Increasingly the sorting of types of objects or things has become important to me.  In the past I’ve suggested that there are dark, dim, bright, and rogue objects.  Speaking of these as types of objects is a bit of a misnomer.  It is not so much that these are types of objects, so much as these are ways in which objects are related or not related.  In this respect, whether an object is dark, dim, bright, or rogue is not an intrinsic feature of the object.  An object that was dark can become bright, and so on.

It is difficult to understand this sorting of objects without understanding the concept of gravity I’ve been developing.  Gravity is the way in which one object influences other objects, playing a role in what movements and actions are and are not possible for that object.  I arrive at my concept of gravity through analogy to Einstein’s theory of relativity.  It will be recalled that despite allowing us to comprehend gravity, Newton was nonetheless faced with the question of how two entities can affect one another from a distance.  How is it that the sun can hold the earth in its orbit despite the fact that the sun and earth don’t directly touch or interact with one another?  This led to a sort of crisis in physics where we were told to no longer ask questions about causality.  “It’s enough that all bodies follow this law, don’t ask what causes that obedience!”  One of Einstein’s great achievements was to show how this works.  Einstein’s thesis was that objects bend space-time as a function of their mass.  The reason that the earth orbits the sun is that the mass of the sun bends space-time in such a way that the earth, falling and moving in a straight line, moves along the curve of space-time produced by the sun.  It is not that the sun is exercising a force on the earth, so much as it is bending the space-time in which the earth moves.  Rather than spinning off into space, the earth thus is caught in the spider-web of the sun’s curvature of space-time.

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Well this is what I want to say– again, by analogy –with objects in general.  I want to say that all objects more or less exert a specific sort of “gravity” influencing the movements and actions of other objects in their vicinity.  Onto-cartography would be the investigation of how this specifically takes in constellations or networks of objects.  Onto-cartography would be the study of how semiotic entities and things structure paths or a topology of movement in the world, affording and constraining possibilities of movement, activity, and agency.  It would be a mapping of these topologies in the world around us.  Let’s take a few examples.  As I mentioned, gravity works at the level of semiotic entities as well as more familiar things like trees and grass grills.  Obama discovered the gravity of signs during his campaign and throughout his presidency.  He discovered the way in which skin color functions as a signifier that positions him in racist discourses, regardless of what his personal qualities as an individual might be.  He’s consequently been caught in the gravity of these sign-systems in such a way that he must perpetually moderate how he acts and responds so as to navigate the gravity of those narratives in American history and consciousness.  This would be an effect of gravity at the level of the “plane of expression” that I discussed yesterday.

Another example of gravity at the level of the plane of expression would be the issue of voter identification in the United States.  For many it seems reasonable that we should have to show identification to vote in elections.  Yet as is so often the case, the devil is in the details.  Recently my parents moved from Pennsylvania to North Carolina.  In order to drive and vote she had to go to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to prove her residency so as to get a license.  To do this she brought her passport, birth certificate, library card, and a bill.  After waiting five hours she was told that this paperwork was not sufficient because she brought only one bill from her residence in North Carolina, when she needed two.  The instructions on the DMV website were ambiguous, leading her to believe she had all the necessary documentation.  As a result she had to visit the DMV a second time, where she waited an hour and a half.

What we encounter here is the gravity– in both senses of the word, as “pull” and “seriousness” –of laws and institutions.  My mother– who votes in all elections and is a rather militant leftist –was fortunate in that she 1) had the time to go through this process, and 2) had more than one local bill proving her residency.  But how many other people are there– among the young, poor, working class, and minorities –who a) don’t have more than one bill to prove their residency, and 2) because of work or children, do not have the time to devote to multiple visits to the DMV for hours on end to get ID’s that would allow them to vote.  While initially it seems fairly reasonable to require people to show ID in order to vote, when we look at the laws and bureaucratic policies required for a person to get an ID, it becomes clear that whether intentionally or not (and I suspect it’s intentional), these policies are designed to exclude minorities, the poor, and working class from voting.  These people either do not have the requisite paper work, inclination, or time to meet these criteria and are thus excluded from political representation such as it is.  Here we have laws and institutional policies exerting a certain gravity on people undermining a path between them and their ability to vote.

