Over at his workblog, Shaviro has written a response to my post on Latour last night. Shaviro writes:

But here I think that Levi is wrong. It is not the case for Latour (or for Whitehead) that according to their relationism, “actants just are their relations.” It is rather the case that actants constitute themselves by how they respond to (or how they manage, or how they “translate”) their relations. The actants do not precede their relations, but neither are they reducible to their relations. So when Latour speaks of a gap or supplement in which there must be some sort of agency, he is not contradicting his relationism, but precisely expounding its consequences. Nothing exists except insofar as it has relations or defines itself in terms of its relations; but this has never meant, for Latour or for Whitehead, that anything is “nothing more than” its relations.

Actually what Shaviro describes here, with a couple of qualifications, is just about identical to my position. When I describe objects as withdrawn, I am not arguing that they exist in complete isolation (here I think Graham is far more radical than me). Rather, I am referring to the irreducibility of substance to its relations. In my view, there is always an excess of substance over whatever relations it happens to enter into. And by this I mean that at the virtual level, objects are always populated by potentials that aren’t actualized in their qualities. These potentials are always entirely concrete in the object, but they aren’t actual. Moreover, the actualized qualities share no resemblance to the potentials that render them possible. In this respect, every quality is a genuine creation in the world or production of something new.

Unlike Graham, I don’t make a distinction between real objects and real qualities and sensuous objects and sensuous objects. Rather, I argue that objects are split between their virtual and actual dimension. At the virtual level, there are no qualities, but there are internal relations and singularities. That is, there’s structure. Moreover, in many objects, this structure is not fixed but can be transformed (most living systems are of this sort). In my schema, it’s only at the actual level that there are qualities. Moreover, within the framework that I propose, I have no problem with objects “touching” one another.

Returning to Shaviro’s remarks above, one of the primary ways in which novelty comes into the world is through objects encountering or relating to one another. One object perturbs another. That perturbation is translated into information by the perturbed object. Information is not something transmitted as something identical between the two objects, but rather is an event that takes place within the perturbed object that selects a system or object-state. The selection of an object-state is the actualization of a singularity in the virtual dimension of the object in a particular way, producing a quality or state in the object. In other words, it is, in many instances, through the relational encounter that the quality or local manifestation takes place. And that quality is something entirely new.

Within the framework of my onticology, withdrawl thus denotes two things. On the one hand, it denotes the non-identity of information and perturbations. Information is always system-specific and a product of systems. There is no information that exists out there in the world apart from systems. As a consequence, information is never identical to perturbations. Perturbations can produce very different information in different entities. Insofar as objects transform perturbations into information or events that select system states, objects are withdrawn from other objects. They never encounter them as they are. On the other hand, objects are withdrawn from their local manifestations in that they always contain a virtual excess over and above whatever local manifestation they might produce. In many respects, my objects can be thought in terms of Leibniz’s monads or Deleuze’s drawing of the baroque house in The Fold. There’s openness to the world here, but it is always in terms of the object’s own organization.

My caveat would be that I don’t think Shaviro is right to suggest that objects are what they are through their relations. This conflats local manifestation with virtual proper being. In many cases, local manifestations are what they are because of the relations an object enters into, but nonetheless objects always contain a reserve that isn’t exhausted (until death or destruction) by their local manifestations. Moreover, I don’t think encounters with other objects can be treated as the exhaustive source of local manifestations. My worry here is that relationisms of the sort Shaviro describes– even if it’s an externalism –reduce objects to a state of passivity. It might sound like you’re championing objects by emphasizing the creativity with which objects rework these perturbations or encounters, but the fact remains that the object is at the mercy of undergoing an encounter to creatively produce something. In my view, there are many objects in which local manifestations can take place as a function of internal dynamics within the object, rather than solely as the result of an encounter with another object.