Fields afford and constrain what a thing can do, the capacity of a thing to effectuate its powers, potentialities, or capacities– its affects, in the Spinozist sense of the term –but are also folded into things.  We have a tendency to abstract things from the fields in which they dwell, to think them as independent; yet, as I’ve been trying to argue, all things are dividual, rather than individual.  The minimal unit of being is not the thing, but the thing and its field.  There is no being that is not a being-between, and there is no thing that is not a pleat between thing and field.  That’s the working hypothesis, at any rate.

We see this clearly in the case of our own bodies– though perhaps we don’t see it clearly until we’re able to situate our bodies in very different fields.  At the naive, common sense level we take are bodies to be what they are as a feature of their own intrinsic being.  I just am these legs, these arms, this torso, these bones, this flesh and all the rest.  My body just has the capacity to do these things; capacities, to be sure, that fluctuate with my health and levels of energy, but capacities that are my body’s alone, nonetheless.  Isn’t it John Locke that says our bodies are our first property, because they are ontologically ours alone?  This would be the naive or abstract view of our body.

However, when we situate our bodies in different fields, we very quickly discover that this isn’t the case.  At the level of what we can do, there is no aspect of our action that isn’t a collaboration, a pleating, of our body and field.  My ability to walk as I do, to grasp things as I do, even to go to the restroom as I do, are all dependent on the Earth’s gravity.

The astronaut on the moon now discovers that walking is a very different affair.  Not only must he devise a new strategy for walking– what I have elsewhere called a sort of “crallop”; a portmanteau between walking like a crab and galloping –but stopping becomes particularly challenging.  As I walk I pleat my body with the earth, affording the possibility of moving as I do.  But this is not all.  It is not merely that my actions, what I am able to do, are a pleat between my body and the field I inhabit, it is also that the very nature of my body, its features and qualities, are the result of how my body is pleated with the Earth.  Astronauts that spend a significant amount of time in space suffer a variety of different health problems:  muscles and bones deteriorate, there’s a weakening of the cardiovascular system, we produce fewer red blood cells, and other things besides.  It turns out that that which I take to be my “ownmost”, the very flesh of my body in its materiality, is, in reality, a sort of pleat or fold with the world.  My heart and cardiovascular system function as they do not merely because of my genes and how well I take care of my body, but also in dialogue with the earth itself.  And so it is with all things.  There is no thing that is not a dialogue.

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A friend of mine, who presumably didn’t realize I was witnessing the discussion, recently wrote the following:

Nah, he’s (Timothy Morton) a sort of post-modern shaman of the academic treadmill: he was a Romantic Scholar originally at Rice University doing the Shelley thing… Then got into Ecology, then attacking Nature, then found Harman and OOO, then Dark Ecology, and Hyperobjects, and finally Techno-Magic – Technic and Magic: The Reconstruction of Reality, then Non-Human Buddhism…  I know I have the same issue with Levi Paul Bryant whose gone from Deleuze to OOO to Machines to Folds to? It’s like this OOO crowd can’t quite figure out exactly what philosophy is yet…
I confess that I felt a little hurt by these comments, though there’s certainly truth to them.  I shift and I change.  At the level of character or my psychology, the simple reason for this is that I get bored.  I can’t imagine a philosophical life where I develop a philosophical doctrine or position, and then spend the rest of my life repeating that set of positions in talk after talk, article after article, book after book.  I think that we should undergo becomings and transformations through the things that we think and the adventures in ideas we endure.  And we do endure these adventures.  This is the reason for the title of this blog:  larval subjects.  In a variety of places, Deleuze remarks that there are becomings and adventures that only an embryo, only a larvae, can undergo.  If there were a primary affect of my thought– or maybe a primary telos –I’m always seeking, it is those unbearable torsions that you undergo in trying to think.  Artaud says that the main thing is to think anything at all.  Thinking is painful.
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The other day Cecily and I watched Captain Fantastic.  I still find myself mulling over the film– which means I got something out of it –though I’m not sure how I ultimately feel (spoilers ahead, you’ve been warned).  In a certain respect I found the film deeply depressing and perhaps, even, reactionary.  This is not a review, but rather some general impressions.  It take it that the husband and wife were attempting to create a line of flight from contemporary society.  They had moved out to the wilderness to raise their children with an alternative set of values and in a very different way.

