I’m feeling pretty wretched this evening, whether from a cold or allergies. To amuse myself in my sinus fog, I’ll post this clip and then proceed to the issue of this post.

Returning to Ian’s keynote address where tacos are mentioned, I just cannot resist posting this clip as a nice cinematic representation of non-human objects as actors. Silliness and sinus headaches aside, I have some rather vague and unformed thoughts rolling about in my cobweb filled mind regarding the nature of theories. One of the measures of any ontology, I think, is the issue of self-reflexivity. Does the ontology take account of its own ontological status within its own theoretical framework, or does it implicitly exempt itself from the claims it makes about the nature of the world? Foucault, for example, got himself in trouble with Habermas. As Habermas argued in The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity, Foucault seems to exempt his own archaeological and genealogical analyses from the very dynamics of power he discerns everywhere else. If truth is a product of power, the argument runs, what is it that authorizes Foucault’s own discourse? Wouldn’t it too be a product of power-relations? I am not here endorsing Habermas’ criticism, but simply giving an example of the problem of self-reflexivity to draw attention to what the issue is. How is it that a theory takes account of itself within the framework of its own ontological commitments?

read on!

This issue arises within the framework of onticology and OOO more generally as well. Onticology is committed to the thesis that there is only one type of being: objects. For anything that is, it is an object. This entails that theories cannot be something other than objects, but rather that theories must themselves be objects. Yet what does this mean at the ontological level? I don’t know. If onticology and OOO are ontologies, does this entail that there is one object that somehow represents all other objects? Yet within the framework of OOO and onticology, this clearly cannot be the case, as onticology advances the thesis that objects are split or barred (Ø), that they withdraw, that they are necessarily in excess of any relation they enter into. Insofar as objects necessarily withdraw from other objects, it follows that there cannot be one object that represents all the others. Yet it is a strange ontology that simultaneously treats itself as one of the objects to be explained, purports to account for other objects, and embraces the impossibility of its own endeavor at the theoretical level.

I do not yet have an answer to these questions, so I’m simply trying to formulate them here. Moreover, I am not convinced that the requirement of self-reflexivity must be met in order for good work to be done. Foucault did all sorts of good work without having a robust self-reflexive account of his own practice. Following concerns raised by Ghost, I would also argue that the barred nature of objects is not simply the opacity of one object with respect to another object in an exo-relation between objects, but that objects capable of self-reflexivity are also split or barred (Ø) with respect to themselves. Taking up Gasche’s marvelous metaphor of the “tain of a mirror” and combining it with Lacan’s notion of objet a or my matheme δ, it could be said that one of the features of any self-reflexive object is that it is opaque or split with respect to itself and not simply for another. In this regard, any self-reflexive object will necessarily contain a tain or δ in its self-relation that functions as a condition for the possibility of its reflexivity.

However, it is minimally clear that if theory is itself an object, then the question of the relation between theory and what it theorizes must be conceptualized as an inter-ontic relation between two or more objects. If this is the case, then theory should be conceived less as a representation of objects (a mirroring), than as a translation of other objects. As I suggested in discussion with Bogost, theories are better conceived on the model of recipes than representations. A recipe does not represent a dish or tell you what it will taste like or what it will be like. Rather, a recipe is a set of prescriptions or, better yet, operations, for producing an endo-consistent set of differences. “First saute a bit of fresh oregano and garlic in olive oil. Then…” Put in Ian’s language, a recipe is a set of operations for acting on units, thereby producing another unit. Here we would have a sense of the dynamics behind what Badiou, and Ian following him, refers to as the “count-as-one”. It would be a set of operations where the one is not a pre-existing one or unity, but where it is a result or effect of other operations. In my language, the operations exercised on units or objects would produce differences (δ) as their outcome (the completed dish).

A theory then would be no different than a recipe. Just as a recipe directs us to act on units in a particular way so as to produce a new unit, a theory directs us to act on objects in a particular way so as to produce particular differences in that object. Note that here our understanding of theory is substantially modified. No longer does theory represent an object as a realist painting might depict the “ultra-real” of an object photographically. No, the whole point is that theories, like recipes, direct us to bring objects into relation with one another so as to produce certain differences. When we look at the table of elements, what we see are not representations of elements, but potential differential relations that would occur were elements combined in various ways. The names of objects in theories thus become, just as Sartre and Pierce had it, the differences which a thing produces under controlled circumstances. Here we would have a beginning sketch of how one object, theories, act on other objects– researches, instruments, ingredients used, etc –to produce a new unit or difference (δ). Yet we also need to account for the reverse direction: other types of objects acting on theories. However, with my head in sinus agony I’ll leave off there for the moment.