Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Ontological Question?

What is a question? Not why do we question, but ultimately what is it that a question is? Is it an object? Does it have properties? Linguistically we can say they do, right? Or do questions exist as a form of translation? When we question someone or something what are we doing? Are we looking for information? Are we critiquing their points or egging them on? Are we attempting to invoke ideas, thoughts, differences, or affects? Or, are all questions doing just the same thing – waiting for a response? If so, who responds? Why do they respond? Is there a felt sense of duty to respond – a respons-ibility? Or are we asking questions in order to answer previous questions? If so, whose? Yours? Mine? Or, perhaps, Heidegger’s? Wasn’t Heidegger fascinated by questions? But, what were Heidegger’s questions? Wasn’t one of them the question of the meaning of Being? Wasn’t another the fundamental question of metaphysics, or why is there something instead of nothing? Didn’t he also ask, “What is a thing?” Are we now asking these same questions? Do we still not know what a thing is? Or was that the point of Heidegger’s question – to get at knowledge? Is that our point of asking the same question? Or do we have another question? What are the questions we are searching for in this new object-oriented way of thinking? Are we actually worried about things? If so, what are we worried about? Are we worried that objects can’t or won’t present themselves? Or are we determined to dethrone the human subject from its place in philosophy by focusing on things? Yet what happens if we are simply worried about things? Is there an ethics in dealing with things – even if this “dealing with” is a letting-be? In other words, what do we do with things? Can we, humans, even discuss things? What if Heidegger was correct when he said inherent in human Dasein is an incessant violence – that we find humans the uncanniest of the uncanny because of this reciprocal tension between dike and techne (Intro to Metaphysics)? Did he mean that humanity is the violent one, the one who oversteps his bounds in everything it does? Or did he mean that humanity, in its need to separate itself from the all encompassing, gathering-together of being, this real that is real for everything, is always battling for a place of its own, a unique clearing? And is not one way of clearing, of disclosing that is characteristic of the human, to ask questions? So, again, I have to ask: What question(s) are we asking in object-oriented philosophy?

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


In a couple of recent posts Levi has developed his notion that objects relate to each other via translation. This means for onticology that no two objects directly encounter each other, but that instead objects - and specifically 2 or more objects - inter-act through the process of interpretation of differences.

In answer to a couple of questions of mine, Levi states:

If it helps to visualize what is going on here, just think in terms of black boxes: actant1 (input) —-> actant2 (black box) —-> product (output). That’s all there is to it. Think about your phone. You have an input (electrical pulses), a black box (the phone itself), and the product (the sounds that come out of the receiver).

Therefore translation takes an actant (or object), interprets it, adds something new to it, and as a result produces something new. Another great example of this would be the process of photosynthesis. As Levi lays out in an older post:

Think about photosynthesis. Here we have photons of sunlight, the leaf and its photosynthetic cells, and the sugar produces. The leaf “translates” the photons of sunlight and produces something new: the complex sugars. There is no resemblance or identity between the photons of light and these complex sugars. Rather that sunlight becomes something new in passing through the medium of the photosynthetic cells.

So far I completely understand and agree with Levi's use of translation (I guess this is also Latour's, as well). But where I struggle, especially after Levi was kind enough to explain this concept even further, is: what exactly happens during translation? What is translation? And why do some things get translated and others do not?

Translation is more than a simple replication. Translation always involves a certain degree of interpretation in which what is inputted is always changed or transformed - from photons of light to complex sugars. Objects translate each other, they change each other without encountering each other directly, which means that objects first and foremost recognize each other.

For leafs to translate photons of light into complex sugars, they must recognize the photons of light as photons of light. Just like we have to recognize the word unheimlich as German in order to translate it, objects must recognize other objects in order to translate them. In other words, the leaf doesn't attempt to translate any and all objects into complex sugars, but to some degree sees (not literally) the photons of light as being translatable. But even this recognition adds confusion, as we can now say that objects predict, expect, or anticipate other objects - they recognize potential.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Allusion and Influence: How to Say and Do Something Without Having to Say or Do It

In Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics Kant argues that:

On the contrary, I say that as objects of our senses existing outside us are given, but we know nothing of what they may be in themselves, knowing only their appearances, i.e., the representations which they cause in us by affecting our senses. Consequently, I grant by all means that there are bodies without us, that is, things in themselves, we yet know by the representations which their influence on our sensibility procures us, and which we call bodies. This word merely means the appearance of the thing, which is the unknown to us but is not therefore less real. Can this be termed idealism? It is the very contrary. (298 - pg.33).

In Prince of Networks Harman states:

When the hammer surprises us with its breakdown, the exact character of this surprise can admittedly be described by various predicates. But note that ‘surprise’ is only the phenomenal result of the previously concealed hammer. The veiled, underground hammer cannot be identified with the surprises it generates, since these merely allude to its existence. (Allusion and allure are legitimate forms of knowledge, but irreducible to specific predicates.) (225)

And in a recent blog post he gives us another statement on allusion:

The point is that you don’t just have the options of saying something or not saying it. There is also a way of saying something without saying it: we allude to it. The same is true of thinking: it is quite easy to think of something without thinking it in the full-blown sense: “The tree that exists outside thought” is such a case. Here, I allude to the tree. As Levi wonderfully put it earlier this fall, my inability to “know” the tree in the full sense is turned from an obstacle to realism and metaphysics into the very condition of it.

For Kenneth Burke in Grammar of Motives, on the crossing over the gap between the phenomenal and noumenal realms:

The thinkable but unknowable noumenal realm, then, was taken [by Kant] as the ground of the phenomenal realm. But we slid over a Grammatical embarrassment. If the phenomenal is the realm of relationships, and the noumenal is the realm of the things-in-themselves (i.e., without relationships), just how could there be a bond between the two realms? … Kant compromised a weasel word, saying that the noumenal “influences” the phenomenal. (198).

My question is, then, what's the point for rhetoric? Isn't allusion just another "weasel word"? If we can't ever know objects by way of language and objects never fully let themselves appear in the first place, what's left? To speculate? On what? To allude to or speak of influences? What for?

Or does this involve the rhetorician becoming a constant mediator? A babbling machine that is always alluding, explicating surprises, and arousing influences? The rhetorician, instead, becomes a stepping stone in the walkway between the thing-in-itself and the language we use to describe it. It seems to me that to practice rhetoric in an object-oriented philosophy is less about persuasion of action, than it is about persuasion of language. To say something without saying it means that we must spend even more time focused in on the words we use, the examples we give, and perhaps objects we choose to discuss - in effect, to bring poetry back into the equation.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Ontic Principle in 1909!?!

David, a friend of mine, found this in James Bissett Pratt's book What is Pragmatism? (1909). Could this be an early form of the Ontic Principle?

(from page 6)


Tuesday, October 6, 2009

3 Types of Relationships Between Selfish Objects - A Brief Outline

In my last post I argued that Levi’s onticological objects are selfish in nature – that is, that if defined by the Ontic Principle, objects must produce with an indifference to what they are producing. This indifference to the product (or the difference made), I argued, is what made the object ontologically selfish, since it is only worried about producing (i.e., keeping its ontological status as real). But this got me wondering what types of relationships could such ontologically selfish objects have?

Yet before I answer this question, I have to bring up a question of my own. For onticology, every object is radically split between exo- and endo- relationships. Exo-relations are between object and object, while endo-relations are internal to an object independent of any other object. My question, then, has to do with the paradoxical nature of such a split, when ultimately all that is needed in order to be is to be-a-difference that makes-a-difference. Therefore, why split the object? What good does this do since objects, regardless of scale, are all differences that make a difference? How can endo-relations be distinguished from exo-relations (unless by an observer)? Aren’t we essentially talking about a multitude of objects in relation to each other?

