Tuesday, November 24, 2009


In a couple of recent posts Levi has developed his notion that objects relate to each other via translation. This means for onticology that no two objects directly encounter each other, but that instead objects - and specifically 2 or more objects - inter-act through the process of interpretation of differences.

In answer to a couple of questions of mine, Levi states:

If it helps to visualize what is going on here, just think in terms of black boxes: actant1 (input) —-> actant2 (black box) —-> product (output). That’s all there is to it. Think about your phone. You have an input (electrical pulses), a black box (the phone itself), and the product (the sounds that come out of the receiver).

Therefore translation takes an actant (or object), interprets it, adds something new to it, and as a result produces something new. Another great example of this would be the process of photosynthesis. As Levi lays out in an older post:

Think about photosynthesis. Here we have photons of sunlight, the leaf and its photosynthetic cells, and the sugar produces. The leaf “translates” the photons of sunlight and produces something new: the complex sugars. There is no resemblance or identity between the photons of light and these complex sugars. Rather that sunlight becomes something new in passing through the medium of the photosynthetic cells.

So far I completely understand and agree with Levi's use of translation (I guess this is also Latour's, as well). But where I struggle, especially after Levi was kind enough to explain this concept even further, is: what exactly happens during translation? What is translation? And why do some things get translated and others do not?

Translation is more than a simple replication. Translation always involves a certain degree of interpretation in which what is inputted is always changed or transformed - from photons of light to complex sugars. Objects translate each other, they change each other without encountering each other directly, which means that objects first and foremost recognize each other.

For leafs to translate photons of light into complex sugars, they must recognize the photons of light as photons of light. Just like we have to recognize the word unheimlich as German in order to translate it, objects must recognize other objects in order to translate them. In other words, the leaf doesn't attempt to translate any and all objects into complex sugars, but to some degree sees (not literally) the photons of light as being translatable. But even this recognition adds confusion, as we can now say that objects predict, expect, or anticipate other objects - they recognize potential.