Wednesday, December 7, 2011

More on Hacking

I only have a brief amount of time before I have to run off and teach, but it seems that my post on hacking and allusion has received a few responses. Harman responds here. Robert Jackson responds to both my and Harman’s posts here. And finally Tim Richardson responds to all three of us here.
A few concessions are in order before I get into what I want to say. First, Jackson and Richardson are justified in correcting my mis-authorization of hacking. As Jackson points out:
“…when you are dealing with the reality of things including computer protocols and software objects, the dichotomy of meaningful authorisation / non-authorisation breaks down considerably. Just because a certain proprietary program is encapsulated so that general public access is forbidden, it does not entail a universal relational structure that can be attributed to relationships where HIV ‘hacks’ RNA strands.”
Very true. In fact the problem with hacking is that it is often hard to place blame on the hack, the hacker, or the hacked. When I find a way around authorizing my iDevice, so that I can install third-party apps, who’s at fault? Me…well I just exploited a part of the system that was already there. Apple…well, they designed the original software that allowed me to do this. Or the hack itself…but it’s just a program or code. As David J. Gunkel points out in “Hacking Cyberspace,” “Hackers cannot be praised or blamed in the usual manner for what it is they do or do not do. In other words, hackers do not, in any strict sense of the term, cause the disruptions or general systems failures exhibited in and by the activities of hacking. Hacking only fixates on and manipulates an aporia, bug, or back door that is always and already present within and constitutive of the system as such” (803). Because of this lack of clear intentionality (and perhaps meaningful authorization), Richardson rightly points out that my formulation of hacking as “a faculty for observing all of the available means of perturbation” is at best inexact.

And Harman makes a good point when he argues that, “praxis falls short of the things themselves no less than theory does.” In other words, neither praxis nor theory successfully mines the depths of objects. No relation, for Harman, is ever direct. But, if allure, as Harman points out in Guerilla Metaphysics, is always something that “either occurs or does not occur,” then what of potential? Why assume, since the RO-SO (or real object – sensual object) relation is always the same (structure-wise) that it is untenable that we or another object could work by exploiting this knowledge? What I am talking about here is a sort of operation that works on potentiality and contingency. Such an operation isn’t interested in predicating unitary objects or reducing them to their parts or qualities, but is instead focused on uncovering (in an ontological sense, rather than an epistemological one) the unknown, subterranean object. In other words, an operation whose final cause is allusion. If such an operation could exist, then this is what I’m suggesting hacking (and maybe object-oriented rhetoric) might be considered. Wouldn't this also be in agreement with Jackson’s two points about code: 1) that code is already contingent and 2) the output of code can only be experienced and not known?

The only problem I see here, though, is that it does bring up questions about language. For like code, isn’t language just as contingent and unknowable in its outcome? And if so, is something like deconstruction already a type of language-hacking? This is where I think it's important, like Richardson points out, to move beyond thinking of hacking as directly related to code and see it as possible in other material relations: Ikea Hackers and body hackers are just two examples of such non-code hacking.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Democracy of Objects on Amazon

Levi Bryant's much awaited tome is up for purchase in the US on Amazon. And just in time for a brilliant stocking stuffer.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

3 Possible Kinds of OOR

Over at Tim Richardson’s blog objet(a)uthenticity, the question is raised as to whether an object can be designed to be authentic. For Tim, authenticity requires a certain amount of distance between the “mythical” real object and the object that is claiming to be authentic in regards to this real object. For example, Tim relays his experience with the word authentic when:
During one of the [last democratic presidential primary] debates, when the field was still large, one pundit commented that the choice of a nominee would come down to which candidate seemed most authentic to the voter. At that exact moment, I reached for a bag of tortilla chips that was emblazoned with the slogan “Authentic Mexican Taste” and, with that coincidence, realized the problem. “Authentic Mexican Taste” only makes sense outside of (a mythic) Mexico. (Of course, you can see that referenced in the proposal, but this distance may be very much like the distance insisted on by medieval courtly love narratives, too).
Authenticity, according to Tim, requires that there be an ideal object or place that exists apart from the “authentic” object. Authentic Mexican chips can only be authentic to a Mexico that exists outside of the chips themselves. In the end, though, Tim questions the relationship between the “mythical” object of origin and that object claiming to be authentic as being similar to the an object’s substance and its properties. He asks, “But I’m wondering if this idea of difference between the design of a device (even the body) and its potential properties isn’t something like the distance or gap I described far above as a hallmark of the authentic?” (emphasis added)

Now hopefully Tim will build on this question (and I look forward to reading his next post), but it got me thinking about my own project and a note I drew up some time ago about Aristotle’s three kinds of rhetoric.

For Aristotle, there existed three kinds or species of rhetoric: deliberative (argues that we should take a certain action or that a certain action should not be taken), forensic ( or judicial rhetoric, accuses or defends someone according to some event), and epideictic (offers praise of blame determining if someone is honorable or shameful). But, as Eugene Garver points out in his essay “Aristotle on the Kinds of Rhetoric,” these three kinds at times seem trivial since “[e]ven in Aristotle’s time, most rhetorical speeches did not fall under one of the three kinds of rhetoric. Today, the proportion of rhetoric that is deliberative, judicial, or epideictic is even smaller” (17). Now ultimately for Garver, Aristotle’s three kinds of rhetoric act as guides that “tell us what rhetoric should and can be” by “show[ing] us rhetoric’s possibilities” (18). And while I don’t disagree with Garver’s point one hundred percent, I would argue that in order to develop a true faculty to discover all available means of persuasion, we also need to take into account the temporal dimension of deliberative, forensic, and epideictic rhetoric.

