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?