_sculpture-center-1Reid, over at Planomenology, has written a lengthy and thought provoking critique of the object-oriented metaphysics I’ve been developing in my recent posts (here, here, and here). I am deeply flattered by the thoughtfulness and time that Reid has put into this. Reid’s remarks are a critique in the best sense of the word, undertaken in a spirit of comradery that both strives to see the project succeed, pointing out perceived weakness, and developing his own positions. Reid begins by remarking that,

First of all, while I have some sympathy for the urge to simply forget about correlationsim and pounce on the things themselves, I worry that this may be hasty and somewhat reckless. We can raise here a whole set of problems. Firstly, can we simply forget about Kant, who so famously demonstrated our consignment to the phenomenal world of access, and exlcusion from the in-itself? Secondly, who is to say that ‘object’ is an appropriate way of speaking about the in-itself? Are not objects the specific way things show up for us? If we subtract ourselves from the equation, what reason do we have to believe that objects will remain as objects?

Again, I’m not familiar enough with Harman to know how he would respond, but I am a bit confused by Levi’s willingness to embrace objects as the form of the in-itself. This confusion stems from the high regard I have for his fantastic book on Deleuze, which, among other things, critiques any approach to the given that takes it as it is, rather than accounting for the genesis of that given. It seems to me that, from this position, we should arrive not at an object oriented philosophy any more than a subject oriented philosophy, but rather, at a genesis oriented philosophy, aiming to account for the givenness of the in-itself as objectal and accessible or inaccessible.

esoI am not in a position to fully respond to Reid’s critique at this moment– and really the entire post is worthwhile for those interested in these topics –but I will make a couple of preliminary remarks. First, at some point I will have to respond to the Kantian challenge in a more elaborate fashion. As I have argued elsewhere, I think the entire category of the in-itself and the inaccessibility of the in-itself is premised on a false problem. On the one hand, as I understand it, the problematic of the in-itself arises from treating the real being of the in-itself as unrelated or independent of any relation, such that entrance into any relation is a departure from the real being of that object, corrupting it and rendering it inaccessible. For example, in coming to relate to mind, in Kant, the object is transformed into phenomena or appearance that is no longer the object itself. I think this whole notion is mistaken. As I argued a long while back in my post “Existent(s)– Hegel’s Critique of the In-Itself”, this property of relation is not unique to the subject-object, mind-object, relation but rather is common to all relations among objects. That is, insofar as all relations among objects involve translation (Latour’s Principle), it follows that this is an ontological matter not a phenomenological matter. Now the verdict is still out for me as to whether objects are infinitely withdrawn from everything else and “vacuum packed”, as in the case of Graham’s metaphysics, but I do think this point is enough to demolish the Kantian epistemological framework and return us to the domain of metaphysics. My book Difference and Givenness, of course, was written not to redeem Kant but with the hope of accomplishing the ruin of Kant and opening the way for a shift from the epistemic and skeptical pre-occupations that define our period to the speculative and metaphysical. Sadly I had not yet encountered thinkers like Graham or Meillassoux when writing that book and therefore lacked the vocabulary to make this point more explicitly.

For some reason Graham’s vacuum packed objects make me very nervous, almost as if they’re black holes that contribute nothing beyond a sort of anchor beyond all relations. Here I must be missing something, but it seems as if these infinitely withdrawn objects must lack any structure. But that can’t possibly be right either as an interpretation of his position or ontologically. At some point I’ll have to respond to Graham’s own critique of relational models of objects.

I should emphasize here that in evoking Hegel I am not adopting or endorsing his system. It is a specific moment within his system that interests me and that moment alone. Moreover, I think I take this moment in a very different direction than Hegel himself takes it, putting it to very different work. In other words, my evocations of Hegel should be understood as a moment of theft or shoplifting, where I take a very fine argument and direct it to other ends. Similarly, Descartes engages in an act of theft with respect to Augustine and the cogito without reproducing Augustine’s metaphysics.

On the other hand, I think Roy Bhaskar’s transcendental realism as developed in A Realist Theory of Science provides the resources for moving from the domain of epistemology to ontology. First, Bhaskar argues that the treatment of being according to the requirements of knowledge, or the reduction of being to knowledge of being, constitutes a fallacy that he refers to as the “epistemic fallacy”. This fallacy is rife throughout both Anglo-American and Continental philosophy, and is visible in social constructivisms that reduce being to discourses about being, forms of phenomenology that reduce being to sense-bestowing intuition or only allow us to talk of being in terms of being-given or donated, and, of course, Kantianism. Consequently, second, Bhaskar argues that our scientific practice can only be rendered intelligible by positing the reality or mind-independence of the objects investigated by science. This argument holds, I think, for many other domains beyond science. As a consequence, third, Bhaskar, in a line of thought exceedingly close to Meillassoux’s argument from the arche-fossil, argues that ontologically we must be able to envision a world independent of humans or where humans do not exist. Incidentally, the point is not that humans do not, according to the Ontic Principle, make a difference. Humans are beings too and as such they contribute a difference. Rather, by the Ontological Principle, the point is far more modest: humans do not make the only or most important difference. Somewhere or other, if memory serves me correctly, Whitehead remarks that philosophies do not fail by dint of being false but by virtue of hyperbole. That is, they raise one principle to the principle of everything, effectively erasing the rest. Kant gets something right but then shackles all of being to mind.

As to questions of genesis, I would argue that genesis is a necessary ingredient of any object-oriented metaphysics that affirms the univocity of being. However, while genesis is a necessary component to the thinking of beings or objects, it would be a mistake to suppose that metaphysics can live on genesis alone. There is a vast difference between the declaration that “all beings are the result of their genesis” and the declaration that “all beings are there genesis”. The latter formulation reduces entities to their genesis, granting entity itself nothing in its own right, while the former thesis grants autonomy to entities in their own right while also acknowledging that they come-to-be. Here I think is one of the major shortcomings of Deleuze’s, and by extension DeLanda’s, brilliant ontologies. Genesis becomes the name of the real without objects being nothing but effects that themselves contribute nothing in turn. This accounts for the constant reading of Deleuze’s virtual as something other than the actual. In other words, Deleuze and DeLanda appear to violate the Principle of Irreduction. My strategy, by contrast, is to affirm that there are nothing but actualities and that when we speak of the relation between the virtual and the actual we are not referring to something other than the actual, but rather other actualities, such as genes, as they relate to a different actuality.

What I am trying to target with all of this is those various reductivist forms of thought, whether the social constructivisms or variants of materialism, that then make it impossible to determine how change is possible. In one way or another I think these metaphysics presuppose models where one form of being is privileged as the only being that makes a difference– say the symbolic or the signifier –and all other beings are mere vehicles or bearers of the effects of this form of being. The result of this form of thought is that we’re led to the conclusion that only an Event, Act, or Void can save us as change can only occur where there’s a point of absolute non-mediation. The Principle of Reality, which states that “the degree of power or reality embodied in a being are a ratio of the extensiveness of the differences the entity produces”, coupled with Latour’s Principle which states that “there is no transportation without translation”, tells a very different story. It now becomes possible to target key nodes in a constellation upon which a number of other relations depend. Indeed, following from Latour’s Principle we could also evoke another principle, the Principle of Change, which would state that,

There is no relation that does not produce a change.

This would be the case insofar as there can be no transformation without translation. Thus, for example, an entity also changes the signifier when it becomes a bearer of the signifier. It produces a difference within the signifier. The question then would no longer be how change is possible, but 1) how do stable constellations emerge, and 2) what nodes should be targeted within a specific constellation to produce change throughout the constellation.

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