I really didn’t want to get drawn into recent debates surrounding “lava-lampy materialism” because I’ve been both sick and busy with other things, but given Ivakhiv’s most recent post I feel compelled to respond (I won’t bother responding to Vitale’s post because I believe that anyone who describes other philosophical positions as a “cult” or form of “mysticism” has undermined all possibility of dialogue and discussion). Before getting into Ivakhiv’s specific claims, I would like to briefly outline my problem with what Morton has called “lava lampy materialism”. I have no problem with process and becoming. That said, I think many process philosophers tend to commit a basic fallacy. The argument seems to run that because objects are produced out of other things, there must be a gooey substrate or source from which these objects come from. This strikes me as a fallacy. All that we are entitled to say is that objects are produced out of other things. The thesis that objects must therefore arise from an undifferentiated field is another matter entirely and I see not a single reason for adopting such a position. Indeed, the claim that there is a pre-individual [read, “not composed of objects] field anterior to objects strikes me as the height of mythological thinking. Has anyone ever provided a single argument for such a claim? Not as far as I can tell. To repeat, I have no problem with the thesis that objects are, in many instances [I remain agnostic as to whether this is true in all instances… Perhaps there are universals] built out of other objects. This claim, however, is entirely different than the claim that there is a pre-individual field anterior to objects.

Outlining Vitale’s arguments, Ivakhiv begins by remarking that,

(1) OOO is relatively new and is still awaiting its pièce de résistance. I understand that a few of these are on the way, and that one of Graham Harman’s is specifically intended to address sixteen or so (is that right?) questions posed by OOO’s critics. I’m eagerly awaiting the results.

These are frustrating remarks for Ivakhiv or anyone else to make. Graham has written Tool-Being and Guerrilla Metaphysics, both of which develop his claims in great detail. In addition to this, Ivakhiv might consult my article in The Speculative Turn which is, I hope, carefully argued and full of detail. The arguments have been made again and again both on my blog and elsewhere. The arguments are, moreover, detailed and intricate. How many times must they be repeated? I have no problem with someone finding fault with those arguments. This, however, is entirely different than merely dismissing something on the grounds that it has made no arguments. Claims that something is a cult or a mysticism are designed to do precisely that. They are marginalizing terms, absolving the person advancing the “criticism” from any responsibility of actually addressing claims or arguments. Taking a page from Foucault, they function similarly to classifications of madness. Just as an attribution of madness works to silence the person to whom this predicate is attributed, claims of belonging to a cult immediately absolve one from having to respond to any of the claims or arguments one has made.

Ivakhiv goes on to write:

(2) Process-relational approaches (or whatever term one uses for them) are, on the other hand, well established. As Chris puts it, “there’s a whole cottage industry of Deleuzians, Whiteheadians, Peircians, etc.” In fact there are several cottage industries right there (even among just those three branches), which aren’t necessarily in frequent communication with each other, though that has been changing. OOO has hardly made inroads into these industries, so the road is wide open for engagement.

It is disappointing to see Ivakhiv (and Vitale) making appeals to authority (the established status of Deleuze, Whitehead, and Peirce). It is also surprising to see anyone who thinks within the framework of these thinkers (especially Deleuze and Whitehead) both of whom endlessly champion the new making arguments from authority. It is even more amusing to hear Vitale and Ivakhiv suggesting that OOO has “not made inroads into these industries.” Ivakhiv seems to forget that I’m the author of Difference and Givenness: Deleuze’s Transcendental Empiricism and the Ontology of Immanence, along with numerous articles on Deleuze. Not to toot my own horn, but that book also received extremely favorable reviews from such venerable Deleuzians as Ronald Bogue and James Williams (the latter, of which, is no slouch when it comes to Whitehead). I’ve even written articles on Deleuze’s account of individuation (yanno, how objects come into being) that have been translated into other languages. This strikes me as a rather larger contribution to these industries than either Vitale or Ivakhiv have made, but maybe they disagree, so I’ll set that aside. Does Ivakhiv ever give us a philosophical account of the genesis of objects, or does he merely say that objects are generated and processual. I don’t know because I have a difficult time finding his contributions to process-relational thought in print. He’s welcome to consult mine, however.

More pertinently, I would like to ask where, exactly, the knock-down arguments for process relational thought are to be found in either Deleuze, Whitehead, or Peirce. In evoking this “venerable tradition” and “cottage industry”, Ivakhiv seems to suggest that there are established arguments in these fields. But are there really? In Process and Reality Whitehead bluntly states that he’s merely providing a “conceptual scheme” designed to be true to our experience. Yet he also admits that others are possible. In Difference and Givenness I do my best to provide arguments for Deleuze’s positions, but in doing so I go against the letter of Deleuze’s own concept of philosophy. Let’s not forget that Deleuze and Guattari (and Deleuze alone in his lectures well before the publication of What is Philosophy?) describe their work as an “invention of concepts”. They don’t give arguments for their position, but rather offer us concepts. They also tell us that they are free to take them or leave them (Guattari says this alone in Chaosmosis, Deleuze repeats it in Dialogues or Negotiations in his riff on making mistakes and conversations, and they say it together in their collaborative works). There’s no demonstration here, but merely a vision. The situation is much the same with Peirce who generally offers us a picture or a vision of the world, not particular arguments for their position.

