Within the framework of my onticology, I define objects not in terms of their qualities, but rather in terms of their powers or the acts of which they are capable. The substantiality of an object lies not in its actualized qualities, but rather in its powers. Qualities, by contrast, are actions on the part of an object. As I argued in “The Mug Blues“, the blue of my beloved mug is not a fixed and static quality of my mug, but is rather something my mug does under specific lighting conditions. The mug thus has, on the one hand, a “coloring power”, and on the other hand engages in actualized acts whereby the mug does a specific color as a function of its exo-relations to wavelengths of light and different neurological systems, etc. If it is necessary to distinguish between the coloring power of the mug and the blue of the mug, then this is because the mug can produce many other different shades of color depending on variations in lighting conditions. The power is broader than the quality actualized. Who knows what my mug would look like on another planet orbiting a red dwarf star?
This is one way, I think, of understanding Bogost’s unit operations. Ian’s thesis, as I understand it, is not simply that the world is composed of discrete units or substances that are then configured in a variety of ways. For Ian, I believe, the emphasis is not so much on the units, but the operations that follow from units. As with my virtual proper being, attractors, and phase spaces, units act differently when they enter into different contexts or different exo-relations, producing different qualities and possibilities as a result of these couplings. These operations can be the emergence of new qualities with new couplings or exo-relations, or it can be the emergence of new operations users are encouraged to carry out as a result of being coupled to these entities. What Ian wants to think is the becomings and qualities produced as a result of couplings among these nomadic units that only temporarily form stable and long-standing relations.
This is one way of understanding McLuhan’s notorious aphorism that the medium is the message. What McLuhan wanted us to notice is not so much the content of media, what they express in their representational dimension, but rather how media affect new operations in users of media. We should look to the medium itself, says McLuhan, to understand the message. In a striking example in Laws of Media, McLuhan points out that few people would dowse a child in gasoline and light a match. However, many have no compunctions about pushing a button in an airplane to release incendiary devices on civilians doing exactly the same thing. The firebombing of Dresden depicted in harrowing detail by Kurt Vonnegut comes to mind. And this really is the point. Somehow this medium– the airplane, bombs, buttons, etc. –changes our way of relating to one another. These media afford new operations, new local manifestations (the act of the bomber), that didn’t before appear in the world. One way of understanding local manifestation is thus in terms of unit operations. What operations take place as a result of the deterritorialization of certain units and their reterritorialization on other units?