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 An object is profoundly “withdrawn”--we can never see the whole of it, and nothing else can either....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.
Bryant's new blog post on Borromean Critical Theory is a further development of his attempt to integrate the 'value spheres,' in Habermasian terms. Balder take note, as I know one of your projects is looking at other 'integral' models, and it seems Bryant has much more coming on this subject.
Excellent -- I just peeked, and it looks like it will provide great material for the ITC presentation.
Seems like Wilber in that each domain has its own paradigmatic methodology which enacts its contents. And yet the integral part is seeing how these domains interact and influence each other.
"Each has their place and there are things that can only be discovered through these three reductions. Ultimately, however, the aim is to thematize how these three orders interact and influence one another, so as to better understand the dynamics of power and to better develop strategies of resistance."
Strategies of resistance, yes. Unlike the Bohrg motto, resistance is not only not futile but necessary to change this evil system of capitalism in bed with government. And hence the upcoming sequester, which threatens to kill your job and very likely your life if you cannot find another one, since regressives are determined to gut social programs so that you could not actually live on them, destined to die a drawn-out death from misery and starvation. We must resist, but effectively, in all domains.
Hmmm, perhaps we can call ourselves the Borromean Resistance? Each member, instead of being a personification of Zorro, could be one of Borro? Masks and swords are in order...
Earlier in the thread in this post Balder responded to my statement “Differance does not include ontotheology but rather refutes it” with this Derrida quote:
"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.)
In my research today on Derrida's response to Hegel's dialectic I came upon this book made available electronically, Hegel After Derrida (Taylor and Francis, 2001). Chapter 10 is of relevance here, “Hegelian Dialectic and the Quasi-Transcendental in Glas” by Kevin Thompson, starting at p. 239. An excerpt relevant to Balder's quote and some initial commentary follows.
“Derrida himself has constantly reminded us of...the continuum of constitutive syntheses that his writings have attempted to expose...maintain a ‘profound affinity’ (M/15/14) with that very discourse that ‘summed up the entire philosophy of the logos’ (DG/39/24), the Hegelian dialectic.... Hence, a deep affinity becomes manifest between the concept of Aufhebung – the ‘speculative concept par excellence’ as Derrida recalls (ED/377/257) – and différance.... Given its ‘almost absolute proximity’ (P/60/44) to that most speculative of concepts and the entire onto-theological system it sanctions, the chain of infrastructural relations would seem to emerge – ‘unable to break with that [Hegelian] discourse’ (M/15/14).... In this sense and to this extent, Derrida’s thought remains faithful to the very intention embedded within the philosophical tradition itself and, more specifically, to the Hegelian system of speculative science as this tradition’s culmination. However, this simple repetition and affinity remain enigmatic in that it is precisely the Hegelian constriction of negativity, as a moment appropriated within a teleological economy of absolute presence, that Derrida’s work has most forcefully sought to call into question, i.e. to solicit. How then is this proximity to be understood?”(239-40).
I'll comment more as I read the chapter, but for now one can see Balder's Derrida quote includes (Hegel's) ontotheology, yet “exceeds it without return.” It might appear to be akin to Hegel's dialectic rephrased by Kennilingam as transcend-and-include.* But also note in the HAD quote that Derrida's so-called synthesis is not based on “a teleological economy of absolute presence.”** Or, in OOO terms, Hegel's version (as well as those developmentalists using his dialectics) is infected with the metaphysics of presence and lacks the the withdrawn. Hence the “without return” is missing, i.e., the missing is missing. Oh, that's a nice double negation without sublation...
In light of the above, and subsequent reading and evaluation, the terms I used in the quote at the top of this post were inexact and inaccurate. Differance does include but also refutes ontotheology. It is a very exacting process of discernment though, one which I'm learning to better articulate. More after reading the chapter.
* In that regard recall this post in the real/false reason thread where Derrida is “willing to apply the most rigorous standards of logical accountability (including the axioms of classical or bivalent true/false reasoning) and thereby locate those moments of aporia or logico-semantic breakdown that signal the limits of any such reckoning.” As noted elsewhere, Derrida's intent is not to eradicate what he's criticizing, just to 'open' or supplement it.
