A Brief Introduction to Object Oriented Ontology & Speculative Realism: The How of What

Object Oriented Ontology (OOO) challenges commonly held considerations towards what objects are and how they (inter)act in the world. Ecology, science, economics, art, architecture, and programming are core disciplines OOO utilizes. In OOO we encounter objects not only in rendered, physical, tactile modes, but in addition, processual, agentive & eventful modes. Human, a priori encounters with things, are radically altered when objects obtain equality, and hierarchies dismantled. My definition of ‘mode’ here, is taken from Jane Bennett: ‘What it means to be a “mode,” then, is to form alliances and enter assemblages: it is to mod(e)ify and be modified by others. The process of modification is not under the control of any one mode – no mode is an agent in the hierarchical sense.’[1] The polemic of whether things exist independent of the human mind (realism), or because of the human mind (idealism), resulted in the latter being firmly established in Western philosophy. OOO modifies this special ontological status of humans, encouraging a radical reorientation of all ontological statuses.

           This introduction condenses the dialogue between OOO thinkers Graham Harman, Timothy Morton, and Jane Bennett; as well as two thinkers from the Speculative Realism Movement, Manuel DeLanda and Tristan Garcia, and in addition, thing theorist Bill Brown. These thinkers are readily conversant, informing each other’s ontological ideas. They are often found in the bibliographies of each other’s books.

          How assemblages emerge out of various scales, from the microcosmic to the encountered reality of the everyday, is central to OOO. It is through assemblages that most of these thinkers express the importance of things in themselves, and further, how ecologies are composed by and compose themselves with assemblies of things. Objects and their processual ontologies, give things fungible properties, interchangeable within an assemblage. An atom, like qualia, moves between different things, yet things remain themselves.    

          OOO begins with Harman’s Tool-Being: Heidegger and the Metaphysics of Objects (2002). Harman’s reading of Heidegger, encourages him ‘to develop a ruthless inquiry into the structure of objects themselves.’[2] Harman’s ideas are a continuation of Heidegger’s discoveries into how objects are encountered in the world. I think it important to briefly outline Heidegger’s ontology.

          For Heidegger, objects are in one of two states, either they are ready-to-hand, which means they retreat into their function; or they are present-at-hand, which means they no longer function and no longer functioning, appear to us. Objects then, either function or are broken. Harman agrees there is no direct contact between things: ‘Reality is always radically different from our formulation of it, and is never something we encounter directly in the flesh, we must approach it indirectly. This withdrawal or withholding of properties from direct access is a central precept of OOO.’[3]  Timothy Morton talks more about this ‘central precept’, which

    Extends this irreducible darkness from subject-object relationships to object-object relationships. Objects encounter each other as operationally closed systems that can only (mis)translate one another. Causation is thus vicarious in some sense, never direct. An object is profoundly “withdrawn”—we can never see the whole of it, and nothing else can either.[4

Tristan Garcia interprets this ‘closed system’ similarly, but obtains access to the thing:

Being enters into a loop wherein being is not projected in itself, but cast outside itself. In our model, an arrow points inside to a circle – a thing – and then from this circle a second arrow points outside. Being comes inside a thing and being goes outside it. A thing is nothing other than the difference between being-inside and being-outside.[5]

Garcia allows ‘being’ to perforate ‘things’, so that it may oscillate between the outside and inside, of things. This access to the thing by being, is an attempt to access Harman’s ‘closed system’.

          Aesthetics, the arts and literature, are Harman’s methods (somewhat influenced by phenomenological speculations) for attempting to access the withdrawn (sensual) qualities of the real object. This is because they are not forms of knowledge, but rather, indirect means of expression. Harman uses metaphor as an example.[6] The terms ‘sensual qualities’ and ‘real object’ refer to Harman’s Quadruple Object,[7] which diagrammatically illustrates the tensions between objects.          

           Because ‘philosophy is not the handmaid of materialism’[8] Harman challenges what he calls ‘undermining’ in philosophy, which is the down-scaling of a thing to constituent parts, such as atoms or molecules. Because these scales are inaccessible to perception, they are discounted by Harman. He also dismisses ‘overmining’, which up-scales impact to anthropocentric influences alone. This resembles idealism, which problematically denies ‘any excess or surplus beyond such impact.’[9] The human holds the monopoly on meaning. This is especially problematic when it comes to nonhumans, considered in OOO to be integral and integrated into ecologies. Both ‘undermining’ and ‘overmining’ fail to render the potentialities of a thing or nonhuman, because they can’t express the tension between objects and qualities, which things and nonhumans react to.

