After 19 days, I’ve finally returned from my travels throughout the States, England, and Ireland where I gave seven talks, all different from one another. While it is good to be home, I find myself somewhat melancholy as everywhere I went people were incredibly generous and enthusiastic. I had so many thought changing discussions that it is impossible to list them all. I also made amazing new friends such as Janae Sholtz, Cheri Carr, Joshua Ramey, Patrice Haynes, Katherine Moody, Rachel Loewen Walker, Scott Wilson, Edia Connole, Eva Kenny, and Rory Rowen. I finally got to meet old online friends such as James Williams, Robert Jackson (who’s totally awesome), Steven Shakespeare, Ian Buchanan, the amazing Michael O’Rourke, Paul Ennis, and Anthony Paul Smith. Finally I got to see some old friends such as Jeff Bell, Joe Hughes, Eleanore Kaufmann, the great Jon Protevi, Daniel Sacilotto, and the brilliant Fintin Neylan. I’m truly overwhelmed by everything I saw and witnessed and will be processing it for days and months to come.
For those that are interested, here is the text for my final talk at Space Art Studios entitled “Denaturing Nature”: bryantdenaturingnaturespace2012. A video version of the talk should also be available online soon. After reading the paper, I also discussed my new project, Onto-Cartographies, with the audience. I’m pitching onto-cartography as a new sort of critical theory that explores the way in which space-time paths emerge from interactions among entities as well as signifying components. The idea is that entities and signs exercise what I call “gravity”, creating vectors or paths along which other entities must move. For example, major professional journals, conferences, and academic institutions previously exercised a gravity on thought and theory, limiting what could be heard and articulated by virtue of having to pass through these institutions to be transmitted elsewhere. With the rise of the internet and para-academia the structure of gravity has changed and it’s now possible for voices and thoughts to get a hearing that couldn’t before be readily heard. The key point is that space-time is not a fixed given, but rather is a heterogeneous multiplicity arising out of entities (what I now call “machines“) and signs that is constantly shifting and changing in the structure of its paths and attendant gravity. The practice of onto-cartography consists in mapping these assemblages and gravitational path so as to intervene in them and change them. I’ve referred to this practice as “terraism“.
In this context, I’ve distinguished between seven different types of objects or machines. This classification does not refer to an essence of an object, but to the type of gravity a particular entity exercises. An entity or machine can go from being classified under one category to another. Here are the seven machines or entities:
1) Dark Objects: These are entities that are so thoroughly withdrawn from everything else that they don’t exercise any gravity or manifest themselves at all. They are ontologically possible, but we don’t know whether any of them, in fact, exist because they are so thoroughly unrelated that they don’t manifest themselves.
2) Dim Objects: These are entities that exist and manifest themselves in an assemblage, but in a very dim fashion, exercising very little influence. Neutrino’s are a good example of dim objects in the domain of physics. Due to their neutral electric charge, they pass right through the earth and our bodies, rarely interacting with the sort of matter of which these things are made, producing no effect. However, in the realm of social and political thought, the dim object is the queer, the part of no part, that which is not counted in a social assemblage and which has little influence in that assemblage. It is the worker, the immigrant, the homeless, those with “alternative sexualities”, etc. Although these dim objects are often hyper-visible in assemblages– think about the Tea Party rants against illegal immigrants –they are subaltern– as Spivac would say –as they have little voice and influence of their own. Many political struggles consist in making what is dim a little brighter, in marshaling and forming a bit more gravity for these entities.
3) Bright Objects: Bright objects are objects that exercise tremendous gravity, creating paths along which other entities are forced to move in space-time. The sun is a bright object not because it shines– thought that too insofar as the destiny of bio-life is ultimately bound up with energy from the sun –but because the planets are forced to move along the paths it produces through curving time-space. Entities like corporations, bureaucracies, governments, fossil fuels, and a variety of technologies are bright objects as well insofar as they structure social space-time in such a way that other entities must move along their paths. Debt is another good example of a bright object at the level of signifying systems. As a result of debt, whether from credit cards, mortgages, or student loan debt, the space-time of our possible future becomes restricted. We become enslaved by the system of capital as we must pay these debt back and are forced to choose ways of life that we would not otherwise choose.
4) Satellite Objects: Satellite objects are those objects caught in the space-time gravitational orbit of bright objects. For example, since the financial crash we have seen how our lives are bound up with the actions and destiny of the banks and financial lending, affecting our prosperity, jobs, and ability to live. We’re caught in the orbit of these bright objects whether we like it or not. In many instances our political struggles revolve around finding ways to escape the orbit of these objects.
5) Rogue Objects: Rogue objects are objects that are unattached to any particular assemblage, but which suddenly appear within an assemblage as if out of nowhere. These objects burst forth into a social assemblage and reconfigure all the gravitational paths and relations in that assemblage. Melancholia depicts the appearance of a rogue planet in our solar system that destroys earth. Yet there are more positive rogue objects like political, artistic, and intellectual revolutions. Like Badiou’s events, the appearance of these objects seems impossible according to the gravity of the assemblage in question, yet somehow they still occasionally appear.
6) Spectral Objects: Fintin and I discovered the spectral objects at a pub in Dublin last week. As Fintin describes them, these are “objects of semblance” that we treat as being real entities, but which really are a sort of simulacrum. Spectral objects more or less amount to illicit reifications. Here we might think of “Capitalism” with a capital “c”, the “Market” with a capital “m”, or the “Nation” with a capital “n”. We treat these terms as if they were entities in their own right and not shorthand for very complex assemblages of entities. As a consequence, they are spectral, ghost-like, existing everywhere and nowhere. While these entities are fictions, they nonetheless have real gravitational effects on practice. Because, for example, we treat Capitalism as an entity that is “doing something” and that is everywhere and nowhere, we feel as if there’s nothing we can do about this entity. How can one fight an immaterial ghost that is everywhere and nowhere? Political practice needs a “spectrology” to banish these reified ghosts. Once we understand capitalism as an assemblage of fiber optic cables, data banks, satellites, shipping routes, etc., we can begin to act and intervene, upsetting these circuits of exchange. Hence the need for something like a cartography of assemblages. We need to know how things are really and concretely put together, what their geography is, so that we can devise strategies for intervening.
7) Black Holes: We now know that these entities exist in the astronomical world, but I sincerely hope they don’t exist in the socio-political world. Black holes are entities that exert such tremendous gravitational bending of space-time that it is impossible to escape from them. Many of us are worried that capitalism is a black hole from which we cannot escape and that our dependence on fossil fuels has become so powerful that we cannot escape the coming climate apocalypse. A black hole is a social relation that is so powerful that there’s no possibility of extricating yourself from it and doing things otherwise.
All of these are relative determinations. A machine or entity can go from being one type of object to another. These are vectors of relation and interaction between entities in a space of co-existence– and what is space and society, as Doreen Massey argues –if not a milieu of co-existent interactions between heterogeneous entities? Onto-cartography seeks to map the cartography of these milieus of co-existence?