August 2011

H/T to Morton

The Third Object-Oriented Ontology Symposium,
The New School, September 14, 2011

9:45–10:00 Welcome/Introduction
McKenzie Wark

10:00–11:00 Graham Harman, “The Four Most Typical
Objections to OOO”
Aaron Pedinotti, “Occasions, Decisions, and the
Given: Some Remarks on the Technical
Underpinnings of the Harman–Shaviro Debate”
(Ken Wark, moderator)

11:00–11:30 Break

11:30–12:30 Steven Shaviro, “Panpsychism And/Or
McKenzie Wark, “P(OO): Praxis (object-oriented)”
(Katherine Behar, moderator)

12:30–2:30 Luncheon w/ Jane Bennett (hosted by Carin Kuoni)
Ken Wark and the Vera List Center for Art and

2:30–3:30 Shannon Mattern, “Everything is Infrastructure”
Levi Bryant, “Strange Substances: On the Nature
of Objects”
(Eugene Thacker, moderator)

3:30–4:00 Break

4:00–5:00 Tim Morton, “Objects, Aesthetics, Causality”
Mabel Wilson, “Object Lesson — A Pedagogy for
Teaching Architects”
(moderator TBA)


6:00–8:00 Opening, And Another Thing exhibition,
Co-curated by Katherine Behar and Emmy
The James Gallery, CUNY Graduate Center

One of the things that fascinates me about Lucretius’ De Rerum Natura is the strange history behind the work. We know very little about Lucretius’ life. He lived sometime between 99BC – 55BC, but as to the details of his life things are shadowy. Saint Jerome claims that he went mad from a “love philter” and committed suicide in the middle of his life, yet this is most likely an ugly rumor made up by the church to say “if you study this philosophy you’ll be driven mad and dominated by your passions!” Among the most interesting things about the history of De Rerum Natura, it appears that with the fall of the Roman empire and the rise of the Christian/Catholic church, there was a concerted efford to destroy all existing copies of the text. It appears that the church was highly successful as the text entirely disappear during the Middle Ages. Then, in the fifteenth century, one remaining copy was discovered, it was quickly copied into a variety of European languages, and, if Greenblatt is right, it had a decisive impact on art, the newly developing science, and the newly emerging political sensibility. What a history!

What is it, then, I wonder, that makes this such a dangerous book? There are the obvious things: Lucretius was among the first materialists and naturalists, arguing that all things are composed of matter and that there are only natural causes (as opposed to supernatural causes). There is the anti-teleologism of his philosophy. Where, in the Medieval Christian view, teleology rules the day, and works according to the premise that there is always something things ought to be, Lucretius’s materialist naturalism only admits of “causes from behind”. The consequences of this are profound. Consider the difference between how the Medieval Christian mind thinks about a two-headed chicken and how a materialist naturalist thinks about a two-headed chicken. For the Medieval Christian a two-headed chicken is a monster because, by “nature”, there is something chickens ought to be and the occurence of a two-headed chicken is a violation of this divinely designed order of nature. By contrast, for the Lucretian, the two-headed chicken is merely the result of the causes that produced it and is therefore entirely natural. Within this framework, you cannot, to cite the Love & Rockets song, go against nature because when you do it’s nature too.

read on!

I’ve finished the initial draft of my article for the journal Identities. It’s entitled “Politics and Parts: Onticology and Queer Politics”. It’s a Frankenstein construction melding Luhmann, Maturana and Varela, Ranciere, Deleuze, Badiou, and OOO. I hate to ask this, but I received a lot of responses to my last post. For those who are interested in seeing an initial draft please email me and I’d be happy to send it along.

It’s hard not to simultaneously feel crushed and filled with wonder and joy when reading Lucretius’ De Rerum Natura. Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Kant, Hegel, Heidegger, all morons. I jest, of course, but truly, in De Rerum Natura, it’s all there. Beautiful poetry, a profound understanding of nature, a beautiful ethical vision and project of emancipation, an account of emergence, a thoroughgoing posthumanism, a [rather misguided] sex manual replete with meditations on love; it’s all there. All too often we get the sense that many philosophers are civil servants acting on behalf of the state, superstition, and ideology, yet with Lucretius we get the sense that we are before truth– or at least the germinal hypothesis that would lead us truth –and the seeds of a genuinely emancipatory project. That emancipatory project unfolds at the psychological level striving to free us from fear and to lead us to peace of mind, that unfolds at the social level, emancipating us from superstition and ideology, and that unfolds at the political level emancipating us from despots and unjust systems.

