guarantees that real objects exist! Not only that--these objects exist beyond one another. Quantum theory does this by viewing phenomena as quanta, as discrete “units” as described in Unit Operations by OOO philosopher Ian Bogost. “Units” strongly resemble OOO “objects.” Thinking in terms of units counteracts problematic features of thinking in terms of systems. A kind of systems thinking posed significant problems for nineteenth-century physicists. Only consider the so-called black body radiation problem. Classical thermodynamics is essentially a systems approach that combines the energy of different waves to figure out the total energy of a system. The black box in question is a kind of oven. As the temperature in the oven increases, results given by summing the wave states according to classical theory become absurd, tending to infinity.
By seeing the energy in the black box as discrete quanta (“units”), the correct result is obtained. Max Planck's discovery of this approach gave birth to quantum theory. Now consider perception, for the sake of which antirealism usually cites quantum theory. What does quantum theory show about our mental interactions with things? Perceptual, sensual phenomena such as hardness and brilliance are at bottom quantum mechanical effects. I can't put my hand through this table because it is statistically beyond unlikely that the quanta at the tip of my finger could bust through the resistance wells in the quanta on the table's surface. That's what solidity is. It's an averagely correct experience of an aggregate of discrete quanta. This statistical quality, far from being a problem, is the first time humans have been able to formalize supposedly experiential phenomena such as solidity. What some people find disturbing about quantum theory (once in a gajillion times I can put my finger through the table) is precisely evidence for the reality of things. (This is a version of an argument in Meillassoux, AF 82–5).
Quantum theory specifies that quanta withdraw from one another, including the quanta with which we measure them. In other words quanta really are discrete, and one mark of this discreteness is the constant (mis)translation of one quantum by another. Thus when you set up quanta to measure the position of a quantum, its momentum withdraws, and vice versa. Heisenberg's uncertainty principle states that when an “observer”--not a subject per se, but a measuring device involving photons or electrons (or whatever)--makes an observation, at least one aspect of the observed is occluded (QT 99–115). Observation is as much part of the Universe of objects as the observable, not some ontologically different state (say of a subject). More generally, what Niels Bohr called complementarity ensures that no quantum has total access to any other quantum. Just as a focusing lens makes one object appear sharper while others appear blurrier, one quantum variable comes into sharp definition at the expense of others (QT 158–61). This isn't about how a human knows an object, but how a photon interacts with a photosensitive molecule. Some phenomena are irreducibly undecidable, both wavelike and particle-like. The way an electron encounters the nucleus of an atom involves a dark side. Objects withdraw from each other at a profound physical level. OOO is deeply congruent with the most profound, accurate and testable theory of physical reality available. Again, it would be better to say it the other way around: quantum theory works because it's object-oriented.
Probing the quantum world, then, is a form of auto-affection. Bohr argued that quantum phenomena don't simply concatenate themselves with their measuring devices. They're identical to it: the equipment and the phenomena form an indivisible whole (QT 139–40, 177). This “quantum coherence” applies close to absolute zero, where particles become the “same” thing.
Implication and explication suggest Matter being enfolded and unfolded from something deeper. Even if it were the case that OOO should defer to physics, in the terms set by physics itself objects aren't made “of” any one thing in particular. Just as there is no top level, there may be no bottom level that is not an (substantial, formed) object.
To this extent, “object” (as a totally positive entity) is a false immediacy. Positive assertions about objects fail because objects have a shadowy dark side, a mysterious interiority like the je ne sais quoi of Kantian beauty. Is this nothing at all? Is there a path from the carnival of things to a bleak nothingness? Nihilism, believing that you have no beliefs, maintains that things emerge from an impenetrable mystery. Nihilism, the cool kids' religion, shuns the inconveniences of intimacy. We have objects--they have us--under our skin. They are our skin. OOO can't be a form of nihilism. It's the opposite view (relationism) that tends towards nihilism. Relationism holds that objects are nothing more than the sum of their relations with other objects. This begs the question of what an object is, since the definition implies a potential infinite regress: what are the “other objects”? Why, nothing more than the sum of their relations with other objects--and so on ad obscurum. At least OOO takes a shot at saying what objects are: they withdraw. This doesn't mean that they don't relate at all. It simply means that how they appear has a shadowy, illusory, magical, “strangely strange” quality. It also means they can't be reduced to one another. OOO holds that strangeness is impossible if objects are reducible to their relations. Since relationism is hamstrung by its reluctance to posit anything, it tends towards obscurantism. Relationism is stuck in a Euthyphronic dilemma: objects consist of relations between other objects—and what are those objects? An object as such is never defined. So while ecological criticism appears to celebrate interconnectedness, it must in the end pay attention to what precisely is interconnected with what.
This radical finitude includes a strange irreducible openness.
