S.C. Hickman

Further thoughts on Levi R. Bryant's post on 'relata'...

Levi's post on Karen Barad's concept that "relata do not precede relations" made me go back and readread pertinent aspects of her work on agential realism. Some thoughts:

I know this is more of a discussion about internal/external relations, but I was interested in Barad's ideas of relata not preceding relations... Your statement: "The real issue is not whether or not whether or not it is possible to move beyond correlationism or whether being can only ever be thought in relation to thought and whether thought can only ever be thought in relation to being, but rather whether or not relations are internal or external."

Karen Barad's notion of intra-action is key to her agential realism, which seems to be about the boundary rather than the gap between the internal/external relation. I think it is here that your thought and hers seem to be in partial agreement in the sense that it is this entaglement between internal/external relations at the boundary that is the question. The difference is that she does not accept the OOO concept of the real/sensual distinction, instead she seems to fall within the transcendental empiricists tradition in which only phenomenon exist. As she state it:

"The notion of intra-action is a key element of my agential realist framework. The neologism "intra-action" signifies the mutual constitution of entangled agencies. That is, in contrast to the usual "interaction," which assumes that there are separate individual agencies that precede their interaction, the notion of intra-action recognizes that distinct agencies do not precede, but rather emerge through, their intra-action. It is important to note that the "distinct" agencies are only distinct in a relational, not an absolute, sense, that is, agencies are only distinct in relation to their mutual entanglement; they don't exist as individual elements.(33)"

Unlike OOO she does not affirm a fully deployed universe of objects. She affirms Phenomenon but leaves any sense of a noumenon (real object in Harman's sense) out of the equation. And, yet, I wonder if she is not collapsing the real into the sensual with her use of diffraction? She seems to be moving back into a transcendental empiricist tradition in this. As she says: "A specific intra-action (involving a specific material configuration of the "apparatus") enacts an agential cut (in contrast to the Cartesian cut-an inherent distinction-between subject and object), effecting a separation between "subject" and "object." That is, the agential cut enacts a resolution within the phenomenon of the inherent ontological (and semantic) indeterminacy.(334)"

It's not about the marking of a distinciton (in the Luhmanian sense or Cartesian sense) that produces a gap between observer/observed, etc.; instead, it is the agential cut that is productive of a resolution - both ontological and semantic - in the inederminancy of the object (phenomenon) itself. It's about the production of boundaries instead. It seems that for her what is needed is a method attuned to the entanglement of the apparatuses of production, one that enables genealogical analyses of how boundaries are produced rather than presuming sets of well-worn binaries in advance.(29) And it is in this sense that the central metaphor of 'diffraction' is at the heart of this agential realism: "I argue that a diffractive methodology is respectful of the entanglement of ideas and other materials in ways that reflexive methodologies are not.(29)"

Does Barad know of OOO? If so what does she think of the real/sensual distinction? For me at least I agree with Henry E. Allison and his use of the two-aspect theory of the phenomenon/noumenon concepts as being a distinction between what we as humans can describe (appearance/phenomenon) and what we cannot (noumenon). Kant according to this did not see phenomenon/noumenon as two separate objects but as one object for-us(phenomenon) and for-itself(noumenon).

For Graham Harman there are two significant aspects to his theory of objects: first, is the four-fold structure of objects themselves, which "describes the structure of objects that are isolated from one another and may provide the means to account for their communication"; and, second is the dynamic nature of the universe itself, the idea of a world that "vibrates up and down between numerous levels, rather than one that sits around in a fixed Heideggerian dualism between light and shadow. All of these steps set the fourfold into motion." (Dwelling with the Fourfold . Space and Culture 2009 12: 292)

Above Harman speaks of "communication" as qualifying aspect of an object's internal/external relations, and it seems that for him the boundaries are between levels of being in how these communications are enacted. Communication is key, but how are theses processes of this communication both internally and externally enacted? How do autonomous withdrawn objects ever communicate with external objects? By what mechanism does an object carry on internal communications between its real and sensual aspects?

