|Phil Sheffield, 2009|
Much to the dismay of many I have always believed that without serious and sustained debate philosophy becomes nothing more than the meandering speculations of an educated elite class. Engaging in ‘public’ dialogue and critical analysis is the only way interested parties can gain a deeper appreciation of the merits of differing ‘logics’ and worldviews. And philosophy as wisdom-philia belongs to all of us or it belongs to none of us. The culture of gentlemanly [sic] agreements to disagree thus only serves those professional discourse producers who want to be left alone to build edifices for their own sake, contributing consciously or otherwise to the superfluous proliferation of systems, frameworks and theory in the ecology of thought.
But every healthy ecology has inherent limits, boundaries and zones of organization. And within every healthy ecology we witness natural selection. So too it should be within the ecology of ideas (philosophy being one sub-niche among others). Without limiting forces, competition and the struggle for attention between concepts and frameworks what we begin to get is a wildly overreaching and pathologically abundant realm where more ‘fit’ (clearer and affective) ideas are indistinguishable from the superfluous and redundant mutant variations.
Thinking critically is not just about patting each other on the backs for each other’s accomplishments, while maintaining sometimes directly opposing views (although respect and appreciation are key), but about logical clarification and important matters of emphasis. In short, if theorists agree not to ‘struggle’ (for personal and/or professional reasons) with each other’s worldview then, ultimately, it is the rest of us – those left to make their way within various niches of thinking – who end up losing. So please, fellas, tell us what you really think!
That said, I think there are very significant insights to be gleaned from both Shaviro's and Harman’s ontology – as evidenced in the two brilliant posts (here and here) these comments are based on. They are both fantastic thinkers and particularly talented writers. I agree with Harman that things “withdraw” (but I suggest only partially, and never entirely), and also with Shaviro that process is the only supportable way of learning how things come to be and cease to be. In this respect, Harman and Shaviro each have important things to teach us - and their continued philosophical dialogue (‘struggle’) will only help us all think a little clearer.
Below are a few morsels from their recent posts, in their own words. First from Steven Shaviro:
The parts of OOO that I reject are the claims 1) that objects are “substances,” and that they are somehow “withdrawn,” and 2) that (in Graham’s version, if not in Levi’s) causality is problematic, and can only be conceived “vacariously,” through a version of occasionalism.Read the entire post, which provides much more detail, here.
Another way to put this is to say that what I find valuable and inspiring about OOO are the questions it asks, which I think are necessary and important ones; rather than its particular answers to these questions, which I don’t accept…
Of course terms are never entirely defined by their relations; and terms can disentangle themselves from some relations, and enter into others instead. But at the same time (and here I explicitly disagree with Graham) no term can ever disentangle itself from all relations. That is simply impossible.
And from Graham Harman:
If realities themselves are imperfectly translatable into knowledge, they are imperfectly translatable into relations of any sort. This is why vicarious causation is needed. Moreover, this is a battle I will eventually win, because strange though the idea sounds, it is absolutely compelling once you see the problem clearly; I think I’ve simply failed to make a game-ending presentation of the point so far, and as a result have only convinced a certain number of people. This is due to my own limitations, but to some extent it is possible to outgrow one’s limitations…Read Graham's entire post here. On the question of “why” it is impossible to consider entities totally withdrawn from their relations, I think Steven continues to be quite clear here [and here]:
“But at the same time (and here I explicitly disagree with Graham) no term can ever disentangle itself from all relations. That is simply impossible.”
And furthermore: “rather, I think we should follow William James and Deleuze in seeing a continual florescence of external relations, and of seeing these relations as in themselves perfectly real, as being just as real as the terms they connect are real.”
But I also see them as perfectly real. They simply don’t affect their terms (at least not automatically).
For example, the external relations among parts of a bicycle are perfectly real for me. They form an object: a bicycle.
But the point is that the new entity known as the bicycle need not affect the internal constitution of its parts. In fact it often does, but this is a special case that needs to be explained, not an automatic influence.
Deprive me of my relation to oxygen and I die; but my body persists as a thing, and interacts with bacteria that dissolve and eat it. Send my dead body into outer space so that it escapes the bacteria, and it will still be altered by cosmic radiation and other phenomena of interstellar space. Every change in relations turns the term into something different.Regardless of what I believe re: these specific issues, I think it is safe to say that having these two thinkers mix it up a little is a welcome and much needed development for speculative realists of all kinds. Go read both posts ASAP.
In addition, and just because I enjoy his work so much, here is a small sample of Jeffrey Bell’s recent riff on Deleuze beyond vitalism - generated in relation to both Shaviro and Harman’s posts (discussed above):
Philosophy itself is defined by Deleuze and Deleuze and Guattari as the creation of concepts, and concepts are not, in sharp contrast to Bergson, intuitions whereby one seizes, as Bergson put it, the ‘one reality…from within.’ To the contrary, concepts are for Deleuze assemblages that are at best to be understood as filtered selected assemblages that stave off an excess that would be the undoing of concepts, and this excess is not to be confused with a ‘pure vitality,’ a Bergsonian flux. I am led to this conclusion from my reading of the closing lines of A Thousand Plateaus:You gotta love Big Theory.
Every abstract machine is linked to other abstract machines, not only because they are inseparably political, economic, scientific, artistic, ecological, cosmic–perceptive, affective, active, thinking, physical, and semiotic–but because their various types are as intertwined as their operation are convergent. Mechanosphere.Rather than a pure flux, there is a ‘mechanosphere,’ an assemblage of abstract machines that forever risk being undermined by relations that exceed them (since the relations are external to their terms), and it is this excess or exteriority of relations that would be the undoing of concepts and assemblages rather than a pure Bergsonian flux. For Deleuze, then, rather than a mystical intuition that grasps the one reality, we have the effort to create an assemblage of heterogeneous elements, or a composition to use Latour’s terms, and this effort is an experimental effort that is not guaranteed of success.