Right now I am closing the semester with a discussion of object-oriented ontology in my classes. For the last couple of weeks we’ve been reading Graham Harman’s Prince of Networks along with my paper “Being as Flat” presented at the Georgia Tech conference. Yesterday my students asked me the question of whether eclipses are objects. Apparently one of my adjunct professors, Troy, had put them up to this question. Last week he took my classes for me when I went to Atlanta and I suppose he decided to play a devilish practical joke on me. If I’m particularly proud of this adjunct then this is because he’s actually one of my former students and has recently made it to the second round of interviews for a full time position. Rock on!
Leg pulling aside, I think this is an interesting ontological question. Is an eclipse an object? My intuition is that the answer to this question is no. An eclipse is not an object but is rather a quality or a local manifestation of an object. Yet if this is the case, then we have to ask what object eclipses locally manifest. In other words, what is the virtual proper being, the endo-relational structure composed of powers, of which the eclipse is a local manifestation?
It is in relation to this question that I believe Troy’s question becomes really interesting. For we cannot say that the eclipse is a quality of the moon, the sun, nor the Earth. Rather, we must say that the eclipse is a local manifestation or qualitative apparition of the solar system. And here, of course, the solar system should not be understood as consisting merely of the planets, moons, and sun, but also of all the asteroids and comets that populate the solar system. It is only within such an object that something like an eclipse is possible.
Now why do I think this conclusion is so interesting? My tendency is to think of qualities or local manifestations as something that arise when an object enters into an exo-relation with other objects. Thus, for example, the different local manifestations of my coffee cup are a function of its relations to varying photons of light. There’s a sense in which this reduces the object to a state of pure passivity. While the position of subtractive object-oriented ontology represents an advance over ontological relationism in that it preserves the autonomy and dignity of substances, nonetheless the object still suffers from passively producing qualities only when entering into relations with other objects. By “passivity” I am here referring to objects “suffering” local manifestations as a consequence of the relations they enter into with other objects.
The interesting implication of Troy’s question is that we here get an active local manifestation or production of qualities as a function of the endo-relational structure of a particular object. The production of an eclipse arises not from an exo-relation between distinct objects, but rather as a consequence of the internal structure of the object itself. One will object that eclipses are only possible as a result of a specific relation between a moon, sun, and planet. This is true. But here one would be forgetting that within the framework of OOO, objects are not simple substances like atoms or Leibniz’s monads, but are always aggregates. Yet as aggregates, objects are not simple heaps or piles. They have an endo-relational structure that presides over their parts or what Graham refers to as a “real essence” as opposed to a “sensuous essence”. In other words, it is the endo-relational structure, the topological form, that defines the being of the object, not the parts per se.
What we thus get here is the beginnings of a theory of the production of qualities or local manifestations that arises from the internal dynamisms of the object itself, or how the parts are dynamically relating to one another in the endo-relational core or real essential dynamisms of the object. Qualities would flicker here and there within objects like fire flies on a cool summer evening, appearing here and there in the object as a result of dynamics among the parts belonging to the endo-relations of the object. Now it will largely be the case that the production of qualities is never simply a product of endo-relational dynamisms or exo-relations. Rather, we will generally get something like what the dynamic systems theorists in biology describe as an interaction between endo-relational essence or proper being and exo-relations to other objects presiding over the genesis of objects. The point would be that objects are capable of producing local manifestations on their own, independent of all exo-relations, as a consequence of their internal dynamics.