          While Harman finds an effective means to access things through aesthetics and art, DeLanda’s access comes from materialism and science. Harman quotes DeLanda’s criticism of him in Object Oriented Ontology: A New Theory of Everything (2018): ‘I am not sure why Harman wants to stick to objects. I do not deny that objects exist…it is just that a full realist ontology must possess objects and events, with a process being a series of events.’[10]

          DeLanda has no problem with the withdrawn, indirectness of the thing, as things are assemblages. DeLanda’s influence is Deleuze & Guattari, who write about assemblages in A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (1988), explaining that, ‘an assemblage is precisely this increase in the dimensions of a multiplicity that necessarily changes in nature as it expands its connections. There are no points or positions in a rhizome, such as those found in a structure, tree, or root. There are only lines.’[11]

          DeLanda finds assemblages penetrate everywhere, like the rhizome. It is not a containing principle, where parts play a secondary role to the primary assemblage, but rather an encompassing principle without the need for subordination of the secondary to the primary; there need be no primary-secondary relationship whatsoever. Because DeLanda is ‘conceiving of the components of an assemblage as themselves assemblages.’[12] His conception of the thing is energized, oscillating multiple temporal and spatial scales, because included in the potential of a thing is an inherent processual ontology. What we see here is,

    A view of reality in which assemblages are everywhere, multiplying in every direction, some more viscous and changing at slower speeds, some more fluid and impermanent, coming into being almost as fast as they disappear. And at the limit, at the critical threshold when the diagrams of assemblages reach escape velocity, we find the grand cosmic assemblage, the plane of immanence, consistency, or exteriority.[13]

The reality of a thing is a consequence of a ‘material [and] energetic substratum’[14], which is precisely what Harman challenges in his criticism of ‘undermining’ in philosophy. DeLanda, by positing that a thing must have material and energetic properties, implements the atomic and molecular scale of matter as evidence of these properties in the emergence of assemblages by assemblages. The essential difference between Harman and DeLanda is that the latter thinks philosophy a form of knowledge, so theorizes in a scientific mode; whereas the former thinks philosophy part of aesthetics, not knowledge. 

          DeLanda has to explain how something can be both singular and multiple, both heterogeneous and homogeneous. He explains that ‘all assemblages are unique historical individuals.’[15] ‘Individual’ is synonymous with person, but DeLanda assures us ‘this is just a quirk of ordinary language.’[16] For DeLanda,

    As an ontological category the term ‘individual’ has no preference for any one particular level of scale. It is perfectly possible to speak of individual communities, individual organizations,individual cities. Similarly, we can, without invoking any undesirable connotations, speak of individual atoms, individual molecules, individual cells, and individual organs. [17]

          This ‘level of scale’ is important for constructing a realist ontology of assemblage theory, as what fills the scale is perforated and permeable. Everything accesses everything else in an assemblage.

          DeLanda, unlike Harman accepts reality as a consequence of an energetic substratum. Jane Bennett’s conception of assemblages is similar to DeLanda’s, Bennett is also influenced by Deleuze and Guattari. Bennett explains: ‘Assemblages are ad hoc groupings of diverse elements, of vibrant materials of all sorts. Assemblages are living, throbbing confederations that are able to function despite the persistent presence of energies that confound them from within.’[18] In Bennett’s work, elements of Harman and DeLanda fuse together. Bennett is more emphatic than DeLanda about things. Things for Bennett are ‘vibrant’, this registers aesthetically. Harman would call them ‘sensual qualities.’ Where Bennett closely connects with DeLanda is in the energetic ‘substratum’, which ‘confound[s]’ things. Harman is keen to maintain the ‘autonomy’ of things ‘despite their interrelations.’[19] Harman’s response, ‘is that OOO means ‘object’ in an unusually wide sense: an object is anything that cannot be entirely reduced either to the components of which it is made or to the effects that it has on other things.’[20]

          The assemblage is a mereological matter. Morton brings this into consideration with his challenge to the popular maxim, ‘the whole is always greater than the sum of its parts’. For Morton, this makes little sense if the whole is itself a thing. Therefore, Morton reorients the maxim to ‘the whole is always less than the sum of its parts’,[21] so that any primary containing principle is reinstituted according to the interconnections of things/parts. Depending on the scale of the ontological system, depends on how parts are conceptualized into wholes. If assemblages are assembled with assemblages, the relationship of the part to the whole is more complex than a mere whole containing everything, with its holistic connotations.

           ‘Flat ontology’ was first used by DeLanda.[22] However, Tristan Garcia’s extensive study of things in Form and Object: A Treatise on Things (2014), offers a more rendered treatment. I want now to connect flat ontologies to assemblages.

            Garcia’s mereological [formal study of parts and wholes] ruminations begin with a criticism of division and what he calls an ‘epidemic of things.’[23] There is an ethic at work here, applicable to ecology and politics, which both Morton and Bennett concern themselves with. Garcia explains, in a tone not dissimilar to Harman that, ‘No preference is given here to any one special kind of thing, since each kind is neither better nor worse than another kind. Real things do not matter to us here. Real things matter to us— and, for this reason, other kinds of things as well.’ [24] With this in mind, the rhetorical strategy of listing things, with seemingly different ontologies— all exercised by Morton, Bennett, Harman and Garcia— makes sense as an aesthetic exercise in flattening ontologies. It illustrates things are invariable in value. So lemons, sine waves, theodolites, cats and WiFi belong side by side, equally. Or to take Garcia’s list: ‘A human person is no more and no better something than a duck, a pebble, a dust particle, a chair, a word, or the sky.’[25] This is a rudimentary way of depicting a flat ontology. Assemblages similarly, align things. Take DeLanda’s human-horse-bow assemblage[26], which illustrates how parts are used to create an assemblage, while remaining assemblages themselves. A flat ontology unlike the assemblage is purposefully, maybe even radically aesthetic, because any thing can appear alongside another thing. Whereas the assemblage illustrates more familiar orders.  

