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?


  1. I get that the pencil has qualities that in combination with other objects/machines can extend beyond its routine/historical use, but without a human-being becoming enchanted by it, or seeking something novel, or just capitalizing on an accident in its use, does the pencil do anything? Isn't there a sense in which human-doing/engineering/imagination plays a unique role?

  2. Anonymous,

    Certainly on the one hand human engineering plays a unique role - I'm not denying that. However, on the other hand, the graphite, the wood, the glue, and the eraser all play unique roles - different roles, to be sure, but not less meaningful.

    As for your question about the pencil's action in the absence of any human, perhaps you could be a little more clear as to what you mean by "do". The reason I ask this is that one of the main tenants of OOO is that objects act. For Levi Bryant, then, the pencil in its substance or virtual proper being, is always producing its properties, qualities, or local manifestations. Regardless of human or non-human animal interaction, the pencil is producing - it's just not the traditional sense of a production "for us" that we normally think of. So, perhaps the question becomes not "what does the pencil do?" but "what more can the pencil do?"

  3. "Desiring-machines, what we call objects, are productions of production for D&G."

    Hi Nate, followed a link here from Levi's blog.

    I have to disagree with the above if by 'we' you mean the OOO crew and 'objects' being what the OOO crew call objects.

    The concept of desiring-machines comes from Guattari's post-Lacanian theories regarding a multiplicity of objet petit a ('why not an objet petit b, c or d?' Guattari asks). It is not an object in the quaint neo-Heideggarian way that Harman discusses them.

    Guattari asks Logos or machines? By already surrendering the ontological terrain to formed objects (ie Logos) and then asking questions about 'flow' is to miss the point. To go back to your first post where you discuss BwO, it is like beginning with the Organism and then trying to backform a BwO from it. The BwO (cloud of the virtual) is remade (or, better, expressed) with the actual through the process of actualisation. It is why counter-actualisation (or counter-effectuation as it is translated) from the Logic of Sense is possible. An object is better understood as one singularity in a stream of singularities expressed from an event, which is itself another singularity and so on.

    I don't agree with last line of Levi's quote either. The temporal mechanics of an event are mind-boggling. What if in a self-referential system something incorporates a possible future state of itself in a process, for example when walking down stairs carrying a box (so you can't see you feet). Your caution will be a product of the present state of affairs with a possible future state of affairs in the event of walking down stairs (carrying a box). The person + box + stairs machine will include affects of mild anxiety expressed as the considerate movements of your foot as you feel to make sure there is another step. This tension will increase the closer you get to the bottom of the stairs. Caution is a positive affect in a social sense, but it actually constrains action based on an uncertainty (where is the step? is there a step?). OOO has nothing to say about this. What does the box do? lol! Yet, if you think about the way we live our lives it is often just like we are walking down steps unsure of where a future singularity (the floor/another step) will be actualised. Now imagine it is not a staircase, but a set of social expectations that are assumed as a social group's culture. There is a multiplicity of singularities that exist in a problematic contiguity with each other.

    I know OOO is active on the interwebs, but be careful how much you try to import into theory mash-ups with poststructuralist theories.

  4. working through from within:

  5. Thanks for your concern, Glen! However, I don't need saving at this moment in my life. ;)

    A few points of clarification, though:

    1) I'm not working from Harman's theory of objects.
    2) I'm using D&G's notions of desiring-machines and BwOs as *concepts* to help myself think through these new and fascinating philosophical discussions. I'm sorry that my interpretation doesn't jive with your static notions of what it is you feel D&G are REALLY stating.
    3) I'm more interested, right now, in developing lines of flight from idea to idea rather than simply dismissing any idea contrary to my own. Isn't it more fun to work with new ways of thinking rather than restating what someone has already said and taking it as gospel truth.
    4) If you take a look at how Levi describes his objects (i.e., as split), I think you might be surprised at how explosively active such objects really are.

  6. Thanks for the link, dmf! My reading list continues to grow and grow.

  7. I don't mean to mettle, but I'd be very interested in Glen spelling out his critique a bit more fully. I understand that futurity is very important, and I'm not sure what OOO has to say about this (I'm sorta new to this blogspace). But, Glen, I'm afraid I might not fully understand you and it seems that perhaps you are using an epistemological issue to critique Levy's ontological claim.

    NrG, thanks for the work you've done here, but it seems a bit harsh (based on Glen's words here) to label his reading of D&G as static. Perhaps if you, unlike me, understand the nature of Glen's critique you could address it more concretely? -- THESE ARE ALL SELFISH DESIRES, BTW. THANKS FOR WORKING IN THIS MEDIUM.

