Over at Networkologies Chris Vitale has announced the welcome news that he has softened up quite a bit as a result of the UCLA conference. I haven’t gotten to read the posts in detail yet as I quite literally just walked in the door from California, but the posts can be found here, here, and here, with Ivakhiv of Immanence blog making some remarks here.
Based on what my exhausted mind has been able to skim of these posts so far, I just wanted to make a points to clarify things. First, I was surprised to discover that Vitale understood my rejection of the linguistic turn as a rejection of semiotics. Although my position has developed and mutated quite a bit over the last two years (I no longer endorse, the ontic principle, for example), the abiding core of that ontology has always been the concept of flat ontology. One of the central themes of flat ontology has always been the heterogeneity of being, or that being is composed of a variety of different types of entities. Not only are their rocks, quarks, cane toads, and stars in my ontology, but there are also signs, corporations, economies, cities, etc. What I want is an ontology strong and rich enough to allow us to both talk about signs, and power, and social entities and institutions, and natural entities. This is why the ontology is flat. It refuses any reduction of nature to culture or any reduction of culture to nature. Whether cultural or natural, all of these entities are, in my ontology, real.
Here, then, is how I understand the “linguistic turn”. The linguistic turn, put crudely, is that correlationist position that argues that because all of our experience is mediated by language talk about anything in the world must ultimately be talk about a discourse about that domain of the world. For example, a proponent of the linguistic turn might hold that a critical analysis of physics consists in the analysis of the discourse of physics, treating physicists as poor fools that are duped into believing that their language can refer to independent entities (which isn’t to say they reject the existence of independent entities). This is the move I reject. What I don’t reject is the idea that signs and language are also genuine and real actors in the world, worthy of analysis. They’re just not the whole story here. Here I am basically on the same page as Latour in the first chapter or introduction of We Have Never Been Modern. At any rate, I am a great lover of both semiotics and semiology (my thesis, written after my dissertation, for example, was on Peirce’s semiotics, Derrida, and Husserl; and Peirce’s collected works sit proudly on my bookshelf).
Second, over at Ivakhiv’s blog I notice that there’s a discussion of an opposition between process and substance. Shaviro and I had a similar discussion over dinner last night at a Mediterranean joint that did a disappointing job on my food (the company was great though). I think folks are in for a surprise when The Democracy of Objects is finally available. Here are two declarations: 1) I have always been, am, and will always be a process philosopher (this is probably a significant difference between Graham and I). 2) The following two statements are true in my ontology: “Substances are processes” and “processes are substances”. For me the processuality of a substance is its substantiality. Nor do I think I’m far off the mark here for those who know Aristotle’s writings on animals.
Perhaps I haven’t been entirely clear on this here– I have to save something new for the book! –but my substances are constantly struggling with entropy (another long running theme on this blog). For me this entails that substances must reproduce themselves from moment to moment to endure. They are constantly disintegrating and fighting entropy or dissolution into other objects. This process of endurance is creative and evolving. Indeed, substances require information, in the sense I’ve discussed it on this blog, to reproduce themselves and that information has to be new (information repeated twice is no longer information). Like Whitehead’s “societies”, substances produce themselves through their preceding phases and do so in a way that always has an aleatory or creative dimension to it. Why, then, refer to them as substances? Because there is pattern and, as Whitehead puts it, “subjective aim”. Okay, there’s also something a little polemical in the term “substance” or “object” as well, but isn’t a potent signifier occasionally a good thing? Anyway, I have no objections to you guys using terms like “event” or “process” if you think those terms have strategic rhetorical import. All I ask is that you recognize that certain event-process-substances detach themselves from other relations and take on a life of their own. That’s not too much, is it?
Third, networks and relations. C’mon guys, you know in your heart of hearts that I love relations and endlessly direct analysis to relations. My key thesis is not that relations don’t exist or that they are unimportant, but that, following Deleuze-Hume, relations are always external to their terms (substances). The important caveat here is that substances are themselves bundles of relations. So what’s my thesis? My thesis is that entities can never be reduced to their relations. Every entity exceeds its relations and can enter into new relations. If I’m shot into outer space I die, but life is a quality. It doesn’t mean I’ve ceased to be a substance. Why am I so insistent on this? Because what we’re so interested in is not relations, but the possibility of shifting relations and creating new possibilities as a result.
Guys, our dialog has occasionally gotten hot, but we’ve always had a good, generous (well not always), and stimulating dialog. I’m pleased to see a new iteration of that. Okay, time for me to eat some pizza and collapse.