October 2011


Here’s my talk at University of Minnesota. Be nice!

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I’m pleased to announce the launch of a new journal, O-Zone: A Journal of Object-Oriented Studies. Please circulate this widely.

Mission

. . . all these changes concern objects; at least, that’s what I’d like to be sure of.

—from the notebooks of Antoine Roquentin

O-Zone: A Journal of Object-Oriented Studies is a peer-reviewed, open-access, and post-disciplinary journal devoted to object-oriented studies, both situated within and traversing the humanities, sciences, social sciences, and the arts. The journal aims to cultivate current streams of thought already established within object-oriented studies, while also providing space for new pathways along which disparate voices and bodies of object-oriented knowledges might encounter, influence, perturb, and motivate one another.

Situated within a post-Kantian philosophical outlook, where everything in the world, from the smallest quarks to lynxes to humans to wheat fields to machines and beyond exist on an equal ontological footing, O-Zone: A Journal of Object-Oriented Studies invites new work that explores the weird realism, thingliness, and life-worlds of objects. Possible methodological approaches and critical modes might include: actor-networks, unit operations, alien phenomenology, agentic drift, onticology, guerrilla metaphysics, carnal phenomenology, ontography, agential realism, cosmopolitics, panpsychism, insect media, posthumanism, flat ontology, dark vitalism, prosthetics, territorial assemblage, vibrant materialism, dorsality, distributed intelligence, dark ecology, hyperobjects, realist magic, post-continuity, and other paradigms for object-oriented thought still coming into being and yet to be articulated.

The journal will appear annually and be available online, free of charge, and also in affordable print-on-demand and e-reader editions, published in partnership with punctum books.

Editors

Levi Bryant
Kris Coffield
Eileen Joy

Advisory Editors

Marisol Bate
Katherine Behar
Jane Bennett
Ian Bogost
Bill Brown
John Caputo
Patricia Clough
Jeffrey Jerome Cohen
Joan Copjec
Elizabeth Grosz
Graham Harman
Katherine Hayles
Robert Jackson
Timothy Morton
Michael O’Rourke
Jussi Parikka
Daniel Remein
Steven Shaviro
Tom Sparrow
Cary Wolfe

Call for Papers

Object/Ecology

O-Zone: A Journal for Object-Oriented Studies

Puncta 1

Recent years have seen an explosion of interest in ecology in the humanities, sciences, and social sciences, with exciting new conceptual innovations and critically reflective returns to the work of earlier ecological studies. If ecological thought, in its most broad definition, investigates the interrelations and interactions of entities with one another, then the concept and domain of ecology can be expanded significantly, referring not simply to the natural world apart from social structures and configurations, but rather to relations between entities of any kind, regardless of whether they are natural, technological, social, or discursive. In short, culture and society are no longer thought of as something distinct from nature, but as one formation of nature among others. Increasingly, a sensibility has emerged that views as impossible the treatment of society and nature as distinct and separate domains, and instead sees the two as deeply enmeshed with one another. Similarly, ecological and posthumanist developments have increasingly come to intersect with one another, jointly conceptualizing humans not as sovereign makers of all other tools, beings and meanings, but as beings (or objects) among other beings (and objects)—animate and inanimate, human and nonhuman—entwined together in a variety of complex contingencies.

The inaugural issue of O-Zone: A Journal for Object-Oriented Studies seeks to expand current ecological dialogues and open new trajectories for ecological engagement vis-à-vis the world of objects, or even world(s)-as-object(s). Authors are invited to contribute short meditations, of approximately 2,000 to 3,000 words, on any object-oriented ecological turn or (re)turn percolating through their current work. Authors might consider the following questions when composing their contributions:

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How do the post-correlationist, post-Kantian, realist, and materialist turns transform our understanding of the systems, operations, objects, and/or ontology of ecology?

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What is an ecological politics, and what might certain political considerations bring to object-oriented and new materialist trends of ecological thinking? Conversely, how might an intensive focus on the singularity and autonomy of objects revise our conceptions of political domains?

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Object-oriented theorists have proposed a number of new critical modes to expand ecological inquiry, like dark and black ecology. In what ways do these new approaches challenge the traditionally “green” orientations of ecological investigation? Further, what other new modes of ecological thought might we propose now, beyond green?

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Ecology has traditionally been defined as the study of systems of inter-dependent relations, often with respect to natural environments. How might certain strains of object-oriented thought that take as a given the withdrawn nature and independent reality of objects give rise to new ecological thinking? Further, what would it mean to think the non- or para-“natural world” ecologically: such as new media, machinic and other technologies, artificial life, bioinformatics, cloning, and the like?