  8. Anonymous,

    I'm not going to deny my comments were completely benign, but they were warranted. First, Glen's post at his blog:

    Forget OOO

    begins with a complete denial of my ideas - i.e., don't even try. Now, I'll be the first to admit that I am in no way, shape, or form a Deleuzian; however, I do know that D&G are often used as sites of production that often delineate from linear thinking. This is why you find books using their philosophical concepts (such as the rhizome) in areas as different as music theory and eco-criticism. What's wrong with attempting to work with them in OOO? And second, he claims that I am working with Harman, and I am clearly not. Levi's objects are much more fascinating to me precisely because of these moments of D&G potentiality, and of always becoming.

    In short, I found Glen's comments both purposefully discouraging but also contrary to the spirit in which D&G operate. Yes, I am a graduate student, but instead of playing the Oedipal father, perhaps there is a different way to approach critique that is itself productive. So, I apologize for the flare up of emotions, I'll soon return to posting.

  9. Nate, to understand the 'concept' of the concept I suggest you read Eric Alliez's The Signature of the World. Concepts are events, repeated in different ways, for sure, but each use of a concept has an intensive -- not necessarily extensive -- consistency with the series of differentially repeated concept-events (G: objet petit whatever + D: dark precursor become D&G: desiring machine becomes abstract machine, many philosophers and others have mapped these shifts in D&G’s work). Therefore, to use a concept effectively means apprehending the problematics that lead to the creation of the concept. You have a problematic and whoever created the concept has a problematic. Are they congruent? How do they vary?
    To use a concept means following the event-series. The event-series is a map of the problematics for which it was created and deployed. When D&G talk about the artisan working on wood or whatever, the philosopher follows a similar path, but instead of knots in the wood, he or she follows singularities rendered consistent in discourse (if not method). For example, I had to read Whitehead to understand The Fold, read Kant to understand basically any of Deleuze's earlier solo-authored works, read Lacan to understand Guattari's solo-authored works and so on.
    So it is not a question of making claims about what D&G are ‘really’ stating or not (which is a neo-Platonic model of truth ie, here is the ‘real’ D&G that through my majesty as the Oedipalised Master ‘I’ shall reveal to you), but apprehending the problematic that led to the creation of concepts. This is a material and time intensive process, which in the simplest description means understanding the philosophical context in which D&G, D or G or whoever was working. Hence my brief gesture, out of philosophical friendship regarding the emergence of the concept of desiring machines in the work of Guattari.
    Using concepts without this grounding is a problem, a bad problem, not a good one! Normally those reading and using D&G's work learn this the hard way, maybe the hard way is necessary, I don't know.
    The point -> OOO’s ‘object’ does not relate in any way to the problematic that the concept of the ‘desiring machine’ was developed to engage with. On this point, Levy should know this and considering he is the one tracking use of OOO in the interwebs he should be working on helping you as someone interested in reading this to avoid pitfalls when working with D&G and OOO. Were my comments purposefully discouraging? YES. In what world do you think all pedagogical discourse should be ‘encouraging’?
    ‘Lines of flight’ similarly has a specific conceptual context. It is a movement between two planes of consistency (or between two moments of the BwO to use the AO terminology). For example, a line of flight in your case would require you to look within and beyond the grad student persona and recompose yourself as something else.
    Forget ‘ideas’, or making links between them, think about the materiality of concepts and the conditions that can make the material ideational, then make material connections to understand ideational relations.
    Yes, Levi’s split objects. I prefer Deleuze’s baroque house. See Hélène Frichot’s essay, “Stealing into Deleuze’s Baroque House” from the edited collection, Deleuze and Space. Beyond superficial reasons such as intellectual fads and the like, I am not sure why OOO is happy to restrict itself to the ontology of objects, when D&G developed a far richer ontology of events.
    Anon, I don’t separate epistemology and ontology in practice. Epistemology is not a simple ‘knowing’ of the world but the material conditions of possibility of knowing, too. The conditions of possibility of knowing are necessarily ontological. Additionally, to approach it from the other side, if claims are being made about the world, such claims are also necessarily epistemological, even if they are ontological claims, otherwise they couldn’t be made as such.

  10. Tournier on Deleuze:
    "We soon came to fear his talent for seizing upon a single of our words and using it to expose our banality, stupidity, or failure of intelligence. he possessed extraordinary powers of translation and rearrangement: all of the tired philosophy of the curriculum passed through him and emerged unrecognizable but rejuvenated, with a fresh, undigested, bitter taste of newness that we weaker lazier minds found disconcerting and repulsive."