Tag Archives: OOP

Objects for your ears

foreign object

For those of you who aren’t aware, the recordings from the Object-Oriented Ontology Symposium are up and available for download. I’m looking to listening to these when I’m not so swamped with work!

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On Vicarious Head-Scratching

I’ve been seeing a lot on Harman and capitalism and his model of causation as “nonsense” and whatnot and thought I’d try my hand at an explanation. For one, I don’t see why Harman’s model of causation is so hard to grasp but maybe its because I have a different background than most of those involved in the theory-corner of the blogosphere. I also want to stress that I’m not an object-oriented philosopher. I have serious misgivings about OOP which will be evident from my paper for Speculations. In fact, my paper will be on the subject of change and causality. That doesn’t mean however that I don’t think highly of the theory or that Harman should be insulted or attacked. Disagreements happen, we’re all adults here.

There are essentially two modes to understanding Vicarious Causation. The first is Aristotelian, the second is Kantian. It should be noted that both of these give us different versions of Occasionalism, that is, a mediated model of causality. I think the main problem people have with Harman’s theory is that they approach it strictly from the perspective of Heidegger’s tool-analysis, which while foundational for Harman’s thought has been overshadowed by a newer model of OOP over the past year. I think this this clear from lectures he’s given recently where the tool-analysis is explained but not foundational. He’s found new, better ways to ground the theory which makes it much more historically relevant and probably much easier to grasp by those without the Heideggerian or even phenomenological baggage.

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The Botany of Desire

I’ve written about Michael Pollan before; I think his work “from the plant’s perspective” could (and should) be a great resource for both Object-Oriented Philosophy as well as Neo-Vitalism. Now my favourite of his books, The Botany of Desire, has been made into a documentary for PBS and it looks really good. Here’s a preview:


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Systems of Thought and the Issue of Names

As some of you know by now, I’ve taken something of a pet interest in the Speculative realism Wikipedia page. This isn’t because I feel like I’m any sort of authority on the subject, but I’ve read a lot of the material and basically no one else was chomping at the bit about it. Actually, as both Nick and Graham mentioned (though it was Nick who brought it to my attention), the page was basically stillborn, with so little there that people were threatening to delete it.

So I fixed it up a bit and added subsections and publications and mentioned some of the presses that have shown an interest and I think it’s a pretty decent little page now. It certainly fits the criteria of something worthy of being on Wikipedia. So now we’re out of the woods, we’re not in danger if dying of exposure without a wikipage.

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Failing the Rorschach

Rorschach Inkblot

The New York Times reports on the debate involving the posting of the ten plates of the Rorschach test to Wikipedia. There are two fundamental issues here and I find myself torn between the opposing sides. On the one hand, I largely share the information-libertarian view of the Wikipedians, information should be free to distribute and use, and of course the fact that the copyright has expired on the inkblots doesn’t hurt their case. On the other hand, it could theoretically hinder the effectiveness of the test, because not only have the inkblots themselves been posted, but included are the most common answers according to psychological research. Again, I find myself torn between the politics and the ethics of this situation.

It reminds me of a story that Zizek tells of his time in Paris, when he was undergoing analysis with Jacques-Alain Miller. Zizek knew, as I’m sure Lacan and Miller did as well, that with the knowledge of Lacanian psychoanalysis, it is nearly impossible for a true analysis. He also tells the story of one of his analyst friends who had a patient who would self-analyse, saying that things must relate to their relationship to their mother, etc, etc. I suppose what I’m really wondering about is the relationship here between knowledge and health. We seem to naturally assume that with knowledge, health will increase. I read Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food recently (that was my email that Graham posted a while back about Pollan and OOP), and one of his central arguments is essentially that science, while trying to find out what it is that makes food healthy, makes it much less healthy. This combined with the Lacanian anecdotes and this more recent developments leads me to ask, can we only be healthy through ignorance? For all of its relations to science, how do the “speculative realists” (if the term can even still be used) compare on this issue? Coming from my background in Schelling and Hermeticism, health is explained as the sought-after balance, as an unstable yet desired equilibrium, but this balance is only truly achievable through knowledge (and incredibly difficult to maintain!). Is this even an issue that contemporary philosophy wants to deal with or is even able to deal with? Or are we left with the medical sciences, biology, and chemistry? Is a new philosophy of health possible?

