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Онтофобия / Леви Брайант

Онтофобия / Леви Брайант

by Евгений Волков -
Number of replies: 0

Ontophobia

https://larvalsubjects.wordpress.com/2009/06/12/ontophobia/

In a gorgeously written post, Reid of Planomenology criticizes my thought (as well as Graham’s) for dehumanizing the human with respect to ontology. Since Graham has already written a lengthy response to Reid’s post with which I largely agree, I’ll content myself with a few responses. Reid writes,

Let’s be clear: object-oriented philosophy may champion the ontological equality of objects with human beings, but this equality comes at the price of the dehumanization of man, of his destitution and defacing, his reduction to (almost) nothing. And it seems that, rather than bear the horrors of confronting oneself – as a man, as a philosopher – in such a hideous state, object-oriented philosophy, as quickly as it grants liberty to objects, must imprison man: he must be punished before he can commit his crime of becoming a thing. Far from leveling the playing field, of granting the same rights to objects that we enjoy, object-oriented philosophy is rather more interested in an exchange of prisoners. This is evidenced in the reluctance, even refusal, to talk about human beings as embodied abysses, and the rapid condemnation of any philosopher who foolishly invokes man if not to ridicule and denounce him.

Right at the outset, I believe Reid mischaracterizes the aims of Object-Oriented Philosophy on three fronts. First, Object-Oriented Philosophy does not champion the ontological equality of objects with human beings, but rather the ontological equality of objects simpliciter. That is, the central thesis of any Object-Oriented Philosophy is that ontologically all objects are on equal footing or that humans do not hold a superior or privileged place within the order of the real or being. It is this that I try to get at with my Ontological Principle drawn from Deleuze. The Ontological Principle states that being is said in a single and same sense for all that is. What my Onticology or version of Object-Oriented Philosophy proposes, in part, is, following DeLanda, a flat ontology. Flat Ontology must be contrasted with Vertical Ontology. In a recent post I jokingly distinguished between two versions of Vertical Ontology organized around what I called the Big Demiurge and the Little Demiurge. This reference to the Demiurge, of course, is a reference to Plato’s Timeaus where we are told of the Demiurge giving form to formless matter. A Vertical Ontology would be any ontology that posits a single Demiurge– whether that Demiurge be God, man, the subject, or language –as the origin of form in the world. If I refer to these ontologies as “Vertical Ontologies”, then this is because one being or one type of being– whether God or the ego or the transcendental subject or the subject –functions as the exemplaryreality from which all other realities flow. Like the sets of set theory where every set necessarily includes the empty set, all Vertical Ontologies share the common feature of including the Demiurge in every objectal relation.

Flat Ontology, by contrast, differs markedly from this position. For Flat Ontologies there is no exemplary reality that overdetermines or is included among all other realities, but rather there are only realities. In short, there is 1) no being that is necessarily included in relation to all other beings. Indeed, Object-Oriented Philosophy rejects the thesis that all beings are related to all other beings. And 2) Flat Ontology places all entities, all objects, on equal footing. This brings me to the second point where I believe Reid significantly mischaracterizes my position. Reid claims that in granting liberty to objects, Object-Oriented Philosophy both refuses to talk about the human and wishes to imprison, even punish man. Few things, I think, could be further from the truth for, from the standpoint of Onticology, man too is an object. The thesis of Onticology is not that the human is to be banished or excluded, but that the human is an object among other objects no more or less exemplary than any other object. In this connection, Reid’s criticism strikes me as resembling those critics of civil rights that protest that the majority group is being oppressed when the call is made for all groups to be granted equal rights. The thesis of Onticology is not that humans have no place, but rather that humans do not ontologically have a central or exemplary place within the order of being. Where anti-realisms treat all relations as necessarily involving human-to-object relations, Onticology holds that there are human-to-object relations, but also object-to-object relations that do not involve the human in any way.

read on!

In this connection, I’m led to recollect a passage from Bruno Latour’s magnificent Irreductions. In a note to proposition 2.4.5, Latour writes,

Recently there has been a tendency to privilege languages. For a long time it was thought to be transparent, to be alone among actants in possessing neither density nor violence. Then doubts began to grow about its transparency. Hope was expressed that this transparency might be restored by cleaning language as we might clean a window. Language was so privileged that its critique became the only worthy task for generations of Kants and Wittgensteins. Then in the fifties it was realized that language was opaque, dense, and heavy. This discovery did not, however, mean that it lost its privileged status and was equated with the other forces that translate and are translated by it. On the contrary, the attempt was made to reduce all other forces to the signifier. The text was turned into “the object.” This was the “swinging sixties,” from Levi-Strauss to Lacan by way of Barthes and Foucault. What a fuss! Everything that is said of the signifier is right, but it must also be said of every other kind of entelechy (1.2.9). There is nothing special about language that allows it to be distinguished from the rest for any length of time. (The Pasteurization of France, 184 – 185)

Everything said of the signifier is right, but it must also be said of every other kind of object. From the standpoint of Onticology, we can vary this thesis in a variety of ways, all of which are endorsed by Onticology:

* Everything Kant says of the nature of minds, concepts, and intuitions as they relate to the world is right, but it must also be said of every relation among objects.

* Everything Heidegger says of the relationship between Dasein and objects is right, but it must also be said of every other relation among objects.

* Everything Husserl says of intentionality is right, but it must also be said of every other relation among objects.

* Everything Foucault says of power and epistemes is right, but it must also be said of every other relation among objects.

And so on.