          Flattening ontologies may provide a response to Bill Brown’s query: ‘how does the effort to rethink things become an effort to reinstitute society?’[27] Taken from his essay ‘Thing Theory’ (2001). Exercising flat ontologies enables the dismantling of hierarchies instituted into society and politics. Garcia calls this ‘no-matter-what.’[28] Garcia outlines this as:

    Quite simply the plane of equality of what is real, possible, non-existent, past, impossible true, false, or bad. It doesn’t matter. It concerns the possibility of being either real or possible,  or real and possible, or neither real nor possible, either constructed or given, either natural or  artificial, or natural and artificial, either true or illusory, of not being all of these at once, but  of equally being able to come under (or not) one of these determinations, any determination.[29]

          A reinstitution of society according to these principles of inclusion, including everything from the processual to the nonhuman and human, fundamentally modifies hierarchies. Ontologically, hierarchies restructure the importance of one thing over another. This is detrimental to a healthy ecology. Therefore, Bennett and Garcia agree that ‘reification’ or ‘anthropomorphization’ if they lead to radically dissembling hierarchies between humans and nonhumans, aren’t necessarily ‘the reduction of our world to a world of things…not an evil, the dehumanization, desensitization, or disenchantment of the world, but the precondition of a human understanding of the difference between things.’[30]

Rather than ‘desensitization’ we may take Bennett’s cue that ‘it is wrong to deny vitality to nonhuman bodies, forces and forms, and that a careful course of anthropomorphization can help reveal that vitality, even though it resists full translation and exceeds my comprehensive grasp.’[31] Bennett’s term risks seeming anthropocentric, however, I interpret her usage as a means of turning the anthropic in on itself.

What emerges from a familiarity with OOO and speculative realism is a radical reorientation of the degrees of agency that objects have in an assemblage. Note that assemblages are everything, everywhere and do not conform to a particular measurement or set of limits. What this means for us is, a familiar world filled with familiar things, suddenly becomes populated with beings, things that have affectivity. Things can affect each other and us. Nothing is inert in reality. A simple object has a bundle of reactive properties with us and likewise with other objects, differing sometimes in degree and sometimes in kind. This does not mean that objects can articulate dissatisfaction and rebel against us, though sometimes they may fail to work inexplicably or do odd things we don’t expect. What it finally means for objects is that they are included into the world as the world: there is nothing in the world if not things. Just as we come into the world, so do objects. The influences they have are—regardless of the common objection that ‘we put them there and can remove them’—pronounced and do explain how asymmetries occur: we always want control. If someone has access to a thing which makes them powerful, it is owing to the existence of that thing itself, and the manipulative impulses it effects in the owner, which is a major contributing factor to an asymmetry of power acting on the person. Nothing is to blame, we must still hold those in power to account, however, the thing’s affectivity tells a rich history of how the powerful individual came to access the thing’s potential. Or consider a map, a person and territory. Without the territory there is no reason for the map to exist, nor a place for the person to exist. The attempt to co-ordinate a person through a terrain demands a map. Therefore the existence of a map is indicative of not only important terrain, but also a person navigating that terrain. This is the inception of a place of importance and what follows is civilization: more things. Therefore the relationship of man to terrain creates the encounter between map and territory. This is called the material turn and it encourages us to pay attention to the way we encounter and interact with things and what follows from those encounters. Now, as a little exercise, pick up a thing and tell it what it does for you.

Bibliography

Bill Brown, ‘Thing Theory’, in The Object Reader, ed. by Fiona Candlin and Raiford Guins (USA & Canada: Routledge, 2009)

Bruno Latour, ‘From Realpolitik to Dingpolitik or How to Make Things Public’, in The Object Reader, ed. by Fiona Candlin and Raiford Guins (USA & Canada: Routledge, 2009)

Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. by Brian Massumi (London & New York: Bloomsbury, 2019)

Graham Harman, Object Oriented Ontology: A New Theory of Everything (UK & USA: Pelican Books, 2018)

Graham Harman, Tool-Being: Heidegger and the Metaphysics of Objects (United States of America: Open Court, 2002)

Igor Kopytoff, ‘The Cultural Biography of Things: Commoditization as Process’, in The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective, ed. by Arjun Appadurai (UK: Cambridge University Press, 2008)

Isabelle Stengers, ‘Including the Nonhumans in Political Theory: Opening Pandora’s Box?’, in Political Matter: Technoscience, Democracy, and Public Life, ed. by Bruce Braun and Sarah J. Whatmore (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2010)

Jane Bennett, Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things (Durham & London: Duke University Press, 2010)

Manuel DeLanda, Assemblage Theory (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2016)

Manuel DeLanda, Intensive Science and Virtual Philosophy, 3rd edn. (UK & USA: Bloomsbury, 2005)

Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism: Is there no alternative? (UK & USA: Zero Books, 2009)

Timothy Morton, Being Ecological (UK & US: Pelican Books, 2018)

Timothy Morton, Humankind: Solidarity with Nonhuman People (London & New York: Verso Books, 2017)

Timothy Morton, Hyperobjects :Philosophy and Ecology after the End of the World (Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, 2013)

Timothy Morton, ‘Here Comes Everything: The Promise of Object-Oriented Ontology.’ Qui Parle: Critical Humanities and Social Sciences, 19.2 (2011), p. 163-190. Project MUSE muse.jhu.edu/article/431001.

