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 An object is profoundly “withdrawn”--we can never see the whole of it, and nothing else can either....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.
Seriously (in follow-up to my comment just above), I don't have an objection to the notion that our world is a deeply communicative one, at all levels. This is not a new thought for me; I've felt it, and written about it, since I was quite young, particularly when I was either homeless and living in the woods or just when I was spending lots of time out in the wilderness. I could have "heard" the world speak in other settings, too, but it was being in wilderness that allowed me to drop enough of the everyday filters to begin to hear and feel differently.
Rhetoric just hasn't been a word I've associated with this extra-human communicativeness, since I've understood rhetoric as a particular high-level human art of persuasive speaking and debate. To speak of stones or trees using rhetoric, then, would either appear to be a romantic pre/trans confusion or a non-literal poetic expression. But if the definition is expanded in the way that some of these authors (including you) are suggesting, then I don't really have an objection to it. I'd prefer other words, but I can still accept it.
My reservations, in earlier posts, had mostly to do with what seemed to be a turf-war competitive claim among same-level enactive modes: where rhetoric, understood as the use of human speech in certain skillfully analytical and aesthetic ways, was being asserted as something authentically transformative, over against (and even superior to) meditation, which was being presented as masturbatory. I didn't have any objection to rhetoric being authentically transformative, only to the suggestion that its authenticity was being asserted in competition with meditation, as an either/or kind of scenario. I also was concerned about the apparent suggestion that the persuasive use of human analytical and aesthetic forms of rhetoric was capable of yielding all relevant forms of human knowledge (over against other means of enaction). I don't think such a claim is tenable. But what is being discussed here is different: that all forms of enaction can be understood as themselves communicative, as both verbal and non-verbal forms of "speech" or meaning generation and exchange (from feeling a surface with one's fingers, to peering into a microscope, to singing and dancing with sea lions, to any other form of embodied/energetic interface), and hence as kinds of (mutually influencing) "rhetoric." Here, rhetoric is not in competition with meditation (lit crit vs. zazen); rather, lit crit and zazen are both rhetorical to the extent that any enactment is a communicative meaning-event performed by and among bodies.
We have communicated effectively with each other then. But you'd "prefer other words." Hence mhetaoric. At least until I come up with a better one, and I will. I also like rhetaphor. Rhetaorphoric? (Ret'-owr-for-ik?) Rhetaphor is easier on the ear and as transition to an alternative concept. Rhetaorphoric is too complex and perhaps confusing. As is mhetaoric.
Do you recall my introduction of David Bohm's model of somasignificance back on the Gaia version of IPS? I recall at the time it may have been rejected as too metaphysical, but it dealt with a number of these questions: how all form is not only material but significant, involved at once in exchanges both of energy and signification, where the latter is not understood as a human or even animal prerogative, but as pertaining to all objects at all levels.
I don't recall but will look into it, thanks.
In my view, he points in certain metaphysical directions (particularly at his conclusion) that do not need to be followed or adopted for his notions of soma-significance and signa-somatics to be useful in the sorts of contexts we've been exploring here. At the least, I think there's the possibility for a creative or generative interface (I don't think Bohm was familiar with Deleuze, for instance).
Bryant's 6/10/12 post on rhetoric is hammering a theme I've also recently been focused upon, the materiality of ideas. Given that big money is now free to buy elections, this is part of how ideas are spread and reinforced. It matters not so much whether the ideas are right or better, since how much space/time they take up on tv ads is the strongest determinant and to which memes get elected. To wit, the witless Scott Walker getting re-elected. Bryant says:
"In our materialist approach, we look at ideas as populations or actors in the world, we examine the ecosystems to which they belong, their spread throughout a population, and the mechanisms by which they exclude other ideas, thereby maintaining certain power relations. The point is not to exclude interpretation and the evaluation of truth and falsity, but to recognize the way in which ideas have a reality, a material existence, of their own such that strategies must be developed for both weakening certain ideas and for promoting others and enabling the existence of others."
