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Checking Heidegger’s Hammer: The Pleasure and Direction of the Whirr

How to Philosophize With a Hammer (or better…Spinoza’s Hatchet)

Heidegger is credited with profound originality in his treatment of “the hammer”, something even it is said his critics have to doff their hat to. With this we cannot, and should not dispute. But, it may be enough to point out that approximately 265 years before there was Heidegger’s Hammer, there was a similar point made by Spinoza, in the carpenter’s hatchet. Spinoza indeed, as a actual craftsman who thought deeply about his tools, had a sort of Tool-Being analysis which might help us reflect upon the nature of distinction that Heidegger was making (and that those that follow him continue to make). The comparison of these tools I originally found here, but is in reference to the essay “Heidegger’s Hammer, Spinoza’s Hatchet” by Eccy de Jonge, apparently defunctly found here, but which I have not been able to read. Here are the two complimentary passages:

Spinoza:

Seventhly, this knowledge also brings us so far that we attribute all to God, love him alone because he is the most glorious and the most perfect, and thus offer ourselves up entirely to him; for these really constitute both the true service of God and our own eternal happiness and bliss. For the sole perfection and the final end of a slave and of a tool is this, that they duly fulfill the task imposed on them. For example, if a carpenter, while doing some work, finds his Hatchet of excellent service, then this Hatchet has thereby attained its end and perfection; but if he should think: this Hatchet has rendered me such good service now, therefore I shall let it rest, and exact no further service from it, then precisely this Hatchet would fail of its end, and be a Hatchet no more. Thus also is it with man, so long as he is a part of Nature he must follow the laws of Nature, and this is divine service; and so long as he does this, it is well with him. But if God should (so to say) will that man should serve him no more, that would be equivalent to depriving him of his well-being and annihilating him; because all that he is consists in this, that he serves God.

The Short Treatise On God, Man and His-Well-Being, part II, chapter XVIII “On the Uses of the Foregoing”

Heidegger:

[The] less we stare at the hammer-Thing, and the more we seize hold of it and use it, the more primordial does our relationship to it become, and the more unveiledly is it encountered as that which it is-as equipment … If we look at Things just ‘theoretically’, we can get along without understanding readiness-to-hand. But when we deal with them by using them and manipulating them, this activity is not a blind one; it has its own kind of sight, by which our manipulation is guided and from which it acquires its specific Thing character …

The ready-to-hand is not grasped theoretically at all, nor is it itself the sort of thing that circumspection takes proximally as a circumspective theme. The peculiarity of what is proximally ready-to-hand is that, in order to be ready-to-hand, it must, as it were, withdraw in order to be ready-to-hand quite authentically. That with which our everyday dealings proximally dwell is not the tools themselves. On the contrary, that with which we concern ourselves primarily is the work – that which is to be produced at the time; and this is accordingly ready-to-hand too. The work bears with it that referential totality within which the equipment is encountered.

 Being and Time, section 15, “The Being of Entities Encountered in the Environment,” under the Analysis of Environmentality and Worldhood in General 

First, I want to really thank the initial two authors for bringing the two selections into contact for me. It never had occurred to me that there would be so close an analogical connection between Spinoza and Heidegger, in text, though long I had sensed that Spinoza works to resolve something of the strained and willfully produced tension in Heidegger’s human-torqued universe of fundamental alienation. (Briefly I could say that metaphysics of alienation are naturalizations of political products, and as such work to make invisible the results of choices we have collectively made.) Spinoza’s insistence that human beings are not “a kingdom within a kingdom” seems a well suited antidote to Heidegger’s “thrownness” [Geworfenheit], in concrete terms.

How the Hammer and the Hatchet Touch

But let us look at the two passages and see if we can rough-cut the correspondences and divergences in such a way to see were the Heideggerian and Spinozian realms touch. Happily, each uses the example of a tool, Heidegger famously so, to illustrate a fundamental metaphysical realty. For Heidegger it is to point out just what readiness-to-hand is, and kind of invisible power of the efficacy of the tool (as Graham Harman will tell us, of any object), whose power defies conception, theorization, or presentation. When we cease to engage a tool, pausing to look at it and frame it (the move from ready-to-hand to present-at-hand), breaking it out of its assemblage of powerful action, the tool becomes strange for us. It recedes from our occupation of it. Its presencing veils it from us, like an apparitional cloak. Yet if we look to strip away this veil by taking up the tool again, and using it, as the veil fades, along with the increasing efficacy of tool in use, so does the object itself. What we are looking to grasp, in literal grasping, vanishes.

A similar thing seems to happen to Spinoza’s carpentry hatchet. While it is being used by the carpenter it is filled with hatchetness, performing all the hatchet-effects of what it is, but once it is retired from work, it no longer is a hatchet at all. Its very essence seems to retreat from the carpenter into a distinct but unspecified objecthood. How much are Heidegger and Spinoza pointing out similar things?

Let us dig into Spinoza’s illustration though so to see how deeply it cuts into Heidegger’s hammer example. The first thing to note is that Spinoza is using an analogy meant to describe both human, teleological action, and the ultimate ground of those actions, the ateleological actions of Substance. In that he is describing human action in which things are characteristically marked by their place in function, he seems to be touching on something quite close to Heidegger’s point. The object of the hatchet, even when being fully used by the carpenter, or when laid down and retired, is in surpass (or retreat) of either condition. The ultimate ground of the object is deeper than each, teleological action, or contemplative repose. It oscillates between hatchet-in-action and not-hatchet-in-inaction.

But there is a further dimension to Spinoza’s point, for by analogy the “carpenter” is not a functionally minded man, but God, Substance, Nature. And the use that the “hatchet” is put to is not to build a wall, house or chair, but simply to exist and express Substance. In this way the object is fully deployed when existing. It cannot be named because its function runs in every direction along the full web of interactions which it supports, and is supported by. So in existence, the object stands bright. radiating out all its possibility (though the human carpenter locked in his teleological perspective does not fully see it). And when the carpenter “God” lays the hatchet down, to retire it, it simply passes out of existence, though still having Being under an aspect of eternity. It is no longer deployed, no longer what it was, but its objecthood, as an essence, remains, de-nominated.

The Carpenter’s Hand

Yet, there is a bit of a trick here. Is it so for Spinoza that Heidegger’s general claim of two kinds of invisibility of objects, those invisibly in use, and those present in rest, are present in Spinoza’s example of the human carpenter? We can see that as the human carpenter looks to his hatchet he only grasps some aspect of it in the as-structure of its use, something that is a veil of its ultimate and active object-capacities. But is the hatchet also invisible when being used, and the carpenter concentrates on his work? I think that the whole of Spinozist philosophy works against just that kind of imagined and absolute invisibility.

First take in Graham Harman’s summation of the Principle of Invisibility  implied by Heidegger’s tool-analysis. Graham’s interpretation is important because it pushes to the limit the fully abstract character of Heidegger’s claims, and as such makes clear just where Heideggerian abstractions depart from the relevant world, forcing open a gap between a science fiction philosophy of objects, and an abstract philosophy of what matters.

Heidegger has shown that its [tool-being’s] first notable trait is its invisibility. As a rule, the more efficiently the tool the tool performs its function, the more it tends to recede from view: “The peculiarity of what is proximally ready-to-hand is that, in its readiness-to-hand, it must, as it were, withdraw [zurückziehen] in order to be ready-at-hand quite authentically.” But this familiar point is rarely grasped in a sufficiently rigorous way. It is not just that equipment is generally invisible as long as it is working properly. Such a notion could never surpass the level of empirical anecdote, and only invites free-wheeling attempts at contradiction (“but then we noticed that it worked a lot better if you stared right at the damn thing”). The truth is far more radical than this. In the first instance, there is an internal chasm between equipment and tool-being. The wrench as reality and the visible or tactile wrench are incommensurable kingdoms, solitary planes without hope of intersection. The function or action of a tool, its tool-being, is absolutely  invisible – even if the hammer never leaves my sight. Neither gazing at an object nor theorizing about an object is enough to lure its being from concealment (21) 

Tool-being: Heidegger and the Metaphysics of Objects, Graham Harman

I want to take up Graham Harman’s call for “sufficiently rigorous” grasping of the Heideggerian notion of withdrawl. I think it is important though, as fast as Graham wants to fly into things other than outright tools (bank accounts, mindless jingles, hairballs), to stay with tools. For its is from human experiences with tools that Heidegger derives much of the convincing power of his great abstraction. If we are to be rigorous about the claim, we must concentrate on the exact nature of the site of the illustration, and see if the general point being made  can  even find enough ground there. Once approved there, we then can track out all the translations into The Great Wide Open of any object whatsoever.

