Tag Archives: objects

Notes on Immaterialism

A good theory must ultimately draw distinctions between different kinds of beings. However, it must earn these distinctions rather than smuggling them in beforehand, as occurs frequently in the a priori modern split between human beings on one side and everything else on the other (see Latour 1993 [We Have Never Been Modern]). This answers the question of why an object-oriented approach is desirable: a good philosophical theory should begin by excluding nothing. And as for those social theories that claim to avoid philosophy altogether, they invariably offer mediocre philosophies shrouded in the alibi of neutral empirical fieldwork. (Harman, Immaterialism, p. 4)

In Immaterialism: Objects and Social Theory (Polity Press, 2016), Graham Harman applies his object-oriented philosophy to social objects. The book functions as “a compact list of the first principles of object-oriented social theory, which I have also called ‘immaterialism’” (126). This presentation of an object-oriented social theory includes a detailed analysis of one particular social object, the Dutch East India Company. Someone might think that this is just another book of object-oriented philosophy, tracing out the same principles that Harman articulates elsewhere. In some sense that’s true, but there’s much more going on than that. In what follows, I briefly sketch some key contributions that this book makes to the ongoing development of object-oriented philosophy. Continue reading

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Ptolemy’s Revenge II: The Balls of Serres

Meillassoux suggests that Kant’s Copernican revolution was not actually Copernican at all.  Kant (and so many post-Kantians) improperly inverted Copernicus, returning to a pre-Copernican anthropocentrism (see “Ptolemy’s Revenge” in After Finitude).  Kant is obviously anthropocentric, but is that really an inversion of the Copernican turn?  Or…might we be able to speak about the birth of the Copernican revolution out of the spirit of anthropocentrism?  If Meillassoux wants to get past Kantian idealism, he might need Ptolemy more than he knows.

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The Thing, Withdrawn, Asleep

Jean-Luc Nancy’s tiny book The Fall of Sleep (Fordham, 2009) is simply a pleasure to read.  When I read it, I just read it, no note-taking, no intentions.  But one passage stuck out so much that I feel compelled to make a note about it.  Here’s the passage:

The thing in itself is nothing other than the thing itself, but withdrawn from any relation with a subject of its perception or with an agent of its manipulation.  The thing, isolated from all manifestation, from all phenomenality, the sleeping thing at rest, sheltered from knowledge, techniques, and arts of all kinds, exempt from judgments and prospects.  The thing not measured, not measurable, the thing concentrated in its indeterminate and non-appearing thingness. (p. 14)

By describing the thing in itself in terms of withdrawal from relations, Nancy’s remarks resemble a key feature of Graham Harman’s object-oriented philosophy: that real objects are non-relational.  Nancy’s sleeping thing and Harman’s dormant objects have a lot in common.  Nancy and Harman are both Heideggerian, so these connections are not particularly surprising.  What really interests me about this passage is that it shows the similarity between Nancy and Harman while also exemplifying an important difference between them: Nancy considers withdrawal indeterminate, whereas Harman’s objects are still determinate even in their withdrawal.  For Harman, a chair in itself is still a chair, not merely a non-appearing whatever.  Furthermore, Harman is clearly a pluralist about objects, whereas Nancy’s reference to “the thing” in the singular indicates that he is more ambiguous about the singular/plural difference (as his Being Singular Plural indicates).  I’m not sure whose side I take.  They’re like my children: I love them both equally.


Catalogue of Bodies: Corpus-Oriented Ontology

In his Corpus (Fordham, 2008), Jean-Luc Nancy develops something like an object-oriented ontology.  Instead of an object or actor as the primary focus of his orientation, it is a body, a corpus, and instead of Latour litanies, he develops a catalogue.

Hoc est enim: this world-here, stretched out here, with its chlorophyll, its solar galaxy, its metamorphic rocks, its protons, its deoxyribonucleic double helix, its Avogadro number, it’s continental drift, its dinosaurs, its ozone layer, the stripes of its zebra, its human beast, Cleopatra’s nose, the number of petals on a daisy, the ghost of a rainbow, the style of Rubens, a python’s skin, André’s face in this photo taken on January 16, this blade of grass and the cow that grazes on it, the nuance of an iris in the eye of the one reading this very word, here and now? (p. 33).