What Onticology contests is not these theorizations per se— obviously I have continued to work with thinkers like Lacan, Bourdieu, Foucault, etc., with abandon –but with the fall into Vertical Ontology where one type of actor or object comes to be treated as overdetermining the reality of the rest such that it is held to be included in every inter-object relation. This is the upshot of what I have called the Principle of Translation and the Principle of Irreduction. The Principle of Translation (or Latour’s Principle) states that “there is no transportation without translation”. By “transportation” I am referring to the transport of a difference from one object to another object in inter-actions among objects. The common premise of Vertical Ontologies lies in treating objects on the receiving end of processes of transportation as passive matters that receive these differences without contributing any difference of their own. In claiming that there is no transportation without translation, I am claiming that in the clash between any two objects something new is woven. In other words, I am merely claiming that we must mark the manner in which differences come to be woven together in the inter-action among objects. This moment of weaving, where the receiving object asserts its own difference, is always lost in vertical ontologies. Vertical ontologies always hold that form is imposed without remainder, thereby missing the singularities of the second object the form-to-be must navigate in seeking to impose its difference on another object. If it is true that there is no transportation without translation, then the Principle of Irreduction follows as a matter of course: Nothing is either reducible or irreducible to anything else. The Principle of Irreduction merely draws attention to the manner in which there is always a remainder. Or, alternatively, in Graham’s language, the Principle of Irreduction draws attention to the manner in which the object receiving difference always withdraws.

These considerations, I think, help to shed light on my problems with Badiou. Reid writes, and here I quote at length, that:

Badiou – that friend of the wicked must be condemned as well.

Throughout Logics of Worlds we find Badiou pre-occupied with questions of how to measure, identify, and evaluate objects. However, these are all epistemological terms that have little or nothing to do with the ontological status of an object as real. Badiou tells us that his account of the transcendental and objects makes no reference to the subject, but with the exception of a very brief discussion of galaxies, all of his examples of worlds refer to cultural phenomena.

[…]

These sorts of claims make me want to pull my hair out in frustration and ire. Such a thesis can only be epistemological and made from the standpoint of a viewing subject because the degree to which a being is or is not is an absolute binary such that it make not one bit of difference whether or not some appears intensely to us or not. From the realist standpoint something either is or is not, it is absolutely actual. (”On Cleaning One’s Hands” – Levi Bryant)

There are two glaring problems with the frustrated condemnation. First, lest we forget, Levi’s own onticology explicitly depends on a scale of existential degrees, in which an object exists to the degree of difference it makes, and this difference is made precisely by way of trans(re)lations with other objects. Without this feature, onticology is lost in a night in which all cows are black. Either that, or he may claim that such degrees bear on the ontic register of relations, whereas being and non-being is a strict binary when it comes to the ontological register of univocal difference, in which a being either makes a difference or it is not a being. Yet if this is his defense, then it seems odd that he would ignore that it is the same for Badiou: on the ontico-apparent register, objects appear in different degrees by virtue of their relations with other objects in their given contextual world, whereas on the ontological register, there is a strict binary of being/non-being.

Here I think Reid misses the entire point of my criticism. When I claim, in my Principle of Reality, that “the degree of power or reality embodied in a being is a function of the extensiveness of the differences that entity produces in other entities”, I am making a claim about properties or notes belonging to entities per se, objects themselves. In short, I am making a metaphysical claim about the nature of entities. By contrast, when Badiou speaks of measuring the intensity of an entity, he is making a claim about the relationship of an observerto objects. It is only on these grounds that Badiou can claim that one pillar has a lower degree of intensity than another pillar. The problem, for me, is that Badiou never gets inside the objects themselves. Take, for example, his talk of the “count-as-one” in Being and Event. In Being and Event Badiou argues that consistent multiplicities or objects come into being through the operation of a count-as-one. From the standpoint of Onticology this is a tremendously problematic claim because it renders the being or, better yet, reality of objects dependent on an external operation. And where there is an operation of counting there is a counter. This is Badiou’s updated version of Kantianism. Thus, where Kant argues that an object is only insofar as it is subordinated to the categories of the understanding– it falls under the categories of unity, reality, subsistence and inherence, and existence, synthesized with the forms and matter of intuition –Badiou argues that objects come-to-be through the operation of the count-as-one. The problem is that the object itself is left without its own internal principle through which it takes on being.

Here, as always, I think it’s important to distinguish between how a philosopher interprets his own text, and what his text actually says. Badiou again and again claims that the ontology and the ontology he develops makes no reference to the human and does not depend on the human in any way. However, throughout all of his writings, he continuously makes reference to operations like counting, measuring, identifying, etc., which are all cognitive operations. In suturing his ontology to this language, he inevitably falls into an anti-realist idealism regardless of his own express intentions. My claim is not that identifying, measuring, counting, etc., are not important and that they do not take place. Rather, my claim is that these operations do not get at the per se being of objects.

Reid goes on to write:

Finally, there is one further proximity between Levi and his object of derision: whereas Levi maintains that every difference-being is defined not only by extrinsic differential relations, but also by an internal difference which defines the inexhaustion of that being by these specific differences, signaling a capacity to be otherwise without identifying substantial possibilities, Badiou similarly maintains that every apparent object contains an inexistent element that marks the contingency of its being presented as such, rather than otherwise. In other words, they both maintain that that the being of objects is irreducible to trans(re)lation, or to intra-objectal appearance. (I say intra-objectal because, for Badiou, human animals are simply one object amongst others, with no special capacities. The possibility of being incorporated into a truth-procedure is equivocally open to all objects, insofar as they possess an inexistent element. Of course, the criteria of the sufficient body to support such a process are not so equivocal, but nor are they a priori limited to human animals over other learning objects.)

