Tuesday, July 17, 2012

OOR Mathemes

Before I get into the mathemes themselves, I’d like to lay out the four terms by which we will need to read each matheme.
$ = Split Object
S1 = Local Manifestation
S2 = Environment
a = Withdrawal or Virtual Proper Being
 In Lacan, the “$” can be read as the barred or split subject. As Bruce Fink points out, "The castrated subject is the barred subject, the subject under the bar: it is a product of every attempt and intent to signify to the other" (73) Since my goal is to move these mathemes into the realm of OOO, we will need to read the “$” as the split object of onticology. As Levi Bryant states in The Democracy of Objects, “…[S]plit-objects refers not to a physical split such as the idea that objects can always be broken in half or divided, but rather to the split between the virtual proper being of objects or their powers and their local manifestations or qualities” (70). There are a couple of points that need to be made about this split, though. First, every object (including humans) is split between a virtual proper being and local manifestations. This means that “$” is representative of all objects, including the split subject in Lacan. Second, this “$” is the object proper, meaning that “$” represents precisely this onticological idea of an object consisting of both a virtual proper being and local manifestations (whether experienced or not by another object).

Next, we will need to read Lacan’s “S1” not as a master signifier, but as an object’s local manifestation. For Lacan, as Fink points out, “An S1 is often recognizable in analysis by the fact that the analysand repeatedly butts up against the term; it may be a term like ‘death,’ for instance, or any other term that seems opaque to the analysand and that always seems to put an end to associations instead of opening things up” (Fink 77). In other words, the master signifier is an actualization of a lack in the subject, but an actualization that is so strong or frequently repeated that it blocks further actualizations. Onticologically, however, the local manifestation can be seen as a quality or actualization of a power in the object’s virtual proper being, often when it comes into an external or exo-relation with another object. As Bryant notes, “As a function of the exo-relations objects enter into with other objects, the attractors defining the virtual space of a substance can be activated in a variety of different ways, actualizing objects in a variety of different ways at the level of local manifestations” (Bryant 114). But like the master signifier that could keep the analysand from opening up, in a sense defining him, there is also a danger to each local manifestation. Because local manifestations are actualizations of withdrawn virtual or potential powers in the object, each object runs the risk of reducing the entire split object into only its local manifestations. “It is for this reason,” Bryant argues, “that the confusion of objects with their actualization in local manifestations always spells theoretical disaster, for in doing so we foreclose the volcanic potentials harbored in the depths of objects” (114).  Therefore, like Lacan’s master signifier, each local manifestation harbors the danger of eclipsing the split-object by reducing it to its local manifestations at the detriment of its virtual proper being.

We will also need to read Lacan’s S2 in a modified way, since for Lacan the S2 represented at times knowledge and “‘other’ signifiers” (75). Fink explains how for Lacan it was the S2 or the group of signifiers, the chain of potential signifiers that gave meaning to the master signifier. In other words, the S2 is always multiple, S2s. And, “If S1 is not in place, every S2 is somehow unbound. The S2s have relations amongst themselves; they may be strung together in perfectly ordinary ways by a psychotic [someone who has no master signifier], but they do not seem to affect him or her in any sense; they are somehow independent of him or her” (75). Therefore, the S2 is a chain or group of signifiers that retroactively brings about the meaning of an S1. In onticological terms, however, we need to read this S2 as representing the environment of the object. For Bryant, though, “[T]he environment is not a container of substances or systems that precedes the existence of substances or systems. There is no environment ‘as such’ existing out there in the world…Rather, we have as many environments as there are substances in the universe, without it being possible to claim that all of these systems are contained in a single environment” (146). Environments, or S2s, are again plural. And because of the ongoing and metonymical form of identification, environments can be seen as in-formational. As Bryant puts it, “While there is indeed an identity to the object, in the sense that it has a virtual endo-structure that persists across time, this identity is always manifesting itself in a variety of ways” (166). In this sense, objects take on new forms and actualize new local manifestations, so that “[i]n both allopoietic and autopoitic systems, information is an event that makes a difference by selecting a system-state” (166). In this way, the environment has an effect on the object retroactively, by producing the space available for the object’s local manifestations, so that the system or virtual proper being of the object is what constitutes the environment. As Bryant points out, “Although this distinction refers to two domains (system and environment), the distinction itself originates from one of these domains: the system” (144). S2, or the realm of other possible signifiers, can effectively be read as the object’s environment, since both operate as multiple arenas by which the S1 becomes actualized retroactively.

Finally, for Lacan the object cause of desire is represented by the small “a.” Fink describes object (a) as “the leftover of that process of constituting an object, the scrap that evades the grasp of symbolization. It is a remainder that there is something else, something perhaps lost, perhaps yet to be found” (94). In short, object (a) is that which is in excess of every relation between S1 and S2. It is, speaking onticologically, that which withdraws from any relation. It is the object’s virtual proper being. As Bryant argues, “objects are always in excess of any of their local manifestations, harboring hidden volcanic powers irreducible to any of their manifestations in the world” (70). So that “[w]ithin 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” (70). Much like Lacan’s object (a) which escapes (and is thus produced by) every signifying relation, the virtual proper being of an object withdraws (and is inferred) from any of the object’s relations and local manifestations. 

Monday, July 16, 2012

Why Not Democracy?

