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 An object is profoundly “withdrawn”--we can never see the whole of it, and nothing else can either....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 discussing a different kind of mereology recently I'm reminded of an earlier discussion in this thread, starting with this post and following on the issue of endo- and exo-relations. This thread's own structural autonomy has certainly taken on a life of its own and speaks through me, one of its members. But I am not completely subsumed within it. I have nothing new to add at this point.
In light of my recent rumincations on objet a,* and recent email discussions with Balder on his upcoming paper,** I return to this post (p. 77) on Latour, prepositions, image schema and khora. In this post (p. 78 ) I ask how Latour integrates the modes and we got a vague reference to "variation itself....difference differences even more differently,” which I correlated with differance (aka khora depending on context). In this post (79) I said:
“Combine the above with what Latour said in this post about “variation itself” being that which contextualizes the plural modes and we might have something like the virtual differance at the core of an actant's autonomy.”
Then this post (80):
“Ah, I think we're getting to le differance with Latour's plasma, unformatted reality (80 and following). And on 83 we discern it by, like Bryant, drawing a distinction between the marked and unmarked space. And this circles around to my question about the more complex environment that a suobject translates through its marked space.”
In the following post I made a connection between Latour's serial description and Derrida's interation. At which point I started to make connection that differance and/or khora is the endo-relational structure of the universe at large. Here (80) I questioned per Bryant that differance is just on the 'inside' of an local object, since that object is 'inside' the non-local hyperobject universe-at-large's overpowering endo-structual gravity of differance. And here (80) I related it back to prepositions: “Differance is that which pre-positions identity and difference, i.e., the transcendental condition for their manifestation.”
And some thoughts from my emails with Balder. The preposition acts like khora in that it is that withdrawn core that prepares the space-time for actual occasions and is coterminous with them, a la Whitehead. Hence I'm wondering if prepositions, while parts of language, aren't themselves something prelinguistic and which tie language back to that basic categorical embodiment via image schemata? If I'm right about prepositions being more akin to objet a than being an actualization or local manifestation of a particular paradigm, then they might be more of an meta-paradigmatic function.
* According to this wiki entry, the 'a' refers to autre, French for 'other' "and Lacan's own exploitation of 'otherness.'"
** Balder voiced his idea for the paper during this discussion on p. 78.
Thanks for cataloging and connecting the links here, Ed. Here is one more post in this thread of speculations, from page 68. As I mention in my paper, it was reading this chapter by Latour on prepositions, plus watching the back and forth between several OOO and Whiteheadian philosophers, not to mention our evolving conversation in this epic thread, that planted the seeds for my paper. I had forgotten your linking of prepositions to the khora, but that makes sense to me -- esp. the way Nancy and Serres use them -- and I think it is worth exploring and developing further (I don't in my paper). I also like your suggestion, in our email exchange, that prepositions -- in this light -- are perhaps pre-linguistic operators "which tie language back to that basic categorical embodiment via image schemata." I do touch on the image schemas which may inform prepositions, but don't draw the connections you are making here.
Here's Shaviro's blog post on the Harman-Latour debate book. I addressed the debate earlier in the thread, some of which was linked above yesterday. A few excerpts:
"Latour objects to Harman’s characterization of him as a relationist by saying that he doesn’t understand (or doesn’t accept) Harman’s entire opposition between objects/substances and relations. Where the question of whether objects can be defined by their relations, or on the contrary have hidden nonrelational cores, is crucial for Harman, Latour suggests rather that this is a both/and, not an either/or. It is precisely because things are singular, that they need mediators, relations via translation and transportation, in order to have an effect, or assert their presence in the world. So it’s not a question of whether objects are defined by intrinsic substantial natures or by merely relational qualities, but rather that it is precisely to the extent that objects are singular and irreducible to external common measures that they need to establish modes of relationality.
"For Whitehead, an entity cannot ever exist apart from its connections, even though the entity itself is not reducible to these connections.
"As for eternal objects and God in Whitehead’s cosmology, it seems to me that they are not deployed in order to answer the question of how things can influence other things. Rather, they are there in order to answer a quite different question: that of how novelty is possible, of how creativity takes place, of how things can be something other than just repetitions of previous things.