…we’d need a corpus: a catalogue instead of a logos, the enumeration of an empirical logos, without transcendental reason, a list of gleanings, in random order and completeness, an ongoing stammer of bits and pieces, partes extra partes, a juxtaposition without articulation, a variety, a mix that won’t explode or implode, vague in its ordering, always extendable… (p. 53)

A corpus of tact: skimming, grazing, squeezing, thrusting, pressing, smoothing, scraping, rubbing, caressing, palpating, fingering, kneading, massaging, entwining, hugging, striking, pinching, biting, sucking, moistening, taking, releasing, licking, jerking off, looking, listening, smelling, tasting, ducking, fucking, rocking, balancing, carrying, weighing … (p. 93)

A corpus of the weighings of a material, of its mass, its pulp, its grain, its gulf, its mole, its molecule, its turf, its trouble, its turgidity, its fiber, its juice, its invagination, its volume, its peak, its fall, its meat, its coagulation, its paste, its crystallinity, its tightness, its spasm, its steam, its knot, its unknotting, its tissue, its home, its disorder, its wound, its pain, its promiscuity, its odor, its pleasure, its taste, its timbre, its resolution, its high and low, right and left, its acidity, its windedness, its balancing, its dissociation, its resolution, its reason … (p. 99)

A world where the body is squeezed, febrile, fibrillated, engorged, engorging on its own proximity, all bodies in a promiscuity thick with microbes, pollutions, defective serums, excessive fat, and grinding nerves, obese, emaciated, ballooning, vermin-mined, cream-smeared, burning, gleaming, toxin-stuffed, losing their materials, their waters, turning to gas in the vomit of war or famine, nuclear infection or viral irradiation. (p. 103)

…places are just so many spasms, rubbings, viral and bacterial swirls, gasolating bodies, immunitary bodies, immuno-depressors, in an indefinite reticulation of sequence-bodies, message-bodies, dissolving, coagulating, contaminating, replicating, cloning, breaking, streaking, biting, the whole chemical, archi-chemical corpus, an overpopulation of acidic, ionized psyches, bristling with the blind signals of a world of bodies in which bodies, identically, decompose the world. (p. 105)

Hoc est enim corpus meum


Objects: Between Whitehead and Heidegger

One of the exciting things happening in object-oriented philosophy is a synthesis of Whiteheadian and Heideggerian insights, namely, 1) Whitehead’s pan-experientialist concept of feeling or prehension, which deals a severe blow to human exceptionalism, and 2) Heidegger’s concept of the retreat or withdrawal (Entzug) of things.

It’s a mutually beneficial synthesis: Whitehead helps avoid the anthropocentrism of Heidegger’s philosophy, for which nonhumans are either poor in world or worldless; and Heidegger helps avoid the relationalism of Whitehead’s philosophy, for which individual entities do not harbor any actuality withdrawn from experience.

Heideggerians and Whiteheadians push back.  Heideggerians might argue that Heidegger isn’t entirely anthropocentric (maybe anthropocosmic instead), and Whiteheadians can claim that Whitehead honors the non-relational (i.e., non-experiential) dimension of actuality.  Those claims are not without their merit, as indicated by a recent post by Matt Segall in defense Whitehead’s objects (contra Graham Harman and OOO).  However, at the end of the day, it seems pretty clear to me: Heidegger’s thought is anthropocentric, and Whitehead’s is relationalist.

Regarding Whitehead, it’s important to clarify that he is indeed an object-oriented thinker.  He posits discrete individual entities (actual occasions) as the basic units of existence (see his “ontological principle”).  In this sense, Whitehead is similar to Latour, but he is unlike Bergson and Deleuze, who tend to think of individual entities as products of an underlying continuity.

Is Whitehead object-oriented?  Yes.  Does a Whiteheadian object have a non-relational dimension?  No.  Whitehead’s individuals are experiential through and through, experiencing and experienced, private and public, making actual while decisively cutting away (and negatively prehending, which is a kind of relating).

If there’s a non-relational dimension in Whitehead’s objects, it is the sundering of all relationality that takes place in the creativity of pure becoming, but such a fountain of creativity would amount to a monistic undermining of the plurality of objects.  Even aside from the pluralism/monism problem, a non-relational dimension of objects would be a dimension that is “void of subjective experience,” a “vacuous actuality” that Whitehead denounces (Process and Reality, 167).

I first read Whitehead a little more than 11 years ago (thanks, Pete Gunter!), and I liked his philosophy from the start.  Aside from the specifics of the debate regarding the new Heidegger-Whitehead synthesis, I’m just happy to see that Whitehead’s name is making its way into more and more philosophical discussions.