[ADDENSUM: Courtesy of Ian Bogost’s twitter, a piece in the New York Times on the definition of health. Lots to chew over.]

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How it would be, if a house was dreaming

Simply amazing 3D projection by Urbanscreen.

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What kind of realism is this anyway?

From Graham:

“For me it is individual objects that are real. And what’s becoming more important to me is this question: for all those positions that call objects a useless fiction, what are they granting reality in its place?

On the one hand there is what I called, in Bristol, the “undermining” approach to objects. In other words, objects are superficial encrustations or actualizations. What is real is either a boundless apeiron, or a churning matter laced with cryptic forms, or a primordial flux, or a topological pre-individual realm.

On the other hand there is what we could call, by analogy, the “overmining” positions. For such positions, the object is not a superficial encrustation, but a pseudo-deep and spooky fiction that explains nothing, since reality is much more evident. Reality is how it manifests itself to us. Or it is a thing’s relational involvements with other things. Or it is just a bundle of qualities. And so forth.”

It would seem on first glance that a spectral realism is part of Graham’s first group, the “undermining” of objects folks. I think this is wrong though, as is the alternative. As Graham has presented these position is flawed in a particular way that I think excludes both my own position, and my reading of Schelling (Bohme would fall into this category as well), that is, what I call the Hermetic position.

As Graham puts it, on one extreme objects don’t matter because they’re really just their set of relations or maybe reality is just “how it is given to us.” The other extreme is where I think he would put me, the end which claims that objects don’t matter because what has primacy is either the whole of the cosmos before we chisel it up with perceptions and ideas, or the idea that reality is just a primal flux with objects forming as clots. In the middle of these two extremes stands OOP, the only group that says objects are themselves that which makes up reality (it’s objects all the way down), but also the whole of reality would itself be an object. In other words, for Graham and OOP in general, reality is simply an infinity of objects.

So what’s the problem for spectral realism then? I’ve said before that reality for me is simply drive, or to be even more specific, the twin drives of expansion and contraction (what Freud called the life instinct and death instinct, respectively, and which Lacan clarified in his maxim that all drives are death drives, which of course all comes from the middle period Schelling [the Freiheitsschrift and Weltalter, although part of my thesis is trying to show that it’s already there in the early work] and which originates in Jakob Bohme). Reality as drive means that all objects are temporary stabilities on the road to collapse. The problem arises however when this is taken to mean that objects are somehow not real, or “less real” than drive. For me, and I would argue this whole lineage I’ve linked myself up with, there is no “more real” or “less real,” because the Hermetic tradition has a very simple maxim: As above, so below; this is the microcosm/macrocosm relation of all reality. When Schelling writes a psychology of God (which Bohme did as well), he’s not “anthropomorphizing” as Zizek claims, but making a valid Hermetic move: all things in reality are basically the same, but not in the Neoplatonic sense of “All is One,” but in a very weird way, that if one object in reality is really understood, this knowledge is applicable to all of reality. By understanding the human mind then, we not only understand ourselves, but all of reality. This was the secret of Hermetic science, the goal of which was divine knowledge (as in, knowledge of the divine) and the method was natural philosophy, learning of the cosmos (which is why the Hermetics were so keen on things like alchemy and astronomy). When Bohme came along, he took this principle and began to understand psychology as it had never been understood before, the heritage of this work being not only Schelling, but all of psychoanalysis.

