Getting a little help “phasing” in & out of things with ‘Everything’

In my previous post I explained a little about Tim Morton’s term phasing, which is a sort of abstract toggle function we can utilize whilst going-about-our-business, to create our own context explosions. Understanding context explosions enables us to think more about the potential trajectory of something, anything, everything.

Only a few days after my previous post, my housemate excitedly introduced me to an online indie game called Everything created by David O’Reilly. You can find it here: https://store.steampowered.com/app/582270/Everything/. I had no idea games like this existed. I haven’t played games for decades. I was pleased to find in Everything an example of what it is to phase through a subscendent, ecological whole (see previous post).

In Everything you become an agency encountering other agencies, things in themselves within the totality of reality, as they are embedded in their own world. In the space of ten minutes we “ascended” or “descended” (this is how you toggle through different objects) up to or down into a camel, turtle, grass, tree, ant, pollen, bacterium, DNA. All before descending further into the quantum domain, before being ejected to an energic realm, which slingshot us so deep we came out the other end of the scale to find ourselves a star cluster roaming interstellar space. The game does something remarkable: it immerses us in the withdrawn world of an object (& remember, we are thinking of everything that exists as an object.)

Each world scale is fully immersive. The developers have rendered these world scales in a representative aesthetic, enabling us to phase in & out of discrepant spatiotemporal scales. I am not saying that O’Reilly provides a realistic immersion, but rather an aesthetic, ontological realism. There is a clear message in the game: everything is only seven degrees of separation from anything else. Or we might use Morton’s n + 1, which I introduced in the previous post.

Everything is a form of aesthetic knowledge geared to revealing the intricate collusion of small and large scale objects. The game is an aesthetic, interactive form of ecological awareness. Objects are everything in Everything, in the same way they are everything in OOO. Thus Graham Harman titled (jokingly) one of his books: Object-Oriented Ontology: A New Theory of Everything. The joke being that OOO ain’t your New Age holism congregating us into the church of Gaia. Everything isn’t a whole of parts related because they are imbibed into a whole, like we find in Gaia Theory. This urges us to talk too much of singular things as containers. This isn’t so much an error as unhelpful in rendering our focus, potentially. What I mean by this is that when we think in terms of wholes containing other things, we focus more on the whole than the complexity of the parts. A pretty good example of this is religion, or brand loyalty, we’ve already mentioned New Ageism. They mean well, but ultimately leave out vast swathes of objects for potential consideration into context explosions. (We should not think of the context explosion as a reason to root out solely negative agencies; it can be used to uncover positive affectivity too.)

In The Democracy of Objects Levi R. Bryant utilizes the ideas of Roy Bhaskar. Bhaskar’s ideas enable Bryant to construct a realist ontology. Bryant calls this onticolgy. Thinking in this mode results in a scenario in which, “humans are no longer monarchs of being but are instead among beings, entangled in beings, and implicated in other beings.” (40) Onticology follows OOO closely in talking about different forms of access to different forms of reality. Bhaskar helps Bryant to template onticology. These templates are referred to by Bryant as “dimensions of knowledge” which Bhaskar terms transitive and intransitive:

The transitive refers to the dimension of the social in the production of knowledge, such as inherited discourses, scientific training, institutions, and so on. By contrast, the intransitive refers to the domain of being that would exist regardless of whether or not humans know them. (41)

The entirety of The Democracy of Objects is dedicated to understanding the intransitive domain of being. The reason for this is clear when placed in the context of challenging correlationist tendencies.

It is important to note why a game like Everything is useful for us to think more ecologically, & furthermore, why the intransitive domain is integral to Bryant’s ideas. Bryant goes on to say that

The domain of real being advocated by onticology is far broader than the domain of being belonging to the natural world. Put differently, natural beings constitute a subset of the category of real beings. In addition to natural beings, onticology also counts technologies, symbolic entities, fictional entities, groups, nations, works of art, possible beings, artificial entities, and many other entities besides as belonging to the domain of real being. (41)

Bryant isn’t saying a natural world doesn’t exist, only that it isn’t the only existent domain of being. Or rather, it could be, but it isn’t inclusive enough to warrant an ecological system oriented around everything, existent as real things in themselves. It is hard not to talk of containment, but this is precisely what subscendence attempts to reorient. Things aren’t contained as parts by the subscendent whole, but rather, they are it in a way so radical they cannot know they belong to anything at all. For this reason, we isolate the thing itself, whilst recognizing it needs an environment, which is itself agentic, even alive, in some way. We must never assume inertia. This is why we can phase. You cannot phase a whole, because it is the same all the way through. Turns out that thinking ecologically abandons this structural error to give objects their agency again. Not that they ever lost it, we only lost the capacity to recognize this property of objects.