So in what follows I would like to briefly outline three types of relations that selfish objects have with each other. Please keep in mind that this is an outline, so I’ve in no way concretized my thoughts. But, I feel that such an outline allows me to not only answer how selfish objects – that is, objects which only seem to reinstate their own ontological status as real by indifferently producing differences – come into relation with other selfish objects, but also how essential it is to deny the split Levi finds necessary to discuss objects in the first place.

3 Types of Relationships Between Selfish Objects:

1) Cooperation: In perhaps the most common type of relationship between objects, differences made are differences that make, with little to no reciprocity between the objects in the relationship. In other words, as an object makes a difference, this difference (as object) makes its own differences which do not directly affect the parent difference, and so on. Metaphorically speaking, we can think of the movement associated with this type of relationship as runners in a relay race, each of whom runs in their own style and with their own object-hood, but nonetheless all have a simple relation to each other runner. However, this might not be the best example since the baton might be taken literally as the same difference, when in onticology this is never the case given Latour’s Principle (that there is no transportation without translation). Regardless, cooperation is often weak, and weakens as the chain of differences lengthens.

2) Collaboration: In this type of relationship objects maintain difference production in a more reciprocal nature, unlike in cooperation. For collaboration, two or more objects benefit from the same relation (i.e., they depend upon each other). Unlike in simple cooperation (which we could read as the simple onticological necessity for beings even to exist), collaboration requires that at least one of the objects involved both makes and is made by another object (difference). Such a relationship maintains the object’s selfishness, since ultimately every object involved satisfies the drive of being, yet at the same time collaboration allows for a slightly stronger tie between objects. An example of this relationship would be the way in which the organs in my body each rely upon each other. So that my heart depends upon my lungs to provide it with enough oxygen, and my lungs depend upon my heart to pump blood to them. Collaboration can be either weak or strong, with the objects’ own dependence upon each other being the deciding factor.

3) Collusion: Finally, we have the most important yet most complex relationship between objects. In collusion the ties between objects are so strong that ultimately this relationship itself becomes an object in its own right – that is, the relationship makes its own difference. The collusive relationship obtains ontological status by making its own differences. This is as close to an idea of form as we can possibly get, since one of our goals here is to deny the split object, which presupposes form in the exo-relation. Therefore, instead of discussing a table as having an endo-relation between its parts (its four legs and flat top) and an exo-relation as a complete table, collusion allows for a single relationship between all of the objects involved. It is because of the strong collusive relationship between the parts of the table that the table exists as a whole. And it is because of the strong collusive relationship of the particles in the wood that the table’s legs, or it’s top exists, and so on. This relationship also allows for the irreducibility claimed by onticology since no object can ever be reduced to any other object – or the table (as a collusive relationship) cannot be reduced to a single leg, or the top; but is instead the complete relationship between all of the parts. In this way collusion is different than both cooperation and collaboration since it provides the structure for a new object or a new difference to be made.

Friday, October 2, 2009

TV Shows and Tube Socks: Same Difference

Deleuze distinguishes between difference in his terms and empirical difference. Empirical difference distinguishes between two objects – "x differs from y." For Deleuze, though, difference is even prior to this empirical differentiation as a principle. In other words, there has to be a sufficient reason for x to differ from y, and this sufficient reason – this process – is difference. Difference "becomes a transcendental principle that constitutes the sufficient reason of empirical diversity as such" (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosphy). Difference is what makes differentiation possible. It is no longer an identity (x differs from y), but should be seen as the process (context or grounds) for such actualization to take place.

As I understand it, this is why for Levi, if we have a world made up of a single substance, a color or a sound, even though nothing else exists to distinguish this singularity by or from, this entity in and of itself is a difference – that is, it is the condition for differences to be created. Yet, with Levi's onticology and his definition of differences, this condition or possibility for the creation of differences is turned into a necessity – for there is no difference that does not make a difference. Every difference must make differences, or every difference must produce. But what I find incredibly interesting is that in discussing objects in terms of Deleuzean differences, we have shifted from a discussion of product – What is produced? Why it is important? What can it do for Me? – to one of production – How and under what conditions do differences get made? In other words, if difference is a necessary product of the process of difference, then this differenc-as-product is unimportant or in-different. So for example, suppose we have object A, and object A fulfills the requirements of an object under onticology – that is, it is a difference that makes a difference. If object A must produce in order to maintain its ontological status as real, then it must persistently produce differences, and it does so always in relation to other objects. Therefore, the differences produced by object A are in-different to the relationships (whether exo- or endo-) between object A and this other object. What is important is how and under what conditions object A produces these differences – as I say in my composition course, process over product.

If we want to look at this from a Lacanian point of view, we can think of it in terms of desire, drive, and objet petit a. In The Four Fundamental Concepts, Lacan states:

Even when you stuff the mouth – the mouth that opens in the register of the drive – it is not the food that satisfies it, it is, as one says, the pleasure of the mouth.[…]

This is what Freud tells us. Let us look at what he says – As far as the object in the drive is concerned, let it be clear that it is strictly speaking, of no importance. It is a matter of total indifference. (167-68)

What Lacan finds here is that the object we supposed would satisfy the drive or the larger desire is of no real importance – that is, this object could be anything: chips, candy, or a four-course meal. It doesn't matter. Instead, the satisfaction of this drive is fulfilled by something other than the food – it is the pleasure of the mouth, the process of desire that succeeds in satisfying said desire. Food, itself, is completely indifferent. What is misperceived is what Lacan calls the object cause of desire, or objet petit a – the necessity of pleasing the desire, not the object of momentary fixation (in this case, food).

For onticology, if the production of differences (exo- or endo- ) is a necessary condition for existence and the difference itself, then the satisfaction of this necessity, of this drive to produce, can only be met by producing and not by any of the actual differences produced. Difference becomes the drive of Being – the process of producing process.

But what about the second half of the Deleuzean process – repetition? Of what importance does it hold in onticology, if any? For Deleuze repetition is more than the simple mechanical replication of an object. It is the repetition of the singular, and in this way gives structure to difference as a process. Repetition is the actualization of a difference from a difference. In other words, every repetition is unique. That is, it contains something the parent difference did not.

In onticology, however, the parent object does not distinguish itself from its progeny, or the difference made. Instead, the repetition (by being a difference itself) is already distinguished. And in this distinguishing, in this actualization of a difference from the original process of difference, a creation (or genesis) takes place – new differences are born. Or in diagram form:

The only problem with the above diagram is that it supposes an original difference, which under onticology is impossible. To be a difference is to not only make a difference but also to be made by a previous difference. There is always a prior and subsequent difference to every other difference.

And it is in this way that onticology denies both a singular, unchanging monad or object, but it also denies an origin object. By origin object, I simply mean a difference that started it all – that is, a difference with no prior differences. Therefore we would have to redraw our diagram to look like:

Difference (as a process), then, makes differences (or actualizes them) and is itself actualized by a previous difference. This is why I feel we can call difference the process of being. Difference needs a before and after, and in this way is reliant upon other objects (whether internal or external to itself). The point that I have been leading up to, however, is this: these other objects are always indifferent others.

If objects are processes (thought of like drives or desire) then products are of little importance to the process itself. But, it seems to me, if what this process creates is simply similar processes, then the product becomes even less important or indifferent to the overall chain. We might be able to think of this last point in terms of a factory. Now the goal of a factory is to produce an object. But as far as the factory itself is concerned, this object is of little importance. The factory simply needs to produce to stay in business, for if the factory stops producing it is shut down or ceases to exist. If being is the process of difference, of making differences, then (again) the difference produced is indifferent to the original process. The factory of being simply needs to produce. We can take our example one step further and say that all objects in onticology seem to be factories of this sort – except that what they are producing are other factories of the same sort (and these factories are doing the same, ad infinitum). Therefore, if being is determined not by the material (or what these factories are made of), the formal (or what shape they take), or the final (or what they produce), then efficiency is all that is needed. To be is to be efficient, to be-produced and produce-being.

