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 An object is profoundly “withdrawn”--we can never see the whole of it, and nothing else can either....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.
Earlier in this thread we discussed how Bryant defines the withdrawn using Derrida. Here's an essay by Harman on Heidegger doing the same. As we know, Derrida also got a lot of this from Heidegger. A sample:
"If I observe a table and try to describe its appearance, I silently rely on a vast armada of invisible things
that recede into a tacit background. The table that hovers visibly before my mind is outnumbered by all the invisible items that sustain my current reality: floor, oxygen, air conditioning, bodily organs. This is the meaning of Heidegger’s tool-analysis. For the most part entities are not Husserlian phenomena lucidly present to view, but are hidden or withdrawn realities performing their labours unnoticed. Though we can turn our attention to these hidden entities whenever we choose, they will always be surrounded by a vast landscape of other things still taken for granted.... Heidegger finds it impossible in principle to make the withdrawn reality...fully reveal its secrets. There will always be a subterranean depth to the world that never becomes present to view."
Morton talks about this too in the first post of this thread, and also uses Derrida to get at it. Hence when we can only set experimental conditions to find either an electron's location or its momentum. When we observe one the other disappears. But there are many, many more dimensions that those two in contradiction/complimentarity. Bottom line, there is always a hidden dimension in any "appearance," not only for an observer but in the thing itself.
Also harken back to this comment and following on p. 33.
Speaking of hearkening, I'm reminded that our good friend D.M. Levin is very much into Heidegger. Recall this past IPS thread, which references an even earlier Gaia thread. A couple samples of how Levin deals with the concealed. In his stage 1 as infants we unconsciously have a ontological pre-understanding of and attunement with the “field as a whole….an utterly open, incommensurable matrix.” Here it is withdrawn from conscious presence. Stage II, ego development, requires that we conceal this matrix due to the distinctions like subject-object inherent to this state. Another kind of withdrawal. Stage III we start to go beyond our egos in a social matrix of responsibility to the other. This is in a sense a withdrawal from the ego, and is the kind of stage we’re seeing in the religious difference thread, for example. Stage IV is where he specifically references Heidegger’s fourfold as the recollection of the matrix of stage I but transformed by the other stages so that it is a “highly conscious, thoughtful, and articulate experience, meaningfully integrated,” also seen in that thread. However, this too has a withdrawn aspect because:
“It is crucial to keep in mind that the 'primordial relationship with Being' attributed to infancy is a past that has never really been present -- a past that never was what it now, i.e., from the vantage point of stage IV, presents itself as having been. Zugehorigkeit is a projection, a reconstruction, an understanding constituted after the fact, redeeming an experience that 'from the very beginning' fell short of itself; fell short, I mean, of being 'the beginning,' a primordial experience of the pure and total presence of Being.”
We see the kind of withdrawal that has always been, is and always will be, from a pure and total presence. And in language similar to our OOO brethren. I’m not sure though if Levin here thinks that stage IV can overcome this withdrawal from presence?
In my understanding of Levin, no, I don't think he believes this is ever overcome. He does believe there emerges in Stage IV an open, post-egological, welcoming presence (Anwesenheit), but it does not involve the overcoming of all concealment or withdrawal. Instead, it operates with respectful acknowledgement of and care for the concealed.
Concerning this talk of the concealed, withdrawal, etc, I am thinking the "tacit" as it functions in Varela's thought, or as Tom has discussed it in a number of ways. The tacit appears to be a subjective version of withdrawal; the concealment of the subject from itself (at least from the ego's presumption of, and demand for, pure presence-at-hand of the contents of consciousness).
I found this enlightening, from Kennilingam speaking through his character Lesa Powell in endnotes to Boomeritis, number 12:
“For the Heideggerian line of totalizing critique--which found its most noticeable postmodern champion in Derrida--modernity was the culmination of the withdrawal of Being (mystery and difference). Modernity murdered Being and Mystery under 3 major repressions: one, the subject of consciousness knows only what is present as an idea or representation, which leads to the notion that this subject can have total or absolute knowledge of the world as fully intelligible, without residing mystery (the Hegelian system especially claims such, which is one of the great problems of having Reason attempt to carry Being)--and thus it actually represses the networks of difference, mystery, and otherness (this is Derrida's critique of presence, a critique which maintains that 'nothing is ever simply present,' since vast networks of nonpresent realities help to constitute the subject. Because of the sliding chains of linguistic signifiers and the deferral of meaning, nothing is ever simply present: therefore metaphysics, which claims to know as present various realities, is a concealing and hiding of Being and Mystery and Difference). Two, this subject is claimed to be autonomous will, and thus it actually ignores and represses all those aspects of Being that cannot be fitted into its practical mastery (Hegel again attempts to make the absolute Subject a union of will and rational intelligibility). But will is just 'the forgetting of Being,' the denial of différance (difference), the eclipse of the Other. Three, power itself becomes its own goal, and instrumental rationality seeks to control and dominate all that is Other.”
