I have a hard time understanding Tim Morton's notion of 'withdrawal' - suspecting somewhere subconsciously that his version is radically different than what Graham Harman proposes - but I certainly am intrigued. With the open access publication of his latest jazz-tinged literary artifact, Realist Magic: Objects, Ontology, Causality (html version found here) I hope to finally dive deep enough into the object-oriented aspects of Morton's thought to get some sort of grasp on what he trying to do.
Here is a particularly meaty chunk from chapter one of the new book:
Imagine the cinder block all on its ownsome. A scandalous thought perhaps, maybe even impossible to think. The block is not just a blank lump waiting to be filled in by some “higher” object (overmining). The block is not a blob of something bigger or an assemblage of tinier things (undermining). The block is not made real by some medium (the “middle object”). The block is itself. It is specific. It is unique. We might as well think it as a specific, unique real thing. The block already has qualities, such as front, back, and so on. Yet these qualities are only ever aesthetic appearances, no matter whether there is any other “observer” around to see. Yet these appearances are real aspects of the block: it isn’t a pyramid, and it doesn’t have a swan’s neck. The object itself is riven from the inside between its essence and its appearance. This can’t simply mean that the cinder block is a lump of substance that has a certain shape and color and that those are its accidents. We have already ruled that out. It must mean that in itself the block (essence) is also a non-block (appearance).
The conclusion seems magical, but it’s a very ordinary kind of magic. It requires no special features, no supervenient soul or mind or animating force of any kind. It requires that our cinder block have no hidden material squirreled away inside it, no extra folds or hidden pockets of any kind. It only requires that the block exist. There is a block, whose essence is withdrawn. Withdrawn doesn’t mean hard to find or even impossible to find yet still capable of being visualized or mapped or plotted. Withdrawn doesn’t mean spatially, or materially or temporally hidden yet capable of being found, if only in theory. Withdrawn means beyond any kind of access, any kind of perception or map or plot or test or extrapolation. You could explode a thousand nuclear bombs and you would not reveal the secret essence of the cinder block. You could plot the position and momentum of every single particle in the block (assuming you could get around Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle) and you wouldn’t discover the withdrawn essence of the block. Ten of the world’s greatest playwrights and film directors (let’s say Sophocles, Shakespeare, Garcia Lorca, Samuel Beckett, Akira Kurosawa and David Lynch just for starters) could write horrifying, profound tragedies and comedies and action movies about the block and still no one would be closer to knowing the essence of the block.Something tells me if I can understand the passage above I might just be able to pick up what Tim is putting down...