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 An object is profoundly “withdrawn”--we can never see the whole of it, and nothing else can either....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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Creation, yes. Even creator suobjects, to a degree through emergence. A creator "immutable god," no. Now we can argue whether shentong keeps their luminosity free of the "putative sin of Advaita" or not. They at least admit it is a sin and try to avoid it. That seems less likely the case with Thatamanil.

A point of housekeeping: 693 posts in this thread with 5683 views to date. This is the record by far for a thread on IPS. Must be something to this stuff?

Going back to the Derrida quote from Positions, I see the following from Morton's article in Speculations II as an expression of that. He sees the parts of rhetoric "as simultaneous aspects of any object that render that object mysterious and strange yet direct and in your face. Accounting for them in this way prevents us from distorting them as present-at-hand entities or metaphysical substances" (214).

Personally, I see that such is also possible in using three terms like ground, contingency, and relation together (as mutually entailing), though I prefer being to ground.  To name being God, in this sense, is not to name an immutable, detached whatsit off somewhere else, but rather just to address the mysterious, creatively unfolding, in-your-face this of reality in second person terms.  "God" language is not my language of choice, personally, but used in such a way, it does not arouse any objections from me.

Thatamanil's language is not wholly satisfying to me either, but I think he is at least trying to avoid metaphysical dualism when he says, "Speaking here in my own stead rather than as a Mādhyamika thinker, I would argue that when the truth of relationality is obscured, then the co-herence of reality is lost. Nothing holds together. Even our theologies are radically compromised. As a consequence, we risk accounts of God as an unrelated and immutable ultimate..."

Hey, what happened to the post that referenced Bryant's recent blog on materialism?  I was just going to respond (more) to that...

P.S.  I just posted a comment in response to Bryant's blog entry.

I'm not opposed to ground either, but prefer it be framed more like khora in this previous thread. I also like the way Bryant frames it, as he uses differance and the withdrawn to do so. I find neither view nihilistic as both posit a ground, but to use the expression in the khora thread, through the negation of negation rather than through a positive assertion of existence and/or consciousness. I find this same sort of notion in rangtong as emptiness of emptiness. All three keep the ground dependently originated, or immanent, which is also neither one nor many, not one or two, aka nondual. So I use that trinity to "build a mystery."

Objectile Madhyamakhorakaka maybe? Sort of like projectile vomit, but with kaka as in explosive  diarrhea. Very purging and liberating, but really messy and stinky rather than sweetness and light. Reminiscent of the horror thread, and the James thread. All hail Cthulhu!

What happened to the post that referenced Bryant's recent blog on materialism?

Don't know. When I returned to the forum later it was blank so I deleted it. Let us know if he responds and how.

Bryant responded, saying I was mischaracterizing materialism.  I can't visit the blog now to respond, though (computer restrictions). 

I see his point. It seems you're using the AQAL assumption about matter being a 3rd person outside. Edwards has aptly pointed out that kennilingus is itself reductionist with this view of matter, objects, artifacts, etc. In the blog post and comments Bryant was careful to define what he means by materialism, which bears little resemblance to the kennilingual reduction of matter while also having similarities to the overall integral project with its emergent levels of scale.

I also liked Philip's comment "we just don’t need idealism any more," akin to my "death to the transcendent!"

Here's an interesting and relevant passage from Roland Faber's essay in Polydoxy:


"Khora names the paradox of multiplicity that always escapes determination into opposites.  This was already the fourfold insight of the late work of Plato.  In the Sophists, he realizes that the world is always only one of becoming and that even the Ideas are not eternally frozen classes of participation but living beings.  In the Timaeus, he realizes that it is false to think of reality in terms of oppositions of Ideas (forms, Laws) and sensible becoming (matter) but that such oppositions are embedded in the space of indetermination, khora.  And in the Parmenides, Plato deconstructs the very idea of the One as enshrouded in the paradox of self-reference and, hence, as in itself indeterminate, that is, not identical with itself.  Not only is Derrida's differance built on this paradox, but also Whitehead's reference to the space of mutual immanence.  Khora is the space of profound indetermination through the mutual incompleteness, reciprocity, and determination of everything by everything in terms of multiple multiplicities of differentiation.

Moreover, the paradox of khoric multiplicity in-determines a space for novelty.  "Reasons" are not grounding abstractions, but arising conditions of novelty that -- like Whitehead's "ontological principle" -- only call for acts of indetermination in which events of becoming become the only reasons for becoming of novelty.  Like a retrovirus of their own perpetuation as indeterminate, such events of becoming cycle back into their own becoming as the reason of their becoming such that the univocity of becoming is always and only the "ground" of becoming.  This is the polyphylic paradox:  where only becoming is the reason for becoming -- Deleuze's "univocity" -- there is no reason for becoming except becoming itself.  Without a transcendent rule or law or divine decree, becoming is not geared towards, or bound by, a repetition of the same (determination) but liberated for the becoming of novelty, that is, an indetermination in which only the unprecedented may be repeated.  Deleuze calls this process the repetition of difference itself.  "Reasons" as repetition of the same are, then, only self-determinations that always already assume the determinacy of of reasons repeated in actualities for "reasons" of security and control because of the fear of the intoxication from the indetermination (the becoming of what has no precedence).  Novelty, on the other hand, does not just fall from heaven -- not even Whitehead's heaven of possibilities.  Rather, it is itself introduced as a methexis, as a kind of "participation" in the fabric of the process of the repetition of the unprecedented into ever-new indeterminacies.  Indeterminations, by way of novelty, always appear in events of becoming multiplicity.

