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 An object is profoundly “withdrawn”--we can never see the whole of it, and nothing else can either....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.
Free e-book from Scribd: Advanced Issues on Cognitive Science and Semiotics.
According to this article:
"There are further definitions of rhetoric.... Naming rhetoric the third branch of semiotics, Pierce, 'in imitation of Kant's fashion of preserving old associations of words in finding nomenclature for new conceptions,' observes that the task of 'pure' rhetoric 'is to ascertain the laws by which in every scientific intelligence one sign gives birth to another, and especially one thought brings forth another' (Pierce, 99). Rhetoric is therefore applicable to both art and science - as a system by which units, ranging from all expressible signs, produce meaning, and interpretation. But the extent to which it provides implication is beyond phonetic and spoken demonstration, and can in fact direct the content of any form of communication."
Interesting. I'm smiling, because it seems I've given you the very weapon with which to peirce my own case against this broad use of "rhetoric"!
Fear not, the peircing arrows go both ways. This article notes that rhetoric has different meanings for Peirce. In his later career, in addition to the above more general meaning, there is a more limited meaning through the term methodeutic, which is more concerned with effective methods of scientific inquiry (7-8). There appears to be an unresolved tension in this later work between the two definitions. The author does note though that on the rhetorical side Peirce was not limited to linguistic signs, and that it could potentially be extended to "signs without human originators" (12-13).
The potential is there but is seems debatable whether Peirce took the leap into inanimate matter having this capacity. He differentiated between dyadic and triadic communication, with only the latter being semeiotic, and the latter appears to require a 'mind' of some kind. The dyadic is "thus nonsemiotic organism-environment interaction [that] occurs when the organism is confronted with something which presents itself as a 'brute fact'" (source). Even Uexküll's biosemiotics requires living systems and doesn't go down to inanimate objects. This is not the case with Bryant or eco- or pansemiotics (or mhetaoric).
Some snips from Bryant's 5/28/12 post on OO rhetoric:
"I’ve heard a lot of theories as to what object-oriented rhetoric (OOR) might be. One theory has it that object-oriented rhetoric is the investigation of the rhetoric of object-oriented ontology. This strikes me as a particularly stupid and uninteresting project as who cares about the rhetoric of object-oriented ontology? All this is, is an attempt to integrate the theses of OOO into a traditional correlationist framework and issues of persuasion through language. While I have no desire to dispense with the discoveries of figures like Burke and Aristotle, if OOR exists I think it’s up to something else. I don’t suggest that this post is exhaustive of what that 'something else' ought to be, but I do think that minimally if there is to be something like OOR, it will consist in breaking the bad habit of a focus on representation, persuasion, and identification, and will necessarily consist in drawing attention to the materiality of speech acts, communications, texts, and signifiers. It’s not that OOR, if it comes to exist, would give up on these things, but that it would become a little less representational, a little less 'decoding,' a little less interpretive, and far more material. It would become a little less focused on what things are about and the pathos, logos, and ethos that animates them, and a bit more focused on what texts are."
Amen brother. See the comments that follow. I like the idea of meme as one of these rhetorical signs.
Adam drew attention to this article on OOR over at his blog; a snip from it follows:
"Is it then reasonable to consider whether such pre-symbolic expressions operated rhetorically?... This is not about imaging a rhetoric without symbolic action but rather recasting symbols as objects among other objects in a flat ontology where the rock, the word 'rock,' the sound rock, rock music, the Rock, Plymouth Rock, and the Pink Panther are all real and rhetorical, with or without us to view them symbolically. The point is to recognize that objects need not be symbolic or in relation to us in order to operate rhetorically. What is at stake here is a symbol-independent expressive force whose effects cannot be articulated wholly in terms of physics, chemistry or other related fields. Instead it is a minimal rhetorical ontological capacity that allows objects to enter into rhetorical relations and is not solely available to humans."
I discussed some related ideas in my recent paper -- drawing here on Ferrer, certain pragmatists, etc -- at least with regard to acknowledging language and speech acts as ontic. I think Bryant's emphasis on the materiality of texts is implicit in Wilber's 4Qs, especially if we see language as a 4Q event or occasion, though I don't think this implication has ever (or at least often) been drawn out in most Integral discussions in quite the way that Bryant is doing it here.
Here's something on the "speech of things" by David Abram (from his book, Becoming Animal). He has just described some harrowing encounters, while out kayaking, with a herd of sea lions and a humpback whale, to which he responded in song and gesture (to save his life and calm the sea lions). He starts out talking about animal communication and then moves out to consider a broader object view.
"Something in that charged encounter changed me. I notice it, sometimes, when I'm playing with my two children, or when the howling of coyotes wakes me in the middle of the night. My confrontation with the sea mammals brought home to me something crucial about language -- something mightily different from what I'd learned at school and at college. I'd been taught that meaningful speech is that trait that most clearly distinguishes us humans from all the other animals. We have meaningful speech, while other creatures do not. But my unnerving meeting, in the wet, with the humpback whale and the mob of sea lions showed me otherwise. It made evident, in a way I could no longer ignore, that there exists a primary language that we two-leggeds share with other species.
When we speak of "language," we speak of an ability to communicate, a power to convey information across the thickness of time and space, a means whereby beings at some distance from one another nonetheless manage to apprise each other of their current feelings or thoughts. As humans, we rely upon a complex web of mostly discrete, spoken sounds to accomplish our communication, and so it's natural that we associate language with such verbal intercourse. Unfortunately, this association has led many to assume that language is an exclusive attribute to our species -- we, after all, are the only creatures that use words -- and to conclude that all other organisms are entirely bereft of meaningful speech. It is an exceedingly self-serving assumption.
