Thursday, December 16, 2010

BwOs and Fractal Thinking

I recently watched an episode of Nova called "Hunting the Hidden Dimension," - an episode devoted to the history and uses of fractals - and took away two important points: 1) that even the most complicated and seemingly chaotic systems often have a simple pattern, and that in order to see said pattern we simply need to change the scale at which we observe the system; and 2) that this aforementioned pattern is often repeated - a form of repetition called iteration - so many times that not only do you get objects that look similar, but also many that look nothing alike. To clarify this last point simply click through to here to see 11 different images all using the same pattern.

I'm also currently working on a paper that argues that the best way to approach objects for any experimentation - a word I use to describe both composition and rhetorical examination - is through Deleuze and Guattari's notion of the body without organs (BwO). For D&G in A Thousand Plateaus:
The BwO causes intensities to pass; it produces and distributes them in a spatium that is itself intensive, lacking extension. It is not space, nor is it in space; it is matter that occupies space to a given degree - to the degree corresponding to the intensities produced. It is nonstratified, unformed, intense matter, the matrix of intensity, intensity=0; but there is nothing negative about that zero, there are no negative or opposite intensities. [...]
The BwO is a childhood block, a becoming, the opposite of childhood memory. It is not the child "before" the adult, or the mother "before" the child: it is the strict contemporaneousness of the adult, of the adult and the child, their map of comparative densities and intensities, and all of the variations on that map. The BwO is preciesly this intense germen where there are not and cannot be either parents or children (organic representation). (153, 164)
The BwO is seen as the blank or recording space of an organism, across which flow intensities, forces, and (I would argue for OOO) qualities - i.e., local manifestations. Yet, the BwO is never before such qualities but exists alongside them and is independent from them and the larger organism. Nor does the BwO exist as a physical space for such qualities, but instead is an "intense matter."

So for OOO we can read the BwO as similar to the virtual proper being of the object, that part that withdraws or recedes but also maintains the capacity for other possible local manifestations. But why is this important? And what the hell does it have to do with fractals!?

Well as I understand it, objects for OOO are split - between a present, quality-rich part (for Levi, an object's local manifestations) and a withdrawing  aspect (or virtual proper being) that is the object's powers or capacities. What I would argue, then, is that this split is not so much a structure of being as it is a pattern of being. The difference between structure and pattern is akin to the difference Ian Bogost finds between process and procedure. Where structure offers us a sense of an object being composed, perhaps referring to an object's relations to other objects (think building blocks, or frames), pattern refers more to an object's hidden repetition - of its fractal-like irreduction of objects upon objects upon objects. This split-object pattern allows us to understand how it is objects come about or are actualized - and here is where the BwO comes into play.

For D&G the BwO should not be seen as an empty vessel set against organs but instead, "We come to the realization that the BwO is not at all the opposite of the organs. The organs are not its enemies. The enemy is the organism. The BwO is opposed not to the organs but to that organization of the organs called the organism" (158). The organism, then, is much like the OOO object in that it too is split between organs and the BwO. But to be actualized, the organism must be seen as a limit or stopping point. As Brett Buchanan states in Onto-Ethologies The Animal Environments of Uexküll, Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, and Deleuze, “An organism proposes a solution only at a level where one has stopped counting affects, where the body has been taken as a formal and fully organized self-consistency” (161). Whether it is by choice, or simply because we cannot physically see (even with the help of microscopes or telescopes) the iteration of the object-pattern, this does not mean that it is not there. Because of the fractal pattern of objects we must realize that the object is never object qua object - it is never a whole or a one unless there exists a limit or self-consistency.

So that if I see my house key as nothing more than an object that fits a specific lock, I've actualized my key as an organism - as an object proper - and limited its BwO. No wonder I'm surprised when I find out that it is quite sharp (and could possibly be used to open up packages). However, if I see my house key as a BwO, I become fascinated with the intensities and possible local manifestations it can produce. I begin to experiment by introducing it into new environments, each time drawing out different intensities and qualities.

Unlike the dark shadow cast over the organism by D&G, an object-oriented approach relishes in the object as a whole (as an organism) precisely because of the object's hidden BwO and its local qualities/manifestations.

It is OOR's responsibility, then, to approach objects not as organisms - that is fully formed and limited structures - but as BwOs consisting of ever more potential local manifestations. Approached from this way, OOR's experimentations focus themselves not on what the object is but on how the object acts.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Conversations with a Stone: An OO Reading

Levi has a post up about the possibility of an OOLC (that’s Object-Oriented Literary Criticism for those who get lost in all of the acronyms). In his post Levi argues that:
Minimally an object-oriented art would have to practice flat ontology and strange mereolology. Unlike the old realism where human subjects were the real genuine actors, objects at all levels of scale and of all types would have to be treated as genuine actors. Perhaps an object-oriented art would explore the struggles and conflicts that emerge between these differently scaled objects, even when embedded within one another.
Initially I couldn’t think of anything that might fulfill such requirements; however, I just started reading Barbara Johnson’s book Persons and Things and through it, was pointed to this wonderful poem by Wislawa Szymborska entitled, “Conversation with a Stone” (from Nothing Twice: Selected Poems/Nic dwa razy: Wybór wierszy, translated by Stanisław Barańczak and Clare Cavanagh 1997).

Szymborska’s poem starts off without us knowing how the conversation got started between the speaker and the stone, but we automatically understand one point of conflict – that of personification mixed with a nice helping of anthropomorphism. The first couple of stanzas are as follows:
I knock at the stone's front door.
"It's only me, let me come in.
I want to enter your insides,
have a look round,
breathe my fill of you."

"Go away," says the stone.
"I'm shut tight.
Even if you break me to pieces,
we'll all still be closed.
You can grind us to sand,
we still won't let you in."
Now a couple of things should jump out to the object-oriented literary critic. First, as per Levi’s suggestion, there seems to exist a flat ontology in which the stone and speaker are both equally real. The stone speaks as does the speaker of the poem. Each equally exists, yet (as we discover in the last stanza of the poem) they do not exist equally.

However, unbeknownst to Szymborska, her poem also points out Levi’s second requirement – that of a strange mereology of objects. For object-oriented philosophers, all objects are receding in some way, shape, or form. What this means is that no other object, including humans, can ever completely exhaust an object in any of its encounters, whether its through description or sheer brute force – there will always be something held in reserve. So the stone’s response, “I’m shut tight / Even if you break me to pieces, / we'll all still be closed.”, is spot on with the tenants of OOO. Each object consists of other objects, each with its own mereological structure or split in which (at least according to Levi) we have both a virtual proper being and local manifestations. And the stone is no exception, since ultimately, every object’s virtual proper being “will still be closed” even if we found a way to break up the stone into millions of pieces. Something would still remain hidden.