Here it seems to me that there is a major difference between my claims about internal difference or the enduring essence of objects and Badiou’s claims about the inexistent. Within my ontology, internal difference is a positive or affirmative feature of objects. It is not a negative quantity. By contrast, within the framework of Badiou’s ontology, the inexistent element is a void. More importantly, for Badiou truth-procedures only pertain to subjects and therefore the domain of the human. While it is certainly true that Badiou draws a distinction between human animals and subjects of truth procedures, it is no less true that for Badiou subjects always supervene on humans and humans alone. By contrast, within my ontology, the emergence of the new shares no special or privileged relation to the human, while certainly we are especially interested in the emergence of the new among humans.

In addition, Reid writes:

Moreover, while Levi is seemingly accusing Badiou of a sophisticated sort of anti-realism, he inadvertently reveals his own latent anti-realism. He says Badiou cannot claim that objects have measurable differences or degrees of affinity and incompatibility without implicitly presupposing a subject doing the evaluating. Badiou, of course, has no problem making such a claim, which means Levi himself must believe that objects do not have measurable differences or degrees of compatibility unless we are looking at them. Yet is this claim consistent with realism? Can a realist truly believe that objects have no relations or differences unless we are looking at them? Badiou seems to believe objects don’t need us to have such properties, so why does Levi demand that they require a subject? The answer is plain: Badiou does not make appearance dependent on the subject, but does allow it to encompass humans and other objects equally, whereas anthrophobic ‘realism’ wants humans to disappear… This is why Levi can’t stand, and is genuinely angry about, Badiou’s examples that involve humans and their products: we should be barred from even mentioning human beings; any ontology that can accommodate them is forbidden.

Here is an excellent example of what I call, following Roy Bhaskar, the Epistemic Fallacy. Nowhere have I made the claim that Badiou cannot claim that objects do not have measurable differences or degrees of affinity. What I have claimed is that this is an epistemic issue, rather than a properly ontological or metaphysical issue. Issues of how we measure and evaluate objects are independent of issues of what objects are. The problem is not that Badiou speaks of measurement and identification, but that he treats these issues as the central issues of his ontology in Logics of Worlds. In other words, Badiou is speaking at one step removed from the objects themselves. From the perspective of Onticology objects are measurable and identifiable precisely because they do possess differences. If I am so insistent on distinguishing between epistemological issues of measurement and identification, then this is because ontologically it is entirely likely that there are all sorts of objects that both possess differences, but differences of the sort that are not measurable or identifiable by us.

Here I will draw a parallel between Aristotle’s notion of essence as the real correlate of a definition as analyzed by Zubiri in On Essence (cf. 101 – 117) and the problem I see with Badiou’s approach to these issues. It is a commonplace to claim that there can be no science of the particular or the singular. If this is the case, then this is because, as Hegel so compelling observed in the chapter on sense-certainty in the Phenomenology, the particular cannot be said. Throughout Aristotle’s work on essence, he is constantly attempting to juggle essence as belonging to phusis or as a real moment of the entity, and essence as it functions in logos or judgments we make about the world. As a moment of phusis essence is a real moment of the being that makes that being the being that it is. Essence consists of those notes of a being without which the entity would no longer be that entity. As logos essence is what we can say of the entity. However, because language is only composed of general or universal terms, we can never articulate the pure thisness or singularity of the entity, but can only allude to this “thisness” or singularity. So far so good. Problems emerge, however, when we confuse logoswith phusis. At the level of logos we only get general terms. If we confuse logos with phusis, we then transpose these general terms into the being of the object itself, the object per se, confusing the requirements and limitations of our knowledge with the being of the object itself. We thus end up claiming something absurd, for example, like suggesting that the essence of Socrates is “man”. While it is certainly true that Socrates is, indeed, a man, it would be a grave error to argue that the essence of Socrates consists in being a man. No. The essence of Socrates consists in those notes or differences that make Socrates Socrates and no other, or in those notes without which Socrates would not be Socrates. When Badiou sets out from the standpoint of identification and measurement, he risks a similar error, for he subordinates the being of the being to our ability to measure and identify it, rather than getting at those differences that themselves make up the composition (in the musical sense) of the entity itself. This error is already evident as early as Being and Event where Badiou defines ontology not as the investigation of the being of beings, but as the investigation of what is sayable of the being of beings.

I’ll close this lengthy post with what I take to be Reid’s third mischaracterization of my position. In some truly inspired prose, Reid writes:

That every man is, in himself, an abyss, yawning infinitely, an eternal descent into the most obscure depths of what is, this is certainly a terrifying prospect. It rightfully provokes recoil from those who catch a glimpse. Yet it would be in bad faith to deny the full consequences of immanent decomposition, or the endless withdrawal of the non-ground. I suspect this is the motive force behind the mandatory anthrophobia demanded by object-oriented philosophy. The leveling of the ontological ground underlying human beings and objects is done in the name of the denial of even this equal ontological status, because of the terrible revelation it would demand: that we are, as much as objects, withdrawn from ourselves, we are absent even from our relation-to-self, there is nobody home: this nobody, or insider, anontological intruder I am (not)…

The interior immanence of an object, of the object I am, is also the elimination of every identity it can have, or of every object it is (/ I am). It is identity itself which is not identical to what identifies with it. This is the real as void in the flesh, and it is the real that I am, in person. The nightmare of object-oriented philosophy, of having to face oneself as an object, to vainly identify with one’s own elimination in the face of…

Not only in its obligatory anthrophobia, but also in its fetishistic obsession with discrete individuals populating the real, does object oriented philosophy show its true colors. Clinging desperately to the remnants of the world without humans, it refuses to draw its radical conclusion: the withdrawn interior or substance of an object, which is to say, its identity, can not, having no properties, qualities, or relations in itself, be identified with one individual over another. Identity, or the extimate real, no more belongs to one bundle of qualities than another. Far from being the identity ‘of’ a given object, it is the intruder that invades and defiles all objects equivocally, including you. It is inside you now and you believe you are it. But it does not believe in you, you are nothing but residue, you are already gone.

