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.

 

Excerpts:

 

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 An object is profoundly “withdrawn”--we can never see the whole of it, and nothing else can either....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

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I read your post after I'd posted my last one. You've beautifully and aesthetically articulated what I'm struggling with. Merci beaucoup mon ami.

Later in the introduction Morton said:

"There is already a Rift between an object and its aesthetic appearance, a Rift within the object itself. Causality is not something that happens between objects, like some coming out party or freely chosen bargain into which things enter. It pours constantly from a single object itself, from the chōrismos between its essence and its appearance."

So the Rift is between an object's inner/outer divide, its virtual proper being and its local manifestations, its domestic and foreign relations. As I previously noted, it is not its withdrawn inner relations but in the relation between its withdrawn core and its relations with other objects. It is this differance of the object which is neither presence nor absence, the gap or Rift 'in front of,' antecedent to or inherent within each object.

Now he's also noting that because of the above each object creates its own space-time, its own gravity in Bryant's parlance. But also recall per Bryant that smaller objects in any assemblage get caught in the more powerful gravity of the assemblage itself. Yes, the smaller objects retain their own structural autonomy, yet that autonomy is overridden to some degree, perhaps even a great if not complete degree, by the endo-relational core of the larger assemblage, an object in its own right.

Recall I said the word hyperobject does not appear even once in this book. And it is here I'm finding the inconsistency. Hyperobjects are still objects, nonlocal or not. And it is within their immense gravity that we as part of that assemblage submit to their differance. This goes for our physical universe as well, being a humongous hyperobject with its own Rift. Hence the Rift is inherent and Real, differance is the core/khora/chorismos. And inside/outside distinctions, though useful, become meaningless in terms of The Rift.

Later he said:

"An object is therefore both itself and not-itself, at the very same time.... Because objects are themselves and not-themselves, the logic that describes them must be paraconsistent or even fully dialetheic: that is, the logic must be able to accept that some contradictions are true."

Sure, this is sort of what I'm saying. Inside and outside are different yet the same, they are not either/or, our formal logic of either inside and outside doesn't apply. Even though we might loosen up to be paraconsistent we still retain consistency. And it still seems to me there is some inconsistency within Morton's paraconsistent redo, and tied to his particular brand of shentong Buddhism, all noted previously in this thread. See the extended discussion on hyperobjects that began on p. 81 and ran for several pages.

This looks like an interesting book (relevant to this thread):

Speculative Grace

Bryant posted a video link to his recent talk on Borromean critical theory.

It wasn't until 34:40 that the Borromean knot was introduced. Prior to that it was a lot of rehash unnecessary for those who have kept up on his writings.

Completing the video I'd say the same for the rest; nothing new except perhaps a bit more flesh in terms of naming some more paradigms in the Real, and one in the Real-semiotic combination. Nothing on the a-hole.

Returning to my last post on Morton above, combined with the Bryant rehash in the video, as autonomous machines our participation in larger assemblages can be otherwise. E.g., in a fascist State we can rebel, fight for freedom, escape the hegemony. That is because there is no natural state of affairs per Bryant, no fixed and unchanging Platonic paradigm to which we must submit. Yes, we get caught in the larger assemblage's gravity and it is immensely difficult to attain escape velocity, but it can and has been done.

But what about the universal endo-structural substance of differance? Can we ever escape or change that? Or perhaps is it that differance, by not being an unchanging Platonic form, by being itself open to evolution and change, by supporting a progression into every widening freedom and liberation, the natural course of things?

Bryant noted that usual critical theory was key in surmising the semioticially constructed nature of hegemonic social systems that were taken as a natural given. He criticizes them though for throwing the natural or the Real out with the faux Real systems. That there is a Real to which we must hold our semiotics to in order to ground our politics. And it is this Real dimension of the Rift at the heart of things, that differance that liberates instead of chains. And which is central to not just the Real but the Semiotic and the Phenomenal as well. Viva la fucken' a!

inthesaltmine asked some questions about Bryant's Borromean critical theory in the Hillman thread, which I directed here. Much of his recent posts on the topic have had to do with Lacan's version, and above I admitted my eyes glaze over with Lacan. So in the law few pages I've decided to just run with the ideas on my own, regardless of what Bryant might say on the matter. It seems his forthcoming book will go into some more detail of his own ideas on it so we might just have to wait. In the meantime let's play with it here and make up our own way.

Check out this video on the geometry of the Borromean rings. It is better to see them in 3-D.

Very cool.  You may recall I was looking into knot theory last year, when I was first starting my paper, and I was looking around for resources like this.  That paper -- "Borromean Rings and Quadruple Objects" -- ended up becoming something entirely different, as you know, but I've recently been asked by Sean and Nick Hedlund (whose article I just linked on the CR thread) to write something for a book on CR and IT, so I'm planning on returning to the topic of the paper I'd originally planned.

Now the Borromean property that if any one ring is removed then the other 2 are not connected is interesting. It suggests that if we view the rings as a unit (or autonomous machine or holon) then Edwards' notion of each holon having 4 inseparable and interconnected quadrants (or 3 rings) is supported over a holon being in each quadrant (or ring). While we can define the rings in terms of paradigms with their own particular enactments (symbolic, imaginal, real), each of those are inextricably tied in any given machine. I.e., each machine has all three expressions. All of course 'around' the withdrawn center.

I'm also thinking of how this relates to endo- versus exo-relations but it's not quite clear yet.

Not knot, part 1.

Part 2, where the Borromean knot comes in.

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