"To get back to Latour — he says in The Prince and the Wolf that he is not as much of an actualist as Harman makes him out to be, precisely because he does not conceive things in 'punctual' terms. Where Harman seeks to revive a notion of substance in order to get away from the contemporary overvaluation of relations, Latour poses the issue quite differently. Several times in the book he says that, precisely because we can no longer accept the notion of substance, the question that exercises him the most is one of subsistence.... Indeed, Latour hints that his still-unpublished exploration of different modes of being (under the influence of Souriau) is really about different ways of subsisting. There are multiple modes of being, because there are multiple ways in which entities, without being substances, nonetheless subsist over time (and also, I would suspect, through space).
"Latour adds that what he now sees as the defect of his early treatise 'Irreductions' (part of the Pasteur book) is that it is in fact too 'punctual' — it presents as points what are really vectors. Now, 'vectors' is very much a Whiteheadian term as well — Whitehead insists on the vector quality of existence — and for Latour, vectors are important because they involve both movements of translation and transportation, and processes of subsistence.... For Latour (as for Whitehead, and in contrast to Harman) everything has 'descendants and ascendants' [I suspect that what Latour meant by the latter word was 'antecedents']."
Here, I definitely lean more in the direction of Latour or Whitehead than Harman or Bryant -- to the extent that the latter attempt to describe objects which can exist apart from all relations. As we've discussed several times before, this just doesn't seem to hold up. I think they make a good point that objects are detachable from (many) present relations, and therefore aren't wholly and exclusively determined by or reducible to them, but in my view there are other ways they remain related -- internally (to their own parts and processes, to the larger universe which provided the parts that constitute them, therefore to their own and to other objects' past(s); and for living systems, to the ongoing circulation of elements which are necessary to their autopoiesis or self-making, etc).
I'd like to read more of Shaviro on his understanding of eternal objects. Harman objects to the idea that eternal objects explain change and creativity, insisting instead that eternal objects are unchanging and that they only allow for new arrangements of eternally existing qualities rather than for anything genuinely new.
The emphasis on vectors above aligns not only with Latour/Souriau, but also with Serres (another prepositional philosopher).
The debate previously linked has been removed due to a book being published on it, The Prince and the Wolf. One can get a peek at the free Google preview.
"I'd like to read more of Shaviro on his understanding of eternal objects."
From this post earlier in the thread (66):
"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).
Oh, yes, I actually read that chapter when researching one of the sections of my paper. (You'll see in that paragraph that he references the part of speech for which I used this). Harman thinks this is an incorrect reading of Whitehead (and apparently Hartshorne, one of Whitehead's leading interpreters, would agree with Harman on this. I believe I reference this disagreement in the paper). So, it's something I need to study in more depth. I prefer Shaviro's reading, and would be happy if he is correct on this (since I've been uncomfortable with this Platonic-seeming aspect of Whitehead).
Recall I discussed how image schemas are in the middle of any classical hierarchy.* And from them the embodied universal is built 'up.' Same with the particular, only built 'down.' Again, the khoratic image schema function as an embodied transcendental condition for the actual, the emptiness of the middle way Madhyamaka kaka.
* See this post and not surprisingly, a few up and down.
What happened to your post on Murray? It was here a minute ago.
I just moved it over to the Murray thread that you had already started.
A few excerpts from this Shaviro blog post, things we've discussed in the thread:
"For one thing, I think that Simondon's basic question of where individuals come from, how they come to be, is an unavoidable one. I don't think that OOO answers this adequately.... So, for Simondon, being is always relational, but this relationality is not absolute & cannot be pejoratively defined as OOO tries to do (nor can we simply make a division between internal and external relations). Indeed: 'Already at the level of physical beings, that relation is constituting means that interiority and exteriority are not substantially different; there are not two domains, but a relative distinction; because, insofar as any individual is capable of growth, what was exterior to it can become interior'....so, relations actually constitute the separation of interior from exterior, and guarantee that this border is itself never fixed."