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 An object is profoundly “withdrawn”--we can never see the whole of it, and nothing else can either....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.
Returning to DeLanda's notion, in ISVP he notes that the virtual is a "pure becoming" in "a time where nothing ever occurs but where everything is endlessly becoming in both unlimited directions at once...perfectly symmetric" (107). His strict dichotomy of being (actual) and becoming (virtual) here, as differentiated from Bryant's being is becoming and vice-versa, seems akin yet again to the way the absolute and relative are related in the shentong and rangtong views. And again relevant to Prigogine's criticism of such time symmetry in QM.
Concerning the choice between an ontology which includes non-locality or excludes it.
Ah, but that is not the choice, for Bryant includes non-locality. The choice is in how one defines it and the metaphysical presuppositions in the definition.
Doesn't Derrida say that ontotheology can't be done away with altogether, but that his differance both exceeds and inscribes ontotheology?
My understanding is that ontotheology as the metaphysics of presence must indeed be done away with, but not metaphysics (ontology) per se. Differance does not include ontotheology but rather refutes it.
Yes, I like Bryant's being is becoming (and prefer it to the strict dichotomy you describe above, and relate it to a pretty rich discussion of such by Roland Faber in Polydoxy), but I'm not sure exactly how he squares that with this statement, which again is suggestive of such a split (this half and that half): "Objects are split between their virtual half and their actual half or what I refer to as their 'virtual proper being' and their 'local manifestations.' The virtual proper being of an object consists of that object’s powers are capacities.... These powers or capacities are not fixed once and for all, but rather objects can acquire new capacities and lose capacities they once had.... The local manifestations of an object are the way in which these powers are exercised under determinate circumstances in the form of actions and properties."
Differance does not include ontotheology but rather refutes it.
"Différance is not only irreducible to any ontological or theological--ontotheological-- reappropriation, but as the very opening of the space in which ontotheology--philosophy--produces its system and its history, it includes ontotheology, inscribing it and exceeding it without return." (Derrida, "Différance," Margins of Philosophy, p.6.)
Yes, I read that too. For me though, as we've been discussing in the last several posts above, endo- and exo-relations (although split like the two truths) are mutually entailing rather than mutually opposed. Recall this was a key difference between rangtong and shentong in the Batchelor thread, according to Thakchoe.
Good quote. Now to unpack it, not an easy task with Derrida.
In the essay I mentioned above which started our recent discussion (where Thatamanil was discussing the use of the term 'ground'), Thatamanil similarly argues that the three terms he employs -- ground, contingency, and relation -- must be read perichoretically (to use a Christian term), or as mutually entailing. This is his means of avoiding ontotheology. Ground, as being, is not a split-off other, but is mutually entailed in contingency (particularity) and relation, as they also are mutually entailing.
This is why I asked about Bryant's use of "being."
Interestingly, one of Thatamanil's arguments about shentong in that article is curiously similar to your/Bryant's argument about the withdrawn-as-potential: shentong is interested in positing a positive quality to reality in the form of pure potential for ongoing growth, transformation, etc, fearing rangtong-negation could slide toward nihilism.
Thatamanil: "Against the Gelukpa Madhyamikas stand other Buddhists who want to preserve some account of Buddha-nature as non-reified ground; these Buddhists rightly fear that an account of ultimate reality as emptiness alone might risk a nihilism that denies the very ground of the human capacity for transformation. To affirm that there is in the real an infinite fund for wisdom and compassion is the reason for insisting that emptiness is not merely a negation of own-being or self-existence."
Recall I've criticized the rangtongs too for still clinging to some kind of strictly nonconceptual awareness, despite their mutually entailing thesis. Hence I'm a pOOOntongpa, or Derridude, or whatever. Now while there are similarities with which I can agree with Thatamanil, he still languages it as a "pure potential" and "infinite," which might imply something metaphysical despite his qualifications?
When it comes to Derrida I often turn to Caputo for translation, given the latter's personal relation with him and his explicit approval of such translations by authoring books with Caputo. This passage from Caputo's JCRT article (11.2, 2011), and discussed previously in this thread, might clarify the quote you provided from Differance.
"Derrida is very atheistic about the God of ontotheology, hyperousiology and metaphysical theology. But he is not atheistic in the way Hägglund sets out, viz., that he has no interest in the name of God or the desire for God. Derrida is not trying to hammer this name senseless but to save it; he is not trying to cut this desire off but to repeat it, to repeat the name of God as the name of an event, viz., of the possibility of the impossible, which is the event harbored in the name of God. Thus repeated, the desire for God is not, as in classical (strong, onto-) theology, a desire for immunity and immortality but a desire for the grace of the moment, for an event which I locate in the might of God, not the might of omnipotence, but the might of might-be" (106).
My interpretation: Derrida doesn't deny presence, just the metaphysics of presence that leads to ontotheology. He can still affirm the presence of God (as the impossible), so in that sense differance is the condition for an ontotheology, but the latter misrepresents God so is also refuted. There is much more in the referenced link/thread above that supports this reading.
From Thatamanil's article:
"Only finite realities can be enumerated; the infinite cannot" (5).
P. 13 introduces the differences between Gelug and Nyingma re: emptiness. 16 makes out the ground as God the creator and source which "gives rise to a world." 17 uses Sankara's Vedantic notion of this ground which is "unchangeble immutability" of an "eternal luminous consciousness", aka atman (18), which some Buddhism has fairly well established as a dualism of absolute v. relative.
I appreciate the discussion of contingency as singularity on p. 20, akin to Bryant's objects in that way. Unlike the latter though God "makes" them.
P. 24 and relation I appreciate his take that for Gelug's "nothing whatsoever exists outside of relation...even God." He notes on 25 that when we see an ultimate God apart from the world, like Vedanta, an "irresolvable dualism arises." And on 26 we get to the crux of the rangtong-shentong distinction, since the rangtong include singularity and relation without ground as defined. He claims that shentong keeps the ground but that it is "non-reified" and avoids the "putative sin of Advaita." Does it? I say no per below.
His solution? As Balder noted, there must be a mutual entailing of the 3 aspects. I guess I define mutual entailing differently (as does Thakchoe). This is akin to the shentong synthesis in positing God-ground as cause (causal) in relation with the contingent just as Wilber does. Whereas for Bryant, who also has all 3 aspects, the ontological ground is redefined as a transcendental immanent through and through, created and dependently arisen, not transcendent at all. Thatamanil would of course, like the shentongs, claim this is unbalanced due to not accepting a causal ground and is nihilistic. I still say hogwash and death to the transcendent!
Bryant says it isn't a choice between being and becoming; rather being is becoming, becoming is being. If being is becoming, meaning being isn't merely ongoing sameness but allows for or involves novelty and emergence, then we could also say that being is or involves a kind of ongoing creation. So, if being involves ongoing creation, and if this creative becoming is none other than being, then being is also 'creator'.