What this means for Graham’s distinction is that spectral realism also occupies a middle position, one that claims all reality is drive, but all objects are manifestations of drive, that at bottom what an object is, is drive. But all of the parts of this object are also drive, and so is the whole of reality, and so is God. It is not then that there is a churning pool of drive and then it freezes up in some parts and these are objects, rather, the relationship is one of microcosm and macrocosm: there is only drive, only becoming (in the sense of no static being and no absolute nothingness). Objects have reality, no more or less than anything else, but this reality is their drive.

Then, from Levi:

“Braver then goes on to distinguish between trivial dependent entities like beliefs and real independent entities. Attitudes towards this distinction actually define something of a fault line among Speculative Realists. Speculative Realists like Ray Brassier, Nick Srinicek, and perhaps Quentin Meillassoux (I can’t speak to Iain Hamilton Grant’s Position here) would wholeheartedly endorse Braver’s description. To be real, for these realists, is to be independent of humans. Object-Oriented realists such as myself, Graham Harman, and Bruno Latour adopt a more egalitarian ontological position. Our view is not that the puff of matter on the other side of the universe is somehow more real than the United States (an entity dependent on humans). Rather, the Object-Oriented Philosophies are united around the thesis of a flat ontology in which there is no hierarchy of being or modernist distinction between culture and nature. There is just being. Being is pluralistic and differential, coming in many kinds and flavors, but it is no less real for all that.”

I think it follows that by Levi’s distinction as well, spectral realism occupies a similar position to OOP. Nothing is more or less real than anything else, whether it is a property of civilization or nature, because all is nature; there is nothing artificial about reality. I would add though, again, that Being (qua Being) is always only an impossibility for spectral realism, that it is this perfect Being that the first drive is always striving for, while the second drive strives for the Nothing (though metaphysically, the drive for contraction, the latter of these two drives is first; there is always contraction before expansion).


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The Ur-Event in Badiou

I had three finals this semester, two of which are done. I wrote the first on Graham Harman and OOP (on the topic of responsibility). The second was for a seminar on political philosophy, specifically focused on political constitutionalism. The prof said we could write on anything that pertains to the course and its material provided we wrote a proposal and she approved it, otherwise she assigned us a list of topics based on the different readings. Ever the maverick, I proposed to write on Badiou’s reading of Rousseau (the latter was covered in the first week of “background” readings along with Kant, prior to the actual material of the course. Anyway, she approved it and so I wrote a rather frantic paper on the subject.

I’m not thrilled with the final product (I’m much happier with the piece on OOP*, and not only because I got an A+ on it). This is mostly due to the fact that I had a spell of insight while writing it and got distracted with something that had bothered me about Badiou for a while but that I couldn’t fully flesh out in the context of the paper. Basically, I started writing on Badiou and Rousseau and realized that I really wanted to be writing on Badiou and the concept of the Ur-Event. This is something that has been bandied about on various blogs, I think Reid wrote something about it and I want to say Nick has as well, though my memory is terrible. The important thing is, the Ur-Event is a problem for Badiou, something which seems necessary but which he refuses when asked about it. What has bothered me about this is that in Meditation 33 he speaks of the “event-without-event” and describes it in such a way as to say it’s more than the “conditions” we’re used to (art, science, politics, love), and actually seems to be the conditions for the possibility of conditions at all.

I finally figured something out though. He really does seem to have an Ur-Event in his philosophy, whether he wants it there or not. Not only does he need one in order to kickstart the whole chain of events, but it’s entirely connected to what I referred to before as his anthro-ontology or what could perhaps be seen as a sort of transcendental ego at work. I have said before that I agreed with those who claimed the count-as-one remains as a vestigial anthro-centrism that cripples Badiou’s philosophy, seemingly leading him back to some mathematical Fichteanism. I think it’s actually much deeper than that however.

