Reply to Graham on Objects


So, after reading Graham´s replies to my recent post (in regard to both Steve and Levi´s recent posts), there was a part of me that was starting to get convinced – perhaps I had missed it all along? Maybe I´d have to recant, or stage a conversion ceremony, if not as a believer, then as an official booster and fellow-traveller? Which, had I missed something big, would´ve been the only appropriate response.

It took me a little bit to rethink a bit. And this is because I think that Graham did something specific, namely, explain a specific counter-example I proposed with a counter-explanation. This, as opposed to, for example,  saying it was all explained in previous blog posts, or avoiding the main issue being put forth by blowing up a side issue in a way that makes it person (as sometimes is done on the internets!). I must say, I appreciate this, and pedagogically, I found it very effective.

But even though, after rethinking a bit, some new doubts have emerged on my end, Graham is right, I DO have a maintained interest in the object-oriented project. I think there´s something new and different here. My critique doesn´t stem from a simple desire to attack, but to see if I can eventually see this project as coherent on its own terms. I mean, I don´t agree with Aquinas, but I think he´s coherent, considering his presuppositions, same with Heidegger, or a variety of other philosophers. There are lots of philosophers I don´t agree with, but really like, Husserl, for example. And this is what I´m trying to get at with my engagement with OOO, to the point where I think it coheres on its own terms. This has yet to happen for me, hence why I post reservations, trying to figure out if that´s on my end, or on the OOO end.


Here´s my remaining concerns. Let´s go back to the example with me seeing the furry dog as I step outside of my house, and my friend, inside the house, who sees me out a window but from behind, so that he sees my back, but neither the dog nor my reaction to it. In my last post, I simply said the objects were all split appropriately, but after reading Graham´s posts, I see why this might not be a sufficient level of detail.

From my reading of Graham´s reply and how this clarifies a few things, it seems that a new (compound) phenomenal object is formed from the intersection of dog, background, and my perceptual filters and whatnot, basically, ´Chris percieves dog on his lawn.´ This phenomenal object is created when the real objects Chris, dog, lawn, and background interact, creating a wide variety of compound phenomenal objects, such as ´Chris sees dog´, but also ´dog squishnig grass he´s standing on´, etc. My friend sees me, bringing about ´Friend sees Chris´, but not ´Friend sees Chris see Dog´. This phenomenal object doesn´t exist.

Beneath each of these phenomenal compound objects, however, is  a real compound object, because a real Chris sees a real dog on a real background, giving rise to the compound real object ´Chris sees dog on background (lawn, etc.)´, though the relation between the real compound ´Chris sees dog´and the phenomenal ´Chris sees dog´ will always be one in which the real will exceed the phenomenal. This gives rise to the potential for change and surprise, as Graham describes with the marriage analogy.

What I like about this, at least on the phenomenal side,  is that there is then a mesh of sorts, a semi-intertwined set of semi-overlapping phenomenal objects nested and layered within each other in differing degrees.

But there is also this shadowy other world of withdrawn real objects, the dog, Chris, roommate, grass, and their compounds, etc. None of the phenomenal objects exhaust these real objects. So we have one world of semi-continuity (phenomenal world, in which some perceptions overlap with others, but some don´t, for example, I see the dog and my friend doesn´t, but we both see the lawn I´m standing on), and then the puncutuated world of withdrawn real objects.

The only manner in which the real objects touch, even when they combine, is through phenomenal apprehension of each other. Thus, when the real dog squishes the real lawn, these two objects only relate, and hence form a compound real object ´lawn squished by dog´, by means of the apprehension of each of the other. Its as if the real and the phenomenal were webbed together, interwoven even, by the looping between them necessary to form compounds. Talk about ´folding´in the Deleuzian sense! You can see, from the very way I´m talking about this, that I like much of what´s going on here.

The result of compounding, in the example in question, is that there are two compound phenomenal objects here – ´lawn apprehends dog´ and ´dog apprehends lawn´- and these, it would seem, give rise somehow to the real object ´dog on lawn´ which is formed, it would seem to me, indirectly, by a vicarious and indirect form of causation, which occurs via a circuit which runs through the phenomenal level (the interweaving I was just talking about). Hence, the real objects do touch, but only through the circuit of the phenomenal, thereby giving rise to both new phenomenal AND new real compound objects, via this unique form of infolding.

In some ways, very Kantian (ie: the split and its starkness), but in other ways, very un-Kantian, Kant, in a sense, as I would say, with a multiplicitous twist. I like it. But, I still have some reservations . . .