Szymborska’s poem continues as the speaker asks to enter the stone in varying ways and with varying reasons as to why the stone should let him/her. So in the seventh stanza he/she pleads, “It's only me, let me come in. / I don't seek refuge for eternity. / I'm not unhappy. / I'm not homeless. / My world is worth returning to.” But ultimately, all of this pleading is to no avail, as the stone denies entry because the speaker “lack[s] the sense of taking part.” – a sense, the stone tells us, that has its seed in imagination. But what might the stone mean by this?

Personally, I read the stone’s call to a “sense of taking part” similar to the call in Deleuze and Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus to make yourself a body without organs (BwO). D&G command their readers to “Find your body without organs. Find out how to make it. It’s a question of life and death, youth and old age, sadness and joy. It is where everything is played out” (151). And then moments later clarify that “The BwO is what remains when you take everything away. What you take away is precisely the phantasy, and significances and subjectifications as a whole” (151). So in order for the speaker to succeed in Szymborska’s poem, is to stop interpreting the stone as stone, but think of the stone as a BwO, as not a place that is chaotic and empty (filled with “great empty halls”) but quite the opposite – an object filled with matter, forces, and other energies capable of all sorts of local manifestations.

However, this is something the speaker of the poem ultimately doesn’t understand, as seen in the last couple of stanzas:
I knock at the stone's front door.
"It's only me, let me come in."

"I don't have a door," says the stone.
As a conclusion, these last few lines of “Conversations with a Stone” allow the reader to realize the potential pitfalls in addressing objects from a traditional perspective. We often personify, anthropomorphize, and more than often misinterpret the objects that surround us. If anything, Szymborska’s poem calls attention to these human traits, but at the same time arguing for an ontological understanding of objects as existing in a flat ontological realm and with a strange mereological structure.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Everything I Needed to Know about OOR I Learned from Watching 'The Gods Must Be Crazy'

No matter how much we insist on the strangeness of our everyday objects, it is rather difficult for anybody (yours truly included) to see their world as uncanny. If it were easy, this would go against the OOO claim that objects are inherently weird or strange. So, perhaps the easiest way to discuss examples is to actually have an ordinary object (for us) be introduced into a culture in which it is truly a strange-stranger.

In the 1980 film, The Gods Must Be Crazy, a normal, familiar Coke bottle is introduced into a secluded tribe in the Kalahari Desert. Now the traditional way of reading this film would be through metaphor – that is, the Coke bottle represents Western Culture, and everything that happens to the once peaceful and graceful tribe (i.e., the ensuing moments of jealousy, violence, and social upheaval) are simply shining examples of the West’s influence on other cultures. In other words, the traditional way of reading such a narrative would be through reducing it to a moment of language, a single metaphor of East meets West. Most of us would understand that even though there might be other ways to read this film (from a sociological perspective, or even a psychological perspective) this reading is the most explicit, especially given the other two vignettes in the film (centered on revolution and Western emigration).

Yet, no matter how clear such a reading might seem to us, we must not forget that this tribe has no idea what this object really is. They’ve never seen a bottle, and have no notion of what Coca-Cola is or its ties to Western capitalism. Therefore, such a reading dismisses not only the bottle itself, but also the tribe’s unique position and characteristics. We are left wondering then, what else is there? If the bottle is more than simply a metaphor for some thing, and the tribe more than a generic representation of something else, how might we read the events that take place in the film?

Taking a cue from object-oriented philosophy, we must first recognize that no object can be reduced to one aspect, actual (material) or virtual (symbolic), of said object. Therefore, a blue mug cannot be reduced to its blueness or to its mug-ness. Instead, like every object, the mug is a myriad of qualities, none of which are “owned” or inherent in the object itself, but which are manifested in certain situations. So the mug is blue with the lights on, black with the lights off, and in the right light can also appear purple. In this way, object-oriented rhetoric is never satisfied with readings that reduce things to metaphors, metonymies, or other linguistic tropes. For the object-oriented rhetorician the Coke bottle as a real, independent object has an influence all of its own, divorced from any third-party reading. It has its own agency.

To clarify this last point, we should turn back to the example in the film. If we take away the reading that the Coke bottle is representative of some other ideology, point of view, or social organization, we are left with examining the bottle itself, its local manifestations or effects. I will call these effects−following Timothy Morton and Levi Bryant−the object’s resonances. Resonance maintains the requirement that we must not confuse the object for its qualities, nor reduce the object to these effects. Instead, an object resonates with multiple effects or local manifestations on other objects, and the bottle is no exception. The bottle resonates with its environment from the time it first appears on screen. It is a beverage bottle, it is trash, it is a gift from the gods, it is used to crush grain, it is perfect for rolling snake skins, it makes music, etc. In each instance, the bottle resonates in quite different ways without ontologically becoming a different object. However, as we see in the film, the bottle resonates in other, less obvious ways than these initial findings.

The bottle also directly effects or resonates with the tribe itself. The peaceful and content tribe becomes violent and envious of each other as a result of the singularity of the bottle. The tribe itself, then, must be read as an object – an object that like others is open to resonances from other objects, whether internal or external. The bottle becomes the focal point of such an object-oriented examination, not because it represents this ideology or that theoretical trope, but that it (in itself, as an ontologically independent object) influences or resonates with the objects around it, even to the point of social unrest.

The example of the Coke bottle in The Gods Must Be Crazy is, I argue, a perfect example of an object-oriented rhetorical reading. Does it encompass the entirety of the composition of dirt, tribe, bottle, sky, air, etc., etc.,? No, but I would argue that it doesn’t have to. OOR, in my opinion, is never going to be one hundred percent exhaustive. Nor should it try and be. The goal of OOR, instead, should be to point us away from reductions, but especially linguistic reductions, and in turn open up the canvas to be painted with all types of readings, from anthropologists, designers, musicians, biologists, etc. Object-oriented rhetoric offers a unique angle from which to approach rhetorical situations in that it brings objects to the forefront, in themselves and their immediate resonances, rather than shrouding them in metaphors or other linguistic terminology. By performing such a task, object-oriented rhetoric can observe the object as an independent means of persuasion outside of human discourse.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Rhetorical Correlationism

