For the last few days Tim of the great Fragile Keys and I have been having a debate on the nature of relation and whether everything is related to everything else. Today I think Tim articulated a point that marks our fundamental point of divergence. Tim writes:
I understand all that, but we’re still in disagreement. I’m still here in the world with entities that I have absolutely no relationship to, that have no effect on me.
Here my aim is not to pick on Tim because even where our discussions get heated I consider him a friend and value both his generosity in responding to me at all and our discussion and what I get out of our discussions. I learn a lot from Tim even though we don’t always come to agreement. Rather, Tim’s remark allows me to get at a broader point– that I probably haven’t sufficiently articulated –that I believe is important. At the risk of putting words into Tim’s mouth, when he says that he’s still there in a world with entities even though they have no relation to one another, this is exactly where I diverge.
Tim seems to conceive world as a container that entities are in. For me, by contrast, the world is anything but a container. Ultimately there are no containers, there are just relations between entities. And as a consequence, in the framework of my ontology, a world is nothing but a network of relations between structurally coupled entities. These relations take work to be maintained (they always threaten to fall apart; and this can be a good thing) and they take time to happen and be forged. They aren’t given. For this reason, worlds can both grow through new entities coming to be related and worlds can decay and disappear as a result of relations and interactions breaking down, entities disappearing and so on. Worlds are ecologies, with the caveat that ecologies are not containers but rather entities or units interacting with one another.
The result of this is that where relations end, a new world appears. The universe (and already we’re speaking poorly with the definite article) is a pluriverse. And each verse or universe is oasis, a network of relations, discontinuous with other verses, universes of worlds. Each has its own specific logoi such that there isn’t one pattern or law that pervades them all (though there can be commonalities among worlds, perhaps due to sharing common lineages), because each universe is a unique ecology. It is for this reason that I don’t speak of the onto-cartography, but rather speak, in the book I’m working on now, of onto-cartographies. There isn’t one spatio-temporal matrix in which all entities co-exist, but rather a plurality of cartographies.
While I believe that all of this is ontologically true– why would any materialist speak of the world when all the entities in that alleged field aren’t related? –I also believe this thesis has significant political consequences. All political problems have a spatial and temporal dimension, a cartographical dimension, pertaining to networked spaces and relations or what is related to what in hierarchies. More significantly, half the problem is that often entities do not share a world with other entities at all. This is more or less how it is with dim objects. The immigrant, the homeless, the excluded, and the marginalized are those beings that are largely without access to a world in which they still must strangely dwell. Part of the work of politics consists in forging those relations, breaking other relations, and modifying the relations of the entire world as a result.