Carefully we note that for Heidegger the two occluded states of invisible action (equipment) and veiled repose are the famously the two states of working and broken tool:

Equipment in action operates in an inconspicuous usefulness, doing its work without our noticing it. When the tool fails, its unobtrusive quality is ruined. There occurs a jarring of reference, so that the tool becomes visible as what it is: “The contexture of reference and thus the referential totality undergoes a distinctive disturbance which forces us to pause.” There is thus a double life of equipment – tool in action, tool in disrepair. These two planes would seem never to intersect, since the visibility of the tool immediately marks it’s cessation as equipment. But in fact, their point of intersection provides what amounts to the central theme for Heidegger’s career: namely, the as-structure. Through the “as,” the two worlds actually turn out to exist only in communion, in constant intersection with one another… (Harman 45)

Now we all know exactly what Heidegger is talking about. We are working away, concentrating on the nails, the wood-finish, thinking about lunch, hammering away, and the hammer is very close to being “invisible” (if we are a good enough carpenter). But then if the handle fractures, it sends up a vibration to the hand that suddenly shocks it into visibility, but as a hammer, as we look at it that is somehow lost. Beautiful, excellent poetic description of some aspects of what it is like to use a hammer, it kind of passes between these two states. I wish to bring up an objection though which hopefully will not fall too much into the category of “free-wheeling” “empirical anecdote” for a reader such Graham, for I already find Heidegger’s analogical binary a bit too free-wheeling on its own right. The objection to invisibility is not as Graham states it, “but then we noticed that it worked a lot better if you stared right at the damn thing” but it is much more radical than that.

The Texture of Communication

And that is, for a great variety of tools (and I will come to suspect, perhaps all tools and therefore objects), Heidegger and his radix purifier, has left out an entire dimension of visibility, the way that visibility and workability actually coincide together. In their pursuit of irreconcilable binaries something important has been lost, and their entire reductive, categorical claim depends upon the exhaustabilty of its split. Heidegger wants withdrawal to be the very mark of the authenticity of readiness-to-hand, but if anyone has used a tool that excels in its capacities, one understands that there is a way that the tool leaps into visibility that has nothing to do with repose or reflection or theorization. A musician who picks up a Stradivarius and pulls the bow, whether for the first time, or 1,00oth, has something of the instrument’s depth that reverberates with its very surplus of the mere functionality of the thing, a surplus that feeds back into its very function and performance. A baseball player who lifts and swings the right maple-wood bat, testing out is character of distribution, a character which fills his hands, has a presencing of the object which is conditioned upon its very performance. Swinging the bat in its arc, the bat only “disappears” in the most restrictively defined notion of sense. Instead the bat continually reports and manifests because of its mutuality with the human body. A racecar driver that is prostheticallyextended to the road through an expert suspension system, does not actually feel the suspension system become invisible in its performance, but rather the suspension is cybernetically feedback into the horizon of the body as a constitutive factor in the performance itself, making itself known as a series of limits and expressions. This is known as the “feel” of an instrument, not as the last visible vestige of  a tool’s inefficiency, but the very live, material connectivity to the world. As much as Heidegger (and perhaps even more Graham Harman) may want to divide an object into “working” invisibility and “broken” (in)visibility, there is a profound aspect of “working” which is made up of the very substance of revealed and composite com-munication, which means literally “to divide up within one, to share”. As such there is a variability of consubstantial change (the violin becomes the musician, the musician the violin) which oscillates between the parts, such that we can say that the parts are “seen” by each other. We certainly admit that the violin can indeed disappear before the music, the car before the road, but in no way is there a categorical link between efficacy of performance and invisibility. In the very fact that objects regularly become visible through their performability, the charge of their expressivity. This visibility of expression might indeed get us to pause, and to do as Graham says, look at the object, and notice its performance in it own right, but this is distinct from the expressive inter-relationship itself, the way that the very effective performance of a tool, and instrument, a prosthetic, depends upon the inter-relatability of the combination of our parts with its parts. We do not only notice our body when it breaks down. In fact, and dancer knows, inhabits with great visibility its own body, increment by increment, capacity by capacity, in such a way that the dance itself becomes visible, as an excellence.

So why did Heidegger (and Graham) miss this (or subdivide it into non-importance), and what does this have to do with what Spinoza says? Well, the problem is that each of the former are looking for binaries that will be locked against each other and that is because they come from an intellectual heritage of Idealism which wants to profoundly assert subject/object, Being/Non-Being, object/object dichotomies (CCC). When each looks at a tool they want to see how it can break into two, and only two pieces. In fact though, once Graham has isolated out this neat binary of the hammer, its supposed broken and unbroken parts, he wants to get as far away as possible from actual tools, real world human actions altogether:

I will argue that Heidegger’s tool-analysis has nothing to do with any kind of “pragmaticism,” or indeed with any theory of human action at all. Instead the philosophy of Heidegger forces us to develop a ruthless inquiry into the structure of objects themselves, and to a greater extent than even he himself would have endorsed (15).

He says this I think because he feels that Heidegger gives us conceptual capacity to be ruthless and transgress the human realm and give full rights to objects as things themselves, to make them each a miniature neutron star bombarding us with unknown energies. But the problem is that he runs a bit too fast from the human realm, and has not inspected the full vibrancy of tool use itself, the way in which tools necessarily employ visibility through performance.

The De-Centered Human in the Use of Mechanism

Counter to this I place Spinoza who like Graham also had a philosophical bent to de-centralize humans (nothing that Heidegger shares). Additionally, instead of using hammers as abstract, and quite theoretical objects like Heidegger, Spinoza was a craftsman of great care and precision. Much of his days was spent thinking about, choosing and using tools. A process which relied upon the manual improvements that come from a craftsman’s hand. One might say that as adept as Heidegger was at metaphysical reasoning, Spinoza was at instrument making (leaving his own metaphysics aside). His practice as lens-grinder was necessarily laborious and technique rich, relying upon not only precise measurement and material choice, but also harmonious and embodied physical labor. And with his hand-ground lenses he made some of the more respected microscopes and telescopes of his day:

A Spring-pole lens grinding lathe, mid 17th century

I believe much of his metaphysics was causally derived from his experiences with tools and their projects [An example]. If anyone would have concluded through a real life engagementwithtools that tools become categorically invisible when they perform well, it would have been Spinoza. It was precisely the opposite. Spinoza’s interaction with the glass blank and his lathe produced in him a shattering of the very human/world divide that enrapture’s Heideggerian disjointed universe of veilings. Likely, it was the distinct way that tools become visible in the very fabric of their performance (and not as an after thought, though that too), that Spinoza realized that human beings must be tools like all other things, and that only by the lived combination of powers, in manifesting displays of created self-determinations, that human beings experience a (relative) freedom. For this reason, human beings (and all things) become more perfect, more active, and most importantly in Heideggerian terms, have more being, to the degree that they combine with the manifestation of others. And tool use, tool-combination, is an irreplaceable aspect of this freedom. Performance is visibility.

So when Graham attempts to minimize the actual states of human consciousness under ultimate questions of visibility and performance, setting up two worlds…:

Someone might object that the tool is always invisible “only in a certain respect” rather than absolutely. And sure enough, a table obviously does not vanish into the ether once it begins to function as a support for plates and apples. But this complaint once again presupposes the idea of the table as a natural object, proportions of its reality momentarily visible and others unseen. On the contrary, it is not the chance fluctuations of human attention that determine whether the ready-to-hand is invisible or not. To say that the tool is unseen “for the most part” is ultimately superfluous, even incorrect. Whatever is visible of the table is in any given instant can never be its tool-being, never  its ready-to-hand. However deeply we meditate on the table’s act of supporting solid weights, however tenaciously we monitor its presence, any insight that is yielded will always be something quite distinct from this act itself.

(The Weight of Fleeting Thoughts)

…I feel in his quest to over shoot the concrete example and ascend to universalizing abstractions, he he misses the determining aspect of human action. It is not its the “humanness” of human action, or even its subjective character that makes it what it is. Rather it is exactly the incremental “fluctuations of human attention” that indeed do make up the degrees of power of ontological change. Spinoza I think would indeed agree that when using a tool or object or condition we as teleologically oriented beings do not fully grasp it, that there is a degree of invisibility (and also that when we nominalize it in a system of use and reference, particularly those of functional definition, we also have inadequate ideas, and it surpasses us). But what he would refuse is that our combination with other objects necessarily and categorically forecloses their visibility. Instead, it is our very participation with them that their internal natures are communicated to us, revealedly, in our bodies, because our bodies have become mutual. The reason for this is twofold. One is that, because Heidegger’s Idealist derived object-consciousness of definition of mental action has to be abandoned if we are ever to let go of a human-centric philosophy of the world, ultimately whether an object is not before our “mind’s eye” or not, whether we are locked in on the Stradivarius or not, is not a true measure of visibility. Mental action is not a picture-making, or picture-defined process. Mental action is revelation through both internal experience (across bounds) and expressional freedom to self-determine. The second reason for this is found in Spinoza’s treatment of just those “chance fluctuations” that Graham is so quick to dismiss as anything important.  Heidegger is talking about big things, not whether one’s mind lights upon the length of a table or the timbre of a cord played.