For Aristotle these three kinds of rhetoric were also tied to respective times. As he states in Book I chapter 3 of his Rhetoric:
Further, to each of these a special time is appropriate: to the deliberative the future, for the speaker, whether he exhorts or dissuades, always advises about things to come; to the forensic the past, for it is always in reference to things done that one party accuses and the other defends; to the epideictic most appropriately the present, for it is the existing condition of things that all those who praise or blame have in view. It is not uncommon, however, for epideictic speakers to avail themselves of other times, of the past by way of recalling it, or of the future by way of anticipating it. (135b12-20)
So we can see that apart from purpose, there is also a temporal distance between each of these types of rhetoric. Therefore, any interaction, if it is dependent upon a certain amount of opportunity or kairos is subject to a temporal characteristic as much as a motivating one. In other words, it makes sense (especially if we agree with Garver that Aristotle’s three kinds of rhetoric are often irrelevant to the extent that rarely do rhetorical acts fall under one of these categories) that we can reduce rhetoric to a temporal structure. So that if we were to develop any new categories, they would not have to accommodate or acquiesce to the purpose of Aristotle’s kinds, but simply the temporal format of future, past, and present.

And it is with this temporal understanding of rhetoric that I wish to put forth my own three kinds of object-oriented rhetoric: architectural, practical, and aesthetic. With architectural rhetoric, the focus is on the object’s future design, for the object stands as something to be improved upon, developed, and planned for, whether that object exists or not. Architectural rhetoric relies on the future much like deliberative rhetoric does, by attempting to determine future models and manifestations. Practical rhetoric focuses solely on use, for objects in use are either in reference to objects that have worked before or to the withdrawn substance of the broken tool. Therefore, practical rhetoric relies on the past in order for objects to be put to use, constantly oscillating between tool and broken tool, real and sensual. Finally, aesthetic rhetoric focuses on objects as they appear or present themselves to us and to other objects, for it is in the object’s existence as something pleasing or perturbing that creates networks of relations. However, like epideictic rhetoric, it is not uncommon for aesthetic rhetoric “to avail themselves of other times,” of the past by way of recalling an object’s use, or of the future by way of anticipating the potential of new local manifestations.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Hacking and Allusion

Over at Tim Richardson’s new blog Objet(a)uthenticity, he questions the idea of authenticity as it relates to both the prosthetic and the hack. He posits that like rhetoric, as dunamis, hacking seems to be a way of getting the object to reveal itself while a prosthetic is merely a replacement part:
What seems to differentiate the hack from the prosthetic (that talk I linked to last note) is that the latter is a replacement in kind, a surrogate that may or may not live up to the standards or utility of the original (and may or may not appear authentic). The hack, though, is all about new functionality. So it might be that all hacks are prosthetic (though maybe they address a lack, not a loss?) but not all prosthetics are hacks?
I’m going to get back to this in just a bit, but I want to bring up something that’s always bothered me about Harman’s OOO—allusion. 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)
Therefore, even when the object seems to offer us a glimpse into its withdrawn nature, these are just allusions to the real object that lies beneath. Now I used to think that this “allusion” (whether on our part or the object’s) was just a weasel word—a way to get around not having to talk about a seemingly important point. But what Tim’s post seems to get at is that perhaps a better way of understanding the relationship between the real object and the sensual one, or when the hammer breaks, is by way of hacking. Hacking allows users to get at parts of their objects that were meant to remain hidden, tucked away in code or purposefully disabled. What the hacker does, then, is never a physical modification but an action that allows the excess or withdrawn “reality” of the object to come forth. A recent example is when iOS hackers found that there was a panorama setting in iOS 5.0 that wasn’t turned on by Apple. Hacking, therefore, is a sort of non-linguistic way of alluding to a real object. And humans aren't the only objects that hack. For example, HIV works by hacking a host cell to replicate its RNA strand. HIV, in its hacking, makes the allusion to the host cell's hidden functionality extremely clear. Hacking in this sense is a faculty for observing all of the available means of perturbation. And as Tim reminds us, rhetoric (and maybe more specifically for us, OOR), too, is a faculty for discovering an object’s hidden functionality or local manifestations.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Rhetoric of the Uncanny in OOO

Okay, so it’s been kind of hectic around here with the newborn and all (so excuse the messiness and rambling of this post), but I’ve been working through the chapter of my dissertation on OOO, and in my writing came up with this fourfold.

Let me explain. Originally, I was planning on writing my dissertation over the uncanny as a rhetorical structure and device. So I ran across my notes on Mladen Dolar’s article “‘I Shall Be with You on Your Wedding Night’: Lacan and the Uncanny,” and decided to reread the entire article. What struck me was Dolar’s reading of ETA Hoffmann’s story, "The Sandman"—the same one that appears in Freud’s famous 1919 essay over the uncanny. Dolar, however, develops a fourfold out of the characters, arguing that the four poles represent two pairs of uncanny doubles in the story. But what I saw was a way of discussing the difference between Graham Harman’s object-oriented ontology and Levi Bryant’s Onticology.

I’m still working through the specifics, but this is the basic argument:

It’s been argued that OOO deals with that which is uncanny. So, when I started trying to differentiate between these two philosophers, I decided to see in what way their respective object-oriented ontologies dealt with the uncanny.

When we look at Nathaniel (a human) and Olimpia* (an automaton) in Hoffmann's tale (and our first pole), there is a moment when the two blur the boundary between human and nonhuman. Dolar argues:
There is a strange reversal in this situation: the problem is not simply that Olympia turns out to be an automaton (contrived by the Sand-Man figure Coppola, who contributed the eyes, and Spalanzani, who took care of the mechanism) and is thus in the uncanny area between the living and the dead; it is that Nathaniel strangely reacts in a mechanical way. His love for an automaton is itself automatic; his fiery feelings are mechanically produced… (9)
In this way, there is a tension between Nathaniel and Olimpia whereby what was meant to remain hidden or withdrawn (i.e., the automatic response of human emotions or Olimpia’s true nature as an automaton) has come into the open (or appeared), and in doing so become uncanny.

