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 An object is profoundly “withdrawn”--we can never see the whole of it, and nothing else can either....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.
theurj and Balder, you are both absolutely right; you are doing the work, while I’m existing in the meager position of the critic. I need to find more time to deliver an actual case – ‘exemplify’ as you say - if I find myself dissatisfied. That would be far more convincing than this sniping – albeit well-intentioned - from the side-lines. It’s just that I take you both - singly, and together - as my more time and ability-enabled proxies, and I get frustrated when you don’t think my thoughts for me. The solution as you both point out is evident.
Let it be clear that I think fine work is being done here and most definitely a worthy evolution of Integral based thought. Also, let it be clear that I don’t think it is adequate. To remain within its current confines would be to squander the history and impulses that constitute ‘Integral’ thought.
Most particularly, there is the promise of a thought that can be traced though all. Including its very own facticity in the world. This is Dogen’s ippo-gujin - where the body that thought is talking of, is the body that thought is being. And, as all is one in sharing certain seams of dynamic becoming, for thought to be its very own body is for thought to be all bodies. I’m going to make the exemplification of this the far-off ideal that I will fumble and bumble my way towards; With my own promise, that the final far-off result won’t be a mush of metaphysical monism; It doesn’t have to be.
My notion is that being/body is a dynamic productive equation and that all being shares that same productive equation. The task then becomes how to manifest that very ‘ equation of productivity’ that is all being; How to make stable and still, that endlessly productive moment which resonates through all, and which, consequently, all share as one. An answer is to be found in OOO, which theorizes objects in such a way that allows us to call a set of consistent actions an object. There we will find the proof in the world of our equation - that finite, always-the-same, ‘equation/enactment/object’ and its infinite specificities is our aim. The current OOO, however, provides us with too much intelligibility, combined with too many unacknowledged lacunae to be fully credible.
Finally, let us not forget that the theses of this conception demand their own enactment in every moment. There is no outside to this world we may perch in and observe from. This means a thought that is clear and meaningful, yet also productive, open, dynamic, and most of all, indeterminate. Derrida famously says good literature deconstructs itself; we can go farther and say, all reality, deconstructs, itself, too. Meditative disciplines show us this is so, art exemplifies it. Let’s not retreat from either of those two challenging tasks in the happy delusion our thought can dispose of being as it wishes.
Truth be told, (as perhaps, doesn’t need to be told) I’m not really up to the task, but hey, better to have loved and lost… And, who knows, that recognition, itself, may have some purchase…
In any event, please continue. I appreciate the care and effort you both exhibit in exploring your own conceptions of an IPM. I will add and supplement my own twist on matters to yours as best I can.
I think we discussed this before (above) but Bryant's 6/17/12 post on the gravity of objects makes clear that objects classified as bright, dark, dim or rogue is not meant as an inherent type:
"It is not so much that these are types of objects, so much as these are ways in which objects are related or not related.... An object that was dark can become bright, and so on."
I also appreciate further on how the 'gravity' of the new voter ID laws, while seemingly reasonable on the surface (the spin one hears from conservatives), is really a cover to disenfranchise the poor, minorities and working class.
And how smart phones have blurred the line between work and private life. If one is not constantly available for work via tech then they sacrifice work opportunities or even termination.
Interestingly he compares dark objects to Plato's chora, rather than to the withdrawn virtual of any object like I would.
Rogue objects are his favorite and mine too. They seem to function as the agitators that shake up the hegemony of bright objects through guerrilla warfare, and thus open paths toward new relationships.
I got a wild hair this past weekend and purchased a new car -- a Nissan Rogue -- about which Lol has been teasing me, warning me to be careful of rogue objects, which erupt into assemblages from out of nowhere and transform all relations in that assemblage...
Are you sure you're not talking about mothers-in-law?
Hahaha, quite possibly -- especially since I purchased this rogue object in anticipation of my mother-in-law's impending arrival from Nepal...