In Meaning, Language, and Time, Kevin J. Porter succinctly restates the three dominant factions of rhetoric as espoused by James Berlin. They are as follows:
cognitive rhetoric (e.g., Emig, 1971), the “heir apparent of current-traditional rhetoric” grounded in the methods of individualistic cognitive psychology and built upon the premise that “the structures of the mind correspond in perfect harmony with the structures of the material world, the minds of the audience, and the units of language” (p. 480); expressionistic rhetoric (e.g., Elbow, 1981), with its focus on the authentic “experience of the self, and experience which transcends ordinary non-metaphoric language but can be suggested through original figures and tropes” (p. 485); and, again the hero of the narrative [for Berlin], social-epistemic rhetoric (e.g., Bartholomae 1985/1996), which holds that knowledge comes into existence through discursive interactions comprised of “social constructions […] inscribed in the very language we are given to inhabit in responding to our experience” (p. 488). (Porter 31)
First, cognitive rhetoric, with its belief that the structures of the mind correlate exactly with the world, other’s minds, and language, could very well be seen as an example of a strong rhetorical correlationism. Here the emphasis is place on the mirroring that the mind is capable of, rather than the world itself, so much so that, as Berlin remarks, cognitive rhetoricians like Janet Emig are “convinced that [they] could arrive at an understanding of the entire rhetorical context – the role of reality, audience, purpose, and even language in the composing act” (Berlin 480). The rhetorical act becomes nothing more than a construction of one’s mind, then. Or, to put this still another way, for the cognitive rhetorician, there is no reason to look outside of one’s mind. As Berlin puts it, “For cognitive rhetoric, the real is the rational” (482). All rhetorical acts, therefore, are products, or compositions, of the rhetor. Cognitive rhetoric shifts the discourse of rhetoric away from the rhetorical act, so that instead of asking “what is it” they wish to ask “how is it or how can it be composed.”

Second, we have expressionistic rhetoric which values the individual. For this rhetoric, as Berlin argues, “the existent is located within the individual subject. While the reality of the material, the social, and the linguistic are never denied, they are considered significant only insofar as they serve the needs of the individual” (484). Unlike cognitive rhetoric which in its own way denied a world outside of the mind, expressionistic rhetoric exploits the real world in order to serve its purposes. So that what remains significant is not the true ontological reality of the world and its real influences and presence, but instead, the terministic screens or perceptions through which this reality passes. The expressionistic rhetorician seeks to create metaphors by which the world comes to be – and specifically for that rhetorician. Born out of a response to political and authoritarian discourse, expressionist rhetoric wished to place the power into the hands of the rhetor. In this way, Berlin remarks that “From this perspective, power within society ought always to be vested in the individual” (485). The individual knows best how to divide up the real world for expressionistic rhetoricians. Thus, this type of rhetoric places a heavy emphasis on experience – experience as much in order to know more. For philosophy, we see this type of stance prevalent in all weak forms of correlationism – that is, much like the weak correlationist for whom the thing-in-itself could never be known, but for whom the phenomenal realm was ever knowable; the expressionistic rhetorician only ever knows his or her experiences of the real world.

Finally, for Berlin, we have a social-epistemic rhetoric. To recap, “For social-epistemic rhetoric, the real is located in a relationship that involves the dialectical interaction of the observer, the discourse community (social group) in which the observer is functioning, and the material conditions of existence. Knowledge is never found in any one of these but can only be posited as a product of the dialectic in which all three come together” (488). At first this form of rhetoric might sound pleasing to a rhetorician working to get outside of the correlationist circle. For here we have a rhetoric that recognizes a dialectical interaction between individuals and groups of individuals, but most importantly of a real world. Unlike the other two factions of rhetoric, social-epistemic rhetoric encorporates an ontologically independent world with which the rhetor/rhetorician must deal with. However, it is Berlin’s next statement that I find troubling.

Following up on his definition of a social-epistemic rhetoric, Berlin states, “Most important, this dialectic is grounded in language: the observer, the discourse community, and the material conditions of existence are all verbal constructs” (488). Reality, though it may exist for the social-epistemic rhetorician in an assemblage of personal, social, and material realms, language is seen as the overarching guide to interpretation. That is, everything can be reduced to language. Like the cognitive rhetorician who reduced the objects of the world to a product of the mind, and like the expressionistic rhetorician who reduced the objects of the world to the individual’s experiences, social-epistemic rhetoric reduces the objects of the world to language. The correlationist circle in rhetoric has simply been redrawn: there is nothing outside of language. But Berlin is not the only rhetorician who favors this view. His list of social-epistemic rhetoricians include: “Kenneth Burke, Richard Ohmann, the team of Richard Young, Alton Becker and Kenneth Pike, Kenneth Bruffee, W. Ross Winterowd, Ann Berthoff, Janice Lauer, and, more recently, Karen Burke Lefever, Lester Faigley, David Bartholomae, Greg Myers, Patricia Bizzell, and others” (488).

Each of the above three factions of rhetoric seems, to me, to redraw the correlationist circle in their own way. For cognitive rhetoricians the importance of rhetoric is on the processes of the mind and not the real world and its influences. For the expressionistic rhetoricians, the importance of rhetoric lies with the individual’s experiences of the real world. And for the social-epistemic rhetorician, the importance of rhetoric is to show how all rhetorical acts are a product of the function of language. Each faction uses the same structure – by shifting the goal of rhetoric from asking the question, “What is the rhetorical act?” to “In what way can the rhetorical act best be represented?”.

If the goal of an object-oriented rhetoric is to break outside of these types of correlationism, we must find a way of defining rhetoric that does not reduce it to any of the above (or others) positions. Rhetoric, then, as I propose it must be seen as separate not only from cognitive structures and personal experiences, but most importantly separate from the hierarchical function of language. In other words, rhetoric outside of correlation would no longer be seen as a product (e.g., political rhetoric, academic rhetoric, religious rhetoric, etc.), but a productive process that is irreducible to mind, experience, or language. Let us move rhetoric away from the forms of observation, and back toward the faculty (potentiality/potency/dunamis) of observing all of the available means of persuasion - including objects.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

CFP - Material Cultures

This looks interesting:

Call for Papers - 2011 Canadian Literature Symposium (May 6-8, 2011)
Material Cultures
May 6-8, 2011
Department of English, University of Ottawa
How do objects circulate in our social, imaginary, and textual worlds? What are the politics of material culture and how does this inform our reading of historical and contemporary texts? In what ways do we perceive and come to know the material world, and in what ways does the material make and unmake this "we"? Proposals are invited for a conference on Material Cultures in Canadian and Transnational Contexts, the 2011 edition of the Canadian Literature Symposium at the University of Ottawa. Interdisciplinary, hemispheric, and theoretical approaches to the conference theme are welcome.
Proposals may consider, but are not limited to:
  • things
  • physical environments/nature/architecture
  • the human/extrahuman/animal
  • art objects/craft
  • commodities/goods/resources
  • artifacts
  • collectibles
  • dirt/waste/garbage/junk/treasure
  • miniatures/gigantica
  • objects and ideology
  • book-as-object/materiality of the text
  • theories/philosophies of technology
  • machines and the machine-made
  • affect and objects
  • toys
  • animate objects
Keynote speakers:
Bill Brown, University of Chicago
Jeff Derksen, Simon Fraser University
For further details and updates visit:
Proposals (300-400 words) for papers are welcome, as are proposals for panels. For panel proposals please include abstracts for each paper to be presented and a title for the panel. Send proposals by September 15th to:
Tom Allen:, and
Jennifer Blair:
Or by mail:
Department of English
Arts 338
70 Laurier Ave. E
Ottawa, ON
K1N 6N5

