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.