[-empyre-] Meillassoux / Harman

Thomas LaMarre, Prof. thomas.lamarre at mcgill.ca
Sat Jun 16 00:16:53 EST 2012


Hi all!

Likewise, I have been enjoying the exchange and hope it’s okay to intervene at such a late stage.  Here’s some of my thoughts...

In OOO/SR, we struggle against the expectation of a servile response on the part of objects.  We acknowledge them as actors, as modes of existence. But, as this discussion has pointed out, the next step — in which we don’t allow theory or philosophy to build in an expectation of servile response from those who engage in actual political struggles and social movements — is difficult.  Which is to say, university disciplines, academic exchanges, and conference circuits are structured in a way that tends to position certain domains of knowledge and certain objects as sources of raw data for theorization.  There persists, in institutionalized form, a presumption (even if we don’t share it) that theorists or philosophers generate new paradigms (usually around specific objects), and then those who deal with ‘older’ or less theorized objects are supposed to rush to fill in the gaps in the paradigm.  This presumption of a servile response might be one definition of a ‘masculinist’ stance that doesn’t wig out in a reactive way about the prevalence of white male europhones generating theory and philosophy.

Obviously the emphasis on objects in OOO/SR is opposed to such a knowledge/power formation. Yet we shouldn’t suppose that we can live up to this challenge by neatly dividing stuff up into new fields, namely, “I’ll do quasars, and you enter into struggles against the State with aboriginal people, but we’ll agree on OOO.” If, in contrast, the leveling effects of flat ontology are to be queering, we have to take seriously the ways in which expectations for a servile relation are built into our knowledge production.

In this respect, I wanted to pose a general question about phenomenology that may be related to such queering.  I hope it doesn’t seem too philosophical, but, as someone who is usually on the low theory side of things, I wanted to ask about one of things that I have not been able to sort out within OOO/SR: the status of transitivity and predication.  I am inspired here by Muriel Combes’s careful reading of Simondon, and it seems to me that the notion of ‘transductive being’ comes close to what we’re considering here as queering, while a phenomenology that sustains prediction in its approach to objects (objects + attributes) or remains in the domain of transitivity may be closer to the masculinist stance in that it still expects servility.

Here’s the citation from Combes that comes to mind:

“Following this ontogenetic perspective, the yellow color of sulfur must itself be explained as appearing in the course of the individuation that is operated within the superfused solution. Although Simondon does not speak of the formation of the color of sulfur, it seems important to signal that his description makes possible an ontogenesis of color, that is, an explication of the manner in which the yellow of sulfur is formed at the same time as the sulfur crystal; which is quite different from what a phenomenological description would give. In effect, phenomenology shares with the philosophy of individuation the rejection of the substantialist approach that believes itself capable of defining the object independently of the predicates that can be attributed to it; countering Descartes, it will say, for instance, that one cannot make yellow a predicate of the substance “wax,” that yellow is the yellow of the wax and the wax itself is nothing other than its yellow. Renaud Barbaras sums it up quite well when he writes that what Descartes could not admit was that “the iden­tity of the object is constituted straight from sensible qualities.” But this phenomenological approach, in which the object is transitive to its sensible qualities, is still distant from Simondon’s approach, in which the object is a transductive being: we might sum up what separates Simondon from phenomenology (despite his indebtedness to it, which he indicates by dedicating L’individu et sa genèse physico-biologique “to the memory of Maurice Merleau-Ponty”) by saying that it is not enough, in his view, to pay close attention to the movement of appearing and to identify an object with the appearing of its being, which assumes that a perceiving subject is given; our thinking still needs to go deeper into systems in formation, or, as he writes in the context of his description of the formation of a clay brick, “we would need to be able to enter into the mold with the clay.”

Isn’t entering into the mold with the clay, that is, transductive being, what we’re trying to get at with the questions about “not all objects exist equally.”

Thanks for making this so much fun!

Tom






On 15/06/12 1:29 AM, "lauren.berlant at gmail.com" <lberlant at aol.com> wrote:

Hi all!

I'm revving up for next week, but I would like to add some things to the discussion among Ian/Michael/Jack. I hope this will be useful. (Many of you are friends or friends-in-law, and I am showing fidelity to that by speaking and speaking frankly.)  I imagine that Patricia, having come to speak speculative realism, will have lots to say about this discussion too.  Me, I work on affects of attachment and the ways those dynamic movements within proximity engender forms of life--I'm on the Latour side of things, resonating with it through Laplanchean anaclitic psychoanalysis and an aesthetics derived from, without being orthodoxly, Spivak (unlearning), Deleuze ([un]becoming), and Cavell (ordinary language philosophy). Or, I'm a materialist queer writing sentences to induce some arts of transformation, which is I think why I am here, although I've wondered about that during the last few weeks.