We do not encounter gravity simply at the level of semiotic entities or the level of the plane of expression, but also at the level of things or bodies; what Deleuze and Guattari call the “machinic assemblage”.  I must work to support myself and my family.  In order to work, I must have a car.  Not only do cars embroil me in all sorts of legal entanglements at the level of the plane of expression, but it also has all sorts of real effects on my body and other bodies at the level of the plane of content.  In order to use my car I must fill it with fuel.  In filling it with fuel I find myself embroiled in all sorts of geopolitical politics and warfare, but the use of those fossil fuels also have all sorts of impact on the environment.  That impact on the environment changes the weather and climate, the behavior of animals, the ocean, the very existence of animals, and so on.  The absence of public transportation and alternative fuels, coupled with the necessity of working to live, exerts a gravity on me that forces me in the direction of a car run by fossil fuels or electricity.  Yet in choosing these options all sorts of gravity is exercised on other entities that structures their paths and ways of relating.  Gravity is simultaneously exercised on me making the car a necessity, while also being exercised on climate, animals, oceans, political institutions, nations, etc.  And here it goes without saying– though I must say it because someone will say I didn’t say it –that the gravity exercised by the plane of expression and the plane of content are intertwined in all sorts of complex ways.

The concept of gravity sheds light on the four different types of objects, while also introducing a new object.  We can now speak of these objects in terms of the gravity they exercise and their gravitational relations.  Let’s start with “bright objects”.  A bright object now becomes an object that functions as a hub or key node in a network, exercising gravity that influences and defines the paths of most other objects in its vicinity.  In the United States the 1% is a bright object insofar as they play a key role in both political policy and social relations.  Other entities are largely subordinated to these objects and the gravity these objects exert.  They end up defining the political policy and economic conditions.  Similarly, cell phones are a sort of bright object in certain labor relations.  Because of the smart phone that render us constantly connected through text, email, and phone, there is an increasing erosion of the difference between private time and work time.  Work comes to overtake the entire world, such that you are expected to respond to texts, emails, and phone calls in the evening, weekends, and while on vacation.  Increasingly, for a certain segment of the population, leisure and private time disappear.  The entire social space-time becomes work-time and if you refuse this transformation you’re subject to sanction, reprisal, or lost opportunity.

The concept of bright objects suggests the new category of satellite objects.  Just as the sun pulls planets into its orbit and just as planets pull moons into their orbit, bright objects create a striated space in which other objects are trapped in the network or orbit of the bright object.  Bright objects are hegemonizing, and to be hegemonized is to be pulled into the orbit of other bodies and signs, to have one’s paths delineated by that object.  Cell phones, whether we choose it or not, turn us into satellites that must navigate certain paths in our labor.  Heteronormativity functions as a bright object organizing sexual desire.  Fossil fuels structure all sorts of individual, national, and international relations, as well as the paths of all sorts of nonhumans.  A satellite object is an object that has had its paths defined by a bright object, that is trapped in the orbit of a bright object.  These bright objects can be of the order of signs and signifiers or things.

Dim objects are objects that exist on the periphery of a gravitational network defined by a bright object, like the remote ort cloud populated by comets and asteroids that surround our solar system.  While these entities exercise some gravity, they are so on the periphery that their effect is very small.  Returning to the example of voter ID’s, all those people who have been excluded from voting because they couldn’t jump the time hurdles and requirements of the plane of expression requiring certain paper-work are dim objects because they are unable to participate in the political process.  Dim objects are Ranciere’s part of no part…  A part that is there but that goes uncounted and that is restricted to following the gravitational paths of the satellites and bright objects.  These would be immigrants, the queer, the excluded, those with no voice, the disabled, etc.

Dark objects are objects that are so thoroughly unrelated that they exercise no gravity whatsoever.  We can hypothesize that they might exist and that they could appear, but they are so outside the gravitational paths exercised by other entities that they don’t appear at all.  What’s important is that they might come to appear.  Dark objects are, conceptually, a placeholder for entities that are there but who are not yet at all registered.  In Platonic terms, they are a sort of chora that might erupt someday under the proper circumstances.

Finally, rogue objects– my favorite –are objects that erupt into assemblages from nowhere, transforming all the relations in that assemblage.  Astronomers have suggested that there are rogue planets, stars, and even black holes.  These rogue bodies are bodies that enjoy no fixed orbit or vectoral position, but which instead circulate throughout galaxies, entering other solar systems, disrupting all relations and reconfiguring them.  Rogue objects are the new social movements, species, and technologies.  They are the revolutionaries.  OWS is perhaps a rogue object.  The Arab Spring was a rogue object.  The internet was a rogue object.  The printing press was a rogue object.  The pill was a rogue object.  These are objects that erupt out of nowhere and change everything.  Sometimes the eruption of these objects is disastrous as in the case depicted by Melancholia, while at other times they are emancipatory and transformative.  We’re never quite sure what a rogue object will do.

The task of onto-cartography is the mapping of the gravity of these various objects and their positioning within these networks.  Often the aim is to determine where the bright and satellite objects reside and why space-time paths are structured in these ways.  This aim is not for the sake of preserving those networks, but for the sake of a guerrilla warfare that will undo these striations and allow dim and dark objects to more brightly appear in situations.

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