...My encounter with the sea creatures had initiated me into a layer of language much older, and deeper, than words. It was a dimension of expressive meanings that were directly felt by the body, a realm wherein the body itself speaks -- by the tonality and rhythm of its sounds, by its gestures, even by the expressive potency of its poise. A near-catastrophic confrontation had plunged me into a space of earnest communication that unfolded entirely without words, a carnal zone of articulations broadly shared across species. It was a dimension wherein my verbal self was hardly present, but where an older, animal awareness came to the fore, responding spontaneously to the gestures of these other animals with hardly any interpolation by my "interior" thinking mind. It was rather as if my body itself was doing the thinking, trading vocal utterances and physical expressions back and forth with these other smooth-skinned and sentient creatures. Their flippers and fins were obviously shaped to a liquid medium very different from my own primary element, yet the most basic sensations of threat, or calm, or pleasure could still be swiftly exchanged -- via the tautness or relaxation of various muscles, coupled with the tone of our uttered sounds -- by virtue of our mutual existence as kinetic and sonorous beings inhabiting the same biosphere.
Sure, we were all mammals -- the sea lions, the whale, and I -- yet the sense I was left with was of a still more basic commonality or community of bodies, indeed of a communication shared as well with the waves shuddering under the kayak and splashing their speech upon the rocks. To the fully embodied animal any movement might be a gesture, and any sound may be a voice, a meaningful utterance of the world. And hence to my own creaturely flesh, as well, everything speaks...
Our human conversations are regularly influenced by this carnal layer of language, the apparent meaning of a friend's phrase altering with the pace of her speaking. The tenor of a spoken exchange may be transformed, without either of us noticing, when a break in the winter clouds allows the sun to spill its song over the muted hues of the city street where we stand, or by an abrupt and escalating argument of honking vehicles on the same avenue.
...Such was the linguistic dimension into which I was borne by that meeting with the lions of the sea -- an initiation seared into my memory by the shock of being swamped by a humpback whale, and by the exchange of fetid breath with that wild intelligence. I now found myself more porous to other shapes, to smooth-surfaced desks and motley dogs, more aware of the conversation my animal body was carrying on with the other bodies around it, how it tensed in certain office buildings and loosened in dialogue with adobe walls. I noticed the skin on my skull tightening under the hum of flourescent lights, and -- once while cycling -- felt my shoulder muscles open and expand as a red-tailed hawk took wing from a passing telephone pole....
Meaningful speech cannot ... be restricted to the audible dimensions of sounds and sights. The animate earth expresses itself in so many other ways. Last night while I lay sleeping the old apple tree in front of the house quietly broke into blossom, and so when, in the morning and still unaware, I stepped outside to stretch my limbs, I was stunned into silence by the resplendence. The old tree was speaking to the space around it. Expressing itself, yes, and in the most persuasive of languages. The whole yard was listening, transformed by the satin eloquence of the petals. The spell quietly cast by the uttering forth of white blossoms was irrefutable and irresistible. (It has stayed with me all day, as a softness enfolding my thoughts, which is no doubt why I find myself writing of it now, late at night.)
So language, from the perspective of the fully embodied human, seems as much an attribute of other animals and plants as of our own garrulous species. Yet, as we know from many of the traditional, indigenous peoples among us, this is still too restrictive: language accrues not only to those entities deemed "alive" by modern standards, but to all sensible phenomena. All things have the capacity for speech -- all beings have the ability to communicate something of themselves to other beings. Indeed, what is perception if not the experience of the gregarious, communicative power of things, wherein even ostensibly "inert" objects radiate out of themselves, conveying their shapes, hues, and rhythms to other beings and to us, influencing and informing our breathing bodies though we stand far apart from those things? Not just animals and plants, then, but tumbling waterfalls and dry riverbeds, gusts of wind, compost piles and cumulus clouds, freshly painted houses (as well as houses abandoned and sometimes haunted), rusting automobiles, feathers, granitic cliffs and grains of sand, tax forms, dormant volcanoes, bays and bayous made wretched by pollutants, snowdrifts, shed antlers, diamonds, and daikon radishes are all expressive, sometimes eloquent, and hence participant in the mystery of language. Our own chatter erupts in response to the abundant articulations of the world: human speech is simply part of a much broader conversation." (Abram, Becoming Animal)
I don't think this implication has ever (or at least often) been drawn out in most Integral discussions in quite the way that Bryant is doing it here.
Edwards has done so with artifacts and the depths of the exteriors, giving them developmental depth. And showing how they influence human interior development. Granted he frames it in AQAL and the terminology is different, but I think we'd find a fruitful interface with Bryant on this. Especially when we bring in Edwards' sources in Vygotsky, Mead etc.
Thanks for Abram's beautiful rhetoric on mhetaoric.
No need to rub it in... :-D
Here's more from a recent Reid blog post:
"Within Delanda's (and Deleuze's) assemblage theory is a consideration of the 'collective assemblage of enunciation,' which is an investigation of expression.... Expression is a kind of exteriority (this would be contrary to conventional notions of 'personal expression'). It is a capacity of objects in relation. It is also its own thing, an object, an expression. It is also a force and a process, but all objects are also forces and processes. Expressions have the capacity to affect the objects with which they relate. This capacity cannot be reduced to physical, electrical, chemical, and/or neurological forces. That would be undermining, to use Harman's term. Expression requires those forces (as all assemblages do) just as my body requires relations on an atomic level. When objects encounter one another as expressions (in addition to encounter one another as physical forces), they are having a rhetorical encounter (or at least that's my version)."