1. Re the Bogost/Halberstam convo.

 Ian writes that "all objects equally exist, but not all objects exist equally," and I couldn't agree more. But like Jack I think it matters to attend to the relative impact of both clauses of this statement.  If you believe it then you have also to account for your own prioritization of things that seem normatively to be things over things that normatively seem to be human. As Jack points out, there's a complex political and definitional history there.

2.  But more interesting to me--and addressed to us all, not just Ian--why should thinking about things in relation not be interfered with by other idioms?  Recalling Zach's entries and my own inclinations too, where does interference (the glitch suspending the movement of the system, the noise that proceeds within which form manifests, take your pick) make its way into our methods, imaginaries, or concepts?  Why is Jack's attention to the history of what classes are served by disciplinary conventions deemed some kind of threat to productive conversation?

Those of us who write from queer/feminist/antiracist/anticolonial commitments have debated a lot whether, how, and when it matters that some statements are held true as though the second clause,"but not all objects exist equally," didn't exist (this is, I think, Jack's argument against abstraction and universalism).  I like abstraction and universalism more than Jack does, but that's because my orientation is to want more of everything. not less of some things. I want the terms of transformation to proceed  through idiomatic extension and interruption, huge swoops and medial gestures, the internal frottage of contradiction and irreconcilable evidence... I'm an impurist.  What are the incommensurate ways we can address the scene of that thing in a way that changes that thing?

As Jack writes, it matters who is cited:  who we think with and the citations that point to them build and destroy worlds, they're both media and bugs in world-building. The clash of intellectual idioms is a political question too because it shapes the imaginary of description and exemplification. The clash of idioms is inconvenient, and I would like also to say that it's part of a queer problematic represented here certainly by Zach and Michael and Jack and me too, although I sense that where Jack and I are looking for discursive registers that allow us to say everything we know in all the ways we know it,  Zach and Michael's fantastic written work is more likely to make arguments in specific idioms (sometimes sounding all cultural studies, sometimes critical theory, sometimes arguing in the modes of disciplinary philosophy) depending on the conversation.  We might also talk about polemics v analytics. I'm less polemical than some of us here.

I think it's important that we talk about this question of knowledge worlds (of accessibility, of purity [high/low, disciplinary/transdisciplinary/undisciplined/syncretic epistemologies and idioms]), in a discussion of queer new media and of how its criticality can operate.

3.  Re Michael/Jack's argument about masculinism, Warner, etc.  I kind of agree with Michael and Ian that calling something masculinist (from you, Jack, that's kind of astonishing, but of course it was a shorthand for the elevation of abstraction over sensual life in all of its riven contestations) is probably not too clarifying or accurate, but it is pointing to something important, which has to do with "all objects equally exist, but not all objects exist equally."  Warner's practice has always been to posit queer as a practice and orientation as against identity politics, which he takes to be over-bound to the signifier (as does Edelman).  My orientation has been to attend what happens when we mix things up, or remix things up, and as I have written collaboratively with these two guys and been cast as the vulgarer in both cases, all I can say is it's always instructive to enter into the affective space where some things are anchors so other things can change. That's true for all of our practices, which is why I've spent some time here pondering what kinds of argument have gotten bracketed or foreclosed so that other things can seem innovative and productive...

Ta!  This is fun!
LB

Lauren Berlant
George M. Pullman Professor
Department of English
University of Chicago
Walker Museum 413
1115 E. 58th. St.
Chicago IL 60637


-----Original Message-----
From: Ian Bogost <ian.bogost at lcc.gatech.edu>
To: soft_skinned_space <empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au>
Sent: Thu, Jun 14, 2012 8:50 pm
Subject: Re: [-empyre-] Meillassoux / Harman

Joe,

Thanks for these great comments.

I think it is because this resonance seems so fruitful to me that I am perplexed by some of the claims by proponents of OOO that the political can be separated from claims about the ontological if we are constrained in our own ways by our as-structures, then right from the outset we encounter the world of human and non-human objects as profoundly political, raising uncanny questions of co-existence whether we are human subjects or neutrinos or cypress-flames. So OOO, far from allowing us to discuss "what exists" in politically neutral spaces, rather radicalises the political questions of ecology and "being-with" into the realm of the non-human, so that all objects are trying to 'work out' how to exist with each other whether to congregate or flee, embrace or destroy, swap DNA and code sequences, or annex and withdraw.  This doesn't prescribe a particular flavour of politics, but it does seem to make the political at least "equiprimordial" with the ontological.  I'd love to hear people's responses to these thoughts if you have anything to share.

