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 An object is profoundly “withdrawn”--we can never see the whole of it, and nothing else can either....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... 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.

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Balder referenced The Otherness of Light: Einstein and Levinas. We discussed Grandy's The Speed of Light in the previous Gaia forum, led, or course, by Tom. In the past I wished we had saved that thread but no one admitted to doing so, so perhaps you have it saved Tom? If so, re-post it?


I appreciate the opening paragraphs noting light's “non-visibility or unknowing,” an “open set that freely receives other things and only then registers its own existence.” This is the kind of language I can resonate with, since it is not definite, not even everything, for the latter would be a sum of all parts rather than an open set. Such a set is “deeply ambiguous,” amorphous, mysterious and awe-inspiring. But we can never put our finger on it due to its “inaccessibility.”


And I like that he will relate this to Levinas' 'other.' It seems though that he will also use Einstein's science here instead of Bohr's QM. Hmm...

Ah, is this the same Grandy Tom used to talk about? Cool! He's long been on my to-read list...

Starting with this post and following I explored Levin's interpretation of Levinas and Derrida on some of these same issues, including light. I even brought in Caprilles. It's the same nagging issues still haunting me, specters of (the) Marx (brothers). And if you get that one you're as space-time warped as a black hole with a white sugar daddy. (WTF?)

If anyone is interested the speculative realists have an open access journal, Speculations.

Great to see Tim Morton appear here:


Like some some here, I find Morton’s style of writing very often opaque. I gave up half way through his Ecology Without Nature, feeling the point was in the rhetorical drift and that I’d got it sufficiently.  I didn’t feel the pay-off in working through his diffuse and allusive prose was worth it - not to me,  at least. This shorter more focused piece with the additional spur provided by his take on Quantum Mechanics was really great. I feel inspired to go back and finish Ecology Without Nature.  Although, I'm still inclined to think that the rhetoric and style is greater than the thoughts that result.  (edit - changed my mind on this one, I thought this article was a great pleasure once I got into it and the rhetoric of a piece with the thinking)


Here are a few thoughts - some of it in light of by my on-going to-and-fro with Thomas over machines and consciousness. 


Aesthetics is first philosophy as Harman/Morton/Proust argues.  it’s style/art/rhetoric that provides  access to reality deep down.  The world is made of objects in sensual relationship all the way up and all the way down - with no big whole to contain them, moreover.  And those objects are irreducibly withdrawn, not only from each other,  but from themselves. For Proust,  art is immediacy and singularity - that is, expressive  access to, that deep down, withdrawn aspect of reality particular to any object engaged with.  And the truth of this reality is lost with rational analysis mindlessly applied - no matter how acute.  For Morton, rhetoric - in the form of the Longinus/Graham Harman sublime - is one of strangeness traversing the human subject, and in the process placing the subject as just one object among many,  rather than the 'correlationist' transcendent locus of perception as in Kant or Burke.  


I'm not wholly convinced by Morton's argument (he, himself, notes it as way too brief), nor how it lands us in melancholy. Melancholy it seems is our default encounter with the strangeness of being? How about joy, wonder, fascination, fright, fullness, meaning...  I think I'm misunderstanding his argument, or one of us has only got hold of the elephant's tale.  No doubt it's part of a broader conception he has.  And I'm still inclined to find his rhetoric outweighs his final ideas by just a little too much. 


And it's great to see Morton place science, not as prior to philosophy,  but as something to be guided by philosophy.  I think Thomas has got this much right when he says thinking precedes actual science.  A view I was also taught in my brief exposure to philosophy of science at university.  I've said it before - there's way too much respect for science in spiritual circles - or way too little confidence in other modes of perception as reliable data points.  Isn't that what Integral has taught us? I guess it's a validation game. That's all well and good so long as the validation doesn't try to make science into spirit. Or, spirit into science. Whatever happened to those three eyes? Are they out of favor these days?  I guess I'm still getting my head into 'post-metaphysical'.


This article gives me more appreciation for Thomas and his enthusiasm for Quantum Mechanics.  And not because of Morton’s ‘authority’ and his resonance with my own particular band of enthusiasms - it’s because Morton provides some of that working out  that I’ve been asking for from Thomas all along. 


And thanks for the various links to other arguments - Lakoff and Johnson,  as well as Caprille intrigue me.  Although, there is a downside:  I’m becoming aware that this site is a  network of conversations referring to other conversations.  Those who are new, like myself, run the risk of asking questions and entering issues that have been dealt with elsewhere; issues which are, consequently, either no longer of much interest to others, or simply appear naive and blundering in their line of enquiry/articulation.  I feel I lack the ability to get up to speed on these old and unfamiliar conversations, some of which appear either rather scholastic in nature, or at a level of consciousness and sophistication that is beyond me.  Nonetheless, I will chip away at the reading and links, and hopefully gain a better sense of the core issues and where my interests might press. Speaking of which, I am also now aware that I came to the site with some assumptions/needs I wasn't that aware of - namely, that the pursuit of an integral post metaphysics involves relating that metaphysics to a daily spiritual practice and, even more basically, to everyday life.  This is not what is going on here which is ok.  I'm not going to stop trying to make the connection.


Last, but not least, rhetoric and art.


The ekphrastic object makes us see ourselves as objects traversed–translated by others. Longinian ekphrasis is not about the reaction of the (human) subject, but about rhetorical modes as affective- contemplative techniques for summoning the alien. 


Morton making me laugh with pleasure.


 ‘Heidegger describes how things are intermodulated: we never hear the wind, only the wind in the door..


 ha ha,  pure pleasure, not least, that word 'intermodulated'. 


While ecomimesis expects “continental” philosophy to die under the boot of an outside world that is self-evident to human eyes, Harman's language enjoys itself, turns its dark pages, auto-affects even as it evokes what human eyes can't see. 


Here Morton is addressing the prevalent strain of eco-writing that presents a contrast between the real world of nature and the feminine/feminized world of those who would attempt to critique/deconstruct.  As he notes there is the paradox that these writers of nature seem to have to expend huge amounts of ink/pixels to evoke it's masculine and language free presence. Harman's language achieves both the otherness nature writers seek and self-pleasuring. We are that wilderness as our own self play/investigation reveals. 


In any case, very seductive writing from Morton.


And then this..


As you read, 

a white bear leisurely pees, 

dyeing the snow saffron, 


and as you read, many gods 

lie among lianas: eyes of obsidian 

are watching the generations of leaves, 


and as you read, the sea is 

turning its dark pages, 


its dark pages.                (Denise Levertov, “To the Reader”)


How beautiful.


I see elsewhere there's a fascinating discussion going on in the Marks-Tarlow fractal thread regarding metaphor as fundamental to thought/being - this, too the claim of Lakoff and Johnson, if my brief glimpse has got them right. I'd like to claim that Proust and Morton's view that the depth and truth of reality can only be experienced via the poetic and rhetorical is entirely in accordance with this.  And, of course, Proust goes on to give us a strategy to bring this poetic into the very center of our existence - artist, or no artist. 







I'm not surprised you share this view, Thomas. There is much we fundamentally agree on, I feel. Though, I wouldn't say that 'all life should be viewed as poetic', rather that the true drift and nature of life is poetic, stylistic, performative. Full spirit is manifest spirit - content and form together, whether aligned/mis-aligned - to express meaning. I think resonance is where it's at. Which is why, I might add, I keep pressing you to give more flesh to the bones of your QM views. I want it to resonate more widely via analogue/example/rhetoric/what have you. Part of the pleasure of reading Morton for me is how he manages to achieve a good degree of this resonance. There are other ways to do it, of course. As many, perhaps as there are people/things in the world?


Rather enjoyed your poem over on the Marks-Tarlow thread, btw.


Now, I must to work...

the pursuit of an integral post metaphysics involves relating that metaphysics to a daily spiritual practice and, even more basically, to everyday life. This is not what is going on here which is ok.

It depends on how you (re)define "spiritual" and that is one of the things we do here. An hermeneutic inquiry into the nature and meaning of language and communication (which includes perception, gesture, metaphor, rhetoric etc), i.e., intersobjectivity is indeed an everyday spiritual practice for those so inclined in this domain.

Yes, fair point.

I'm coming to understand better the approach taken here. I'd still be concerned that these sorts of approaches are a rearranging of the deck chairs of propositional language and fall into the Wilber's eye of the mind - try as we might they will never enact the eye of spirit. No, actually, I take that back - I'm  not really concerned, I feel you and Balder know what you are doing - it's just not quite what speaks to me. I'm interested, nonetheless, as it's both informative, and is helping me to get a better sense of where I am. 


A question, if you don't mind: You mention 'Derrida's ontology' above; could you offer me an outline/link to what you see as that ontology? 


And what do you think of the Derrida offered here by Levi Bryant, one of the leading lights of Speculative Realism/OOO? 


theurj said:

the pursuit of an integral post metaphysics involves relating that metaphysics to a daily spiritual practice and, even more basically, to everyday life. This is not what is going on here which is ok.

It depends on how you (re)define "spiritual" and that is one of the things we do here. An hermeneutic inquiry into the nature and meaning of language and communication (which includes perception, gesture, metaphor, rhetoric etc), i.e., intersobjectivity is indeed an everyday spiritual practice for those so inclined in this domain.




Can you also situate your 'intersobjectivity' beside OOO to give me a better idea of it.  As I understand it, on OOO terms, you would still qualify as 'correlationist' in your stance. Am I correct?  

And, just to clarify for those who find the nomenclature confusing - OOO - Object Oriented Ontology - is the sub-species of Speculative Realism that Bryant and Morton identify themselves as belonging to.



Nice site at below url for those interested in Speculative Realism/OOO, including a good - and shortish- outline of the two terms - their provenance and difference. (see lll)


This discussion between Caputo and Hagglund highlights a lot of the things you ask, like Derrida's ontology and responses to SR on Derrida. Also see “what 'is' the differance?


My intersobjectivity is a confluence of several streams including deconstruction, pragmatism and cognitive science. From the latter I prefer the description “embodied realism,” which is a sort of correlationism (or at least relativism) but it does not fall prey to a mere anthropomorphic subjectivism, often the criticism of the SRs.


I think the SRs in general and the OOOs in particular think we can come to know the object in itself via rhetoric, for example, though "we can never see the whole of it, and nothing else can either." In that way they agree with the embodied realists, while admitting some access and relation to “it”--though highly adaptive and successful--does not grant a full, 1-to-1 representational access.


And yes, OOO is a sub-set of SR. And SRists share some aspects in common yet there are quite a few variations and they often disagree on several points. In that way it is like the general category postmodernism; there is no one full description of what it is applicable to all pomoers.


And as far as Wilber's 3 eyes, yes, it helps to differentiate and distinguish them but to me he goes too far into dissociating them. Whereas how those eyes interact is where the integration is, and to me integration, i.e., integral, is where the spiritual resides, not in specialized states of consciousness, even so-called nondual states.

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