In classical Aristotelian logic, such a suggestion was avoided because it seems to imply an infinite regress.  Aristotle, and any theistic derivation that aimed at the same instead of novelty, solved this problem by the "unmoved mover," a perfect act of origin that precedes any becoming-multiplicity.  Whitehead, however, as Deleuze after him, demonstrates that this solution is already based on the precondition of substantialism, that is, the elevation of abstraction to the status of an eminent reality with its participatory sovereignty.  Everything that becomes is always already something, a substance of which becoming is only a dismissible, secondary, or evil variation.  In using Zeno's paradoxes, Whitehead makes the point that only if we suppose that it is something (a substance) that (already in its essence is and then) becomes, infinite regress is absurd.  If, however, (substantial) continuity is itself in becoming -- namely from the passing events of multiplicities -- continuitiy (of substantiality) is not a precondition for becoming, but becomes itself.  Hence, the polyphylic paradox of undetermined multiplicities implies that if becoming is its own precondition, it has no precondition except its becoming.  Therefore, becoming-multiplicity is always unprecedented.

While the doxa of the logos of the One and the Many establishes the violence and enslavement of exclusive determination of truth, rightness, and righteousness, it is the peace-making proposition of the doxa of the paradoxal logic of multiplicities to invite to polyphylic embrace of the profound indeterminacies of multiplicity and to embark on a process of indetermination.  In de-legitimizing hierarchical power structures employed by orthodoxies that worship with a doxology of the One and the Many, the doxology of the paradox of polyphylia -- the non-precedence of becoming-multiplicity -- divines only the paradoxa, the pure expression of the polyphonic voices of infinite becoming.  Instead of presupposing the One that determines one (identity) and many (mere difference) with any form of pre-established harmony as its means of grounding, the paradox of para-doxy uses modes of communication, resonance, and mutuality that cannot be framed by any means of identity, universal generalization, or classification.  Instead of finding the divine in the abstractness of an eminent realtiy, established as the hierarchical reason for actualization such that actualizations were only instances of abstractions, polyphylic para-doxy seeks the divine (in) multiplicity -- a divine that loves multiplicity (polyphylia) and names the poly-harmonics of multiplicity, that is, divine multiplicity.  In reference to Deleuze's understanding of Whitehead's God, this divine (in) multiplicity names the process by which becoming-multiplicity never determines itself per logical exclusion (of "other" worlds of unfitting harmonics) but indetermately affirms the all of the polyphony of the chaosmos.  The paradoxy of the divine (in) multiplicity worships the divine insistence on/in/as the process of the always unprecedented affirmation of the rugged chaosmos of incompossible and unprecedented complexity."

Oh my, this Bryant post is quite rich. It deals with one of my focuses lately, what to include and what to exclude in going to the next level of scale. He talks about the advances of social constructivism while also its limitations, what to keep from it as well as reject from it. Also how this might be an effect of the focus of different paradigms, how we might need to gain a meta-perspective and relate and/or integrate the different paradigms. (I put this in kennilingus, he didn't). I especially like this:

"Integration doesn’t entail sublation of all elements of a theoretical edifice.  Theoretical changes, even where they don’t reject all elements of the previous theoretical edifice, do not leave that previous theoretical edifice unchanged.  Things need to be reworked in light of the new additions.  Other claims need to be abandoned.  New elements need to be introduced into the previous theory. The previous theory, while not rejected, is not the same as it was before."

And this:

"To recognize the limits of a theory is also to recognize the limitations of a theory or the domain to which it is limited....the domain where it 'works,' but also being open to the domain beyond this where other theoretical tools are needed." 

No, I wasn't arguing for matter as mere surface (flatland) or as lacking in developmental depth, causal agency, etc.  I fully support Bryant's (and Edwards') proper acknowledgement of the "depth" of matter and their rehabilitation of its tarnished image.  But to the extent that matter is the focus of an -ism, I have concerns about a privileging of some languages over others.  There are lots of ways to talk about reality, not all of which can be adequately plumbed or expressed by a focus on material processes, even if that language remains indispensable.

Thus, when Bryant says, "To recognize the limits of a theory is also to recognize the limitations of a theory or the domain to which it is limited....the domain where it 'works,' but also being open to the domain beyond this where other theoretical tools are needed," I can only say, "I agree.  That's my point."


theurj said:

I see his point. It seems you're using the AQAL assumption about matter being a 3rd person outside. Edwards has aptly pointed out that kennilingus is itself reductionist with this view of matter, objects, artifacts, etc. In the blog post and comments Bryant was careful to define what he means by materialism, which bears little resemblance to the kennilingual reduction of matter while also having similarities to the overall integral project with its emergent levels of scale.

I also liked Philip's comment "we just don’t need idealism any more," akin to my "death to the transcendent!"

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