I don't think I find anything objectionable here, save the (perhaps?) implied conclusion that objects "working out" of mutual co-existence is best called "politics." Sure, we can call it that, words are words after all, and perhaps it's an appropriate metaphor. After all, as you rightly say, those of us who embrace the tool-being as a fact of all things also acknowledge the incompleteness of this grasping of other objects.

However, this is a very different idea than the usual one, that politics is *our* politics, is a normative or descriptive account of human social behavior. It's this conceit that bothers OOO, that politics-for-humans could be taken as first philosophy.

If I can be permitted the indulgence of quoting myself at absurd length, here's how I attempt to address the matter in Alien Phenomenology (pp 78-79), on the topic of ethics rather than politics:

Can we even imagine a speculative ethics? Could an object characterize the internal struggles and codes of another, simply by tracing and reconstructing evidence for such a code by the interactions of its neighbors? It’s much harder than imagining a speculative alien phenomenology, and it’s easy to understand why: we can find evidence for our speculations on perception, like radiation tracing the black hole’s event horizon, even if we are only ever able to characterize the resulting experiences as metaphors bound to human correlates. The same goes for the Foveon sensor, the piston, the tweet, and the soybean, which can only ever grasp the outside as an analogous struggle. The answer to correlationism is not the rejection of any correlate but the acknowledgment of endless ones, all self-absorbed, obsessed by givenness rather than by turpitude. The violence or ardor of piston and fuel is the human metaphorization of a phenomenon, not the ethics of an object. It is not the relationship between piston and fuel that we frame by ethics but our relationship to the relationship between piston and fuel. Of course, this can be productive: ethical principles can serve as a speculative characterization of object relations. But they are only metaphorisms, not true ethics of objects.

Unless we wish to adopt a strictly Aristotelian account of causality and ethics, in which patterns of behavior for a certain type can be tested externally for compliance, access to the ethics of objects will always remain out of reach. It is not the problem of objectification that must worry us, the opinion both Martin Heidegger and Levinas hold (albeit in different ways). Despite the fact that Levinas claims ethics as first philosophy, what he gives us is not really ethics but a metaphysics of intersubjectivity that he gives the name “ethics.” And even then, Levinas’s other is always another person, not another thing, like a soybean or an engine cylinder (never mind the engine cylinder’s other!). Before it could be singled out amid the gaze of the other, the object-I would have to have some idea what it meant to be gazed on in the first place. Levinas approaches this position himself when he observes, “If one could possess, grasp, and know the other, it would not be other.” That is, so long as we don’t mind only eating one flavor of otherness.

Timothy Morton observes that matters of ethics defer to an “ethereal beyond.” We always outsource the essence of a problem, the oil spill forgotten into the ocean, the human waste abandoned to the U-bend. Ethics seems to be a logic that lives inside of objects, inaccessible from without; it’s the code that endorses expectation of plumbing or the rejoinder toward vegetarianism.

We can imagine scores of bizarro Levinases, little philosopher machines sent into the sensual interactions of objects like planetary rovers. Their mission: to characterize the internal, withdrawn subjectivities of various objects, by speculating on how object–object caricatures reflect possible codes of value and response. Object ethics, it would seem, can only ever be theorized once-removed, phenomenally, the parallel universes of private objects cradled silently in their cocoons, even while their surfaces seem to explode, devour, caress, or murder one another.

Morton offers an alternative: a hyperobject, one massively distributed in space-time. The moment we try to arrest a thing, we turn it into a world with edges and boundaries. To the hammer everything looks like a nail. To the human animal, the soybean and the gasoline look inert, safe, innocuous. But to the soil, to the piston? Ethical judgment itself proves a metaphorism, an attempt to reconcile the being of one unit in terms of another. We mistake it for the object’s withdrawn essence.

This confusion of the withdrawn and the sensual realms allows us to make assumptions about the bean curd and combustion engine just as we do with oceans and sewers, drawing them closer and farther from us based on how well they match our own understanding of the world. But when there is no “away,” no unit outside to which we can outsource virtue or wrongdoing, ethics itself is revealed to be a hyperobject: a massive, tangled chain of objects lampooning one another through weird relation, mistaking their own essences for that of the alien objects they encounter, exploding the very idea of ethics to infinity.

