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 An object is profoundly “withdrawn”--we can never see the whole of it, and nothing else can either....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.
Oh, thanks for the reminder; yes, I remember that thread. Maybe I could add this there, or think of a slightly different angle for the new thread.
Concerning your other metaphor, that reverses roles in an interesting way, putting the woman in the 'outsider' role. But I'm not sure it gets at the epistemological attitude that Sloterdijk is discussing, which is the ideal of the detached, objective, relatively unaffected observer (a deliberately cultivated orientation, which Skolimowski describes as the 'yoga of objectivity,' and which Levin likewise takes up for critical analysis in his books on vision and hearing/listening).
The next section of Slot's discussion is actually relevant to our discussion as well; he is looking at various rhetorical modes (appealing to R.D. Laing's poetic mimesis of intrauterine experience, for instance). I may take this up in another post (here or in the new thread).
In our discussion above you said my use of rhetoric might border on "the absolutization of one's own preferred mode....since it, being porous, has 'access' to the enactions of all other injunctive modes." But is this not exactly the case for something like an integral, enactive meta-paradigm? So it's ok for the latter but not a rhetoric more broadly construed? Or someone like Bryant (or Varela, Lakoff, Derrida etc.), who incorporates and cross-coordinates various paradigms? (Aka a/crosscorporeal trans(en)actions.)
I know, rhetoric has a specific meaning(s), so perhaps a new word? A combination of rhetoric and integral? Maybe rhintorigral? Rhetintergric?
Inrhetorigralic? Rhetegral? Intertoric? Interhetorigral? etc.
I'd definitely be interested in hearing what you mean when you say, "more broadly construed." An enactive meta-paradigm, as I understand it, seeks to coherently (inter[en]actively) accommodate multiple modes of inquiry, experience, and expression. This includes various non-verbal injunctions and expressive forms (embodied, energetic, contemplative, imaginal, etc). Do you intend for "broadly construed rhetoric" to include these modes of inquiry and expression? If so, it might be better to leave rhetoric as rhetoric and find another word which can carry these multiple enactive and communicative forms (including explicitly non-verbal forms of experience which may temporarily involve apophasis, i.e., the radical dissolution of rational-analytic spectator awareness).
We've had this argument before, that there even is such a chimera as "radical dissolution of rational-analytic spectator awareness," even on a temporary basis. Meaning an experience sans any conceptual or linguistic component once language is learned, as if we can return in toto to some pre-conceptual, pre-verbal, pristine consciousness.
And depending on how we define conceptual, Lakoff makes the case that there is no such a-categorical animal.* Granted he limits this to those with brains. But if we interpret Bryant's endo-structure translation as categorizing for any object, including inanimate, then we have no radical dissolution of categorical awareness for humans, let alone any non-categorical translations for non-human objects. I'd suggest such a concept (yes, it is a concept) is a metaphysical holdover and question if we must include its paradigm within a multi-paradigm enaction.
* For example, from this post: "The categories we form are part of our experience.... We cannot, as some meditative traditions suggest, 'get beyond' our categories and have a purely uncategorized and unconceptualized experience" (19). Just as there is no strictly poststructuralist person there is no strictly phenomenological person who can discover or experience reality as it is sans embodied categorization" (5).
I'm also reminded of this post (and the following post) discussing Levin where I said:
"I enjoyed the sample chapter, raising many of the themes I explored in the above referenced thread, particularly the means of using language to establish relations with what was pre-language, i.e., nature. And how such attunement is achieved via a bastard reasoning or hyper-dialectic in MP's turn of phrase, which is not merely a return to what was but an an intertwing with the yet to come:
[Quoting Levin] 'The attunement...having originally preceded the ego-logical consciousness, is not realized, and does not actually take place, until the belated moment of its reflected recuperation. The 'always already' that memory strives to retrieve is inseparable from a 'not yet,' a future conjectured in hope' (61)."
In the following post I said:
"In a way his language is magical in that it takes us to a place both before and after language by the use of language. But language is part of the equation, right in the middle of it, hence Hermes is indeed a messenger that uses language to convey meaning."
Yes, I do not mean some disembodied awareness, nor did I use (or intend) the word "pristine." I'm not speaking from that point of view. But speaking from my own meditative practice, there are certainly modes of experience in which normal subject-object distinctions break down. I do not posit this as contact with the self-existing base of reality-itself, nor do I think of this in non-enactive terms, but nevertheless it is not a rational-analytic mode of cognition*. Nor does it strike me as specifically a mode of rhetoric, although its soteriological significance -- whenever such significance is felt or posited -- certainly is inseparable from our more developed categorical and rhetorical modes.