Now let me clarify and muddle this last statement with something I said earlier. If difference is only worried about the production of difference and not about the produced difference itself, and if we find the Ontic Principle (that there is no difference that does not make a difference) to express the notion that "to be means to be-produced and to produce-being," then being qua being is ultimately indifferent to everything else. Being, as a process, as difference, exists solely for itself – that is, for the process of being. Unlike an object that has being for others – that has a duty towards or cares for an other object – the onticological object has being only for itself. It is a selfish object, an object that gives but gives only to please itself, to satisfy the drive and desire of difference.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Zombies vs. Humans: Materialism or Immaterialism

In a response to a nagging question I had about how object-oriented thought handles the particle physics notion of the Standard Model – that is, the most fundamental particles of physical reality – Levi, over at LavalSubjects, states:

I think the answer to this question lies in the point that OOO is not a materialism but a realism. Within my onticology, the sole criteria for existing is the production of differences. These differences need not be physical differences. In this respect, OOO is a slutty ontology or a promiscuous ontology, as it affirms the existence of a wide variety of objects, not all of which are physical. It might very well turn out that there are smallest possible particles within physics (it's an empirical question, not a question that can be answered a priori), but since the real is not exhausted by the material such a discovery would not undermine the infinite decomposibility of being.

In other words, for Levi, even if we scientifically prove that material existence can be decomposed into 6 or so specific particles, such decomposition is in no way exhaustive for all being. For Levi, being is more than just materiality; it is also immateriality, fictional, and symbolic. And in this way, onticology is inclusive, slutty, or promiscuous. It does not discriminate between objects.

Digging its way up from my thoughts, the zombie seems to become of interest once again. One of the largest complaints against the zombie was that it presented the human as mindless, when clearly we are not. However, let's suppose a world propagated only with such beings – that is, a world with only zombies (no "humans"). Zombies, as I originally posted on, become troubling for the object-oriented philosopher because they are humans without "humanity." That is, the zombie exists without language, creativity, and the ability to fantasize. They are merely physical beings without thought.

In such a world, ontology would be swallowed up by science, for there would be no need to discuss anything other than the material world. There would only need to be the Standard Model of particle physics to describe the world and the beings that make up the world. Yet, as the object-oriented philosopher (and any rational mind, for that matter) would point out with enthusiastic objection, we do not live in such a world. We not only live in a world with people, pets, and playgrounds. But we live with pirates, politics, and Harry Potter. Our world is one of material and immaterial existence. A world object-oriented thought wishes to understand.

However, if we accept the two worlds as coexisting, then what does object-oriented thought actually philosophizing about? Or to put this another way, if the physical side of reality (our zombie world) can be explained away by particle physics and the Standard Model, what can object-oriented thought discuss? Is object-oriented thought, then, only truly adding to the discourse on language, culture, and the immaterial world? And, can we split the two "realities" in the first place? Do we have to treat a person as both a zombie (explained away by particle physics) and a human (explained away by philosophy)? Finally, should and can object-oriented thinking move outside of the realm of the symbolic and into the material, physical, and zombie-filled arena?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Uncanniest of the Uncanny

Over at Larval Subjects, Levi has created a well-developed and nuanced ontology of objects he has affectionately called, Onticology. In short, his idea of an object-oriented-ontology is one of differences, but more importantly, it is about objects. His thoughts go something like, anything that makes a difference is – that is objects are a difference that make a difference. Without going into detail about how objects actually do this (in all honesty I don't think I understand all of it myself), suffice it to say, Onticology along with other forms of object-oriented thinking wish ultimately to dethrone humanity from its pedestal of Being to show that humans are themselves objects in a complex network of object-object relationships.

Have we become so narcissistic and self-righteous that we see ourselves as lords over Being? It would appear so. How did we get this way? And by asking these questions am I simply feeding the beast that is the human project, or do I need to ignore or bracket the human before I get a better understanding of object-ness and how objects work?

In my study of the un-canny, I've been especially drawn to Heidegger. Not because he specifically discusses the uncanny as a state of mind in Being and Time (a state of mind that along with anxiety leaves us open to the call to conscience), but more importantly because in Introduction to Metaphysics he recognizes the un-canniness of humanity and its relationship to the world. After giving us a selection from Antigone, Heidegger reads humanity as deinon – un-canny. He writes, "The human being is to deinotaton, the uncanniest of the uncanny" (159). However, we should realize that what Heidegger has in mind when he talks about deinon as uncanny is different than the common definition of the uncanny as unhomely, strange, or out of place, but it is also slightly different than his previous definition of the uncanny as a feeling we have "in" anxiety and "in-the-world" (Being and Time 233).

In Introduction to Metaphysics, Heidegger splits deinon (the uncanny) into two parts: 1) the overwhelming and 2) violence-doing. He states:

On the one hand, deinon names the terrible, but it does not apply to petty terrors and does not have the degenerate, childish, and useless meaning that we give the word today when we call something "terribly cute." The deinon is the terrible in the sense of the overwhelming sway, which induces panicked fear, true anxiety, as well as collected, inwardly reverberating, reticent awe. The violent, the overwhelming is the essential character of the sway itself. When the sway breaks in, it can keep its overwhelming power to itself. But this does not make it more harmless but only more terrible and distant.

But on the other hand, deinon means the violent in the sense of one who needs to use violence – and does not just have violence at his disposal but is violence-doing, insofar as using violence is the basic trait not just of his doing but of his Dasein. […]

Being as a whole, as the sway, is the overwhelming, deinon in the first sense. But humanity is deinon, first, inasmuch as it remains exposed to this overwhelming sway, because it essentially belongs to Being. However, humanity is also deinon because it is violence-doing in the sense we have indicated [It gathers what holds sway and lets it enter into an openness.] Humanity is violence doing not in addition to and aside from other qualities but solely in the sense that from the ground up and in its doing violence, it uses violence against the over-whelming. Because it is doubly deinon in an originally united sense, it is to deinontaton, the most violent: violence-doing in the midst of the overwhelming. (160).

In other words, Heidegger finds the uncanny as consisting of two sides, both making up humanity and its approach to the world. First we have Being as a whole, as an overwhelming sway which collects everything. Being, a flat (not flattening) Being, is the set of every object including humans. For Heidegger, "the deinon as the overwhelming is manifested in the fundamental Greek word dike. We translate this word as fittingness <Fug>" (171). Dike, as the Being of beings, is fittingness or enjoining in that it requires objects to fit-in, in compliance. All objects are. Every object (including humans), then, belongs to this overwhelming sway of dike.

Yet, since Heidegger continuously finds humanity to be to deinontaton, or uncanniest of the uncanny, there is also a doubling of this Being, manifested in our need to do violence against dike, or Being itself. For this violence-doing, Heidegger substitutes the Greek word techne, stating that, "techne means neither art nor skill, and it means nothing like technology in the modern sense. We translate techne as "knowing" (169). And this type of knowing found in techne as violence-doing is "the ability to set Being [dike] into work as something that in each case is in such and such a way" (170). To clarify, techne as "putting-to-work" is more than a creation, a making, or an artwork; but is a presentation of Being (dike) so that everything in a work of art can be seen, studied, and understood "as a being, or else as an unbeing" (170). If we paint a bowl of fruit, for example, we have put Being, as dike or the overwhelming sway, to work in the bowl of fruit. We have used the object to open up what it means to "be" an object. We attempt to know, to understand through our constant attempts at techne, at putting Being to work in beings. And it is this knowing that Heidegger finds humanity at its most violent. For, "in the reciprocal relation between them [between dike and techne] is the happening of uncanniness" (176).

