I’ve been really delighted by the discussion that’s emerged in the blogosphere with Reid, Kvond, Jerry, Nick, Alexei, Mikhail, Nate, Graham, NrG, and others surrounding realism, speculative realism, correlationism, and object-oriented philosophy. The entire flavor of the discussion is entirely different than anything I’ve witnessed in the three years I’ve been writing here, as it’s revolved almost entirely around working through claims, counter-claims, and the development of positions, rather than already established positions. It’s a little surprising to see just how readily possible such discussions are and just how much thirst there seems to be for such an approach to philosophy.
Recently, responding to Nate’s queries about the notion of non-relational difference or difference in itself, I wrote:
I’m committed to the thesis that there is no bottom or top of the universe. As a result, it follows that objects contain other objects, somewhat like Russian dolls. Put differently, an object is an assemblage of objects. On the one hand, this requires me to give an account of how objects enlist other objects in the formation of their objecthood. Here I’m somewhat committed to the thesis that objects are more than the objects of which they’re composed. I think this follows from the Principle of Irreduction which states that nothing is either reducible or irreducible to anything else. On the other hand, this suggests that the idea of an internal difference or a non-relational difference is something of a rhetorical sleight of hand.
In the “Scheme of Translation” I introduced the thesis that internal difference is disequilibrium within an object, functioning as a ground for the acts of an actuality. Yet from whence do these inequalities or disequibriums arise if not clashes between the objects that make up an object? This, then, would seem to return the notion of internal difference or non-relational difference to the domain of relational difference. However, I think the characterization of these differences as internal or non-relational difference lies in the fact that they are intra-assemblic differences rather than inter-assemblic differences. In other words, non-relational difference tries to do the work of accounting for why an object cannot be reduced to its milieu or external conditions, such that the object becomes a mere vehicle of this milieu (for example, the thesis that as humans we are only products of our environment, contributing no difference of our own).
In a terrific, thoughtful comment, Nate responds:
I guess I’m having trouble seeing how to square difference in itself with all objects being assemblages of objects. It seems to me that to say the latter means that really what we think of as objects are assemblages of assemblages of assemblages of …. and so on, and as your post on objectiles suggests, all of these assemblages are in motion at various speeds along various vectors. That’s not necessarily a problem (I think I believe that this is true, actually, in the sense that I think your point speaks in a satisfying way to an intuition I have, so definitely not a problem).
But if that’s the case, then it seem to raise problems for the first – difference in itself defined as difference internal to an assemblage. You characterized “internal difference [as] disequilibrium within an object”, then as “intra-assemblic differences rather than inter-assemblic differences.” I think all of these formulations have a use, but I think the point I discussed a moment ago – objects as assemblages all the way down, so to speak, and all the way up (the universe having no top or bottom) – makes it hard to maintain these characterizations. It seems to me that the assemblages of assemblages of assemblages point means that internal/external or intra/inter become terms that do little work. It seems to me that these terms become, to use the terms you used in your post on objectiles, largely a matter of differing speeds. As such, I don’t know that the distinction between intra- and inter- can withstand the assemblages of assemblages point, such that I don’t know that intra- assemblage difference can serve as a philosophical hook to hold much weight. Because whether or not any giving trait or point is within or without an assemblage is largely a matter of perspective or, in your terms again, of speed. It seems to me that what the assemblages of assemblages of … point suggests is that any claim to something being external to an assemblage, any case of inter-assemblage difference can be translated into a case of difference internal to some assemblage (the difference between my heart and lungs, say, understood as separate systems, can be translated into a difference within my body), and vice versa.
I don’t know that the breakdown (if I’m right, I may not be) of the non-relational or intra difference here really poses that much of a problem, though. I think your point about multiplicities/assemblages of assemblages/multiplicities (etc) may already do most of the work that you want from the idea of non-relational difference. You stated the goal, and I agree that it’s an important one, of “accounting for why an object cannot be reduced to its milieu or external conditions, such that the object becomes a mere vehicle of this milieu.” It seems to me that the multiplicity of assemblages etc point already rules out the sort of reduction you oppose. If I’m right, then difference here is still relational but the relational character of difference does not mean that there is any one final or overdetermining difference – thinking difference as relation doesn’t commit anyone to reductivism, as far as I can tell.
I think Nate raises a number of difficult and important problems in this post. It might be that Nate (and others) are right and the notion of non-relational difference is incoherent and I should just jettison it, accepting instead a relational model of difference. It seems to me that lurking behind all of this is in the domain of ontology is a sort of antinomy that lies at the heart of both the various ontologies that have been proposed throughout history, and which informs or drives the debates between realisms and correlationisms. That is, at the heart of discussions of objects we get a contradiction between two positions that seem equally necessary and reasonable.