To the first two paragraphs here I declare a resounding “Here! Here!” However, I find myself deeply perplexed by Reid’s suggesting that somehow Onticology and Object-Oriented Philosophy have a phobia of the flesh. On the one hand, if Merleau-Ponty is to be followed, the flesh has generally been understood to be that which is other than the subject. In other words, in having recourse to a phenomenology of the body, Merleau-Ponty sought another beginning in philosophy no longer founded in the transparency of consciousness or the primacy of the ego. This was the heart of the debate between Merleau-Ponty and Sartre. This move opened a door out of the philosophies of transparency that is very much in line with my own Principle of Translation. On the other hand, if I were to situate anti-realisms and Vertical Ontologies in terms of psychoanalytic categories, I would say that anti-realisms fall under the category of obsessional neurosis. That is, just as the obsessional is characterized by a belief in the omnipotence of thought– hence all the rituals and the painful compulsive thoughts where the obsessional experiences his thoughts as risking the death, for example, of a loved one –anti-realism is premised on the sovereignity of thought in relation to all else. If Onticology and Object-Oriented Philosophy argue anything, then it is that thought is not sovereign, that it is not omnipotent, that it is not transparent to itself (as every object withdraws from itself including the subject), and therefore that the thinking subject is not included in all relations. But enough of this for now.

I’d like to thank Reid for play the sand to my oyster and giving me the opportunity to better flesh out some of my positions.

23 RESPONSES TO “ONTOPHOBIA”

  1. reidkane Says:

    Always a pleasure, Levi.

    Thank you for the very kind and thoughtful response. I’d just like to make a few points, because I think we’re at a differend for the most part.

    You and Graham both claim I’m criticizing you for dehumanizing humans, but just the contrary, I’m accusing you of refusing to dehumanize humans. By anthrophobia I don’t mean fear of flesh so much as fear of the contamination of flesh (although in Alex’s sense, the flesh is itself already contamination…). I don’t blame you for misunderstanding, as the post was largely a rhetorical experiment that may have somewhat obscured the content.

    Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t think its ‘cool’ to dehumanize people, and so on. Nina Power accuses Alex of something like this, and I think she misses the point. The point is that humans are not naturally ‘human’, they do not naturally possess the kind of dignity we mean by ‘human’. They more often than not are so deep in destitution that dignity as we understand it is completely withheld.

    I think that you and Graham, specifically Graham on this point, should draw the full dehumanizing conclusions of flat ontology, which is that humans do not have a naturally privileged status. Rather, this privilege is an artificial effect of economic stratification. Moreover, while it may be virtuous compared with poverty, I don’t think it is so in itself. So in part, the call for dehumanization is one for a new ethic of life that does not depend on abstract opposition to poverty, and rather seeks to fully embrace its ‘unclean’ and ‘contaminating’ character (culturally, not biologically), the better to transform rich and poor.

    Okay, that was sort of tangental. But my point is nonetheless that Graham backs down from his most radical conclusions.

    I still don’t see why you think Badiou’s appearance requires a human observer any more than Graham’s intentional relations between objects do. My point is that if Badiou is susceptible here, Graham should be too.

    I’m glad to see you clarify your positions here, as I have to admit, as frustrated as you may have been with Badiou, I was also frustrated to see you oppose something that, on my reading, was potentially very compatible, even productively so, with your thought.

    I may work on a post responding to you and Graham in more detail, but probably not until the weekend, as I’m quite busy at the moment.

    Again, thank you for the feedback, it is always a pleasure to contend with you!

     

  2. Hi Reid,

    Interesting remarks here. I don’t disagree with much of what you refer to here under the banner of “dehumanization”, especially with respect to the politics that you’re talking about. As a consequence, I’ll restrict my remarks to the ontological register. On the one hand, when you remark that “we do not naturally possess the kind of dignity we mean by ‘human'”, I wonder whether the manner in which you’re using the term “natural” shouldn’t be called into question. In the pre-Darwinian register of thought– one that is very much still with us –the “natural” is often taken to refer to eternal and enduring natural kinds. However, is this a legitimate way of conceiving the natural as, opposed to, say, the “constructed”? If Darwin taught us anything, it is that biological natural kinds are the result of a genesis from continent and individual differences that come to proliferate in a population. This observation about natural kinds is not restricted to the domain of biological. Astrophysics, for example, has shown us how the various elements are the result of atomic processes that take place in the stars creating elements that have larger and larger numbers of electronics as a function of the heat at which the star burns.

    My point is that the enemy is not so much natural kinds, but rather the thesis that natural kinds are eternal and exist from all eternity. While sharing a good deal of sympathy with your observations about dehumanization, I would express it in somewhat different terms. I would argue that the human is something real— it is an essence that has achieved closure, unity, and totality –while also arguing that it is the result of a genesis and that other forms of being are possible. In this connection, I think the work of Keith Ansell Pearson is of great relevance. The central question of Pearson’s thought in texts like Germinal Life and Viroid Lifeis that of how it might be possible to think the post-human or beyond the human. In other words, what distinguishes Pearson’s thought from the thought of, say, Foucault, is that he does not show how the human is the result of a history– how would this undermine the reality of its essence? –but rather that he asks how it might be possible to engender something other than the human.