See particularly the section of Edwards (above) on heaps and the secret life of dust. Just a snip on heaps:
"To specialists on aquatic, geological, or desert environments, the seemingly inert and randomly assembled entities such as puddles/ponds, sand dunes/beaches, or piles of dirt/rocks may each be regarded as a complete holonic ecosystem in themselves (again see Brian Eddy's very insightful remarks on this issue). And this criticism may be extended to every 'thing' that might be defined as a heap under the holonic category system."
"Active matter...has the property of infinite depth, activity and modification....[therefore] no finitely detailed law, equation, generalization or set of initial conditions (i.e., no principle of the same) can absolutely predict or determine the outcome of any sufficiently complex event.
"Spinoza acknowledges, in the world we see around us, many things seem to be contingent—or merely possible, and not necessary. That is, it seems that things don’t have to be the way that they are… In
fact, Spinoza goes on to say, every particular thing in the world is contingent when considered solely with respect to its own nature" (184-5).
However Bryant might disagree with Joel in that substances “do not admit of opposed or contrary terms ….if there is contrariety, it exists only in the domain of qualities” (p. 11 of this thread).
However Bryant might disagree with Joel in that substances “do not admit of opposed or contrary terms ….if there is contrariety, it exists only in the domain of qualities” (p. 11 of this thread).
It depends, perhaps, on how you're framing this: are you talking about contrareity among substances, or are you talking about what might be the opposite of the category of substance altogether? Regarding the former, I believe my point to Tom recently was similar: a tree (an OOO substance) does not have a polar opposite, the way a quality like bright or heavy or solid does. But with that said, is it still possible, when discussing substance as a category, to conceive of a polar opposite of substance? What is not-substance?
Bryant uses a similar example, saying the ncane toad has no opposite. Yet in the quotes on p. 11 he admits that there is contrareity in local manifestations and qualities, so as a category there is a distinction between substance and not substance. But it seems these 'opposite' categories do not have to be 'in relation,' i.e., the substance can exist without ever entering into a local manifestation or relationships. He seems to be saying that assuming the latter is the epistemic fallacy, which reduces the ontological autonomy of substances.
Put another way, what is/are the condition(s) necessary to make categories possible, and do such conditions themselves partake of opposition? Which of course reminds me of khora.
On another note in chapter 4.1 Bryant says something akin to Sean EH (referenced on p. 8) about the environment and how it is enacted, not given:
“The environment is not a container of substances or systems that precedes the existence of substances or systems. There is no environment 'as such' existing out there in the world. Put otherwise, there is no pre-established or pre-given environment to which a system must 'adapt.' Rather, we have as many environments as there are substances in the universe, without it being possible to claim that all of these systems are contained in a single environment.”
... a tree (an OOO substance) does not have a polar opposite, the way a quality like bright or heavy or solid does. But with that said, is it still possible, when discussing substance as a category, to conceive of a polar opposite of substance? What is not-substance?
Properties/qualities do not merely exist as dualistic polar opposites, like hot and cold, or light and heavy, etc. Instead there is a relative spectrum of difference, e.g. of temperature. (Call this a "diffosite"?)
In any case, a tree does not have any diffosites in this sense because trees do not really exist -- not as ontologically real categories of being, at least. "Tree" is just a label for a bundle of properties/qualities (which do have diffosites).
I'm sorry to keep smuggling traditional ontology into this otherwise-fine discussion, but by reifying nouns into "substances", we risk getting ourselves into all sorts of linguistically-caused metaphysical difficulties, e.g. wondering about the opposite of substance.
Hi, Infimitas, yes, I agree that properties do not merely exist as dualistic polar opposites.
Infimitas: In any case, a tree does not have any diffosites in this sense because trees do not really exist -- not as ontologically real categories of being, at least. "Tree" is just a label for a bundle of properties/qualities (which do have diffosites).
This is a different view, apparently, than the view being advocated by the OOO philosophers. Saying a tree doesn't exist beyond its bundle of qualities/properties is the view they are criticizing, as I am reading them. They would argue that tree, as a substance, does have ontological reality beyond its many relative qualities or properties. I'm not saying this is my view -- in fact, I've been questioning it myself. I just wanted to note that the claim that trees do not really exist beyond a bundle of properties/qualities is exactly what they are criticizing as an "epistemic fallacy."
I just started chapter 3 and this seems relevant, from 3.1:
"We should not speak of qualities as something an object possesses, has, or is, but rather as acts, verbs, or something that an object does. Second, knowing an object does not consist in enumerating a list of essential qualities or properties belonging to an object, but rather consists in knowing the powers or capacities of an object. As we will see in the next chapter, this entails that no object is ever fully known insofar as every object necessarily has an infinite phase space while simultaneously having a finite structure of powers."
