Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about objects in the function of what I call “daimons”. In Greek mythology a daimon was an intermediary between the gods and humans that often influenced human affairs in subtle and invisible ways. One need only think of all the mischief caused by Cupid, for example. Within the framework of onticology, a daimon is not a supernatural entity, nor is it any different than other objects. Rather, what makes a daimon a daimon is the role it plays with respect to other objects.

Daimons are objects that bring other objects together, while themselves more or less withdrawing from view in the relation between other objects that has been brought into existence. When Cupid shoots Apollo with his arrow for insulting him about playing with bows and arrows, Apollo falls passionately in love with Daphne. Cupid shoots Daphne with another arrow, causing her to fall passionately in love with hunting. Cupid or Cupids arrows play the role of daimon, bringing Apollo and Daphne together in this paradoxical relation where he perpetually pursues her and she perpetually flees. The important point, however, is that it is very likely that Apollo and Daphne know nothing of the daimon that has brought them together in this way. All they know is their relationship to one another. Cupid’s role in the whole affair (sic.) withdraws from view.

Daimon’s are all over the place, though generally, because of the manner in which they withdraw, they are very difficult to discern or notice. As a rule, they aren’t noticed at all until things stop working. In their role as withdrawn intermediaries between objects, daimons play two crucial roles. First, daimons both afford possibilities of relation within a structural coupling and constrain possibilities of relation. Second, daimon’s play a key role in the genesis or production of new objects by bringing objects together in a structural coupling that gradually takes on the status of operational closure or systematicity such that this new object builds a distinction between itself and its environment and becomes capable of producing information-events of its own in relation to that environment.

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In the case of oral cultures, air itself is a daimon. Air brings people together through the medium of voice, allowing for very specific forms of social relation. For example, within oral cultures elder family members are of great importance because they are the collective memory of the group or tribe, remembering ages before that have now passed. Air affords communication through voice. However, while air affords a particular mode of relation, it also constrains what is possible. Because societies founded in voice are dependent on brains to store collective memory, history tends to take the form of poetry, song, and epic narrative, for these things can readily be remembered and passed on. One need only hear the first few notes to remember the rest. Soon everyone is singing along.

However, this mode of historical preservation also makes it far more difficult to be irritated by gradual changes in the environment. Why did the Rapanui people of Easter Island cut down all their trees, trapping themselves on their island, and causing their society to fall into bitter violent conflict as the struggled over the few remaining resources? Such acts seem thoroughly irrational. Yet in denouncing these acts as irrational, we forget the constraining nature of the daimon that held this culture together. It is very likely that it took many generations for the Rapanui to cut down the abundant trees that populated their island. If Jared Diamond is to be believed, this would have generated what he calls “the slow creep of normalcy”. From generation to generation the trees would have slowly disappeared, while new generations would gradually forget the lush forests that once populated the island. Towards the end, empty plains would have been the “natural” state of things and cutting down the final tree would have amounted not to a heretical and irrational act, but a purely ordinary activity of clearing shrubs for farmland. If the daimon air constrains, then this is because the particular form that oral history takes renders invisible gradual change by leaving no record of what things were once like.

Another daimon can be found in the rice of China between the 12th and 16th century. Unlike the grains of Europe, rice is an extremely reliable crop that provides multiple harvests every year (between two and three). However, it is also extremely labor intensive, back breaking work, to both plant and harvest. As a daimon, rice brought people together in collective relations to plant and harvest rice, generating highly specific forms of social relation. Additionally, it is likely that rice played a significant role in preventing the Chinese highlands from being cultivated and diminishing reliance on domesticated animals as a food source. If rice functions as a daimon, then this is because it disappears as an intermediary affording certain forms of social relation. In the genesis of new objects in the form of particular social collectives, those collectives look to their own internal reason for why they exist as they do, ignoring the role that the daimon might have played.

In our own time, of course, electricity, fiber optic cables, satellites, servers, and various forms of programming are daimons. Here on the internet the software that renders our blogs possible and the fiber optic cables that bring us together disappear from view. Within the air generated by these daimons our communications pulse back and forth and we treat the ideas and concepts we express, the identifications we make, the texts that we tarry with as the true grounds of our relations to one another. Yet what we miss are the daimons that rendered all these modes of relations possible in the first place. Blogs are universes of constantly shifting alliances, with new figures appearing, others disappearing, hostilities emerging and so on, such that we get objects coiled within objects where a blog itself is an ever growing and expending object, but where a blog is also a sub-multiple within a larger collective of blogs and relations where communications at a larger scale unfold not unlike two cities merging into one as the both grow and intertwine with one another. Yet again, all of this is possible on the basis of daimon’s that render these relations possible in the first place. Here I cannot resist a picture of one of my own productions rendered possible by a variety of daimons.

Within a Luhmannian framework we are told that objects can only see what they can see and cannot see what they cannot see. Through daimons generating these new sorts of objects, all sorts of other entities become invisible. “If it doesn’t happen here it didn’t happen at all!” You have no idea what I’m making for dinner tonight. If such mediums afford, then this is in the form of lines of flight that allow one to escape from the air of their local community, their Euclidean geography, where they are trapped amongst those they grow up with, their co-workers, their family, and so on. It now becomes possible for actors to come together from across the globe, creating communities and relations that would not be possible in a situated geography. Yet these new communities also rebound back on situated geographies from the actors that, themselves a sort of daimon, go back into their community, contesting its traditions and relations, forging new possibilities of social relation. Yet also, as Graham has observed, the internet constrains or diminishes from view the sort of slow dialogue that takes place in the form of article dialogues and responses, books, careful reading, and so on. Everything becomes accelerated with the daimon of fiber optic cables and it becomes necessary to keep up and always have something to say immediately. The witticism starts to reign supreme.

The confusion to be avoided is that daimons determine. There can be no question of technological or environmental determinism here. Daimons do not determine, but relate. Yet in relating there is no telling what the related will produce and create as a result of its coupling. This is why history exists and why history exists at all levels, not just the human. The Darwinistic universe is radically aleatory and no less historical than human history. It is no less punctuated by stunning irreversible events and random encounters. In pointing out that it’s rather difficult to fry eggs without stable temperatures and some equivalent of the frying pan, there is no claim that frying pans and stove tops compel one to cook eggs.

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