In comments, Dan writes:
Because it is brief and pointed and seems definitive, this post may be very useful for me at least. You say “Objects are not a point of view, full stop. They are not one object’s point of view on another object. They are not God’s point of view on them (objects, as Judge Schreber observed, are even withdrawn from God). They are not even points of view on themselves (those objects characterized by reflexivity still do not have unadulterated access to themselves). Objects are just objects.” Let’s take the last first: objects are objects. To me, his seems to be just the identity function again. Its content is not ontological at all but purely deductive, an assertion of a rule which lacks content apart from that rule, it has no inductive or experiential character of any sort nor — as far as I can tell — do any of the elaborations that stem from it. OOO has a logic of objects for which the real is a surplus. To me, OOO asserts a position that not only in the abstract, but theoretically, seems to be sealed against the things it wishes to address, like the scholastic who could deduce what things must be from a rational god. Obviously, the complex literature of reference and its failures might be brought to bear here though maybe OOO can shunt those over to that epistemic realm with which OOO will not put. I think the Derrida view would be fun to keep pushing here — and not because I am a D guy — but because I think the trace is his version of the “object” as an ontological turbulence, a kind of vortex, and not a representation or an normative object but just the current current. IAC, that wanders perhaps too far from what is at hand. Let me focus a bit. Even the claim “an object is an object” seems to make some attributes — like those resident in the identity function — about cohesion, duration, and permeability or does it? If not, how can an object be an object?
I can’t answer to all of Dan’s questions here, but I cannot tell you how striking I find his description of objects as a sort of ontological turbulence or vortex. What a stroke of genius! I have not seen a description of objects this apt since coming across Graham’s characterization of objects as containing all sorts of dark, hidden, volcanic potentials. In short, this is a keeper.
At the end of the day, what is all this bitching about correlationism about? It’s about our inability to be surprised, about the erasure of the excess or turbulence harbored within objects by reducing them to vehicles for intentions, language, signs, concepts, power, etc. This is a red thread that runs throughout all of Graham’s work. In his essays on metaphysics, Bergson suggests that every philosopher is marked by a sort of fundamental intuition that deeply wounds her and animates all of her thought. Maybe one way of marking the intuition that animates Graham’s work is in terms of a stunned surprise before objects. On the one hand, when Graham speaks of withdrawal, he is speaking of a sort of astonishment before the object that exceeds any mastery before the intentional gaze. Whether Graham is talking about withdrawal of what he calls real objects or the withdrawal of what he calls sensuous objects, he is struck by the manner in which objects are perpetually surprising, turbulent, unmasterable.
On the other hand, Graham’s work is marked by a deep sense of “lassen sein, or “letting be” (I’m always surprised that this particularly Heideggerian language doesn’t figure more heavily in his thought). It seems to me that Graham is deeply bothered, even offended, by any “enframing” of objects. His entire ontology seems to aim at “letting them be”. This letting-be would not be a letting-be in the sense of just “letting them alone”, not touching them, not engaging them, but in the sense of relating to objects in such a way that they are not subordinated/mastered under a concept, signifier, intention, etc, but rather are able to contribute differences of their own that aren’t merely grist to fill out a concept or form.
Let’s try and situate OOO’s concept of objects in the context of Derrida. Given the discussions we’ve all been having, all the reading I’ve been doing by and on Derrida, and the fact that Derrida is perhaps a more familiar context for others, a comparison to Derrida might give others some sense of what’s going on with OOO’s objects. In his discussions of iterability, Derrida emphasizes that in order for signs to function as signs they must simultaneously be iterable (i.e., they must have a minimal identity that allows them to be repeated in different contexts) and they must internally different such that they produce different meanings when landing in different contexts. This is why signs, for Derrida, cannot be defined by their relations or context. They exceed all contexts, perpetually harboring a turbulence within themselves that harbors the possibility of producing new meanings. In Ian Bogost’s terms, signs are units rather than elements in a system. Signs, utterances, fragments, bits of speech, bits of writing, etc., can always land in new contexts that disrupt temporarily stable contexts and that produce surprising effects within new contexts. This is why we never run out of ways of reading Shakespeare. Every text, in principle, is haunted by an infinity that it can never completely master.
Well OOO is claiming something similar about objects. Objects are this self-differing (that’s what withdrawal means, folks) minimal identity that a) can manifest themselves in an infinite number of ways when they enter into relations (the concept of “local manifestation”), b) nonetheless posses a minimal identity or iterability (they can occur in a variety of different relations), and that therefore c) are the ruin any thought of context, holism, totalizing system, or complete relational determination. As Dan so nicely puts it, objects are an ontological turbulence, a vortex, that withdraw from all relation (while perpetually landing in relations), insuring that the world is always full of surprises. Here OOO shares a profound affinity with Derrida’s “messianism”. Derrida’s messianism does not refer to the idea that there’s going to be a savior. No, what Derrida’s messianism refers to is the coming of the new, of that which cannot be anticipated, of that which cannot be conceptualized or mastered in advance.
In a certain respect, then, it is silly to ask “how is change possible”. Putting the issue in Derridean terms, an answer to the question of how change is possible would render change impossible. Why? Because were we to answer this question we would already predelineate change in a concept which would mean that the arrival of change is not an arrival of change at all, but merely the repetition of the predelineated concept in the form of a token of a type (the same). In order for change to occur, it must be purely without criteria. The most we can say is that change can and occasionally has taken place. However, while we cannot define criteria for change, we can articulate what being must be like for change to be possible. And here I don’t think I’m claiming too much in saying that for OOO the answer to this question resides in objects that possess a minimal identity allowing them to shift and move between different contexts while also differing from themselves.
The important caveat here would be that this is a general ontological feature of objects. It is not a feature restricted to how objects are for us, but ranges over the non-relational relation of objects to one another as well. So long as we don’t grant all beings an autonomy proper to their being as substance, we are left without the means of answering the question of how change is possible and have reduced objects to vehicles for other objects whether human or otherwise.