When I see the dog squish the grass, I am, at least in part,  one who distinguishes the lawn from the grass from the dog, in that I say that I am the one that sees the dog arrive, the lawn start to get squished, etc. Of course, I am not the only one involved, because there is also lawn, grass, dog, etc. We all contribute to the state of affairs that can lead me to say, ´oh, I just saw that dog squish that grass over there by standing on it´. Were there real objects not lined up properly, and intertwined by means of phenomenal loops in just the right way, the compound real object of ´dog on lawn seen by Chris´wouldn´t at all be possible.

But what allows me to separate dog, lawn, and grass? Well, semiotically, I´ve inherited these categories from my culture, and I´ve also inherited a set of bodily/mental dispositions which separate things into meaningful chunks (such as seen in non-linguistic animals). All these things carve the phenomenal world into objects. A baby, however, with its limited semiotic and bodily/mental abilities to distinguish objects, however, would not be able to do so.

But then there´s the perspective of an electron, the phenomenal world it encounters, filled with tons of phenomenal objects, which would not include anything like a dog, but rather, patterns of density of charge and movement of various sorts. We could even call these objects, if we want, though I´m not sure an electron could differentiate these as objects the way a conscious being could. Its perspective in relation to the world would produce a ranking of relevance of various entities in regard to their relation to the electron, but it does not seem to me that the electron has the ability to distinguish any of these things (though I do think the complex computer composed of its perspective in relation to its context can, precisely because of the level of complexity of the matter at hand – an argument for another time).

Whether we deal with me, my friend, the baby, or the electron, it seems that the phenomenal realm is full of perspective, through and through, even if these perspectives only overlap in some ways.

But then there´s real objects. Can I say that a real dog touches real grass? Can we know that much about the real dog, real grass, or real anything? Graham says that just as with a black hole, we can intuit its effects, even if we can´t experience it directly. Now I completely agree that these sorts of indirect or virtual presences (and I use the word virtual here in the sense its used in physics, such as a virtual focus in optics, and not in the specifically Deleuzian sense) exist within the phenomenal world. But how much can we know about distinctions within that which creates these virtual effects?

I think I´d have much less issue with the object-oriented approach if  we described the phenomenal realm as full of perspective, as described above, but also didn´t make any distinction between real objects – or even call them objects. I don´t think, based on the way the system is currently set up, we can say ANYTHING about the ´real´realm, or even that it is composed of distinct objects!

For how could we know that the dog is distinct from grass from me, unless we are surreptitiously importing our own perspectives into the realm of the real, the effects of which we can only sense indirectly by means of the withdrawn potential for newness which phenomenal objects present to us?

Furthermore, doesn´t the Deleuzian notion of the virtual do just this, but without the metaphysical baggage of assuming we can separate out objects? And in doing so, doesn´t it get around the objections I´ve posted in previous posts, in regard to the genesis, destruction, distinction, and change of objects? Because then these sorts of distinctions only occur in a way we could know in the phenomenal realm, and depend upon the perspective of each entity, such that the ´realm of the real´(similar though not identical to the Deleuzian virtual, to which I think we can get a bit more direct access in certain systems in the process of change), may have such distinctions, but also might not.

This is what has concerned me all along with object-oriented approaches. When Graham says that a real grenade went off by the real Ahmadinejad, well, not to an electron nearby. That electron knows nothing of this, it only ´knows´ (and I use that word VERY liberally here) patterns of density of charge off which it ricochets. To say that there is a real guy here and a real grenade, you either 1) import your own filters, which is fine, so long as you call it that and stick with the limitations this provides, OR, 2) you import a god´s eye view. I worry that object oriented approaches do the former, in the mode of the latter, but call it neither. This has always been my concern, for the reasons described above.

HOWEVER, if 1) the phenomenal realm were described completely in terms of perspective, even in the incompossible, semi-overlapping manner described by Whitehead, and 2) we could say nothing about divisions, genesis, change, distinction, or anything of the sort about the realm of the real, WELL, then I´d have a lot less problem with object-oriented approaches.

Then again, I could be missing something. Graham´s last post definitely gave me some stuff to chew on, and I really appreciate that.


~ by chris on August 5, 2010.

One Response to “Reply to Graham on Objects”

  1. […] 6, 2010 Vitale has posted a RESPONSE TO MY RESPONSE, and it’s perfectly friendly. But it feels now like we’re arguing in circles. The part […]

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