Between grading and writing I’ve been pretty busy lately so I haven’t been able to respond to other blogs (or emails) in the way I would like. When I’m writing heavily I have difficulty doing or thinking about anything else and thus tend to let other things slide. Nonetheless, I wanted to draw attention to this post by Shaviro. Shaviro writes:

I like a lot of this formulation; in particular, the idea that “there is always a hidden excess or reserve of potentiality that dwells within the object.” However, I reject Bryant’s claim that “this entails that we never directly encounter an object.” To the contrary: we do encounter objects all the time, the entire universe is composed of objects encountering other objects. The fact that these encounters do not involve the manifestation of all the powers or capacities of the objects in question does not mean that the objects are somehow failing to encounter one another, or that there needs to be a split between an object and its manifestations, as Bryant and Graham Harman both maintain.

To be quite honest, I go back and forth on this issue. For me what is crucially important is that objects are independent of their relations or that relations are external to their terms. I’m less certain as to whether this requires that objects never encounter one another. Graham speaks about this a bit more here. With that said, I think it’s absolutely vital that objects be treated as split. When I speak of objects as split I am primarily speaking of objects as split between their powers or capacities and their actuality, manifestation, or qualities. It is necessary, I hold, that it be possible and common– even ubiquitous –that objects be “out of phase” with their qualities. That is, an essential feature of any object is that 1) an object can be active without manifesting certain actualities (it can be, as it were, veiled), 2) objects can be dormant or, as Graham nicely puts it, “asleep”, such that they don’t manifest any actualities at all, and 3) objects always have the power to manifest other actualities that aren’t manifested at the moment when entering into diffferent circumstances. This is why I treat objects as split-objects, treating the split at the heart of objects as the split between their powers or capacities as forces to be reckoned with and their actuality or events they manifest at a particular point in space-time.

I suspect that much of Shaviro’s rejection of split-objects arises from his commitment to Whitehead. For Whitehead objects are actual occasions. As actual occasions they are absolutely actual and localized or instantaneous in time and space. With each stroke of my finger on the keyboard, for example, I am not, for Whitehead, an actual occasion that now places a finger on the letter “r” and now on the letter “w”. Rather, the entity that now types “r” and the entity that now types “w” are two entirely distinct events or actual occasions. They are entirely distinct entities that only occur once in all of eternity. What we ordinarily think of as enduring substances under this model are what Whitehead calls “societies”. These societies are societies of actual occasions or interlinked events that are nonetheless absolutely discrete entities. As such, there is no room for a distinction between the virtual proper being of objects that endure under this model and actual occasions. However, if Whitehead is right, I’m at a loss to see how one actual occasion can pass to another actual occasion or where actual occasions comes from at all. Rather, it would appear that they are absolutely ex nihilo with no linkages among them.

This is also why I retain the categories of the virtual and the potential. For an alternative perspective on this issue, see Harman’s recent post defending actualism. I cannot here develop my account of the virtual, but in response to Harman 1) the virtual as I characterize it is absolutely discrete. Contra Deleuze, there is, for me, no such thing as a pre-individual virtual that is a whole out of which individual objects emerge. Rather, the virtual dimension of objects is both a virtual dimension of objects, and a discrete structure independent of the virtual structures of other objects. The virtual, for me, is thus always individual in the robust Aristotlean sense of being a primary substance. 2) The virtual as I conceive it is a perfectly determinate structure, though different from any of the actualized qualities of objects. If it differs from the actualized qualities of objects then this is because the process of actualization generally, though not always, involves translation as the object navigates its exo-relations to other objects producing a unique object. In the past Harman has said to me that the category of potentiality undermines novelty by placing qualities in objects at the outset. The criticism here would be something along the lines that the acorn is treated as already being an oak tree. I don’t think this is the case because the process of actualization requires the navigation and translation of exo-relations to other objects, creating a new product as a result. In short, the actuality is not there at the outset but requires a whole series of mediations to come to be.