Tristan Garcia. Form and Object: A Treatise on Things, trans. by Mark Allan Ohm & Jon Cogburn (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2014)


[1] Jane Bennett, Vibrant Matter: a political ecology of things (Durham & London: Duke University Press, 2010), p. 22

[2] Graham Harman, Tool-Being: Heidegger and the Metaphysics of Objects (United States of America: Open Court, 2002), p. 15

[3] Graham Harman, Object Oriented Ontology: A New Theory of Everything (UK & USA: Pelican Books, 2018), p. 7

[4] Timothy Morton, ‘Here Comes Everything: The Promise of Object-Oriented Ontology.’ Qui Parle: Critical Humanities and Social Sciences, 19.2 (2011), p. 163-190. Project MUSE muse.jhu.edu/article/431001. p. 165

[5] Tristan Garcia. Form and Object: A Treatise on Things, trans. by Mark Allan Ohm & Jon Cogburn (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2014), p. 11

[6] See, Harman, Object Oriented Ontology, pp. 66-73, for a full discussion of metaphor. Harman dedicates all of chapter 2 to aesthetics.

[7] Harman, Object Oriented Ontology, p.160

[8] Ibid., p. 40

[9] Ibid., p. 49

[10] Ibid., p. 41

[11] Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. by Brian Massumi (London & New York: Bloomsbury, 2019), p. 7

[12] Manuel DeLanda, Assemblage Theory (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2016), p. 6

[13] DeLanda, Assemblage Theory, p. 7

[14] Ibid., p. 139

[15] Ibid., 140

[16] Ibid., 140

[17] Ibid., p. 140

[18] Jane Bennett, Vibrant Matte, pp. 23-24

[19] Harman, Object Oriented Ontology, p. 41

[20] Ibid., p. 43

[21] Timothy Morton, Being Ecological (UK & US: Pelican Books, 2018), p. 92

[22] Manuel DeLanda, Intensive Science and Virtual Philosophy, 3rd edn. (UK & USA: Bloomsbury, 2005), p. 51

[23] Garcia. Form and Object,  p. 1

[24] Ibid., p. 4.

[25] Ibid., p. 29

[26] DeLanda, Assemblage Theory, pp. 68-83

[27] Bill Brown, ‘Thing Theory’, in The Object Reader, ed. by Fiona Candlin and Raiford Guins (USA & Canada: Routledge, 2009), p. 143

[28] Garcia, Form and Object, p. 30

[29] Garcia, Form and Object, p. 30

[30] Ibid., p. 29

[31] Bennett, Vibrant Matter, p. 122

[32] Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism: Is there no alternative? (UK & USA: Zero Books, 2009), p. 54

24 Replies to “A Brief Introduction to Object Oriented Ontology & Speculative Realism: The How of What”

  1. 1). I dealt with Deleuze and Guattari in my dissertation (elements of free improvisation and D&G’s notion(s) of agencement: mixing Persian art music theory with jazz rhythms as “negotiated territories”, etc). But it is another thing to imagine that a human is no more or less ‘ontological’ than a Persian stringed instrument. This, to me, is one of the great failures of OOO. An instrument designed to maximally express the musical (cultural) achievements of Persian thought is not just a ‘thing’ that is in relation to other things. OOO in that context serves the goals of Western cultural appropriation. To devalue the human culture around the human creation, function, and role of a thing like an Indian sitar is not a step in a positive direction. Since 1970 there has been no “truth” (it’s all relative) and now in 2020 humans and objects are ontologically the same, though things have hidden agency, which is *true* (what about 1970?). I doubt there are only a few non-Western theorists who might see this as innocent when it comes to an OOO involving their traditional artistic and scientific objects. Also, what is a dagger’s “hidden” agency when its purpose is to cut, kill, or be admired for its beauty, or all three? I can’t imagine the dagger “wants” to be a butterknife…

    2). Also, I find it humorous to read others stating that they *know* that things are *unknowable*. Veritas est adaequatio rei et intellectus.

    3). The Japanese military was able to commit horrendous atrocities against their captured enemies due to making people into things, and the Japanese verb ‘to be/exist’ in part reveals why. Imasu = a living person (Steve ga imasu: “there is a Steve”), and arimasu means an inanimate object (pen ga arimasu: “there is a pen”). The Japanese used to refer to POWs using “arimasu”, and thus torture or rape was not a human rights abuse. There is no moral issue in abusing some-Thing like a pen or a piece of paper or a POW… inanimate objects all. Of course this is an extreme example, and I am not suggesting OOO theory is a slippery slope to a radical OOO theology/ideology. But ontologies of Thing-ness are not exactly incorruptible either. If things just kind of sit there, then their agency is our agency. Lamborghinis are not “the same” as the humans that drive them until we divest cultural capital from owning, collecting, displaying, rejecting, and so on. This does not elevate a Lamborghini, it devalues important human modes of communication. OOO in theory sounds equal, but how much human value does one have to make irrelevant in order for these unknowable objects to have similar ontological status?

