In a response to my post on Resonance, Timbre, and Food, Vic remarks that he’d,

…be interested in reading more about regimes of attraction, since I’m still not clear on what this means, but it sounds like a novel way to think about the relationship between material and value.

I won’t here comment on the relationship between materiality and value, but I will try to clarify what I mean by “regimes of attraction”. My basic position is that objects are split-objects. Objects are split between what I call their virtual proper being and their local manifestations. The virtual proper being of an object is composed of its singularities or attractors, as well as the relations among these singularities or what I call the object’s “endo-structure”. I call this virtual proper being the proper being of an object because it is what persists over the life of an object. The virtual proper being of an object is completely withdrawn and never directly encountered in any object. We can only ever infer the virtual proper being of an object, we never directly encounter it. Moreover, as Harman argues, this is true not only of how humans or sensuous beings relate to objects, but of how objects relate to one another. Although Harman is not particularly fond of my concept of virtual proper being, we’re both agreed that the non-encounter between objects is a ubiquitous ontological feature of the world characteristic of all objects, and not just the human/object relation. I’ll get to what I mean by “attractors” in a moment.

read on!

Local manifestations of objects refer to how objects are actualized in particular qualities. Local manifestation refers to the qualities an object comes to embody in the world, as well as its particular form. Alternatively, local manifestation is how an object presents itself in the world. When I speak of an object presenting itself in the world, I am not referring to how it presents itself to humans or minds. I am talking about how an object actualizes itself regardless of whether any sentient being perceives it. Local manifestations are manifestations because they are the coming-to-be of form and qualities, they are local manifestations because this coming to be of form and quality is highly dependent on the circumstances in which the object is enmeshed. I’ve written about this in greater detail here.

Returning to the concept of virtual proper being, this being consists of singularities or attractors inhabiting an object. Attractors are powers, capacities, or tendencies of an object. They are what an object can do. This helps me to clarify the relation between virtual proper being and local manifestation. A local manifestation is something an object has done, whereas the virtual proper being of an object is what an object can do. To illustrate this point, let’s take an example from Morton: The violin. Whenever someone plays a violin, the sounds the violin actually produces are local manifestations of the violin. By contrast, the violin’s withdrawn virtual proper being is the set of powers or capacities the violin has to produce sounds. This will involve the nature of the strings, the nature of the wood it is made of, the glue, etc., etc., etc. The virtual proper being of every object is infinite and allows for unlimited creativity. Within the field of an object’s virtual proper being there is no limit to what it can produce within the field of its singularities.

Two points need to be made here. First, the singularities or attractors of the virtual proper being of an object are never themselves present, nor can they ever be exhausted. They are powers of an object, not qualities of an object. Second, as such, these attractors are radically a-qualitative. They are structured without themselves having any particular qualities. They are conditions of qualities, without themselves being qualities. Consequently, because attractors are never themselves actual, we can only infer their existence and those inferences will always be incomplete, only alluding to a reservoir of powers in an object. Accompanying each attractor in an object there is thus a phase space connected to the attractor. The phase space of an attractor is the set of qualities and forms that object can embody.

Hopefully these remarks, as brief as they are, will help to clarify the concept of regimes of attraction. The concept of split-objects is designed to account for how the actuality of objects is variable with shifting circumstances. For example, one and the same rock placed now on the planet Earth, now on the Moon, will have very different gravitational properties depending on these circumstances. These differing gravitational properties are different local manifestations of the rock. However, it is not enough to say that the local manifestations of an object are variable. We need an account of why the attractors of an object actualize this point in phase space rather than that point in phase space, this quality rather than that quality, in these local manifestations.