The Freudian uncanny comes close, then, to Harman's ontology. Harman’s OOO, developed out of Heidegger’s tool analysis, says that all objects oscillate between a tool-state and a broken-tool state; or in Quadruple Object terms, between their apparent sensual side and their subterranean real side. This polarization, then, functions much in the same way Freud saw the uncanny working. For in the first part of his essay, Freud finds that there is a moment when what was defined as homely suddenly becomes unhomely—where the familiar and the strange oscillate much like the tool and broken tool. In this way, Harman's ontology is seemingly wrapped up in the rhetoric of the Freudian uncanny.

The poles of the Father and the Sandman, however, are slightly more complicated. If we read the father as external (perhaps as a Lacanian “name-of-the-father,” and thus as the symbolic legislative and limiting function over Nathaniel), the Sandman can be read as a frightening bit of the real in this symbolic function. For not only is Nathaniel mentally (or intimately) haunted by the Sandman, but the Sandman is also responsible for the father’s death and seemingly defies being signified—he is at times called the Sandman, at others Coppelius, and still at others Coppola. In this way, these two poles point to the blurring of the exterior/interior.

Similarly, Bryant’s Onticology favors a split object in which an object is seen as both a retreating virtual proper being and its local manifestations. Instead of reading either sides of this split as specifically internal or external, Bryant seems to favor the extimate—Lacan’s formulation of the uncanny—by which a thing is intimately exterior. As Dolar argues:
[The extimate] points neither to the interior nor to the exterior, but is located there where the most intimate interiority coincides with the exterior and becomes threatening, provoking horror and anxiety. The extimate is simultaneously the intimate kernel and the foreign body… (6)
Here the uncanny does not point to a level of access but to a level of proximity. What becomes frightening is the closeness or intimacy of this foreign object. Or, as Lacan states, the Other is “something strange to me, although it is at the heart of me” (The Ethics 71). For Bryant, the object is precisely a moment of extimacy—caught up not in relations between sensual and real objects or qualities; but, instead between endo- and exo-relations. Even the split in Bryant’s object seems to point to the way in which the object is extimate or uncanny unto itself.

Therefore, what’s important to see is that although both Harman and Bryant at times seem to share a view of objects, rhetorically they each approach the object in different terms of the uncanny—Freud for Harman and Lacan for Bryant.

*I've chosen to go with the Olimpia spelling here, although it appears in different translations as Olympia.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Back to Blogging

So I know I've been neglecting this blog for a while but rest assured, I have an excuse (two to be precise):
I'm also at a point in my own work that I need this space to work out a few thoughts, so in the next few posts I'll be doing just that.

Just in case you missed it, though, make sure you check out:

And Timothy Morton has just released videos of the OOOIII conference in case you weren't able to make the live broadcasts:

1) Graham Harman, Steven Shaviro and Aaron Pedinotti

2) Timothy Morton w/ intro by Eugene Thacker

3) Levi Bryant

4) MacKenzie Wark

5) Roundtable with Harman, Byrant, Shaviro, Shannon Mattern, Morton, and Wark.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Expanding Agency by Expanding Time

In How Buildings Learn: What Happens After They’re Built, inventor/designer Stewart Brand argues that buildings and architecture must be thought of in terms of time and not simply in terms of space. For Brand, buildings consist of six layers, each with its own temporal lifespan:
• SITE – This is the geographical setting, the urban location, and the legally defined lot, whose boundaries and context outlast generations of ephemeral buildings.
• STRUCTURE – The foundation and load-bearing elements are perilous and expensive to change, so people don’t. These are the building. Structural life ranges from 30 to 300 years (but few buildings make it past 60, for other reasons).
• SKIN – Exterior surfaces now change every 20 years or so, to keep up with fashion or technology, or for wholesale repair. Recent focus on energy costs has led to re-egineered Skins that are air-tight and better-insulated.
• SERVICES – These are the working guts of a building: communications wiring, electrical wiring, plumbing, sprinkler system, HVAC (heating, ventilating, and air conditioning), and moving parts like elevators and escalators. They wear out or obsolesce every 7 to 15 years. Many buildings are demolished early if their outdated systems are too deeply embedded to replace easily.
• SPACE PLAN – The interior layout – where walls, ceilings, floors, and doors go. Turbulent commercial space can change every 3 years or so; exceptionally quiet homes might wait 30 years.
• STUFF – Chairs, desks, phones, pictures; kitchen appliances, lamps, hair brushes; all the things that twitch around daily to monthly. Furniture is called mobilia in Italian for a good reason. (13)
Breaking a building up into these layers allows Brand to describe how these objects appear at once static things – “that church has always been there” – but at the same time, an object that is always “tearing itself apart” and becoming something new (13).

These layers are important for designers and architects, because humans interact with them at different levels:
The building interacts with individuals at the level of Stuff; with the tenant organization (or family) at the Space plan level; with the landlord via the Services (and slower levels) which must be maintained; with the public via the Skin and entry; and with the whole community through city or county decisions about the footprint and volume of the Structure and restrictions of the Site. The community does not tell you where to put your desk or your bed; you do not tell the community where the building will go on the Site (unless you’re way out in the country). (17)
Therefore, the Skin and Stuff of a building might undergo a quicker degree of change (every 3-30 years), while the Structure and the Site might change a lot slower (every 200+ years). Services, on the other hand, might undergo change depending upon the Skin and the Stuff – do I need a T1 connection if I do not own a computer? The point Brand is making is that buildings act much like an ecosystem, in that “the lethargic slow parts are in charge, not the dazzling rapid ones. Site dominates the Structure, which dominates the Skin, which dominates the Services, which dominate the Space plan, which dominates the Stuff. How a room is heated depends on how it relates to the heating and cooling Services, which depend on the constraints of the Structure. […] The quick processes provide originality and challenge, the slow provide continuity and constraint” (17). Each independent layer relies on and influences the other layers – though again, the results might not be immediate.