But then immediately following he goes awry, claiming that this legitimate critique goes too far into a radical and totalizing relativism that doesn't allow for “any sort of relative autonomy, truth, rationality, will, or subjectivity at all,” leading inevitably to the mean green meme and boomeritis. I have provided voluminous evidence to the contrary on this latter charge throughout this forum and firmly think it is a phantom of his own creation. But he at least recognizes the critique as valid, sans his projected nonsense thereafter.
He goes on to describe what an integral or constructive postmodernism will do, and this is exactly what the likes of Derrida did. And as we can see, how Harman is using Heidegger via his own integrated methodological pluralism.
“Any truly second-tier or integral philosophy--any truly constructive postmodernism--must do at least three things vis-à-vis the death of the subject. One, it must indeed acknowledge that the individual self is set in vast networks of contexts, backgrounds, meanings, forces, and intersubjective relationships--some of which are conscious, many of which are unconscious--and all of these limit the so-called autonomy of the self. Two, it must specify as best it can the nature of these vast networks, indicating where possible how each is to be fruitfully explored and verified. And three, it must explain the relative autonomy that will replace absolute autonomy, because the situated self is still an agency-in-communion and not merely a network of communions. (That is, to say that the self is always embedded in relationships, to say that agency is always 'agency-in-communion,' to say that being is always 'being-in-the-world'--in short, to say that the self is situated in endless contexts--is not to say there is no agency at all, no individuality at all, no responsible self at all. A situated autonomy is still responsible, within its confinement, for those choices over which it has some control--the self is still a relatively autonomous and responsible agency set in its communions.)”
How he can be so brilliant one moment and so utterly insane the next is a fascinating study in the human personality.
A primary text in endnote 12 is "French philosophy in the 60s" by Luc Ferry and Alain Renaut, noted for their anti-pomo, pro-Habermasian stances. Michael Zimmerman here calls them "representatives of French neo-liberalism," aka global capitalism. Hence the many neo-liberal enactments we see in kennilingus.
As one response to Ferry and Renault's (and hence kennilingus) distorted anti-pomotion, see this section in Poststructuralism, Marxism and Neoliberalism (Rowman & Littlefield, 2001).
Returning to Zimmerman's article about Caputo and Heidegger he says that Heidegger's Ereignis is akin to Derrida's differance, both a "self-concealing, groundless ground" (4). Also that Derrida translates this into ethico-political use, something absent from Ferry and Renault's analysis. However a case is made that Heidegger missed this boat, more in line with F&R. Also of interest is how Heidegger had a more "meditational" focus which led to his more hierarchical and undemocratic views, contra Derrida's ethico-politics. Which is not to say that meditation itself is at fault, just that this focus combined with Heidegger's cultural lifeworld (Nazi Germany) led to this. The analysis goes much deeper so check it out.
If you have the time and interest, Levin has a discussion beginning around page 98 of The Opening of Vision, and running to the end of the chapter a few pages later, which touches on some possibly relevant themes (concealment, withdrawal, [non-totalizing] wholeness, politics, etc). I only skimmed it briefly at break; I'll look at it more fully when I get home.
The Google book preview was not being generous tonight and I could not access those pages. And this book is not available in my local e-library.
From Caputo, Demythologizing Heidegger (IUP, 1993):
"A structurally necessary withdrawal...in which the open space itself...withdraws from view in order that what is granted...may come into presence.... We get rid of dominating historical mountain peaks, not for a flat plain but for a populous range of competing peaks....primordial beginnings [are] replaced by a more radical 'repetition' conceived as the springing up of the different, the emergence of diversity, without hierarchical privilege. Heidegger has isolated the structural withdrawal of the opening...which makes possible the presence of the present...[as] ontologically 'primary'...the most elusive of all in the order of 'thinking' because of its very withdrawal" (31).
Zimmerman misses that this is not a relativism that makes everything equal just because it doesn't accept a hierarchical One at the Top. It is not a "flat plain" but a pluralism of multiple and competing mountain peaks. And it is not anti-spirituality, just not an ontotheological spirituality of presence, opting for an open and withdrawn ontological primacy that makes presence possible.
I'm also reminded of Sam Harris' competing mountain peaks from a video in this post. He, like Caputo, isn't denying a "higher level," just that it has plural expressions. Which also calls into question those claiming a one, true higher level that subsumes all others in its wake, generally due to not recognizing the withdrawn nature of such because of its metaphysics of presence. Our OOO friends are on the same page with this.
I got access to the referenced pages in The Opening of Vision today. I appreciate how he articulates a theoretical-instrumental reason that, among other things, reduces "our capacity to...a physics of light" (99), missing the withdrawn, open clearing of Being from which it depends. He does though admit that the 'new' physics, presumably QM, might be capable of approaching the clearing, given its focus on "a field of continuity and interaction...[in a] hidden unity" (103-4). However this kind of open wholeness is still not totalizing or ever enters into a complete presence, for only a instrumental reason supposes such a presence. He brings in Tarthang Tulku and "contemplation" as the means to enact an awareness (perhaps an inkling is a better term?) of the clearing, however partial given its withdrawn nature.