    I confess that I’m constantly surprised that enthusiasts of Badiou do not see the issue that I’m getting at with respect to his anti-realism, so I don’t know what more to say. If a thinker asserts the identity of being and thought it strikes me as obvious that they’ve sutured being to the human in some way. More fundamentally, the fact that Badiou consistently refers to cultural and human examples in the development of his theory of objects strikes me as proof positive that at the level of his theory of worlds or situations he remains in the orbit of Althusser and Foucault (remarks he himself has explicitly made). Finally, the fact that in Being and Event he explicitly ties the structuring function of situations (what he now calls worlds) to the Encyclopedia and calls, elsewhere, Foucault the thinker of the Encyclopedia shows that fundamentally his theory of worlds remains of the orbit of the human and cultural. Perhaps a radicalization of Badiou’s position is possible that would be explicitly realist in flavor, but I don’t think one can compellingly argue that Badiou himself has developed this account. Do not forget that when Badiou develops his own version of “anti-humanism” he’s not doing so in a realist vein, but in the vein of Althusser’s anti-humanism which treats economic and cultural processes as more fundamental than human individuals. In other words, it’s an entirely different anti-humanism than the sort being discussed by the SRs.

     
  3. reidkane Says:

    I agree with what you say about natural kinds, and that’s really what I was getting at. I’d just insist on the economic qualification: i.e. it is economic processes that generate (in the human population) these kinds of population-regular stratifications.

    I agree with the point about Pearson whole heartedly (I’ve had a copy of Germinal Life on my shelf for a while but have only skimmed it thus far; I may have to go back to it tonight), despite the often dubious sorts of positions that take the name of post-humanism.

    As I address in my post, I don’t think Badiou’s Parmenidianism leads directly to anti-realism, as it leaves the real untouched. For Badiou, ‘being’ is just the real insofar as it is consistently (mathematically) thinkable. This doesn’t mean that the real in itself depends on thought, however. I don’t really want to take this any further though, because as I said, I think we have a differend here, and barring a revelation on one of our parts, I doubt we will convince each other.

    In any case, I’m not really wholly on board with Badiou, for the same reason I can’t wholly accept onticology or object-oriented philosophy: you all insist on the philosophical use of philosophy, which amounts to trying to get it right. As I indicate in response to your comment on my post, I cannot accept this use, even when I am quite intrigued and enamored of the concepts in question.

     

  4. But Reid, I’ve written countless posts in the last two years on how economic processes generate certain kinds! I think this is an instance where it’s entirely legitimate to bracket political questions when posing ontological questions.

     
  5. reidkane Says:

    I know, and I appreciate your discussion of those topics. I wasn’t saying you weren’t being political enough. I just don’t think excluding polticizations of ontology makes sense, as all ontology is equally decisional, or prescriptive. In other words, it has to claim it is right, and that contradictory positions are wrong. I want a unified approach to politics and ontology that suspends the sufficiency of their prescriptive claims, in order to make equivocal use of their components.

     

  6. Reid, I was with you until the last bit (I’m not being faceitious, I really enjoyed the above exchange). What does “suspend the sufficiency of their prescriptive claims” mean?

    Can one make an assertion without taking the world to be the way the assertion says? Wouldn’t that be performative contradiction (“I believe that P and not P.”) But if you take the world to be the way you assert it to be, then you take people who disagree (either getting the meaning wrong enough or getting the world wrong enough) to be mistaken. Prescriptivity is inevitable (and this is only a concession to correlationism if you (wrongly imho) think the prescriptive is something glommed onto the real by subjects, cultures, language, etc).

    If ontological claims are no longer taken as attempts to describe the way the world is, don’t they just become noise?

    I guess I agree with you that any “descriptive” assertion brings with it a whole truckoad of values, but that just seems to be the way it is. There’s no getting around it. And unless you are a relativist (applying Kant’s scheme content distinction with cultures being the scheme), this is no concession to anti-realism.

    But again, the statement of relativism to justify not taking ontology seriously is itself an assertion with it’s own (neo-Kantian) ontology.

    So aren’t the prescriptive and descriptive aspects of ontology just inescapable?

     

  7. […] 12, 2009 Larval Subjects addresses Planomenology, and has an interesting conversation […]

     
  8. doctorzamalek Says:

    “As I address in my post, I don’t think Badiou’s Parmenidianism leads directly to anti-realism, as it leaves the real untouched. For Badiou, ‘being’ is just the real insofar as it is consistently (mathematically) thinkable. This doesn’t mean that the real in itself depends on thought, however. I don’t really want to take this any further though, because as I said, I think we have a differend here, and barring a revelation on one of our parts, I doubt we will convince each other.”

    Reid, it seems to me that all you’re doing here is positing a real deeper than being, and saying that Badiou’s Parmenidean claim only touches being, not the deeper real.

    The problem is that Badiou’s real is not much of a real (if we’re speaking of inconsistent multiplicity here. It’s inarticulate, not carved into parts. Its only role is to haunt any count with an excess or residue that escapes the count.

    This “real of the residue,” found in a number of other thinkers (the il y a of Levinas, the “whatever” of Nancy, the “plasma” of the later Latour) is not enough to be realism. Realism needs multiple entities interacting without one privileged entity being enthroned as the monitor of these interactions.

    On a related note, I’m still not sure why you think I don’t de-humanize humans enough.

     
  9. Scu Says:

    “I would argue that the human is something real– it is an essence that has achieved closure, unity, and totality”

    How is The Human real? How has it achieved closure, unity and totality? One of the major contributions from critical animal studies has been the unworkability to create a closure to the category known as the Human. Unless there is something I am missing from your post or how these terms are being deployed.

