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 An object is profoundly “withdrawn”--we can never see the whole of it, and nothing else can either....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.
If anyone is interested I can email them a copy of the following draft article from Levi Bryant titled
The Time of the Object: Derrida, Luhmann, and the Processual Nature of Substances.
It might be of interest to those here in that it explains the withdrawan nature of objects using Derrida and Luhmann - the latter very close to Varela in his approach, I gather. Here's 3/4 of the beginning paragraphs. It's 14/15 pages in total length.
"In “Ousia and Gramme” Derrida writes,
The now is given simultaneously as that which is no longer and as that which is not yet. It is what it is not, and is not what it is… Thereby time is composed of non-beings. Now, that which bears within it a certain no-thing, that which accommodates nonbeingness, cannot participate in presence, in substance, in beingness itself (ousia).
In a remark that is put forward almost as a casual aside, Derrida immediately assimilates substances, things, to presence. Henceforth, substance will be treated as a synonym for presence such that to speak of substance is to speak of presence and to speak of presence is to speak of substance. Yet can we speak so obviously and self-evidently of substance in terms of presence? In Aristotle, at least, what is present is not substance, but rather qualities of substance. As a consequence, Aristotle will ensnare himself in all sorts of aporia as he simultaneously attempts to think substance as presence and is that which is nowhere and never present. Elsewhere, in his Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Locke will make these aporia explicit, arguing that substance always disappears behind qualities, suggesting that we should therefore abandon the concept of substance altogether. For if qualities are what individuate substance, yet substance is that which remains when all qualities are stripped away, it would seem that substance is nothing at all.
Far from being characterized by presence, substance seems to be that which withdraws from presence; or that which is nowhere and never present. It is for this reason that Graham Harman argues that the very being of substance of objects lies in withdrawal. To be a substance or an object is to be radically withdrawn from all other entities and from, above all, presence. Or, put differently, to be a substance is to be anterior and at odds with all presence. The substantiality of substance perpetually disappears behind qualities, withdrawing from presence.
However, here we must proceed with caution, for in suggesting that substances are anterior to presence, we invite the possibility of a sort of “negative theology” of objects, where, like God, substances are withdrawn from other objects, non-present and inaccessible to other objects, while remaining fully present to themselves and in themselves. If withdrawal is truly to capture the substantiality of substance without falling into a metaphysics of presence, then it is necessary that withdrawal not only be a relational predicate describing how one substance encounters another substance, but also that withdrawal characterize the very substantiality of substance, regardless of whether any substance relates to another substance, such that substances are withdrawn even from themselves and in themselves.
Yet how are we to argue for this radical withdrawal of substances from both each other and from themselves? What sort of philosophical demonstration can we must to prove that substances are withdrawn in this way? It is in relation to these questions that my reference to Derrida is not idle. For Derrida, despite his hostility to the “philosopheme” of substance, provides the resources for demonstrating the radical withdrawal of substance. This demonstration requires the concept of substance to be indexed to the nature of time conceived as différance. As a consequence, one of the further surprises substance holds in store for us is that it turns out to be essentially temporal and processual. Substance is not that which is opposed to temporality and process, nor is it an abiding identity that persists beneath changing qualities, but rather it is temporal through and through. As such, substance must produce itself from moment to moment and perpetually faces the threat of entropy or dissolution from both within and without..."
Annemarie Moll looks interesting. I see that Latour is cited as someone who does similar work. Latour, of course, is a touchstone for the OOO crowd, so I'd imagine there is overlap with her work. And just for trivia's sake Harman seems to have connections with Dutch philosophy. He spent some time in Amsterdam teaching and speaks very highly of the experience.
Hagglund: According to Meillassoux, ‘it is absolutely necessary that every entity might not exist.... The absolute is the absolute impossibility of a necessary being’. The absolute in question is the power of time. Time makes it impossible for any entity to be necessary, since the condition of temporality entails that every entity can be destroyed. It is precisely this destructibility that Meillassoux holds to be absolute.
Me: Every thing is subject to time and decay, i.e., impermanent, and thus it is time that is the absolute. Or perhaps that time itself is timeless, eternal, ongoing without end, unconditional, etc. I know we can argue that time is relative to the motion between two objects, but I don't think that's what he's referencing here. It seems time is without context in that it is the very condition within which things exist.... As is my wont I am reminded of (versions of) Buddhist thought on the emptiness of phenomena in that they are impermanent and without independent existence, that they are not absolute, and yet this very fact is an absolute condition of all existence.
If Hagglund and Meillasoux mean – time makes it impossible for an entity to be necessary – I’ve twisted the interpretation in the other thread so I’ll clarify - the absolute impossibility of a necessary being is not just in the context of time or existence. Existence requires a location (cosmic), and a location is an absolute impossibility.
Its also interesting that the absolute impossibility of a necessary being is a reference to the redundancy of identity. Since existence is identified the view from either side is problematic.
If anyone is interested I can email them a copy of the following draft article from Levi Bryant titled
The Time of the Object: Derrida, Luhmann, and the Processual Nature of Substances.
I am interested so please just attach a copy of it to this thread.
Here it is theurj. I look forward to your comments. And thanks for pointing out I could simply add an attachment.
Yes, me, too - likewise enjoying it very much. You hit it on the head when you called Bryant 'intelligible'. If you don't mind being a little patient, I'll pass on my thoughts, soon. In the meantime, you might enjoy this Levi Bryant interview here.
'infinitive lemniscations' ??
I'm very much enjoying Bryant's article and learning a new twist (fold?) in my infinitive lemniscations. As one quick example, this comment on differance:
"Différance is a non-concept that both makes an argument...and performs and enacts the argument it is making" (6).
"[Dark] objects can come to produce local manifestations under appropriate exo-relations or circumstances, yet for the time being, qua dark object, they are entirely dormant. Here it must be emphasized that dark objects are an ontological possibility that cannot be proven. Onticology entails that dark objects might exist, but there is no way to demonstrate that they do exist insofar as they are thoroughly withdrawn without a trace at the level of the actual."
So that's what happened to my other sock! ...though I hope that when it reappears it won't be a dark sock otherwise it'll no longer match.
'infinitive lemniscations' ??
As usual I play with language, make up words or use them in a different way in an attempt, much like one of my mentors, to "both make an argument...and perform and enact the argument it is making." Here is a dictionary definition of infinitive:
"A verb form found in many languages that functions as a noun or is used with auxiliary verbs, and that names the action or state without specifying the subject.... Origin: 1425–75; late Middle English /span> Late Latin infīnītīvus indefinite, equivalent to in- in- + fīnītīvus definite; see finite, -ive"
I like the connotations of an action without specifying a subject, akin to the OOO sensibility and my own sense of the suobject. I also like its indefiniteness, also indicative of the withdrawn nature of objects and my sense of a way to speculate on the absolute.
As for lemniscations, the lemniscate is a symbol of the infinite so again I change the noun into a verb (to lemniscate) back into a noun to suggest the interplay of noun/verb/object as a way of ruminating (lemniscating) on infinity in a postmetaphysical way. In other words, 'integral postmetaphysical enaction' (not yet but someday trademarked).