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 An object is profoundly “withdrawn”--we can never see the whole of it, and nothing else can either....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... 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.

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Also check out this link where Bryant provides Morton's video series on the interdependent 'mesh.' Just started the first one.

From video 1:

“Meaning depends on meaninglessness…a strange infinite network that has neither inside nor outside…. Coherence, in order to be coherent, must contain some incoherence” (4:00 on).

Returning to Morton's article that began this thread, part 2 deals with the quantum. I know that some think he misrepresents the 'true' meaning of it but I don't accept that dogmatism. Here Morton affirms that there is nothing outside the system (mesh) to take an assholon view. I.e., there is no essence as the root of All, or 'substratum' as it was called above. Nor a universal 'continuum,' for that matter (with specific reference to Spinoza's “formless goo”). Morton's mesh is not All that. Infinite and open, yes. Assholon, no.


More later from this section. For now I must grind my soul at the profit wheel for the capitalist task masters. But not for much longer; I have a plan of escape!

I haven't had a chance yet to check out the video(s) -- I will, this evening -- but I look forward to it.  I'd just add here a comment that "formless goo" may be a misrepresentation of Spinoza's substance, at least with regard to how it is presented in SpinbitZ...

Balder: I actually like aspects of this, too, but to play devil's advocate for the moment, hopefully in the service of greater clarity of understanding for all of us, I will ask:  What actually is this unrelated aspect?  If there is an aspect that is absolutely withdrawn from all relations, how can it be productive?  If it is fundamentally unrelated to anything else, then it is fundamentally divorced from 'production' -- from becoming, from manifestation -- because it has nothing to do with anything else whatsoever.


Not withdrawn from all relations - withdrawn from relations with that locally manifest  entity. It may well be - and if we go with simultaneity of withdrawn and manifest  for a moment - that at the very same moment these aspects are functioning as withdrawn powers  in the case of entities A, B, C, they are also functioning as local manifestations in the case of entities F through M. And for every single one of these cases - withdrawn or manifest - playing a different part. Here's Bryant employing Luhman


Bryant:  These parts are invisible to the object or system to which they “belong”, even as they’re constituted as elements. “Becoming-elemental” refers to the manner in which another object is formed and structured so as to communicate, under determinate conditions, with the larger scale object to which it belongs. My vote, for example, can register with the U.S. government but not what I ate for dinner. The U.S. government, as an object, is not operationally open to what I ate for dinner as a communicative event and is therefore invisible. This, of course, can change (that’s the whole point). 


Balder: Unless we read it literally: the interconnection or interdependent mirroring is only on the surface of the pearls, each of which also has a withdrawn core that is 'dark' to the whole. 


Yes, my sense is that all is surface. All the way in, out, up and down. What counts for withdrawn is complexity of arrangement, context.  Which one could argue is complexity of relation. Nonetheless, there must be, as noted by Morton,  a mirror to reflect. This is a discussion that has been had many times, I suspect. Even if one is to settle with relations as the datum point there must still be an account of those relation sets that are relatively bounded and stable. I feel I'm losing the sense of this - none of us disagree about the existence of bounded objects, allo/autopoietically enduring, none of us disagree about the ubiquity of relations. I wonder if there isn't a confusion somewhe along the way between process, relation, and object. Objects, process, and system are synonyms within onticology.  These all involve relations, this is beyond dispute, these relations, however do not determine. How to square this circle is the, indeed the question.


I think Harman is right, however, it doesn't matter how many inflections  the glass sitting on my desk goes through - it always remains that it is that particular glass that is being inflected.  I remember recalling as an adult my brother 30 years or so back as a very small boy of around 3 years old. What was so striking about the memory for me was the definite sense that he was in essence the same person at 3 as at 32 - and presumably 12, 25, and, to come, 82... There was a singular mode of being inherent and unique to him. I think the OOO use of the word translation is good, in that my sense of my brother as entity, was of a way of meeting/taking in the world fundamentally stable from 3-30 and beyond. I would argue the same for anyone. And following OOO, anything. We are not only desiring machines but translation machines, too - all of us objects out here mixing it up on the endless plane of flat ontology.


I'm not so sure about that 'whole' you speak of above. I don't think I believe in it. And if there is a whole it is as dark unto itself as any other object.


Forgive me if I don't respond immediately to any response you make to this. I'm just passing by for now, but will return tomorrow

"formless goo" may be a misrepresentation of Spinoza's substance, at least with regard to how it is presented in SpinbitZ..

Granted. That though is part of what Bryant is saying about how an object can only translate another object depending on its organizational structure. And how earlier in the thread we questioned the notion that one can represent the 'true' meaning of a gifted innovator (like Derrida or Bohr) without accepting our own interpretation on that information.

This same holds for kennilingus, which uses altitude markers as the translation device, of course translating everything through its taken for 'given' translation of what constitutes said altitude. So what might be misrepresentation to one is not to another, and who decides which is 'true'? Or better? Recall in Bonnie's thread how each camp found a way to translate the other as included in their more comprehensive and 'better' view.

