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 An object is profoundly “withdrawn”--we can never see the whole of it, and nothing else can either....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.
"passing in and through nihilism towards a radical immanence" is nice restating of the Nietzschean ethic. It combines the need to traverse relative toward integralism AND the need to heal and convert reactive forces by undergoing their dangers and rigors. There is also a hint of Divine Ignorance.
The convergence of
(a) the meditative utility of drawing the mind into ontological nihilism thoughtlessly AND
(b) the ideological utility of technologies which modify the relations of individuals and groups to the stuck or self-thwarting patterns of investment of bio-cultural energy
are perhaps useful ways to approach a convergence with Bryant.
Balder started a thread on The Hermetic Deleuze. Perhaps we can pick up that discussion again there? There are some good links and comments in the thread already.
I don't have a problem with Bryant's "Axioms for a Dark Ontology." I'm sure it's as useful a fiction as most other religions, and it was probably therapeutic for him to publish the conscious organizing principles of his own generative enclosure (ie. complex).
As Erel Shalit writes in "The Complex"
Eros, Mars and Thanatos come together to “drive” the complex, to actuate the archetypal possibilities of representation into human shape and complexity. Complexes are the carriers of life energy, enabling archetypal energy to bear on the personal. Archetypal energy is thereby transformed into living reality, instead of remaining buried in the unconscious embrace of the Great Mother, or burning as forbidden flame in the sphere of the Spiritual Father. When the ego rejects and refuses to integrate the complex, the complex becomes autonomous, split-off, and will detract energy from the ego, rather than promote the transformation of the archetype into ego. Until finding its identity, the swan remains an ugly duckling, but having gone through the winter of rejection, the spring of ego-acceptance brings new life ...
An adequately ego-integrated complex brings new energy. For the sake of clarity, however, it should be emphasized that the ego should not usurp everything archetypal. The ego’s desire to do so amounts to the pathology of hubris. Particularly, complexes with an archetypal overload, notes Jung, will cause severe pathology if they enter the sphere of the ego. ...
In other words, I see Dark Ontology is Levi's own designer complex, - his vehicle - his sacred & generative enclosure - forming a cup which allows him to drink the living waters. It's how he's getting the archetypal vitamins and nutrients for his psyche's development. We all do this in one way or another. Speculating for a moment, it's possible that the archetype or collective complex behind his Dark Ontology complex may have something to do with the Puer standing out in rebellion against it's opposite, the Senex.
In other words, I see Dark Ontology is Levi's own designer complex, - his vehicle - his sacred & generative enclosure - forming a cup which allows him to drink the living waters. It's how he's getting the archetypal vitamins and nutrients for his psyche's development. We all do this in one way or another.
Well said, Joe.
I'm going to link from footnotes2plato to y'alls discussion. I'd also be curious to know what Bryant makes of Joshua Ramey's The Hermetic Deleuze. As far as I know, Bryant wrote his dissertation on Deleuze, which was later published as Difference and Givenness. I have't read any of Levi's books yet myself, but I do visit and interact with his blog fairly regularly (see below). Having read a far amount of Deleuze (still plenty more works to read!!--either The Fold or Nietzsche and Philosophy will be next), I can say with some confidence that Bryant hasn't been infected by the Deleuzean chemical in the same way that I have. Of course, we probably each came to Deleuze with different "sets" and in different "settings" (one way to make sense of Deleuze is to think of reading his writing as analogous to ingesting a psychedelic molecule). Bryant reads a materialist Deleuze, while I tend to share Ramey's suspicion that, if he is a materialist, his materialism is more alchemical than scientific, more like Jakob Böhme's than Rene Descartes'.
If you haven't read it already, do check out Jacob Sherman's (philosophy professor at CIIS) review of Ramey's book.
Since you are interested in altered states of consciousness Matt you might also be interested in our discussion of 'spiritual' states in this thread (and the referenced and linked predecessor thread)?
Hi, Matt, thank you for the links. I started a thread on Ramey's book awhile ago, back when a friend (a Catholic monk) first recommended it to me, but I haven't contributed to it much because it took me awhile to get a copy of the book. But now I'm reading it and quite enjoying it; it echoes to some degree the way that the Polydox theologians have employed Deleuze's ideas.
In any event, please let us know when / where you link to this discussion. I'd be interested to see Bryant's response, if he has one.
In Matt's first linked response Steiner was mentioned. Gebser was also mentioned in the comments. Perhaps then there might be interest in this Ph.D. thesis by Gidley that compared Steiner, Gebser and Wilber? I've referenced it several times in the forum to support my own notions.
Speculations IV is out. Looks like some good articles. This one looks particularly interesting to me, given my severe lashing of a certain kind of math in this thread, though while finding some consonance with Badiou's math: "Realsim, mathematics and the thresholds of difference."
Therein you'll see similarities to arguments in this thread for differance as the withdrawn core of the actual. From the conclusion:
"Every determinate phenomena is inseparable from an intensive field of differential relations and gradient-thresholds that remain hidden within the explicated, determinate differences but nevertheless allow for the corporeal and explicated transformations."
However also in the thread above we see how Bryant views the withdrawn in distinction from both Deleuze and DeLanda. Also see this thread for some of that discussion.
Such a weird experience, even though likely coincidental. As I'm walking back to my office at the end of my break, just after reading about modern Deleuzian philosophy, hermeticism, magic, and spiritual ordeals, one crow looks at me from far across the parking lot and calls out. Another crow in a tree nearby responds, cawing loudly. Then the second crow suddenly bursts out of the tree and begins circling me directly overhead, following me all the way across the parking lot, cawing incessantly, never dropping too low but still staying in a tight circle right over me. I was both thrilled and a little spooked! (I shielded my head with Ramey's book. :-) ).