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What is the relationship between posthumanism and ecology? Can there be a post-ecology, and how might that relate to the “life” of objects?

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What would it mean to retrieve earlier ecological and materialist voices, especially from feminist, gender, and queer studies, and what might these voices contribute to object-oriented and new materialist modes of thought?

These questions are only suggestions for possible meditations. Authors are also invited to develop their own topics.

For its inaugural issue, O-Zone: A Journal of Object-Oriented Studies will also consider submissions on topics unrelated to ecology, but still within the orbit of object-oriented studies. These contributions might take the form of short essays, longer articles (of no more than 10,000 words), or digital media. In addition, we are accepting reviews of recently published works on object-oriented and new materialism subjects. Queries about the relevance of a given topic or potential review are welcome.

Deadline for submissions is May 30, 2012. Please send all submissions and queries to editors@ozone-journal.com.

I’ll be giving a plenary talk at the 5th International Deleuze Studies Conference in New Orleans sometime between the June 25th and the 27th (I’ll be there the whole time). At this point, my talk is tentatively entitled “Deleuze’s Transcendental Aesthetics”. I plan to discuss the interior of objects within the framework of Deleuze’s transcendental empiricism, von Uexkull, and systems theory. After that I’ll be heading off to Liverpool from the 29th until July 1st for the Thinking the Absolute: Speculation, Philosophy, and the End of Religion conference, where I’ll be giving a keynote on speculative realism and religious thought. I suspect my paper for this will be on the Darwinian revolution and flat ontology, or Lacanian sexuation, but haven’t come up with a title yet. A few places in Ireland and England have made nods at me giving additional talks following this, but nothing concrete or specific yet, so I don’t know if I’ll be on the Islands any longer than the 2nd yet. So long as I can get lodgings I’m more than happy to speak wherever others might want me.

Yesterday I did a talk at University of Minnesota for their Textual Bodies series. I’ll be posting the clip next week, but I have to say this was a thoroughly enjoyable experience. It was really more of a discussion than a talk as unfortunately, being approached on such short notice, I wasn’t able to prepare very much with everything going on. My talk was entitled “The Text is a Factory: On the Thingliness of Fictions”. We had a fantastic discussion and it helped to cultivate a number of my thoughts. This is the sort of thing I would very much like to do again in the future. Now that we have skype there’s no reason we can’t organizing these sorts of discussions and symposia around the world. They’re calling them “skypinars”. That seems like a good name. Many thanks to Joe Hughes and the people that attended for making this possible. I was humbled by their generosity.

In chapter 3 of The Democracy of Objects I argue that objects are split between their virtual proper being and their local manifestations. The virtual proper being of an object is the object’s powers or capacities. The local manifestations of an object are its actualized qualities or properties, that which become present in the object. I call these manifestations “manifestations” because they are the becoming-actual of a property. I call them “local” because the properties that an object comes to actualize are the result of local circumstances in time and space. In other circumstances other manifestations would take place. For this reason 1) the qualities of an object are acts on the part of an object, not something an object simply has (they are events), and 2) an object cannot be identified with its properties or qualities because properties or qualities are variable events that arise from local circumstances. I refer to these local circumstances as “regimes of attraction”. Regimes of attraction are the external relationships an object shares to other objects in the world that play a role in the local manifestation of properties. Local manifestation can occur in one of two ways. They can result either from internal dynamics of the object or body such as the thumping sound my body makes from the beating of my heart, or from relations that an object shares to other objects in a regime of attraction leading to the actualization of a property as in the case of the production of rust in metals due to oxidation. My thesis is that objects are individuated not by their local manifestations but by their virtual proper being or powers.

The four pictures of flowers in this post are beautiful examples of local manifestation. In fact, these are only two flowers even though the one flower in the picture in the first paragraph appears quite different in its left and right depiction, just as the flower to the left appears quite different in its left and right depiction. Nonetheless, one and the same flower is depicted in the picture in the first paragraph and one and the same picture is depicted in the picture to the left.

read on!
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I’m extremely pleased to see that Andreling of Intra-Being is posting once again as, given his fascinating work in ethnography and the field, he’s always sorely missed when he’s away. Today he has a great post up riffing on his work in the field, object-oriented ontology, political processes, and my discussions of rice. Here’s a taste:

While humans can clearly play a significant role in shaping how these powers are expressed, it is clearly not a simple matter of humans imposing their will on the rice plant. The rice plant does not – indeed cannot – just do what humans want it to do and, for the most part, humans – even farmers – still don’t know everything about the ins and outs of the rice plant (despite having cultivated it for so many years). Yes, rice has been cultivated and modified by humans over thousands of years but at the same time, rice has shaped human societies reciprocally because of its own very specific needs (in terms of water, nutrients, etc.) and qualities. But despite this ancient structural coupling between humans and rice, neither has the human involvement with rice exhausted rice’s powers, nor has rice’s involvement with humans exhausted the humans’. Rice is an actant along with humans, warring tribes, language, irrigation systems, tools, families, weather systems, religious ceremonies, economies and geological formations and can lend itself quite comfortably to myriad other forms of ‘social’ organisation besides the hierarchical ones that happen to have emerged historically.

But changing practices is no simple feat. The farmers’ powers or capacities are themselves expressed in a selective manner as a result of the way that they are entangled with diverse other objects, both human and non-human, such as those listed earlier. These constellations of objects constitute a regime of attraction, essentially an autopoietic system or larger-scale object, which exerts its own gravitational pull on those partial parts (i.e. elements) that make it up. This larger object (we could call it ‘farming system’) is different and distinct from its parts (families, rice plants, soil, droughts, etc.) even though they compose it. Each part, therefore, exceeds (is withdrawn from) this larger object, just as the larger object exceeds (withdraws from) these parts.

There’s a lot more so be sure to read the rest here. The big gripe I have with what I call “paradigmatic critical theory” is that it often behaves as if it is enough to change ideological beliefs by debunking them to produce social and political change. I am by no means suggesting that pardigmatic critical theory should be abandoned and that ideology critique doesn’t have an important purpose and value, but I don’t think it is enough. There is a stickiness to the things of the world, to the regimes of attraction in which people live, to lives dependent on these things that functions to hold certain social patterns in place. People might be entirely aware that their social and material circumstances stink to high heaven, but they must live, eat, provide for their children, etc. In other words, they’re stuck as if in a spider’s web. Consequently, in addition to ideology critique real social and political change requires the painstaking formation of other assemblages of nonhuman entities that allow people to live in new and different ways and relate to one another in new and different ways. If these alternative assemblages are not created– and again I emphasize that I’m talking about the nonhuman here: geography, resources, food, plants, water resources, technologies, etc, not human collectives –then that change simply cannot come. This is what I have called political “terraism“: the practice of actually building and creating new assemblages of nonhumans coupled with demolishing the flows of energy oppressive assemblages need to continue functioning.

As I read my student’s Ethics exams (not bad, the kids are alright), I’m brought back to Dennett’s compatibilist conception of freedom developed in Freedom Evolves (and despite loving him remind me never to teach his books again, they’re an organizational mess). Early on Dennett suggests that those that believe they have free will actually have free will and those that do not believe they have free will do not have free will. His point here is elusive but, I think, very simple. A belief is not nothing but is one causal factor among others. Here Dennett seems to repeat a variation of the joke Lacan tells towards the beginning of The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, where he recounts the tale of the boy who said “I have three brothers. Paul, John, and myself.” Okay, this joke isn’t that funny, but Lacan’s point is that the boy counts well because he includes himself as one of the entities to be counted. Thus, for example, when, in a correlationist frame of mind, we treat objects as things opposed to a subject, we count poorly because we forget that we too are one of these objects in the world (this is one reason I never get suggestions that somehow OOO hates humans and wants to eradicate them because it champions the existence of objects. Er, humans are beings or objects too!). But I digress. My point is that Dennett is arguing that when we ask ourselves questions like “am I just a clockwork mechanism determined by mechanical rules and from the outside?” we forget that our beliefs are also causal factors in our action and that they make a difference in that action.

So this is the basic idea: if I believe that I am free, then I will be free because I will at least try to influence my circumstances and my own potentials. If I believe that I am determined, by contrast, I will be unfree because, believing myself determined, I won’t bother to try to change my circumstances. If I believe that it is possible for me to learn how to play guitar, I will actually put the effort in towards learning the guitar. I may not become Jimmy Hendrix, to be sure, but I will certainly learn something of guitar (can you tell I feel guilty that I haven’t tried to learn guitar… I’m looking at you Troy Doucet!). If, by contrast, I believe that through, say, some genetic disposition I am constitutively unable to learn guitar I will never try and therefore really will never learn how to play guitar. My belief here plays a crucial causal role in whether or not I change my circumstances and abilities.

read on!
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