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Sunday, 15 January 2012

Object-oriented ontologies vs materialism: what is at stake 3 (Ontogenesis)

Been reading Le Clézio's essay on L'extase matérielle (Gallimard, 1967). It is a big praise on the powers of matter beyond what is merely actual. He pictures matter as reminiscent of a time with no struggles - where there is nothing to hate and yet nothing to understand. No object. No crystallised being. A time, that is not an archaic moment but rather an epoch to be claimed, where everything was at stake and nothing had beginning or end. Yet this is not a time gone, he goes. It is rather a time always present. He says there is a world of objects, the world where he finds himself being one of them, a subject. But there is a simultaneous world of matter - a piece of heaven or hell that lies about. It is like sleep where the objects are the objects of dream. Le Clézio insists that he is talking about matter, about a material substract to all objects.

The issue concerning ontogenesis is whether objects need something else to provide for their origin. Hamilton Grant claims that somatism is blind to ontogenesis. Object-oriented approaches could reply that there is no origin beyond objects (no origin of contents beyond concepts, when we move to the ontology of thought). The claim is that there is no space between objects, no space for interaction - nothing acts but objects, nothing is acted upon but other objects. So, for an object-oriented approach, either objects come from objects or they come from nowhere (either objects can provide an ontogenesis or ontogenesis as a question would have to go).

The issue of ontogenesis has political implications. Jonathan Kemp, in an essay of the forthcoming book Submidialogias 2012 takes objects to be a product of a crystallisation by capital. Underneath the objects - under the surface of the produce of capital - lies rougher materials to be uncovered in order to unveil hidden potentialities. Kemp claims that the struggle around capital is the struggle between informed objects and the non-crystallised matter, from where other objects can arise. From crystallised objects no object will follow but those that are blessed by capital. Matter is a political way out.


  1. These are interesting problems and there really seems to be some sort of isometry going on between them. Attempts to characterize matter and content without appealing to objects and concepts fall short of criteria of identity, leading us to alien territories; an undifferentiated one, in one case, and an unintelligible one, in the other. At the same time, attempts to conceive objects and concepts without explaining them in terms of matter and contents seem to lead us to all too human lands, where the notions of objects and concepts, while having many theoretical functions, have no real explanatory grounds. We are trapped between renouncing a meaningful theory and surrendering to a blind one. This sounds as a very familiar problem, that of an impossible but necessary ground: That which should be a transcendent ground to the immanent experienced can only be grasped as (and thereof can seemingly only be) immanent to us.

    I like the idea of thinking objects as products of a crystallization by capital. But then we should be careful to think matter positively as a political way out of the problem, since it is also (or can also be seen as), negatively, the very way into it, as the great object of objectification by labor, that whose essence is to be a mere receptacle of our will. From this negative perspective, perhaps the way out of these aporiai is a critique of its distinctions themselves.

    Just one more crazy, oversimplified thought. If we are to think the distinction between matter and object in some sort of a Marxist key, where objects equal matter plus labor, maybe we can bring about a Freudian critique of the distinction content-concept, where concept equals content plus repression. In the first case: No capitalist labor over matter, no individual commodified object, no alienation. In the second one: No paternal-social repression over libidinal content, no meaningful sublimated concept, no guilt.


    1. Yes, I see the issue as one concerning the realm of the un-individuated, the indifferentiated, the non-distinct - Hamilton Grant's Unbedingte, the unconditioned and the un-thinged. Is there anything preceding individuals? The child in Wittgenstein's 257 cannot really make up a word for toothache because toothache is non-distinct, the conditions for its individuation would have to come in a grammar that precedes the introduction of the word (a grammar that the child lacks). Surely, one could then talk about objects beyond concepts. The general issue is close to that related to Gunky worlds: can we find objects as parts of objects ad infinitum?