    4). I just expect OOO to be another honest step towards the real goal: *Truth* Oriented Ontology. Whatever ideas OOO comes up with, will that new knowledge or conceptual framework be trustworthy? I trust science to be self-correcting. I trusted Liverpool to win a lot of soccer matches last year. I trust the musical products (“objects”) I use (Evans drum heads, LaVoz reeds, Vic Firth drumsticks, etc.) to perform as advertised in proportion to their age and condition, which have proven themselves better than other companies based on their assemblage (OOO) and musical traits/skills I possess.

    There will always be popular subjects to theorize about. In each of my degree and diploma programs certain theories were all the rage (read: the ones that got the most grant money). Now OOO is the new fashion. I just hope that when OOO is replaced by the next ‘thing’ something useful and good will have come of it, more than just a few interesting art installations.

    Thanks for the very interesting intro to OOO. I really appreciate the time and thought you put into it. There is a lot you have to unpack and try to contextualize, which is a LOT harder than it looks. 5/5 stars!

    1. Bloody hell Daniel haha. Erm….where to start.

      I think you maybe answer your first objection to your first problem near the close when you mention that objects have agency, which you say is correct. OOO doesn’t posit the sameness of two things, but the sameness of how we talk about their being-in-the-world. From the OOO perspective it seems to me that being able to say this happens to this thing or can, is an important step in recognizing that man has too much power to affect. This humanistic conditioning limits our understanding of what taking things for granted has done. Look at the environment. Morton might instruct us that knowing what things do, makes us more vigilant as to the potential problems objects cause. Nuclear waste being a poignantly example. The leg bone is after connected to the toxic waste dump. Objects in a humanist world struggle to be brought into focus. What you say about humans using a thing, an instrument to express, is possible because of the thing on which they express their cultural expression. The two are invariably valuable because they complete each other, in a sense. I don’t think we should fall into the trap of attributing the potential of agency to go beyond what it can do. A man can obviously do more than some things, however, that doesn’t mean nothing happens to a thing. To overcome the phenomenological problem of the changing face of a continuous thing, it seems a logical step to talk of affective agencies, rather than a thing changing because the environmental impressions alter. OOO, we should remember would also attribute agency to the music that is made through the relationship of person & instrument: the vibrations of the air entangled with the delivery of sound etc etc.

      I must say that I think OOO very interesting. I think it addresses what Tristan Garcia call the ‘epidemic of things.’ Considering you call it the new thing, Bill Brown’s ‘Thing Theory’ and Harman’s ‘Tool-Being’ were publish 2001 & 2002 respectively. Most of my lecturers know little about it. So I agree it may be seemingly nascent, yet its inception is now nearly 20 years ago.

      I must stress I don’t think OOO the answer, be all & end all. I still maintain that a lot needs to be pooled into a life-view-philosophy or whatever we may call an interest in ideas. I am happy to entertain ideas. I don’t write this in any spirit of comradeship, though I may have a particular soft spot for Tim Morton’s idiosyncratic style.

      I say…why not be interested in objects for reasons uncommon to most. To think of them as vibrant and agentic in their inertia, to give them a thin pulse on which to found a stronger identity I don’t think is such a bad call considering the throwaway culture we suffer under. As Morton tells us, through OOO we learn there is no away, no there to dump our waste. OOO is very much an annex methodology for thinking about both the presence & absence of things.

      Dunno if this is a valid riposte.

      Thanks for reading, I can always rely on you to come forward with strong ideas, despite the infrequency of my posts these days. I hope you are well during this bizarre time.

      1. “OOO doesn’t posit the sameness of two things, but the sameness of how we talk about their being-in-the-world”. Excellent point! I think that was and still is my major misunderstanding of a general theory on OOO. I should know better, since I live an OOO “lifestyle”: I am so caught up in musical study and performance, my whole existence is a OO-ontological object: saxophone/clarinet reeds, albums, gigs, drums, practice methods, doctoral dissertation, the knowledge I retain, and so on. OOO thinking is a real boon for aesthetics in terms of assemblage theory, so I guess my misunderstanding was how it translated into the more formal aspects of philosophizing.

        Thank you for clearing that up. They say iron sharpens iron, but in this case your iron has sharpened my tin! Domo Arigatou Gozaimasu, Sensei!

  2. Let me work through this – I’ve just finished drafting my 1st year PhD upgrade, so I’ve got a little time. Bear with me, as this has been outside my field of research for a long time. Chunks, not a flow:
    __________

    “[…] architecture [is a] core discipline OOO utilizes. In OOO we encounter objects not only in rendered, physical, tactile modes, but in addition, processual, agentive & eventful modes. Human, a priori encounters with things, are radically altered when objects obtain equality, and hierarchies dismantled.”
    – And yet the Renaissance, in which time there was a flowering of architecture, was a profoundly humanistic time. Human-oriented. Perspective in art was rediscovered, centering the world on the observer. If ever there was a time in which the question “What is the subject of this painting?” could be answered by the words “I am,” it was the Renaissance. The reason I bring this up is because it is a form of words I use over and over again in philosophical discussions; not because it’s a killer argument, but because it makes people think. Particularly when the debate comes round to objectification. I ask “What image ISN’T an object?” I know this is tangential to what you’re describing here, which is actually very, very interesting – the idea of objects as process, agent, and event. But every single school of philosophy (thought, science, etc.) that comes along, no matter where it tries to shift the emphasis to, depends on there being a philosopher to form it. The laws of the universe are how they are not because they are how they are but because we are who we are. We cannot help but see them that way (or those ways). All our views on the nature of things, of objects and ourselves, of their/our processual, agentive, and eventful modes are understood through ourselves. Irrespective of how things actually may be. There is only realism; we can only perceive in terms of idealism. I can only say that because I’m me. The building may be an agent, I will always see myself as the agent by virtue of walking past, into, or away from it – or designing it in the first place. I will always put myself in a philosophically agentive position even by considering the building as agent. OOO doesn’t alter me…