We can imagine scores of bizarro Levinases, little philosopher machines sent into the sensual interactions of objects like planetary rovers. Their mission: to characterize the internal, withdrawn subjectivities of various objects, by speculating on how object–object caricatures reflect possible codes of value and response. Object ethics, it would seem, can only ever be theorized once-removed, phenomenally, the parallel universes of private objects cradled silently in their cocoons, even while their surfaces seem to explode, devour, caress, or murder one another.

Ian

On Jun 14, 2012, at 9:02 PM, Joe Flintham wrote:



Hello
 Forgive me I'm a first time poster with a long history of lurking here and a some-time fascination with SR/OOO, and thankyou to everyone here for an exciting discussion.  I wanted to write something both as a way of thinking it through and asking the contributors about the possibility of separating the political from the ontological.

 Tim Morton recently in one of his podcast classes on OOO summarised the development of SR/OOO as a response to correlationism, noting that where the Meillassoux strand of SR admires the correlationist approach and attempts to ground or legitimise the correlate, OOO instead accepts the correlationist limit but extends it to all relations, human and non-human. Perhaps I could borrow from the Heidegger legacy that comes through Harman to this analysis and say that OOO acknowledges the 'as-structure' that characterises being, and radicalises it to be a feature of all relations, rather than just human Dasein. I encounter you *as* something, as you encounter me; the cotton encounters fire *as* something, just as fire encounters cotton.

 I therefore understand OOO not as a way to provide an ontology that is independent of epistemology, but as a transformation of the question of "how we know what is in the world" from being 'merely' a methodological problem, to a fundamental feature of being both an "individual" or "object" (such as a human, a toaster, or a quasar) as well as a component in an assemblage or world. Everything is interconnected, albeit while negotiating a fundamental inner rift in which we also encounter ourselves *as* something.  Again following Harman and Morton's reading of y Gasset, relations are tropes rather than literal.

 In this sense the as-structure that runs through OOO thus seems to me to be very consonant with queer theories. No object is able to engage with other objects except through its own functional colouring, its own perceptual morphology, its own heritage and identity, whatever material or discursive agencies have been made to bear on that history. I understand Morton's take on the uncanny ecology in OOO to mean all objects confront each other suddenly as strangers, that we have no 'natural' categories to rely on, and no normative criteria to which we can appeal we can't even be certain of the extent to which we are either concrete individuals in our own right or fleeting instances playing the role of components within some larger being perhaps we are both both representatives of a form or type, but also withdrawn and thus always capable of being something else, someway else. In this respect it very much means that markers of the normal are awash and abandoned.  Perhaps some of the tropes that have characterised the development of SR horror, the weird, anxiety resonate with the experiences of abjection that make queer such a powerful resource.

 I think it is because this resonance seems so fruitful to me that I am perplexed by some of the claims by proponents of OOO that the political can be separated from claims about the ontological if we are constrained in our own ways by our as-structures, then right from the outset we encounter the world of human and non-human objects as profoundly political, raising uncanny questions of co-existence whether we are human subjects or neutrinos or cypress-flames. So OOO, far from allowing us to discuss "what exists" in politically neutral spaces, rather radicalises the political questions of ecology and "being-with" into the realm of the non-human, so that all objects are trying to 'work out' how to exist with each other whether to congregate or flee, embrace or destroy, swap DNA and code sequences, or annex and withdraw.  This doesn't prescribe a particular flavour of politics, but it does seem to make the political at least "equiprimordial" with the ontological.  I'd love to hear people's responses to these thoughts if you have anything to share.

 Thanks,
 Joe

 On 14/06/2012 23:35, Robert Jackson wrote:




Hey All, I've been subscribing to this mailing list for a while now, so I'm glad this debate is getting aired I just hope it doesn't inherit the unfortunate slippage of tone that the blogosphere features typically in these types of discussions.




So, I really don't understand this criticism of OOO, which tars the ontological 'equivalence' brush with capitalism or neo-liberalism. This is straightforward reductionism in my eyes. There are plenty of political questions which need asking. But asking the question 'what is' need not be a politically contentious one. This is what SR is precisely getting away from, no matter what anti-correlationist critique one advocates.





The key issue here is sovereignty. If a current position can articulate contingent surprise within an ontology that's a start (even the early zizek took the correlated 'Real' has a sovereign theoretical given, to which ideology conceals or masks). For my money OOO (which Levi Bryant has argued), has an interesting proposition in that one could potentially argue that all real objects have an ambigious sovereign inner core of surprise which can never be fully articulated, by anything: whether benvolent dust mite or proprietary software. This might be a starting point for discussion.




Best

Rob







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