It looks like I’m writing a lot of posts responding to others today, but I can’t express how helpful these comments are in assisting me in the development of my own thoughts. In response to my last post, NrG writes:

First, I would love to read something other than Lacan for our groups. And second, I would enjoy it even more if it were Graham’s new book! So, to answer your question, I’m definitely on board.

Now, to my (seemingly unending series of) questions. When you comment that:

“Rather, the body is an endo-relational unity anterior to whatever matter might compose it, wherein the elements related interdepend on one another through time.”

Could you possibly describe the differences between a sum, a composition, and a unity? As I see it, there seems to be more to a composition than a simple sum, but in what way(s) does a unity differ from either or both?

Also, I am struck by the fact that there seems to be something “anterior” to the object-whole. I’m not disagreeing with you, per se, but am intrigued by this notion that before multiple objects become a whole, there seems to be a preset or pre-constructed form by which the objects (eventually, but not always) come to take.

My favorite example is the two garages, one with a pile of parts and the other with a similar pile but fully constructed into a working motorcycle. Now, you’re right; for if the whole was merely the sum of its parts, then the pile would be the same object as the working motorcycle. However, there is something quite drastically different between the two. It is only because the parts are composed in such and such a way that the working motorcycle comes to be. Parts can be replaced, but only if the new parts maintain the same function in the composition. (Another example would be that given the sentence, “Bob wrote a paper.” I could easily replace the word Bob with the pronoun he, with little to no change in the sentence’s meaning – “He wrote a paper.” Yet, the more complex the sentence/object, the harder it is to make such replacements.)

What most fascinates me about form, then, is that it seems to exist as part of the object-whole, but is not essentially a proper part in the sense that it, itself, cannot be taken as an independent object. For, what object is “the body”, or “the motorcycle” minus all of their respective parts?

First things first: I am absolutely stoked at the prospect of readings Harman’s Prince of Networks for reading group. In my view it is his finest work to date, though this might just be a function of my abiding affection for Latour. It would be terrific to start sooner rather than later, i.e., over the Summer. Maybe we could send something out to the group list this week with the proposal and see when folks are available.

Now onto more metaphysical issues. I think NrG’s intuitions concerning the difference between sums and compositions are similar to my own. I take it that a sum is a collection in which the parts do not depend on one another. A sum can thus be thought as a simple set. The elements of a set have no relations of dependency with respect to one another defined merely by membership in the set. Proof of this can be seen in the fact that we are authorized to take the sub-multiple of any set without that multiple being changed in any way as a result of its subtraction from the set. For this reason I’m inclined to say that sets aren’t objects. I think Badiou comes to realize this himself in the trajectory of his thought from Being and Event to Logics of Worlds. If he comes to the conclusion that we require category theory to think objects and worlds, then this seems to be because he recognizes that you don’t get an object or a world out of a mere set extensionally defined. I differ from Badiou on this point in rejecting the thesis that objects are necessarily indexed to a world and a transcendental, and in my distinction between endo- and exo-relations. If I reject Badiou’s thesis that objects are necessarily indexed to a world, then this is because I am committed to the independent substantivity of objects. I confess that I might be unfair to Badiou on this point as Badiou does argue that objects can move from world to world while remaining the same object in Logics of Worlds.

When I use the term “composition” I am simultaneously playing on the sense of composition as sub-multiples belonging to a multiple or parts composing an object, the unity of that composition (co-positing), and the sense of musical composition. In my view, a composition differs from a sum or a set in that it has an endo-consistency in which there is an interdependent unity of notes or properties presiding over the continuance of the entity in time, regardless of how brief that time is (Zubiri). At present I have only made some rather vague gestures of just what this endo-consistency is, referring to the affects that characterize an object and which I understand as a function or product of the endo-structure of an object. When I say this endo-consistency is anterior to the parts of the object, I am not referring to a temporal priority where the structure pre-exists its parts, but to a logical priority.

My hunch is that genuine objects emerge from their parts, but are irreducible to their parts. If the endo-consistency of an object is irreducible to its parts while nonetheless being dependent on its parts, then this is because the parts can be replaced while the endo-consistency remains the same. Moreover, for a number of objects, the emergent endo-consistency exercises downward causation on its parts, regulating the parts in a variety of ways, limiting their own capacity to act.

Looking ahead, I plan to divide my next book into three parts: Objects (endo-relations), Networks (exo-relations), and Genesis. The third part on genesis will deal with questions of how objects emerge from other objects or the conditions under which we move from a disjunctive multiplicity of objects to an emergent object that has attained closure, composition, consistency, or unity. Here I differ from Harman in that I do not endorse the thesis that every relation constitutes an object (though Graham might eventually convince me otherwise).

For the part on endo-relations or endo-consistency, I am planning on reworking Deleuze, DeLanda’s, and Protevi’s work on the virtual, manifolds/multiplicities, attractors, and emergent systems in terms of Zubiri’s account of individual essence. Where Deleuze sees virtual multiplicities– fields of differential relations and their singularities –as being in excess of objects, I will instead argue that virtual multiplicities constitute the endo-consistency or essence of a particular object. There is, actually, some textual evidence in chapter 4 of Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition for this thesis. At any rate, I will reject the thesis that virtual multiplicities constitute a pre-individual in which everything is interconnected, belonging to a “one-all”. Rather, virtual multiplicities constitute the endo-consistency of an individual object or simply are the individual essence of an object or its persistent unity through time.

The concept of virtual multiplicity or a network of differential relations and singularities then allows me to distinguish between the qualities of an object produced in processes of translation and the essence of an object as an endo-consistent enduring unity. Qualities turn out to be actualized singularities presided over by attractors belonging to a virtual multiplicity. I won’t get into all the different types of attractors there are (point attractors, periodic attractors, etc), but minimally we can say that an attractor is a particular state towards which a system tends under certain conditions. These states of a system are known as the “phase space” of the system. Take a simple dynamical system composed of a bowl and a marble. When you roll the marble down the side of the bowl this system has roughly three attractors: the high point of the other incline of the bowl up which the marble rolls, the high point of the initial side of the bowl to which the marble rolls when returning, and the bottom of the bowl to which the marble comes to rest. In other words, the phase space of a dynamical system consists of those states through which the system can pass.

My thesis is that the qualities of an object are actualized states of an objects phase space presided over by the object’s attractors. These qualities can be generated either by the endo-structure of the object (dynamic variations in its ongoing autopoiesis independent of its environmental conditions) or by the exo-relations an object entertains with other objects. Take any colored object you might like. For example, blood. We are inclined to say that blood is red or that red has the property of being red. But this is not true. Rather, the redness of blood is the actualization of a point in phase space under exo-relational conditions. These exo-relational conditions might pertain to relations with oxygen (blood is blue inside our bodies), or it might be an exo-relational interaction with light. Thus, for example, in Red Dragon Hannibal Lector suggests that the serial killer looks for homes in secluded areas so that he might look at the blood of his victims under the moonlight. Under these exo-relational conditions blood takes on an appearance akin to oil.

The point is that the qualities an object actualizes are a function of its endo-consistency or its endo-structure, often as that endo-structure is exogenously related to other entities. Part of the “cash-value” of this relationship between endo-consistency, attractors, and actualized qualities, I think, is that it allows us to envision those conditions under which new objects emerge from other objects and conditions. In other words, through fluctions of energy in a system the phase space attractors of a system can become chaotic, no longer behaving in the stable way they once did, generating structurally different systems. The concept of attractor, then, not only allows us to understand the variety of qualitative states through which an individual object can pass, but also those conditions under which new endo-consistent orders emerge with very different phase spaces.