Quickie reply to Graham, Levi [updated]

Graham: . . . Yes, I think words are a crucial part of the game. I think OOO and relationalism are working two sides of a similar coin. But there are differences. I think part of this may lie in that I see a potential OOO now that I like, I’m just not sure its the OOO you and Levi are arguing for, despite having invented the term!

But I don’t think it’s ‘just words’, I do think there’s a real philosophical difference here. About the status of the relation between things and words.
Yes, in Whitehead the term for withdrawal is ‘privacy.’ I think that you disagree with both me and Steve, because we think privacy is equivalent to withdrawal, and you do not. Concresence, as I’m sure you know, does not determine an actual entity completely. That’s why there’s privacy, precisely because concresences are not ‘fully determining relations’. They are forms of partial relations, if you must stretch things this way. At what point do a bundle of relations turn into objects? When they start to withdraw. At what point do objects reach out and form relations? When they start ceasing to withdraw fully. There can be no pure objects, or pure relations, and neither objects nor relations determine each other fully.
There are words here, but also things. Words and things resonate with each other to differing levels. I like when they sing together.

On another note, isn’t it trumpery to say that relationalism believes an old fashioned, billiard ball and stick version of objects and relations, and continually beating us up when we continue to press that this isn’t so, in Whitehead, or for SR types of relationalism? I’m not sure relationalism was EVER this simple (even in the much maligned and rarely read Hegel . . .), but I believe the argument here is that relationalism is so passe because there’s no withdrawal, etc.

Levi: It’s not that I don’t understand your argument, it’s that I disagree. I’ve said that many, many times!      When I discuss the mouse, I discuss him in my hand, because to an electron whirring by, the mouse is not a mouse! What I call a mouse interacts with what I call an electron. But electron and mouse know neither. The electron experiences the mouse electronly (which involves no words), and vice-versa.

This is why I believe that the recent ‘trip to Damascus’, while definite development, has been a meconnaissance.

I won’t speak for Adrian and Steve (certainly not on this issue!), but I think you are right that I do see the fundamental debates here different than Ian, Tim, Graham, and yourself.

I do think language has a huge role to play. Does that make me a correlationist? More so than most at this table, sure. As I’ve argued before, I believe in absolutizing and multiplying the correlation, which is a very different thing than traditional correlationism.

There is no mouse, and yes, of course it is a mouse. OOO is, I think, for all the HUGE differences with Kant, a descendent of the Kantian-Cartesian-Platonic sense that there is a fundamental schism within what is. I think Adrian, Steve, and myself (I’ll speak for them lightly here . . .) feel that this schism’s fundamentalness is overrated. Where OOO tends to see binaries, we see more continua. Of course, the devil’s in the details, but I think this is why there continues to be this two sides to things.

And philosophy has always had its Parmenides and Heraclitus, Hegel and Kant, Deleuze and Derrida, Peirce and Saussure, the more monist-oriented and the more bindary-oriented. What one makes of this, is, however, another story . . .

PS – I do think we are discussing the same thing with the linguistic turn. The prison house, there’s nothing outside the text. Don’t forget Wittgenstein in all this! The difference, though, I feel, is that I put words and things on the same plane. Which means we can link mice and the word ‘mice’, but this is different from saying that a mouse in space is still a mouse . . .

Update, Levi:

On Whitehead: You’re account of Whitehead does cite a lot of PR, which is great. But how do you account for privacy in all of this? You don’t even mention it! I think it is VERY easy to cherry-pick citations, and particularly from a process-philosopher. They write differently from non-process philosophers. Nietzsche , while not a process thinker, would quasi-contradict himself nearly every other line, in order to refract to a greater whole.

I don’t think the much more systematic and consistent Whitehead or Peirce do this. But, like Hegel, they are easy to misquote because when they are describing an ASPECT of the whole, they are also describing a moment. Whitehead talks a lot about non-temporal yet logical synthesis, for example.

The passages you pick out here aren’t really related to these issues, but I think what I’m stating here relates to the very manner in which Whitehead, Peirce, and Hegel write in general, along with why especially Hegel get’s a bad rap (and in fact, I think Hegel BECOMES his bad rap towards the end of his life, that’s another story).

But what of privacy Levi, where do you account for that?!

On the Linguistic Turn:

I think we should not throw the baby of post-structuralism out with the bathwater. The networkological project is an attempt to understand and take into the argument posed in many forms by the ‘linguistic turn’ without just ignoring it. I’m not arguing in any manner that all we get is language. Nor do I think you are arguing for unmediated access to the real. But damn, you sure TALK like you do!

On Philosophy: I am not someone, as you say, who thinks anything goes in philosophy, that no philosophy is better than any other, etc. Very often I say stuff which is nuanced or layered, and then it gets heard in black and white. I think perhaps this is what happens when process folks talk to more binary-types . . .

I do not believe that ANY philosophy is completely true, or completely false. But I do believe in matters of DEGREE. There are more and less true philosophies, in relation to the contexts at hand. More and less useful, beautiful, just . . .