It would seem then, that if it were our goal to stop the violence against Being, a violence that repeatedly puts Being to work in objects and consequently puts humanity on the ontological throne, then more than a mere theory of objects would be needed. We would, instead, somehow need to undo the violence we've already done, or at least attempt to do no further violence. But how do we do this, if (especially in Heidegger's point of view) this violence is part of our double-uncannines, of who we are as a group of beings? Do we stop working in the sense of techne? Should we all become lazy, and through our laziness let the object be? Or should we attempt to find our place (our home, if you will) in this overwhelming sway of Being, of dike? But in doing so, can we quell the need to put Being to work for us? Isn't any ontology, in the end, for us?

I am reminded here by something Derrida said in his reading of Potacka in The Gift of Death, where he states "Force has become the modern figure of being. Being has allowed itself to be determined as a calculable force, and man, instead of relating to the being that is hidden under this figure of force, represents himself as quantifiable power" (37). We have stopped trying to relate to Being and stopped trying to find our home in the world, and instead have decided Being is for-us. Don't get me wrong, object-oriented thought seems to be moving us in the right direction, but on some level I can't help but feel unsatisfied. What is needed, still, I feel, is a relational ontology that doesn't place humanity at the center of it (where everything else revolves around human), but that attempts to find a place for humanity within the overwhelming sway of objects – a sort of real estate ontology. But such an ontology also requires a techne that is self-aware, and in its self-awareness takes responsibility for uncovering Being, including human un-canniness. For an ontology of the Being of beings is at the same time a call for ethical treatment of objects, so that we never again do violence toward them.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Death Set

We could easily argue that a closed set is only closed by way of an other. Or to put this another way, we must have something which does not belong to the set in order have a set. A good example of this would be any of the cliques in an American high school. For the "jocks" to exist as a set, you must have a person or group of people who do not belong to the group – so you have the Goths, the Nerds, etc. Each group can be defined by what it is not, but more importantly, each group only exists if something escapes it. Perhaps we could best understand this by way of Fink:

For what could it possibly mean to speak of the set of all signifiers? As soon as we attempt to designate such a set, we add a new signifier to the list: the "Other" (with a capital "O"). That signifier is not yet included within the set of all signifiers (figure 3.1).

Other ( )

Let us include that new signifier within the set. We change the set in so doing and can now justifiably rename it, as it no longer escapes the same set. Suppose we call it the "complete Other" (figure 3.2).

Complete Other (Other)

This new name, however, is not yet part of the set. To include it would involve changing the set, and once again call for a new name (figure 3.3).

Complete Other 2 ( Complete Other )

The process can be repeated endlessly, proving that the supposed set of all signifiers can never be complete."

In other words, there can be no set that contains all other sets. Something must escape. But what about a set where before nothing escapes? What about death?

Creation, in John W. Lango's account of Whitehead's Ontology, is opposite eternality. Or, to put this another way, "An entity is created if an only if it is not eternal" (77). For Lango, we can read Whitehead's ontology as having to do with objects interacting with other objects – a process Lango terms synonty. Being, as Lango puts it, "is, more appropriately, a relation between entities…Thus [Whitehead's] types of entity are defined by the principle that entities have being for one another (i.e., are synontic)" (1). But there is a primal difference between beings that are created and beings that are eternal. For Lango, "An entity is eternal if and only if it is synontic to every other entity and every other entity is synontic to it. An entity is created if and only if it is not synontic to some other entity or some other entity is not synontic to it" (77). Finitude can be read, then, as being a closed set of created objects; but only if we have an eternal object, only if we have something outside the closed set.

Immortality or the eternal object is usually given to the gods. In the animal world death is a natural process that eventually overtakes most living tissue – or so I believed. I had heard of amoebas cheating death by replication but was not sure if this was the same thing as an eternal object, because in this process of replication there exists a time (t) where amoeba A is physically separate from amoeba B, even though they both share identical biological makeup. But recently I came across the hydra – a freshwater animal in the class Hydrozoa. What's interesting about the hydra is its ability to regenerate at the cellular level, making it seemingly immortal. According to Daniel E. Martinez in his article found here:

Escaping senescence, however, might be restricted to animals with simpler, dynamic bodies that can be constantly renewed from populations of stem cells. Given the tissue dynamics of hydra, over a period of four years somatic epithelial cells have divided on average 300 times and the whole hydra body may have been fully replaced at least 60 times. The evolution of more complex bodies with tissues and organs with a higher degree of specialization might have resulted in, or perhaps required, a loss of the capacity of renewal and thus permitted the evolution senescence. (224)

What I find incredibly interesting about this passage is Martinez's claim that senescence (or natural aging) is evolutionary – and via this claim, that death too is a creation of our evolutionary process. The hydra, in other words, makes death as a closed set possible. It is that eternal entity which has synonty with all other entities through its being immortal. The following graph from Martinez's article best sums up anything I left to say:

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Ontology of the Living Dead

Admittedly my first formulation of the zombie was slightly vague, and given the responses (both positive and negative) over at Larval Subjects, Ian Bogost, and Hyper tiling, it seemed to be confusing, as well. So I hope this second post clarifies a few points, but I can make no promises.

Given that my discussion of the zombie started with a notion that it was opposite the cute object, I would like to bring up a similar object to use for comparison and contrast: the ugly object. In The Abyss of Freedom, Zizek makes the following remarks about ugliness and the ugly object:

The ugly object is an object that is in the wrong place, that "shouldn't be there." This does not mean that the ugly object is no longer ugly the moment we relocate it to its proper place; rather, an ugly object is "in itself" out of place, on account of the distorted balance between its 'representation' (the symbolic features we perceive) and 'existence' – being ugly, out-of-place, is the excess of existence over representation. Ugliness is thus a topological category; it designates an object and the space it occupies, or – to make the same point in a different way – between the outside (surface) of an object (captured by its representation) and its inside (formless stuff). In the case of beauty, we have in both cases a perfect isomorphism, while in the case of ugliness, the inside of an object somehow is (appears) larger than the outside of its surface representation (like the uncanny buildings in Kafka's novels that, once we enter them, appear much more voluminous than they seemed from the outside). (21-22)

If we consider the zombie opposite the cute object, then we wouldn't have to stretch our imaginations too far to think of it equivocal to the ugly object. Like the ugly object, then, the zombie shouldn't be there, it is out-of-place – a return of the dead. As my last post hinted at, cute objects (and objects of beauty) are absorbed by us, taken for granted, or easily passed on by. Zizek reinforces this claim when he notes that “in beauty we have in both cases [i.e., in representation and existence] a perfect isomorphism” or a one-to-one correspondence or similarity (representation = existence). Ugly objects, on the other hand, have more to them in their existence than their outward representations (representation < existence). They disturb us because we at times see the hidden, excessive elements that unsettle our sense of sameness and beauty. So, initially we can read the zombie as an ugly object.

Yet, as I previously stated, “zombies are all the same. A zombie biker is no more or less threatening than a zombie baker or zombie dog.” In other words, a zombie is a zombie is a zombie, regardless of race, class, gender, or species. So, ontologically speaking, zombies are beautiful objects, perfect balances between representation and existence, for without the ability to signify their existence there is nothing else to the zombie beyond its desire. But isn't this a contradiction? It doesn't have to be. I would argue that zombies (as well as other objects) can be both beautiful and ugly.

