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 An object is profoundly “withdrawn”--we can never see the whole of it, and nothing else can either....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.
As you admit, you don't understand the yet to come, which is indeed not at all as your wondering in the first paragraph. I've provided numerous resources that explain it quite well (including recently above), as well as provided quite profuse explanations of my own. I don't know what else I can do to aid you in that understanding. Other than Bryant has also aptly interpreted Derrida on this and used him in his own ideas about the virtual, so if you're seeing it in Bryant in the second paragraph that may be of some help.
Sorry I'm slow on the uptake. What does he mean by "yet to come"? I don't think he means that the unconditioned is a discrete causal event in the future, but that is what the words "yet to come" suggest, so that is what I was questioning. Why does he use that language? I believe I follow a number of your comments above about the inseparability of past, future, and present (TSK posits a similar notion, and also uses the notion of the future infinitive, as the non-arriving openness that "sponsors" the present, inseparable from the present). Is this close to what Derrida means? If so, then I think I get it, but it seems he stops a bit short in his language of the view I find in Dogen, Nagarjuna, or TSK.
I cannot say for sure what Derrida means, which I think is one of his points, as well as one of Bryant's. Each object is singular and can only interpret, or make meaning, of another object through its own limitations. Hence no object ever gets at another object's true or whole meaning, not even an object in regard to itself. There is always this virtual reserve or 'potential,' or a 'to come' as Derrida might say, but recall Bryant per above:
"While the virtual refers to potentiality, it would be a mistake to conflate this potentiality with the concept of a potential object. A potential object is an object that does not exist but which could come to exist. By contrast, the virtual is strictly a part of a real and existing object” (3.2).
The 'to come' is like this in that it is not something that does not yet exists but will; rather it is part of an actual object but its virtual, withdrawn aspect. Parts of this withdrawn can and often do become actual depending on changing exo-relations, but never in its totality. Hence it acts much like a 'regime of attraction' for future potential actualities, as well as drawing from past actualities. Singularity and iteration, past, present, future.
Yes, the language of 'to come' is, as you say, indicative of what you suggest if used in traditional ways. But as we know, Derrida has always used terms differently while explaining the new uses, itself an expression of this singularity-iterative process. Granted he has also created neologisms, which for me are preferred since it makes it more difficult to then associate the word or phrase in the traditional sense. Same for the term 'withdrawn,' with which we've both struggled. Or even 'object.'
As to whether Nagarjuna or Dogen say it better, mean something similar but not completely, or not at all I don't know. As you know I've tried to find similarity between Derrida and Nagarjuna (as have many others). And to what degree I'm representing either of them accurately, i.e., as they would represent themselves, or to what degree I am engaging in my own creative recontextualization of their relation, remains uncertain. And moot if I take the above point, in that we each must ultimately build our own mysteries.
Also see Bryant's blog post today on 'problems.' While it's not addressing the above specifics directly it does so through the lens of problems, touching on many of the same themes. As usual he is much deeper on such matters, being after all a professional philosopher.
I've also referenced Caputo probably hundreds of times, another professional philosopher and according to Derrida an accurate interpreter of his work. Caputo has had this constant theme for decades, and as but one example, see this from an older work, Demythologizing Heiddeger. Here Derrida uses the word 'justice' but again, in a new way.
"The myth of justice is the myth of time immemorial and of an unforeseeable avenir. It calls from a past that was never present toward a future that is open and indeterminate, which is only 'to come'....not the calculated expectation of a more or less foreseeable future actuality" (207).
"unconditioned" as the yet-to-come.
If I understand the notion correctly, (and I may not) it also has much resonance with the concept put forth here by Marcus Boon in which 'enlightenment', 'utopia' and the psychoanalytic 'cure' are all seen as heuristic devices. None of them are actually attainable, yet all serve to provide resources against despair, and for action, with the result that while the projected fantasy is not attained, something real and of value, is. I'ts how my world works...
The concept, itself, is Marx via Frederic Jameson, I believe.
More generally, though, isn't a concept to come exactly that - a concept to come? At no point is it to be figured as an actual concept, rather it is the very possibility of an actual event - that huge openness before any specific event occurs.
Many thanks for this, Dial. I haven't got to hear Marcus Boon's talk yet but found Tim Morton's opening talk on buddhaphobia a rather deliciously exhilerating spanking!
Dial, yes it's sort of like 'enlightenment' etc. as an unattainable goal, and useful in that regard. What differentiates it from enlightenment though is that the latter is set in a metaphysical context, replete with gurus and the whole shebang of concomitant traditional practices not conducive to democracy, equal rights, etc. (See Joseph's recent video post.) The psychoanalytic 'cure' eliminates a lot of that, unless of course one practices 'transpersonal' psychology, which smuggles in a lot of the traditional baggage, including metaphysically interpreted states of consciousness. There are significant practical, political implications and outcomes to one's chosen 'unconditional,' as Bryant is constantly harping on.