Levi in his discussion of Luhmanian operational closure of autopoetic objects has argued that there are four important features of objects (151, Democracy of Objects): first, objects relate only to themselves and never to their environment; second, every substance or system is organized around a distinction between system and environment that the system itself draws; third, autopoetic substances, in contrast to allopoetic substances, constitute their own elements or perpetually reproduce themselves through themselves or their own activities; and, finally, substances are such that we can have substances nested within substances, while these substances nested within substances nonetheless belong to the environment of the substance within which they are nested(ibid).

To break it down:

1. An object is an autonomous entity that communicates internally but never externally with its environment.
2. Objects produce gaps between themselves and their environment.
3. Autopoetic and Allopoetic (Varela): Autopoetic systems are those that are self-organized and are self renewed, while allopoetic systems are externally driven. Objects are independent of all relation and define and reproduce themselves. Think of seeds: natural seeds are autopoetic: they reproduce themselves through internal mechanism; while human engineered seeds are allopoetic, their production and reproduction are controlled by external forces (see wiki entry on gentic use restriction).
4. Objects can exist within other objects, and these internal objects exist within the environment of the larger Object.

If objects only ever relate to themselves then how do objects ever communicate with other objects? This is a paradox both Levi and Harman in agreement. This is where the distinction between the real (noumenon) and sensual (phenomenon) object(s) takes its place on the stage of many levels. How objects negotiate the boundaries of these levels seems to be one of the issues central to OOO at the moment. No real object according to Levi and Harman can ever communicate with another real object, they are like Luhman's systems forever inclosed within their own internal world. Yet, it seems that it is through the sensual/phenomenal mechanisms that they overcome the barriers to this dilemna. For Levi there is the notion of 'regimes of attraction" along with 'irritaton' and 'perturbation' that offer a way out of this dilemna. Levi tells us that regimes of attraction can "be thought as interactive networks or, as Timothy Morton has put it, meshes that play an affording and constraining role with respect to the local manifestations of objects (205-206)." Objects use these networks to communicate information both internally and externally. Information is something that is constituted and contructed within the object: "information is not something that exists out there in the world, but is rather something that is constituted and constructed(198)".

The constitution and construction of information offers us a crossover toward epistemic thinking. Levi is not so much against epistemological investigations per se, it is the passivity of most of those investigations that he sees as problematic. As he states in an interview (ahb: here):

"Substance, I argue, is this structure of attractors or what Deleuze called a “multiplicity”. Under this construal, qualities turn out to be actualized points in phase space. In this way, I’m able to undermine the distinction between substance and quality that has vexed so much philosophy since Locke, but I am also able to abolish the distinction between accident and essence, insofar as qualities are actualized as a result of the affects or attractor structure of objects. We even get the beginnings of a realist epistemology in this conception of substance, insofar as part of knowing substance involves placing them in differential fields that allow attractors of substances to manifest themselves. In this regard, philosophy has conceived the activity of knowing in far too passive terms, privileging the gaze or regard of objects, ignoring how we must grock with objects to discover their nature or the differences they contribute to the world."

As he tells us the Democracy of Objects is concerned with the endo/exo internal/external sense of relations among objects:

"The Democracy of Objects will approach objects from three interrelated perspectives. After introducing the principles of onticology, it will explore the endo-relational structure of objects or their endo-consistency in terms of their structure as systems of attractors. The second part of the book will explore exo-relations or networks of objects in relation to one another. Here I am heavily indebted to Deleuze and Guattari and Latour. Clearly many of the conditions under which objects actualize a point in phase space are dependent on the object’s relation to other objects. The second part will thus explore these relations of evocation among objects, but will also examine those conditions under which objects come to form a system or organization amongst themselves that becomes self-sustaining and operationally closed from other objects. Finally, the third part of the book will examine the genesis of objects. Under certain conditions objects are pushed into new basins of attraction, generating new objects that have a substantial autonomy of their own."

I think that there is still a great need for honing the philosophical concepts of these various OOO projects in the future, but one thing we can all agree on is that without the notion of the autonomous object free of all relations we could have no real sense of object or relation to begin with. Without the generative capability of the withdrawn object being able to make distinctions productive of the gaps/cuts between observer/observed, endo/exo, or internal/external relations; as well as, the ability of objects to negotiate and resolve boundary issues between levels, there might have been no observer separated from its environment with the necessary self-reflexive capability of thought to negotiate the boundaries of being itself, ever. 