But Spinoza has it right, as he expresses in the General Definition of the Affects:

But it should be noted that, when I say a greater or lesser force of existing than before, I do not understand that the Mind compares its Body’s present constitution with a past constitution, but that the idea which constitutes the form of the affect affirms of the body something which really involves more or less reality than before (E3, General Definition of the Affects)

It is precisely in the moment to moment fluctuations of the mental life that the moment to moment ontological fluctuations of the power of the human body and mind are found. Each and every moment, each trace of thought to another thought, is veridically linked to increases and diminishments of the person’s capacity to act in the world. The Principles of Invisibility and Veiledness which Spinoza has some affinity toward, are cross slashed with vectors of raw power ruled by the experience of Joy. It is for this reason that Spinoza speaks of the excellent service of his hatchet. We human beings are already, as tool-beings of Substance, fully expressing ourselves unto our contingent causal matrix. We are at full service to Being. But through the following of Joy and the reading of the expressive power of other tool-beings, in increasingly self-determined assemblage, we can acquire more being, more freedom, more Joy. It is the very visibility that is experienced with tool performance, the way that a violin sings, and must sing, in order to be a playable violin, in order for our fingers to combine with it, that points us between Heidegger’s twin realms, making ourselves more visible.

In a certain sense Spinoza realizes that we are both external to events as human beings, and internal to them. Which is to say that because human beings do not comprise a kingdom within the kingdom of Being, but rather ultimately are expressions of it, though our passings between Heideggerian veiled and invisible realms seems to lock ourselves in, the greatest portion of our capacity to ingest our abstactions seems to be that like a water-mammal: when we go under the surface in performance with objects and they seem to recede into optical invisibility, because we too are made of the same stuff (the same primary connections between body and mind) and thus are in communication with it, when things appear to vanish into equipment, this is livingly so as an expressive state such that our growingly extensive bodies become inhabited across their dimension with perception and internal revelation. Subcutaneously there is conscious revelation in the experience of powers and Joys such that never is that world in-cognizant. We become what we know in action because we are already conjoined to it, however confusedly.

For those who want a world that is fractured, alienating, eruptive, weird, schizophrenic, I believe that there is plenty of room for that on the lived Spinozist plane of affective, bodily cybernetic reveal. There are disruptive paths that leap between local minima, that makes of one object the surprising neutron star of rays and beams. What is important though is not to naturalize our alienations as metaphysical boundaries in their own right, and so to see that the bridgings between this ontological moment so constituted by your relations, and the ones they follow, can rightfully have a path as vectored and free as our capacity to grasp and combine as we can make it. There can be no real hiding when we are part of the hidden, by degrees.

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Vicarious Causation Diagrammed

[or a larger, more readable image: here]

The above is my distillation of Graham Harman’s theory of cross-object-to-object causation as I have been able to glean from his thought-provoking essay “On Vicarious Causation”. I post it here because at times I am a visual thinker, and diagramming out the concepts and the purported dynamics helps me order my thought. Further though, it gives Graham the opportunity to locate just where I may or may not  be understanding him. I have written quite a few vectors of critique of his concept, and at the very least I should present just what I think he is saying.

It also may provide a nexus point for other readers so to better access Graham’s thinking here, or may allow a plateau on which readers may rest as they consider their own possible agreements and objections.

A Few More Questions

As a general thought, aside from my more varied critiques of the theory, after composing the diagram, I am currently wondering…

1. What does the signal consist of? Is it too a real object with sensuous vicars inside it?

2. How is it sent, or, what is its source?

3. What constitutes a clear or unclear reception of the signal?

4. How does the Intention as a Whole determine the causal source of the signal? (Surface of its own receiving skin, somewhere inside its own body boundary, in the vicar itself, in the medium, in the supposed real object, or somewhere further out, beyond the object?)

Graham has made it clear that he is quite busy, and cannot entertain such questions. Rather this is just something that I put out there in the ether for the good of whomever’s thought is also under development on the questions of vicarous causation.

Spinoza says, “Individual things are nothing more than…”

Spinoza and the Rights of Entities

In a brief response to my comment to Graham’s attempt to dichotomize all of recent philosophy into either “radical” or “conservative” forms, he claims that Spinoza is the “arch” radix reductionist:

As for Spinoza, he’s an arch-radix philosopher. You can’t say that there’s one substance and still do full justice to individual entities.

While I sincerely appreciate the future opportunity to have Graham cash out the promise that this will be explained, and I suspect that such a explanation would trade on the concept of “full justice”, from my point of view this claim comes from a very pale reading of Spinoza’s notion of Substance and the modes (Graham risks perhaps a Hegelian misreading of Spinoza’s metaphysics, thinking only vertically and not horizontally, suggesting something of an acosmism.) If Graham means by “full justice” complete autonomy of “individual entities” it would strike me (as it does) that he has retreated into a position that simply gives up the requirement for descriptive, rational explanations, the stuff of philosophy and metaphysics. Entities are autonomous simply because we grant ourselves freedom from the having to explain them, they come into being and then change for no identifiable reason at all (which is thus far is the state of Graham’s theory of causation, at least at the level of the inanimate, those “individual entities” in the greatest need of justice).

(It is interesting that if indeed Spinoza is an “arch” radix philosopher his metaphysics did not make Graham’s top ten seven list of radix philosophies.)

Aside from this, the idea that Spinoza’s metaphysics does not grant full nobility to any modal expression (what he calls “objects”) would have to take into firm account that for Spinoza the modes are that “by which God exists and acts”.  So to say that individual entities are “nothing but” Substance is to not fully grasp the fully concrete authority of modal expression. Without modal expression, God neither exists nor acts. Any “individual entity” is fully rightful in its place in the world. To say that this tea cup here is “nothing more than Substance” (the kind of reduction that Graham seems to imagine that Spinoza has archly performed), is to fail to see that the tea cup is a fully concrete expression of its individual essence, an essence which is particularized and unique in expression (matching Graham’s retreating essences of objects). The big difference is that it is not the sole cause of its existence, it is not autonomous, as it necessarily depends on external causes to bring it into, and to keep it in existence.

To put it roughly (I could draw closer correspondences):

1. Spinoza’s modal essences = Graham’s Heideggerian retreating essences.

2. Spinoza’s extensional expression of an essence = Graham’s real objects in tension with their qualities, composed of inner parts.

3.Spinoza’s ideational expression of an essence = Graham’s Husserian Intentional objects, composed of qualities and accidents.

If Spinoza is failing to grant full rights to entities, I can’t see how Graham does either for they divide up the pie in homologous ways. The only strong difference that I see is that Spinoza explicitly puts forth how these two, the inside and outside of objects, their mental and extensional aspects are related to each other.

“Objects, Objects every where, and all the boards did shrink…”

Graham does respond to my claim that he has simply adopted a metaphysics of two mirror world objects, telling me that these objects can indeed touch each other, across their mirror realms:

They’re not just “doubled in a mirror,” they’re of two different kinds: real objects, and intentional objects, and though two objects of the same kind cannot make contact, two objects of different kinds can. 

Unfortunately, as yet, I cannot tell how he imagines that this happens, other than simply stating that it does, especially on the inanimate level where a representationalist conception of knowledge is more than cumbersome. If he posits a complimentary Hume world and a Malebranche world, and then claims that elements in the Hume world literally touch elements in the Malebranche world, or some such equivalent, the entire claim that these are not isolated mirror worlds rests on precisely the enumeration of the nature of this “touching”. I have a feeling that he has a thing or two up his sleeve and he is waiting until it is more formulated, for he seems quite confident that he can answer the question with some detail. 

Returning to the original point though, the idea that Spinoza has made the modes “nothing more than Substance” (if this is what Graham is saying) would strike me as a deep misreading of even the claims of Spinoza. It would be like saying that for Spinoza natura naturata  is nothing more than natura naturans, an imprecise interpretation that I believe Malebranche also made on the fly when D’Ortous De Mairan begged him to save Europe from Spinozism, which was threatening to take all the miracles out of Christianity.  Such a reduction is explicitly foreclosed in Spinoza’s metaphysics.

I certainly look forward to Graham’s critique of Spinoza which should prove a satisfying groundwork for us finding greater agreement. I would suggest though that failing a rigorous theory of causation, not having defensible reasons why something is they way it is in the world, does not just have the benefit of saving the entity from the possibility of “reduction” (simply, explanation), giving it perhaps the illusion of the “right” to be what it is, to hide from every eye;  it has the very real negative consequence of making an island of it, and imprisoning it from any knowledgeable path towards its own freedom. Any explanation of a condition does not simply pigeon hole something, it also empowers the described if it can be knowing of its causes. The kind of “reduction” that Spinoza makes, insofar as he makes one, the claim that “I” am but an expression of Substance, is precisely the kind of reduction which minimizes none of my status as an “entity” but which directs my attention to the external causes which have made me what I am, and the exact nature of my dependencies. Because it shows me to be dependent, and not perfectly autonomous, it gives me the opportunity to change the nature of my dependencies to the degree that I can, and be given real  freedom, through the imperative that I choose my alliances to other things and persons powerfully.

