Now that I have completed The Democracy of Objects (I have about 70 pages left to edit), my mind has begun to turn to future projects. Next up, of course, is the book with Bogost on McLuhan. However, in particular, I’ve been thinking a good deal about how time and space are to be thought within an object-oriented framework. Two consideration, in particular, call for a rethinking of space and time within an onticological framework. On the one hand, object-oriented ontology follows both the Lucretian and Latourian orientation of arguing that time and space arise from objects. Insofar as OOO is committed to the thesis that at its most basic level being is composed of substances, it follows that time and space can no longer be conceived as milieus or containers in which objects exist, but rather that time and space, or spatio-temporality must be seen as arising from relations between and among objects. Second, insofar as all objects are operationally closed such that they only possess selective relations to the world, it follows that what we ordinary think of as a spatial relation– for example a relation of proximity –is not sufficient to establish that there is, indeed, a spatio-temporal relation between two entities. In other words, two entities might appear to share a spatio-temporal relation to one another, but it is not evident that there truly is a spatial relation between these two entities.
I am still very much thinking through all of this, but perhaps the following examples will help to illustrate my basic intuition. Take three entities such as myself, Graham Harman in Cairo, and the person who shares the office next to me, Eugene the mathematician, at the college in Frisco. Our ordinary concept of space as “containment space” (space as a container or milieu in which objects exist) would have it that Eugene is closer to me in space than Graham because Eugene’s office is right next to mine, whereas Graham is thousands of miles away in Cairo. By contrast, onticology would yield the very different conclusion that, in fact, my proximity to Graham is far greater than my proximity to Eugene. The reason for this is that my relation to Graham is far more direct, ongoing, and sustainable than my relation to Eugene. Given the paucity of my relationship to Eugene, Eugene might as well be in Cairo when thought in terms of the concept of containment space.
Similar points can be made about the nature of time. One might be of the view that the television show Two and a Half Men is far more contemporary to, say, Steven Shaviro than Alfred North Whitehead. Alfred North Whitehead died in 1947, whereas Two and a Half Men exists simultaneously with Shaviro according to the concept of containment time. However, just as my hypothesis modifies our notion of proximity in space, our concept of simultaneity in time must be modified as well. If Shaviro is not a watcher of Two and a Half Men, if he is scarcely aware of the shows existence, then Whitehead is far more contemporaneous with him than this show.
Finally, it is clear that under this hypothesis space and time can no longer be thought as unities, but rather they become pluralized, such that we get spaces and times. We can no longer speak of space as such and time as such, or to Space and Time. This follows as a consequence of the operational closure of objects or what Graham refers to as the withdrawal of object. Take the example of the neutrino. Because neutrinos have neutral electric charges they are unable to interact with most matter. This has been one of the central challenges in trying to detect neutrinos and prove that they can exist because, of course, the detection devices used to detect neutrinos are themselves made of matter. Those instances where neutrinos do, in fact, interact with other particles are extremely rare. In this case, it can be said that neutrinos belong to a different spatio-temporality than many other objects. Here we cannot say that there is one overarching time and space to which these neutrinos and other objects belong. Here most material objects are operationally closed to neutrinos and neutrinos are operationally closed to most material objects.
It is clear that the intuition I’m drawing on in these hypotheses about space and time are based on the idea of real relation. In order to claim that there is a spatio-temporal relation between objects there must be a real relation between objects, such that the one object has the capacity to perturb or irritate the other object. These relations can be unilateral as in the case of the temporal relation between Whitehead and Shaviro, where Whitehead can perturb Shaviro, yet where Shaviro is unable to perturb Whitehead; or they can be bilateral as in the case between Graham and I where we perturb one another. What we cannot assume, under this hypothesis, is that all objects belong to the same space and time. Rather, we get topologies of space of time, some of which are discontinuous with one another.
