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 An object is profoundly “withdrawn”--we can never see the whole of it, and nothing else can either....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.
Good question and it is a seeming paradox, difficult to describe. Perhaps the withdrawn, while still interdependent and relational in the sense that it belongs to a structural object,* does not enter into an object's epistemological knowing? This isn't necessarily anthropomorphic in that it applies to any object's structural translations. The withdrawn just doesn't enter into those knowable translations and in that sense is not relational. Just speculating.
*This appears to be Bryant's distinction between a fully immanent-embodied object versus a disembodied transcendent.
I just learned from Integral World that our old buddy Gregory Desilet has a new book, Radical Atheism and New Spirituality. IW provides a few excerpt of the book, and I might start a new thread on the book at some point. For now an excerpt that is relevant to our recent discussion above.
"The trace is an absenting presencing, disappearing as it appears.... With every emergence there is also loss" (Chapter 4).
Here's a good interview with Morton.
Bryant on OWS, from his post today:
"I am absolutely on the side of the OWSers, but I also find myself frustrated as it seems to me that much of it is unfolding at the level of an ideology critique (cultural Marxism) and a desire to persuade these governmental and corporate forces that is doomed to fall on deaf ears. Occupations are taking place everywhere except, I think, in the places where they would have a chance to make a real difference and produce real results. If we think of capitalist social systems as being akin to an organic body, then these social systems will have a circulatory system and a nervous system. The nervous system of a capitalist social system would be the various mediums through which information is transmitted (internet, phones, television, newspapers, etc) as well that the events that take place in those systems (images, songs, reports, narratives, articles, etc), while the circulatory system would be the various paths of distribution and production the system requires to produce this sort of social structure such as highways, trains, airports, portions of the internet used for monetary exchange, farms, shipping lanes, etc. The political goal of the critic of capitalism requires causing capitalism to have a stroke or a heart attack (continuing with the metaphor of circulatory systems). But if that’s to be done, it’s necessary to occupy not a park in front of Wall Street or a governors office, but rather the arteries capitalism needs to survive. Why not occupy the highways? Why not occupy the ports (Oakland was a good move)? Why not occupy the internets, finding ways to block commerce traffic? My view is that if all focus is on the nervous system, these infrastructural dimensions are entirely missed and we end up with a form of political engagement that is merely one more form of information production leaving the basic structure of the system intact. This is why I’m an object-oriented ontologist."
Another example of a circulatory attack was the 'move your money' out of big banks drive OWS put on. I don't remember the stats but they motivated quite a bit of $ transfer out of those banks. Another line of action could be to divest in 401ks at work and start to invest in more local and/or sustainable business. The bankers needs those 401k funds to capitalize their raids.
Speaking of which, on a personal note I'm on the cusp of divesting my 401k, quitting my job and starting a small business with that money. That way I'll be a "job creator" and have complete control over how the business is run according to my own sustainable ethics. Soon...
Excellent. I look forward to hearing more about this. Good luck.
Okay... This isn't your new job, is it?
I wish. Notice how his first act is to circle the Xs, i.e., he is creating the distinction between the marked and unmarked space. His subsequent behavior is so "outside the box" that it is weird to those that live in the marked space. A strange stranger indeed. Lady Gaga gives us a glimmer into that space as well, inducing us with a "state" of open consciousness, as it were.
What is the status of the self in OOO? Does it lead back to conceptions of an independent, isolated nuclear self?
I don't think so. My sense is that an object's autonomy is not devoid of its (inter)dependent origination. And that its withdrawn nature is akin to the emptiness of the self (or any object). Bryant might be more aligned with this interpretation, being Buddhist.
On another note Bryant's post on religion is interesting with reference to the self. An excerpt:
"It's worth noting that religion is never just a set of claims about being (whether or not God exists, whether we have souls, whether there’s heaven and hell, whether there are demons, miracles, etc). No. Religion is also a set of practices. People kneel, they stand, they sing, they fast, they meditate, they observe holy days, etc. These activities are not negligible or secondary aspects of religious practice, yet oddly they often seem to disappear in discussions of religion that focus on belief as if we can ignore these things altogether, and focus on belief alone. Taking a page from Bourdieu, Foucault, and Lacan, these practices are all “technologies of the self” that form the self in a variety of ways. These practices, these technologies of the self, are generative of certain forms of affectivity (as understood by folks like Massumi) and jouissance that deeply influence our cognitive experience of the world, other people, and ourselves and which play a key role in attachment.... What altered states or forms of consciousness here transpire? These are not negligible questions. If your aim is to break attachments to religion, and your theory is that attachment to religion is the result of believing that it’s claims about being are true, you’re going to miss this whole field of attachment and the way in which it creates a hold on people. You’ll be busy pointing out contradictions, false claims, claims lacking in credibility and historical support, while these people are busy activating affects and jouissance. Your strategy will lead you to miss the target from the outset."
Did you mean that Morton might be more aligned with that view? I think that's likely, but I am asking this because it seems the OOO positing of an essential, autonomous, withdrawn, non-related whatness at the core of each thing or being is closer to a modified "Atman" view (or apophatic Christian view of the true soul 'hidden in God') than an emptiness/interdependence view. Perhaps it has rough (and strange) affinity with both views? (Hmm, I guess I suggested as much when I compared OOO's move towards a post-constructivist substance with Wilber's/Da's reassertion of a post-Nagarjunan self).
I don't know about Harman, but what I've read of Bryant and Morton there is no 'essence' in an object. It's autonomy, at least for Bryant, is due to its auto/allopeitic structure only. And he admits it is always related except for the possibility of dark objects, so I bracket that out. And his descriptions of the withdrawn are consonant with structure, again not with something apriori or transcendent. As with our human selves, we are unique genetically and in other ways, are autonomous beings, but we are also enmeshed in dependent origination and our self is empty of being solely autonomous. I see this in Bryant and Morton's objects.
I'm not sure this is analogous to Da's self though, being unfamiliar with it. But it does not seem at all akin to the Kennilingam Self, which seems to be the sort of assholon on everything, the type of holism we looked at recently in another thread, even to the point that higher levels of development are tied to holism.