    “In other words, what distinguishes Pearson’s thought from the thought of, say, Foucault, is that he does not show how the human is the result of a history– how would this undermine the reality of its essence? –but rather that he asks how it might be possible to engender something other than the human.”

    First, let me say that I have always greatly admired the work of Pearson. But, it seems to me, your point about Foucault is a little ungenerous. It is true that Foucault shows how the human is a result of history, but he also does something else, which I feel is more vital. Foucault is also involved with explaining the mechanisms of power that allow and maintain the human, as such. I’m not sure those questions can be ignored if you are interested in engendering something besides the Human.

     
  10. Scu Says:

    A question not really related:

    Can you suggest me two books by Latour to read? I’ve only read Science in Action. And parts of We Have Never Been Modern (and those parts I was pretty young when I read).

    In particular, after writing my last comment, I read your comment about how you feel there is a tension between Foucault’s notion of power and Latour’s ontology. So, in particular anything that might help clarify that point. (I’d even think a post on that topic would be terrific).

    Thanks.

     
  11. reidkane Says:

    John,

    A point well taken. You’re absolutely right that ontological claims must necessarily be prescriptive. And let me be clear, I do not intend to endorse any variety of relativism.

    But what non-philosophy is aiming to do is not to make ontological claims, but rather, to make prescriptive claims about the claims of philosophy. Non-philosophy is an attempt to explain how philosophy makes the prescriptive claims it makes.

    So when I say suspend, I mean it in the sense of using the claim as a datum or example, rather than directly engaging it. In the same way that, if I was to take an example of a performative claim, as in “I promise you that…”, of course I’m not actually promising you anything, I’m simply making an example of the act of promising.

    By suspending the prescriptive status of ontological claims, non-philosophy aims to explain 1) why the content of these claims (say, that the substance of objects is withdrawn, or that every being makes a difference) is constricted by the prescriptive form (we should say that the substance of…etc), and 2) what other use could be made of this content, once separated from said claim. In other words, its a procedure akin to a scientist who looks at old, outdated scientific theories (say, Newtonian physics), and, while suspending the sufficiency of their prescriptive claims, nonetheless makes use of their equations in a new context.

    And the point is not simply to incorporate concepts into new claims about the real, but to maintain the (prescribed) suspension of (philosophical) prescription, thereby making the use of concepts entirely ‘hypothetical’ or experimental, rather than intuitive or interpretative.

    I must clarify, however, that this experimental use, insofar as it bears not simply on one specific phenomena or region of the world, but being or the world as a whole, the experimental effects are purely felt in the register of the theoretical means of existence, not on existence itself.

    In short, it comes down to suspending the sufficiency of one’s conceptual or theoretical understanding of the world, so as to experiment with concepts and the modes of existence they open to us.

     
  12. reidkane Says:

    Graham,

    I actually tend to agree with you when it comes to the matter of ‘inconsistency’. I don’t think Badiou can or will get off so easy. But the point is that this reality isn’t deeper, because it is identical to the content of being and thought, even if being and thought to do not exhaust the real itself.

    I’m going to write a post about all this in a couple days, maybe that will help clarify matters.

    The remarks about ‘dehumanization’ should be taken with a grain of polemical salt. But my point is that, if all objects have withdrawn interiors with which their qualities cannot fully identify, and if humans are equivocally objects, then that raises some interesting meta-questions regarding the philosopher as human, or as object.

    My point is that, if objects are directly real, then humans are too. Yet this is also undermines the real identity of humans and objects, as nothing that makes a human peculiarly human is really substantial, and the same goes for non-human objects. This leads me to wonder about the anonymous character of the real with which I must identify, which as far as I’m concerned, calls the sufficiency of philosophical claims about the real into question (these claims, as objects, try to identify the real, yet the real does not fully identify with them).

     
  13. prosthetics Says:

    i am enthralled by the above conversation, levi. while you have elegantly outlined object oriented philosophy in response to a bit of an academic debate, what emerges is a very seductive position on post-humanism, post-language.

    to quote:
    “Everything said of the signifier is right, but it must also be said of every other kind of object. From the standpoint of Onticology, we can vary this thesis in a variety of ways, all of which are endorsed by Onticology:

    * Everything Kant says of the nature of minds, concepts, and intuitions as they relate to the world is right, but it must also be said of every relation among objects.

    * Everything Heidegger says of the relationship between Dasein and objects is right, but it must also be said of every other relation among objects.

    * Everything Husserl says of intentionality is right, but it must also be said of every other relation among objects.

    * Everything Foucault says of power and epistemes is right, but it must also be said of every other relation among objects.

    And so on.”

    what I would like to add to this list (which was perhaps never really excluded, just not yet added..?) is this:

    * Everything Derrida says about differance and iterability is right, but must also be said of every other relation among objects.

    at first read, this addition may seem unnecessary, as Derrida was never working with the subject, with the human, but always up and through these notions and toward their impossibility. yet, it is precisely on the point of iterability that Derrida’s work can enter into conversation with object oriented philosophy. difference in deleuze, the miraculous relation that is repetition, is so closely atuned to the work Derrida was doing with differance as to be mistaken as the also (and thankfully) impossible same.

    i am working through this in my dissertation, and in fits and starts at http://prosthetics.blogspot.com but really appreciate your help in drawing me out to this through your own work, posts and responses above.

    take care
    nikki

     

  14. […] what is “human”. The discussion follows Larval Subject in the comments section of Ontophobia (a blog I do not participate in). I want to re-post here some of my comments offer to Reid because […]

