A friend of mine sent an email containing the following meditations on my ontology:

I’ve been mulling over what you’ve said and while I agree there is a distinction between the ontological and rhetorical uses of agency, I believe OOR is in a unique position to discuss both. Because of its reliance upon an ontology to form its arguments, rhetoric is able to discuss things ontologically while at the same time not straying from a more traditional rhetorical discussion of how we *talk* about objects. So in a way, what I’m hoping to achieve here is a reworking of the way we talk about and recognize agency in any given rhetorical act; but, at the same time, add to the discussion of the ontological workings of agency as a property of an object.

That being said, my last email looked at agency as it related to other objects. When we have primary agents, these objects act as causal origins spreading their agency across a network of secondary agents. What your notion of regimes of attraction does (coupled, of course, with the object’s virtual proper being and local manifestations) is make this dispersal of agency a necessary condition of any rhetorical act – that is, no agent is ever in full control of the act or utterance. But this also means that agency is not an endo-quality of an object, but is an exo-quality. In other words, objects are only agents in relation to other objects. Since objects (as substances) are acts and there is no doer behind the deed (like you stated in a recent blog post), then this entails that there is no agent behind the act qua object – and therefore no agency in such endo-relations. But there is, however, an agent (and therefore agency) in an object’s relation to other objects, and this is where I want to go with OOR, to examine the role of objects in an event and the possibility for those objects to truly be agents.

I’m still thinking this through, but a couple of thoughts do come to mind. When I say that there’s no doer behind the deed I just mean that the doer is identical to the deed. Objects are four-dimensional such that their substantiality is temporal and processual. Contrasting my position with Harman’s might be helpful here. For Harman objects have a withdrawn essence that is self-identical and enduring beyond any action on the part of the object. In this respect, it’s as if, for Harman, there’s a crystal lattice withdrawn beneath manifestations of substances that remains the same and upon which events unfold or play without, in any way, changing that essence. So if we take Harman as a substance, when Harman reads a book there is, on the one hand, the Harman-essence that is self-identical to him and that is withdrawn and the Harman-act (reading) that occurs on the surface of this essence without affecting or changing that essence. There is something that both does the act (Harman-essence as doer) and the act (reading) that plays out on the surface of this crystal lattice; and, as such, a distance or gap between the doer and deed such that the essence of the doer remains the same in the act of reading.

read on!

For me, by contrast, the doer is the deed. It’s not that there is no doer, but that the doer is not an abiding identity that stands behind the deed. The object is nothing more than its acts but is its acts and only sustains itself only in its activities. Thus where Harman posits an essence behind “sensual objects”– somewhat his equivalent of my “local manifestations” with the caveat that his sensual objects are always in another object, whereas my local manifestations can manifest in the world without any other object –that endures, I’m obligated to give an account of how objects endure and produce their identity temporally and through their activity. The substantiality of an object is, for me, the processuality of an object. There is not a “Paul-essence” behind this processuality, but rather a “Paul-process” that is Paul’s substantiality; and what makes Paul Paul is Paul’s activity.

As a consequence, where Harman remains exactly the same in his withdrawn essence when he reads a book, Paul becomes something other in reading a book. What makes Nate the same Nate is not an enduring essence, but rather a temporal synthesis that relates past acts to the present act in an ongoing process. As such, identity is not the ground of an object lying beneath accidental events, but rather is a perpetual problem the object or substance faces and a product of the object’s endo-processual activities. As such, there is always the threat of entropy that could lead to the dissolution of the object insofar as the object can fail, in its acts, to continue itself across time and therefore dissolve. Every object is in a perpetual state of decay.

With that said, it doesn’t follow from this that the agency of an object is purely an exo-quality or a result of interactions with other objects. There are endo-processes and exo-processes. Endo-processes consist of activities taking place within an object that are completely unrelated to anything else in the world, while exo-processes are processes that unfold in collaborations with other objects. Here my position can be distinguished from Latour’s. Where, for Latour, every object acts in collaboration with other objects, for me there are acts that unfold purely within objects in isolation from other objects as well as acts that unfold in collaboration with other objects. Thus while I recognize that the vast majority of actions consist in collaborations or networks of relations between objects such that agency is distributed, I don’t make the claim that all action on the part of objects is of this sort. Like Kant’s categorical imperative that arises from reason alone, objects enact actions that are purely their own activity.