In Alien Phenomenology, Ian Bogost introduces the idea of “exploded view diagrams” to get at the composition of objects. This idea resonates nicely with my claims about mereology. Mereology, it will be recalled, is that branch of mathematics, logic, and philosophy that studies the ontology of parthood relations. The thesis of my mereology is three-fold: 1) every object is a composition of other objects. In other words, there are no simple subjects, but rather every object is an aggregate or assemblage. 2) The objects of which an object is composed are themselves independent of the object they compose. That is, no matter how tightly intertwined with the larger-scale object they compose, these objects do not lose their individuality and independence. They remain entities, units, substances, systems, monads, or objects (all synonyms for me) in their own right. As a result, it follows that since objects are split between their local manifestations and virtual proper being, no larger-scale object never fully accesses the smaller-scale objects that compose it. Rather, larger-scale objects only ever encounter local manifestations of these smaller-scale objects. Consequently 3), no object ever manages to totalize the parts of which it is composed. There is always a lack of “fit” between a larger-scale object and its parts (smaller-scale objects), such that there is necessarily an internal strife within each and every object. The categories of community and totality are never fully achieved for any object. As a consequence, each object necessarily has an internal entropy that it must contend with to continue its existence. It’s as if the parts that compose an object are perpetually clamoring for their own independence, threatening the fabric, continuance, or endurance of the larger-scale object they compose.
All of this is very abstract, so Bogost’s use of exploded view diagrams helps to put flesh on just what these issues of mereology are all about. As Latour argues and as Harman reminds us in Prince of Networks, objects are black boxes. That is, in their being as units, their multiple-being is withdrawn or hidden. As units, the multiple-being that makes up an object disappears insofar as the unit has achieved temporary “harmony” or “consensus” among its parts. The unit has managed to form an alliance among its parts that allows it to navigate or stave off entropy decay, such that it is able to continue or endure in time and space.
Yet, as Harman elsewhere argues, “[e]very object is both a substance and a complex of relations” (Guerrilla Metaphysics, 85). Objects are both units and complexes of relations. Here we must proceed with care, for in referring to units as complexes of relations, Harman is not making the claim that the being of a unit as a complex of relations does not consist in relations to other units such as the relation of a tree to the soil, sun, air, water, etc. Rather, Harman is claiming that units have their own internal composition or structure; what I call the “endo-relations” and “endo-composition” or “endo-consistency” of the unit. This is the relational composition of the unit that it would possess regardless of the other relations it enters into with other objects. Thus, for example, the endo-composition of the automobile depicted above in exploded view remains the same as the car drives throughout the world.
Exploded view diagrams open up– a little –these black boxes so as to discern the multiple-composition that objects or units are as complexes of relations. What we discover is that every object is both a unit and a crowd of other objects or units. Thus Bogost will write that, “[t]o create an ontograph involves cataloging things, but also drawing attention to the couplings of and chasms between them. The tire and the chassis, the ice milk and cup, the buckshot and soil: things like these exist not just for us but also for themselves and for one another, in ways that might surprise and dismay us” (50 – 51). Indeed, not only might they surprise and dismay us, but they might “surprise” and “dismay” the unit itself. For in order for the unit to become and be a unit– which is to say, in order for the unit to endure or continue –it must achieve alliance among the sub-units that compose it. The tires must produce stable local manifestation in the chassis and vice versa, and stable local manifestations must be established between the steering column, electrical system, and engine.
Everywhere the sub-units must be coupled in reliable ways with one another for the larger-scale object to endure. And here there is little difference between the alliances that must be forged within a car for the larger-scale entity to endure and the sorts of alliances that must be forged within a corporation or an Occupy Wall Street collective where chasms must be bridged between not only people, but technologies, architecture, circumstances, etc (despite the fact that cars are allopoietic objects and corporations and political activist groups are autopoietic objects). And here’s the rub: the sub-units that make up any larger-scale unit themselves have their own virtual proper being or potencies and tendencies. Each of these individual parts “wishes” to go in its own direction. One small part can be dissident, actualizing a very different local manifestation– as in the case of the o-ring on the Space Shuttle –and as a result the entire unit can disintegrate or fly apart into entropy.
This is why there is not only a democracy of objects where every object is on equal ontological footing despite there being hierarchy and inequality among units, but also a democracy in objects. In Irreductions Latour notoriously says that “we will never do better than a politician” (1.2.1). Here Latour is referring not to state leaders (though them too), but objects or actants in general. Every entity that enters into relations with other entities is a politician insofar as it must navigate the tendencies or singularities of the other entities to which it relates. But not only this. Every objects must navigate the units of which it is composed. Docile bodies are never a reality, but always a dream (for some despicable units). The sub-units always have their own say and their own aims or tendencies, such that every harmony is only provisional. It is for this reason that every unit is fraught with unit-specific entropy from within. The sub-units out of which a unit is composed always threaten to fall apart, such that constant activity or operations are required for the unit to continue or endure. But it also follows from this that the units that emerge out of sub-units are never simple masters of what they become. The components that compose a smart phone contribute every bit as much to what that smart phone becomes as the engineers that designed the smart phone. The engineers had their idea of how the phone should be composed, the parts or sub-units had their “idea”. This is because the structure of the various parts and the tendencies that dwell within their parts go in directions that the engineer must navigate. Suddenly the engineers find themselves faced with problems and constraints that make the phone as finished product go in a very different direction than they intended. As a consequence, teleology or aims are never fully our own. Rather, teleology is an emergent feature of a public composed of the humans and nonhumans in interaction with one another.