     
  15. Craig Says:

    I’ve been exceptionally and uncharacteristically quiet in these “speculative realism” discussions that have gone on for the past year or so. They’ve been quite interesting and I’ve found them rather productive for my own thinking. Like Scu above, my recent work has been in the area of what is called – without any discernible stability – “animal studies,” “human-animal studies,” “human/non-human studies” and, of course, “critical animal studies.” One of the major questions that is posed in this field, when it isn’t limited to a sociology of human use of animals (which, admittedly, is a very undeveloped field, but isn’t properly speaking “animalstudies”), is very much the question of the stability – or even possibility – of the concepts of the “animal” and the “human.” Hence, many of our missives are launched against what we call “anthropocentrism” and “humanism.” I think attacks on these concepts are very important, but I’m not convinced they are always done correctly. For instance, one of the luminaries in the field, Cary Wolfe, defends a version of “post-humanism” (he largely draws upon Wittgenstein and Cavell, often as they are filtered through Cora Diamond). Others coming out of a more continental background use the term “anti-humanism.” My problem with both positions is that they allow “humanism” to set the terms of the debate. They are both aimed at humanism and take humanism up, otherwise, what is the point of the “post” or the “anti”? To be beyond humanism or to be against humanism is still to be in the orbit of humanism. Both versions seem to miss what I think is very important in Foucault: the death of the concept of man as a constitutive subject of the field of experience and, at the same time, the object of scientific investigation. This is where the object-oriented/realist thought steps in. It does not appear to be anti- or post-humanist. It does not appear to allow the human to designate the field of inquiry. Treating the human as one “object” among many other sorts of objects, and not necessarily the most important ontologically or politically, is certainly a step forward.

    Having said that, I fear that with the above comments, Levi is open to an attack from none other than Althuser on the concept of the human he proposes. From what I am reading above, Levi’s concept of the human appears to be thoroughly ideological in Althusser’s sense: a closed and naturalized totality that carries absolutely no history! This is the worst form of theoretical ideology in Althusser’s epistemology. (As an aside, I’m not convinced by your characterization of Althusser’s anti-humanism… you make it sound so un-nuanced!)

     

  16. Hi Craig,

    I’m a little perplexed by your critique of my position regarding essence. You write:

    Having said that, I fear that with the above comments, Levi is open to an attack from none other than Althuser on the concept of the human he proposes. From what I am reading above, Levi’s concept of the human appears to be thoroughly ideological in Althusser’s sense: a closed and naturalized totality that carries absolutely no history! This is the worst form of theoretical ideology in Althusser’s epistemology. (As an aside, I’m not convinced by your characterization of Althusser’s anti-humanism… you make it sound so un-nuanced!)

    Go back and read what I originally wrote:

    My point is that the enemy is not so much natural kinds, but rather the thesis that natural kinds are eternal and exist from all eternity. While sharing a good deal of sympathy with your observations about dehumanization, I would express it in somewhat different terms. I would argue that the human is something real– it is an essence that has achieved closure, unity, and totality –while also arguing that it is the result of a genesis and that other forms of being are possible. In this connection, I think the work of Keith Ansell Pearson is of great relevance. The central question of Pearson’s thought in texts like Germinal Life and Viroid Life is that of how it might be possible to think the post-human or beyond the human. In other words, what distinguishes Pearson’s thought from the thought of, say, Foucault, is that he does not show how the human is the result of a history– how would this undermine the reality of its essence? –but rather that he asks how it might be possible to engender something other than the human.

    genesis is a history. My point is that the fact that something is the result of a history does not undermine the reality of that thing. When I refer to “closure” and “totality” what I am referring to is the emergence of an entity that is now able to persist through time as identical to itself. Atree, for example, has achieved closure and totality not in the sense that it does not change, but in the sense that it remains this tree across time. When the tree dies that closure and totality is lost. The genesis by which a thing comes to be can be either natural– as in the case of the tree –or cultural, or a combination of both. This would hold in the case of the human. My objection to anti-humanisms such as we find in Lacan, Althusser, Foucault, etc., is that they place the genesis all on the side of the cultural. Insofar as they place the genesis on the side of the cultural it is my view that they remain humanisms despite their claims to the contrary. Deleuze and Guattari fair a bit better in this regard as they refuse any sort of nature/culture divide in their ontology.

     
  17. Craig Says:

    Levi, I’m not convinced, but maybe I’m not understanding you properly. I’m not convinced that even an individual human – let alone all beings that fall under the category “human” – are self-same through time. (And, to be fair to the tree, I’m not convinced it persists in identity over time.) The case is stronger at the level of individuals: Craig now is more or less the same as Craig in the past, but I think this “more or less” is very important. My biology, my psychology, my biochemistry, my identity, my personality have changed over time and they will continue to change over time – and much about me and my body changes on a continual basis. Is Craig’s body with an iron deficiency the same as Craig’s body without an iron deficiency? The only consistencies appear to be (1) the physical body, despite its changes and (2) my proper name, that captures all these changes over time. The situation is, however, all the more complex when we move to the level of “the human.” I’m not sure how “human” can be an ontological object given that the “human” appears to be discursively constructed in relation to the bodies called “human.” When people say “human,” they don’t just mean the sort of being that has a human body. And my concern isn’t just some post-structuralist concern about the importance of language. Even the philosophy of biology is unable to determine the ontological status of any species, let alone homo sapiens sapies. But, of course, I could be misunderstanding you, but I do know now that I don’t I identify with the “I” I was when I was starting graduate school, when I was starting undergrad, when I was in high school, when I was in middle school, when I was in elementary school – and I doubt my “future I” will identify with what I am now with what “I” am then.

