Drawing on Alfred North Whitehead, Didier Debaise made an interesting observation about the nature of propositions in his keynote at the Philosopher’s Rally (which was an amazing success and experience). While I do not share Debaise’s “subject-oriented ontology” where everything becomes a subject (rocks, planets, mantis shrimps, etc), I strongly feel that our difference is largely rhetorical rather than philosophical. I believe that there’s a strategic value to referring to all entities– including humans –as objects at our historical juncture, while he believes there’s a strategic gesture in referring to them all as subjects. In the end, however, we’re both making the claim that all entities are monads that integrate their world in their own peculiar and unique way. Our real difference lies elsewhere. He believes that every monad/subject/object expresses the entirety of the world, while I reject the thesis that every entity is related to every other entity. I think there’s a great danger in holding that things ontologically come pre-related. On the one hand, I think this view is just mistaken ontologically. As a materialist I take it as “axiomatic” that relations can be forged no faster than the speed of light. Indeed, in most cases relations and interactions don’t even move at this speed. Look into the history, for example, of constructing the great trans-Atlantic cables and all the constraints that emerged with respect to how quickly information could be transferred across these cables. Every entity, I believe, has it’s own openness to the duration of entities both above and below the speed of its own duration, such that many of these other durations cannot even be registered at all. The point is that relations must be forged. They aren’t given.
Politically, many of our problems revolve around non-relation or the fact that no relations are present between two or more regimes. In my own thought I distinguish between dark, dim, bright, and rogue objects (and perhaps gaseous objects as well, I’m still thinking on this). A dark object is an object so thoroughly unrelated that it is there in a situation but does not manifest itself at all in the situation. For example, my living room, where I’m now typing, might be filled with all sorts of dark objects that go completely unregistered in this situation. Perhaps me or my daughter will happen to perturb them in just the right way and they’ll suddenly manifest, pinning us to the wall or causing us to be pushed out the window. A dim object is an object that minimally manifests itself in a situation but only very dimly and in a marginally related way. Immigrants, the homeless, leftists (in the States), women at academic philosophy conferences, etc., are all examples of dim objects. They are there, they are manifest, but only dimly. Their voices go unheard with respect to majoritarian organization and policy. Bright objects would be those entities that strongly manifest themselves in a situation, exercising a strong gravitational pull on other entities. For example, white males and the 1% in the United States are bright objects. Numerically they aren’t majorities, yet they nonetheless organize a plurality of the social relations. The same could be said of certain technologies and foods that organize how we live. Rogue objects, finally, are objects that erupt within situations from without. Hurricane Katrina, the revolutionary, OWS, etc., were rogue objects that suddenly and out of nowhere manifested themselves in a situation, reconfiguring the relations of that situation.
The point is that politics is not so much about relation but non-relation. Hank Oosterling, in his media-ontology– what he nicely calls “radical media()crity” (“city of relations/mediums) –has it right in his focus on relation, but is wrong to ignore that these relations must be forged or engineered (he recognizes this completely, however, at the level of his practice). Like Oosterling, it is above all relations or what happens when things that relate that interest me; not individual entities in isolation. I just always make the caveat that things don’t come already related; they must be engineered, built, constructed. In this regard, leftist politics is always an engineering of relations through rogue objects for dim objects. It strives to more thoroughly relate the unrelated, the dim. By contrast, rightwing politics is a practice that strives to engineer relations that make bright objects brighter and to ensure that dim objects remain dim or minimally manifest.
Back to Debaise’s remarks on propositions. Following Whitehead, Debaise emphasizes that truth-functionality and entailment are not enough to capture the nature of propositions. In addition to this, we need a logic of events capable of capturing– what I would call, in my language or terminology –the situatedness of propositions in regimes of attraction. In other words, propositions resonate in very different ways depending on differences in the regime of attraction in which they occur. He gives the nice example of the proposition “Crossing the Rubicon” to illustrate this point. When I articulate this proposition and when Caesar articulates this proposition, logically the propositions are identical. The truth-value of the propositions “Didier crosses the Rubicon” and Caesar crosses the Rubicon are the same. But at the level of events, these propositions are quite different. When Didier crosses the Rubicon, nothing really happens beyond his own experience of crossing the Rubicon. By contrast, when Caesar crosses the Rubicon he himself undergoes an incorporeal transformation making him either a criminal general or emperor, and Rome undergoes an incorporeal transformation as well, shifting from being a republic to an imperial state. Truth-functionally and at the level of logic, the two propositions are the same, but at the level of events the entailments and logic are quite different.
My aim here is not to reject the formalisms of logic. Rather, the point is to indicate that formalism is not enough to account for the richness of worlds or logoi. The danger that resides in approaching situations purely in terms of truth-functional logic and structures of entailment is that it risks keeping dim objects dim and bright objects bright by failing to attend to the networks of relation and non-relation that organize the logoi of these situations. What we need is a propositional language rich enough to account for the richness of situations and the structure of events possible in these situations.