It’s worth noting that much of what I’m arguing about Ranciere makes little sense in the absence of the claims about mereology. In Guerrilla Metaphysics, Graham argues that 1) every object can simultaneously be comprehended as an object in its own right and as a complex of relations, and 2) that every object is a composite or composed of other objects. In other words, objects exist at a variety of different levels of scale. This is important because there’s a tendency to assimilate objects to mid-range objects given in intuition– here I think a deep critique of phenomenology is absolutely necessary and I deeply endorse Badiou’s critique of phenomenology vis a vis the non-intuitability of being as “given” in maths: I do not agree that phenomenology is something we need to pass through carefully again; quite the contrary, we’re drunk on phenomenology and have not yet escaped its anthropocentric reference constituting “reality” or the symbolic-imaginary index. Philosophy abandons its vocation when it allows doxa to serve as the foundation of authority. This reign of doxa, whether in the intuitivism of phenomenology or the ordinary language philosophy of Anglo-American thought is a nightmare from which we are awakening. –ignoring the being of larger and smaller scale objects. I’ve sought to comprehend this thesis in terms of autopoietic systems theory and, in particular, Luhmann’s formulation in Social Systems (far superior and more systematic, I think, to what we find in Maturana and Varela). Within this framework, objects are either autopoietic (self-reproducing) or allopoietic machines or systems. As a consequence, it follows that a social system is an object. Yet social systems are objects composed of other objects (persons, technologies, animals, memos, etc).
Two key features of Luhmann’s sociological systems theory is that 1) all autopoietic systems are operationally closed such that they only selectively relate to their environment in terms of their own distinctions or organization, and 2) that operations within a system only refer to other operations within a system. Information is not something that a system receives from its environment, but something a system constitutes in response to its environment. It is in these terms that I’ve striven to understand Harman’s claim that objects are withdrawn from one another such that they never directly interact with one another (systems operations only refer to themselves and systems constitute their own information) and his concept of vicarious causation. Luhmann argues that systems constitute their own elements. The point here is not that they constitute their elements ex nihilo, out of nothing, but always out of other objects. Nonetheless, the elements that are produced are themselves something different than the entities out of which they are constituted. The parts of a system (not its elements) belong to the environment of the system and are thus outside the object. As such, the manner in which a system or object (they’re the same thing) constitutes its elements, coupled with the manner in which it determines visibility and invisibility with respect to its environment, is a mechanism of counting. And here, it’s important to recall that for Luhmann every distinction embodies two blind spots or regimes of invisibility. These parts are invisible to the object or system to which they “belong”, even as they’re constituted as elements. “Becoming-elemental” refers to the manner in which another object is formed and structured so as to communicate, under determinate conditions, with the larger scale object to which it belongs. My vote, for example, can register with the U.S. government but not what I ate for dinner. The U.S. government, as an object, is not operationally open to what I ate for dinner as a communicative event and is therefore invisible. This, of course, can change (that’s the whole point). I unfold all of this in chapter four of The Democracy of Objects, which, hopefully, will be available soon.
This is why the relational versus non-relational distinction really doesn’t hold within the framework of onticology. Politics, in onticology, is the name of the relation of that which is unrelated or the name of that mode of non-relation that takes place between withdrawn entities (the parts of an object are no less withdrawn from the larger scale object of which they are parts than the relation between any other two distinct objects). Politics refers to the strategies and processes by which an invisible entity contests a regime of visibility (distinctions) and transforms it. Politics is that activity where the distinctions themselves are in question (governance, by contrast, is that regime where elements, not parts, are managed according to pre-existent distinctions). The question of politics is thus, in part, that of how a “dim object“, a largely fully withdrawn object, can come to resonate with respect to another object, contesting the distinctions that determine the contents of its “speech”, and transforming those distinctions.