The conservative Republicans have known this for ages, how to not only frame their ideas but how to spread them like viruses with money. They know repetition is a significant key, and that the tv ad market is quite a pervasive and persuasive medium to reinforce their ideas. They often spread not just spin but outright lies, but that matters little to most attuned to tvs like zombies. For if a lie if repeated often enough it programs a stimulus-response behavior, even in 'smart' people.
The conservatives also know that Unions have been the main source of funding to propogate liberal ideas. Hence their effective political strategy of attacking unions in legislatures around the country, Walker in WI being the most prominent example. Walker eliminated collective bargaining and neutered the public unions, hence membership is down and funds are dwindling. This is not an isolated incident but a well coordinated conservative effort to eliminate unions altogether, and with it the money necessary to “catapult the propaganda,” as that idiot Bush revealed unknowingly.
As Lakoff has often pointed out, liberals tend to believe that better ideas themselves will win the day. That people will come to their senses because an idea is better or has more truth value. But as Bryant points out, they falsely “believe that it is enough to debunk the [wrong] ideology, without attending to the conditions of possibility for that critique and its alternative to proliferate throughout the social system.” And in the case of winning elections, money talks and bullshit walks.
In looking for an answer to your question regarding the textual bodying found in Proust and Neitzsche I found this below. This tradition of writing about the ‘arts of living’ is where I imagined Integral thought should evolve to. It is, after all, where it began. As stimulating as the subtle parsing of ontologies that goes on here, might be, I hardly think it places everyday praxis at the center where it should be.
To those who might say this thought is precisely about the decentering of self – anti-correlationism, fine, give me a sense of how you experience this making a cup of tea. Or, how you see it at work in the movement of clouds, or why you think one issue is criminal, while another is not, and so on and so on. The decentering of self is not a flight from the body of being.
In The Art of Living, an intelligently written and closely argued book, Nehamas begins with a reexamination of Socrates' significance in Western philosophy and then proceeds to show his importance in the writings of Montaigne, Nietzsche, and Foucault, in particular with respect to what Nehamas calls the tradition in Western philosophy of writings about the "art of living." Nehamas gives the thrust of the book clearly in the introduction: "[My] own view," he writes, "is that no single mode of life exists that is best for all people and that the philosophical life is only one among many praise-worthy ways of living. I do not urge a `return' to a conception of philosophy as a way of life...[but] I do believe that we should recognize that such a conception exists." He perceives this as a counterbalance to the way much philosophy is carried on today.
edit: Nehamas has written a wonderful book about Neitzsche called Life as Literature.
Again I find this to be your personal preference rather than an indictment of "the subtle parsing of ontologies." Nahamas even admits an 'art of living' type endeavor is but one of many philosophical modes, and by no means best for all. We can grant it a place but it is not a replacement.
Personally I find arts of living to be ironically the most self indulgent of all and rather preachy. And they tend toward the conflation of various paradigms rather than examining their very different and specific methodologies. Again I grant that there can be a meta-contextual thread that loosely ties paradigms together but it must also maintain the differences. Arts of living for me often miss such nuanced distinctions with their over-generalized Oneness.
As but one example, recall the old TV show Kung Fu with David Carradine. It was an endless display of exactly this type of relating new experiences back to his Shaolin training, always finding that common thread of care and compassion while righteously and indignantly kicking someone's ass. Then I bought it hook, line and sinker as some kind of mystic connection to the One great Universe accessed through contemplation. So much so that I embarked on a traditional study of Chinese martial art, and while within it did much the same in terms of relating every experience back to this universal connection to the All. Now many years later I find this so much monistic, self-righteous, inclusivistic perennialism. And metaphysical (in the bad way) to boot. And it is certainly no accident that many who still adhere to traditional eastern philosophies, Buddhism included, seem still caught up in this art of living agenda.