What I hope comes from this discussion is to show how as of now, there seems to be a single understanding of objects. For both OOP and OOO, all objects are ugly. All objects have something hidden or secret which does not make itself known upon immediate exposure in an encounter either with humans or other objects. Representation and existence are in no way equal.

Yet, oddly, in their approach to the zombie, both OOP and OOO find the zombie as a physical (and perhaps mental/psychological) threat – that humanity is more than the zombie, and how dare you say otherwise. But in doing so, they are only recognizing the beauty of the zombie, or that the zombie somehow reduces humanity to an isomorphic blob. Or to put this another way, they are only recognizing the similarity between all zombies, that a zombie is a zombie is a zombie.

Out of all the objects, they haven't found the zombie ugly, as itself consisting of a subterranean existence that is a lot larger than its initial representation. For let us not forget that what makes the zombie more frightening than, say the android, is that the zombie is/was human. And this hint of humanity, the larger part of the zombie's existence, is at times both beautiful and ugly, but perhaps this is why we find the zombie at the bottom of the Uncanny Valley -between the object and the human.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Zombies Ate My Ontology

For Postmodernism the cyborg seemed to represent a lot of what was being discussed. One of the reasons was that the cyborg, according to Donna Haraway, broke through crucial boundaries that had seemingly separated humanity from its world. The cyborg fused human, animal, organism, and machine into one being. It purposefully blurred boundaries and made murky the waters of pure humanism. Postmodernisms dealings with the cyborg allowed them to break free from dualisms and move beyond humanity – thus was born post-humanism.

But recent philosophical trends, mine included, have moved away from the transcendence of post-humanism to a philosophy that wishes to elevate all objects to the human level (or to lower the human to the level of all other objects). Because of this need to place all things on an equal playing field, Object-Oriented philosophy and ontology (hereto referred to as OOP/OOO) is forced to deal with its own creature.

Given the recent surge of game theory and technical talk seen on Larval Subject’s blog, and his recent post on the uncanny (YAY!!), I’ve been tempted again and again to draw attention to aesthetics, but especially to the Uncanny Valley. Developed by Japanese roboticist Masahiro Mori, the idea of the Uncanny Valley can best be summed up with help from his graph:

Seen here, before any form of technology, robotic or not, reaches an exact duplication of human speech, behavior, or physical appearance, it must cross the Uncanny Valley. For Mori, this valley represents the repulsion humanity has toward something that is like a human but is not, and the closer the object resembles a human, the stronger the feeling of disgust. It would seem, then, that as far as aesthetics are concerned, humanity prefers objects that keep their distance, that look different, that act different, that are different.

We could, however, interpret the pinnacle of this first peak in the graph (that peak level to the healthy human being) to be the place of human preference. And in the “still” graph (the solid line) we find a great example of such a preferential object – the stuffed animal. For the stuffed animal presents no threat to humanity, no need to differentiate it and any real animal.

And we could only assume, then, that the humanoid robot that the moving graph (the dotted line) suggests approaches the top of its peak might look something like ASIMO from Honda or the original NES R.O.B. which played Nintendo games with you. In essence these robots are far from being anything “human”, but like the stuffed animal, are simply cute.

But what makes an object “cute?” In a recent post on his blog, Ian Bogost references Graham Harman’s definition, so that “The labors of such agents become "cute" when they are slightly underequipped for their task…” For Bogost, though, Japanese cuteness has taken over from this behavioral “underequipped” cuteness – and is instead a cuteness which relies heavily on appearance. Take for example the difference between the Nintendo Wii’s characters and most of the characters that the Xbox and the Playstation3 pride themselves on – characters which look almost-human. Or to put this another way, while the PS3 and Xbox deal with how real they can make their graphics look, the Wii is content in providing its users with slightly miniature, often large-headed, but almost always cute characters. We have to ask ourselves, why? Why are we less threatened when we create a bobble-headed avatar than when we face a character from Madden 2010 or Halo 3?

The answer lies in the Uncanny Valley. Our Wii avatars are cute, they are in the words of Harman, objects that “are either lovely, or else they are delightfully absorbed in some technique that we ourselves take for granted.” Cute objects allow for forgetfulness, or at least the opportunity to be passed by – “Oh, that’s cute.” For cuteness can never be stared at for too long. Otherwise we progress into the Uncanny Valley. As an example, my daughter has a baby doll she likes to play with. The doll is simply a shaped plastic form with a clothes and pacifier. In the context of my daughter’s play, the doll is cute for it plays the part of a baby but is underequipped to be a real baby. Yet, as Freud noticed (with the help of Jentsch and E.T.A. Hoffman) dolls can become creepy. A “Good Guy Doll” becomes Chucky in Child’s Play, small wooden marionettes become killers in Puppetmaster, and a collection of porcelain playthings become evil monsters in Dolls. Cute has the possibility to become terrifying.

As non-human objects take on human characteristics, they become creepy or horrific. Yet, looked at from the opposite end, as humanity is stripped away of language and of the ability to create and fantasize, it too becomes horrendous. In this way, I feel that OOP/OOO must deal with the creature that presents the true meeting of object and human – the zombie.

From the essential film, Night of the Living Dead (1968) to perhaps the finest in literary achievement in recent decades, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, zombies have become more than mythical creatures. Like Dracula, they have taken their rightful place in popular culture as horrific creatures of the undead. Yet, unlike Dracula or any vampire for that fact, zombies are mindless – acting only on instinct or drive. Instead of blood, zombies feed on brains. Instead of needing to develop relationships with nubile necks, zombies tear and rip into any and all humans. Zombies are equal opportunity monsters. And instead of a singular vampire, the zombie attacks in hordes and large lumbering groups.

Zombies are the uncanny kernel of the Real, they are not the object which leaves a remainder, they ARE the remainder. Zombies are Das Ding, the Thing, human qua object. And because of this, OOP/OOO must deal with the zombie much in the same way Postmodernism (especially in Haraway and Lyotard) had to deal with the cyborg. However, instead of talking about how humanity will have become, OOP/OOO will have to talk about in what ways humanity is not unique – how we are all zombies. They must take up the zombie as a human representative since only in the zombie do we find the human as it “really” exists, without any obfuscation.

First, the zombie IS – of this there can be no mistake. The zombie is just as real as the computer in front of me. For OOP/OOO all objects are as real as all other objects. Second, the zombie exists as pure desire, it moves with a single purpose and without known agency. And finally, every zombie is the same. A zombie biker is no more or less threatening than a zombie baker or zombie dog. But essentially the zombie is an empty desire, an object with no name except pure existence. Why do they hunger for brains? Who knows. Will they ever stop looking for brains? No. And in a world where all objects are on the same level playing field, stripped away of our agency as subjects, we find ourselves in an awkward position, as non-human humans alive in a world of networks and alliances. We are all zombies. And the only question that remains in a this philosophy that deals with fidelity and allegiance is, “Who will survive and what will be left of them?”

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Time and Object-Centered Rhetoric

In perhaps a more rhetorical question, Larval Subjects in his most recent post asks his readers, “What is time?” He points to the seeming paradox of light speed travel uncovered by Einstein's general and special relativity, and in an interesting move discusses time in terms of Leibniz's Monadology and principles of non-contradiction and self-identity. And although I'm sure Larval is not expecting an answer to his post, especially one that goes beyond (perhaps in left-field as I seem to do) it, I thought this would be an excellent opportunity to begin discussing what I propose to be an object-centered rhetoric that will lead us ultimately to a construction of an object-centered temporality.

Ultimately what Einstein discovered is that time is relative to the subject and the location of the subject, so that if a person were to travel at the speed of light away from the earth while another stayed on earth, the person traveling away from the earth at the speed of light would actually experience less time passing by than the stationary one. Time, then is relative to the observer and location. However, what if we talk instead about objects instead of observers? What then?