When there is little explanatory framework, it is the just possibility of this freedom that is cut off from me as an object in the world. Questions of cause are inevitably linked to questions of agency, and Spinoza grants agency to all things. Absolving the question of contact and cause into the poetics of a sensuous realm’s “thin film eaten away over time” as if a time bomb ready to explode, or alternately, it being  “ruptured by distant signals” as Graham so beautifully does in his essay “On Vicarious Causation” actually has the reverse effect of what is intended, in denying objects the justice they require, a path of self-determination in terms of the power to act in the world: the answer to such questions as “How does one get one’s thin film eaten away in the best, most productive fashion?” or, “How does one most benificiently subject oneself to the rupture of distant signals?”

Taking the “God” out of the 17th Century

The Backbone Concept

Graham Harman posts a brief summation of his thinking about the lasting historical heritage of a natural dichotomy in philosophy, occasionalism vs. skepticism. I can’t tell, maybe this was something of a response to my last post on his attempted complementary reading of Hume and Malebranche. If it is, it does not address the error of Malebranche and then Reid which produces this dichotomy of matching errors; but it does provide an interesting tracing of this split into contemporary philosophy (to some anticipated consternation of Kantians who thought Kant effectively changed the location of the Sun, for the better).

But Graham’s appeal to occasionalism brings to mind something larger, the difficulty in how much of a theistic philosophical metaphysics can or should be taken into non-theistic contexts. Graham for instance wants to describe the world as an occasionalist, wherein the explanatory feature of such a theory from the past is “God”. He seems to feel that all that remains is for someone to overcome the fear of blasphemy that contrained someone like Malebranche, and adopt the theory sans God, that is, sans explanans.

To my ear though, taking the explanatory feature of “God” out of occasionalist thinking (and many other Medieval to 17th century philosophical explanations) could be compared to taking the actual vertebra out of the organisms of the classification Vertebrates. It leaves something of a non-functioning organism of jelly. Impressive as a loose assemblage of visera. We see the conceptual organs all there laying in a puddle, but why can’t it lift itself or walk?

I think that as we examine and appropriate philosophies from other centuries, in particular theories that turn to a comprensive concept of God as an explanatory force, there is a danger of thinking that we can remove for ours own use all the non-theistic elements, as if they were the “real” philosophy, now stripped of their superstition. Part of this tendency (and one can see it when people talk about Descartes’ theory of Mind in a contemporary sense), comes from our experiences from science. It seems to us properly atheistic moderns that “God” was a kind of superfluous idea tacked onto real  physical explanation, something Occam’s Razor can simply shave off. Thinkers of the past were something like closet atheists, or immanent underdeveloped atheists. Aside from the distortion this brings to the history of Science itself such that we no longer understand what scientific theories meant to those that invented them, (Newton was after all a devoted Alchemist), in the conceptual jigsaw-puzzle realm of philosophy to take out the “God” part of a metaphysical explanation often does not often leave behind a functioning, coherent theory of the world. There is no residing “physical theory” lying beneath the “theistic theory” which structured the concepts organizing the metaphysics of Medieval, Renaissance and 17th century thought. One cannot simply peel away the layer of God, exposing the bones of rationality, for the concept  of God made up much of those bones.

This does not mean that one has to remain a theist in order to make use of strong influences from these centuries, but it does mean that one has to account, piece by piece, for the full explanatory function that the concept of “God” served in any such theory. One cannot simply subtract the “God” out of Augustine’s theory of a world of semiotics, nor even the “God” out of Descartes’ theory of cognition and Substance, and certainly not the “God” out of Malebranche’s occassionalism without a severe restructuring of coherent interrelations of concepts, and a restoration of the explantory power of the theory itself,  in replacement terms of its most dynamic concept. Philosophy is not science (and science is probably not even science).

More on Harmanian Causation: The Proposed Marriage of Malebranche and Hume

Let the Nuptials Commence

Malebranche and Hume as One

I have posted several comments in critique of, and at times in synthesis with, Graham Harman’s admittedly provisional theory of Causation, partly because it is so damn alluring, so to speak. It practically begs to be questioned for the very boldness of is claims to explain the weirdness of caustion. Here I examine the final pages of his essay “On Vicarious Causation” because it was thesethat defied me a bit, for it seemed that somehow I had missed just the precise kind of connection that Graham proposes, having understood generally what he was outlining.

Nicolas Malebranche

Nicolas Malebranche

David Hume

David Hume

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Two Sides of a Misunderstanding
 
Below I post from the informative conclusion from Graham Harman’s essay, one in which he seeks to bring Hume and Malebranche into complementary contact with each other in such a way to explain the nature of the result he is after. He seems to feel that if we simply let go of Malebranche’s fear of blasphemous atheism, his occasionalism fits hand and glove with Hume’s empiricism and somehow they would work to explain each other:

Hume and Malebranche face opposite versions of the same problem. Although Hume supposedly doubts the possibility of connection, note that for him a connection has actually already occurred: he is never surprised that two billiard balls lie simultaneously in his mind, but doubts only that they have independent force capable of inflicting blows on each other. In this sense, Hume actually begins with connection inside experience and merely doubts any separation outside it. Conversely, Malebranche  begins by assuming the existence of separate substances, but doubts that they can occupy a shared space in such a way as to exchange their forces – leading him to posit God’s power as the ultimate joint space of all entities. Like Hume, we can regard the intentional agent as the vicarious cause of otherwise separate phenomena. The tree and its mountainous backdrop are indeed distinct, yet they are unified insofar as I am sincerely absorbed with both. But more than this: when the parts of the tree fuse  to yield the tree with its single fixed tree-quality, I too am the vicarious cause for the connection of these sensual objects. Even if I merely sit passively, without unduly straining eyes or mind, it is still for me that theseparts have combined. Here, a real object (I myself) serves as the vicarious cause for two or more sensual ones. In the inverted case of Malebranche, we cannot accept the pistol shot of the deity as our vicarious cause, since no explanation is given of how God as a real object could touch other real objects; fear of blasphemy is the sole protection for this incomplete doctrine. Instead, just as two sensual objects are vicariously linked by a real one, two real objects must be vicariously linked by a sensual one (220)

Graham has indeed identified an important nexus in the split between Idealism and Empiricism, and even brought forth suitable candidates for each school of thought. The problem of course is that I can’t see how he connects these two complimentary visions of the world, but rather leaves them floating there as two mirror reflections which simply do not touch.

One sees this in the paragraph before where he treats the accidents of sensuous objects in our mind. Due to the amphibious quality of accidents of sensuous objects, both belonging to the object and not,  they are the means by which one object able to somehow connect to, and fuse  with other sensuous object in our mind, crossing over whatever buffer had restrained them before:

“Accidents are tempting hooks protruding from the sensual object, allowing it the chance to connect with others and thereby fuse two into one.”

This presumably is happening within the Hume side of the equation (though we will see that it might fit better within Malebranche’s representationalism); yet it should be noted, it seems that here it is not human beings or their minds that are doing the fusing, but that it is the sensuous objects themselves, dangling their red lanterns in our mental street, are doing this. Sensuous objects through the power of their allurements, produce the fusion.

This is inner action is for Graham equally complimented by an occasionalist reality of real objects whose parts are not encrusted to it from the outside, (thus creating that sensuous object), but rather whose parts are on the inside  of them, composing them:

“A real object, too, is formed of parts whose disappearance threatens its very existence. The difference is that the parts of a sensual object are encrusted onto its surface: or rather, certain aspects of those parts are fused to create it, while the remainder of those parts emanates from its surface as noise. By contrast, the parts of a real object are contained on the interior of that object, not plastered onto its outer crust.” 

And how do these real, internal parts cohere together so as to make an object? One presumes through each of them, each part holding an accident-driven fusion of their own inner, sensual objects such that they come in contact with other parts. I.e., inside each extrinsically organized object are other extrinsic parts (the occasionalism of Malebranche); and outside each sensuous object are “parts” which are the qualities and accidents which compose it in the perceptual space of an asymmetrical relation, the Intention-as-a-whole, which is a real object. These internal relations are intrinsic to an object (and at least in the first paragraph quoted, marked by a possible Humean explanation).

What is left behind is the very mechanism which actually connects these two, perfectly positioned but unassailable worlds. What is it that makes the sensuous objects which dangle their accidents in order to produce a fusion/connection with other sensuous objects (a processes exemplified by metaphorization), have traction? What makes one fusion of sensuous objects in our mind more powerful, or better than another? What causes the actions or states of a senuous object (is Graham satisfied with the bundling of qualities)? 