I do believe that those trained in philosophy depts argue about such things with a slightly different aesthetic than those trained in other humanities dept (theory, so to speak). I think we are a bit more pluralistic on our notion of what constitutes truth, particularly in relation to how arguments are made in relation thereto. But you always push me to one side or the other in a debate, and I prefer the tricksy middle, which is not the same as one side or the other, but resides in a neither/both that wouldn’t exist without the two sides . . .

Which is also why it’s a mouse and not a mouse, but it is certainly not merely a ‘mouse’ or just a mouse . . . I realize that doesn’t say much, but I’m about to leave the house for a few hours, so it will have to suffice as shorthand for much of what I’ve argued in more depth . . .

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~ by chris on December 11, 2010.

6 Responses to “Quickie reply to Graham, Levi [updated]”

  1. [...] of specific things about entities and relations that aren’t really up for dispute. Thus when Vitale asks, isn’t it trumpery to say that relationalism believes an old fashion, billiard ball and stick [...]

  2. Okay, it’s fine that you disagree but you’re having a different debate on issues tangental to the ontological issues we’re all discussing. This is good to know.

    This suggests that you haven’t read me or understood the concept of flat ontology as this is exactly what flat ontology does:

    I do think we are discussing the same thing with the linguistic turn. The prison house, there’s nothing outside the text. Don’t forget Wittgenstein in all this! The difference, though, I feel, is that I put words and things are the same plane. Which means we can link mice and the word ‘mice’, but this is different from saying that a mouse in space is still a mouse . . .

    Flat ontology treats words as no less real than mice. However, that entails rejecting the linguistic turn. I know you’ve said that you don’t have the time, but I do think you have an obligation to regularly keep up with the blogs and secondary materials if you’re going to participate in these discussions. A number of the remarks you make reflect a deep ignorance of what you’re talking about that is irresponsible to say the least.

  3. Very easily Chris,

    I take Whitehead at his word. If you were correct then Whitehead would violate one of his central maxims: that actual occasions can be analyzed exhaustively into their prehensions. That’s just what Whitehead says, not something I’ve made up or cherry picked. Were your analysis correct Whitehead would be committed to the thesis that there is something to actual occasions over and above their prehensions. That would undermine his relationism and explicit statements about the attachment of entities to the rest of the universe. Like I said at the end of my post, perhaps it’s Whitehead you disagree with, not us. Additionally, I think that remarks to the effect that “process philosophers write differently than other philosophers” is a trollish rhetorical move. It’s akin to a religious fanatic suggesting that others just can’t understand because they haven’t had a particular revelation. It’s also insulting. All dialog is undermined when moves like this are made. Stick to the actual claims that thinkers make, and avoid obscurantist gnostic initiation mysteries that others must pass in order to participate in dialog.

  4. Additionally, I’ve just had a very different experience of people in disciplines outside of philosophy such as media studies, literary theory/criticism, rhetoric, and other disciplines such as psychology, sociology, and ethnography. My experience has been that they’re more than happy to call a spade a spade and point out when Althusser, Derrida, Badiou, Zizek, Lacan, etc., are being misinterpreted. I just don’t think your generalizations hold up.

    Finally, a rejection of the liguistic turn in favor of a flat ontology entails a deflation of the claims of certain linguistic philosophers and semioticians. If you take the turn to a genuinely flat ontology you can no longer treat language and signs as structuring reality tout court, but must instead treat them on a flat plane vying with a variety of different actors that merely contribute to the formation of certain assemblages. Genuine networkological thinking thinks, in my view, in terms of compositions of heterogeneous entities. In many assemblages, signs and signifiers are one component within these compositions, but not the only contributor. There are also technologies, economies, natural entities like the bubonic plague bacteria, etc. There are discourses about these things, but they are also real and genuine actors in their own right. In my view, your thought doesn’t reach the level of thinking networks as heterogeneous compositions. You treat issues of perception, language, discourse, and thought as trumping everything else, ignoring the differences other entities are contributing and differences that aren’t themselves linguistic or semiotic in nature. This latter project is what I’m trying to do. If I tend to de-emphesize language and signs these days, then this is because such analyses have been the bread and butter of analysis for the last century and attention needs to be drawn to other actants or entities these days so as to clearly see the nature of the problem with overly linguisticist philosophies. It’s very difficult to develop a genuine ecological philosophy if you’re spending all your time talking about discourses, signs, signifiers, and not talking about things like meltic icecaps, green house gasses, animal extinctions, technologies, cars, cow farts, etc., etc., etc.

  5. I take whitehead at his word too. Do me a favor. Try to explain away what he calls privacy. If you can do it, be my guest. P-R-I-V-A-C-Y.

  6. No need to be snippy, Chris. Whitehead does indeed argue that every entity prehends the world in its own way. That doesn’t change the fact that for Whitehead every entity is inextricably related to all other entities in the world. That’s a thesis that OOO resolutely rejects.

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