When space-time is thought in this way we get a very different conception of cartography that is topological in character. Traditional cartography (hopefully I’m not offending any geographers here who don’t accept such notions) tends to think space and time in terms of containment space and containment time, based on relations of adjacency. We see such a model of space in the map above where space is thought as adjacent relations between geographical bodies. Under the topological model of space-time I’m proposing, spatio-temporal relations would instead be diagrammed in terms of real relations among objects. In such a diagram, for example, Graham in Cairo would be presented as more proximal to me than Eugene in the office next door. Likewise, there would be a temporal diagram of speculative realist thought defining their temporal relations to prior thinkers both remote in the order of containment time and close. Perhaps we could even render four-dimensional topological cartographies of various objects that capture these real relations in the order of space and time in a single diagram. Increasingly my thought on these matters is influenced by geographers such as Stuart Elden, J.P. Jones, and Keith Woodward (cf. especially Jones and Woodward, “Situating Flatness” in Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 32(2)).
Are these merely abstract musings with no real bite or payoff in terms of how we investigate the world around us? I don’t think so. Take Marxist discussions of capitalism. Paraphrasing Bergson and Deleuze, the person that adopts an object-oriented concept of space and time would argue that concepts such as “global capitalism” and “the market” are “too baggy” to capture the spatio-temporal relations that characterize our historical moment. They create the impression that capitalism and the market totalize spatio-temporal relations. Yet in order for space-times to exist, there must be real relations. Here the object-oriented conception of space-time would encourage us to map relations between real economic actors. What are the real actors involved? How are they related to one another? However, the crucial point would be that there isn’t one space-time defining this field.
One central problem presented by contemporary capitalism is not that capitalism totalizes the social field, reaching into all its corners, crevices, and nooks, but rather that all sorts of entities, by virtue of the operational closure of entities and the topological space-times that constitute existence, are completely outside of these spaces, invisible to these space-times, without any relation to these space-times. Let me be clear. I am not suggesting that the the problem is that these other entities and topological space-times resides in the fact that these entities are not included in capitalism. Rather, I am arguing that the problem is that these other entities are excluded from a space-time in which participation in the social order is foreclosed altogether. Like Eugene in the office next to me, the voices of these other entities (human and nonhuman alike, animate and inanimate alike) is foreclosed from participation in these spaces. Who are these foreclosed entities? They are entities such as wage laborers, teachers whose voices are increasingly cut out of discussions surrounding educational reform that are clearly driven by market models and profit, animals, inanimate natural entities such as minerals and various “resources”, etc. Thus, for example, “uneven geographical development” would refer to topological spatio-temporal relations structuring the economic order. An object-oriented cartography would assist us in the development of maps allowing us to discern the weak points in particular spatio-temporalities, those nodes that would assist in the unraveling of the rest of a particular fragment of space-time, and in devising strategies in which the foreclosed could generate connectivity in such a way as to modify these fragments of space-time as a whole. Nor are these spatio-temporal relations restricted to the human world. For example, within this framework there would be very little relationship, as developmental systems theorists such as Griffiths like to note, between the moon and bacteria. For all intents and purposes, bacteria live in an environment free of gravity. As a consequence, we would say that bacteria and the moon belong to very different spatio-temporal fragments, or rather that topologically the relation between these entities is very remote.
Additionally, it must be emphasized that this conception of spatio-temporality enjoins us to attend to the work and infrastructure required for spatio-temporal fragments to exist. In order for Graham and I to exist within one and the same spatio-temporal fragment or topological field as we do, it is necessary for there to be electricity, satellites, fiber optic cables, internet servers, etc., etc., etc. Like ants in a tropical rain forest, there is a whole swarm of technologies, “resources”, and laborers that maintain the possibility of these spatio-temporal meshworks or fragments. Explode any link in this network and the rest as destroyed as many discovered during the Icelandic volcanic explosion last year. Real relations opening the possibility of perturbation among operationally closed objects must be forged and maintained. They can be destroyed as well. Here we must attend to the meshworks that allow one object to extend itself through the agency of another object (the topic of my book with Ian). I emphasize once again that these are very rudimentary thoughts that I’m only groping towards.