Generally speaking, I find that there are equivocations in all the relationist arguments I see. One of them is the claim that, if I say that objects withdraw behind all of their relations, then this somehow amounts to a denial of process and history. How? I am fully committed to historical objects that emerge over time. But they are only objects because they are irreducible upward to their current interactions with other things, and irreducible downward to the sum total of processes that gave rise to them.
It is simply not true that all of the past is preserved in the present– a lovely Bergsonian trope that is completely at odds with how things are. Each of us emerges from our parents, but it would be absurd to claim that each and every detail of the life history and courtship of our parents, grandparents, ad infinitum, is somehow inscribed into our current realities. Some of those details certainly affect us, but it is purely arbitrary to say that all of them do… Through speaking with my mother I am aware of some of the pure contingencies in her life from Kindergarten onward that eventually led to my receiving the name “Graham” (a rare name in America in my generation), but it would seem ridiculous to think that the exact color of clothing worn by both of my parents on January 10, 1950, or the exact nature of the breakfast they ate on that day in their early childhood, is somehow inscribed in my reality right now. It might be, if they ate something harmful that led to a genetic mutation that was passed on to me and will eventually give me cancer. But it’s not necessarily true that everything they did was of any importance at all in my future life.
Here I am in complete agreement. The point is not that objects do not have a genesis or a history. Nor is the point that objects do not enter into relations. My entire onticological dialectic, in fact, is a “physics” of objects that enter into relations. Nor is the point even that certain objects aren’t dependent on other objects. I don’t fare so well in my current state without oxygen. Rather, the point is that the proper being of objects is something that exceeds or is in excess to their relations. In short, entity is irreducible to its relations. Within my own ontological framework, it is for this reason that I distinguish between the object as O1 or actualized properties and the split object, Ø, as the excess of an objects endo-consistency over any of the relations it might happen to enter into. If I am led to claim– and Graham isn’t guilty of these claims –that the proper being of objects is incorporeal, immaterial, and a set of attractors presiding over a phase space, then this is because whatever points the object happens to actualize in this phase space by entering into relations with other objects, the objectness of the object still exceeds any of these relations.
All of this, however, begs the question of when an object is. In a prior post, I distinguished, following Zubiri, between different kinds of principles: ἔστιν, γίγνεται, and γίγνώσκεται. ἔστιν refers to the principles by whence something is. For example, Aristotle’s categories belong to the domain of ἔστιν. These are the basic structures of substance or what makes something a substance or object.
By contrast, γίγνεται refers to the principles by whence something becomes. There are two distinct issues here. On the one hand, there is the onticological dialectic that explores the manner in which exo-relations or relations between objects produce changes in objects. More fundamentally, however, γίγνεται refers to the question of how objects come into existence. When is an object? Or, to put it otherwise, when does one object emerge from other objects? The branch of onticology that addresses this question is referred to as “onticological deduction” or “onticological genesis”. DeLanda and Deleuze have contributed a good deal to these questions but suffer from the flaw of conflating the genesis of objects with the objectness of objects.
Finally, γίγνώσκεται refers to that through whence something is known. Is it through experience that we come to know? Through innate ideas? Through some sort of transcendental synthesis? For onticology, γίγνώσκεται no longer have the pride of place they have enjoying since the 17th century. Epistemology is not first philosophy, but is rather a subspecies of principles pertaining to γίγνεται or the principles through which something becomes. Insofar as knowledge is a relation between two or more objects, it belongs to the onticological dialectic or the analysis of inter-ontic relations. Since the 18th century philosophy has continuously conflated questions of the conditions under which we know with issues pertaining to what objects are.
Returning to the issue of γίγνεται or questions of becoming, Harman’s post raises a number of fascinating questions about the conditions under which objects come into existence. I accept the Lucretian thesis wherein it is claimed that “nothing can come from nothing” or that objects always come from other objects, while rejecting his metaphysical atomism. The question then becomes, under what conditions do we pass from a plurality of objects to a new object? There are also all sorts of mereological considerations here. Among the most interesting consequences of OOO, I believe, is the thesis that objects can contain other objects and that these objects the object contains are absolutely autonomous while nonetheless being parts of this other object. Nonetheless, the object formed out of these other objects is distinct from these objects while being dependent on these objects. As if things couldn’t be any more weird, it’s also necessary to stipulate that objects can be parts of more than one distinct object. For example, a person can both be a citizen of a country and an employee of a multi-national corporation. This example is particularly interesting in that this person (one object) is a part of two objects bound by entirely different principles (the multi-national corporation need not be grounded in the country to which the citizen belongs).
In order for an object to be an object, it is clear that it must attain a degree of closure or endo-consistency. It must maintain some sort of identity through time. Suppose we take– as we should –my blog as an example of an object. There are all sorts of ontological riddles here. First, my blog, Larval Subjects, is independent of both the platform and the technology that renders it possible. As far as programming platforms go, it once existed at blogspot rather than wordpress. At blogspot I was able to do things I’m not able to do here, enjoying much greater freedom to fiddle about with the programming, but at wordpress Larval Subjects is far more reliable and, I believe, attractive. Now, the fact that my blog could migrate from blogspot to wordpress is the first bit of evidence that Larval Subjects is independent of whatever platform it happens to use. It will be argued that my blog is nonetheless dependent on internet technology, and this would not be false. Nonetheless, Larval Subjects could be embodied in a variety of different media while still being Larval Subjects.
Now, it is clear that “closure” cannot signify sameness. Larval Subjects grows and changes all the time. New posts are added, people comment, it gets all sorts of traffic (if my counters are to be believed about 2000 to 3000 visits a day). Yet it is still Larval Subjects. Closure, then, is the persistence of an entity through time despite change. One will say that nonetheless Larval Subjects is dependent on me, the author of so many posts on Larval Subjects. But this is not true either. While I certainly perturb Larval Subjects in all sorts of ways, while Larval Subjects certain draws all sorts of input from the object that is Levi, nonetheless, there is no way in which Larval Subjects is reducible to Levi. On the one hand, I am not the sole creator of Larval Subjects. There are all the programmers, the people that maintain the internet, the telephone lines and satellites that allow for this form of communication, the people that comment, the design work that Mel did, and so on. On the other hand, Larval Subjects enjoys all sorts of adventures of which I am scarcely aware. There are all the differences it provokes in others, whether they be rage, admiration, perplexity, new projects, rejoinders, and so on. Only a small portion of that traffic ever responds. The blog gets linked to by other blogs without me knowing it. It gets, if my tracker is to be believed, forwarded in email. And so on. These are adventures of Larval Subjects, not Levi. Moreover, it is not at all an unusual event for me to be utterly baffled and surprised by something I wrote a while back. I am as much an interpreter of what I write as anyone else. And this because anything I write is an independent object. Such is the essence of what Lacan and Freud taught us about the essence of that strange object known as speech and writing.
Yet what is more interesting than the ontological status of my blog is the question of the ontological status of blog collectives. We can ask, at what point do objects shift from being networks of relations among objects, to objects in their own right? We talk, for example, of the “theory blogosphere”. Is that an object? A network? Both? There is a sort of entity here but it is closer to a cloud or a mist than a rock. How do we describe this difference ontologically? And what is the process by which something passes from being a collective to an object?