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 As Levi states in his upcoming Democracy of Objects, “Within the framework of onticology, the claim that objects are withdrawn from other objects is the claim that 1) substances are independent of or are not constituted by their relations to other objects, and 2) that objects are not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 In other words, the substance of any object – that is, its virtual proper being – is always withdrawn from any of its properties or local manifestations.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Consubstantiality is the key, then, to understanding how it is that the table can be both a unique object (with its own withdrawn substance), but also made up of other objects (each with their own withdrawn substance).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).