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

On "Smuk is King"

I’ve just finished reading Adam Reed’s “Smuk is King”, which describes the role of tobacco and cigarettes in a prison in Papua New Guinea. What is fascinating about the article is the agency Reed, an anthropologist, finds tobacco to have in the prison. Reed argues that “In inmates’ eyes, the organization of prison life is premised on the action of smoking; when cigarettes are taken away those social forms break down and men withdraw from contact with each other” (42). But such significance is not imbued upon cigarettes by Reed or another outside agent. Instead, through a close examination of the way in which the Bomana prison operates at the inmate level, he finds that cigarettes govern every action. “Smuk is king” as Reed points out, “because it makes men act with these things [cigarettes] in mind” (42).

Cigarettes rule these prisons in two unique ways – as both a form of currency, but also (and I think, more interestingly) as cigarettes (that is, material objects destined to be smoked). Unlike the formal form of currency, this informal prison currency is both valuable (traded for food, toothpaste, soap, etc.) and useful. When smoked, the men claim the smoke of the cigarettes makes them forget – that is, forget the outside world, forget their anxieties of being in prison. Reed takes this claim that “smuk is king” seriously (for why shouldn’t he), stating that “As smokers, inmates learn to love cigarettes because they kill their memory and therefore change their state of mind” (35). Cigarettes (or smuk), then, must be smoked, not saved. Again, Reed finds that “At Bomana inmates identify what might be taken as the spirit in cigarettes – its role as medium of exchange and token (the same spirit they identify in kina and toea [traditional forms of currency outside of the prison]), but they also highlight what might be taken as the spirit of cigarettes – their role as consumable matter” (41).

Reed proposes that one way to look at smuk or cigarettes in this prison is to see it as a fetish object. Following Peter J. Pels, Reed states that “The fetish object is not animated by something foreign to it – human intention or social meaning – but by a spirit that seems its own. That spirit is not held to reside in matter, but rather it appears as the spirit of matter” (41). And it is this spirit of matter that the inmates at the Bomana prison find in cigarettes. “Smuk moulds men,” as Reed concludes, “by having them transform its material state (it is the smoke of the cigarette, not its solid matter, that acts upon the mind of inmates). From this simple action, life in Bomana unfurls; as far as prisoners are concerned, it is the point from which everything starts and to which everything returns” (42). What we have, then, is a process or procedure of smuk – of finding, collecting, or exchanging cigarettes and then the ritual smoking of those cigarettes. Each cigarette, each object or unit, in this financial system is valued the same. Every cigarette, whether rolled tight and thin, or loose and fat, is just as valuable as another – for what is important is the eventual smoking of that cigarette. Each cigarette is a martyr, and this martyrdom gives it authority and agency.

What excited me about this article is its potential for drawing out some of the same concepts I’ve been struggling with in my conception of an object-oriented rhetoric. Like Reed, we too must approach situations, not from the outside, but from the muddled middles, from the quasi-objects (via Latour) and work our way to the outside extremes of social or natural concepts. We must think through objects by following their effects; but we must never see them as the only cause of those effects. In other words, we must understand these quasi-objects as both being effected and effecting others, so that no one, or only, cause can be claimed. Cigarettes did not cause the Bomana prisoners to act the way they do; however, they directly effect the prisoners’ actions. For to be effective is also, in some ways, to be persuasive.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Rhetorical Scene and Onticology

Over at Larvalsubjects Levi has posted a couple of responses to my initial thoughts on what an OOR pentad might look like with regards to his Onticology. The large point of contention, however, seems to be based around a remark I made about an object’s environment. I stated that an object exists “in” an environment. Yet, as Levi points out, this is not the case for Onticology, and is a mistake I fully take credit for making. Instead, following the thoughts of Niklas Luhmann, every object creates its environment. In other words, as Levi states in his blog, “the environment is not something that is already there” – that is, before the object.

And to this I readily agree. However, the point I was trying to make is that in the distinction, drawn by each object, between system and environment, a series of constraints also follows, much like those of a rhetorical scene. Every scene contains elements proper to the act of translation – that is, the environment created by the object does not “control” the object’s translation but it definitely has an influence on it. And this “influence” is exactly what is meant by the constraints of the object’s environment. As Levi states in Democracy:
When Luhmann observes that objects cannot be controlled or dominated his point is not that objects are completely free sovereigns capable of creating whatever reality they might like, but rather that any event that perturbs them will be “interpreted” in terms of the systems own organization. As a consequence, objects cannot be steered from the outside. However, the events that do or do not take place in the environment of an object and to which the object is open nonetheless play a tremendously significant role in the local manifestations of which the object is capable. […] Those other objects in the environment of the object define a regime of attraction with respect to the object, creating regularities in the local manifestation of the object and producing constraints on what local manifestations are possible. (224)
For Levi, then, we can think of these interactive networks of other objects as regimes of attraction or as Tim Morton has called them, meshes. Therefore, depending upon the objects (since each object creates its environment) being examined, the regimes of attraction (and thus constraints) can include “physical, biological, semiotic, social, and technological components” (225).

So it is in this way that I understand the scene of every act of translation – built around the self-constructed regimes of attraction of other objects. So, although an object does not exist “in” an environment, nor is the object ever controlled by these regimes of attractions, these environments created by the object limit the possibilities of local manifestations.

And it is in this way that I see the limiting aspect of an object’s created environment as akin to Burke’s notion of scene. For as he states early on in Grammar, “From the motivational point of view, there is implicit in the qualities of the scene the quality of the action that is to take place within it. This would be another way of saying that the act will be consistent with the scene” (6-7). In other words, there never exists an act that is inconsistent with its environment or regimes of attractions. Nor would we ever be able to deduce the act of translation from either the object/system or the environment alone. Instead, if we think of every object as an agent, then surely Burke is correct in stating that the distinction between scene and act gets muddled if we take both (actors and scene) as having agency. To this he remarks, “For the characters, by being in interaction, could be treated as scenic conditions or ‘environment,’ of one another; and any act could be treated as part of the context that modifies (hence, to a degree motivates) the subsequent acts” (7). Like Onticology, then, the rhetorical scene should be read as not having control, but having influence over the agents involved and vice versa.