I have yet to listen to the Boon recording. Note though that Morton, a shentong Buddhist, is trying to reconcile that Buddhism with his OOO. There may be many points of reconciliation but recall some of my earlier comments that some of the metaphysical aspects of shentong seem not so compatible, and how Morton himself must go through some rather disfiguring yogic contortions to try to make it so. For example, see p. 3 of the Batchelor thread and following.
Ha Lol, I'm glad you enjoyed that.
Theurj, Ok, I must confess to being somewhat skeptical of this metaphysics-free post-metaphysics. Along which lines I hope you don't imagine that somehow Batchelor is somehow free of (a) politics. One could argue that his claim to the true dharma is as misguided/dangerous as any other claim to the 'truth'. More so, indeed, as he commits the very crime he claims to be righting. I'm with Glenn Wallis on that.
I'd also add that a post-metaphysical thought is asking that we inhabit and verify our views fully. Yes? On that basis, I'm not sure how truly qualified Morton is to be usefully discussing the metaphysical aspects of shentong. I know I'm certainly not, and will keep my peace for firmer ground.
It depends on what we mean by the term 'post-metaphysics.' We've explored that at length but the sound bite above is succinct: metaphysics as ontology, yes; metaphysics as onto-theology, no. The type of metaphysics that Bryants offers (as does Derrida) does not "ask that we inhabit and verify our views fully," given its basis in the critique of the metaphysics of presence. And as to Batchelor's claim to a 'true' interpretation of 'original' Buddhism, I've also criticized him for this.
Another point of clarification might be Bryant's distinction between the transcendent and the transcendental. Well, it's not his (as I've shown above, it having been around for some time.) But I like his use of it.
Another resource on this distinction is Bitbol's "Some steps toward a transcendental deduction of quantum mechanics." Although his first definition might be interpreted as the epistemic fallacy by Bryant.
Some quotes from Bitbol's paper. The first shifts away from the epistemic fallacy in that it focuses on the presuppositions of experimental activity, as did Bryant's use of Bhaskar. Other comments on the rest may be forthcoming.
“If we want to apply the transcendental method to quantum mechanics, we must adopt a thoroughly modernized version of it...what is needed to make the transcendental method acceptable nowadays is a shift of emphasis from passive reception and purely mental shaping to effective research activities and instrumental shaping” (3).
“The transcendental approach could then only survive and develop in the kind of version proposed by Neo-kantian philosophers such as Hermann Cohen or Ernst Cassirer, who both aknowledged to some extent the possibility of change of the a priori forms and their plurality as well. Nowadays, there is also another flexible and pluralist conception of the a priori; it is the pragmatist version of transcendental philosophy as defined by Putnam after Dewey. It is relative to a certain mode of activity, it consists of the basic presuppositions of this mode of activity, and it has therefore to be changed as soon as the activity is abandoned or redefined” (4).
“Saying that the phenomena to be anticipated are relative to an experimental context is tantamount to removing a familiar constraint, rather than introducing an additional one; it is tantamount to removing the constraint of de-contextualization.... Taking for granted the possibility of combining all the contexts, and/or the perspective of a perfect indifference of phenomena to the order of use of the contexts, thus means imposing a drastic constraint. It is equivalent to impose what we have called the constraint of de-contextualization. The structure of propositions in ordinary language, which allows us to ascribe several characteristics to a single object as if they were intrinsic properties (independent of any context), presupposes that this constraint is obeyed. Now, as it can easily be shown, this presupposition is closely associated to Boolean logic; for the logical operations between the propositions of a language underpinned by such a presupposition are isomophic to set-theoretical operations. Moreover, the same presupposition is also closely associated to a Kolmogorovian theory of probabilities; indeed, Kolmogorov’s theory relies on classical set theory (or on a logic isomorphic to classical set theory) for the definition of the ‘events’ on which the probabilistic valuation is supposed to bear” (10-11).
“The actuality of each particular phenomenon cannot be accounted for by any physical theory. The only thing a physical theory does, and the only thing it has to do, is to embed documented actualities in a (deterministic or statistical) framework, and to use this framework to anticipate, to a certain extent, what will occur under well-defined experimental circumstances” (18).
“The former notion of co-emergence of an experimental activity and its constraining ‘factual’ elements, which is so closely akin to the transcendental method, raises the temptation to adumbrate a picture of ‘reality’ as an organic whole made of highly interdependent processes. Could not one hope to get an insight into this real reality? I think that such a project is not only doomed to failure due to some contingent boundary between us and the 'thing-in-itself'; it is hopeless because it is self-defeating. It is tantamount to assuming that it makes sense to seek what is reality independently of any activity of seeking; or to characterize reality relative to no procedure of characterization at all” (22).