What reminded me of Brand’s evolutionary understanding of buildings was Jane Bennett’s position in Vibrant Matter - that the claim to vibrant matter (or a vital force located in all objects) becomes “more plausible if one takes a long view of time” (10). For Bennett, this type of evolutionary (temporal) view allows us to recognize the object specifically as an actant. So that, following De Landa, she finds that, “Mineralization names the creative agency by which bone was produced, and bones then ‘made new forms of movement control possible among animals, freeing them form many constraints and literally setting them into motion to conquer every available niche in the air, in the water, and on land” In the long and slow time of evolution, then, mineral material appears as the mover and shaker, the active power, and the human beings, with their much-lauded capacity for self-directed action, appear as its product" (11). By simply extending our view of time we find that agency is not necessarily a human property. This lesson seems to be similar to that found in Brand, that time becomes a hindrance to understanding an object’s agency when it is not allowed to regress (or progress?) beyond a certain point. Objects act, but only on their own time. A lesson needed for OOO.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

A Lengthy Response to Glen Fuller

If you've missed it, Glen Fuller has been so kind as to tell me not to continue writing posts on OOO and Deleuze. He has also, through his pedagogical discourse, explained to me that I can't just "use" Deleuze and Guattari, but that in fact I have to know every thing about them, know all of the secondary literature, and read all of the philosophers D&G use themselves. So,this post is an extremely lengthy response to Glen's comments to say thanks for all of the helpful information on how to use “concepts.”  Let's begin:

So let me see if I got this right. First I need to understand the development of the original concept. Okay, fair enough. According to Ian Buchannan’s Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus:
In the various interviews they gave following the publication of Anti-Oedipus, Deleuze invariably says that their starting point was the concept of the desiring-machine, the invention of which he attributes to Guattari. There is no record of how Guattari came up with the idea, but on the evidence of his recently published notebooks, The Anti-Oedipus Papers, his clinical experience at La Borde had a large part to play. As Deleuze tells it, Guattari came to him with an idea for a productive unconscious, built around the concept of desiring-machines. In its first formulation, though, it was judged by them both to be too structuralist to achieve the kind of radical breakthrough in understanding how desire functions that they were both looking for in their own ways. At the time, according to Deleuze, he was working - 'rather timidly' in his own estimation - 'solely with concepts' and could see that Guattari's ideas were a step beyond where his thinking had reached (N, 13/24). Unsurprisingly, Guattari's version of events concurs with Deleuze's, though he credits the latter with being the one whose thinking had advanced the furthest. Guattari describes himself as wanting to work with Deleuze both to make his break with Lacanian formulations more thoroughgoing and to give greater system and order to his ideas. But as we've already seen their collaboration was also always more than a simple exchange of ideas, each providing the other with something they lacked. They were both looking for a discourse that was both political and psychiatric but didn't reduce one dimension to the other. Neither seemed to think he could discover it on his own (N, 13/24). To put it another way, we could say that Deleuze and Guattari were both of the view that a mode of analysis that insists on filtering everything through the triangulating lens of daddy-mommy-me could not hope to explain either why or how May '68 happened, nor indeed why it went they way it did. The students at the barricades may have been rebelling against the 'paternal' authority of the state, but they were also rebelling against the very idea of the state and the former does not explain the latter. (emphasis added 38-39)
So, in essence the development of the desiring-machine was centered on the need to develop a concept that did two things: 1) described desire counter to the Freudian Oedipal complex which reduced every desire to a sexual desire (daddy-mommy-me) but could still be used to describe both the political and psychiatric, and 2) explained how desire was ultimately productive.

This makes perfect sense then when in Anti-Oedipus our two authors argue the following:
It is often thought that Oedipus is an easy subject to deal with, something perfectly obvious, a “given” that is there from the very beginning. But that is not all: Oedipus presupposes a fantastic repression of desiring machines. And why are they repressed? To what end? Is it really necessary or desirable to submit to such a repression? And what means are to be used to accomplish this? What ought to go inside the Oedipus triangle, what sort of thing is required to construct it? Are a bicycle horn and my mother’s arse sufficient to do the job? Aren’t there more important questions than these, however? Given a certain effect, what machine is capable of producing it? And given a certain machine, what can it be used for? Can we possibly guess, for instance, what a knife rest is used for if all we are given is a geometrical description of it? (3)
D&G find their answer to these questions in the desiring-machine and the schizophrenic. For the schizophrenic experiences the nature of the world differently. Nature is a process of production. And D&G mean three things by the word process: 1) as “incorporating recording and consumption within production itself, thus making the productions of one and the same process,” and 2) “man and nature are not like two opposite terms confronting each other – not even in the sense of bipolar opposites within a relationship of causation, ideation or expression (cause and effect, subject and object, etc.); rather they are one and the same essential reality, the producer product,” and 3) process “must not be viewed as a goal or an end in itself, nor must it be confused with an infinite perpetuation of itself” (4-5).

Desiring-machines work in binary (that is, always coupled with another machine) to produce such a process: “[T]here is always a flow-producing machine, and another machine connected to it that interrupts or draws off part of this flow (the breast-the mouth). And because the first machine is in turn connected to another whose flow it interrupts or partially drains off, the binary series is linear in every direction” (5). What this means is that every machine must always be connected to another machine and at every connection there is a new machine. For, “a connection with another machine is always established, along a transverse path, so that one machine is always established, along a transverse path, so that one machine always interrupts the current of the other or ‘sees’ its own current interrupted” (6). And it is in this coupling from flow-machine to interrupting-machine, and so on, that D&G argue that producing is always “grafted” onto production. But what this also means is that every desiring-machine should also be seen as a product of production.