Yet, by creating its environment, or making the distinction between system and environment, the object always limits itself in regards to is possible acts of translation. But this limitation can be lifted by the object, as well. For again, not only is the object never static but neither is the scene. Or, as Levi puts it:
While the regimes of attraction we [sic] find ourselves enmeshed in might constrain us in a number of ways, through our movement and action we have the ability to act on these regimes of attraction, construct our environments, and therefore modify the circumstances in which we find ourselves. We are not simply acted upon by regimes of attraction, but act on them as well. Given the unpredictable nature of other actors, however, the question revolves around which form of action might be most conducive to enhancing our existence. (227)
Therefore, it is only if we allow the merger between agents and scenes that we might begin to work through an object-oriented rhetoric. Only if we understand scenes as full of agents, may we begin to move from an anthropocentric rhetoric to a rhetoric of the real, where every tree, every blade of grass, or every computer screen has as much agency as the rhetor.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Rhetorical Purpose and Onticology (cont.)

I realized that my last post might be read as if I see the receiving object as having the choice to translate however it wants. This is not so. Instead every object exists in an environment for Onticology. And this environment constitutes the scene of the object’s act of translation. As Bryant remarks, “The organism-environment system indeed constrains the development of the phenotype in a variety of ways, defining a topological space of possible variations” (DoO 223). And he continues, “What’s important here is that the information presiding over the genesis of the phenotype is something constructed in the process of the development from a variety of factions, and, moreover, the qualities that the organism comes to embody are not located already in the organism in a virtual or implicit form, but are rather new creations in the process of development” (223). In other words, objects must constantly deal with, work with, or fight against their environments by constantly translating perturbations from other objects in its environment. However, the object itself is constrained in the ways in which it can do so. Therefore, no object can anticipate the perturbations from other objects, nor can any other object anticipate the translations by other objects.

Bryant offers us the following:
Just as other substances in a substance’s environment can only perturb the substance without determining what information events [or translation] will be produced on the basis of these perturbations, the most the substance can do is attempt to perturb other substances without being able to control what sort of information-events are produced in the other substances. And these attempted perturbations can always of course fail. My three year old daughter, for example, might yell at her toy box when she bumps into it, yet the toy box continues on its merry way quite literally unperturbed. Everything spins on recognizing that while objects construct their openness to their environment they do not construct the events that take place in their environment. (224)

Thus, a receiving object, in this case Bryant’s daughter, becomes perturbed by the toy box when she bumps into it. This perturbation is translated by her in a way that produces a yell. A translation that, in this case, has no further effects on the toy box – but this does not mean that it doesn’t have any further effects for her environment, for Bryant might have heard her yell and run to the rescue, or at least turned to see what was causing the commotion. Regardless, Bryant’s daughter was forced to deal with the perturbation (or objet a from my last post) but is constricted in the ways in which she can do this.

What’s important for our understanding of the object-oriented pentad, then, is that it seems as if the scene only becomes apparent after the information-event or act of translation occurs, because only here do we see the constraints from which the receiving object must work, and the further perturbations this object has on other objects. Or, as Burke states, “From the motivational point of view, there is implicit in the quality of a scene the quality of an action that is to take place within it. This would be another way of saying that the act will be consistent with the scene” (Grammar 7). Any environment limits the types of perturbations that can be produced by objects, as does any object’s system.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Rhetorical Purpose and Onticology

First off, I want to apologize for the length of the following. What started as a short post of ideas quickly developed into a mini essay. But, as always, I welcome any comments and critiques. Also, I want to thank Levi Bryant for letting me read a draft of his Democracy of Objects - I hope it will be as fruitful for others as it was for me.

Over the past few weeks (months really)
I’ve been trying to read Kenneth Burke’s
Grammar of Motives in OOO terms. The problem with Burke (and the initial problem with all rhetoric) is that it seems to be extremely enveloped in the human-centered world view. For example, in Grammar, Burke states: “Instruments are ‘essentially’ human, since they are products of human design” (283). In this way Burke argues that even though some objects might not have a purpose in and of themselves while still maintaining an agency as instrument, they are always imbued with a “human” purpose since they are tools, designed with a purpose in mind – i.e., a symbolic purpose. The problem, then, for an OOR is how do we separate human purpose from the ontologically independent nature of such objects. In other words, if objects act then for what purpose do they do so?In what follows I propose that it is only by means of the uncanny that we might begin to recognize an object’s purpose. But to begin with we have to look at how objects inter-act or have exo-relations. Using Levi Bryant’s Onticology, we find that all objects are mediators in relation to one another – that is, they all transmit and translate or transform what they receive from each other. Since all objects are either autopoietic (self-creating) or allopoietic (other-creating), and draw upon their own system/environment distinctions in order to transform “perturbations” into information, they all mediate or add something new to what they receive (DoO 194). It’s hardly a stretch, then, to recognize through such a formulation that each object is an agent acting with a certain amount of agency. Yet, again, where can we find purpose or motive in such acts of translation?

To begin with, objects for Onticology exist in a type of realism that accepts all beings. In other words, there is no hierarchy of “more real” to “less real” and finally to “not real”. Every object is as real as every (other) object. One part of this type of realism is the belief that all objects withdraw from each other. That is, no object is ever fully present, either to itself or to other objects. However, this does not mean that an object is ever fully withdrawn, either. No, instead for Onticology “withdrawal is never so thorough, never so complete, that local manifestation in one form or another is impossible” (295). Therefore, because of the inherent split between an object’s local manifestations or qualities, and its virtual proper being (that part of the object that is always in withdrawal) no object can be without the potential to locally manifest itself yet no object is ever completely locally manifested.

Such a realism, however, leads to a non-binary split of the object between something familiar or manifested, and something unfamiliar or withdrawn. Now, to be clear, this familiarity and manifestation are not simply for us, but are for all objects, including the objects themselves.