I think the necessary Ur-Event must simply be the birth of humanity as we know it. This is connected directly to his readings of both Rousseau as well as Lacan. He ties his wagon to two foundationalists (actually three if you count Descartes, which I think we must) both of whom connect the origin of humanity with the origin of the Symbolic, literally for Lacan, it’s trickier with Rousseau, though I think working through Rousseau for this essay has given me the necessary material to connect the dots.

Anyway, that’s what I’ve been up to. I’m hoping to polish this thing up, taking chunks of this paper I’ve written and turn it into a proper piece on the necessity of the Ur-Event and where Badiou gets it, while also considering where to publish such a piece.

* I’m sure this is something that people would like to read since OOP is still forming itself. I sent the piece to Graham upon completion (with a couple of typos that I missed, oops!) and will gladly post it or publish it or whatever once I’ve gotten some feedback from him.

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Infinite Immaterial Actants

From Graham:

“The more sophisticated move is to say that ultimate reality is not made of objects at all, but of some “heterogeneous yet continuous” realm of pre-objectivity. While increasingly popular among today’s avant garde, it doesn’t seem to me to be a coherent theory. (I made a post about this in January.) You can’t say that ultimate reality is both heterogeneous and continuous, because these two qualities work against one another. If ultimate reality is continuous, it will slide toward an unarticulated apeiron unless artificial corollaries are introduced to prevent this disaster. If you say instead that ultimate reality is heterogeneous, it cannot be thus unless entities are partly withdrawn from any relational expression, and then you have object-oriented philosophy. And this is the ultimate choice, as I see it… you can have monism, or you can have objects, and monism is inadequate as a philosophy of our world.”

I think I qualify as someone who takes ultimate reality to be “heterogeneous yet continuous,” as if the early Schelling. It’s probably just Schelling that I’m going to talk about here, but we’ll see (as I’ve said many times lately, my own position is only just emerging and so there are many gaps I have yet to fill as I feel my way through the problems I want to account for). I think this will serve to show the novelty of Schelling’s position on Nature, and maybe even shed some light on Grant, since I know Graham is working on a piece on Grant (and thus on Grant’s Schelling).

Schelling begins his First Outline for a Philosophy of Nature (1799) by stating simply that what the philosopher seeks is the unconditioned, that is, the starting point of all reality. What he seeks is the unconditioned in Nature (he will seek it in the Subject in The System of Transcendental Idealism, thus forming his Philosophy of Identity, or, the organic relationship between Spirit and Nature).

“The unconditioned cannot be sought in any individual “thing” nor in anything of which one can say that it “is.” For what “is” only partakes of being, and is only an individual form or kind of being. — Conversely, one can never say of the unconditioned that it “is.” For it is BEING ITSELF, and as such, it does not exhibit itself entirely in any finite product, and every individual is, as it were, a particular expression of it.” (Schelling, First Outline, 13)

We are not seeking a particular thing, but that in which all particular things participate.

“If, according to these very principles, everything that exists is a construction of the spirit, then being itself is nothing other than the constructing itself, or since construction is thinkable at all only as activity, being itself is nothing other than the highest constructing activity, which, although never itself an object, is the principle of everything objective.” (Schelling, First Outline, 13-14)

The unconditioned in Nature is to be thought of as nothing more than the constructing of Nature itself. Graham recently described Grant’s position as Spinoza having too much to drink, and I think that’s actually pretty accurate for Schelling as well. Schelling accepts the Spinozist view of natura naturans and natura naturata. For Schelling, all is Nature, but there is a difference between the productive activity itself and the products of that activity:

Nature as productivity = Nature as Subject = Natura naturans (Naturing nature).
Nature as product = Nature as Object = Natura naturata (Natured nature).