Most rhetoric that deals with objects deals with them from the standpoint of an observer. So that for instance when talking about a book and a table, they consistently say something like, “the book is located on the table” or “the book is located on top of the table.” Both of these are still observations – that is, observations from a third perspective or an observer. An object-centered rhetoric, instead, attempts to discuss the encounter of the book and the table from both the perspective of the book and the table. So that statements like the one's above become something like: “From the point of view of the table, the book is located above it” and “From the point of view of the book, the table is located below it”. See here how simply changing our use of words and language creates a more inclusive and less observer-centered way of talking about objects. Also, what this does is that it allows the book and the table to exist in their own right, not tied to the observer, whom might have a motive or create a generic hierarchy from which to classify the book as being superior to the table (or vice versa). Object-centered rhetoric also allows objects to be approached from all angles. So that the two object-centered sentences just uttered actually are that – two individual, different sentences. If we stick with our observer-centered rhetoric, the book and the table become synonymous with each other in their encounter, so that what is ultimately being stated is that the encounter is what is important. Instead, object-centered rhetoric places the object(s) at the center of the speech act, requiring the encounter to be explained from different perspectives, without favoring one over the other.

There might be a couple objections that might occur with such rhetoric, namely: A) saying the book is located on top of the table is the same thing as saying that from the table's perspective the book is located above it and B) that using such rhetoric makes sure that you could never fully understand any interaction or encounter between two objects whatsoever.

When I ask for directions or give them, I always have to listen for or make statements such as “it will be on your right” or “you'll see it on the left, if you are going south”. As far as directions are concerned, these are the types of sentences you (as a lost soul) want to hear, for they orient you to what you are looking for, where you are going, and where you might find it. If I were to just tell you, “it's on this road,” a million different questions would spring to mind: “Which direction, north or south?” “Where on the road, or how far down or up the road?” “Will it be on my left or right?” Answering any or all of these questions will put the traveler closer to the destination and with more accuracy. Therefore, the speaker or direction-giver would have to orient him/herself to how and where they are traveling, as well. So that in saying that “heading south, it will be on your left”, one is also saying that a) you will be facing this direction, b) do not look right, as there is nothing of interest on that side, c) if you head north you will not see it, and d) if you miss it, and turn around, you will be heading north and therefore it will be on your right and not your left.

However, by making a statement such as “the book is on top of the table” is tantamount to saying, the place you are looking for is on this road. It fails to orient the location and observer. From which direction is the book located “on top” of the table? What if I look at it from underneath the table, is the book still there? Or if I'm looking at it from above, couldn't I assume that the table is actually below the book? Object-centered rhetoric then places the objects as points of observation, as focal points from which all spatial location is then made available. For example, when I claimed earlier that from the table's perspective, the book was located above it, I was not only making a statement as to the relation of the book and the table, but I am also stating that this relation is relative to the table – that only from the table's perspective can the book be located above it. And, the same goes for the book's perspective. In this sense, the book and the table are given back their unique perspectives, perspectives that are equally important in understanding the relation between the two objects.

And this brings us to our second problem, that using such rhetoric makes sure that you could never fully understand any interaction or encounter between two objects whatsoever. In response to this I would like to ask another question, what purpose is there to understanding an encounter in its entirety? Is this even possible from an observer-centered rhetoric? I propose that any object-centered rhetoric is never exhaustive in describing an encounter. We can see proof for this when in an earlier post we discussed the encounter as the propagation of the event (E), which creates meaning stretched out over time. The meaning of an encounter is the immediate result of such an object-centered utterance. So, from the books perspective, meaning is created when the table is seen as being below it. How much meaning, what type of meaning, and what importance does the meaning have, are all questions we will leave unanswered for now. But, what I've hopefully done is shown the importance of object-centered rhetoric, so that we can now discuss the object's temporality.

Before we begin, I would like to add another diagram to our growing catalog:

As you can see, we have kept all of our previous parts of the object, and only added a few lines. Each line represents a movement of time and thus a temporalizing of sorts. For the most part, the lines originate in the thing-itself (A) and move outward. The only exception is the line that connects the encounter (B) with event (E). But, before we get into this exception, lets look more closely at the other lines. If you will note, the lines originating from (A) move outward, almost as if the object were expanding. Keep in mind, though, that such expansion is in no way an expansion of space (which I will discuss in a later post) but is a temporal expansion. By this I mean simply that each object moves through time in its own way – that is, time is relative to each object. It moves away from its pure Being towards its non-Being, but each object does so at its own rate. Therefore, a flower will have a different temporal existence than say a Styrofoam cup; however, each object continues to temporally expand until this non-Being is reached. Why so many lines? Well, simply put, because each object temporally expands in all directions. So that from the object's perspective time is felt in all parts, in all realms, and in all encounters, events and movements. Think of your body, so that you feel time not only mentally but you feel it when your nails grow, every time you realize you need a hair cut, etc. So that every object (here, your body) temporally expands in many directions.

Finally, we might note that the line connecting the encounter (B) with event (E) takes a different direction with regard to those originating from (A). This is because time here is also an encounter, but an encounter that does not originate from the object, yet encounters the object, and continues outside of the object itself. For example, I eat a really tasty orange. In this encounter, meaning is formed (regardless of whether it is “oranges are good” or “this particular variety of oranges are tasty”). But this meaning is formed out of the utterance and continues past the orange's (the object's) non-being – for I've effectively eaten the orange. Instead, this encounter has a temporality unto itself. So that if we have to think time relative to the object (or orange), we must also think of time as relative to the encounter and thus connecting encounter (B) with event (E). Does this time line end? Well, like we said when we discussed Porter's book on (M)eaning, meaning only becomes non-consequential (and thus meaningless) when all of the possible meanings have been exhausted or are no longer consequential. Time for the encounter (B) then should be seen in terms of consequentiality, for every encounter (B) immediately produces an event (E), which is and moves outside of the object proper.

Every object, then, is part of at least two (but really quite a bit more) temporalities – the temporality in itself and that of its encounters. Our only problem then is to shift our language from the temporal nature of discussing our encounters with the object to a language that discusses the object-itself in all of its expanding temporal qualities.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Rats + Hegel = Surrealism

Since the title of this post starts with “rats” I feel the need to do so as well. If we were to look at a rat's behavior, we might consider it to be random, or contingent – in that the rat's movements do not follow a logical pattern from A to B to C. Now, if we were wanting to catch this rat, we wouldn't just simply run around after the rat, for any attempt to do so would prove futile. Instead, we more than likely would set out a trap for the rat. But what is this trap? What does it do? And how is such a trap better at catching a rat than we might be?

To begin to answer these questions, let's take a look at what the trap is. Like most traps it works on some level of availability; an open or “armed” state and a closed or “sprung” state. In the open state the trap is waiting for the rat to step into it. In the closed state, the trap has caught the rat. In effect, the trap acts as a forced binary solution to the problem of the rat's contingent behavior – either the trap is open or closed. We no longer need to guess where the rat might move, counter our movements, or avoid moving by hiding. Instead, the trap structures the situation to the point that we are not even needed. The trap takes away the randomness of the rat's movements by forcing upon it a binary structure.

Reality, the world, and all objects, then, are just as random (or in Meillassoux's terms, contingent) as the behavior of the rat. In fact we can reformulate this contingency, this being and not-being, into what others have termed Hegel's Dialectic. For Hegel thought is broken up into three parts: being, nothing or (not-being), and becoming. In any encounter we are confronted with an object's being, its existence, or in Hegel's terms “pure being.” Now, along with this beginning is this thesis's opposite or antithesis. Therefore we must also posit the objects not-being or nothingness. For Meillassoux this duality causes a problem:

To claim that an existent cannot exist, and to claim moreover that this possibility is an ontological necessity, is also to claim that the sheer existence of the existent, just like the sheer inexistence of the inexistent are two imperishable poles which allow the perhisability of everything to be thought. Consequently, I can no more conceive of the contingency of negative facts alone than I can conceive of the non-being of existence as such. Since contingency is thinkable (as an absolute), but unthinkable without the persistence of the two realms of existence and inexistence, we have to say that it is necessary that there always be this or that existent capable of not existing, and this or that inexistent capable of existing. (76).