We might better understand this concept through what I’ve formulated here as the un-canny. Freud remarks early on in his essay that:
For us the most interesting fact to emerge from this long excerpt is that among the various shades of meaning that are recorded for the word heimlich there is one in which it merges with its formal antonym, unheimlich, so that what is called heimlich becomes unheimlich. […] This reminds us that this word heimlich is not unambiguous, but belongs to two sets of ideas, which are not mutually contradictory, but very different from each other – the one relating to what is familiar and comfortable, the other to what is concealed or kept hidden. (132)
The un-canny is a both/and term – for it represents both what is familiar (heimlich) and unfamiliar (unheimlich) at the same time. What presents itself in the object, since it is locally manifested or seems familiar. Yet, because objects never fully deploy themselves in their dealings with each other, they remain strange or unfamiliar (i.e., withdrawn). Bryant likens this un-canniness of the object to a concept formulated by Timothy Morton, namely the “strange stranger.” For Morton the strange-stranger is an object or person who no matter how long we know, we never become familiar with them. They remain constantly un-canny. Bryant, though, cautions us not to think of the strange-stranger as different from us, a difference in identity and the repetition of the same. Instead, again, every object is un-canny.

In terms of the un-canny, every object is surprising to every (other) object. That is, because every object maintains the un-canny split between local manifestations and the withdrawn virtual proper being, they are never fully consumed, taken in, or understood by an (other) object. And it is here in this un-canniness - that I find purpose in an object’s actions.

The split between the local manifestations and the virtual proper being of an object creates a difficulty in dealing with other objects. For on the one hand, a receiving object always receives something. But, on the other hand, this something is never everything. Therefore, the withdrawal of objects, in terms of its exo-relations, can be read as an excess. As Bryant remarks, “For while, in their virtual proper being, objects withdraw from any of their actualizations in local manifestations, while every object always contains a reserve excess over and above its local manifestations, nonetheless local manifestations are often highly constrained by the exo-relations an object enters into with other objects in a regime of attraction” (214). And it is precisely this excess which becomes important for our understanding of the purpose of object inter-action.

Perhaps the best way to understand this purpose behind exo-relations is through the structure of Lacan’s formulation of fantasy. What’s important to note, here, is that I am in no way performing a one-to-one reading of Lacan over Onticology, but am in fact using Lacan’s formulation since it best suits the types of relations in which objects seemed to be involved. Therefore, if we substitute the barred or split subject for the split object we could redraw the matheme ( $ ◊ a ) as ( Ø ◊ a ). This should be read as either the split object’s relation to objet a or the split object punch a. Now, normally Lacan figures this as an internal or intersubjective relation between the object and the bit of the real through alienation and separation – or the introduction of the symbolic. What’s needed for our purposes, however, is simply (Ha!) a reformulation of objet a in terms of exo-relations.

Sticking to fantasy, for Lacan, as Bruce Fink notes, “Object a, as it enters into [one’s] fantasies, is an instrument or plaything with which subjects do as they like, manipulating it as it pleases them, orchestrating things in the fantasy scenario in such a way as to derive a maximum of excitement therefrom” (60). Objet a, for our purposes, maintains its excess of immediacy – ready to excite, horrify, or perturb – yet, we recognize also that it does not come from the receiving object, but is a (by)product of an other object. In this way it is doubly excessive – in excess of containment since it escapes the first object and in excess of reception since it always perturbs the “natural” state of the receiving object. Regardless, what is important to note in the quote from Fink is that objet a is always translated in whatever way the receiving object wishes. Why is this important?

Well, since every object interprets or translates in their own way, we have to assume that there is a purpose behind this choice. For Lacan this purpose shows up in the dual movement of alienation and separation – or the punch in the matheme. Quickly, we can think of alienation as asking the subject to choose (either/or = S/S’). Immediately, the subject finds problems with her choice because of the Other – something is missing – and continues on a path of neither/nors in an endless chain of signifiers in order to fulfill her (his) desire (S’, S’’,…Sn). The purpose, then, behind this double movement or punch, is the subject’s development of a fantasy in order to deal with who she is for the Other – she is neither this nor that nor that, etc.

For our purposes, the punch represents the same two operations, yet with slightly different consequences. In the moment of alienation, the split object can either be perturbed or not. If not, the object still chooses, and thus is confronted by the neither/nor of separation. In our understanding of separation the object doesn’t choose between signifiers, but instead is forced to translate the objet a in to something else – for it is neither this nor that. Every object, therefore, is forced to deal with the excesses of other objects. And it is in this excess contained in every object that we begin to understand the rhetorical purpose behind translation. Objects translate not because they want or need the other object, but because parts of other objects are forced upon them constantly. In order to maintain a certain level of contentment, as a unified object, they must constantly deal with the perturbations of other objects.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Object Formerly Known as Gravity

Here is a recent NY Times article describing Erik Verlinde's argument that gravity is in fact a consequence "of the venerable laws of thermodynamics, which describe the behavior of heat and gases."

And here is a link to his paper (just another addition to my growing summer reading list):


Hopefully I'll get to it sooner rather than later now that my summer courses are done. Here's to wishful thinking.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

OOR Beginnings

Jim Brown has a post up summarizing the OOR panel at RSA that I (somewhat) promised to discuss here. Since I’ve been ridiculously busy since I’ve gotten back from Minneapolis, I was glad to see the conversation still continuing here and a few OOO responses by Bogost and Harman (and here).

As for my own impressions of the papers on the panel, I think Jim is, for the most part, spot on in his summaries. He and I had an interesting discussion about OOO (over a few pints, of course) so I know his interest in the subject. But (and I don’t think this is pressed enough in his post or in others) OOR is in its beginning stages right now. In other words, we have not made a case in rhetoric for an Object-Oriented approach. Why is OOR needed? What would an OOR allow us to discuss that other rhetorics would not? And, finally what would an OOR look like? These questions are only now being asked and answers being attempted. So, while it might seem easy to "laugh" or "scoff" at these first attempts (and their comments), they are just that - first attempts.

So for me, Scot Barnett’s introduction along with Byron Hawk’s presentation, were of interest because they allowed me to see where other rhetoricians might approach OOO. That’s not to say that I completely agree with where they came from (mostly Harman’s Guerrilla Metaphysics and Prince of Networks) and what they argued (since Meillassoux’s work only figured in tangentially, and it seemed Latour took center stage), but that rhetoric is making such an attempt – and for that I am extremely excited.

Also in my discussions with Robert Leston, before and after his presentation, I felt like his perspective might actually link up nicely (though not completely) with a lot of the work Levi is doing in his Onticology. So that should be interesting, especially with the release of Democracy of Objects, but also if Robert decides to write something furthering his thoughts on Deleuze.

Anyway, I hope the discourse continues, as the panel really pushed me to write my dissertation over OOR. It will be exciting to see the reactions, responses, and translations of OOO in rhetoric.