Recently, Levi Bryant has been attempting to work through the political implications of OOO and his onticology. In a recent post he proposed an anarchical/feminine ontological politics whereby there would be no sovereign or master. As Levi states:
Indeed, The Democracy of Objects probably should have been entitled The Anarchy of Objects (there will be a book or chapter entitled The Anarchy of Machines in the future).  Now what is an anarchic ontology?  It is an ontology that forecloses transcendent terms such as God, Platonic forms, a-historical essences, sovereigns, fathers, a-historical structures, transcendent subjects, etc.  All of these beings are treated as naturalistic, social, nation, and psychological transcendental illusions (cf. Difference and Givenness).  Within an anarchistic ontology, everything unfolds within immanence, without anything standing outside of history, becoming, time, etc.  An anarchic ontology is an ontology without fathers; or rather, it is an ontology where the name-of-the-father is foreclosed or banished both ontologically and socially as a necessary term.
As Levi sees it, onticology leads to an anarchist political state, absent of any (transcendent) ruler. And in his argument, which is based around his reading of Lacan’s graphs of sexuation, he is ultimately left with the question of whether or not such a view is even possible. The question is, in other words, if there is no master with which to identify, how are governments, societies, or political groups even possible? Is a politics based on onticology ultimately “doomed to psychosis?”

As Levi explains, for Lacan, in the moment of identification one is left either with a foreclosure of the name-of-the-father (often resulting in psychosis) or with a countless chain of insufficient signifiers. Another way to see this split is between the foreclosure as an endless world of metonymy (i.e., virtual or potential) and the chain of signifiers as metaphor. Typically, subject identification relies on metaphor to escape metonymy, but since each metaphor (or signifier) is insufficient, it always requires another one. In my essay for RSA 2012, I argued that object-oriented identification precedes the metaphoric process, residing instead in the metonymic realm. But unlike metaphor, which is persuasive, metonymic or object-oriented identification is immanently suasive, or suggestive. At the level of identification, there is no direct metaphoric chain of relations either between objects or within an object. What this means is that to some degree, every object-object relation is already psychotic.

The thing about it is, though, is that no object stays within this metonymic realm. To this end, every object metaphorizes every object it relates to (this is Harman’s and Bogost’s point). So if we look at Lacan’s Discourse of the Master, the relation between the agent and the other (S1—> S2) is the metaphorical relation operating under the truth of the split-object, a local manifestation or S1 acts on its environment precisely through a reduction or singular quality. What is produced, then, is withdrawal both in the acting and reacting objects. It’s important to note, however, that this metaphorism is based on the object’s metonymic identification as groundwork. Metaphorism is not possible without metonymic identification.

Why is this important? Put simply, recognizing metonymic identification before metaphoric relation allows us to understand the autonomy of objects while also understanding them as assemblages. It is what makes sense of the following from The Democracy of Objects:
From a certain perspective it can thus be said that all objects are a crowd. Every object is populated by other objects that it enlists in maintaining its own existence. As a consequence, we must avoid reducing objects to the manner in which they are enlisted by other objects precisely because the objects enlisted are always themselves autonomous objects. Another way of putting this would be to say that there is no harmony or identity of parts and wholes Parts aren’t parts for a whole and the whole isn’t a whole for parts. Rather, what we have are relations of dependency where nonetheless parts and wholes are distinct and autonomous from one another. (217)
We cannot reduce a Cubs fan to a single metaphor (fan of a baseball team), nor can we reduce the Cubs to a single metaphor (baseball team). Instead both objects (fan and team) are metonymically identified, consisting of numerous local manifestations—the fan is also a human, male, middle-aged, father, etc. while the team consists of a number of players (each, too, with their own metonymic identifications), managers, owner, uniforms, historical past, present image, etc. But at the same time, a fan can metaphorize the Cubs in any number of ways, relating to a player, an attitude, or to the image of the Cubs organization. But this metaphorization is unique to that fan.

Instead of going the way of anarchy and trying to get rid of an overall master, perhaps a better way to understand the political implications of OOO is by multiplying the master, by explaining how every object maintains countless metaphoric master-relations simultaneously while itself resisting reduction to any single one of them. What this means then, is like its ontological status, an OOO politics is messy and psychotic. But this also means, however, that any object can resist metaphorization, or reduction by a master. The factory worker strikes when he feels as if he is being taken for granted, or his rights as an individual (metonymic object) are being denied. The terrorist attacks a business building in order to strike a blow against a perceived, repressive regime. Regardless of the violence, both actions are contingent in their results (the factory might change its internal structure or not; the terrorist attack might hurt the regime, or it might simply tighten security).

What this does for politics is, in a way, reverse the ideological critique proposed by Althusser. OOO insists that language does not pre-exist the object, and instead of society creating the ideological subject (such that the subject is born into ideology), each object of OOO should be seen as an ideological, generative machine. Nothing is produced in objects by ISAs, but through repetition or frequency of local manifestations and metaphoric relations, objects create their own ISAs. Ideologies are nothing but these metaphorical relations that attempt to reduce other objects to a single idea, thought, quality, property, or local manifestation. So we might talk about pen ideologies that attempt to reduce all relations with other objects as something on which it could write. Unlike Althusser’s ISAs, OOO ISAs are singular, emanating from individual objects. Because of this singularity of object ideological state apparatuses, the repressive state apparatuses or RSAs (i.e., heads of state, masters, sovereigns, etc.) are plural. When one object resists another object’s ISA, there are multiple offensive and defensive perturbations that could take place, each with its own contingent result, some of which could change the organization of the originary object itself.