An Answer: The Cleaving of Malebranche and Hume

An answer to this proposed marriage between Malebranche and Hume worlds seems obvious. One has to begin from a place in which both the mental inner activity of objects (the sensuous combination of vicars), and the material, real object combinations, are part of one  expressive relation. That is, the insides and outsides are already powerfully and significantly connected, from the beginning: there is no fundamental split into realms.

In order to see how this is philosophically possible or even likely I believe we need to look at is the first half of Graham’s dichotomy, Malebrache. In particular, it is the extensive Malebranche/Arnauld debate that proves pivotal to explaining how contemporary and creative philosophers like Graham can end up with two halves of a mirror without any connection between them. (I follow here the excellent exposition of the debate written by Steven Nadler, Arnauld and the Cartesian philosophy of ideas (1989)).

Antoine Arnauld

Antoine Arnauld

As Nadler points out it was in their dispute over just how to interpret the concept of “idea” principally in relation to the philosophical innovations of Descartes, that eventually lead to modern philosophy reading “Idea” as a mediating form between the mind and the world, producing the concordant “veil of ideas” problematic that characterizes much if not all of Idealism, including it seems, its distant descendant Object-Oriented Philosophy.

To put it most briefly, Nicolas Malebranche argued that for Descartes, and properly for philosophy, ideas were indeed mediating representations, literally objects before the mind:

The word idea is equivocal. Sometimes I take it as anything that represents some object to the mind, whether clearly or confusedly. More generally I take it for anything that is the immediate object of the mind. But I take it in the most precise and restricted sense, that is, as anything that represents things to the mind in a way so clear that we can discover by simple perception whether such and such modifications belong to them. (Rech. Eclaircissement III: OC III, 44; LO, 561, as cited by Nadler, 61)

Under such a conception we can immediately see the framework for Graham Harman’s vicars, and even the possibilities of his synthesizing, fusing accidental lures. Malebranche though makes a significant distinction when thinking about ideas: they are quite distinct from “sensations”. Sensations leave us only circulating  within the bare parameters of our soul, with no way out. It is ideas are the very intelligibility, the God-given capacities of representation, through which we are able to pierce through our sensations and connect to the intelligible world. So we see from the start that, far from a simple fear of blasphemy, not only is it God that keeps objects in contact with each other in Malebranche’s occasionalism of change, it is divine intelligibility which also allows us to break through the sensual world, the very same sensual world that Graham Harman is trying to connect to the outside world. When you take away Malebranche’s God, not only do objects not connect to each other, but souls do not connect to the world.

As he characterized the debate,

What is the issue at hand? Mr. Arnauld insists that the modalities of the soul are essentially representative objects distinct from the soul, and I maintain that these modalities are nothing but sensations, which do not represent to the soul anything different from itself(Repose V; OC VI, 50; Nadler 82 ).

Antoine Arnauld, a French Roman Catholic theologian, on the other hand argued (with some inconsistency) that ideas were not representations distinct from our sensuous perceptions, not mediating forms of some intelligibility kind, but rather were actions of the mind in direct perception of the world. As Arnauld summed his understanding of Malebranche’s position, we can detect the roots of Graham Harman’s problem of connection:

At first, he [Malebranche] supposes that our mind does perceive material things. The trouble is only in explaining how: whether it is by means of ideas or without ideas, taking the word ‘idea’ to mean a representative entity distinct from perception. After much philosophizing on the nature of these representative entities, after having marched them around everywhere and having been only able to place them in God, the only fruit that he gathers from all is not an explanation of how we see material things, which alone was what was sought, but rather the conclusion that our mind is incapable of perceiving them, and that we live in a perpetual illusion in believing that we see the material things that God has created when we look at them, that is to say when we turn our eyes towards them; and meanwhile seeing, instead of them, only intelligible bodies that resemble them(VFI, 229, cited in Nadler 89 )

Contrary to this, for Arnauld the mind did not look on and stare at mental objects, intelligible bodies distinct from our sensations, but rather ideas were the very workings of a mind connected already to the world, a position which Steven Nadler calls “Direct Realism”. As Arnauld writes, he makes no distinction in kind, but onlly in relation, between a perception and an idea (a distinct that Malebranche maintains as one of kind):

I have said that I take the perception and the Idea to be the same thing. Nevertheless, it must be remarked that this thing, although single, stands in two relations: one to the soul which it modifies, the other to the thing perceived, insofar as it exists objectively in the soul. The word perception more directly indicates the first relation, the word idea, the later(VFI, 198; Nadler 109 )

There are not two different entities here [perception and idea], but one and the same modification of our soul, which involves essentially these two relations; since I cannot have a perception which is not at the same time my perceiving mind’s perception and the perception as something as perceived (VFI, 198 )

Nadler then traces how it was Thomas Reid, a Scotish contemporary of David Hume, who then (mis)characterized all of philosophy stemming from Descartes as lumpedly conditioned by Malebranchean mediating “ideas” between the mind and the world, adopting Malebranche’s veil of ideas (or “palace of idea” as Arnauld called it) interpretation of Descartes theory. Reid saw himself as the first to break from a philosophy that had been thus plagued by the problem of skepticism,

Modern philosophers…have conceived that external objects cannot be the immediate objects of our thought; that there must be some image of them in the mind itself, in which, as in a mirror, they are seen. And the name “idea”, in the philosophical sense of it, is given to those internal and immediate objects of our thoughts. The external thing is remote or mediate object; but the idea, or image of that object in the mind, is the immediate object, without which we could have no perception, no remembrance, no conception of the mediate object (The Philosophical Works of Thomas Reid, 226, cited by Nadler 8 )

“Des Cartes” system of the human understanding, which I shall beg leave to call the ideal system, and which…is not generally received, hath some original defect; that this skepticism is inlaid in it, and reared along with it (Inquiry into the Human Mind on the Principles of Common Sense (Chapter 1, section 7; 1764, Glasgow & London)

Through the bottleneck of Reid’s historical interpretation the very possibility of Arnauld’s or Descartes’ “Direct Realism,” which would feature ideas to be read as actions of the mind and not mediating representations, become lost to Idealism’s Representational Cartesianism, of which Husserl remains a positive exemplar.

The Solution: One World, One Process 

My point to Graham’s Hume/Malebranche compliment of each other is that the very dichotomy that Graham finds himself split over, is of a historical creation, in particular one that imposes a separation of worlds, realms or objects, but one that may not even have traction in Descartes its reported origin. Key to a way forward, when considering the transmission of the Idealist problematic, is the kind of direct realism that Arnauld favored, one in which ideas of the mind are taken to be the actions of the mind engaged in perception. Actions of the mind are distinguishing in such a way that they face both outwardly and inwardly. They are unto the horizon of the object/body recursively defined as “ideas” (or semiotic differences), but also understood to be directly caused through interaction with the world.

Arnauld’s reading of ideas though is still tainted to some degree with the essential notion of idea as representation, a picture or image of reality, a functional difficulty which would remain a problem of the Idealism what would inherit Reid’s characterization. And Arnaud is not really consistent on this matter. While he got it right that for Descartes ideas should be best seen as actions of the mind already directly engaged with the world, what was needed was a metaphysical vision in which the kinds of connections that bind objects together in the real world “out there” were the very same kinds of connections that were going on when mental actions were taking place, binding us to the world, connecting that is “out there” to what is “in here”.

And this is exactly the connection between inside and outside that Graham is seeking to establish, although perhaps the best that can be done within the Idealist framework is simply place Hume and Malebranche on two sides of the same miror, such that they cannot touch. But it seems more that Graham has not only adopted Malebrache’s occasionalism of objects, but also places himself well within the heritage of Malebranche’s “palace of ideas” theory of cognition, robbing each of them of their explanatory lynchpin, the very thing each was designed to fortify…God. One is left with objects that do not touch or change with any explanation, and mental objects which serve as representations, but whose means of connection to the world remains opaque.

It turns out though there wasa philosopher who proposed that Ideas were just that, not representations of the world, but actions of the Mind (in my view, making them semiotic). And because his metaphysics was a metaphysics of panpsychism, our internal events were necessarily already external events, all things had an inner life of mental action (precisely what Graham is seeking to connect in his theory of vicarious causation). This philosopher of ideas as mental actions (what he characterized as affirmations of aspects of the body which manifested a degree of power, reality or perfection), was perhaps the foremost Dutch commentator on Descartes in the generation that followed the birth of that philosophy, at the cusp of a breaking wave into modernity….the marano, ex-communicated Jew and maker of telescopes Baruch Spinoza.

Each perception is already a belief, it does not come into the human mind neutral, but is an action of the mind, and thus the organism, the object. Each perception, or even imaginary conjuration, is a material change in the ontological sinews which connect that object/body to all others, and expresses both the internal relations of that body, and its causal links to the world. One does not have to pierce  through the veil of ideas or even of sensuous vicars, to get to the world, because one is already part of the world, and each mental action is a change in one’s position in it. There is no veil. There is only strength of action.