** Also a criticism in the real/false reason thread, how the mereology built from false reason in the MHC sublates (i.e., subsumes) the parts in its totalizing synthesis. Whereas the 'flat' mereology of the OOOers, which recognizing greater wholes, does not subsume the parts therein. And as per Bryant, this has significant political implications and consequences.
More from HAD:
"Derrida claims that, within the affinity of onto-theology and deconstruction, ‘a kind of infinitesimal and radical displacement’ (M/15/14) of Hegelian speculation is carried out. Uncovering this displacement necessitates demonstrating that différance not only makes possible the identity of speculative knowledge but also that it, simultaneously (à la fois, du-même-coup) and necessarily, fissures this ultimate identity by inscribing it within a non-totalizable and interminable negativity, within what Derrida calls the remains (reste), which in turn can be neither elevated nor interiorized. The synthetic movement of différance is thereby conceived as the simultaneity of the speculative economy of absolute presence and the general economy of absolute alterity; it is an originary contamination of pure identity and pure difference" (240).
I tried to read the rest but it degenerated into a highly sophisticated (sophistic) exposition of how the above principles play out in brother/sister relations. I literally fell asleep several times trying to hack through the density and finished, but no more the wiser. Oh well, I gave it a try.
Levi has some new blogs up expressing his distaste for the notion of 'vitalism,' which he regards as regressive, and making the case to take materialism more seriously. To me, his cold machine metaphor has the same effect on me as the fuzzy word 'vitalism' has on him. Perhaps this is a characterological thing, but I am not at all repulsed by the idea -- or the feeling -- of "belonging to the universe" (in all its beauty and terror, intimacy and emptiness).
I see what you mean. Bryant, in his revulsion for ultimate purpose or goal, is missing the other aspects of his Borromean knot. Purpose and teleos might not be inherent to the material but it has certainly emerged with human semiotics. Which of course has downwardly caused changes in our material bodies/brains and our phenomenological experience. I prefer Levin in this regard.
Bryant's latest blog post is again on the Borromean knot. In discussing ethics and Epicurianism he brings in levels. Countering the oft-cited criticism of Epicurianism as being merely a form of hedonism he notes a hierarchy of needs: "...a variety of higher needs such as friendship, love, service, empathy (towards humans and nonhumans), beauty, intellectual stimulation, and so on." This hierarchy though is for the Imaginary domain. Are there higher levels for the other two domains? Yes, for the symbolic we move from authoritarian control to rational law. In the material domain our bodies are included in ecologies and hence become a part in larger mereological aggregates. Same within our individual body.
Speaking of his strange mereology, just the symbol of the Knot is instructive. The domains intertwine and have a space in the center, the "a." Whereas the AQAL diagram doesn't express this sort of interrelationship between the domains with an "a" coordinating them. Perhaps instead of the AQAL assholon of everything we might call the Borromean integration an a-holon of anything?
By the way, what does the "a" stand for in his Knot?
Is the knotty 'a' Lacan's infamous objet a? TDOO speaks of the latter as follows:
"Objet a is not an empirical or existing object, but a sort of remainder, excess, or irreducible fractional quantity marking that which cannot be integrated into the symbolic" (6.1).
And this from chapter 4:
"Lacan's concept of causality is deeply related to his understanding of objet a, the object-cause of desire.... The objet a is rather that gap that generates desire....the gap by which objet a functions as the object-cause of desire can be fruitfully thought in terms of the role played by the unmarked side of a distinction....while the unmarked side of a distinction is not indicated by a system employing a particular distinction, this unmarked side nonetheless has effects on how the psychic system functions" (4.4).
An initial impression is that objet a is similar to Derrida's khora or differance. I mentioned Bryant's recent Speculations paper above, "The other face of God". A relevant excerpt relating objet a to Derrida:
"Derrida is here extremely close to Lacan. The upshot of the differential nature of the signifier is that any attempt to totalize the system of signifiers necessarily fails, leaving behind a remainder, that cannot be integrated in the system" (80).