What made the film interesting is that where this story is often told from a rightwing perspective– often these groups are depicted as withdrawing from society for conservative religious reasons to save their children from the corruption of the world –this film imagines a left version of that escape.  The children intensely read the great works of literature and philosophy.  The oldest son has an ongoing debate with his father over variants of Marxism.  He corrects Vigo’s character at one point on the finer points of Trotsky, and then adds that he’s moved on from Trotsky to Mao.  At one point, I believe, the parents even express pride that they’re the only ones to have ever genuinely attempted the experiment of Plato’s Republic.

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Today I came across an article on Voyager that raised a number of questions for me.  No, not that Voyager:

Rather, this Voyager:

Reported by The Atlantic, the article asks when we’ll stop receiving messages from the Voyager?  In the course of her exploration of the question, Marina Koren causally remarks that,

After the Voyagers completed their tours of the outer planets in the 1980s, giving humanity its first real look at Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune, they continued on to the outer reaches of the solar system. In August 2012, Voyager 1 left the system entirely, emerging from inside the protective bubble formed by the sun’s wind and exiting into interstellar space. Voyager 2 is on its way out; the spacecraft is currently coasting through the heliosheath, the outermost layer of the sun’s bubble. Voyagers 1 and 2 are currently about 13 billion and 10 billion miles from Earth, unfathomable distances that mean little more to us terrestrials than giant numbers on a page.  (my underlining)

Observations such as this ought to provoke ontological reflection.  What exactly defines the boundaries of an object or being?  What individuates one object from another?  Here, of course, I am not asking what allows us to individuate objects.  The question isn’t one of epistemology or knowledge.  Rather, it is a question about objects in and for themselves, regardless of whether or not we recognize them, know them, or identify them.

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I’m pleased to see this translation of the introduction to onto-Cartography in Russian.  A full translation of The Democracy of Objects should be out in November.

Perhaps there are two phenomenological senses– that are strangely opposites –in which time can be said to stay still.  The first is the time of those small events that often punctuate life.  There are moments where you see your beloved walk across a room and it’s as if all time stops.  Alternatively, many of have been in a car accident report experiencing a similar halting of time.  There’s that moment where, as you look out the window, you see the other car barreling towards you and everything stops.  Many other examples could be given.  Perhaps this is the time of Nietzsche’s eternal return, the third synthesis of time in Difference and Repetition, where time is fundamentally split between past and future in an event to which we must become equal.

Where the ordinary flow of time in lived experience is charactered by a continuity of the past and future in the saddle of the present, past and future become asymmetrical when we are seized by these events.  These events, as it were, are crystals of time.  Perhaps it is that these events are so singular, so extraordinary, that they can’t be synthesized with the flow of lived time.  As a consequence, they stand outside of time as the extraordinary events that they are, such that it is perpetually possible to re-mark them, without being able to syn-thesize them.  Or perhaps it is that these events are bifurcation points in a life, splitting before and after into a fundamental asymmetry.  Here these events would be condensations of pure becoming where something fundamental is changed in our being.  In any case, when faced with these events, they are always accompanied by a particular affect unique to that singularity:  love, wonder, enchantment, disgust, horror, shame, etc.  These crystals of time standing still punctuate our lives in memories that cannot be erased.  Everything slows down and takes on a sort of ultra-clarity.

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My Fall seminar with The New Centre for Research & Practice.  It will probably begin the first week in October.  Please consider joining us!

Ontologies of the Fold:  Leibniz, Simondon, and Deleuze

This seminar explores Simondon’s concept of individuation and Deleuze’s account of the fold as models of how being is to be thought. Responding to Graham Harman’s object-oriented philosophy and his thesis that beings are withdrawn and never relate, it is argued that the concept of the fold avoids the twin perils of undermining and overmining by preserving the singularity of beings, while also accounting for their relatedness and providing a rich account of subjectivity. It is argued that beings are pleats or folds within being that integrate other beings in their ongoing processes of individuation. For example, a sun tan is a sort of origami where sunlight is pleated into the body producing a quality in the form of the shade of the skin. What emerges is a profoundly ecological conception of being where entities can never be thought in isolation, but rather must always be thought in communication and relation to other beings.