What we designate as “real” is deleterious, because the “real” is demarcated as only being so if it meets our criteria of real. Everything else is either explained away as meaningless, or justified usable, because it has no sense of reality. In fact, it simply isn’t sensing our “real”-ity, but it certainly has its own reality, regardless of whether it senses it as we do. A worm has as much reality, and right to that reality as we do to ours, so long as it is a reality & not a “real”-ity.

When you begin to look at landfills, you begin to realize even materials such as plastic & oil have reality. Then what is real? If it isn’t “real” for us exclusively, then can it be actualized in anyway at all, or is it merely something to be challenged & manipulated peripherally?

Using Bryant’s broad definition we can context explosion the outcome of onticology’s inclusivity. What do we gain by being all-inclusive toward being? It is to live in continual astonishment, without being dysfunctional. We discover a zest for the minutiae of existence. Moreover, we begin to think of a thing as affectively charged with potential, so that a game really can be a valid insight, in some small way, into how to visualize the functional, ongoing processes of the intransitive domain of being.

The intensity of feeling from thinking this way, is a deeper engagement with agentic potentials. I say “agentic potentials” as I do not want to confuse these ideas with something like universal consciousness. We have consciousness, a worm probably doesn’t. In short, consciousness is not criteria for reality. But it is the criteria of our own brand of clawing “real”-ity. Plastic isn’t conscious, it is agentic. It can affect something in some way. I explained in the previous post about endocrine disruptors in plastics. Non-sentient nonhuman objects don’t need to be organic nonhumans to affect something. If we admit there is no way to attribute reality to non-sentient nonhumans, then how do we explain the way they are a contributing factor to a potential sixth mass extinction event? We need a variety of methods to articulate this, because people learn different ways. I know these ideas, in this format, cannot be the sole source of this knowledge. This is why OOO is interdisciplinary. It is a methodology, which is applicable to a range of methods outside it. There is OOO computing & architecture, for example.

What we thought was real, what we call the “world”, it turns out, is just a manageable scale we can habituate ourselves too. What we choose cannot be automatically designated “real”. There’s an innumerable host of objects doing their being behind our backs. I am not saying we need to discover them all, but only realize that we do not have the exclusive right to designate “real” to something, because it suits us. Interestingly, Everything does try to include every object imaginable into the experience.

Establishing criteria for what is “real” has resulted in an untenable infrastructure of consumption. During Covid-19 our sense of “real” life has been violently jolted. The capitalist realism we never knew was there until now has been foregrounded, named, exposed. We have an opportunity to realize that what we think is “real” is malleable.

For this reason, the ecological being turns their trust to representative methods, to provide an insight into the processual worlds of things in discrepant spatiotemporal scales from their own. This isn’t because microbial life is more important than us, but only that by understanding its complexity, we can transfer this sensation of awe to everything and enrich our short lives with the sheer magnitudinal unlikeliness of our ever having the opportunity to be here in a world. This is how Magda King, in A Guide to Heidegger’s Being and Time, translates Heidegger’s Da-sein:

Purely linguistically considered, Da-sein is a compound of two words, whose second component, sein, means simply to be or being. This to be, since it expresses the being of a man, must be understood as the infinitive of the am, and not of the is of a thing. The first component, the Da, indicates a place, a here and there, and this is why in some translations Da-sein is rendered by “being-here” and in others by “being-there.” In fact, Da is neither here nor there, but somewhat between the two, for which we have no equivalent in English; it is a much more open word than either “here” or “there,” and does not have a definitely localized meaning. (48)

Of course, King subscribes to correlationism. It goes without saying, but there, I said it. Heidegger makes you feel special. For King, following Heidegger, there can only be a transitive world worthy of our attention. The intransitive is not denied, it is simply secondary, for us rather than without us. You get the feeling with correlationism, that as with the double slit experiment, things are only “real” or in-order when we are paying attention to them. Otherwise, they are inconsequential potentials of nothingness, unformed. We cannot even consider them as awaiting us. Only we await.