     

  18. Craig,

    The questions you pose here are exactly the sorts of issues I’m trying to work through at this time. First, let me be clear that when I refer to an essence I am referring to something that only belongs to individuals or a real part of individual beings. In this connection, your essence would not be “being-human” but “being-Craig”. That is, it would be the specific “thisness” of your being that makes you the singular being that you are. The issue I’m trying to think through in the metaphysical register is the relationship between identity and change. All objects change. You’ll find no objection from me on this score. Yet all objects are also a “this”. They come into being and pass-away, but between these book-ends (which can be fuzzy, I admit) they are nonetheless the entities that they are. What then is this identity-in-change that constitutes a real part of your being, or, alternative, what is the identity-in-change that characterizes the being of the tornado that nearly touched down beside my house the other day? That is what I’m trying to figure out. It’s worthwhile to note that this identity-in-change need not be a material identity. For example, the matter of the tornado is constantly changing as it sweeps across the land. We thus cannot appeal to something material in accounting for the thisness of the tornado. Rather, the principle of identity seems to reside in temporal continuity and the structure or system organizing the tornado.

    You write:

    I’m not sure how “human” can be an ontological object given that the “human” appears to be discursively constructed in relation to the bodies called “human.”

    In many respects, this brief remark symptomatically gets at the heart of our difference. In this remark you contrast the ontological with the discursively constructed. There is, for you, on the one hand the ontological (which I take it for you means “real”) and on the other hand the “discursively constructed” (which I take it, for you, means the artificial). I do not share this distinction or way of carving up the world. My position is that anything that makes a difference belongs to the domain of being. That is, in my view, the criteria for being “ontological” in my ontology lies in “making a difference”. Discursive constructions make a difference and therefore I am obligated to treat them as being among the real. In other words, within the framework of my ontology something is no less real because it contains an element of discursive construction. This brings us back around to your original comment. You suggested that I “naturalize” things like the “human”. I think this comment, coupled with your response to my response underlines that you think according to the following equation: ontological = natural = real/ideological = discursively constructed = artificial-unreal. I do not carve the world up in this way. Within my ontology all things are the result of a genesis. In some cases this genesis might be a purely material affair. In other cases it might involve discursivity and other factors. The fact, however, that it involves these other factors does not make it any less real.

     
  19. Craig Says:

    Levi, I think we are getting to the real issue. Or, at least, my real concern. (Real in the sense of genuine!) Most people who refer to discursive objects no doubt consider them to be “ideal” as opposed to “real.” I don’t think this way. Or, at least, I hope I don’t think this way! How the concept of “human” or “animal” is created in discourse and mobilized in action through relations is very much a matter that carries significant consequences. Indeed, a person who has a human body but is designated animal is already on their way to slaughter. Clearly, the discursive construction of “human” and “animal” are real in this sense: the sense that they have real consequences, create real differences and lead to real death and suffering experienced by real, living beings. On this point, I think I have Spinozist tendencies: both a realist and a nominalist to the extent that there is no “thing” until it is named; the “naming” which can only be done through discourse brings that thing into manifest being whereas previously it was latent. (Gravity was always there, we just didn’t know it. And this lead, no doubt, to all sorts of crazy effects in the world. The Appendix to Part I of Ethics makes this point very well, I think.) The question, then, is the relation between the discursive mobilization of the thing and its changing through time. On the one hand, the name “Craig” has remained stable over time. But, on the other hand, the “essence” that it captures has clearly changed over time. Indeed, it is entirely possible that the name “Craig” designates a completely different being as I type this comment than the being who typed the previous comment. (Since I last typed, I went to the grocery store, the drug store and the coffee shop, I’ve drank a bottle of water and a medium decaf americano – no doubt this had has effects on my biochemistry and these tiny chemical changes have effected my psychological in some nearly imperceptible manner and now I’ve become distracted as two cats just fought outside, which likely caused a tiny change in heart rate and blood pressure.)

    So, to return to your series of equivalences, I don’t think it is simply a matter of natural=real and discursive=unreal. Althusser’s concept of ideology, for instance, has absolutely nothing to do with this distinction! The reason for my disputing this is twofold: (1) the discursive is not un- or ir-real for me; (2) it isn’t entirely clear that the natural isn’t itself discursive. Like it or not, our access to what we call “nature” is mediated by our sensory apparatus and those “impressions” on our senses are in turn mediated by language. Any time we are talking about “nature” we are already in an infinitely complex discursive network. And this is where ideology comes in – for instance, a naturalistic ideology that rejects that nature is already caught in discourse! This is where I get worried reading some of your posts/comments – which are, admittedly, posts and comments – in your eagerness to get to the real (which is correct) it seems that you leave discourse behind. To this extent, it is worrisome that even OOP is itself a humanism.

    Sorry to cut this off shorter than I should – the pets are getting into trouble and it is time to cook dinner.

     

  20. […] motivated by a misunderstanding that has arisen in the wake of my last post. Graham Harman and Levi Bryant both responded with well thought out critiques, which, while certainly understandable, nonetheless […]

     

  21. […] a good statement of the criticism of SR at Planomenology, and some further discussion at Larval Subjects among other […]

     
  22. Dan Says:

    This strikes me as an axiomatic crux: “All objects change. You’ll find no objection from me on this score. Yet all objects are also a “this”. They come into being and pass-away, but between these book-ends (which can be fuzzy, I admit) they are nonetheless the entities that they are. ” This takes us back to Duns Scotus and his haecceity and quiddity: loosely, accident and essence. These still constitute the theory of a thing, as it does in current science and law, and I fear it is as incoherent now as it was then.

     

  23. […] Habermas and the political On the Principle of Translation June 22, 2009 Levi has been developing a version of object-oriented philosophy which he calls ’onticology’. In […]

     

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