Btw Chapter 3.2 goes into Deleuze's notion of the 'virtual,' and Bryant is the first to make this intelligible to me.
It sounds like Bryant might accept the common reading of Spinoza that Joel rejects. See the following, starting on page 158 of SpinbitZ. (He rejects the 'monism' label, though he does still appeal to the notion of continuum).
[T]he logic of Univocity softly “forbids” identities (mono-poles) from colonizing the absolute scope because this would absolutize similarity at the expense of difference, spreading a “principle of the same,” like a “gray goo,” to the infinite, which would deny the active property and infinite difference of nondual existence, modification and the relative scope itself.ii In other words, these mono-polizations are static foundationalisms or reductionisms, taking the finite unity of the concept to the infinite extreme of the absolute.
This is the general feature of traditional interpretations of monisms, such as academic/exoteric Spinozism, rational materialism, empiricism or idealism. We have already seen in the Inverse Unified Field that the seeming monism of atomism, a single indivisible kind of stuff flitting around in the void, is not properly a monism, but rather a dualism between stuff and antistuff, matter and void, or form and the formless. In the monistic system of academic/exoteric Spinozism, for example, the absolute scope is “colonized” by the formless mono-pole (i.e. formless absolutism). Platonic or Berkeleyan idealism, on the other hand, would take the opposite tact (interestingly similar to atom-voidism), and absolutize the form mono-pole of concepts and ideas. Leibniz’s monadology, however, at least at the immanent pole of the uncountable I/T axis, would be a good example of a nondual symbiogenesis of form and Emptiness in his infinite immanent holarchy, which is identical in form to the esoteric view of Spinozism, we will find, which we have already seen in the Principle of Nondual Rationalism.
This monistic mono-polization of the absolute scope and violation of the logic of the Univocity Framework, illustrates explicitly that a traditional monism is not a nondualism, and hence is actually a tacit dualism -— in this case, between form and the formless (Emptiness). Placing one pole in the erewhon of the absolute scope and leaving the other in the relative creates an absolute distinction between them, and hence these vertical alignments of absolute polarities are “forbidden,” or simply meaningless, in the Univocity Framework. Conversely, any “monism” with a Univocity Framework is more properly considered a nondual system because Nondual Rationalism demonstrates (as we will see) that univocity is an ontological application of the identity of opposites and polarity, which at the absolute scope is the defining feature of the nondual. In Univocity, the absolute scope is the emptiness in form. It is the opening of the relative scope to its identical opposite. A monism is formed by absolutizing this polar distinction through the use of concepts. As we will see, and which may be intuitively obvious, verticality and horizontality correspond to the I/T and the transitive axes, respectively. The vertical polarity of univocity -— the abstract rootless-root-polarity of the immanent-transcendent axis -— is the axiomless framework, or vision-logic interface that operationalizes and softly enforces the logic of the nondual which “forbids” the vertical alignment of conceptual polarities that terminate in the absolute scope. It does this by specifying the epistemic absolute scope as the identical-opposite to the epistemic relative scope, and hence to relativity and polarity itself.
The absolute scope is actually launched from the relative scope, through the application of polarity (the root of relativity) to itself (see, Polarity and Univocity, p176, below). Relativity, then, to reach its identical-opposite in order to give it meaning and context, operationalizes the absolute scope necessarily as ineffable and holds open the space of deep infinity (logical Emptiness) to ensure that no mono-poles can colonize the absolute scope and collapse into “flat-land” foundationalisms and absolutisms.
Thanks for the clarification. I knew I disagreed with OOO, but I didn't realise our views conflict so dramatically. I seem to have difficulty with the language being used.
I think the subjective element of objects presents a problem for any kind of substance theory. Saying that "the tree has branches" suggests that there is a "treeness" substance that has branches (properties). I recognise the points Theurji raises above, but I don't think that changing the nature of qualities from traditional properties that inhere in the substance, to descriptive aspects of the object, changes the problem as I see it. After all, we can just as easily (and legitimately) point to one of the branches and say that "the branch has leaves". This changes the leaves from a quality (traditional property or descriptive aspect, it makes no difference) of another object (the tree) to an object in its own right. I for one consider that just a linguistic/conceptual change. Am I missing something here?
Regarding Bryant's use of Deleuze's use of Spinoza, and Joel's use of Spinoza, I think you're right that Joel claims Spinoza was misunderstood as a monist as described by Bryant within an 'academic' milieu of interpretation. (There's a mouthful!) I am not certain though that Joel's use of Spinoza is as Spinoza would have claimed.* It's hard for me to tell due to Joel's writing style and jargon being much less intelligible to me than that of Bryant. Perhaps others have better luck?
*Not that it matters really, in that otherwise Joel's take could be his own worthy and creative interpretation. But I have trouble following it in any case.