Is there no way out of this one-upmanship? Does the 'flat' ontology of OOO achieve this?

Well, I wouldn't advocate an "anything goes" model of exegesis, but do grant that there can be competing and incommensurate readings of a given text.  I offered my comment above, not to argue there is only one correct interpretation of Spinoza, but to caution against taking the "formless goo" reading as authoritative and final. 


I will check out Morton's discussion of "mesh" tonight to see how/where/if it aligns in any way with a SpinbitZian-Spinozan substance.

I wasn't directing my critique at you Balder but more at those who might dogmatically claim there is a 'true' interpretation of an author, idea, whatever. Nor do I advocate for anything goes either, as I certainly advocate for qualitatively better interpretations in that regard. And of what we do here for that matter, i.e., IPS. I just found Morton's goo a bit humorous and yes, denigrating to those who might formulate universal plenums in that sort of metaphysical way. I'm not though saying that Joel does, but then again I can't say that I understand him* so won't say anything on that score.

* Likely due to my being altitude challenged. ;)

Perhaps Bryant's blog post today might add some clarity, called "Differance." A snip:

"All I have really wished to say, I think, when evoking the term 'object' or 'thing,' is that beings are differance. This is the sense of the distinction between virtual proper being and local manifestation.... Differance is the simultaneous coming-to-presence of beings and their withdrawal.... And this differance has no need of God or a subject to take place.... Nor is there any eschatology, teleology, or final point where being coincides with itself, exhausting withdrawal."

Morton responds:

"Levi is using Derrida but it's roughly the same as what in Realist Magic I'm calling the rift."

Given my snide remark about defunct, proprietary, intellectual property here I offer Bryant's blog post on open access. A few snips:

"The arguments for open access publishing are obvious: open access books are ecologically friendly, reducing damage to trees and damage produced by carbon emissions due to shipping, they significantly reduce the cost of publishing, and they allow ideas to circulate freely, rather than be locked away in journals that are difficult for many to access either because they are extremely expensive or have small print runs. Opposition to open access publishing indicates both a lack of ecological awareness as well as an economic classism that approves those with little means (often graduate students, but also people outside the academy) being denied access to thought. In other words, the expensive price of print journals and articles is a material mechanism that re-produces certain class and social relations in knowledge production (those that have the means or a good library available get to participate, those that don’t don’t).

"From a sales angle, however, I’ve been surprised to discover that open access publishing actually seems to increase sales. The Speculative Turn has been a wild success. It crashed Re.Press’s server the night it was released, and has hovered around the 40-60 thousand sales rank on Amazon consistently since it was released a year ago. This is extraordinary for an academic text, especially given that anyone can access it for free. Graham’s Prince of Networks has done similarly well. It’s difficult to yet say how The Democracy of Objects will do in print form, but so far the internet traffic has been very promising."

Again this is an example of the kind of real leading edge socio-economic model transitioning away from capitalism, whereas those that cling to their intellectual property for a profit are miles behind this developmental advance. (Recall this thread, for example.) And if sales above are indicative, they'd actually make more money by giving it away!

Yes, and I think we should also keep in mind what constitutes an 'object'. It needn't be a single, obviously bounded, object sitting there in front of us. It's a matter of embodiment/enactment, as I understand it. And that embodiment needn't even be material - Bryant arguing this below. To my mind this makes stories objects - enactments in the world. It also helps us understand various types of contemporary art as objects, even though they cannot be bought and sold (easily) as such. I like this concept of object very much. It's all part of the leveling out of these concepts so they may make their way  out into, and through, the world more freely.


Substance, then, is information -  sometimes material, sometimes not.

Bryant: While Morton, Bryant, and Bogost cannot exist without some sort of material embodiment, that material embodiment does not constitute the substantiality of our being. Thus, as Bateson argues, it may be the case that neural networks are not material entities, that they are pure processes that only exist in enacting themselves, but this processual nature in no way undermines the substantiality of that network or process. And if this is so, it is because the substantiality of substance was never its matter to begin with.

theurj said:

Perhaps Bryant's blog post today might add some clarity, called "Differance." A snip:

"All I have really wished to say, I think, when evoking the term 'object' or 'thing,' is that beings are differance. This is the sense of the distinction between virtual proper being and local manifestation.... Differance is the simultaneous coming-to-presence of beings and their withdrawal.... And this differance has no need of God or a subject to take place.... Nor is there any eschatology, teleology, or final point where being coincides with itself, exhausting withdrawal."

Morton responds:

"Levi is using Derrida but it's roughly the same as what in Realist Magic I'm calling the rift."

If objects are achieving presence and withdrawal simultaneously does this mean the same aspect might be present for this object while withdrawn for another? (as I suggest above).  Or does it mean that there is a stable substance to the object that is irreducibly withdrawn from all else - always and everywhere? Namely the objects own mode of self-organization? I'm not sure that makes sense for reasons that Balder mentions above - totally withdrawn means no connection. But then the object must be withdrawn to maintain it's integrity? I'm thinking aloud my own puzzlement here.. 

"...Differance is the simultaneous coming-to-presence of beings and their withdrawal..."


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