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 As Levi states in his upcoming Democracy of Objects, “Within the framework of onticology, the claim that objects are withdrawn from other objects is the claim that 1) substances are independent of or are not constituted by their relations to other objects, and 2) that objects are not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 In other words, the substance of any object – that is, its virtual proper being – is always withdrawn from any of its properties or local manifestations.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is the key, then, to understanding how it is that the table can be both a unique object (with its own withdrawn substance), but also made up of other objects (each with their own withdrawn substance).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