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 An object is profoundly “withdrawn”--we can never see the whole of it, and nothing else can either....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 this excerpt he comments on how blogging has opened him through dialog to vistas he would likely never have encountered otherwise in academia. And that its social aspect is indispensable to thought itself, indicating the more extended mind thesis of assemblages.
"As time passed, blogging increasingly came to be the center of my thought. I believe that despite the fact that interactions in that medium can often be incredibly unpleasant, I’ve benefitted from it tremendously because it’s exposed me to all sorts of people outside the world of philosophy, as well as texts and lines of thought I would not have otherwise encountered. This has led me on adventures of thought that I don’t think I would have otherwise had. Additionally, I’m put together in a way that I really can’t think without encountering others as a provocation for thought. The dialogical dimension of social media isn’t something ancillary to my thought, but is a necessary condition for me thinking at all" (9).
This Bryant post reminds me of my Christian compatriot Caputo. First Bryant:
"Many of the concepts surrounding the modern understanding of sovereignty are, in fact, secularized theological concepts. Part of the project of atheology would thus involve overcoming a certain framework of sovereignty. [...] One strategy would be to abolish the place or site (remember we’re talking about structure, not content) of sovereignty altogether.
"In this regard, 'an-archy' doesn’t mean 'without law', but 'without ultimate or transcendent authority deciding the law. [...] The place or site of politics [...] would not be the place of the norm or the rule, of that which is already counted, but would rather be the exception, that which is not counted, that for which there is no norm [....] where the work of thought and practice emerges deciding to count the exception and reconfigure the entire world based on that exception."
Caputo on sovereignty:
"Is there something 'unconditional' that is nonetheless with 'sovereignty?' [...] What Derrida calls the unconditional call is perfectly capable of being described as a ghost, as a shade or specter, a demi-being, not real enough to do anything but able only to haunt us with uncanny possibilities, above all, the haunting possibility of the impossible."
On the exceptional in law:
"It thinks in terms of the singularity of the situation. [...] There’s the law, and then there’s this concrete situation in which the law has to be brought to bear. So, the law has to be brought to bear, but there’s an emphasis on the flexibility of the law. There’s no attempt or element of trying to do away with the law, or with obligation or with the demands of justice. But, there is an attempt to be flexible and to allow a maximum amount of leeway in adjusting to the singularity of the situation."
Another point of confluence, first Bryant from the above post:
"A de-theologization of the concept of sovereignty would involve placing sovereignty not in the hands of a monarch or dictator, but in the hands of the multitude. That is the basic idea of both communism and anarchism. It is the common or the community that both possesses and exercises sovereignty."
Caputo in the first post of this thread:
"What would it be like were there a politics of and for the children, who are the future; a politics not of sovereignty, of top–down power, but a politics that builds from the bottom up, where ta me onta (I Cor 1:28) enjoy pride of place and a special privilege? What would a political order look like if the last are first, if everything turned on lifting up the lowliest instead of letting relief trickle down from the top?"
In the above post this sentence should read "without soverenighty."
"Is there something 'unconditional' that is nonetheless with 'sovereignty?'"
So the main difference is that Bryant sees all theology as infected with sovereignty and/or a transcendence of the one over the many. We can see that Caputo's "religion without religion" does not. Also see our prior Gaia thread on Caputo. Derrida was a key influence for Caputo as he was for Bryant. And both use Derrida's critique of the metaphysics of presence to eliminate the sort of bugbear theology Bryant rails against. Granted they do have their differences and personal emphases, but there are points of similarity or homeomorphisms.
Another reference to Bryant's atheology (and non-anthropomorphism) can be found in Caputo, discussing my gal Khora:
"Khora is neither present nor absent, active nor passive, good nor evil, living nor nonliving [...] but rather atheological and non-human" (35-6).
I haven't read the book yet, but possibly relevant here: God's Zeal, Peter Sloterdijk
hey great ,looks like more and more books by sloty are translated into the one language that really matters :english : ))
in any case IN that book sloty says the big sentence : the tell sign for a modern person IS
that he can´t belief any of this ( bible /koran ) anymore. its not that he doesn´t want to ...he just can´t !
IF he still can he has not yet arrived at the modern civilized standard level .
will be fun to see the american
(where ..what ,? something like 95% percent belief in god in the US of A, i heard)
reaction to just
that one categorical sentence : )))
A few excerpts from the linked review that support what I've been saying lately in this and other threads:
"Peter Sloterdijk warns 'none of what will be said here can, whether theologically, politically or religion-psychologically, be thought of as harmless. [...] The civilizing process of the monotheisms will be complete once people are ashamed of certain statements made by their respective god.'”
"Sloterdijk argues that the belief in a 'personal' monotheistic God leads inexorably to belief in a monarch-like being who directs the lives of the believers with disastrous results. He does not view the 'ontological' conception of 'the highest,' which he likens to the impersonal 'god of the philosophers,' with the same level of skepticism.”
"Chapter Six (The Pharmaka) presents Sloterdijk’s attempt to solve what he views as the intransigent exclusive 'either-or' elements of Aristotelian logic at the base of monotheistic thought. His solution to the 'either-or' is 'polyvalent' thinking about transcendence that accepts 'both-and' propositions, a middle ground which he describes as a 'halfway world of graded shades of grey. [...] He envisions polyvalence leading to what he terms 'mature religious cultures.'"
Also see this post for more on Caputo as well as Keller and Faber.
A few posts up (here) Bryant said: "In this regard, 'an-archy' doesn’t mean 'without law', but 'without ultimate or transcendent authority deciding the law."
Caputo on hier(an)archy:
"To be sure, by advocating différance Derrida does not advocate outright chaos. He does not favor a simple-minded street-corner anarchy (nothing is ever simple) that would let lawlessness sweep over the land, although that is just what his most simplistic and anxious critics take him to say. For that would amount to nothing more than a simple counter-kingdom, a reign of lawlessness….Just like a simple totalitarianism…the opposite way, a simple anarchy would break the tension between the arche and the an-arche, erasing the slash between power and powerlessness….in 'Force of Law' Derrida made it plain that deconstruction is not a matter of leveling laws in order to produce a lawless society, but of deconstructing laws in order to produce a just society. To deconstruct the law means to 'negotiate the difference' between law and justice, where the law is thought to be something finite, and ‘justice' calls up an uncontainable event, an infinite or unconditional or undeconstructable demand" (27).
Also see paragraph 32 of this interview, where he calls it hier-an-archy.