I can allow that one involved with traditional eastern philosophies based in meditation/contemplation can escape the ontotheology and go postmeta, but it seems they are weighted with an especially difficult task to disentangle the quite heavy baggage that accompanies such focus on states of consciousness. To date I don't know that I've seen any do so, even Kennilingam, except of course for our explorations in this forum. Which are based on highly trained personal experience with such states. And even then only tentatively so. And due largely to the very necessary and critical task of "the subtle parsing of ontologies."
Well, yes Nehamas does admit to a plurality of possible approaches. That doesn’t exclude this or any other approach from assessment according to particular criteria. If you don’t mind some questions: if the approach currently being taken here, is indeed an IPM, what is being integrated? And from what vantage point is this integration occurring? And what does it offer that is different from an OOO that is taken as a philosophical movement arising from a mix of the life sciences, contemporary sociology, and continental philosophy.
To my mind Integral thought as espoused by Wilber was most definitely in the tradition of thought and practice together as an ‘art of living’ - all thought, and all practice. Granted, there were issues with his own bodying of this theory of embodied spirit, but the impulse and aspiration seemed pretty damn cool to me. And still do. Are we/you only addressing an aspect of that here, and is that valid? These are the questions in my mind.
I find OOO to also be an integral endeavor. While Bryant for example does address emergent levels of organization I think AQAL adds a more precise examination of those levels. What I focus on integrating here in the forum is various diverse philosophies, how they relate in an overall integral framework, i.e, subtle parsing. So yes, my focus is only addressing an (or a few) aspects here. But my own art of living, my integral life practice as it were, informs this work.
Granted I don't often discuss those other practices here but that's not my preference. (But I do so on occasion, with song lyrics or a short story or a tarot meditation. Plus I find politics to be an art of living par excellence, and am constantly posting on it. Seek and ye shall find.) This does not preclude anyone else from focusing on those other aspects in the forum, and there are several 'rooms' in which to do so. If that's your preference then you are welcome and encouraged to contribute in those ways. Take responsibility for making this forum what you want to see by being the one (or one of the ones) to do what you say you want to see. Have at it buddy, give it to us! Please.
Hi, Dial, I had been thinking about a response to your initial post -- taking my time, because I want to make sure I understand what your concerns are -- but Ed's last post goes some way towards stating what I was also thinking about writing: that is, an invitation for you to contribute, and to exemplify, the sort of inquiries or discussions you'd like to see more of here. From my side, I do not consider OOO to be identical to, or to fully embody, "Integral Postmetaphysical Spirituality." We definitely have spent a lot of time talking about OOO in recent months, mainly using this forum as a kind of "learning lab" in which we explore this particular topic -- especially, from my side, for what it might contribute to my own understanding of IPS -- as we have done, in the past, with other subjects as well. I do consider IPS to be about arts of living, and therefore it is certainly broader in its scope of concern and enaction than our recent focus on ontology has been. (I recently wrote a paper on Integral trans-lineage spiritual practice, which I'd be happy to share with you, but I haven't discussed it very much here or posted anything from it because of JITP rules: the majority of the work being published cannot have been published or posted elsewhere).
In any event, since participation by other members of the forum has been relatively low over the past year, I haven't felt bad about our particular OOO-related focus because it is a topic of interest to the two primary or "regular" posters here (Theurj and me), and I've enjoyed learning about it and reflecting on it. From time to time over the past months, I have started threads on non-OOO subjects, but they seldom have attracted much participation from others, so the focus of my attention has remained largely around the one topic that is active currently. But as Theurj says, we have multiple rooms on the forum to host different kinds of inquiry and discussion, and for every new member that has joined over the past year, I have invited them to start threads of their own, on IPS-related topics of interest to them, but virtually no one has done so. (I don't know why people join a forum and then never participate, but we get that a lot here.)
I enjoy discussing OOO and will continue to study and explore it (even though, as I've said from the beginning, I don't agree with all of it and don't find it speaks to the fullness of my concerns or interests as an integral spiritual practitioner), but I also would certainly welcome expanding the range of discussions we're hosting here, and would like to encourage you or other members to contribute more actively on topics of interest to you.