Conclusion: We Follow the Body, not the Object

Now to be fair, whereas Malebranche  wanted to separate out ideas from sensations because sensations were the animal half of us, and his intelligibility of ideas was meant to carry us beyond the inner limits of our animal bodies. This is the opposite of where Graham wants to go. His vicars, his representations drip with the sensuous. Their very animal richness is that he suspects provides the link between their internal object nature and real causation (though the mechanism of this link remains as yet unexplained). In a sense it is the presence of the sensation, the way that it supersedes the ideal “essence” of the object that it helps construct, that joins the real body to other bodies. It is this priority in Graham’s philosophy, the way that sensation may clue toward the connection itself, that I believe will break through the mirrored universes of objects he has set up. It is my hope that the great tension between his cornerstone discovery of dual objects (Heidegger/Husserl), and the firm desire to give rightful place to all things which are not objects per se, (qualities/accidents), and create a non-human-centric metaphysics giving rights to even the smallest of things, will produce a rift which will force an abandonment of the concepts of mental action as essentially an act of Representation, and isolation/severance/retreat as a fundamental pre-condition of all ontology. The key, I believe, is recognizing the nature of the connections that already exist, a cognizance which empowers, and not looking to pierce through barriers which produce the illusion of dis-connection. Every wall necessarily is a link.

The “sensuous vicar” of Causation

Graham Harman makes a humorous point , asking himself if he ever did use the phrase “sensuous vicar” found in the suggestive illustration I provided in my reading of his essay “On Vicarious Causation” (pictured here):

Graham writes, “I was even laughing at some of my own words as I scanned Kevin’s post quickly. Did I really say ‘sensuous vicar’ in that article? I doubt anyone else has ever used that phrase before or since.”

Illustration of The Real Object of Intention

The Vicar Abounds

I did a quick google search for the phrase “sensuous vicar,” and only his and my posts came up, though I can’t help thinking that some translation of de Sade somewhere contains the phrase, perhaps in great repetition. I then perused his article and found though Graham did not use the phrase (now wishing he had, no doubt, breaking literary ground), he did use these  phrases and which I contingently turned into the concept “sensuous vicar,” moving from sensual to sensuous.

“sensual zebra”
“sensual profile”
“sensual tree”
“sensual vicar”
“sensual noise”
“sensual neighbors”
“sensual facade”
“…the various eruptions of real objects into sensuality lie side by side”
“The confinements of sensuality to the human kingdom must be refused.”
“inflicting their mutual blows only through some vicar…”

Aside from the jest, I think that there is a powerful, perhaps telling under-association working here in Graham’s interpretation of causation, and certainly not a bad one. I had drawn out some of the more Romantic phrases of his essay, and no doubt was led to the vivid image of the “sensuous vicar” as a representative of power because of this, in part because as I have mentioned before it is the qualities themselves that Graham is sincerely interested in ennobling (and not the objects which merely serve as empty anchor points). As I suggested, his Object-Oriented Philosophy (OOP) might be better considered Quality-Oriented Philosophy (QOP). Or, perhaps, Graham’s objects are the only things that allow these qualities, these profusions of sensuality, from running over into each other too forcefully, the things that “buffer” them, as Graham says. (I think that a very strong case can be made in this direction, but also one which then turns to the modulating “buffer” of causation itself which serves as a directional coursing for qualities so profuse: accidents of intentional essences prove themselves not to be accidents at all, but results of consubstantial and causal relations).

“Merkur und Herse” Caraglio (1527)

The Vicar In Vicarious

In fact though, I had consciously latched onto the curious conflation that can be found in the titular word Graham used for his theory of causation. I never before had thought of how a priestly “vicar” resided within “vicarious” and one cannot help but think of the most common use of the word vicarious these days, our voyeuristic tendency towards the Gaze, vicarious sex, or at least having the vicarious enjoyment through others. So I must argue, just this sort of priest, the “sensuous vicar” lies directly at the molten core of Graham’s theory.

This is no small question, for just what constitutes the power of a priest is the sense that he is connected to, enjoys a connection to some power – if not Godly power, certainly an earthly one – which we do not have. The priest in his person, buffered by the restrictions of his office, enjoys God/Church which courses through him, variously. When we come into contact with the priest, we come in contact with some mediated, causal connection to something much greater than ourselves.

So when the “vicar,” the sensuous vicar comes to us in the privacy of our otherwise isolated minds, our inner cores, he is adorned with all sorts of wordly sensual characteristics, (we can see his fine robery and jewels, thing to which we imagine he is not “attached”); but Graham is looking for the means, the mechanism by which we can strip him of his gold and robes, separate out his bare essence from his otherwise taken to be qualities (for what is a priest without his collar).  What is it that connects this fantasy priest to something outside of us/it, to the outer object he represents? Graham seems to say that through the power of allurement (and metaphor), through our seduction to his lovely accoutrement, when we disrobe the sensuous vicar of his profane phantasm he is destabilized, robbed of his wholeness, not even his conceptual nudity holds him together, and the buffering between things mental is broken down…thus enabling the “real” object to poke through…causation. (If I read him correctly.)

I have already argued before that this is a pretty elaborate and fanciful explanation for inanimate causation, for how can these inner lascivious priests work their benighted magic within the horizons of cigarette butts and soda cans. In fact I suspect that it is conceptually impossible to map most of these things aspects down onto the abiotic world, no matter how fantastically or abstractly we make our mapping. But if we stay at the level of the human and the social perhaps we discover something significant in Graham’s presentation of the inner priest: the sensuous vicar who enjoys the sublunar trappings of our mental incrustations and a real, destabilizing connection to an object exterior to us, ultimately a supralunar essence which in the world of real objects is forever in retreat.

The lesson seems to be that when we take apart the intentional sensuous vicar before us, removing the incrustations of phenomena, we realize its apparitional nature, i.e., it is only made up these phenomenal glitterings and the conceptual space he has resided in. This disintegration of the sensuous vicar though does a very strange thing, Graham tells us, it allows the real object of the vicar, out there in the beyond, to actually come through and causally affect us, connecting us to it. It is by destabilizing our visiting priest’s sensuous body, we allow his “soul” (for what else is an ever-retreating, immortal essence) to come through and contact us, our surfaces having been brushed just so. If any of this is what is behind the thinking of Graham’s theory of causation, what an extraordinary, enthralling (yet perhaps absurd) theory it is!

But we need to stay with this sensuous vicar, for there are sensuous vicars of power in the real world (and literature), and how we treat him in a proposed theory of causation may be telling of how we will treat him in the world. There are priests absolving our sins, I.R.S agents negotiating our debts, officers assigning our criminality, celebrities revealing the Good Life, newsmen passing on the truth (to talk only of a class). Our concept of causation, how power connects representatives, is in part of how we read our connection to these powers. In this vein consider the master of the sensuous vicar, Marquis de Sade. His aberrant priests enact an inversion of the representational powers of Church priests. Whereas Church priests through the bufferings  of their office connect themselves to, what for Sade is an illusionary  or at least hypocritical sanctity, his priests also are instruments of another kind of God…the purely sensual and destructive power of Nature herself. Sade sees Church priests as just not instrumental enough. Perhaps de Sade’s vicars expose something about representation and accident.

De Sade’s Vicar of Sensuality

This tension and connection between kinds of priest can be seen in de Sade’s famous Dialogue between a Priest and a Dying Man , which I only briefly quote here:

PRIEST: Wretched man! I took you for no worse than a Socinian – arms I had to combat you. But ’tis clear you are an atheist, and seeing that your heart is shut to the authentic and innumerable proofs we receive every day of our lives of the Creator’s existence – I have no more to say to you. There is no restoring the blind to the light.

DYING MAN: Softly, my friend, own that between the two, he who blindfolds himself must surely see less of the light than he who snatches the blindfold away from his eyes. You compose, you construct, you dream, you magnify and complicate; I sift, I simplify. You accumulate errors, pile one atop the other; I combat them all. Which one of us is blind?

Nazarín, Luis Buñuel, (1959)

De Sade has purified the inefficiency of the priest’s instrumentation, stripped away dreams and errors, pushing towards an even greater causal expression. The debauchery riddled priests in his stories (“The Bishop” in 120 Days, or the monks of Justine, though all active characters are intercessors) have ascended to a machinery of sensuous mechanism. No longer is the sensuality of a priest an accident of his presence before it, but rather the fullness of his means. In the de Sade priest Graham’s sensuous vicar meets is logical apex.

I want to juxtapose these two:

1.Graham’s sensuous vicar whose phenomenal character disintegrates through allurement into a kind of illusion, its wholeness no longer holding, allowing a mysterious and causal connection to the vicar’s distant soul/essence.

2. De Sade’s perversely sensuous priest who is maximized through the literalizations of his causal connections to the world and other bodies, who to the victim/viewer is made as real, machined traverses of instrumental intensity, each bit of phenomenal accident something he, the victim/viewer, experiences as modulated and directed sensuous-material force.