* Sloterdijk, like Levin, suggests such experience relates to early forms of embodied cognition and pre-object-related (proto-categorical or -conceptual) cognition. Sloterdijk describes it in terms of primitive modes of spatial cognition. As Levin points out, and it doesn't appear (so far) that Slot would argue with this, such presently cultivated experiences are retrievals of the never-was, not a 'return' to a pristine original condition, but nevertheless it is misleading (I think) to conceive of such experience primarily in linguistic or rhetorical terms. To me, this is where inter-permeability might slip into over-privileging of a preferred mode, especially if one contends that such experience is essentially and ultimately linguistic (a logocentric metaphysics?).
Even the "primitive modes of spatial cognition" are not a-categorial, which is one of Lakoff's points. Yes, they came before language and analytical cognition. And yes, the latter are in fact built upon such basic categorical structures. But once language and analytic thought is acquired, even a meditative state where subject-object is broken down (as least in one's phenomenological perception) one does not return to a purely pre-linguistic or pre-conceptual state. It might appear that way but as Levin said, "The attunement...having originally preceded the ego-logical consciousness, is not realized, and does not actually take place, until the belated moment of its reflected recuperation."
So no, this is not logophallocentrism! Again, it is a combo of pre-, post- and rational, which combo is not strictly any one of the above while being all of the above. And yes, this can be expressed and enacted by not only poetry but rhetoric. Recall Morton: "Rhetoric is a technique for contacting the strange stranger."
I had asked what you mean by "more broadly construed." Can you say more about that? I don't think the main thrust of my argument in my previous post hinged on the assertion of a pristine acategorical state, but on forms of practice and experience which are not primarily spectative, rational-analytic and/or linguistic.
I'm thinking I may be misunderstanding you, or vice versa, because I don't have an objection to the idea that rhetoric can be poetic, or have similar "effects" as poetry. My point is that language or rhetoric alone cannot enact all modes of understanding available to human beings, even if language and rhetoric may 'infect' or inform the concomitant understanding that arises when we follow these various other (non-linguistic) injunctions. Enactive cognition, as embodied, requires the involvement of the body in various exploratory modes, and this body-input cannot be reduced to linguistic input, nor can linguistic input entirely stand in for these other modes of intelligence and engagement. (I don't imagine you would object to this, but I am emphasizing it because of how you appear to be reading my earlier expressions of reservation or qualification about the 'scope' of the power of rhetoric or rational-analytic cognition).
Let's review what I've said so far. Language more broadly construed is communication; it doesn't have to be words or involve human analytical conception. It is merely the way a suobject affects another, reaches across its porous boundary, enters into it. We might say that it is the 'space between' suobjects, itself an suobject, Edwards' media holons. All of which, as Bryant says, depends on each suobjects capacity to affect and be affected, which has to do with its endo-structure. The latter of which can and does change, often if not always due to those linguistic (construed as communicative) exchanges.
Rhetoric is a linguistic (given the broader definition above) tool to affect par excellence. Its persuasive usage opens another suobject, broadens its endo-structure, expands it exo-relations. We usually associate it with words which require an analytical conceptual apparatus. So I'm saying let's expand that definition to include the above, as well as words and conceptual apparatus.
I'm also saying that words and conceptual apparatus are themselves based in these earlier, less emergent, forms of communication. Embodied suobject-environment communication (Slot's pre-conceptual spatial cognition, for example) per Lakoff is the very basis of later analytical-conceptual communication. And metaphor is the means of translating the latter into the former within any given suobject's endo-structure. Metaphor isn't the final human result of analytical concept but is itself the mediating structure between the basic categorical structures and later concepts.
So we might say that this kind of metaphorical rhetoric is involved as a communicative medium within suobjects and between suobjects. And rhetoric itself as a metaphorical medium places it in a broader category than just human concept per above. We might say it accomplishes a/crosscorporeal trans(en)action (as so defined above), i.e., it is a means of contacting the strange stranger both within and without. I'd agree a neologism is needed for the broader construal, hence some of the suggestions.
So, even a meditative state, which might unwind back down to a pre-conceptual (in part) awareness, is still engaged in an embodied, metaphorical translation to do so. That is, it must involve rhetoric (more broadly construed) as medium to experience these earlier basic structures which more directly contact us with the world as it is, almost but never fully, providing space (-time) for our withdrawn mystery.
Given the above, maybe mhetaoric? It indicates the meta in metaphor, but includes the h which cross-connects it to the rh in rhetoric. Plus it has tao in it, this connecting it to a previous word indicative of a connection to the world. And it has the diphthong ao, itself a connective between vowel sounds. The word is itself an a/crossporeal trans(en)action. Perhaps pronounced ma-het-ow-ric?
Let's take human body language for example. There is no doubt that a lot of communication is going on between humans non-verbally. It even became popular some time back to understand it, with numerous books on the topic. Hence the embodied metaphor of calling it language.
I also know from dance that a great deal is communicated between partners. Then there is the language the dancers communicate to the audience through their movements, and there is little doubt that this is also language. It is not at all a stretch to call it such. So I'm not stretching that much more in my suggestions.