However, one of the products of a desiring-machine (since it holds to the process described above) is its body without organs (BwO). D&G state that “[t]he body without organs is nonproductive; nonetheless it is produced, at a certain place and a certain time in the connective synthesis, as the identity producing and the product...” (8). The BwO is a wild collection of unactualized forces, or a blank space across which desiring-machines constantly cut across, “so that the desiring-machines seem to emanate from it in the apparent objective movement that establishes a relationship between the machines and the body without organs” (11). So that desiring-machines constantly create the organism and its opposite – the BwO.

So it is with these concepts (the BwO and the desiring-machine) that D&G are able to form a schizoanalysis that describes a non-Freudian-psychoanalytic sense of desire that is in itself a producing/product. For, as they note, once this is done and “desire is productive, it can be productive only in the real world and can produce only reality…The real is the end product, the result of the passive syntheses of desire as autoproduction of the unconscious. Desire does not lack anything; it does not lack its object. It is, rather, the subject that is missing in desire, or desire that lacks a fixed subject; there is no fixed subject unless there is repression. Desire and its object are one and the same thing: the machine, as a machine of a machine” (26).

So, now that I’ve explored the creation and problematic of D&G’s desiring-machine, let’s look at the problematic of OOO.

OOO was created in response to a certain version of realism in which the things in the world (including the world itself) were all a product of the human mind. Given its name by Quentin Meillassoux in After Finitude, this type of realism became known by the name of Correlationism – pointing to the necessary correlation of human thinking and world. Contrary to correlationsim, OOO proposed a weird realism in which all objects enjoyed the same ontological status as all other objects. As Ian Bogost once put it (and I’m paraphrasing here) OOO does not claim that all things are equal, but that all things equally are. The important thing to note is that like D&G, OOO was attempting to understand the world counter to an overwhelming philosophical world-view. We could say that for OOO objects do two things: 1) describes reality counter to the correlationist view which reduces the world to human thoughts and 2) explains how objects are ultimately productive.

For D&G it was Freud’s Oedipal complex by which everything seemed to be interrupted, and for OOO it was correlationism by which everything became a product of the human mind. OOO found its savior in the creation of objects – everything is considered an object (including its opposite, the subject). Now, I’m not going to go into Graham Harman’s objects (as I’m really still waiting to read his Quadruple Objects book to really get a grasp on some key issues), but am instead going to focus on how Levi Bryant puts forth his understanding of an object.

For Levi, the object is essentially split into two parts: a virtual proper being (or substance) and local manifestations. In the forthcoming Democracy of Objects, Levi states:
Because difference engines or substances are not identical to the events or qualities they produce while nonetheless substances, however briefly, endure, the substantial dimension of objects deserves the title of virtual proper being.  And because events or qualities occur under particular conditions and a variety of ways, I will refer to events produced by difference engines as local manifestations.  Local manifestations are manifestations because they are actualizations that occur in the world. (46)
The object’s qualities are therefore products of the object’s substance, but are not identical to the substance. At the same time, each quality or local manifestation is an actualization of that substance or virtual proper being. Another way of putting this process would be to say that local manifestations cut across the virtual proper being, both actualizing productions of it but also allowing it to withdraw from complete actualization. This is, in fact, one of the main tenants of OOO – that all objects withdraw from both other objects, but also from themselves. But still, regardless of this withdrawal, objects are seen as acts - in that they produce. Here we find Levi's main axiom: there is no difference that does not make a difference. There is no object that does not produce local manifestations, translate other objects, and withdraw from all such relations.

Without getting into the complexities of Levi’s autopoetic and allopoetic systems, we can safely say that this construction of the object is not unlike the process by which desiring-machines operate. Both objects (in Levi’s formulation) and desiring-machines are essentially productive products, and both onticology’s objects and D&G’s desiring-machines produce a realm of potential at every actualization – the virtual proper being and BwO respectively. What D&G’s concepts do, then, when placed up against Levi’s objects is to allow us to better understand how an object can be both limited and open for production. In a lot of ways, the virtual proper being and the BwO act as a structure or limit, while still being a site of production or of recording. I'll be the first to admit that these two theories don't always see eye-to-eye, but when we use D&G to work through these objects, we can broaden the conceptual field of OOO to understand how these objects can be both tablecloths, remote controls, tennis shoes, and stucco while at the same time still be subjects, societies, mobs, and revolutions. Personally, I think D&G can offer us a useful moment of extension from thinking about material things to thinking about all sorts of objects. 

Whew! You weren’t kidding, Glen. That was a lot of work. Regardless, I hope I clarified a few things that you had problems with. I’m sorry you dislike OOO, and my own work. And I don’t know if I will change your mind as to the usefulness of OOO, but perhaps that is another project for another post. Instead, my aim here was to show you that these concepts are not all that different. 

Friday, February 25, 2011


One argument that pops up again and again for OOO is that objects exist both in relation to each other, and at the same time maintain their autonomy, as discrete individual objects. OOO argues for the withdrawal of objects at every level of interaction with other objects. As Levi states in his upcoming Democracy of Objects, “Within the framework of onticology, the claim that objects are withdrawn from other objects is the claim that 1) substances are independent of or are not constituted by their relations to other objects, and 2) that objects are not identical to any qualities they happen to locally manifest. The substantiality of objects is never to be equated with the qualities they produce”* (48). In other words, the substance of any object – that is, its virtual proper being – is always withdrawn from any of its properties or local manifestations. This substance is also, as Levi remarks, never reducible to any of its local manifestations, though it is the source of all such properties or qualities of the object.

