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 An object is profoundly “withdrawn”--we can never see the whole of it, and nothing else can either....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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Seems... I'm no scientist, and certainly no physicist, but I'm just not buying that this is somehow a purely 'objective' description of reality. Seems to arise more from objectivism and empirical reductionism. And which I've made a lengthy case has many points in common with the shentong view, not incidentally.

Hmm.  This is a puzzle for me.  Because Newtonian forms of local, "non-spooky" object-understanding actually seem more objectivist and reductionist to me. 

In sharing the above, however, I wasn't trying to say that it was a "purely objective description of reality," any more than I would say Wilber's or Bryant's models are.

For an alternative view, check out the Center for Complex Quantum Systems, founded by Prigogine.

Because Newtonian forms of local, "non-spooky" object-understanding actually seem more objectivist and reductionist to me.

Indeed they are. One of the things Prigogine points out though is that QM maintains some of the same reductions inherent to that view (like time symmetry), while rejecting others. Kind of like I'm pointing out with shentong accepting the lack of inherent existence, yet still retaining a dualistic and ontotheological relative/absolute distinction. ;)

As Klein discusses at some depth, fwiw, Bon Dzogchen rejects this dualistic relative/absolute distinction.  We've been down this road before, with still no resolution, very clearly.  I attribute that, partly, to my own lack of clarity regarding such; so I can (and continue to) make a few resistant gestures but no definitive arguments.

but no definitive arguments...

Ha, a rangtongpa after all! ;)

:-D   I've never been a committed shentongpa in opposition to a rangtongpa.  I prefer the rangtong description of emptiness, for instance, to any ontotheological "state" description (which would identify big-E Emptiness with the Causal, for instance), but I have at least been told by my Dzogchen teachers that there is no conflict between the rangtong understanding of emptiness and the Bon Dzogchen view.  I don't know enough about what they meant by this, however, to make clear arguments here; hence, our interminable ring-around-the-rosie on this theme. 

For the most part, I am also sympathetic to a critique of holism to the degree that such replicates, in ontological terms, a kind of reductionist inclusivism (a metaphysics of the "One").  But I am also in tension with such a critique to the extent that, taken too far, it could fragment and consolidate into an exclusive metaphysics of the Many.  I think a Polydox/Deleuzian multiplistic orientation is therefore promising, but my understanding of such a view is that it retains both relation and non-relation at once (and would not posit any absolute and final non-relation between any two objects or features of reality).  It seems more likely that there would be degrees of relation, of folding and imbrication, etc.

theurj said:

but no definitive arguments...

Ha, a rangtongpa after all! ;)

If you have any thoughts on this, what is the OOO orientation towards the metaphysical question of Being?  Can "being" for OOO be described, as it is in metaphysics, as both immanent and transcendent: immanent because every thing or object is (in whatever spatiotemporal frame it manifests), and transcendent because being-as-substance is withdrawn and mysterious and ever eludes our (direct) knowing?  For instance, Shankara says that everyone can say of themselves "I am Brahman" simply because they exist, but Brahman cannot be known (is always mystery, withdrawn from apprehension).  Does OOO mirror this, but only on a localized or individualized level (everything is equally substance but there is no one underlying super-substance)?

theurj said:

Recall the complexity and pomo thread, where DeLanda, among others, investigates the science of dynamic systems. I'll be more specific when I refresh my memory.* In general, Bryant discussed hyperobjects, which are non-local. And how local manifestations are in fact caught up in the effects of say the hyperobject of global warming. An extreme example being if the atmosphere heats too much we all die. I think he did a good job of accounting for it in the referenced post. So it's no so much the empirical finding of nonlocality but the ontotheological overlay that comes with it, up to an including a universe that has the same interrelated matrix for all.

* Now I'm recalling something DeLanda said about objects having their own temporal-spatial matrix that is not directly related to objects of different sizes, up to what Bryant would call a hyperobject. Recall the latter's statement upstream: "There isn’t one spatio-temporal matrix in which all entities co-exist."