S.C. Hickman

The Face of Change

It is not what is seen that matters,
but what is unseen in the seen:
the grafting of a thought upon a thing,
undoes the object's semblance to itself;
that slow accumulation, properties inundation
cannot give us back again the promise;
only that which is beyond all thought
can weave its magic into words
that no longer signify a something,
but are that something in itself that is:
between the thought and thing,
a dance renews the drummer's pledge,
the child's liquid laughter and the mage's wedge:
the quick step in and out of fire,
the silence between the stars,
the river's course, vulcan's pyre:
part and partial of the void:
the gathering tribe, the bellows hold;
objects outer frozen light piercing:
daring all till change its face creates at last!

      - S.C. Hickman (2012)

S.C. Hickman

The Fragility of Objects: After Edward Hopper

Her face is turned away, -
or is it turned toward something,
a something just beyond the frame,
the framed sky's mauve tones
surrounding the surround of her bushy
red hair, the mottled textures,
a profiled anguish; or, is it a reticence,
an intensity of resistance,
as if the measured look
could lure the distant object
from its hiding place:
the thin lips and jutted nose,
wind-blown observance of day's motion:
the ears that flame out listening to what?
Her arm is resting, at least the appearance
of being moving upward or outward,
a motion within motion, shadow of sun
falling bright backward over blue;
white collar, green broach: signs of elegance
or impurity: a poverty of style; gazing into
rather than out of the blank white enamel;
a reality of forms falling forward
from those eyes where in a distance
that is not 'res extensa' - (as if Descartes
tributary gaze could form spaces
within spaces) forever withdrawn
from our gaze and into what is:
the being of that fragile object lives!
      - S.C. Hickman (2012)

S.C. Hickman

Levi R. Bryant: Relata do not precede relations post....

Levi has an excellent post on Karen Barad's use of the thesis that relations are internal in her statement that “relata do not precede relations” (Meeting the Universe Halfway, 334). Levi argues for both endo/exo and/or internal/external relations between objects and their separation or withdrawel from all relations.

I want go into the details of the post, only that several commentors still have issues with correlationism and relations etc... I left my own comments on what he terms the subset of the debate, Correlationism:

It always seems to me people get stumped over just what correlationism is. Obviously it goes back to Kant’s Copernican Turn (so called):

“Up to now it has been assumed that all our cognition must conform to the objects; but all attempts to find out something about them a priori through concepts that would extend our cognition have, on this pre-supposition, come to nothing. Hence let us once try whether we do not get further with the problem of metaphysics by assuming that the objects must conform to our cognition, which would agree better with the requested possibility of an a priori cognition of them, which is to establish something about objects before they are given to us. This would be just like the first thought of Copernicus, who, when he did not make good progress in the explanation of the celestial motions if he assumed that the entire celestial host revolves around the observer, tried to see if it might not have greater success if he made the the observer revolve and left the stars at rest” (Preface to Critique of Pure Reason B/XVI)”

It is this reversal from both the empirical and rationalist theocentric pre-critical stance to Kant’s Epistemic Turn that is at issue in Correlationism. Kant's subjective turn internalized the external ontological relations of transcendental realism of both the empirical and rational traditions: “Space is not an empirical concept which has been derived from outer experiences.” (B/38) On the contrary: “…it is the subjective condition of sensibility, under which alone outer intuition is possible for us.” (A/26; B/42)

OOO is not a return to the pre-critical ontologies of the past, but a swerve from those traditions by shifting the questions from substance itself to relations. And obviously for relations to come about there must be a something that precedes a relation that instigates the relations to begin with (the old joke of which comes first the chicken or the egg). And I agree Levi we have differing kinds of relations. The shift beyond correlationism is to decenter the obvious connection with the human/world divide or gap that is central to humanistic thought and philosophy of finitude.

The major question is how do relations happen, how does contact or communication between objects/machines happen: a concept of happening and event is at issue. A relation is an end result of a process that has its origin in desire or anxiety, a probing of the lines of influence between objects rather than a study of the objects themselves.

