Shaviro and Bryant, and some Meta-thoughts
In response to recent back and forth by Shaviro and Bryant, I’ve got some ‘meta’ thoughts. It seems to me that ultimately, Steve and Levi are saying basically the same things, but in two very different vocabs. And while I generally share Steve’s view on things, seeing as we both find Whitehead to be a strong source of inspiration, I see why someone would find Levi and Graham’s approach inspiring and useful as well.
Here’s what I see as basic points of agreement:
1. I think we’re all agreed that there are relations within things (ie: between the molecules in a ball, or linking and differentiating the singularities which govern the ball’s transformations), and outside of things (ie: between the ball and other matters, minds, concepts, its submatters – depending on if you consider these internal or external, and its more a matter of how you define a matter, etc.).
2. We also I think all agree that if you have either all relations and no objects, or all objects and no relations, things stop working. So there’s always got to be an excess, a gap, a reserve, a withdrawal. Otherwise, novelty falls out of the picture, and we lapse into a complete determinism, a position none of us seem to want to espouse, and for what I think are good reasons.
3. I think we also all agree that objects are not static, they mutate, and depending on how you define an object, that object may not even precede its translation/mutation of the info it gets from the world in its process of responding to it. That is, I think that all of us to one degree or another see objects and events as two sides of the same, for every event is an object, and every object an event, even if often one which reiterates in similar or differing manifestations.
Where do we differ, then? I think that on the OOO side of things there’s an anxiety of influence, a sorta Oedipal desire to separate off from previous philosophy and appear really different and new, when in fact there’s some difference there, but also more continuity than there might at first seem.
So, there’s a tendency to sell short thinkers like Whitehead, and label them as ‘internal relationists,’ when in fact, as both Steve and I have argued repeatedly, Whitehead is anything but. For in a Whiteheadian universe, there is, as Levi ironically points out describing his own approach, reserve at all points (due to negative prehensions, the process-oriented nature of concretion as described in Steve’s last post, the role of nexus/societies in relation to the light cone, etc.), and at multiple levels of scale. The result is a model quite similar to what Deleuze describes in The Fold, a book which, non-coincidentally, has one of Deleuze’s most extended treatments of Whitehead (even if a lot of its in the footnotes). For Whitehead is in many ways a 20th century Leibniz, he really gets so much from Leibniz, and in some sense, his lack of attribution of just how much shows us perhaps Whitehead’s own anxiety of influence.
The point is, I think that the type of relationalism that me and Steve argue for is not all that different from Levi and Graham’s object-oriented approaches. Don’t get me wrong, there are differences, but they’re not as big as I think they might at first seem. I think there’s a semi-willful misreading of certain relational thinkers so make OOO seem more different from object-oriented approaches than they in fact are.
Where do we strongly differ? It seems like the issue of change is the big one. Various relational folks (Steve, Adrian, myself, etc.) have argued that issues like the genesis of objects (when does an object become an object?), termination of objects (do they just vanish, go to sleep, etc?), and distinction between objects (when does an object change its nature in an essential way, and when superficially, etc.) worry us relationalists about object-oriented approaches.
This is why I think, for one, that object-relational approaches are a great corrective to past models, but as they are they are incomplete. Steve has argued that if the withdrawn objects communicate somehow with each other, perhaps in some sort of withdrawn flux, this might make us relationalists a bit less worried, because it would fill out the picture a bit. I tend to agree (for more on this, see here). My sense is that relationalism is more encompassing, and that within a broader, relational structure, an object-oriented approach makes sense, but only within this more encompassing context. This is why I think object-oriented approaches aren’t wrong, and in fact, are right on so many things. But I do think the theory is incomplete, at least if it is attempting to describe the world in toto.
What do the object-oriented folks think we miss? According to the OOO folks, we relationalists don’t maintain reserve at each point, and hence, that we lapse into determinism. At least, that’s what I see as their primary concern. And I for one do in fact think that some older relational models do fall into that trap. I don’t think Whitehead, however, is one of these folks, nor Steve and I. I’m sure that to the object-oriented folks I’m underdescribing this, but that is also likely part of what it means to disagree.
But what if the object-oriented folks stopped ‘hating’ (?!) on Whitehead and relational models that DO maintain a gap, excess, reserve, withdrawal at all points? Perhaps we’d see we’re actually more similar than at first appeared. And the need for reserve, excess, gap, withdrawal, translation? Point well made, and point taken, its very important to safeguard that, and as relationalists, to not forget its there.