russiandollIn response to my post on endo- and exo-relations, my friend NrG writes:

But how can such a distinction (between endo- and exo-relations) be at all possible, since even if we believe to be discussing the endo-relation of one object, aren’t we at the same time also talking about the exo-relation of other objects? So for example, when we discuss our circulatory system in the vacuum of space, true, we are discussing an endo-relation with regards to our body. However, we are discussing an exo-relation with regards to our blood cells.

It seems, then, that any discussion of endo-/exo-, or part/whole relations needs to maintain the thesis that to change one side of the binary is to also change the other side. Therefore, to throw our bodies into space (a purely exo-relation with regards to our bodies) means that our endo-relations will also have to change. For the opposite is also true. If we contract a disease that produces massive boils on our skin, or that leads to the loss of use of an appendage, we could say that our endo-relations caused our exo-relations to change – and not just physically. People might stay away from us, or we may not be able to move around our physical environment as easily as before, therefore limiting our encounters with other objects.

I guess in a way, what I’m getting at is, who’s to say that an object’s endo-relations have to compose an objects exo-relation? Why not the opposite, as well? Can multiple objects’ exo-relations eventually create another object’s endo-relations? And, is it wrong for me to think of endo-relations as part-relations and exo-relations as whole-relations?

I think that this is a really fascinating series of questions and that it gets at the core of one of the central theses of Object-Oriented Ontology. Graham Harman does an excellent job addressing these sorts of issues in his own work. Tim, Adam, and I have been talking about reading Harman’s Prince of Networks for reading group later this Summer or in the Fall. Hopefully NrG will enthusiastically agree as well. At any rate, as developed in the magnificent third chapter of Tool-Being, two of Harman’s central claims are that objects withdraw from all of their relations as analyzed by Heidegger with his notion of veiling, and that objects are multiples of other objects. With respect to the first thesis, the idea is that when one object relates to another the relation never exhausts the being of the other object. In other words, there is something of the volcanic core of objects that always exceeds any relation that it enters into, such that the substantivity of the grasped object is never exhausted in being grasped.

read on!

Lacan amusingly makes a similar point in Encore with respect to our inability to grasp our lovers body. As Lacan remarks,

Pure space is based onn the notion of the part, as long as one adds to that the following, that all of the parts are external to each other– partes extra partes. People managed to extract a few little things from even that, but somme serious steps had to be taken.

In order to situate my signifier before leaving you today, I will ask you to consider what was inscribed at the beginning of my first sentence last time– “enjoying a body” (jouir d’un corps), a body that symbolizes the Other –as it perhaps involves something that can help us focus on another form of substance, enjoying substance (la substance jouissante).

Isn’t that precisely what psychoanalytic experience presupposes?– the substance of the body, on the condition that it is defined only as that which enjoys itself (se jouit). That is, no doubt, a property of the living body, but we don’t know what it means to be alive except for the following fact, that a body is something that enjoys itself (cela se jouit).

It enjoys itself only by “corporizing” (corporiser) the body in a signifying way. That implies something other than the partes extra partes of extended substance. As is emphasized admirably by the kind of Kantian that Sade was, one can only enjoy a part of the Other’s body, for the simple reason that one has never seenn a body completely wrap itself around the Other’s body, to the point of surrounding and phagocytizing it. That is why we must confine ourselves to simply giving a little squeeze, like that, taking a forearm or anything else– ouch!

Enjoying (jouir) has the fundamental property that is, ultimately, one person’s body that enjoys a part of the Other’s body. But that part also enjoys– the Other likes it more or less, but it is a fact that the Other cannot remain indifferent to it. (23)

What Lacan says here of the relationship between two living bodies in enjoying one another, holds equally among all relations between objects: that no object ever manages to “phagocytize” another, but only relates to other objects in bits and pieces.

Here, then, is the paradox. Not only are there distinct objects outside of an object, but there are distinct objects within objects. If I understand NrG correctly, his perplexity is that objects contain distinct objects within themselves. This is what his reference to blood in my body seems to refer to. On the one hand, blood seems to be an endo-relational property of my body qua body, while on the other hand, any individual cell of blood is a distinct object in its own right and thus exo-related to the body.

It seems to me that this only appears to be paradoxical so long as we assume that objects are the sum of their parts. But objects aren’t their parts or elements, they aren’t a set, but rather are an endo-relational unity independent of their parts. Take the example of a body and the cells that compose it. The body is not the sum of its cells, nor even the sum of its cells and the way in which these cells are related to one another. Were the body the sum of its cells, then it would cease to be that body when it gains or loses cells. Yet the body gains and loses cells at every moment of its existence, while remaining that body. While it is true that the body cannot sustain itself as a body independent of its cells, nonetheless these cells do not make the body the body. Rather, the body is an endo-relational unity anterior to whatever matter might compose it, wherein the elements related interdepend on one another through time.

This is true of both the body and the cells that compose the body. In other words, not only is any cell of the body a part of the body, but the cell that is part of the body is also a distinct object in its own right. In this respect, any of the cells that compose the body is also exo-relational with respect to the body. If it is exo-relational with respect to the body, then this is because it can enjoy independent existence from the body. For example, it can be grafted onto another body. But also, cells are exo-relational with respect to the body because their being qua object exceeds the manner in which the body translates the cell. This is a central feature of emergence. Not only does an emergent system– an endo-relational structure –have properties that cannot be deduced or inferred from the parts which compose it, but the parts that compose the system also enjoy a strange autonomy of their own that exceeds that of the system or that is not reducible to its status as an element in a system. For example, both NrG and I belong to a strange object known as Texas. We are elements that contribute to the multiple composition of Texas. Yet our being is not reducible to being elements in this multiple composition. The object “Texas” only translates our being in the formation of itself as an endo-consistent system of relations in certain respects, being completely indifferent to a number of our other properties and qualities. My point, then, is that the being of an object is not to be located in its parts, but in its structural unity that requires parts to persist without being reducible to those parts.