“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, February 19, 2011

Reverse Causation and Objects: Causation as Sampling or, The Excessive Object

Nate of An Uncanny Ontology notes that Molly Ann Rothenberg's book The Excessive Subject formulates a theory of retroactive causation based on my second favorite Lacanian concept, extimacy. This is sort of “intimacy on the outside.” (My favorite one, the sinthome, is closely related.) Since this of great interest for my Realist Magic project, I might as well think it through here.

Great point Nate. I haven't read Rothenberg's book yet but I'm betting that you could quite easily extend some of its insights to objects, that is, to non-humans and non-sentient beings. This is because objects are already within the phenomenon of extimacy. The extimate is an object-like presence that is “in you more than you yourself.” It's your agalma (Greek), your “treasure.” It's one support for my argument about an object-oriented Buddhism. Buddha nature is precisely an object-like entity that is “more normal than normal” as my teacher would say, in you more than you are your own self. More normal than normal? Uncanny, like “It's quiet, too quiet.” (Hey these sentences might also be good examples of apolepsis.)

Nate points out that Rothenberg's own example is “He caressed her skin with a knife.” The end of the sentence changes what we think of “him,” retroactively rearranging the scene. Note that it's a knife that does this—an object that is “extimate.” These clues are more than enough to imagine how to apply retroactive causation to non-human and non-sentient entities.

That and the fact that Harman argues precisely this in Tool-Being, from another angle. When an iron bar clangs to the floor of a warehouse, it retroactively posits the warehouse floor in a certain way. That's what translation is. The most relevant passage is on page 212, in which Harman uses the analogy of a retrovirus, “injecting [its] DNA back into every object [it] encounter[s].”

In the mean time, I'm having a conversation with Jarrod Fowler about sampling, in which we agree that sampling is part of a wider configuration space of non-music in which music sits like an island beset on all sides by other forms of sound and non-sound. Every sample is a translation, in that it chops a sensual slice out of an object and thereby creates another object. To that extent then, causality is a kind of sampling. Thus when we observe a phenomenon, we are always looking strictly at the past, since we are observing a sample of another object. To sample is to posit retroactively.

This would account for the uncanny quality that Nate intuits in objects (as far as I can interpret his comment—I'm sure I must have clumsily misconstrued it.) All objects have some kind of extimacy stuck to them, by dint of their being samples, and by dint of their sampling of other objects. The excessive subject is simply one of a plenum of excessive objects.


Unknown said...

Ah! a new word: extimacy - I like that! Yes, the emptiness that is sunyata along with extimacy would be an interesting for of object-meditation .. :) And the buddha nature being supernormal... yes, I can see that.

Whoosh, you almost need three essays to capture all these protean figurations: extimacy, supernormal buddhas, knives that caress ghosts, retroviruses infusing time-bombs, and samplings of sound beings tripping the mind electric...

Good work there buddy...

Michael- said...

this post provides much to think upon, wow, good stuff!

Nathan Gale said...

Some thoughts: