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 An object is profoundly “withdrawn”--we can never see the whole of it, and nothing else can either....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... 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.

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Ha! Good point Ambo!

A wrinkle in time, and gravitational waves confirmed:

theurj said:

There are of course correlations with IPS, in that many sources used in the forum for spirituality also recognize the lack of unitarity and a fixed, transcendent space-time matrix.

"In a sense, we would see that change arises from the structure of the object. But it’s not from the object changing. The object is basically timeless.”

Bryant might agree with the first statement but not the second. Every object's structure creates its own space time, so there is no ultimate space-time. They are timeless only in the sense of not being subject to an ultimate space-time, but not timeless per se. See "the time of the object."

And Science Daily's commentary, with related science and stories:

Ambo Suno said:

A wrinkle in time, and gravitational waves confirmed:

theurj said:

There are of course correlations with IPS, in that many sources used in the forum for spirituality also recognize the lack of unitarity and a fixed, transcendent space-time matrix.

"In a sense, we would see that change arises from the structure of the object. But it’s not from the object changing. The object is basically timeless.”

Bryant might agree with the first statement but not the second. Every object's structure creates its own space time, so there is no ultimate space-time. They are timeless only in the sense of not being subject to an ultimate space-time, but not timeless per se. See "the time of the object."

Thanks Ambo, I was going to link to that story but you beat me to it.

D - :)

DavidM58 said:

Ha! Good point Ambo!

This post is also of relevance here to Bryant's work.

Zizek critiques OOO and new materialism here.

I do not understand the appeal of Zizek, therefore I am not inclined to go beyond the landing page to download and read the document. Does he say anything helpful or even interesting?

I haven't read it yet either. I just bookmarked in case I might read it later.

And Zizek on TDOO here.

Read it.  I'll need to read it at least 3 more times, but at first glance it confirms my own reading of Bryant's "Democracy of Objects" and fits with my own work on ontology.

From Zizek (emphasis mine):

So it is not that ooo does take into account subjectivity, merely reducing it to a property/quality of one among other objects: what ooo describes as subject simply does not meet the criteria of subject—there is no place for subject in ooo.

Here we encounter the mistake of Althusser and others who reduce subject to the imaginary illusion of self-recognition—the idea is that “subject” is an effect of imaginary misrecognition, of a short-circuit which gives rise to the illusory self-experience as a free autonomous agent, obfuscating the complex presubjective (neuronal or discursive) processes which generate this illusion. The task of the theory of subjectivity is then to describe these processes, as well as to outline how one can break out of the imaginary circle of subjectivity and confront the presubjective process of subjectivization. The Hegelian (and Lacanian) counter-argument is here that “subjectivization” (the formation of the subjective space of meaning) effectively is grounded in an closure of the circle of self-recognition, in an imaginary obfuscation of a traumatic Real, of the wound of antagonism. However, this “wound,” this trauma, this cut in/of the real, is the subject itself at its zero-level, so that, to paraphrase the famous line from Wagner’s Parsifalthe subject is itself the wound it tries to heal (note that Hegel says the same about spirit). This “absolute contradiction,” this radical coincidence of the opposites (the “wound of nature,” the loss of “organic unity,” and simultaneously the very activity to heal this wound by way of constructing a universe of meaning; the production of sense with a traumatic core of nonsense; the point of absolute singularity [of the “I” excluding all substantial content] in which universality comes to itself, is “posited” as such) is what defines and constitutes subjectivity. One of Hegel’s names for this abyss of subjectivity that he takes from the mystic tradition is the “night of the world,” the withdrawal of the Self from the world of entities into the void that “is” the core of the Self, and it is crucial to notice how in this gesture of self-withdrawal (in clinical terms: the disintegration of all “world,” of all universe of meaning), extreme closure and extreme openness, extreme passivity and extreme activity, overlap. In the “night of the world,” extreme self-withdrawal, cutting of the links with reality around us, overlaps with our extreme openness to reality: we drop all symbolic screens which filter our access to reality, all protective shields, and we risk a kind of total exposure to the disgust of the Real. As to its content, it is a position of radical passivity (of a Kantian transcendental subject suspending its constitution of reality), but as to its form, it is a position of radical activity, of violently tearing oneself out of the immersion into reality: I am utterly passive, but my passive position is grounded in my withdrawal from reality, in a gesture of extreme negativity.

It is in this sense that the “democracy of objects” in which subjects are conceived as one among the objects-actants obfuscates the Real of subjects, the cut that IS the Real. And the crucial point to be noted here is that every direct access to “subjectless objects” which ignores or bypasses this cut/wound that “is” the subject already has to rely on transcendental constitution: what it describes is a pluriverse of actants is formed by a certain transcendental vision of reality. In other words, the problem with subjectless objects is not that they are too objective, neglecting the role of subject, but that what they describe as subjectless world of objects is too subjective, already within an unproblematized transcendental horizon. We do not reach the In-itself by way of tearing away subjective appearances and trying to isolate “objective reality” as it is “out there,” independently of the subject; the In-itself inscribes itself precisely into the subjective excess, gap, inconsistency that opens up a hole in reality. This gap is missed both by ooo and by transcendentalism in all its contemporary versions, from Heidegger to Habermas: although the two are big opponents, they both retain the transcendental horizon (the historical disclosure of being in Heidegger, the a priori of symbolic communication) as the ultimate horizon of our thinking.

What I believe Zizek is referring to is the fundamental contradiction that is at the very CENTER of all subjects and objects.   In the Democracy of Objects, Bryant refers to this as "Bare Substance" about which nothing can be said.  This is the obfuscation or error of "The Democracy of Objects"

What does this contradiction look like in the various domains?

a) The extraction of surplus value: Use-Value VS. Exchange-Value 

b) That which can never be monetized VS. That which is monetized.

c) Noumena VS. Phenomena.

d) Quality VS. Quantity

e) Lacan's "Objet a" VS. the Sinthome

f) Zizek's "Void" VS "The Symptom"   <== the wound, trauma, "cut of the real"

g) Alienation: What something actually is VS. The image of that thing that we have identified with.

h) Logic: True VS False

i) Thermodynamics: Entropy VS Useful Work

j) Software development and the problem of program correctness: What the program actually does VS the Use Case (what we want the program to do).

k) Telos: What a thing's real purpose is VS what we think its purpose is ( what it is for us).

l) Philosophy of mind: Mind VS Brain.

m) Philosophy: Ontology VS Epistemology.


Within any domain, model or scheme of objects, this primary of fundamental contradiction exists at the level of paradox and  non duality.  See my chart:

theurj said:

And Zizek on TDOO here.

Synthetic a priori thought and magical thinking. See this Bryant blog entry and discuss the similarities and differences between the above pairing. We know that Bryant thinks the Real is ofttimes missing from philosophy and suffers therefrom, so how do we square this with this magical creation of the synthetic a priori? And differentiate it with the magical thinking that thoughts in themselves create reality?

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