What Meillassoux works up to, then, is a synthesis of Hegel's two poles – a synthesis of being (thesis) and nothing or not-being (antithesis). For Hegel this synthesis is called becoming. For Meillassoux, “the solution to the problem is as follows: it is necessary that there be something rather than nothing because it is necessarily contingent that there is something rather than something else” (76). In other words, it is necessary that everything that exists be seen in its contingency as possibly not existing and vice versa. Every object is always becoming, a becoming of its antithesis by way of contingency, and I would add, our un-canny.

Again, we can understand how reality, like our rat's behavior, is in constant need of a third option, a synthesis of the contingency of reality. Therefore, we are constantly throwing out traps, laying down binaries, or creating meaning in order to unburden ourselves of this ontological loop of being and not-being. By saying there is a meaning to an encounter we are, in essence, creating a way to “deal” with the object we are encountering. Or, to put this in terms of our object: every encounter or event (B) is both an encounter with the known and unknown (thus our terms, un-canny and contingency). However, each encounter also produces an event (E) as a result. And every event (E), also called a meaning or a consequence, is our encounter with the object “as” something, so that the object becomes something other than its being/not-being. It becomes meaningful.

And this is where I feel surrealism as a philosophical movement might be of some use. Surrealism works upon the basic notion of juxtaposition to create meaning. For example, the painting entitled “The Son of Man” by Rene Magritte depicts a man, dressed in a suit and a red tie; however, right in front of his face is a green apple, so that as Magritte put it in a radio interview:

At least it hides the face partly. Well, so you have the apparent face, the apple, hiding the visible but hidden, the face of the person. It's something that happens constantly. Everything we see hides another thing, we always want to see what is hidden by what we see. There is an interest in that which is hidden and which the visible does not show us. This interest can take the form of a quite intense feeling, a sort of conflict, one might say, between the visible that is hidden and the visible that is present.

By juxtaposing the apple in front of the man's face – an object we are used to looking at due to the large number of portraits and self-portraits – we find the two images conflicting between the known (apple) and the unknown (the man's face), or between the thesis (the man's face) and its antithesis (the apple). Stuck with this “conflict,” as Magritte puts it, we attempt to create a meaning between the two – our brains try to make a connection between what is there and not there. In other words, we try and synthesize a solution so that the contingency of the painting is no longer a problem. So we might say something along the lines of “the apple represents death, or sin of the human race” – to disburden us from the un-canniness of the apple in front of the man's face. I'm not trying to say that such a synthesis erases or does away with the contingency or un-canniness of the painting. Nor am I attempting to say that such an utterance carries on this contingency by just hiding it somewhere else within it. No, instead what becoming does is push forward, it moves past the contention between being and not-being but not in a transcendental way. For the utterance can never fully capture the encounter. Nor is the utterance merely a vocal or audible statement, for these two formulations imply a listener, something not needed for an utterance to be made. The utterance, then, is merely the manufacturing of meaning/consequences based upon the contingency of the object – something I feel only surrealism can attempt to show.

So in our terms, by juxtaposing the realm of the known with the realm of the unknown, every encounter (B) with an object creates an utterance which carries with it a meaning/consequence. This utterance or event (E) can never grasp the object completly but instead is always reliant upon the encounter (B). Meaning is created as a result of this utterance or attempt to synthesize the two realms, and this meaning propels the object outside of this initial interaction. In this way our un-canny ontology is best considered under surrealistic terms of juxtaposition and the Hegelian dialectic – where when two objects encounter each other, each is forced to create an utterance which has meaning beyond the encounter.

For example, when a large hailstone falls on a car window, both the window and the hailstone are confronted with the other's contingent existence – both of being and not-being – since each existed independent from each other before the encounter but are now forced to deal with the other's presence. However, each object simply doesn't stay within this moment of interaction, so that something happens – simply stating, here, that there is an encounter. And although we may not know or understand the utterance that took place (remember an utterance in our terms means a system – of words, fields, experiences, etc. – for no object, like words, are ever encountered by themselves), the utterance is visible through the consequences of the encounter. Therefore the consequences of the encounter are obvious to us – the window is cracked or shattered, and/or the hailstone is chipped or broken. The contingency of each object – its being/not-being – is dealt with physically, through everlasting consequences upon each object, for both the window and the hailstone will never be the same.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Meaning, Being, and Event (E)

In recently rereading the introduction to Being and Time, and having recently read Kevin J. Porter's Meaning, Language, and Time: Toward a Consequential Philosophy of Discourse, I was struck by how both arguments, although about radically different subjects, seemed to be discussing the same thing – meaning. For Heidegger, his guiding question – the inquiry into what is Being – is not simply a question of pure existence, but one with purpose. Therefore, he finds that “Inquiry, as a kind of seeking, must be guided beforehand by what is sought. So the meaning of Being must already be available to us in some way” (25). In other words, for Heidegger, the question of Being is not only about objects, something Graham Harman makes clear (in his book, Tool-Being, which I have begun to read), but is ultimately a question of meaning - “the meaning of Being”. Objects are a priori to meaning, true. But what can be said of them besides, “they exist.” We cannot even say “they are there” without already insinuating that they occupy a particular space (meaning), mass (meaning), time (meaning) and perhaps purpose – for they exist “there” and not “here” - (meaning). But Heidegger's mistake, easily seen above, is that there is, with the object, an a priori meaning, as well. For him, meaning is in objects, waiting to be discovered, uncovered, undisclosed, made present-at-hand. Objects, therefore, contain something that requires investigation, something more than pure existence – a stance I don't necessarily share. For if an object had meaning a priori, this would mean two things: 1) that eventually we (or other, non-human beings) would become aware of, understand, or know this meaning, and 2) that every object has with it an other way of Being – rather than pure existence. I find both of these points to be erroneous.

Working from a study of rhetoric, Porter discusses the meaning of an utterance (a string of words, “phrases, clauses, sentences”, or a text, for “one does not ever simply encounter a noun” much like one never simply encounters a single object in a vacuum (11)) as a consequence. He states that under his philosophy of “meaning consequentialism,” one can only make “the assumption that the meaning of an utterance or text is the consequences that it propagates” (12). Or, to put this another way, when we discuss a meaning of an utterance we are merely discussing the consequences of that utterance. Every utterance, therefore, has multiple meanings, multiple consequences, both at times agreeing with each other and contradictory to each other. Consequences, as meanings, exist stretched out over time so that Meaning (with a capital M) is only a grouping of every consequence ever made over time, including this consequence. Or, as Porter states it:

We may think of the Meaning of an utterance as the total set of all of its actual consequences; but this Meaning cannot be conceptualized because (a) the total set of all actual consequences is inherently open-ended, (b) the Meaning of each consequence itself is open-ended, (c) the total set of all actual consequences does not form an amalgamated consequence that can be cognized, and (d) the very act of compiling a complete list of consequences for the expressed purpose of compiling a complete list would itself produce at least one more consequence of the targeted utterance, ad infinitum. (53-4)

Those of you familiar with set theory will automatically see Porter's configuration of Meaning as the paradox of "the set of all sets" – that a set of all sets would have to include itself, an impossibility for Russell and naïve set theory. Therefore, any Meaning of an object or utterance would be impossible to find, but more importantly, what Porter points to is that Meaning is always external - something outside of structure. The only thing internal to an object is pure existence – the is. Once an object's Being has more to say about it than that it is, the object becomes meaningful to something else, and therefore becomes consequential.