I was genuinely astonished by O’Reilly’s representations of what we can only witness abstractedly. It challenges our thinking of ourselves as a pinnacle. We are incredible, no quarrel there. But I honestly think that our exceptionalism has been disastrous, not only for the transitive “world” we think is the realest of the real, but also the intransitive worlds necessitous for our spatial “world” to be here for us to encounter. We don’t have the exclusive right to decide what gets a world.

It is for this reason that Rick Sanchez is a Heideggerian when he considers himself the “Rickest Rick.” He has made himself more “real” by demarcating himself as some sort of original Rick among an infinite number of Rick’s. But this is all he can do as a Heideggerian. He is the world in the most radical Da-seinesque way. The limit of Rick’s existence is himself, despite his continual reminder that there are “infinite timelines.” Rick is so close to being an object-oriented ontologist, as is everyone; all that is required is a little elasticity in regards to where you input your attention. We see Rick exercise this in the episode ‘Vindicators 3’ from season 3. Rick gets black-out drunk and in his black-out rigs up a gameshowesque set of trials to belittle the Vindicators. Poor Morton is witness to this withdrawn consequence of his Grandpa’s alcoholism. Rick orients “real”-ity around his perception of things, explaining that he’s “a little more complicated than them.” This is Rick displaying his uniqueness, making a world of it. But he ignores the complex world of the other Vindicators. Vance Maximus, the leader, being the first to reveal their complex psychological problem, which manifests as claustrophobia. Vance goes from Hollywood-cool, to irascible, due to his realization that he is trapped in another’s “real”-ity. This leads to his attempted escape, on his terms, rather than the world of the “Rickest-Rick.” We should all feel a little bit more like Vance Maximus, confined to another’s myopic definition of “world.”

I realize that I may not be explaining every potential of the terms I introduce. This is intended, in order to make the posts digestible. If anyone reading these has this problem, please don’t hesitate to use the comments to interrogate me further. These posts are as much for my own benefit at rendering how I communicate these ideas, as it is about what these ideas are communicating. To explain OOO cannot be achieved in a single post. But I think these ideas are beneficial. They are non-restrictive, encompassing multiple disciplines. Where I work best is in the aesthetic. I want to make aesthetics do more than entertain, I want it to be a form of knowledge, enabling insight into the non-perceivable. This is unquestioningly an oxymoron, but that is because life is oxymoronic. We should confront this with an attitude which is contingent. Establishing a “real” & working from there, is not working. We need to be ready for the inexplicable in some way. By accommodating for the potential of innumerable, discrepant reals (worlds) we give ourselves a fighting chance at reacting to the blind spots that emerge from our construct of “real.”

WORKS CITED

Bryant, R. Levi. The Democracy of Objects. Open Humanities Press, 2011.

King, Magda. A Guide to Heidegger’s Being and Time. SUNY Press, 2001.

3 Comments

  1. We are not excetional, except inasmuch as we are. We are not a pinnacle, but we are a point. Try as we may to grant that objects have a (how to put this?) right to exist outside our consideration of them, in effect to be other than we percieve them to be, we need that good ol’ scientific standby imagination to be immersed in OOO. And with that imagination we conjure the secret life of discarded garden shears and sweet wrappers. Even the words “garden shears” and “sweet wrappers” are our metaphors for what those things might actually be now that our back is turned on them.

    The old joke – what does an ‘occasional table’ do the rest of the time?

    ‘Dasein’ is not solipsism. “Theere-am” as I call it (“theere” with three letters ‘e’ so that it encapsulates both ‘there’ and ‘here’ in sound) barks its shins constantly on “yonder-is.,” and bubbles appear out of the shin pain, shimmering, bursting, lasting, floating, but all in the consciousness of “theere-am.”

    I think the philosophy you are looking at is very exciting. It is a wonderful way of looking at the world and understanding it differently. But OOOps, there’s the philosophical problem right there in how I expressed that. (Who is?) looking (with what?) at (from where?) the world (is it “out there?”) (and who called it that?).

    But I’m a Continental-School Phenomenologist. I would say all this, wouldn’t I!

    Keep it coming. It’s great.

    1. OOO talks in worlds, not a “world”. So OOO doesn’t not talk about the “world”, it rather opts to include it alongside ruminations on other forms of access to world. I think this very compelling.

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