Now I say this to raise the question of why we should acknowledge these positions at all. Where Whitehead merely offers us a conceptual scheme (conceding that others are possible), and where Deleuze tells us that he’s merely inventing concepts, and where Peirce just gives us pictures of the world, OOO actually tries to make arguments for the position that it’s developing. Again, I refer Ivakhiv to my piece in The Speculative Turn, and Graham’s Tool-Being and Guerrilla Metaphysics. Additionally, the entire first chapter of The Democracy of Objects is devoted to arguments for both the epistemic grounds for the existence of objects and why the world must be structured in terms of objects. Again, how many times do arguments need to be repeated? Ivakhiv is even free to look at my side-bar and read my manifesto posts providing an outline for these arguments. Given the absence of arguments in the first camp, I wonder where the charge of “mysticism” most aptly applies.

Ivakhiv goes on to remark that,

As a new kid on the block, OOO has been smart in garnering attention and occasional support from a few of the bigger names around, like Latour and Zizek. But attention, blog readership, numbers of downloads, etc., aren’t the same thing as intellectual conversion (to use that tendentious term), and if numbers are what counts, the process-relationists far outnumber the OOO-ists.

It sounds as if Ivakhiv is suggesting that we’ve been engaged in some underhanded marketing techniques. I would hope that the attention that we’ve drawn is more a function of perhaps, hopefully, maybe saying something important and presenting some compelling arguments for both our positions and things that have been overlooked in contemporary theory. As for “conversions”, when does this happen in philosophy and the world of theory? Mostly people just pick up the concepts in works they find valuable and run with them. They tend not to get converted.

Ivakhiv goes on to ask:

(3) Chris identifies a few of the pieces that haven’t satisfied us (the process-relationists) in OOO’s account of things: (i) How does an object come into being, change into another, etc.? In other words, what’s the relationship between substance and change? (ii) What makes objects ontologically primary (as Tim recently put it) and processes, events, relations, or anything else secondary? (I’m not sure if all OOO-ists share that valuation, but then that’s something for them to clarify.) And (iii) “How do we determine what to call can object?” or, what’s the relationship between language (and/or perspective) and the thing itself? I think OOO has some answers to the latter question, but whenever it gets raised the discussion seems to descend into a terrain of incommensurability between the two camps. There are other points at issue, which a reader of these blog debates can easily identify, but those are good places to start.

(i) How does an object come into being, change into another, etc.? In other words, what’s the relationship between substance and change?

First, can Ivakhiv point me to the place in Deleuze, Whitehead, or Peirce where these questions are answered? They say objects do come into being and change, but they do not say how. They merely say they do. This is part of what led Badiou, in The Clamor of Being, to say that Deleuze is merely a descriptive philosopher.

That aside, I agree, most objects come into being. They come into being from other objects. And how does this occur? For me, this occurs by the emergent object attaining what I call endo-consistency or internal structure and organization such that it has emergent qualities and takes on a life of its own.

(ii) What makes objects ontologically primary (as Tim recently put it) and processes, events, relations, or anything else secondary? (I’m not sure if all OOO-ists share that valuation, but then that’s something for them to clarify.)

Ivakhiv will find the answers to this question in abbreviated form in the manifestos in my sidebar or, if he cares to wait, the first chapter of The Democracy of Objects. Again, how many times do these things have to be repeated?

And (iii) “How do we determine what to call can object?” or, what’s the relationship between language (and/or perspective) and the thing itself?

This is not a question for ontology but for epistemology. Ontology addresses what objects are regardless of whether or not anyone knows them or perceives them. Epistemology asks how we know objects. OOO isn’t making claims about knowing objects. However, it does have implications for knowledge. As many of us have repeated again, objects relate to one another by translating one another. As everyone knows, translation is never identical to that which it translates. Translation always produces something new and different. Humans are objects that relate to other objects. Ergo, humans translate the world around them. It’s entirely likely that certain things humans count as objects are not, in fact, objects but are just translations of a multiplicity of different objects.

However, this gets to something that came up in an email discussion earlier this evening. My interlocutor wrote:

The blue mug on the table. Does it exist ‘in its own’, even if I’m not here? To an electron, or does it show up to it electronly, and hence, not as a blue mug? In which case, there is no blue mug for the electron, and hence, we can only say ‘what appears to me as a blue mug’, without there being any ‘real’ object to anchor it. This is the core of the dispute, I think.

Notice the nature of the questions this person asks: “does it exist even if I’m not here?” “does it exist to an electron, even if the electron passes right through it?” What’s the problem? The problem is that the person is using the verb “exist” in the wrong way. The blue mug exists in its own right. It has nothing to do with whether or not we’re here, nor does it have anything to do with whether or not the electron passes right through it. The problem with this usage is that it is thinking the verb “to exist” relationally as “exists to“. But “existence” is not a relational verb of this sort. “Exists” is a property of the entity that exists, not a relation between another entity and the entity. If you begin with this relational perspective your thinking will be muddled on these issues from the very start.

Now I must sleep.