If my thesis is correct and what Graham is after is the ennoblement of qualities and accidents (which he has provided the positive anchor point of a twin pair of objects), it would seem that de Sade’s sensuous vicar of causation proves superior to his object-orientation path. Causal paths automatically becomes sensual paths of immediate destruction and becoming. There are no shadow objects hiding behind the trappings of the priest, but rather each and every indulging satin robe or bejeweled ring is a directional expression of causal power…one that can be traced. There is no tension with the sensual, no abstraction of the essence (thus no sublunar mental realm, or a supralunar essence beyond the reach of our hands). Each object expresses itself to the maximization of its sensuous capacities, just as representatives of power do. And our mental actions (including what Graham takes to be the sensual objects of our minds), are causally expressive determinations of our own being, representative of all the forces which press down and through us. The question is just one of best, maximal modulation.

How Do the Molten Centers of Objects Touch?

Graham Harman’s Vicarious Causation

Here is a proposed solution, a critique in sympathy, to Graham Harman’s attempt to connect the cut-off but dynamic inner-cores of objects to one another.

I have just read Graham’s “On Vicarious Causation” a marvelous, twisting essay found at his weblog, loaded with original terminology and imaginative construction; not easy to read for its painted universe in which assumption after assumption follow upon each other in a fantastically stacked argument, one in which every page a reader wants to cry out, “But wait, what about…” and yet finally has to relent and just let it carry its somewhat unsatisfying course. And finally, I see what he is trying to say/construct about causation. Enchanting but perhaps absurd.

Despite my many reservations the composite of it comes into view exposing a topography not at all very foreign to my own, so as I pull back I feel that I can glimpse something of an answer to the “unicorn” that Graham seeks, and additionally how his deeply thought distinctions help guide my own attempted synthesis of Campanella toward Spinoza and then post-post-modernity.

If I were to be general about it, Graham, because he is deeply influenced and carries over along with the terms much of Husserl’s Cartesian Idealism, is concerned with the traditional problem of how the inside of our minds connects with real objects out there (just what Descartes thought on); but because he wants a de-centered, non-human ontology of effects, he is at pains to find terms which graft the poetically powerful descriptions of our internal experiences onto a concrete and real, outer-object consubstantiality. (There is also the traditional Idealist question of “other minds” haunting his project.) He wants to drive down into the vivid distinctions we can make about our internal sensuous worlds, and somehow come up on the other side in such a way that what he is saying about human beings can be said, objectively, about all things, down to the merest speck of dust.

The problem of this, the hard current he swims against as far as I can see it, is Representation (the Idol of Idealism). One gets the feeling that if he can work himself free, off from this coat-hook, he might really find a way down through the worm-hole to the inside of objects, making a poetically rich and rigorously dynamic philosophy for the world.

This difficulty of Representation, which I will return to below, is further encased by Graham in a wonderful binary which not only preserves the difficulty, but also gives it its greatest facility. Pictured above we have the two halves of an affinity, or really a complementarity between the kinds of objects that Heidegger played with (on the left) and the kinds of objects Husserl enjoyed (on the right). Deep down in the Ur-Spring of his study Graham realized that these two, Heidegger’s tool-object and Husserl’s Intentional object in a way mirrored each other (something I argued in critique of an essentialized optical centrality metaphor that they shared). What Graham faces in his prospective theory is how to reconcilethesetwo primary and incompatible world objects such that the every day sense of the causal world that we experience remains intact, but even more richly described (such that the underbelly of its relations becomes exposed, as metaphysics). What Graham realizes is that if indeed we are trapped with the still Cartesian sphere of the mental (intention), yet insideour bodies, how is it that we come in contact with the outside “real” world.

Instead of taking an approach that undercuts the very problem itself, as many lines of philosophy have arisen to deal with what has been perceived as the Cartesian problematic, we should do as Graham does, and burrow in, to the heart of the difficulty, attempting to take on as many of the assumptions and terms as possible, and see if we can come out on the other side. If we assume a Husserlian-like zebra (on the right), and a retreating Heideggerian zebra (on the left), how is it that we can drive deeply enough into the one so as to reach the other – and, to do so in a way that our description fits neatly with what non-human zoas, and inanimate objects alike all do the same thing?

I think though, the place to begin is Representation. I have written a few times recently on the question of Representation vs. Signification ( Spinoza’s Notion of Inside and Outside: What is a Passion?; The Problem with Spinoza’s Panpsychism; The “ens reale” and the “ens rationalis”: Spelling Out Differences), and much of my reading will come out of the fullness of this distinction. But I think it can be granted that fundamentally Graham’s take of causation is on based on a Representationalist conception of mental activity. This no doubt comes from his Husserlian heritage. Consciousness is defined by its capacity to form a mental “object”  (its intentionality), and this object in some sense is taken to be a representation, a Re-Presentation as some emphasize, of the external, real world. Graham is not far from this at all, and in fact seems to be at least from the start, right in the mainstream of this scheme of mind. And this representation for Graham is called a “vicar” or a “deputy” (with satisfying poetic license that nicely undercuts any pretension to a psuedo-scientific language), someone of course represents someone or something else. The mental object, what is called here also the “sensuous object” comes to be used as something of a representative in the political sense, and one cannot help but think of him as some kind of bejeweled intercessor, some decadent of the Church (or at least I cannot help it). Graham allows us to think that the external object is in some sense projected into, crossing the external boundary of the object that is “you” (or a rabbit or a tree), and enters into this rich inner realm in a specular way. The language he uses is inordinately suggestive, and I think that this is a strength of his philosophy on causation, and key to what he is driving after. He does not want simply to explain, but evoke.

So when I see a zebra (we must begin with the ideal human exemplars of consciousness, he tells us), the zebra somehow enters into our private, richly embued world, as a vicar-zebra, a representative. As such it/he is a fantastical kind of creature under Graham’s description. It shares the same “perceptual space” as the effects that seem to cover it, a shimmering “encrustation” of “accidents”, all of which could change and yet the vicar who has come to interact with us would remain the same (he gives the Husserilian example of the angles of a chair). These accidents frost over this representation, swirling in a delightful way, but due to their sharing of a “space” they do not retreat from the essence, but rather are almost magnetically attracted to it, clusting about its unique essential gravity (at least that is how I read the evocations Graham provides). These faceted accidents are to be distinguished from the vicar’s “qualities,” things that if they did change might threated the coherence of vicaras this vicar, so really we have a stabilized essential representation that has come to us, in our private inner universe, and there is a halo of effects which circulate about it at varying degrees of essentialization, until we get down to a bare sensuous core object which is composed of this interaction of satellites and encrustations.

Something should be said about the meeting of this vicar within us. It is not clear to me whether we met the vicar through the proxy of our own inner vicar (let us say, Freud’s Ego), face to face in some kind of virtual pow wow, or if it is simply a question of the vicar of the zebra interfacing with the totality of my real object. It seems to be the case of the latter for Graham, for he calls this relation an “assymetrical confrontation,” a kind of hybrid object consisting of the real object that is me, and the deputized zebra within me, but then again, he insists that there is something particular about how the zebra-duputy object and “me” remain distinct, segmented, which connotes a sensuous separation:

“For in a first sense, I clearly do not fuse with the tree in a single massive lump; it remains distinct from me in the perception. This give the strange result that in my intention of the tree, we both inhabit the interior of the total intentional relation.” 

 As far as I can tell, there is a strange conflation of the “real object” me and the “sensuous object” me in the relation that Graham proposes, or at least he does not fully discuss status of the mechanism of this interaction. In a kind of inside-outing of the glove the vicarious object and the real me are folded into a composite third object, “the intention as whole,” a whole that itself forms a real object:

“The pine tree and I are separate objects are residing on the interior of a third: the intention as a whole…we have a real intention whose core is inhabited by a real me and a sensuous pine tree.”

In this inversion there are several potential problems here, especially for a philosophy that is looking to decenter human importance. Graham seems to privilege (or at least not problemize at all) the human Subject (“me”) as an unified whole object (qualifed as”real”), residing on the inside of an asymmetrical object, also real. Why this “me” is qualified as “real” and not sensuous in its own right, I cannot tell, other than it allows Graham to construct a meeting ground of two realms he would otherwise like to think of as wholly distinct (thus this “real” status of the “me” plays something of the role that Descartes’ hallowed pineal gland, where the two symmetries of Idealism’s twin realms “touch”, albeit still locked within a third object, “the intention as a whole”). At the very least this unproblemized “me” as unified object, and then this status of “me” as real object create openings for strong critical currents for this model of the world. (A further and perhaps quite compelling consequence of this looping is that if the intention-as-a-whole is itself a real object, and every real object also can have an intentionality, what would it mean for an “intention-as-a-whole” object to itself have an intention? Perhaps I missed it, but I do not see this obvious consequence of the terms addressed.)