Therefore, if an object is to have a relation to another object, it will only be in relation of each object’s local manifestations and not their substances. But how is this possible? Take, for example, a table. It is made up of four legs and a table top (and on the micro level even more objects), each containing their own substance and local manifestations. However, when I discuss the “Table” (that is, the table proper), there seems to be only one substance – that of the table. What gives?

We find a similar problem with social groups in Kenneth Burke’s A Rhetoric of Motives, where Burke states:
A is not identical with his colleague, B. But insofar as their interests are joined, A is identified with B. Or he may be identify himself with B even when their interests are not joined, if he assumes that they are, or is persuaded to believe so.
Here are ambiguities of substance. In being identified with B, A is “substantially one” with a person other than himself. Yet at the same time he remains unique, an individual locus of motives. Thus he is both joined and separate, at once a distinct substance and consubstantial with another. (21)
Consubstantiality is the key, then, to understanding how it is that the table can be both a unique object (with its own withdrawn substance), but also made up of other objects (each with their own withdrawn substance). Consubstantiality, of course, is a theological term used to describe how it was that the substance of God was able to exist alongside the material substances of bread and wine. As good logologists, though, we understand (with Burke) that “whereas the words for the ‘supernatural’ realm are necessarily borrowed from the realm of our everyday experiences, out of which our familiarity with language arises, once a terminology has been developed for special theological purposes the order can become reversed. We can borrow back the terms from the borrower, again secularizing to varying degrees the originally secular terms that had been given ‘supernatural’ connotation” (The Rhetoric of Religion 7). Now, as Burke also argues, we must be aware of this complicated and messy back and forth between terminological realms, but the point here is that there is no reason why we cannot describe the table parts as being consubstantial with the table. In other words, when we discuss the Table (proper), we must recognize that this object has both a withdrawn substance of its own, but also maintains a consubstantial identification or relation between its many individual parts, each with their own withdrawn substance. To be an object is to be consubstantial and unique.

* This is the page number of the document I have and may not reflect the final copy yet to be released.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Inertia of Objects

Growing up I was fond of Mad Magazine, especially when they would provide a humorous (but most of the time, spot on) look at how to identify a certain subject – e.g., a punk, a hipster, or a rent-a-cop. For those who either remember these caricatures or know of others like them, you might also remember that such pages involved multiple lines to objects on or near the subject along with witty comments that aided in such identification. So for example, in identifying a hipster, you might have a line pointing to an item of clothing that said “Satchel Bag: Contains “intellectual texts” that were purchased at nearby Barnes and Noble, and is usually garnished with pins or buttons that state the hipster’s disdain for society.”

The reason these types of humorous images came to mind was while I was recently packing away some of my daughter’s old toys, I came across a “Doctor’s Kit” one of her aunts had given her. Later it struck me that there was a striking similarity in the way such objects are markers for identification – much like the hipster would not be found without his “satchel bag,” a doctor may not be found without his necessary “doctor-objects” (I believe the kit consisted of a plastic syringe, a plastic stethoscope, a plastic tongue depressor, and a toy blood pressure cuff and pump). Both “subjects” became products of a series of objects.

Objects are said, metaphysically, to have properties. We know from OOO, however, that these properties are not actually owned or housed within the object, but in fact such properties are actions of the substances of these objects. For Levi Bryant, it is the object’s substance or virtual proper being that produces its properties or local manifestations. However, this isn’t the only definition of property. Etymologically, the word “property” becomes so entwined with this notion that a property is a belonging that in the 14th or 15th century it becomes synonymous with a material object that belongs to a human subject. We then discuss concepts like private property, consumerism, greed, and wealth. In other words, there is a point at which a property of an object coincides with an identification of a human subject. To be a subject is to be surrounded by certain objects.

This notion of property opens up a unique space for the object-oriented rhetorician. Turning to Kenneth Burke we find in A Rhetoric of Motives that:
Metaphysically, a thing is identified by its properties. In the realm of Rhetoric, such identification is frequently by property in the most materialistic sense of the term…In the surrounding of himself with properties that name his number or establish his identity, man is ethical. (“Avarice” is but the scenic word “property” translated into terms of an agent’s attitude, or incipient act.)…But however ethical such an array of identifications may be when considered in itself, its relation to other entities that are likewise forming their identity in terms of property can lead to turmoil and discord. Here is par excellence a topic to be considered in a rhetoric having “identification” as its key term (24).
We surround ourselves with all sorts of objects that both help us to identify with a subject-hood, but which also influence us. How? Well, here comes the speculative part of this post.

When Burke discusses property in terms of identification, he points to a collection of objects surrounding the subject. Like in the doctor kit or the Mad Magazine illustration, one way we create an identity is by collecting things – the doctor surrounds himself with “doctor-objects” and the hipster surrounds him/herself with “hipster-objects.” These aggregates carry with them a certain gravity or inertia around which these subjects continuously operate, coming into existence again and again. When the aggregate of objects breaks apart or loses its pull, the subject also ceases to exist. And, as Burke argues, rhetoric is uniquely able to deal with these relations of consubstantiation (a term I will explore soon) and division.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Extensional Objects

In a recent post I pointed out the similarity between D&G’s desiring machines and objects. Both are sites of production and are themselves results of production. This notion of the object goes against the traditional, static image of the object as passive possessor of qualities. Instead, these active objects produce production. As we stated, when we have an object like a pencil, it creates all sorts of other objects in its environment: paper, hand, desk, text, etc. To an extent, to be an object is to also connect or couple to other objects. At first this might seem as a reduction of these objects to their relations—to be a pencil means to be in relation to paper, a hand, and a desk. However, what I wish to do in the following is to explore the relation of D&G’s desiring machines and argue for a type of relation that does not reduce the autonomous objects to the relation itself.