It is no surprise, then, that we find Porter stating early on that:

To my mind, the claim that a text is meaningful in itself (i.e., that it has an intrinsic or objective meaning) is akin to the claim that the sun intrinsically exerts a gravitational pull. An intrinsically meaningful utterance or text, if one existed, could not help but be meaningful in the same way that the sun cannot help but be gravitationally attractive. But meaning does not operate in this way, for utterances and texts clearly do not consistently produce a certain consequence or uniform set of consequences. (13)

For an intrinsic meaning, a meaning of Being that Heidegger so readily assumed existed a priori, would not say much other than “I exist”. Any other meaning that we might try to pull out of the object is a pulling external to the object – a pulling of the object and not from it.

In my view, then, the object exists. It might exist in a certain structure, with a certain way or state of Being, but ultimately all that the object states for itself, again and again, is that “I exist”. So, in what I've been attempting to show in previous posts is how an object restates its pure existence by allowing itself to be uncovered, un-disclosed, or encountered. When I discuss element (C) I am merely explaining that any encounter with an object (whether by a human object or a non-human object) is an encounter with this pure existence and an inquiry into meaning. The thing itself (A) is not a mysterious, complicated, unknown entity. It is, rather, the object's pure existence, its is. Yet, any encounter directly related to it, encounter (B), produces something external to the object – event (E), a consequence, or a meaning. And it is this meaning, this event (E) that becomes the thrust of the object. It is what we discuss when we discuss the object as something, for the object itself only is in its pure existence. Like Porter, I believe that meaning (or our event (E)) is propagated over time, stretched over encounters, encounters (B), that all attempt to understand the object outside of its pure existence.

Monday, March 9, 2009

A Few Notes on Element (C)

1. Every encounter or event (B) must also contain an available element (C).

2. Element (C) always comes from the unknown realm.

3. Every element (C) must pass into the known realm by way of the thing itself (A) and in doing so becomes a carrier of the thing itself (A).

4. Every element (C) has the availability to be uncovered by another object in its encounter (B); however, if this availability becomes apparent – i.e., the element (C) presents itself – it is always and only by way of an accident or misunderstanding.

5. Not every element (C) of an encounter (B) is uncovered, so that, “If (C) then (B), but not if (B) then (C).” Any un-discovered element (C) remains available for later uncovering through a different encounter (B).

6. Element (C) exists regardless of its uncovering; however, once element (C) is uncovered it becomes part of the object – i.e., because of its passing through the thing itself (A), any element (C) that is uncovered is recognized as being part of the entire object. This is why it is important that the thing itself (A) requires all elements (C) to pass through it. And this is why we can say that for example iron’s availability to rust is both an availability of the iron-itself (A) and a previously unknown element (C). What this means is that once uncovered, the element (C) becomes an ontological necessity for the object as well as an epistemological characteristic. Because of element (C)’s bit of the thing itself, an uncovering of element (C) is also an uncovering of the object’s being – thus a part of ontology.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Encounters and Uncanny Elements

In a recent (and strikingly poetic) post, Larval Subjects describes the wonder at finding a spot of mud that has been dried and cracked as a result of the heat of the sun. He remarks, “The idea, then, would be that substances reveal themselves, disclose themselves, in their interactions with one another. One substance draws something out from another substance, a new quality, a new arrangement, new properties.”

So, I want to discuss the second part of my object-cone by describing just this, the way objects reveal themselves. In a way, this is building upon our discussion of the thing itself, but more importantly we may now bring in a discussion on how objects interact with other objects, how subjects interact with objects, and how subjects interact with other subjects. Let’s first look at a new diagram:

As you can see, our original diagram has been left unchanged, but now we’ve added three new aspects, each of which will be discussed in what follows – they are, B (an event that relates directly to the thing itself or A), C (an element that passes from one realm to the other, in this case from the unknown realm to the known), and E (an event that does not relate to A).

When any thing interacts with any other thing we have a sort of meeting not just of substances but of entities with individual existences or being. As such these types of meetings are not simply a bumping of substances, nor are they merely a passing of information. Instead, when we encounter another object, as well as when other objects encounter us (and each other) there exists a type of exchange, much like a dialogue. By dialogue, I wish only to describe this type of meeting as a back and forth of availabilities. In other words, when I encounter say a rubber ball, I immediately encounter the ball’s texture, color, weight, circumference, etc. And, the ball encounters me in just as immediate of a way, through the pressure I exert on it, the oils in my skin, etc. Each encounter (B) is a sharing that takes place regardless of whether or not the other object is aware of it, much like Larval’s encounter with the dry mud. But, it is important to note that each encounter (B) always takes place in the realm of the known. We experience things (and things experience us) in certain ways, ways in which we can grasp understandingly. Therefore, I can know the color of the ball, it is familiar to me if I come upon it again, just like I can anticipate the weight of it since I have previously held it. The dialogue between objects, since it happens in the realm of the known, allows each object to perceive, apprehend, and even anticipate the other object.

Yet, with each encounter (B) there is also a slight encounter with an element from the unknown realm – element (C). In other words, each B is contains a C. But, what is this mysterious element? Well, the answer is quite simply, complex. It is a moment of un-canniness and contingency. Since the element (C) originates in the realm of the unknown and passes into the known realm, the only way it can do so is by way of the thing itself (A). By passing through (A), the element (C) takes on, or is changed by the thing itself in such a way that this change, this difference, is also experienced alongside the object in an encounter (B). However, this element (C) is never experienced outright, or by purpose. Instead it shows itself by accident, through a misunderstanding on the part of the object encountering it. So, for example, when Larval picks up the dry mud shapes and wishes to put them together as if they were puzzle pieces, he anticipates them being like other “solid” shapes he has encountered before – a simple misunderstanding – but when the mud shapes break, Larval instead encounters the element (C) of the unknown realm. In a sense, he realizes that the shape is something else – other – that it was hiding a part of itself (an unknown, unfamiliar, or uncanny) part that would never have shown itself if he hadn’t interacted with it. The mud is never there, present-at-hand or for-Larval, but instead is itself, simply unbeknownst to him. We, as other objects, encounter the mud always in the realm of the known. Mud behaves, then, as we expect it to behave until it does not. When the mud breaks, we get a glimpse at the possibility of the mud’s non-existence, or of its contingency and un-canniness. We understand that the mud could very well just as not be there (Un-Dasein) as well as be there (Dasein).

As for the last point on our diagram, (E) or the event that does not relate to A, all that needs to be said of it, at this point, is that this event takes into account the fact that there are other entities that play into the scenario of this object’s being or existence that do not directly come into contact with the object. An example of such an event could be seen as the writing of this post, which although a writing about the mud experienced by Larval Subjects, it has no direct encounter with the object in discussion - i.e. the mud. Event (E) as it exists in the diagram, then, is a concept of the object - in this case, my concept of the mud described by Larval Subjects. I can discuss the mud, describe the mud, and talk theoretically about the mud; however, since I had no direct encounter with the mud, these events never reach the point that (B) does - that is a point where element (C) appears.

Yet, I wish to make another point clear (a point that needs further clarification in another post) event (E) is an integral part to the object even though it may seem outside of the object proper, simply because of the aforementioned duty it holds – that it is through the event (E) that the object comes to exist as something other than material object. This is why, if drawn elsewhere event (E) should always be drawn as if it were just outside the known realm.

Hopefully, now that our object is completely drawn, we can begin to explore its eccentricities as they come into light.