First, I can only comment on Bryant's OOO, onticology, as that's the only one I've spent any appreciable time investigating. Second, it depends on how we define such terms and being and transcendence, and Bryant has excelled at being very specific with his definitions. It seems you framed being as immanence or local manifestations in Bryant's terms, what an object is, or how it presences. Whereas its transcendent part is the withdrawn and not directly knowable. But Bryant defines the withdrawn as "virtual proper being," so being is not limited to local manifestations. Even virtual proper being though is not transcendent in the ontotheological sense but rather is always produced and immanent. The "transcendent" for Bryant is not in oppositional relation with the immanent but rather the "transcendental" is immanent with no transcendent as such.* But when you this is limited to "only on a localized or individualized level" that is misleading. Although all objectiles are individual they don't have to be local, e.g., hyperobjects. Such individuality though, local or non, does preclude there being an assholon.

* Returning to a previous point, we don't have to accept the frame that there must be in "integration" or inclusion of a concept like the transcendent, as it belongs to a bygone, metaphysical lifeworld.

I actually asked you these questions based on something I was reading in Polydoxy.  I'm thinking of replacing the section in my paper on Faber's essay with a discussion of a different essay, and in reading it, the question I posed to you above occurred to me.  The author is discussing both "the divine" and "reality" in terms of three concepts: ground, contingency, and relation.  He points to Shankara's Brahman, but also to certain Western theological concepts, as focusing primarily on the divine as "ground."  In his discussion, he seems to suggest that we can and should still retain the notion of ground (say, as Being), but that ground should be understood in relation to contingency (non-necessity, particularity) and relation (inter-dependence).  He uses Christian ideas on particularity to articulate the former, and rangtong (Madhyamaka) discussions of emptiness to illustrate the latter.  He says that, without contingency and relation, ground becomes a split-off, immutable, transcendent, ontotheological Other.  But if held alongside the other two, then ground is (ironically) grounded, so to speak. 

I have several thoughts (and questions) on how this relates to Bryant's work, which I'll return to in my next post.  For now, it's time for Dad to run out and buy some gourmet bagels for the hungry familia.

Concerning how I was framing "being" in my question to you, no, I actually did not mean to limit being to local manifestations per se, since "transcendent" is an aspect of the definition of being.  Rather, what I meant was that the transcendence of being was never found or posited apart from local manifestations, as I understand Bryant's formulation.  (Where transcendence, here, is understood as the withdrawn being of objects -- Bryant's virtual proper being).

What still isn't quite clear to me in Bryant's model is whether the withdrawn aspect of an object is inherently and universally withdrawn, and therefore a kind of constant inner kernel that exists without reference to anything else, or whether the withdrawn aspect of being is relational, meaning that aspects of an object may be "withdrawn" for some objects encountering it but "actual" for different types of objects encountering it.  This would suggest that the same "thing" could be virtual/potential and actual at the same "time" (if you, say, imaginatively hold two spatiotemporal frames together, taking a third person perspective on two very different observer-objects encountering the object in question).  What do you think?

Bryant is quite clear that his virtual proper being (VPB) is not "a kind of inner kernel that exists without reference to anything else." In fact he clearly criticizes Deleuze for this. VPB though is not unlimited given its individually constructed nature (endo-relations). Granted its available possible actual manifestations are greatly expanded given its changing exo-relations but it is not some kind of universal and unlimited soup.

However this does not mean that VPB being is available or actual for "different types of objects encountering" an object, since VPB, at least in its totality, never becomes actual. I can see how one object, limited as it is by its current actual manifestation, might not see some aspects of another object's actual manifestation. And while yet a third object with a broader perception might see (or create) other actual manifestations of the first object unavailable to the second. But no object, never having a God's eye view, will ever see into the totality of another's VPB, let alone an object seeing that for itself.

I don't know if that answers your question because I'm not sure I quite understand it.

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