    … at least as long as as I stop and think about it.[1]

    But what if I don’t stop and think about it? What if I get off DesCartes’ tram, into a semi-permanent state of philosophical ADHD? What if I go and swim in the sea of things? Merleau-Ponty puts us in a constant state of experience, whether we are acutely aware in the Cartesian sense or not, in an attempt to stake Count Solipsism once and for all. Anya Daly asks “[H]ow can we get out of our own heads, get out of our own interiority to know a world? How can we bridge the interiority and exteriority divide?”[2] Merleau-Ponty pushes hard:

    “To see is to enter a universe of beings which display themselves […] Thus every object is the mirror of all others. When I look at the lamp on my table, I attribute to it not only the qualities visible from where I am, but also those which the chimney, the walls, the table can ‘see’; the back of my lamp is nothing other than the face which it ‘shows’ to the chimney. I can therefore see an object insofar as objects form a system or a world and insofar as each of them treats the others around it like spectators of its hidden aspects and a guarantee of their permanence.”[3]

    I have found Merleau-Ponty’s principle here hard to take, because the basic encounter with an object, as an encounter with a phenomenon, does not encompass all that. It encompasses what it encompasses, never including the totality of the object (how can we know that, even by accident? – no wonder Harman rejects “undermining”), and dragging along with it such accretions as may, for the moment, be dragged in to take centre or side stage. But oh boy, this is heady stuff – it makes you want to think about it.[4] Makes you want to go back and read abut OOO again. Me, agent, reading about OOO. Or OOO, agent, reading/revealing itself to me, or not caring whether it is revealed to me or not…

    … how are we related? Daly again, on Merleau-Ponty’s Reveresibility Thesis:

    “The reversibility thesis is the thesis that self, other and world are inherently relational—not in the obvious and trivial sense that they stand in relation to each other, can affect each other, that there are actual and potential causal connections between them. This without question is so and these relations occur between entities that are external to each other. Merleau-Ponty’s Reversibility Thesis, however, proposes that self, other and world are internally related, that there is interdependence at the level of ontology. What does it mean to be internally related? The other—whether other subjectivities or the otherness of the world and things—is essential for self-awareness and vice versa. No self can be apprehended without an-other. Ipseity and alterity are mutually dependent and this interdependence is both pervasive and intrinsic.”[5]

    Daly goes on to speak about the initial criticism of the Reversibility Thesis being the lack of reciprocity and symmetry. This does not bother the advocates of OOO, I would imagine; an agentive building collapses on me and I am squashed; I do not collapse, agentively, onto a building and squash it; so what! It’s a simple assemblage, the building and me, deal with it.
    __________

    “What emerges from a familiarity with OOO and speculative realism is a radical reorientation of the degrees of agency that objects have in an assemblage. Note that assemblages are everything, everywhere and do not conform to a particular measurement or set of limits. What this means for us is, a familiar world filled with familiar things, suddenly becomes populated with beings, things that have affectivity. Things can affect each other and us. Nothing is inert in reality. A simple object has a bundle of reactive properties with us and likewise with other objects, differing sometimes in degree and sometimes in kind.”
    – What submerges, if we’re not careful, is the basic human experience that grounds us. OOO, if we let it slip away, becomes yet another thing that we look at from an immaculate and imaginary dais, removed from our daily encounters within the various assemblages. It becomes a system without a soul; nothing in it reminds us of anything else, Marcel does not wander there, tasting the Madeleine and slipping into times past, the building falls towards me and I don’t suddenly have a reawakening of my being in my mother’s arms as a child, Marcel and I are simply symmetrical, reciprocal, interlocking pieces in an assemblage…
    __________

    “The attempt to co-ordinate a person through a terrain demands a map. Therefore the existence of a map is indicative of not only important terrain, but also a person navigating that terrain.”
    – The navigation of the terrain itself is, however, much more than one’s shifting place in an assemblage of rocks, trees, and rivers where the rocks, trees, and rivers have “attained equality.” It’s an adventure.
    __________

    “Now, as a little exercise, pick up a thing and tell it what it does for you.”
    – And if you do, what is picking it up and telling it LIKE?
    __________

    Thanks for a stimulating post!
    Paul
    __________

    [1] Anya Daly sees my problem, and the problem of Western philosophy in general in terms of solipsism and skepticism as being a “menace.”
    Daly, Anya. “Does the Reversibility Thesis Deliver All That Merleau-Ponty Claims It Can?” European Journal of Philosphy, vol.24 No.1, 2013. 159.
    I don’t see them as being any more menacing than a fool’s bladder on a stick. They have to be stepped over in order to apply thought to anything; their presence in the background reminds of only of the limits of our philosophical capabilities. It doesn’t prohibit us from philosophising.