Saturday, May 29, 2010


I’m currently in Minneapolis, attending the Rhetoric Society of America Conference, and am incredibly happy to inform the blogosphere that the “hot-topic” seems to be non-human rhetorics. Today I attended a panel on bestial and creaturely rhetorics, and am extremely excited about tomorrow’s early morning panel on Object-Oriented Rhetoric. Sadly, I am not on this panel, but am instead presenting over a paper in which I argue (using Lacan) that we can understand the structure of Amish forgiveness as essentially selfish in nature. However, I would die to be on the OOR panel. That being said, I will be in attendance, so (although I can’t make promises) I will try to relay the panel’s main arguments.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

No Escape

So, in the recent back and forth with Levi over the past day (couple of days, really) his brilliant insights (and I'm not being flippant here) have made me realize that I have not successfully escaped the correlationist circle. I accept this now obvious reality since it appears I want so desperately to organize my ideas through a direct connection with the old way of thinking about things. I deeply feel that I at some level understand that there is a reality untouched and unmoved by human thought but can’t help but think that this reality is for all intents and purposes indifferent and insignificant, and that it only becomes significant when we interact with it, focus on it, and are made aware of it.

Then, perhaps my penchant for looking for significance in such a reality has clouded my thinking, made me pass over certain objects in favor of other objects – narrative being one of them – but I’d like to think that having favorites (favorite books, theorists, movies, etc.), focusing on the significance of one thing over the other, and trying to work out my thoughts, as flawed and misstated as they may sometimes be, is of some difference. I think they are.

That being said, I am thinking of taking time off from writing about and responding to the ongoing world-building that has been going on here and attempt to understand why it is that I can’t seem to break this damn circle (maybe it’s because I use phrases like “world-building”…hmmm) – or at least move to the outer sides. Instead, I will focus my blog writing on the un-canny, develop my ideas accordingly, and leave the object- oriented stuff to those who’ve already escaped. I’ll leave you with the following from Clément Rosset that best sums up how I feel. Cheers.

But in order to make a road impassible for a person with thousands of pathways it isn't enough to stamp it as forbidden territory. Nothing is impassible for the person ‘possessing all pathways,’ the all-terrain machine that is always able to surprise us. A person is a terrifying thing, dangerous in its unexpectedness: this is the overall meaning that the term deinon [strange, or uncanny] covers in Sophocles. A person is terrifying because he possesses all pathways, while having no destination. Nothing is as dangerous as a machine going nowhere – all roads, by definition, are open to it.
- “Of a Real That Has Yet to Come” 17

Friday, March 26, 2010

In Response to a Response

I want to first thank Levi (before I get into my argument) because over the past couple of years I've really had a blast participating in these blog discussions - and he has been right there with all sorts of encouragement. Sometimes I can be snide, trite, and even downright rude (but which of us can't, right?), so I appreciate the patience he and everyone else in the OOO world has given to this lowly rhetorician.

But onto my post.

In his response to Tim and to my problem with the TV show Life After People, Levi over at Larval Subjects remarked:

I think narrative is a way in which these things take place, but is not the way. This is what I referred to in a prior post (over at Philosophy in a Time of Error, I think) as an occupational hazard. The rhetorician spends his or her time analyzing narratives and thus naturally sees narratives and signifiers in everything.

And then a little later:

The whole thing that set off my original post was Nate’s rather snide remark that all the object-oriented ontologist can say is “objects act”. Hell no. We’re interested in how objects act and celebrate those modes of analysis that show how objects act and what differences they contribute.

I've made bold this last sentence because it draws out a larger question. What, if we are not creating narratives, does Levi mean when he makes this last statement? A narrative is story set up in an sometimes enlightening but often constructive format. It can take shape in variety of forms (novels, short stories, poems, TV shows, movies, anecdotes, even grocery lists, etc, etc.). The first order observation that Levi fails to see when watching Life After People is that he is watching a narrative – I am in no way adding this narrative, as Levi claimed, since as a TV show Life After People is automatically a structured way of relaying a story – and if the title and the obvious fact that it is a TV show want to be ignored, one can always point out the second glaring reason – Life After People has a NARRATOR. The show, the story of a world without people still needs to be narrated, significance needs to be given to the objects of this specific (and post-human) world. BUT, this significance is not placed onto the show by an outside viewer as a first-order observation. No. It is inherent in the show itself, which brings me back to the original problem I had with it. When stripped of all of its narrative aspects, what are we left with? I would argue, that what we are left with is something far more boring than the job of a rhetorician.

My second problem is that I've never said that narrative is the only way objects interact (I refuse to say translate here because translation implies some sort of narrative work). But at the same time, when Levi in one of his comments suggests that what makes OOO interesting is that it doesn't rely on 1990's narrativity studies, I find myself saying “Yeah, go for it!” I'm just trying to understand how OOO is going to address these problems. You aren't taking away my toys, as much as you are ignoring the fact that there are toys to begin with. So far, I'm unconvinced. From a rhetorical (and when did we start lapsing into a Platonic notion of rhetoric as sophistry or fancy language?) standpoint if we only talk about the object we are the observer. If we talk from the object's point of view, we run the risk of giving the object qualities it does not locally manifest. So it seems that we are to always talk about the object-with-other-objects without forgetting that we are ultimately the ones performing the narrative.

*Note: While I was writing this post, Levi posted the following:

If onticology has something to offer at the level of object-oriented practice and epistemology, I think it is the hypothesis that objects act or are encountered in their doing. “objects act?” I'm confused. Just kidding.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Ontological blindness?

In English there are two essential types of words: 1) words that have to do with objects (nouns) and 2) words that have to do with actions (verbs). And, just as Aristotle claimed of onoma and rhema, any structure that weaves these two types of words together is where discourse takes place. But another way of reading this “weaving together” would be to say that in discourse, or logos, we discover that essentially “objects act.”

In a recent discussion I had with my dissertation director, we came to the conclusion that this phrase (“objects act”) is the only way to describe the show on the History Channel entitled, Life After People. For those of you unfamiliar with the show, it is roughly 40 minutes of watching buildings, landmarks, and cities crumble back into the earth. But what is fascinating about the show is its reliance upon the human gaze. For the only reason that this show is fascinating to its human viewers is because of the amount of significance we have given to each of the objects we watch deteriorate. Without significance there is no difference between the Statue of Liberty falling into the ocean and the face of a cliff. Significance is the recognition of the gaze, and without it we are left with the fact that “objects act”.

The human gaze or the look, then, becomes the death of the onticological object in the sense that the object is now significant. Significance does away with the object as anything other than its use, its purpose. For it places the object in a Latourian black box and throws away the key. Significant objects are separate from the everyday, from the ordinary in a way that demarcates them apart from even their own object-ness. For example, my daughter's stuffed toy dog is extremely significant for her since she's had it since she was born. She knows this object inside (after it was ripped open at one time due to excessive play) and out. And if we were to attempt to replace it with a new, cleaner version, she would almost certainly break down in tears. There is NO other stuffed toy dog for my daughter.