Desiring-machines, what we call objects, are productions of production for D&G. This means that these objects have a binary identity of producer/product. Or, as Levi Bryant has put it, there is no difference that does not make a difference. Regardless of how you describe the object, the point is twofold: 1) every object is a product of other objects, and 2) every object produces other objects. The first point restates the autonomous nature of every object, in that every whole object is a black box of other objects—every object is a product. And the second point states that every whole must be seen as relating to other objects as sites of production. But (and here’s the problem for OOO) how is it possible for objects to relate to other objects, when in their most fundamental Being, it is argued that they withdraw from each other? How then are we supposed to think of these types of objects as being both independent from each other but also wrapped up in relations with each other.

To answer this question, we turn to D&G, who argue in Anti-Oedipus that as sites of production, every object is essentially coupled with other objects as their products. Yet, “[p]roducing is always something ‘grafted onto’ the product; and for that reason desiring-production is production of production, just as every machine is a machine connected to another machine” (6). Grafting is a process by which a part of one object is taken from its original space and transplanted onto a new space, where it then becomes part of the secondary object. The graft can be seen as both a replacement for a missing part (as in skin grafting), but also can be seen as an addition (as in tree or plant grafting). The graft, then, is a type of prosthetic. Just as a prosthetic arm can be a replacement for a missing one, prosthetics also allow us to add to our senses—as in the case of Neil Harbisson, whose eyeborg implant allows him to hear colors. Therefore, the coupling that prosthetics or grafts bring about is quite different than our normal understanding of relations.

And here’s why. Instead of being a simple relation, where objects are meaningful or significant by way of their relation to other objects, prostheses and grafts (whether as replacements or additions) extend an object or part of an object. And this extension is not only irreducible to either object, but it is, itself, also productive. For D&G, we can think of these prosthetic objects or machines as being perturbations in a flow of machines:
Far from being the opposite of continuity, the break or interruption conditions this continuity: it presupposes or defines what it cuts into as an ideal continuity. This is because, as we have seen, every machine is a machine of a machine. The machine produces an interruption of the flow only insofar as it is connected to another machine that supposedly produces this flow. And doubtless this second machine in turn is really an interruption or break, too. But it is such only in relationship to a third machine that ideally—that is to say, relatively—produces a continuous, infinite flux: for example, the anus-machine and the intestine-machine, the intestine-machine and the stomach-machine, the stomach-machine and the mouth-machine, the mouth-machine and the flow of milk of a herd of dairy cattle (“and then…and then…and then…”). In a word, every machine functions as a break in the flow in relation to the machine to which it is connected, but at the same time is also a flow itself, or the production of a flow, in relation to the machine connected to it. This is the law of the production of production. […] [E]verywhere there are breaks-flows out of which desire wells up, thereby constituting its productivity and continually grafting the process of production onto the product.  (36-37).
For D&G, these machines both break up the continuity of flow, but also are flows themselves. So in our example of the out of reach box, we find the following: the elbow-machine extended by the wrist-machine, the wrist-machine extended by the hand-machine, the hand-machine extended by the broom handle-machine to finally reach the box. Every machine, apart from existing in its own right, is an extension or prosthetic of another object.

In his essay in The Speculative Turn, Levi Bryant argues something similar when he states:
While we readily acknowledge that all objects have their genesis, this genesis is a genesis from other objects or discrete individuals, and in many instances is productive of new individual entities. Consequently, we may retain terms like ‘pre-individual’or ‘transcendental’ field if we like, so long as we understand that this field is not something other than objects, but consists of nothing but objects. (emphasis added 270)
For Bryant, as for D&G, objects are both product and producer. But, as I’ve accented in the last line above, it is important to note that this field of extensions, or differences, is not external to objects, but is itself made up of objects. To produce is to extend, to move beyond appearance into use-value. Every time we discuss the relation of two objects (e.g., myself and the box on the top shelf), we miss the various withdrawn prosthetics that populate such a relation, and because of these overlooked, unhomely objects we often prize the relation over the objects. For it is part of the way prosthetics work – in that they are always surprising when noticed or pointed out. What could be more unsettling than to realize the whole is in fact made up of parts?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

SR Advertising

Levi has a great post up here. I thought I might add this:

Extended Objects

Perhaps one of the most uncanny objects for me is a prosthetic. Prosthetics are unsettling in that they both replace a part (arm, leg, teeth, eye, etc.), but they can also be seen, especially in a world one step away from cyborgs and artificial intelligence (Yes, I’m looking at you Watson), as an addition – see Neil Harbisson’s eyeborg implant which allows him to hear color. But either way, prosthetics are uncanny in that they are seemingly “unnatural” or sometimes literally “artificial.” Prosthetics are objects both out of place, but useful in their place. They truly are unhomely, or unheimlich. And perhaps what is most uncanny about prosthetics is that they work by extension. Even the word “extension” denotes a movement beyond the normal or everyday.

The prosthetic extends the effective reach of an object beyond what it is normally capable of reaching. But, in creating a relation between the object of interest and the initial object, the prosthetic drops away, or withdraws. So, for example, when I need to reach a box at the top shelf I might extend my rather puny reach with the help of a broom handle. The broom handle becomes a prosthetic, which means that it also drops away as I achieve my goal of reaching the box. This type of extension is closely tied to Marshall McLuhan’s argument that media extends us:
All media are extensions of some human faculty – psychic or physical. The wheel is an extension of the foot, the book is an extension of the eye, clothing an extension of the skin, [and] electric circuitry an extension of the central nervous system. Media, by altering the environment, evoke in us unique rations of sense perceptions. The extension of any one sense alters the way we think and act – when these ratios change, men change. (26-41)
But we need to extend McLuhan’s definition beyond the human to state that all objects extend other objects. Cables extend information, aglets extend the life of shoelaces, and remote controls extend the couch. Each prosthetic either withdraws or forces other objects to withdraw in its use.

