I’ve been behind the curve for the last couple of weeks due to encountering my finitude. I’ve been extremely sick, spending about sixteen hours a day in bed, unable to do much of anything. Hopefully I’m beginning to get better, although I still feel rather weak and scattered.

At any rate, Michael, over at Archive Fire, has two excellent posts up discussing the first chapter of DeLanda’s New Philosophy of Science (here and here). In the first post, Michael questions whether all relations, as DeLanda suggests, are external to their terms. Here I am more or less in agreement with Michael’s suggestion that we need a continuum between internal and external relations. I attempt to capture such a continuum in my distinction between endo-relations and exo-relations. Exo-relations are relations between distinct objects. Thus, for example, Michael and I are only “exo-related”. If I am destroyed, Michael does not cease to exist. To be sure, Michael can influence my local manifestations in all sorts of ways, but my existence is not dependent on Michael’s existence. By contrast, endo-relations are internal relations that constitute the structure of an object. In the case of endo-relations, the terms cannot be separated from one another. Endo-structure can thus be thought as the essence of an object, so long as essence is not thought as what is common to many different objects, but rather what is absolutely unique to one and only one object (perhaps Scotus’ term “haecceity” would be better here).

read on!

However, I do somewhat disagree with Michael in his treatment of internal relations here. Michael writes:

While I certainly agree with DeLanda that many components of assemblages can be detached from the larger whole, and are indeed irreducible to the whole in which they are parts, I would also argue that there are wholes that have parts that cannot be detached without both whole and part ceasing to be. For example: organisms. Without falling back into metaphoric confusion, we can say that there are many such real organic wholes that depend on their parts for continued existence (what is a raven without a raven brain?), and visa versa (can a human heart continue beating without being connected to circulatory system, or a circulatory system without a nervous system, or all those parts without a body?).

Here I think Michael has the mereology (part/whole relations) somewhat backwards. In my view, raven brains and hearts absolutely are substances or objects in their own right. The rat brain robot created in Surray, England is a good example of a brain that has been deterritorialized from its organic body.

Here the brain that controls the robot is derived from actual rats. The fact that the brain can be detached from organic bodies in this ways establishes that it is an independent substance in its own right. Likewise, hearts can be transplanted from person to person, from species to species (pig hearts being placed in humans), and can even be kept pumping within elaborate beakers. Once again, this establishes that hearts are substances in their own right. So while ravens can’t exist without hearts and brains (or some equivalent), hearts and brains can exist apart from the ravens in which they most commonly occur. Here we should think of the really awful film Bicentennial Man with Robin Williams (am I alone in loathing Robin Williams?). The android in this film gradually replaces all his electronic components with biological components. The shift from “hardware” to “wetware” does not constitute a shift in the android’s substantiality. Regardless of whether the android is composed of hardware or wetware, he remains the same substance. As a consequence, while the android cannot exist without some sort of material embodiment, it is not the case that the matter that composes the android constitutes his endo-relations, essence, haecceity, or substantiality.

Michael’s second post touches on Deleuze’s concepts of deterritorialization, reterritorialization, coding, and decoding. I developed the rudiments of a analytic technique drawing on these concepts in my post “The Alethetics of Rhetoric” back in 2007. In my view, one of the principle contributions of object-oriented ontology is that it allows us to more clearly track the effects of deterritorialization and decoding in whatever field we happen to be investigating. In my view, one of the central problems with internalism and organicism is that it blinds us to the fact that the properties an entity manifests or gives are only local manifestations of the temporary relations the entity has entered into. In other words, we end up reifying the qualities of things, treating the substantiality of objects as identical to their qualities. By beginning with the thesis that 1) objects are independent of their relations, and 2) that objects are not identical to their qualities (that qualities are local manifestations), we encourage the theoretical attitude of counter-factual thinking. That is, because we no longer treat entities as internally related to other entities, we invite ourselves to ask “what different qualities would be locally manifest if an entity were either a) detached from its current relations, or b) if it were to enter into new relations?” In other words, our attention is drawn to 1) how certain territorializations produce certain kinds of properties, and 2) experimental practices of what new qualities would be produced through a deterritorialization of a substance from its existing set of relations and reterritorialization in a new set of exo-relations.

In this regard, I’m a bit perplexed by Michael’s criticisms of my own claims. Michael writes:

Here is Bryant’s suggestion:

“DeLanda’s point is thus that we must not confuse the properties of an entity with the capacities of an entity. Properties of an entity are local results of interactions between entities. For example, the water boils because it is heated up. Capacities of an entity are powers that an entity possesses, regardless of whether these powers are exercised or not. The confusion of entities with their powers is what Roy Bhaskar called “actualism”. Actualism reduces the being of an entity to the properties that happen to be actual or occurrent in that entity at a particular point in time.”

As I read it, DeLanda (as quoted above) thinks just the opposite. Although DeLanda does (rightly) distinguish between an entity’s properties and capacities, he argues that “properties are given” and “capacities are not given”. DeLanda suggests that the properties of an entity or assemblage can be understood as a potentially closed list of the actually occurring qualities possessed by an entity, whereas an entity’s powers or capacities are affected by “innumerable other entities” and in “no way” can we understand what an assemblage is capable of doing in advance, or in isolation from, what it is afforded in its interactions with other entities. All of this can be found on page 10 of chapter one.

If I’m perplexed here, then this is because this is exactly what I’m claiming: that properties of an entity are given (what I call “local manifestation”) and that powers or capacities of an entity are not given (virtual proper being). Put differently, the powers of an entity are, within the framework of my onticology (Graham vigorously rejects the concepts of potency and potentiality), are always in excess of any of the entity’s local manifestations. And, if I believe this points is so crucial– a point wherein I am in adamant agreement with DeLanda –then this is because it allows that entities can always be otherwise through deterritorializations.

Michael goes on to write:

The genius of the concept of assemblage is, I believe, its ability to mediate between object-oriented understandings of the world and the recognition of the deep contextual and relational aspects of being. Because an assemblage is never truly its own master (never truly “withdrawn” from other entities), always beholden in some way to its own actually existing parts, and because parts necessarily relate with each other in order to generate wholes, they can be understood as dependent-relational beings and relatively independent-agentic systems simultaneously. With a robust assemblage theory, then, we can appreciate both temporal objectivity (the temporary existence of actual entities) and relational efficacy (the always connected affordances of capacities) in our investigations of real world situations.

But in some ways I believe that this is precisely the point of object-oriented ontology, or at least my variant, onticology. The thesis that beings are withdrawn does not amount to a rejection of contextual and relational aspects of entities. Not at all. The concept of local manifestation is deployed precisely to account for the contextual and relational dimensions of being, or the manner in which entities are given differently as a result of their contextual and relational connections. Rather, the thesis that entities are withdrawn is designed to underline the manner in which entities are always in excess of any context or set of relations, such that were they to be deterritorialized, they would display or create very different sets of properties or qualities. What the thesis of withdrawal thus challenges is the quietism that is often generated as a result of relationism by holding out the possibility of things always harboring within themselves the possibility of surprise and escape or line of flight from the relational networks that dominate them.