Nature is not natural and can never be naturalized — Graham Harman

Friday, August 19, 2011

“Aesthetics All the Way Down”: Three Ways of Avoiding OOO

There seem to be two main ways of avoiding OOO:

1) Undermining. Things are reducible to smaller entities such as particles. Or things are only instantiations of deeper processes.

2) Overmining. This has to do with the tendency to view objects as blank lumps with their appearances glued to their superfices, or added by some "perceiver."

This means that objects are basically blah until they interact with other objects.

Instead I would rather locate a rift between appearance and essence within the object itself. This means we have to accept some kind of paraconsistent, possibly dialetheic logic that allows things to be what they seem, and not what they seem, simultaneously. Otherwise we are back to default substances-plastered-with-accidents.

Now we can discern a third way of avoiding OOO. This would be to claim the inverse of (2):

(3) There are no substances, and it's all appearance-for, all aesthetics all the way down. I believe this might be Steven Shaviro's position.

Now I want to preserve the rift between appearance and essence. Why? Because this preserves, paradoxically, the very aesthetic-ness of the aesthetic dimension.

Look at it this way. If reality was “aesthetics all the way down” (which is Shaviro's view of Whitehead) then we would KNOW it was “just” an illusion: so it wouldn’t be an illusion. We would know that it was pretense—so it wouldn’t be pretense. We would have a kind of inverted onto-theology of pure affects without substances.

“What constitutes pretense is that, in the end, you don't know whether it's pretense or not” (Lacan). True dat.

Until thinking is ready to accept that objects can be intrinsically unstable, both essential and aesthetic at the same time, we are stuck with options (1)–(3), all of which are ways of avoiding OOO.

Once we accept this inherent instability, the rift between essence and appearance, we don't need to have objects pushed around by processes or particles, or others' perceptions of them. They can do just fine on their own. This seems to be the case with a single quantum, as various posts of mine have made clear (this one for instance). 


zareen said...

Ok. Let's imagine this scenario, though. Let's say thinking is "ready to accept that objects can be intrinsically unstable, both essential and aesthetic at the same time." Being able to conceive of it doesn't mean we should or will accept it, eh René?

I mean, as I said in my response to Ben, the undermining/overmining thing isn't really an argument against process philosophy or for OOO. Unless someone thinks it's adequate to criticize a position for not being another position, it's just descriptive.

Frankly, though, I feel like this is much of what the blog discussions have amounted to: "Our positions are actually quite similar."---"No, they're not!"---"Well, you're wrong, that's not my position." Etc.

Joseph Charles said...

The undermining/overmining problem is far more than descriptive.

1. Undermining: If you undermine objects, what options are you left with? A more fundamental reality beneath the object, however conceived. But what is this fundamental reality? Is it one or many? If it is one, then you have a single substance which gives rise to everything else. It's not an insane idea, but it begs the question as to how countless objects---and their countless qualities---arise at all from a source with no differences, qualities or chunks whatsoever. How can specificity come from something absolute nonspecific? (Not to mention that no one, I don't think, has ever encountered a One with no qualities, nor a One with absolutely every quality. We seem to encounter discrete entities with specific qualities that shift and change---but that's really a question about objects for-us, an empirical question, so let's get to the next strategy.)

So, if it is many, then you've got multiple qualities and discrete sites of those qualities---welcome to the world of objects, or at least at its doorstep.

Joseph Charles said...


2. Overmining: this, too, is both described and critiqued. Overmining evaporates objects in favor of relation, either human or nonhuman. The critique here, which is absolutely presented, is that, one, the bundle theory of objects---that they are nothing but a happenstance link of otherwise unrelated qualities---holds up neither to experience nor reflection. Why? The real heart of the problem with overmining is nothing less than correlationism, a correlationism both human and nonhuman. It takes a perceiver, be it a dog, a child, a lotus flower or whatever, to actively link together these unlinked qualities, to "bundle" them. Therefore, there is nothing left to the apple at all but the incidental look of a hungry child or the sporadic interest of the still life painter. Overmining means that the entity simply disappears once everything paying attention to stops and, no, even more than that---it never really appears or exists at all, since it is nothing but a chain of less or greater perceptions (this goes, too, for the perceivers). But what could possibly be doing the perceiving if the perceiver itself is an aggregate of other's perceptions? When I buy the glossy, red apple in the store, only the relations which have deeply affected the apple remain (and that requires causation) but I don't perceive *those* relations, which are long gone. I perceive some kind of relatively stable unit because, probably (not always, I could be dreaming of the apple, or unluckily purchase one that was wax) there is a relatively stable unit which is not commensurate with, nor the sum of, every single encounter it has had. The implication: entities are more than their relations.

To say that the undermining/overmining taxonomy of ontologies is only descriptive reveals that either one hasn't read Harman's work or have read it with their own conclusion already in mind. Oddly enough, you seem to become the person you decry at the end of your paragraph.

Instead of dismissing Harman's taxonomy, why not defend either substantial monism or relationism (or correlationism). It isn't a ridiculous task, and many minds, from Meillassoux, to Whitehead, to Heidegger and to Shaviro have tried admirably to do so. But the rest of your post above is just not accurate.

Check out The Quadruple Object, pp 8-13, by Harman, and then say it's "just descriptive."

Joseph Charles said...

By the way, I am absolutely not saying that just reading Harman, Bryant, Morton or Bogost will solve all of these problems. I am saying, though, that to claim that the object-oriented ontologist's claims are simply no more than choosing aesthetically pleasing, but otherwise equal, intellectual positions, is just not accurate to the situation. I can't speak for Bogost, but I know Bryant, Harman and Morton came to objects as a result of being persuaded by both experience and inferential, or inductive, reasoning. I often get the impression that people think OOO dropped out of the sky from God's pocket or something and is upheld dogmatically and/or religiously.

You may disagree with their premises and conclusions---I don't agree with everything they have to say, either---but you can't honestly say that they have proclaimed by fiat this ontology, as Gabriel spoke to Muḥammad.