Some OOO ques, thoughts on eidos and essence

So, it’s already been a few weeks since I posted that my basic level objections to OOO have gone by the wayside. And finally, my grades have gone in, I’m able to read for pleasure/ research in a real way again, and I’m back to work editing/finishing the network books. Woohoo!

I’m also most of the way through Circus Philosophicus, and it has me thinking some new thoughts regarding the relations between OOO and language. What follows isn’t critique, it’s questions. Because as I’m working on finally getting these network books to congeal, there are many, many related issues, and I’m really trying to figure out the potentials for common ground.

Because I suspect that OOO and networkological relationalism, despite differences in our preference for metaphors (OOO preferring those of separation/disjunction, relationalism that of connection), the end picture is eerily similar to wave/particle duality . . .

Let’s go back to the cane toad, one of my favorites from the OOO bestiary. We refer to the cane toad as an object. It has split structure, etc. Much of what I’m asking here deals issues related to the eidos/essence dichotomy in Graham’s accounts (and I’m looking forward to reading Democracy of Objects soon, to find out more about how Levi deals with these issues).

It’s obvious that for OOO, a cane toad is an object. But is the cane toad and the table it is sitting on an object, or, as Graham recently argued in the UCLA talk, an aggregate? Graham mentions that via Leibniz we can tell the difference between a substance and aggregate, and that a Latour Litany (TM) taken together is not an object. Does this mean it doesn’t withdraw, or that each part withdraws, but not the whole?

That is, what is it that makes something get a withdrawing core, a ‘virtual proper being’ of its own? An eidos and an essence, a post-Kantian ding-an-sich? My networkological side wants the aggregate to get one too, if perhaps one that is less dense or less interesting. But one nevertheless. But in Graham’s UCLA talk, it seems these are pseudo-objects, and I guess I’m wondering what the inner structure of these are.

From a networkological perspective, all of these are networks, simply of different types. A cane toad and a table are networks, both separately and together, just as the molecules of which they are composed. They have no essence or eidos, except that they are linked to the semiotic particles within human language called ‘cane toad’ and ‘table’ and ‘molecules’, and from these they are seen differently by those who use semiotics than those who don’t. That said, they are also dealt with differently by all animals, because animals have conceptual networks in their brains, and these are linked in even human brains, under the linguistic level, and these semiotic/meaningful networks (both linguistic and neural), are linked to the actual networks of the toad and table by means of the interactions between animals, humans, toads, and tables.

Any eidos/essence is always ‘for’ something, but that something need not be human, but merely, something that finds toads and tables meaningful. A passing electron, for example, in good Uexkuellian fashion, finds only certain things around it meaningful. It sees no toad nor table, only particles and charges and spins. But it interacts with what we call a toad and table nevertheless. So it’s not so much that there’s ONE eidos or essence, but as many as there are perspectives on the spacetime location in which what we call toad and table co-exist.

I’m not sure if OOO agrees with this, but I’m curious.



~ by chris on December 23, 2010.

One Response to “Some OOO ques, thoughts on eidos and essence”

  1. Chris:

    Long time reader, first time poster. 😉

    I think these are good questions, especially about the table and the toad, as they are really metaphysical questions.

    My sense is that triple-O will want to say that the table + toad = a new object. Why? Well, you could take a more Latourian or DeLandian track and say that the toad-table thing is able to do things that neither the toad nor the table in isolation is able to do, that they have emergent powers that tell us we are dealing with a new entity in the world. The idea is that the toad and table are now in some kind of relationship, that the toad is perceiving the table in whatever way it can, say, as flat, stable sitting thing (just speculating) and the table is relating the toad in some way as mushy, maybe slightly wet moving thing. Does it make a difference? Yes, because neither the toad nor the table is transparent to one another — there is a basic ontological sense in which they encounter something and not just a characterless nothingness (though, the toad might make very little to no effect on the table as a whole). But this doesn’t mean, either, that the toad or the table is identifiable with each other’s own perspective. When we replace the toad with a lovely, ancient vase, the vase isn’t encountering the toad’s perspective at all. Rather, a new perspective of vase-table is now produced. This only works if each aspect of that perspective can be de-contextualized or broken apart into lower pieces.

    How, precisely, we can deduce whether a new entity has truly emerged is tricky. One of Harman’s best criteria is that the new entity must have new qualities (it doesn’t matter if these are encountered or not at this point). Does the table-toad or toad-table have qualities that at the very least neither have alone and that would exist whether or not any other entity perceives or encounters them (not only humans but any other animals, particles of dust, the ambient air in the room, etc)? I might phrase it like this: is the reality of the toad sitting on the table bigger than what the toad at this point is able to perceive, and likewise with the table? I think, yes. There are all sorts of qualities and properties that are happening that neither can see, experience, access or affect. The table is probably indifferent to whether the toad can see it, though the toad’s vision of the table might be an essential part of it’s perception. This is nothing for the table. The idea is that it is a quality of the entity that is now the table-toad, one part of it, the table, not being able to affect or be affected by, that quality. The funny thing is that the table-toad object is a very bizarre unity of completely asymmetrical relationships. It is a fusion of pieces that don’t know or encounter their own encounter, nor what it is, precisely, that the other thing is finding or touching in them. In fact, the toad-table object and the table-toad object might even be two different entities, neither aware or affected by their inclusion in another’s perspective and likewise, unaware they are a part of a larger entity.

    Objects, from below, are vast networks. Their interiors are as strange, contingent and haphazard as one could imagine (the toad and the table — what an uncanny pair). From above, they are unities, tentative, mind you, but still unities, which can themselves, carrying their vast interior networks with them, enter into new relations with other objects, or, conversely, not enter into any relationships at all. Triple-O agrees with you when you say that the toad and table are themselves networks, just as their relation is itself another network, but parts company when you say that that means they have no essence. Those networks do have an essence or substantial form. Remember that essence and eidos are not identical, though they are mirrors of one another (Prince of Networks, pp 214-221). The eidos belongs to the sensual realm of encounter; essence belongs to the realm of the real object — its existence as both network and unity, its split between itself and its qualities. Essence isn’t some mystical reality. It simply means that a thing is a this thing, that is, something specific. Strangely enough, or maybe not so strangely, Marge Simpson stumbled upon essence when her family was in Brazil. Looking at a bunch of colorful souvenirs, she picked up a harmless necklace, only to discover it was, in fact, a snake coiled in the shape of a necklace. She remarked with disdain: “Everything here is something.” That’s essence. A network will have a certain stability and existence cut off from its own pieces, even though it is generated by those pieces. The network itself is now a powerful entity in its own right, able to lose or change some of its parts (from below) but also to enter into another relationship as this network and not just as its pieces alone.

    I’ve got to cut this off as I have written far too much already — apologies for taking up so much space. I’d suggest that, in your ontology, you seem to collapse the difference between eidos and essence, whereas triple-O keeps them radically separate.

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