3.8.10

OOO Gone Relational?

It has been exceptionally interesting recently checking in on the speculative realism niche now that Tim Morton has hitched his wagon to the OOO carnival. I wonder: am I imagining things? The guy who posts youtube videos talking at length about the interdependence off all things wants to team up with the young object-obsessed philosophes of the continental circles? Huh?

My first thought was maybe Morton is looking for exposure and blogosphere credibility by snuggling up to Bryant and crew - thereby gaining the attention of a whole cadre of young grad students in the process. After more considered thought, I realized that Morton might perhaps see something in object-focused rhetoric that does in fact ‘resonate’ with his seemingly more relational and ecologically sensitive approach? And if this is indeed the case, then maybe I have been missing some subtle nuance to OOO, and of Bryant’s onticology in particular, that I should probably investigate further?

Here are a few recent examples of comments from Bryant with what seems to me to be a bit of a relational turn in Object-Oriented truth-speak:
“Within the framework of my onticology, the distinction between virtual proper being and local manifestation draws our attention to what takes place when relations between beings emerge. There are not two terms here, but three terms: Virtual proper being, local manifestation, and exo-relations. [source]

“What I don’t understand is why objects are conceived as fixed and static. Nothing in our experience seems to suggest such a characterization of objects. Objects become, they decay, they evolve, and so on.” [source]

“In addition to this, I argue that objects are dynamic systems.”[source]

"Objects are generated out of other objects. When objects enter into certain relations with one another closure, under certain circumstances, is achieved and a new object is born. In other words, objects are emergent entities that emerge out of other entities. It seems to me that object-oriented ontologists talk about such emergence quite often. Likewise, the destruction or perishing of objects takes place when enough of the parts belonging to the endo-structure of an object are destroyed or taken away, undermining the ability of the object to maintain itself across time." [source]
I still can't figure out why, if objects are dynamic systems and 'become and decay', Bryant wants to signify such a temporary and fleeting individuality with the term “virtual proper being” split off, or “in excess of”, the actually existing entity? I’m not sure if this is Bryant accepting deep relationality into his ontology of objects, or if these few sentences are mere concessions as he tries to mesh his framework in with Morton’s? Or have I been reading too much into Bryant’s ‘spit objects’ all along - missing the more relational and more transitive aspects of objects as Bryant conceives them?

In fact, after re-reading several posts at Larval Subjects this weekend, as well as Graham Harman’s recent email exchange with an interested reader, I may be finally beginning to understand the more important reason OOO is positing radically withdrawn entities or 'split objects': namely, the depth of things. If I just accept that Bryant’s decision to champion some supposed ‘virtual’ dimension of objects as unfortunate, and instead appreciate the more important point his “spilt objects” formulation is trying to raise (as I see it) about the stratification and complexity of what I call 'things', I can then join with OOO in an appreciation of the real power and depth of objects in the world.

For me, and probably not for Graham or Bryant, the point of object-oriented rhetoric then becomes to remind us that all object-things “withdraw” because they have depth. Things seem “split” because they have depth. And this is the sort of depth that can indeed remain partially hidden from our view (appearing to us as what Harman calls "sensual objects") and that can retain a high degree of stability within the flux and situational expression of its more readily available 'surface' properties (what many call 'qualities'). That is to say, things have layers, much like Shrek - and it is by virtue of a thing's layers, strata or assembled properties that it rises up from the background mesh to become an individual that makes a difference in the world.

Now Bryant and Graham might not see it the same way, but in the sense described above I completely agree with OOO that “objects” may just be the most important ‘actants’, ‘agents’ and ‘operators’ in the kosmos – and thereby should command an appropriate amount of our attention. Yet, what I and others have suggested is that object-ness or ‘individuality’ is only a part of the onto-story we should want to tell. There is absolutely no need to subordinate relationality conceptually in our speculations about ‘the way things are’. If quantum mechanics, molecular biology and energy physics (to suggest but a few) are to be believed, all things are simultaneously entangled and deeply relational with internal and external relations at varying scales and with varying intensities – ontically open to non-locality, hybridization, parasitic relation, decomposition, outgrowthm, ect. – while also occasionally coalescing together in such a way as to generate unique individuals or assemblages, with defining and specific actualizing characteristics or properties.

In less words, object-things never completely “withdraw”, and are never truly “split”. Objects are never truly autonomous and without supporting context or relations. Objects continuously interpenetrate, mix and mingle in relation. And all things are never too far from contact because they are implicated (and intimated) in the same actualizing ‘flesh’ and flourish of the world. No matter how ‘deep’ or stratified (mereologically speaking) an assemblage-object is it is still part of the world from which it comes and simultaneously relative and in relation to other things. All objects are coalesced actualities with specific and immanent material-energetic properties enmeshed in the real kosmos. Everything about objects involves properties borrowed from elsewhere, and elsewhere always comes from somewhere, and that somewhere is nowhere other than right here: the immanent life.

