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 An object is profoundly “withdrawn”--we can never see the whole of it, and nothing else can either....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.
In Bryant, there is a "driving into one" of being and becoming, and in both Bryant and Harman, there is a similar "driving into one" of substance and relation (where every relation is a substance, in OOO's preferred framing; but where this is reversible, also, and every substance is a relation). I'm not sure exactly how I might relate my emphases on (en)closure and disenclosure here, but thinking aloud, disenclosure is a kind of "unformatting." I'm imagining -- perhaps too concretely -- an unbounded (never-finally-bound) flux of object/relational (en)closures and disenclosures at multiple (and evolving) scales. (The Big Bang would be a kind of primal disenclosure event, though not conceived as a one-time occurrence).
More on this notion of inside/outside:
From TOO: “There is that side of the object pointed towards presence or what I call ‘local manifestation,’ and that side of the object that is radically withdrawn which I call ‘virtual proper being’” (4-5).
Harman in the debate: “I think the thing has to be free from its outer relations but it can’t be free of its inner relations…’domestic relations’” (115).
I can see making this distinction but it seems too rigid. Substance only resides on the inside due to a suobject’s drawing of a distinction or boundary, i.e., in its endo-structural relations. And I’m suggesting that difference per se is not just inside but in true metaphysical fashion is indeed an ontic* given that flows across all boundaries and everywhere in between boundaries.
Recall in TOO Bryant notes that differance demonstrates how succession occurs in time and how things change. As I was noting above, this environmental field of differance is itself the progenitor of change. And it should be no surprise that differance, being both in and outside of a suobject, is its cause.
* Unfortunately the definition of ontic distinguishes the real from the phenomenon, and it is exactly this too strict bifurcation (dualism) that I wish to avoid. Same with real and actual, withdrawn and local manifestation. Differance is not just withdrawn but within every local manifestation, every actual event. This is a tough one to communicate.
So Balder, as to this "drawing into one" business for Bryant and Harman. They both draw this distinction, and both say that both sides of the bifurcation goes both ways. And yet my sense is that both also seem to favor the inside/substance/being as the residence of the withdrawn. Granted Bryant does note that the withdrawn is "not a givenness to a subject" but rather as "appearingness to the world" (TOO, 5). Following he admits that something of the withdrawn appears in local manifestations but not its entirety, with which I agree.
So Bryant is hinting at one point, that the withdrawn differance is not purely subjective. But the way he's setting this up it seems more like lip service, since he didn't develop this point and instead proceeds to reiterate the true but worn claim about something being held in reserve. Whereas what I'm wondering is about the medium in and through which the withdrawn operates as that medium. Or as the act of synthesis itself, explored in a previous post and briefly and inadequately addressed at the end of TOO.
Whereas what I'm wondering is about the medium in and through which the withdrawn operates as that medium.
I'm not quite sure what you mean in this sentence. Can you re-phrase it?
Differance is that which pre-positions identity and difference, i.e., the transcendental condition for their manifestation.
I'm still struggling to articulate an incipient intuition and its not clear yet. In chapter 3.1 of TDOO Bryant makes clear that the virtual proper being of an object is not some general principle applicable to all objects, that it is specific to each individual object. And I get that from Derrida when he agrees that differance is not a foundational or general principle, that it is specific to each instance of application. Hence Derrida always deconstructed any particular metaphysical claim with specifics to that claim, and maintained that the deconstruction was singular and not detachable from that specific work.
And yet he also maintained that there is the undeconstructable. That which is pre-originary and immune from a deconstructive analysis. That which is a-metaphysical, that never enters into the field of the actual, that remains virtual to use Bryant's terms. And Bryant makes a good case for this in TOO. So I'm fishing for this undeconstructable, which is singular to each object, is not a metaphysical ground, and yet is a ground as such that connects all objects. It's a very difficult thing to grasp, to elucidate, without it slipping back into some metaphysical foundation, but a foundation nonetheless.
I must re-read theurj's fine thread "what 'is' the differance?" for fresh insight in light of OOO.
One of the intuitions I had above is that hyperobjects might be a similar way of looking at differance. Per Bryant each suobject creates its own space-time instead of being in some more general, metaphysical space-time container. And yet he also admits that there are 'brighter' objects whose gravitational space-time override to a great degree more dim suobjects. Even more so for hyperobjects, which are so large as to be non-local, whose space-time gravitation is so strong as to strongly influence if not fully determine every other suobject in its 'environment.'* Climate change was one such example.
So if differance is limited to specific instances (suobjects), and if everything is a suobject, then there is a differance for massive hyperobjects as well, even if there is no final and total (hyper)suobject. Even if it is suobjects all the way up and down, differance is there in each one. See *.
* Recall several pages ago the discussion of endo-relations, suobjects and elements. There was a distinction between the elements of endo-relations and the other suobjects contained in a larger suobject. And the smaller suobjects were "in the environment" of the larger given that they were not elements. It is in this environment of massive hyperobjects that I'm intuiting a more generalized form of differance whose gravity is so much more influential that that of ordinary suobjects.
Is this making any sense?
I commented on Bryant's blog post about class as a hyperobject earlier in the thread. Recall:
"Class as an entity in its own right comes to function as a statistical sorting entity, as its endo-structure functions as a regime of attraction functioning as a gravitational field for those persons or human bodies that find themselves within its orbit. Just as every object is a system that transforms perturbations into system-specific events, contents, or qualities according to its own endo-structure, classes treat human bodies as perturbations that it then molds and structures according to its own endo-structure."
Yes, it does; I was thinking you might be going in this direction. Would you consider the universe as a hyperobject, or would you stop at more "local" scales? (I am thinking of Brian Swimme's assertion that some phenomena, for instance, cannot be understood without considering the nonlocal influence of the giant "egg" of the known universe of supergalactic clusters. Thinking of the known universe as a hyperobject in whose "environment" other suobjects exist would perhaps "cut through" the totalitarianism of normal holistic thinking on the topic, but still allow for this massive-scale influence on smaller suobjects).
Also recall this post and the one following, where Morton talks about the mesh. From Morton's 10/18/11 blog:
"Now I believe that there is a mesh, that it's totally interconnected (as before)--even that it's nonlocal and nontemporal in some sense. Yet the mesh floats ontologically 'in front' of the strange stranger(s), rather than subtending it/them/her. This works if we think of causation has happening in, even equivalent to, the aesthetic dimension, which is how it must work if we have withdrawn objects..."
Also see Morton's video series on the mesh, linked earlier in the thread.
Yes, exactly -- that's how I'm suggesting reading Swimme's "uni-verse perspective," as a hyperobject("interconnected" or "interrelated" as all objects are) which exists alongside other objects, in a sense, rather than as an all-subsuming monosphere ("in" which everything else would be an "element" without any withdrawn depth).
And yet as Morton says, this hyper-mesh "floats ontologically 'in front' of the strange stranger(s)." It's this 'in front of' that I'm trying to articulate. And it might not subtend or subsume the smaller suobjects but its gravity is such that it really does for all practical purposes. As one broad generalization, no suobject can escape differance!