6.12.10

Bryant Waxing Processual

More and more I'm starting to get a sense of where Levi Bryant is going with his version of Object-Oriented theory. There is much too much in Bryant's work for me to cover in a single post, but I have to say that given several caveats over the past few months regarding process and relations I am increasingly on board with what Bryant is offering.

Below are some significant remarks Bryant has made in relation to recent posts by Vitale and Ivakhiv:
Here are two declarations: 1) I have always been, am, and will always be a process philosopher (this is probably a significant difference between Graham and I). 2) The following two statements are true in my ontology: “Substances are processes” and “processes are substances”. For me the processuality of a substance is its substantiality. Nor do I think I’m far off the mark here for those who know Aristotle’s writings on animals.

Perhaps I haven’t been entirely clear on this here– I have to save something new for the book! –but my substances are constantly struggling with entropy (another long running theme on this blog). For me this entails that substances must reproduce themselves from moment to moment to endure. They are constantly disintegrating and fighting entropy or dissolution into other objects. This process of endurance is creative and evolving. Indeed, substances require information, in the sense I’ve discussed it on this blog, to reproduce themselves and that information has to be new (information repeated twice is no longer information). Like Whitehead’s “societies”, substances produce themselves through their preceding phases and do so in a way that always has an aleatory or creative dimension to it. Why, then, refer to them as substances? Because there is pattern and, as Whitehead puts it, “subjective aim”. Okay, there’s also something a little polemical in the term “substance” or “object” as well, but isn’t a potent signifier occasionally a good thing? Anyway, I have no objections to you guys using terms like “event” or “process” if you think those terms have strategic rhetorical import. All I ask is that you recognize that certain event-process-substances detach themselves from other relations and take on a life of their own. That’s not too much, is it?

Third, networks and relations. C’mon guys, you know in your heart of hearts that I love relations and endlessly direct analysis to relations. My key thesis is not that relations don’t exist or that they are unimportant, but that, following Deleuze-Hume, relations are always external to their terms (substances). The important caveat here is that substances are themselves bundles of relations. So what’s my thesis? My thesis is that entities can never be reduced to their relations. Every entity exceeds its relations and can enter into new relations. If I’m shot into outer space I die, but life is a quality. It doesn’t mean I’ve ceased to be a substance. Why am I so insistent on this? Because what we’re so interested in is not relations, but the possibility of shifting relations and creating new possibilities as a result.[source]
What more is there to say? Really? I would dispute the convention that all relations are "always external to their terms", if only because I would prefer to emphasize a much greater 'mingling' between the "external" and "internal" aspects of real entities (e.g., hybrids, symbionts, parasites, and a wide range of other complex non-linear assemblages), but that is a minor point overall. Given a sufficiently relational sensitivity to actual entities, I can certainly support much of the onticological project.

Update: adapted and revised from comments I posted over at Larval Subjects:

The notion that “'substances are processes' and 'processes are substances'" is very important for understanding Bryant's framework. If Bryant is sincere about such statements then I have two follow-up questions:

1. As I’ve said in the past, I strongly support much of Bryant's ontology, with the major exception of his position that there is a metaphysical fissure in the cosmos internal to "split" entities, suggesting a complete withdrawal of essences from actualities. And I understand Bryant's argument about the difference of "virtual proper being" and "local manifestations", where local manifestations are the locus of change and virtual proper being remains withdrawn and irreducible. But if all substantiality is processual then how does a completely 'withdrawn' entity enter into the flow of things? How can substance as essence become involved in that which is in process if not directly? Where/how is the ‘door’ from splitness to actual evolution achieved? (Or are substances as essences eternal? Or, alternatively, can we say that the actual (manifest) is primary and the potential (virtual) the shadow cast by local events?)

2. Isn’t the idea that substantial things enter into the flow of change an indication that they can and do remain in constant (direct but partial) contact with the world on a plane of immanence?

2 comments:

Earthwizard said...

If what Bryant is saying in his new argumentation that "substances are processes" and "processes are substances", then he is a dynamist, a materialist at heart rather than a metaphysician of the Object that Harman is. Not sure how he could call himself an object-oriented philosopher after this?

You're correct that this opposes the essential elements of Harman's philosophical system, which hinges on 'withdrawn objects', or, as you state it the "split": "I strongly support much of Bryant's ontology, with the major exception of his position that there is a metaphysical fissure in the cosmos internal to "split" entities, suggesting a complete withdrawal of essences from actualities."

This is exactly a central point in Harman's system, so if Levi is no longer on board with that, then he is no longer Object-Oriented and is more of a Processual materialist for whom substance exists in the midst of events or processes as dynamic becoming emerging out of relations...

michael- said...

I couldn't agree with you more honestly. I don't know why Bryant continues to position his thinking so closely with Harman's when anyone familiar with Levi's more "process-oriented" blog posts, his Deleuzeian background, his incorporation of systems theory, and his reverence for the work of Luhmann, can READ that he is indeed a 'dynamist', as you put it.

In fact, I don't know why Harman doesn't say something about it? Harman has to know that Bryant's ontology is not really object-oriented, but only deploys objectological language while still claiming that all "substances are processes" and all objects are systems. Such claims are diametrically opposed to Harman's own more 'classical' metaphysical positions. Yet Bryant vehemently defends the OOO rhetoric for some weird reason?

I have interrogated Levi numerous times in this regard, asking him to qualify his use of "virtual proper being" in relation to Harman's claim that real objects are inaccessible, but with little response. Levi and I don't get along, so he frequently refuses to even acknowledge the kinds of questions you pose above when they come from me. (which is sad because my own perspective is very close to what Levi is developing)

And Harman also loathes the concept of the 'virtual', and yet they both agree not even mention their, to my mind, profound differences.

Maybe you can write one of your terrific essays/posts framing it in a way that shed some light on this strange anomaly?

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