So if the goal of OOO/P is to remove the human subject as the pole around which the tether-ball of the world circulates, then surely it must be a blind ontology. By removing the look, or the gaze, it sees nothing/everything. The object oriented philosopher's gaze, then, is one of an impossibility, of a type of void or a field of vision without a blind spot (where infinity is as limitless as nothingness). But in this way, I wonder what more can be said of objects besides “objects act.” Isn't any move beyond this an act of signification, where objects become monads, vacuum-packed withdrawals, or differences that make a difference? Aren't all of these now significant objects?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Significant Objects

I've been meaning to write a post about this website for some time now. I'm sure a few of you might be familiar with it, but recently I've had the chance to revisit some early Heidegger, and have begun to put ideas together. The following are a few of those rough ideas strung together.

For those of you not familiar with the site, the goal of the site was to see if given significance, random everyday objects could take on objective significance, as well. As the site explains:
A talented, creative writer invents a story about an object. Invested with new significance by this fiction, the object should — according to our hypothesis — acquire not merely subjective but objective value. How to test our theory? Via eBay!
As demonstrated from some of the entries, these objects are not “rare” or “important” objects by any means. In fact a lot of the times these objects are purchased from thrift stores or garage sales for just a couple of bucks (max). A “fictional” account of the object's significance is added and then sold and bought on eBay – usually purchased for way more than the item was originally worth. But what I find fascinating about this experiment is that it is purposefully doing something that we often do without thinking about it – that is, adding significance to objects. This led me to question, what is significance and how/why is it important for our understanding of object-oriented philosophy?

In Ontology – The Hermeneutics of Facticity, Heidegger claims:
“Significant” means: being, being-there, in the how of a definite signifying and pointing […] The definiteness of this signifying, which is what initially needs to be explicated, lies in the characteristic of the disclosedness of that which is for a while significant to us at the particular time in question. (71)
In other words, when an object becomes significant, it opens itself up, it allows itself to be-encountered through its “being-there” at a specific moment in time. He goes on to say:
This disclosedness shows itself in two basic characteristics: (1) the characteristic of availability in advance, (2) the characteristic of the advance appearance of a with-world (i.e., bringing-about-the-appearance of those with us in the world, holding them in this appearance). (71).
The first characteristic Heidegger describes is akin to his readiness-to-hand, where the object is there for such and such a manner and use, and expected to be there in the same manner at a later time. The second characteristic, as I read it, is slightly more complex. Here Heidegger is attempting to understand how it is objects seemingly “stand out.” However, the significant object does not simply stand out from other objects of the same sort, but in its “standing-out” it makes other objects known – including ourselves. As Heidegger remarks in What is a Thing?, “we human beings have the power of knowing what is, which we ourselves are not, even though we did not ourselves make this what is. To be what is in the midst of an open vis-á-vis what is, that is constantly strange” (244). And this strangeness is what is overcome by giving the object significance, by letting it “stand out”. Significance points to the strangeness of our encounter with objects by letting the object “stand out” but it forces the object into the everyday by giving it a specific use and time. This strangeness or uncanniness, then as I understand it, is neither an attribute of the human, nor is it a part of the object. Instead, Being itself is uncanny.

By attributing significance to objects we bring them into the everyday, we give them “use”, “purpose”, and “value.” But more importantly we show the object's strangeness by disturbing this in-explicit familiarity – the object's contingency in its “thereness”. And what the website ( shows is that this is done by way of narrative. In other words, significance is not some mereological part of an object that we simply tack on to it, but instead what holds our attention in object is the narrative that goes along with it.

In summation, I'll leave you with these haunting words from Heidegger's discussion of his table:
That is the table – as such is it there in the temporality of everydayness, and as such will it perhaps happen to be encountered again after many years when, having been taken apart and now unusable, it is lying on the floor somewhere, just like other “things,” e.g., a plaything, worn out and almost unrecognizable – it is my youth. (Ontology 70).

Sunday, February 14, 2010

When Nature Attacks

I think over the past year or so what has fascinated me most about the object-oriented project is its reliance upon the uncanny. However, this reliance is also what is most unnerving for me at the same time, since the uncanny has become a tool seemingly not worth studying for the object-oriented philosopher. In other words, the uncanny is simply invoked, mentioned, or even alluded to with little to no discussion about it as an object – even if it is an object of study.

Yet, in a recent post by Levi over at Larval Subjects he uses alien invasion science fiction films to discuss the ontological de-centering that takes place in such films. At one point, though, he makes the following point:

Rather, what interests me is the effect of the uncanny that this quintessentially anti-humanist cinema seems to produce in the viewer (at least, to produce in this viewer). One reels before the jaw-dropping flatness of such a universe, where humans are treated as one other being among others, rather than a privileged center to which all other entities must necessarily address themselves. Who knows, perhaps there's even the possibility of renewing the genre of horror through the exploration of the flat and a-human, where humans are caught up in events beyond themselves but are not at the center.

So given this (rare) opportunity to discuss the uncanny in and of itself, I would like to expand Levi's argument that at the heart of horror films is the invocation of the uncanny.

A while back I argued that the object-oriented philosopher would have to take on the zombie as an ontological problem, for the zombie represents our fear of humans-as-objects, but also our desire to overcome nature, to live beyond death. And for this last reason (but not this reason alone) the zombie becomes the perfect manifestation of this aforementioned uncanniness. Unlike Levi, though, I find the most horribly uncanny movies to be ones where humans are de-centered not by some invading alien race, but the films where humans become de-centered by way of the everyday. In other words, the most unsettling films are those that place the human "in-the-world" and alongside other objects.

At one point in my academic career, I argued that the best example of these types of films were the "nature-run-amok" films. Not unique to a single time period, these types of films often use animals to turn the ontological tables on the humans in the films. So, for example, in Cujo (1983) a familiar domesticated family dog becomes a ruthless killer. The reason why Cujo is so horribly unsettling is that unlike the alien invaders, or even some extinct creature of the past (the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park, for example), is that most if not all of us had a dog at one time in our lives. Therefore, the familiar non-human becomes a moment of the uncanny, of confronting the everyday presentation of humanity as over and above nature.

What I hope to do in some later posts is to discuss this uncanniness in terms of Heidegger's "everydayness". But, as for now, I wish only to point out that what is great about the uncanniness of horror films is that they are not dependent upon an Other world – for our world can be just as uncanny.