Yet perhaps most of all the wonder that Lucretius instills lies in the way he transforms the ordinary and familiar into a question. For Lucretius there is just atoms and void. With this hypothesis all things are to be explained. We take it for granted that wind can bend trees, yet with Lucretius’ hypothesis we must now ask how wind, which seems like nothing at all, can have this force. We take it as obvious that sound can be heard through walls, but now we must ask what it is that travels through walls and how one entity can pass through another that is solid (all things no matter how apparently solid, Lucretius will teach, contain void). We will now need a theory as to how water is able to change colors with wind and waves (the patterns and relationships among the atoms are reconfigured). As I write this my daughter lays on the couch watching Beetlejuice. What is it I’m seeing as I regard her? She is in a diffferent position in the void, so how is it possible for me too see her? This too will need explanation and Lucretius will argue that bodies emit films or simulacra that impinge upon our bodies. To see something else is to be affected by an emanation, not the thing itself, such that whatever we do see is an effect of what took place in the past is films or simulacra take time to travel in the void.

read on!

This is brilliant.

In an earlier post I write that I admire:

Those that refuse to be victims or to fall prey to the narcissism of victimhood and the creation of guilt in others, but who rather strive to transform their wounds into something universally emancipatory, the world and who affirm their own value despite being wounded.

I go on to remark that I admire:

Those that do not allow their wounds to develop into festering resentment towards themselves, life, and others, but who transfigure their wounds into something beautiful and just in the form of great art and egalitarian politics.

There’s already too many I’s here, but nonetheless these remarks touch on what I believe to be one of the fundamental vocations and tasks of philosophy, art, science, politics, and life: the erasure of self and particularity. Of course, it is true that all good science, art, and philosophy will preserve particularity, the singular, the inexchangable, and so on. The point is that those modes of engagement and thought that try to work at this level betray the singular and particular and erase it. The paradox here is that in trying to articulate the particular, singular, and individual, they become fixated on identity, self-sameness, their circumstances, thereby betraying the singular.

read on!

A number of people have balked at talk of objects or substances, wishing to oppose them to processes. The worry seems to be that the concept of object or substance presupposes some fixed and unchanging core of identity in which qualities inhere. Within the framework of onticology, however, I have tried to argue that objects are dynamic systems that produce their identity across time. The identity of an object is not something that lies beneath change such that change and activity is a surface-effect of an unchanging core; rather, identity and persistence are activities and processes on the part of substances. This is why I perpetually emphasize the phenomenon of entropy when discussing objects. Entropy is a measure of the degree of order embodied in a system in terms of probability (for me “system” and “object” are synonyms). The more entropy a system possesses the less order or organization it has. The less entropy a system has the higher degree of order and organization it has. In terms of probability, the higher the degree of entropy within a system, the more probable it is that sub-elements can occur anywhere in the system. By contrast, the lower degree of entropy a system has the less probable it is that a sub-element of the system will be in a particular place.

My thesis is that objects are ontological improbabilities. If objects are improbabilities, then this is because objects are forms of organization and order. The elements that make up any object exist within the object in such a way that their structural placement is improbable. To see this point, contrast the difference between a crowd of various types of people (men, women, people of various faiths and ethnicities, rich, poor, etc) and a Roman legion. What is it that entitles us to call a Roman legion an object and a crowd of people a collection of objects (plural)? Our crowd of people is characterized by a high degree of entropy insofar as the sub-elements that make up the crowd have an equal probability of occurring anywhere in the crowd. Like particles in Brownian motion, each type of person can occur anywhere in the crowd. By contrast, a Roman legion can be thought as an object because the occurrence of the elements has a low degree of probability indicating a high degree of organization and order. Each soldier has a defined position with respect to the others and moreover, the soldiers receive the placement they have based on different ranks and skills. As a consequence, these smaller scale objects (the persons) combine together to form a unit that functions as an object.

read on!

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