“Was not their mistake once more bred of the life of slavery that they had been living?—a life which was always looking upon everything, except mankind, animate and inanimate—‘nature,’ as people used to call it—as one thing, and mankind as another, it was natural to people thinking in this way, that they should try to make ‘nature’ their slave, since they thought ‘nature’ was something outside them” — William Morris

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Object-Oriented Buddhism 21—Indra's Net or, Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Relation?

On the inside, [an object's] unity is threatened by the swarming combination of interior tool-beings that enable it to exist, and which unifies it with its living action. On the outside, its integrity is threatened by the innumerable networks that draw it into themselves, dissolving it into the ether of a sleek, unified reality. Despite this dual threat, the entity somehow manages to be itself. (Graham Harman, Tool-Being, 295, the penultimate page, emphases mine)

We can specify objects as such precisely because they do contain and take place within a “galaxy” of relations (Graham’s word). Yet despite this, they exist. This is a paradox identical with the Buddhist description of the chariot. The chariot is made of parts. Yet those parts do not constitute a chariot. Buddhism like OOO is a form of irreductionism.

Don’t throw out the baby of relation with the bathwater of antirealism.

This brings me on to the image of Indra's net, a traditional Buddhist description of reality, the sort of one designed precisely to stop you from thinking in terms of presence-at-hand. Can you imagine anything more relationist? Leibnizian even?

At every connection in this infinite net hangs a magnificently polished and infinitely faceted jewel, which reflects in each of its facets all the facets of every other jewel in the net. Since the net itself, the number of jewels, and the facets of every jewel are infinite, the number of reflections is infinite as well. (Mingyur Rinpoche, The Joy of Living, 174–5)

And yet, and yet. Why is there this dazzling, infinite reflectivity? Because there are jewels. Jewels, in the net! Jewels, not totally dissolved into their elements or into the ether of context! Infinite jewels with infinite facets!

And as Graham would argue, even the reflections would be objects.

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