This is what the concept of regimes of attraction is designed to do. Regimes of attraction are exo-relations between objects. “Exo-relation” relation is short-hand for external relations. I refer to these relations as external because 1) while exo-relations play a big role in how an object locally manifests itself, objects can exist apart from these relations, and because 2) these relations are fluctuating, variable, shifting, etc., such that objects, in their adventure through the world, are constantly entering into new relations with other objects. This would not be possible, it would not be possible for objects to enter into new relations and sever ties with old relations, were relations not external to the objects that are related. This, in my view, is one major reason that objects cannot be equated with their relations. We cannot coherently think relation without an account of withdrawn substance or object. At any rate, my exo-relations and regimes of attraction are extremely close to what Morton calls “the mesh”.

Regimes of attraction, then, mark the local relations among objects at any given point in time. Commonly we refer to this as context, scene, setting, or environment. Why, then, the term “regime of attraction” rather than the much more familiar term “context” or “environment”? In my view the term “context” has become stale or worn out, such that it fails to draw attention to the interplay between objects translating one another. If regimes of attraction are regimes of attraction, then this is because exo-relations among objects play a significant role in the qualities objects come to embody in their local manifestations (I’ll give examples in a moment). If regimes of attraction are regimes of attraction, then this is because they are fleeting and temporary networks of relations in which an object finds itself en-mesh-ed.

So some examples:

1) Tree Growth— If you cut a tree down you will notice that the rings of the tree come in varying sizes. The size of these rings is a local manifestation that results from variations in the tree’s regime of attraction over time. The regime of attraction or set of exo-relations presiding over this growth is composed of annual rainfall, the amount of sunshine the tree gets, air quality, nutrients in the soil, etc. The virtual proper being of the tree is perhaps its genetic potentials that can be actualized in a variety of different forms depending on exo-relations to other objects.

2) Population Densities and Social Structures— The size of a population of humans, coupled with their social structure (centralized, tribal-egalitarian, democratic, bureaucratic, etc) is a local manifestation. One element that plays a significant role as a regime of attraction in population densities and social structure is whether or not the society is agricultural or hunter-gatherer. Agricultural society tends towards large population growth. Larger populations, in turn, leads to more centralized forms of governance as the explosion of population no longer allows for network relations among all the people that belong to the population. This, in turn, gives rise to problems of how to distribute resources, structure production, and organize people. Agriculture therefore actualizes the virtual proper being of human social systems in a particular way.

3) Human Height— The height of a person is a local manifestation of their virtual proper being. The regime of attraction presiding over how tall we get will involve exo-relations to certain foods, as well as gravity. Diet plays a big role in how a child develops. Likewise, were that child born on Mars– that is about half the size of the planet Earth and which therefore has weaker gravity –it could grow taller than it can grow on Earth.

4) Wine— As wine enthusiasts and producers know, the qualities of a wine (local manifestation) are never simply a function of the genetic qualities of the grape. Different grape harvests from year to year produce very different wines, despite the fact that the grapes come from the same genetic stock. This has to do with the grape’s regime of attraction, involving rainfall, sunlight, soil quality, air quality, other plants growing in the region, etc. In addition to this, how the wine is made plays a role in what qualities it will possess as well. Finally, geography plays a crucial role. If you transport a grape plant from one region of the world to another, it will grow differently. I’m particularly partial to South American (especially Argentina and Chile) and Spanish wines, even though these grape plants have a common origin with other grape plants from elsewhere in the world whose vintages I don’t particularly care for.

5) Violins— The sounds that a violin makes are its local manifestations. These local manifestations result from the exo-relations belonging to the regime of attraction in which the violin is embedded. This regime of attraction will include, but not be limited to, the bow used, the violinist or fiddler and her skills, the acoustics of the area in which it is played, the structure of the ears receiving the vibrations, and so on.

Regimes of attraction are highly complex and I’ve only alluded to some exo-relations that populate various regimes of attraction so as to give the gist of what I’m trying to get at with this concept. Regimes of attraction refer to those forces that play a key role in how the virtual proper being of an object comes to be manifested in specific qualities in objects. What I’m interested in are fine-grained and nuanced cartographies of these regimes to account for why objects take the form they do. However, perhaps more importantly, the cash value of this concept is that it leads us to think the ground of objects and recognize that they are always capable of actualizing themselves otherwise with shifting circumstances.