From 4.1 of TDOO:
"Within a Luhmannian framework...dialogue is not a communication between two systems...but rather is a system in its own right.... Dialogue is organized around what is internal to the dialogue itself, to the system that has emerged over time.... The dialogue is an entity itself that constitutes its own elements (the communication events that take place within it)."
I like Bryant's blog post on "remarks toward a theory of writing." A few juicy excerpts:
"I have an imp of perversity in me. I intentionally choose words that I know will provoke. That provocation is not just a provocation towards whatever readers I might happen to have, but towards myself as well. How can I manage to think? How can I engender thought in myself?
"Lacanians don’t really interpret.... Rather, Lacanians instead interrupt. When they speak, they do so in a way that attends not to the conscious intentions of the analysand’s discourse, but to the polysemy, the homonyms, the equivocations, the gaps, the contradictions, etc., within that discourse.
"I suspect that something like this is at work in my practice of writing. I am striving to startle and interrupt myself so that I might manage to think. I’m trying to stutter. Harman says writing should not be clear, so much as vivid. Perhaps vivid writing means writing that startles and that therefore manages to engender thought.
"Feyerabend talks about how it is indispensable for thought to create an alternative universe with crazy and mad laws so as to see this universe.... The parallel world brings the lived world into relief, while also disclosing it as contingent or capable of being otherwise. This is the real transcendental epoche, a mad pataphysics, that is also the condition for a revolutionary practice."
Being a provocateur myself I have affinity for the shock-jock aspect of writing. It stirs the pot, blends the spices, keeps the stew from sedimenting. And spurs new recipes. I also like the word interrupt instead of interpret, as it doesn't focus on conscious intent but all those hidden folds below the surface which leaves meaning open. I see this forum as one such alternative universe, one that explores and startles, and often stutters, but that opens us to new vistas, new ideas, and new words to express them. I like the implications in Bryant's phrase "transcendental epoche," how allowing for the unknown provokes a transcendental approach that is not transcendent. And I especially like the word pataphysics instead of metaphysics, a word he didn't coin but which meaning follows (from this source):
noun ( used with a singular verb )
a supposed branch of philosophy or science that studies imaginary phenomena beyond the realm of metaphysics; the science of imaginary solutions.
We could call our forum such a supposed and imaginary realm of post (beyond) metaphysics. Maybe even integral pataphysical spirituality?
I'm rereading Harman's The Quadruple Object (alongside TDOO, Prince of Networks, and The Speculative Turn), and was amused by this passage (for hopefully obvious reasons):
The obvious danger of a fourfold structure is that it might seem crankish or bizarre, like a New Age doctrine or the creed of a false prophet. Das Geviert might lead one to imagine the leader of a cult on some remote Pacific island, with a reformed harlot on one arm and a child bride on the other, all united in worship of the Great Obsidian Cylinder where the four forces of the cosmos are stationed. Yet in the preceding chapters I have tried to show that reflection on the fourfold is inevitable once we acknowledge both the results of Heidegger's potent tool-analysis and Husserl's breakthrough into the duel between a unified sensual object and its multitude of profiles.
Indeed prophetic. In our bailiwick it manifests as willing AQALytes worshipfully performing kennilingus on the totem Kennilingam, if not in actuality then certainly rhetaphorically.
Bryant's blog post on "the affective life of philosophy" touches on some themes in recent discussions. A few snips:
"[There] are felt differences, differences that can only...be sensed, and that cannot be inscribed discursively in a concept.... It was features like this that led Kant to claim that there must be a transcendental aesthetic, to claim that the aesthetic is irreducible to the conceptual, or that there is a domain of differences that are outside the conceptual and that must be lived to be known.
"In this spirit, it is perhaps the case that there is an affective dimension to every philosophy. Philosophy, as the invention of concepts, is always populated by a discursive or a conceptual field; yet perhaps there is also an affective field, a field of affective or sensible volumes, that haunt every philosophy as well. Is there maybe a way there is a dimension of sensible volumes in philosophy that can only be felt? These volumes of affect would be intertwined with the concepts that populate a philosophy, but would not themselves be of the discursive order."