    [2] Daly, Anya. “A Phenomenological Grounding of Feminist Ethics.” The Journal of the British Society for Phenomenology, vol.50 No.1, 2019. 8.

    [3] Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. The Phenomenology of Perception. Trans. Colin Smith, Routledge, 2012. 79.

    [4] Which is a problem in its own right!

    [5] Daly. “Does the Reversibility Thesis Deliver All That Merleau-Ponty Claims It Can?” 161-162.

    1. I think DP Marshall has summarized it best by saying: “OOO doesn’t posit the sameness of two things, but the sameness of how we talk about their being-in-the-world”. This semantic shift in the the language of Idealism certainly is an interesting avenue to explore.

      1. OOO covers a lot. I have devoted this entire year to writing about it & that by no means makes me an expert, but the challenges it brings to our common perceptions is well worth the investment. Its response to ecological concerns is immense, especially when you read Tim Morton. His book ‘Hyperobjects’ is an essential, mind bending book.

    2. Correlationism I suppose isn’t a problem as such, I mean we have after all created the very objects that we are now being asked by OOO to invariably value, if not in their sameness to us ontologically speaking, but as I say in how we talk about them, or contextualize them (maybe?).
      I like to think about it like this. Human beings make things, therefore they can unmake them. So we undo a thing, all this does is produce a void, which is more than likely to require or simply will be filled, if only because someone will think the thing again at some point in the future. The reason for the emergence of a thing is multiple, or multiple potentially. So that if there isn’t a thing, the likeliness of it emerging is multiple. So our control over things is arguably not determined by us entirely but by other pressures. The necessity comes from encountering a world that seems incomplete. I think this is possibly owing to the inherent assemblage of things revolving not only around our decision to do or undo, but also whether there is a requirement. This requirement can be petty or essential.
      So that means things come into being WITH the world, which is what Heidegger discovers: although Dasein gives meaning to objects, nonetheless it is the existence of objects that inform what Dasein isn’t & in addition what Dasein is. The man who uses the hammer for a living cannot conceive of his occupation without his hammer. In the same way our friend Daniel Schnee cannot be a multiinstrumentalist without multiple instruments.

      ‘What submerges, if we’re not careful, is the basic human experience that grounds us. OOO, if we let it slip away, becomes yet another thing that we look at from an immaculate and imaginary dais, removed from our daily encounters within the various assemblages. It becomes a system without a soul; nothing in it reminds us of anything else, Marcel does not wander there, tasting the Madeleine and slipping into times past, the building falls towards me and I don’t suddenly have a reawakening of my being in my mother’s arms as a child, Marcel and I are simply symmetrical, reciprocal, interlocking pieces in an assemblage…’

      I’d say that if we along with objects emerge into being with the world, then already our human exceptionalism isn’t so much challenged, as its direction is embedded in a world it encounters through things. What is a guitarist without a guitar? The idea of the phenomena cannot be conceived of without the tool in hand to produce style.

      All this eventually feeds into ecology, as it is ultimately about establishing a sense of what Donna J. Haraway calls ‘response-ability.’ It is only by closing the correlationist’s gap between man & world that we come face to face with the reality that without things there is no world, no meaningful activities to perform in it, as much as there is no meaningful, cultural-civilized world without human sentience, which is undeniably rich & meaningful if only because of the unlikeliness of it.
      Everything above, these challenges, which are very real challenges, are the reason Morton won’t use the word ‘nature’. It establishes a binary of here & there, when proper ecological being demands we close that gap, because it utterly fails to address the effect of pollution, which does not stay put, therefore to say ‘put it over there, out the way’ is erroneous, demanding from us a radical rethinking of the affective properties of objects, as well as any capacity for alterity. This is why Morton replaces nature with the symbiotic real. A gaudy neologism, fulfilling the connectivity of multiple scales of existence to each other. Which answers Harman’s problem with ‘undermining’ and provides the grounds for OOO’s multidisciplinary approach, which it very much is.

      Not sure if I have answered or just waffled, think I’ve tried to be cogent. Unfortunately I am not familiar enough with Merleau-Ponty.

      1. “Human beings make things”
        – We make nothing. It is already made. All we do is assemble things. You’re closer when you say “we along with objects emerge into being with the world.”

        “therefore they can unmake them”
        – no, merely dis-assemble them. To an extent. We can demolish a table, not remake a tree.

        “What is a guitarist without a guitar?”
        – neatly posed. However this is almost a cultural question. You would ask it. A musician citizen of Rome wouldn’t have dreamed it. He would have regarded “musician” as written through him like Blackpool through a stick of rock – he would have had it inscribed on his tomb, and legible long, long, long after his dead body was incapable of plucking the strings of a testudo. Seeing the inscription, the sound of a vibrating string would come upon my inward ear, though there were no instrument in any perceived assemblage. This is what loops us back round “zu den Sachen selbst” of our experience…

        “[…] the reason Morton won’t use the word ‘nature’. It establishes a binary of here & there […]”
        – but why must it? Remember my avenue of Egyptian gods? What separates us from “nature?” Only the word.

        “Not sure if I have answered or just waffled.”
        – waffling is wonderful, because it is truly immediate. Cogency is the the linguistic equivalent of the “God’s-eye-view” of science, something that divorces us from that immediacy. an intellectual strait-jacket. I curse the fact that I have to write my damn thesis in a cogent way.