This is why he will say that the products of Nature are ephemeral, that they are the retardations of the infinite process of Nature. Things come to be accidentally, at the points of inhibition where the process of Nature acts against itself. Nature is not to be thought of ultimately as the things we experience, but the struggle (conatus) beneath the surface. This strife is itself the struggle for infinity:

“Evidently every (finite) product is only a seeming product, if again infinity lies in it, i.e., if it is itself again capable of an infinite development. If it engages in this development, then it would have no permanent existence at all; every product that now appears fixed in Nature would exist only for a moment, gripped in continuous evolution, always changeable, appearing only to fade away again. The answer given above to the question, “how could Nature be viewed as absolutely active?”, is now reduced to the following PRINCIPLE:
Nature is absolutely active if the drive to an infinite development lies in each of its products.” (Schelling, First Outline, 18)

And to a footnote on the same page, which I think is one of the greatest passages Schelling ever wrote, containing his whole early system in a simple metaphor:

“A stream flows in a straight line forward as long as it encounters no resistance. Where there is resistance—a whirlpool forms. Every original product of Nature is such a vortex, every organized being. E.g., the whirlpool is not something immobilized, it is rather something constantly transforming—but reproduced anew at each moment. Thus no product in Nature is fixed, but it is reproduced at each instant through the force of Nature entire. (We do not really see the subsistence of Nature’s products, just their continually being-reproduced.) Nature as a whole co-operates in every product.” (Schelling, First Outline, 18f)

So what does this mean for Graham’s problem with a “heterogeneous yet continuous” monism? What is the “stuff” at the root of Schelling’s early system that makes it a monism? Nothing. Literally, no-thing. There is no substance at the base of this system, but an infinite set of powers, forces, and drives which he calls “actants” (Schelling, First Outline, 5). He has already said that the unconditioned cannot be a thing, but must be that which allows for things. This means that the unconditioned is an activity, so the active processes cannot themselves be things, but must be non-objects. In short, the processes of Nature, the substrate of reality, must be drives or forces. Some of the examples he gives of actants are gravity, the sexual drive, and the drive of combination. These are forces of repulsion (expansion) and attraction, which create matter (and substance!). He explains the birth of the universe as the result of a series of explosions (Schelling, First Outline, 31) which are of course nothing but attraction at extreme velocity resulting in expansion, resulting ultimately in the universe as we know it.

“The whole of Nature, not just a part of it, should be equalivalent to an ever-becoming product. Nature as a whole must be conceived in constant formation, and everything must engage in that universal process of formation.” (Schelling, First Outline, 28)

Graham concluded that if you have a continuous reality, it results in incoherent immateriality, or if you have a heterogeneous reality, it results in OOP. What Schelling says is that you have have both if what is continuous is itself immaterial but results in materiality. That is, if reality is a continuous process of infinite productivity (immateriality!) that impedes itself, resulting in, what he’ll call in his System of Transcendental Idealism, abortive objects, or, a system of accidental objects. Nature is itself nothing more than the infinite construction of infinite objects, and I think this complicates Graham’s dichotomy.

Addendum: Compare all of this with the following from Schelling’s Ages of the World, I think there’s a tremendous amount of continuity here:

“A true beginning is that which is the ground of a steady progression, not of an alternating advancing and retreating movement. Likewise, there is only a veritable end in which a being persists that does not need to retreat from itself back to the beginning. Hence, we [230] can also explain this first blind life as one that can find neither its beginning nor its end. In this respect we can say that it is without (veritable) beginning and without (veritable) end.

Since it did not begin sometime but began since all eternity in order never (veritably) to end, and ended since all eternity, in order always to begin again, it is clear that that first nature was since all eternity and hence, equiprimordially a movement circulating within itself, and that this is its true, living concept.

These are the forces of that inner life that incessantly gives birth to itself and again consumes itself that the person must intimate, not without terror, as what is concealed in everything, even though it is now covered up and from the outside has adopted peaceful qualities. Through that constant retreat to the
beginning and the eternal recommencement, it makes itself into substance in the real sense of the word (id quod substat), into the always abiding. It is the constant inner mechanism and clockwork, time, eternally commencing, eternally becoming, always devouring itself and always again giving birth to itself.” (Schelling, Ages of the World, 20)


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