On the one hand, the concept of object seems to imply something that is independent or “for-itself”, without reference to anything else. An object is its “own” being, as it were. On the other hand, objects both share relations to the world, and contain relations within themselves. Throughout his work, Husserl develops this antinomy nicely (especially in texts like Analyses Concerning Passive and Active Synthesis). From one standpoint, objects can be approached in terms of their internal and external horizons. The internal horizon of an object is the way in which its profiles link together in a perceptual field. For example, I only ever see a few profiles of my desk at any one point in time or duration, but I also intend the absent profiles as being internally linked to these present profiles, as elements of a whole or a totality. Additionally, objects have an external horizon that pertains to both the relationship between foreground and background in time and space, as well as the linkage of the object to other objects. Thus, the cast iron pot in my kitchen is linked to a whole set of objects pertaining to cooking that are in turn linked to life, friendship, the domestic, etc.
With many entities it can be said that the entity shares a quasi-necessary relation to their external horizon. This would be the point of Margaret’s Pepper Principle. Margaret’s Pepper Principle underlines the manner in which objects are the result of a genesis and that the field in which this genesis takes place is an external horizon of the object. All who drink wine are familiar with this insofar as the regions and the year in which the wine is produced makes a big difference in the nature of the wine. In addition to genetic fields or fields of genesis, objects also remain tied to their external horizons as a condition of their ongoing existence or autopoiesis. Fortunately we often overlook this second type of external horizon because it tends to be relatively stable, but it is there nonetheless. My body is dependent on certain coefficients of gravity and pressure, without which it would either be crushed, would implode, or would explode. Similarly, I rely on certain temperatures, the presence of a variety of gasses, sunlight, etc. All of these elements belong to my external horizon as conditions for my being.
Finally, and this is perhaps my most contentious thesis in relation to object-oriented philosophy and speculative realism, there is no object that does not manifest itself in some manner, shape, or form. Now to be clear, this postulate is not the claim that all objects must manifest themselves to living beings or humans. Like Badiou’s understanding of appearing, where appearing is not appearing to a human, but to the world, objects necessarily manifest themselves in a world. Even the smallest, most insignificant particle of matter produces effects at the level of space-time. My thesis would be that there is no object so perfectly withdrawn that it does not announce itself to the world in some form or another.
Consequently, we get a couple of related, yet different, antinomies pertaining to the being of objects:
First, with respect to Husserl’s understanding of internal horizons– but now detached from the issue of presentations to us, and instead treated as an ontological feature of objects regardless of whether or not anyone intends an object –an object is both a unity and a plurality. We can equally well argue that objects are both composed of parts, and are unities. That is, we can argue that objects both are nothing but their parts, and that objects are unities. With regard to the latter thesis, it is pointed out that a scattering of marbles on a floor is not an object, even though we can refer to it as a set or collection. With regard to the first thesis, we can argue that objects are nothing more than their assembled parts. After all, the notion of the unity or One-ness of an object never seems to be encountered anywhere in the object itself. Hence we get those that emphasize the fact that objects are unities or totalities, minimizing the parts, and those who emphasize the diversity or plurality at work in objects– say Badiou –denying the unity of objects. How are we to resolve this antinomy?
Second, we get an antinomy between objects as individuals and objects as necessarily attached to external horizons as conditions of both genesis and ongoing adventures in time-space. Those emphasizing the first dimension of objects tend to subtract all relational features of objects. Likewise, those emphasizing the second dimension of objects, tend to reduce objects to their relations. That is, an object becomes nothing more than its vectors or relations. Yet if an object is nothing more than its vectors or relations, objects seem to disappear altogether as we are left with a tangled mess of relations without any individual entities. If, by contrast, we affirm the sovereign individuality and independence of objects, our ability to analyze objects in terms of their real conditions tends to get truncated and even erased in important ways. How, then, are we to reconcile the antinomy between individual and autonomous objects and their conditions?
This brings me back to Nate’s post. I think one of the things that needs to be avoided is 1) the idea that any assemblage forms an object, and 2) the idea that all assemblages are contained within one another at different levels of scale. With respect to the first issue, it is important to note that not all assemblages are objects. This raises all sorts of questions as to the conditions under which an assemblage counts as an object. At what point, we might ask, do we reach the threshold at which a collection or set becomes an objetile unity? With respect to the second question, and for a variety of reasons, I think it is important to recognize that all objects are not related and that all assemblages are not connected. Assemblages certainly contain other assemblages, but it is not the case that all assemblages are contained within a mega-assemblage called the universe. I think that if we do not posit something like this we’re left without the means of accounting for the individuality and autonomy of objects.