And yet the OOO peeps, in my evaluation, are still insightful because they are making the ‘depth of objects’ a priority by arguing (in their own way) that all assembled entities have buried deep within them a certain degree of irreducible individuality (or strict onto-idiosyncrasy) that acts upon the world. And because of that OOO is a required discourse for our times.

In discussion with Jeff Bell on another topic Bryant says the following:
I will say– and Graham, no doubt, will box me around the ears for this –that I wonder how significant these differences are. In other words, at the level of analytic praxis I suspect we’d come to similar and complimentary conclusions and just desire to place emphasis in different areas. With Graham, Whitehead, and Shaviro, my universe is Leibnizian or discrete, whereas the Deleuzian-Bergsonian-Spinozist universe is monistic and then carved up. I’m not sure how much of a difference it makes, however, at the level of concrete analysis… A terrible thing to confess. [source]
I like this "confession" because it shows much more flexibility than Bryant has historically shown in my opinion. And it is in this vein that I read the 'withdrawal' and 'split objects' thesis as refering to the depth and irreducible individuality of objects. And it is because of concrete analysis on percpetion and actual interacting entities that I will choose to place the emphasis there.

I need to flesh many of these ideas out more, but for now, and in sum, I want to reiterate the kernel of my own position by suggesting that a thorough investigation of the actual world indicates that the kosmos generates ‘objects’ via relations, and that the dynamics involved reveal not two separate dimensions, but one contingent and simultaneous reality of being and becoming.

6 comments:

Jeremy Trombley said...

Well said, Michael, and I agree that Bryant and Morton do seem to be sounding a little more relational. Though, I've always read a hint of the relational in Bryant's posts, and thought it was more a matter of degree or emphasis than anything. He does still make some fairly object-oriented claims with regard to his relationality. For example, that an object comes into being relationally, but "closes off." In any case, I'm growing more fond of both Bryant and Harman's philosophy the more I read (though I doubt I'll ever call myself an OOOist).
It helps, too, that I see a bit more of the political/pragmatic side of OOO coming through in Bryant's posts about resonance (which I've written about briefly on my blog).
It'll be interesting to see where this goes.

michael- said...

JEREMY: I agree that Bryant and Morton do seem to be sounding a little more relational. Though, I've always read a hint of the relational in Bryant's posts, and thought it was more a matter of degree or emphasis than anything.

MICHAEL: Yeah, I’m now getting the same feeling. Frankly, overall, I think Bryant’s work is fantastic - despite any personal disagreements we might have. His framework challenges me to be more rigorous in my own investigations. If he is now becoming more open to ‘relationality’ then our respective positions might become even more similar.

With the post above I have decided to ‘let go’ of my issue with Bryant and Harman’s ‘radical withdrawal’ thesis (as they seem beyond persuasion on this point), and try to look for points of connection between their ontologies and my own thoughts instead.

JEREMY: He does still make some fairly object-oriented claims with regard to his relationality. For example, that an object comes into being relationally, but "closes off." In any case, I'm growing more fond of both Bryant and Harman's philosophy the more I read (though I doubt I'll ever call myself an OOOist).

MICHAEL: The OOO perspective is indeed useful and should indeed be welcomed into the ecology of ideas generally, I only hope someday that they will move beyond crypto-platonic devotion to essences and incorporate more scientific and empirical data into their considerations.

JEREMY: It helps, too, that I see a bit more of the political/pragmatic side of OOO coming through in Bryant's posts about resonance.

MICHAEL: I agree. (and great post over at your blog BTW) The true import of a theory comes from its relevance to praxis. Let’s watch and see what OOO can do when the ‘rubber meets the road’…

skholiast said...

hey Michael, is that an Alex Grey artwork for your visual?

michael- said...

@skholiast,

No, i don't think it is - but i can see why you would ask. I enjoy Alex's art very much, but not sure if I have ever used it on this site...

You a fan?

skholiast said...

Well, I actually have mixed feelings about his work, but it strikes me one could do a plausible object-oriented reading of it. All those hidden interiors and molten cores!

michael- said...

@skholiast,

no doubt! I think his art speaks to similar themes. The breakdown of the matter-spirit dichotomy, obviously, and the layered complexity of things (always in relation?)... object-layers and flowing assemblages everywhere!!!

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