S.C. Hickman

Slavoj Zizek: The Logic of the Notion - Subjectivity and Void

"In a determinate Notion, universality and particularity immediately coexist; that is, the notion’s universality immediately “passes” into its particular determination. The problem here is not how to reconcile or “synthesize” the opposites (the universal and the particular aspects of a Notion), but, on the contrary, how to pull them apart, how to separate universality from its “otherness,” from its particular determinations. The absolute contradiction between universality and particularity can only be resolved, their immediate overlapping can only be mediated, when the Notion’s universality is asserted or posited (or appears) as such, in opposition to its otherness, to every particular determination. In such a move, the Notion returns “out of its determinateness into itself,” it reinstates itself “as self-identical, but in the determination of absolute negativity”— absolutely negating all and every positive content, all and every particular determination. The pure I (the Cartesian cogito, or Kantian transcendental apperception) is just such an absolute negation of all determinate content: it is the void of radical abstraction from all determinations, the form of “I think” emptied of all determinate thoughts. What happens here is what Hegel himself refers to as a “miracle”: this pure universality emptied of all content is simultaneously the pure singularity of the “I”; it refers to myself as the unique evanescent point which excludes all others, which cannot be replaced by any others— my self is, by definition, only me and nothing else. The I is, in this sense, the coincidence of pure universality with pure singularity, of radical abstraction with absolute singularity.  And this is also what Hegel aims at when he says that in “I” the Notion as such comes to exist: the universal Notion exists in the form of the I in which absolute singularity (it is me, only me) overlaps with radical abstraction (as pure I, I am totally indistinguishable from all other I’s).  In Paragraphs 1343 and 1344 of the Science of Logic, he then adds the “bad news” that accompanies the “good news” of the Notion’s return-to-itself from its otherness: “Individuality is not only the return of the Notion into itself; but immediately its loss”; that is, in the guise of an individual I, the Notion not only returns to itself (to its radical universality), freeing itself from the otherness of all particular determinations; it simultaneously emerges as an actually existing “this,” a contingent empirical individual immediately aware of itself, a “being-for-self”:

Through individuality, where the Notion is internal to itself, it becomes external to itself and enters into actuality … The individual, therefore, as self-related negativity, is immediate identity of the negative with itself; it is a being-for-self. Or it is the abstraction that determines the Notion, according to its ideal moment of being, as an immediate. In this way, the individual is a qualitative one or this. [Hegel, Hegel’s Science of Logic, p. 621]
We find here already the allegedly “illegitimate” move from notional determinations to actual existence whose best-known version occurs at the end of the Logic, when the Idea releases itself into Nature as its externality. Let us avoid the standard idealist misunderstanding: of course, this speculative move does not “create” the flesh-and-blood individual, but it “creates” the “I,” the self-relating empty point of reference that the individual experiences as “itself,” as the void at the core of its being."

       - Zizek, Slavoj. Less Than Nothing: Hegel and the Shadow of Dialectical Materialism. (Verso; 1 edition (May 22, 2012)

S.C. Hickman

Ian Bogost: The Broken Beyond

"The Space Shuttle program strove to make space exploration repeatable and predictable, and it succeeded. It turned space into an office park. Now the tenants are filing in. Space: Earth's suburbs. Office space available."
       - Ian Bogost has a great post: The Broken Beyond - How Space Turned Into an Office Park: Click Here!
S.C. Hickman

International Book Week: The Strangeness of Being

It's international book week. Copy the rules as part of your post!

The rules: Grab the closest book to you, turn to page 52, post the 5th sentence. Then seek a memory that it touches...

(Anne Carson, Bittersweet) :

"When I contemplate the physical spaces that articulate the letters 'I love you' in a written text, I may be led to think about other spaces, for example the space between 'you' in the text and you in my life."