Sampling as Causation

Over at Timothy Morton’s blog, he has a few posts up developing his notion of sampling as a form of causation (and it appears, interaction, if I read him correctly) of objects. For Morton, objects sample each other but in doing so, retroactively change or effect themselves:
Every sample is a translation, in that it chops a sensual slice out of an object and thereby creates another object. To that extent then, causality is a kind of sampling. Thus when we observe a phenomenon, we are always looking strictly at the past, since we are observing a sample of another object. To sample is to posit retroactively.
In other words, any quality found in an object is an uncanny return or a moment of retroactive causation. For example, the table in front of me has a certain hardness to it, a phenomenon or effect of some other object(s), but what withdraws from my interaction with the hard table is precisely this cause – that is, those tiny dense particles. Therefore, according to Morton – and I think I understand him correctly – this hardness works retroactively to color over the table and perhaps its surroundings. Effects, then, are often so surprising that they cover over the everyday work that causes them.

Objects interact with other objects at all levels of scale. Morton’s sampling proposes that objects are both samples of other objects and are themselves constantly being sampled by other objects. Perhaps this is another way of discussing the active or productive nature of objects in OOO – like I argued for in my last post with Deleuze and Guattari’s notion of machines as products/producers.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Machines Driving Other Machines

In Anti-Oedipus, Deleuze and Guattari describe desire not as part of ideology, nor as a passive part of the unconscious. Instead, for D&G desire is productive. The desire-machine “is at work everywhere, functioning smoothly at times, at other times in fits and starts. It breathes, it heats, it eats. It shits and fucks. […] Everywhere it is machines—real ones, not figurative ones: machines driving other machines, machines being driven by other machines, with all the necessary couplings and connections” (1). Desire, therefore, is a process or act of production. For D&G, the point is that desire is a producing-machine, specifically a producing-machine which is always plugged into or driving other machines. Each machine produces another machine. This means that every machine must be coupled, or connected to other machines. But what are these machines? Are they simply abstract processes with no “real” dimension? Or, are they objects, in the sense that my computer and the tree outside my window are objects?

To begin with, D&G make it clear (as we saw above) that these machines are “real ones—not figurative ones” (1). In other words, these machines are not to be thought of as simply figures of speech or products of our linguistic systems. No, instead, as they explain a little later, in every machine, “[s]omething is produced: the effects of a machine, not mere metaphors” (2). Desiring-machines, make up our world. Every object, no matter the scale, is a producing-machine. This means that we can discuss table-machines, coffee mug-machines, lamp-machines, and cellular-machines along with body-machines, organ-machines, subject-machines and capital-machines.

There is not distinction between man-made and natural machines for D&G. For, “man and nature are not like two opposite terms confronting each other—not even in the sense of bipolar opposites within a relationship of causation, ideation, or expression (cause and effect, subject and object, etc.); rather they are one and the same essential reality, the producer-product” (4-5). What this means is that a chair is just as much of a producing-machine as a subject is. In fact, as D&G argue, “Everything is a machine. Celestial machines, the stars or rainbows in the sky, alpine machines […]. The continual whirr of machines” (emphasis added 2). But if everything is a machine, and all machines produce other machines, does this mean that everything is also a product?

In short, yes; but, this does not mean that all machines can be reduced to their relations with other machines. For, on the one hand, every object registers other objects, so that “everything is production, since the recording processes are immediately consumed, immediately consummated, and these consumptions directly reproduced” (4). In this way, every machine is a record of other machines, re-producing these machines in its archive. To be a machine is to be a sample of other machines, to have broken, crossed, or perturbed the producing-flow of other machines.

On the other hand, because there is no distinction drawn between man and nature, human and nonhuman, subject and object, “production as process overtakes all idealistic categories and constitutes a cycle whose relationship to desire is that of an immanent principle” (5). Every machine, then, is both a producer and a product, and because of this binary nature of the machine, “one machine is always coupled with another machine” (5). Desiring-machines, then, are both multiplicities and independent wholes, both machines that produce, but also machines that have been produced.

Each machine is a production of all sorts of flows from other machines, but itself produces its own flow according to its own rules. As D&G point out, “each organ-machine interprets the entire world from the perspective of its own flux, from the point of view of the energy that flows from it: the eye interprets everything—speaking, understanding, shitting, fucking—in terms of seeing” (6). Therefore, every object, as machine, interprets the world according to their own terms: a human anthropomorphizes things, a pencil pencil-morphizes things, while a cable cable-morphizes things. But in this interpretation (this interruption of other objects’ desiring or producing-flow), these machines produce other machines: the pencil-machine produces the paper-machine and the hand-machine, while the paper-machine produces the text-machine, and so on. In each instance, a producing/product identity is created. To be an object then, for Deleuze and Guattari is to be a producing-production, “the production of production,” or, as Levi Bryant has put it, a difference that makes a difference (7).

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Hidden Realm of Thunderstorms

According to an article from the BBC, scientists and researchers working with the Fermi telescope have discovered (accidentally, I might add) that thunderstorms actually produce positrons (antimatter).

The best part of the linked article is a quote from Steven Cummer of Duke University:
"It has some very important implications for our understanding of lightning itself. We don't really understand a lot of the detail about how lightning works. It's a little bit premature to say what the implications of this are going to be going forward, but I'm very confident this is an important piece of the puzzle."
 The question I have is, how many pieces of the puzzle are there? You might want to check the box to be sure. ;)