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 An object is profoundly “withdrawn”--we can never see the whole of it, and nothing else can either....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.
"Eternal objects thus take on something of the role that universals...Platonic forms and ideas played in older metaphysical systems. But we have already seen that, for Whitehead, 'concrete particular fact' cannot simply 'be built up out of universals'; it is more the other way around. Universals...can and must be abstracted from 'things which are temporal.' But they cannot be conceived by themselves, in the absence of the empirical, temporal entities that they inform. Eternal objects, therefore, are neither a priori logical structures, nor Platonic essences, nor constitutive rational ideas" (18).
This one later on refers to Layman's notion of recurrent pattern:
"Actual entities continually perish; but the relations between them, or the patterns that they make, tend to recur or endure. Thus it is not 'substance' that endures but 'form.' And even forms do not subsist absolutely, but continually 'suffer changing relations'" (19).
I'm not going to argue how Whitehead sees it. What I see here is differance as a recurrent pattern that repeats or iterates, but itself arises from, and cannot be separated from, temporal actual occasions (suobjects). And which changes with each of those actual occasions. It is in a sense like Bryant's virtual substance, or an eternal object as described above, which is both a universal aspect within a particular manifestation.
Also see this post on image schemas. These are pre-linguistic, embodied, non-dual 'categories' that do not divide but connect us to the world. These basic categories (differentiations) provide the ground from which later abstract, dualistic thinking develops. And they are neither an a priori particular nor universal, but are in the middle of any nested abstract hierarchy. They function very much like differance, and may in fact be another way of describing a similar (if not identical) universal and embodied 'pattern' born from the very specific and particular instantiations that give rise to it.
At least in reference to human beings. I could though stretch a similar idea by what underlies an image schema in the basic categories that inform any suobject, using Bryant's notion of translation. Image schemas then would just be a more emergent, human development of this basic 'universal' differentiation (differance) inherent to any suobject.
Derrida's seminal essay Différance he speaks of it as “this sameness that is not identical...as spacing/temporalizing” that is neither active nor passive but “rather indicates the middle voice” (278). It is also an assemblage, a “general system of all these related schemata” (280). Note that schemata is defined as “an underlying organizational pattern or structure,” and with specific reference to Kant as “a concept, similar to a universal but limited to phenomenal knowledge, by which an object of knowledge or an idea of pure reason may be apprehended.” So here we have a patterned universal assemblage that is born of particular spatial-temporal instantiations expressing in the middle voice, much like our image schema(ta). As assemblage it “refer[s] to the whole complex of its meanings at once, for it is immediately and irreducibly multivalent” (283-4), like Balder's reading of Nancy's singular-plural.
Also of note is how differance is like the virtual in that while it “makes the presentation of being present possible, it never presents itself as such” (281). The present is what is actual or manifest within differential relations between suobjects. And yet differance doesn't enter into these manifest relations, yet is not an essential or metphysical form, still being bound by the space-time of its particular instantiations.
I found this sentence interesting in light of our discussion above on the eternal return and eternal objects: “It is out of this unfolding of the 'same' as differance that the sameness of differance and of repetition is presented in the eternal return” (292). Again I'm reminded of the old expression from the Pennsylvania coal-mining district in which I was raised, same difference.
The similarity between "not substance that endures but form" and the material of a virtual substance is enticing.
I enjoy your thoughts on differance and they put two things in my mind:
1. That sameness and difference are colloquial generalizations of a relational power which must always be same-enough-to-be-different-from & different-enough-for-sameness-to-matter. "Same diff!" as we used to say on the playground. Where the difference between sameness and difference is held to be a limitation... the basic function of differences can be held as non-limiting, non-separating.
2. This is territory where I can't help but ponder non-linear algorithms from the fields of complexity science. These computational rules can indefinitely repeat the same pattern which manifests as a slightly different, literally unpredictable version with every iteration of this same "form".
The image schema post is intriguing. Although it feels to me like they are using a bastardized or trivialized notion of non-duality they raise several interesting points. I certainly do think that a particular type of harmony -- whether in language or image -- can permit 'non-dual bleedthrough'.
In their criticism of Kant's fundamental separation of form and matter I hear echoes of what I called Western philosophy's over-emphasis on the gross-causal relationship at the expense of the subtle. Subtle forms out to be quasi-immaterial experiential-qualitative patterns which do not exactly fit into the gross or causal domains. Now whether that means they evade the form/matter distinction is iffy... IF this distinction is generalized a bit. But privately I think these subtle semantic functions are necessary in (at least) all biological systems and certain can convey the "overtone" of the non-dual.
You said: "This is territory where I can't help but ponder non-linear algorithms from the fields of complexity science."
You might then be interested in this thread, "complexity and pomo." Many of the same issues are contained therein.
The issue of whether the virtual is some kind of pure becoming and/or homogenous continuum is an ongoing debate even among speculative realists, discussed earlier in this thread. See how DeLanda interprets Deleuze on the virtual as pure becoming in this post. In the following post Bryant's criticizes Deleuze for this, noting this kind of virtuality “seems to consist of a single continuum, such that there is only one virtual, one substance, that is then partitioned into apparently distinct entities." This post goes into some other opinions on Deleuze's virtual as distinguished from Bryant. And this post on how Derrida uses the kind of ordinal time DeLanda references, yet without a “pure becoming.” My loyalties are obvious in my attempt to build a case for postmetaphysicality. (Or am I building a mystery?)
"Rather than claiming to be the one framework that gets at the real, alethetics moves between different frames and windows; now discussing the way narrative informs our relation to the world, now the way our systems of categorization influence lives and nonhumans, now looking at lived experience as Sarah Ahmed does, now at the physical properties of fiber optic cables, the bubonic plague bacteria, etc."
His symbol for this is cool.
"What we need– or what I want –is something like the Lacanian Borromean Knot. Here the Imaginary would be the way in which one entity encounters another entity.... The symbolic would be the way in which entities capable of language signify the world through narratives, signifiers, signs, texts, etc. Who knows whether this is restricted to humans?... Finally, the real is the dimension of irreducibility of a thing to how it is perceived by another being (imaginary), or symbolized by another entity. It is the irreducible difference that a road has to affect us, for example, despite being created by us."
Or, she loves me knots... Also of curiosity is that he uses my avatar picture in this post. Coincidence?
Hmmm, very interesting blog entry, and interesting coincidence as well. Not the first time something appearing here has appeared there, either, so I'm not sure it is a coincidence. I like the knot image, which appears (to me) to better evoke the inter-looping, twisting complexity of IMP in practice.
Bryant: Here the Imaginary would be the way in which one entity encounters another entity. For example, the way in which mantis shrimps encounter the world about them or the way in which people of another culture encounter the world around them. Each machine or object (the two are synonyms for me), encounters the world around it in a particular way. Each discipline encounters the world around it in a particular way and is blind to other aspects of the world. There are as many phenomenologies and transcendental structures of cognition as there are types of machines. There’s even a transcendental aesthetic, analytic, and dialectic for flowers.
I like his use of Imaginary here, which puts me in mind of a statement of Varela's that I like to repeat: perception is as imaginary as imagination is perceptual. Maybe a neologism is called for here? Permagination? Puts me in mind also of Wilber's conperception.
Some of his thoughts (on writing as exposure to or interfacing with objects or assemblages) mirror some wonderfully realized reflections in Abram's Becoming Animal. I will have to dig them up and post an excerpt/commentary when I have the time.
Consistent with OOO philosophy auto parts are themselves independent objects with substance. This is confirmed by the OOO O'Reilly auto parts jingle. I could swear I head my radiator singing it this morning in the shower.