        “Unfortunately I am not familiar enough with Merleau-Ponty.”
        – Neither am I, but if I had more time I think I ought to be. If you’re bringing Heidegger into the discussion, I think it might help to look further down the line. M-P might have some happenstantial relevance to your field, possibly in the sub-field of ecophenomenology, which he influenced. What I love about phenomenology (and waffling) is its pre-reflective, pre-cognitive vibe. It might not totally eliminate alterity, but it brings it up close before we can let it bother us.

      2. 1) Yes, I think that is correct & closer to what I was approaching. This capacity to assemble a thing is certainly within the world already. This is owing to what Jane Bennett would call ‘distributive agency’ and ‘Emergent causality.’ It is the agency of things which puts them into a potential uniformity with another thing; this goes for assemblages themselves. Look at the plasticity of capitalism as an example. As DeLanda explains, there are assemblages within assemblages.

        2) Cogent. I agree as it responds pointedly to 1).

        3) In death we may retain the signification of musician, but wouldn’t this be due to the imminence of death urging the meaning to be? After death, the actionable requirements to be a musician are already fulfilled & simply carry over, which is perfectly acceptable, as we cannot scrub away an identity, only time does that. Of course, this is linear. We cannot reverse death, so being a musician was done out of a sort of fear of death. (This is Heidegger again).

        4) Maybe, but I see Morton’s point. The historical baggage of Nature, the Beautiful Soul, New Age misunderstandings & whatnot. Moreover, the absence of queering in our perceptions toward nature, despite its abundance, is arguably deserving of a trial by terminology.

        5) I am pleased waffling is encouraged. I do, despite saying this, trust my unconscious mind to keep me up to speed.

        6) I actually covered him briefly in an essay I just wrote on surveillance capitalism & OOO. An essay by William E. Connolly. He talk about the intersensory responses we have toward stimuli & I used it to argue that surveillance capitalism, by commodifying something we can’t fully encounter with our intersensory faculties (a bit of data), therefore manages to evades our attention. We do not see it as problematic. Which is a very bare summary. Now I need to go work on an essay about Cli-fi.

        Thanks for the discussion. I think I’ll post again this weekend. Maybe my close analysis of Amitav Ghosh’s ‘Gun Island.’

  3. My original reply deals with that issue (the difficulty(ies) of sameness) through the lens of cultural appropriation via organology. But as always DPM writes and debate is sparked: exactly philosophy is good for… opening space for intellectual evolution. I know I am richer for having read what he wrote.

      1. As for “what is a guitarist without a guitar” the real question is “who” is a guitarist or a musician, as it so often happens to be the case (indeed with any instrument). Drums are a great example. Ringo Starr is a really great musician (timing, clarity of rudiments), though people think he is an ordinary drummer. There are untrained guitarists in the world who are brilliant musicians, i.e. crafting their own techniques to make up for any lack of formal training. I once spent time in a band where the lead singer was such an amazing musician in her own way that I actively discouraged her to take music lessons: the “right” way would have made her give up the amazing things she had invented for herself to use as replacement theory, hand technique, etc. MUSIC-ians find a way to utilize sound musical principles on whatever sound ‘machine’ they encounter in such a manner that they end up being a better music makers on that machine than the local professionals.

        Speaking of the “muse” part of musician, out of the Nine Greek Muses, four (!) of them were goddess/embodiments of poetry yet only one inspired an art form with the word ‘muse’ built into it…

      2. I think we may have talked about this before. For myself the only way I could learn to play is by picking the thing up & making it do something for me. I am not a musician in the educated sense, in fact I don’t feel the need to use the word ‘musician’ at all, I simply interact & encounter. It is largely explorative. So I agree with you here. I feel there are limits, at least for me, from inveterately learning this way, but screw it now, I am too old to renege now. Music has to be done with the sounds that swim out when they will. I am an arbiter. So I suppose the guitar as thing is integral to me. If I had to read music, the whole endeavour would be somewhat mathematized in a way, & my brain actively gut punches me when confronted with numbers, barfing complaints haha. I still, if only because this is how I learned poetry, believe very much in a certain elevation through learning something enough to know what the loopholes are to breaking the rules. If that makes sense. Take a poet like Berryman. He could only write so idiosyncratically because he knew the art of poetry & where it could be altered to become something unfamiliar, yet digestible.
        In short, there aren’t right & wrong ways.

  4. Context is everything. There absolutely are wrong ways to play or learn music. One MUST make mistakes, errors, measurably ‘wrong’ things in order to grow, in order to refine. The arts are a great place for a lot of incompetent people to hide (you won’t hear a surgeon say there is no right or wrong way of removing a spinal tumor!).

    There are wrong ways to do the right thing, and right ways to do the wrong thing though… so once again context is everything. As for your musical talent and technique DPM your noodling around with your guitar as an exploratory process is absolutely right given your unique history, though you won’t be invited/booked to perform Dionisio Aguado compositions at Royal Albert Hall any time soon! LOL.

    1. There are no mistakes. There are only results. To go back to Merleau-Ponty, summarised by Daly, “illusory perceptions are corrected not on the basis of any cognitive intervention but rather on the basis of another perception.” (8)

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