Reading this sentence reminded me of an experiment in my drama class so many years ago. My Drama teacher, Alexi Coleman at the university had us sit on stage in a circle. He proceeded to blindfold each of us and lead us one by one to two chairs facing each other inches apart in the center of the stage. He asked us to sit quietly and  feel the other's presence, but not to speak of it until asked. The experiment in itself was bland, but the outcome was unexpected. Sitting in the chair, one by one, each of us played the game with strange results. One could actually feel the presence of the other's being as one by one we sat in the bubble of silence, blindfolded, with inches of space between our physical bodies. Something strange and wonderful happened for the first time, one understood that the body senses things subtler than sight alone can give. Powers of sense, the affectivity of distance is bridged by physical processes of substance: objects touching in spaces, or bubbles we never knew existed, awaken feelings and thoughts, ideas and affects: in that abyss, or bubble between you and I something happens that closes the gap, which touches the core of our beings with its strangeness...

Of course those with physical defects: blindness, deafeness, etc. have known this all along. Why do we depend on sight so much to tell us about reality? Why don't we listen to our bodies messages more often? When I read I notice the use of sight as metaphor everywhere. One could spend hours tracing the use of physical metaphors in favorite passages from poets, philosophers, novelists, etc. The tyranny of sight controls the course of things... when will our touch, hearing, smell, etc. awaken us from our long sleep of the senses? Why do we sleepwalk between each other and the strange strangers (Tim Morton) that surround us in the silences and gaps of our lives.

Further thoughts have lead me by curcuitous path to Alphonso Lingis who once asked: "What is the relationship between the space in which we encounter sensible things and the space in which we encounter other sentient beings? What is the relationship between the space in which things are objective or intersubjective, and the field of a perception and action which are my own?" 1 In another work he spoke of the passions:

"A living organism is a dense and self-maintaining plenum. Out of the energies it assimilates from its environment it generates forces in excess of what it needs to adjust to that environment and compensate for the intermittent and superficial lacks produced by evaporation and fuel consumption. The discharges of these superabundant forces are felt in passions. But the environment itself is full of free and nonteleological energies-trade winds and storms, oceans streaming over three-fourths of the planet, drifting continental plates, cordilleras of the deep that erupt in volcanic explosions, and miles-deep glaciers piled up on Antarctica that flow into the sea and break off in bobbling icemountains. How can the passions of penguins, albatrosses, jaguars, and humans not lift their eyes beyond the nests and the lairs and the horizons? How can these passions not sink into volcanic rock and the oceanic deserts?" 2

1. Alphonso Lingis. Sensation: Intelligibility in Sensibility (1996, Humanities Press).
2. Alphonso Lingis. Dangerous Emotions (2000, University of California Press).

S.C. Hickman

Against Plato

Maybe it is passion we need,
food and drink of another order:
affective, the body touches things
the mind knows nothing of;
neither reason nor emotion guide us
toward that withdrawn realm,
where what is observed observes in return;
yet, at times, we need to waken things
from their deep sleep, track them
into their darkened lairs,
enter into that relation
wherein two become one:
within this bubble, an immanence
churns out of volcanic depths,
emerging: here, just here - a truth is born
that even reason by art or craft,
by number or weight, cannot rescue
from the heart of a philosopher.

     - S.C. Hickman (2012)

S.C. Hickman

Earth Songs - After Lucretius

Ageless, the dark traversal of primal being,
dark inheritance of night and chaos, twin gatherings
that first emerged from that fine mesh,
entangled members of this pleroma:
storm tossed light springing forth entrailing
all that is: this universe of dust and life:
the ungrounded plenitude, the force of time and space:
self-organized immanence - habitat of stars and creatures,
great and small, travelers journeying forward,
swerving, falling ever downward into forms:
unbounded denizens productive of the forces
that even now produce in us this song;
we sing these songs of earth, remembering
the steady course of deep time, knowing
that we sing in darkness, yet the light
like a trusted accomplice keeps us steady,
guiding us along the way, showing forth
the wonders of this life on earth we live!

     - S.C. Hickman (2012)

S.C. Hickman

Quote of the Day: The Ecological Thought by Tim Morton

The Mesh

"The ecological thought understands that there never was an authentic world. This doesn't mean that we can do what we like with where we live, however. Thinking big means realizing that there is always more than our point of view. There is indeed an environment, yet when we examine it, we find it is made of strange strangers. Our awareness of them isn't always euphoric or charming or benevolent. Environmental awareness might have something intrinsically uncanny about it, as if we were seeing something we shouldn't be seeing, as if we realized we were caught in something."

      -Timothy Morton. The Ecological Thought