But if we grant Graham this apparatus of an “asymmetrical confrontation” with the real object of the intention we can go further to explore. The difficulty Graham has with his own account is the explain just how, even given the touching of two different kinds of objects (the proxy zebra and the real “me”), how is it that the real zebra actually effects the real me (a traditional problem of Idealism). That is, even if the intention is indeed an asymmetrical combination of a real “me” and a vicar zebra, how ever does the real me interact effectively with the real zebra? What is the mechanism, the means? In the political world when I interact with various deputies of power there are real channels which connect me to those that the deputies that represent real authorities. And there seems to be something of this that Graham has in mind. He does not say it but there is the sense that because I am a citizen and thus can act vicariously in that legal world of rights and procedures, my “me” can connect to things that are not of my nature, for instance, as a citizen I can vote and thus register effects on the political process. Or, I can, represented by an attorney in court sue the legal aspect another person or corporate entity. This connectivity through what-you-are-not, representatively, is what seems to be beneath how Graham is imagining  the way that “real objects” connect. And one cannot help but feel that as such he beautifully sees them as burrowing under, wormholing to the insides of each other, leaving their real object exteriors untouching. I sue you in court, legal entity to legal entity, but our real objects never come in contact, or so it goes.

I think the poetics of this are fructifying, but there are some substantial conceptual barriers. So let us go further. In order to understand this worm-holing causation, a reaching into the inside of another object, one has to see the complementary notion of real and sensuous objects that Graham assumes. Sensuous objects are rich in connections which multiply across each other on the interior, though they do not fuse into a huge blob of phenomenal effects, they are “buffered” even in their interaction we are told. Real objects though, taken from a Heideggerian notion that Graham has excavated from the German Existentialist, are marked by a failure to interact with other objects. Unlike the senuous vicars within us, clustered about with accidents and qualities, the real objects that we engage with in the world retreat ever from their qualities and accidents, tumbling away from us. As we reach for a thing, a marble, an ice cube, a woman’s hand, it falls away from whatever surface interactions we bring about with it, a blackhole of a sort. Thus, the only way that we do actually engage with it is in a subterranean fashion, from within our border. In his descriptions he is much not all that concerned with the other sideof the relationship, if indeed we do bubble up on the other “inside” of the object or not, for he is much more concerned with the problem of how our insideconnects to the outside itself, the real object, thus a question of causation and not communication (two issues I take to be inter-dependent), although he uses metaphors of communication (signals) to describe what happens in “contact”. Graham seems to have an investment in an essentially “cut off” existentialism which creates real islands of objects, each a poetic micro universe, something he would not even come out of if he didn’t have to explain something as pressingly elemental as “causation”.

For this reason he speaks of the problem of causation mostly in terms of how real objects pierce the veil of our sensous inner worlds, as he beautifully puts it:

“We must discover how real objects poke through into the phenomenal realm, the only place where one relates to another. The various eruptions of real objects into sensuality lie buffered from immediate interaction. Something must happen on the sensuous plane to allow them to make contact, just as corrosive chemicals lie side by side in a bomb – separated by a thin film eaten away over time, or ruptured by distant signals.” 

Or, drawing on the burrowing metaphor, but neglecting just what happens on the other (in)side, in the hermetic quarantine:

“There is a constant meeting of assymetrical partners on the interior of some unified object: a real one meeting the senuousvicaror deputy of another. Causation occurs when these obstacles are some how broken or suspended. In seventeenth century terms, the side-by-sideproximityof real and sensual objects is merely the occasion for a connection between a real object inside the intensionandanother real object lying outside it. In this way shaves or freight tunnels are constructed between objects that otherwise remained quarantined in private vacuums.”

One can see this one-way vision of the problem in Graham’s notion that causation can occur in simply one direction. For instance in his recent lecture on DeLanda he talks of what he imagines happens when a semi truck slams into a mosquito at high speed. Presumably the truck sends a rather powerful vicar into the internal universe of the insect, but the insect sends noneat all into the sensuous realm of the truck, for Graham. It is a one way communication. The problem as it is set forth in Vicarious Causation really seems to be: How do we get outsideofour locked in realm of richly endowed vicars and deputies, how do we get outside of the videogame of our inner worlds?

Vital to this path is the realization that there must be a bond between my inner sensuous experiences and some outer really, i.e., I am not just existing in a solipism of phenomenal affects, the swirling of frosted objects and their accidents. There must be a “connection” (one of the five kinds of relations proposed: containment, contiguity, sincerity, connection, and none), and it is this “connection” that Graham is having difficulty explaining:

4. CONNECTION. The intention as a whole must arise from a real connection of real objects, albeit an indirect connection. After all, the other possible combinations yield entirely different results. Two sensual objects merely sit side by  side. And my sincere absorption with trees or windmills is merely the interior of the intention, not the unified intention itself. Hence, a real object itself is born from the connection of other real objects, through unknown vicarious means.

At this point I’m going to try to work myself free from the imposed restrictions in order to solve this fundamental barrier, while at the same time trying to preserve as much as possible the poetics of Graham Harman’s worm-holed connections between objects. The first thing to say is that part of how we constitute mental objects is that we not only perceive them as essences under this apparition or that, but we also perceive that a real object is actively causing our “vicar” to take on one aspect or other. That is, the zebra in our mind takes on a substantive coherence due to the implicitly causal relation it has to us, in a shared world. Events that happen to the real zebra could also happen to us, the real us. If a lion leaps out at the zebra who is on the grass plain that we share, we cringe and duck not only because there is a sympathy between us, but because we also could be attacked, and we understand that. This organizational triangulation between the real object out there, and our real object out there is consubstial the core of what sensemaking is. In other words, the “connection” that Graham is trying to find in the “jigsaw puzzle” of his terms and realms is woven into the essential animal natures of nearly all living things, the understanding that “that thing out there” is reporting in an informing way about the world because it is in some vitally important way “like us” (if only capable of being attacked by a lion). This at least goes for human beings to rodents, and should form a cornerstone of any conceptual attempt to bridge the connections between inside and outside, not to mention human to lower forms of life as mutual actors in the world.

In answer to this a fundamental and imaginary perception of causation is put forth by Spinoza in his principle of the “imitations of the affects,” upon which the social realm is founded. This principle may go a ways to enrich just what causation means to us and other things:

“If we imagine a thing like us, toward which we have had no affect, to be affected with some affect, we are thereby affected with a like affect” (EIIIp27) 

To this effect and additionally, this same triangulation of report, the way that we confer importance and coherence upon objects in the world (and one would say in the Harmanian sense, their vicars in our molten, cavernous worlds), is also put forth in terms of human beliefs and the translatabilty of others in Donald Davidson’s Principle of Charity and Triangulation of Three Knowledges, something I will return to below. Objects means something to us largely because they report or reflect back significant forces in the world which pertain to us. We might allow that such objects might retreat from us ultimately in the Heideggerian sense (tool-analysis) in a vaccuum packed vertigo of essence as absence, but our attraction to them, the particular way in which they do “allure” us, is not simply that they sparkle, but that they sparkle and shine with determinations which point us to other significant aspects of the world (there is a lion in the grass with us).

This voluminous factor of just what does “matter” about an object or a situation is utterly absent from Graham Harman’s hunt for the connection between our inner worlds and real objects, the very thing that helps constitute us as real objects in the first place. I sense that this is largely due to the Idealist, binary assumptions of his starting point, one which imprisoningly conceives of knowledge as some form of representation or reflection of the world, and thus, the epistemic problematic as how to connect these two world, spirit/matter, mind/body, and now for Graham, sensuous-object/real-object. What is needed is to break out of these splitting binaries, give up the imaginative algebras that wish to balance out both sides of the equation so that we can cancel out enough of the variables and end up with what “x” is. And the first step of this is to realize that other objects appeal to us, matter to us, due to a primary assumption of connection through veritable report, as cause: events in the world (lion’s leap) co-ordinate between that object over there (zebra) and this object over here (my body). The connection is implicit and necessary (though ever under revisement and interpretation)

But this is not to say that Graham’s architecture of metaphysics does not have profound possibilities for development in my view. For one, I find his fusion of the sensuous object and real “me” into a new real object “the intention as a whole” an instructive one. While I have been perplexed why, under the categories imposed, within the intention as a whole the “me” is a “real object” and not a vicarious representation of me, creating the asynmetry that Graham wants, I believe that asserting the real object status of this “me” interaction is the right step (leaving behind any notion of the Subect though). The reason for this is that by virtue of our internal relations, the “sensuous” realm, we make real-object changes in ourselves which alter our dynamic relations with the world. The things we think are actually real material changes in our bodies, and then consubstantially change our connections to other objects (it is this connection of the connection that Graham is after).

Here I would like to bring in another Spinoza concept that is well-fitted to the question so to use it as a launch point for a possible Harmanian solution. Spinoza too asserts an entirely privatized world of inner experience and affect, one in which we do not really know objects in the world directly, but only know events within ourself, what he calls the ideas of the affections of our bodies. If I know the gentleman Peter, it is really only that I know my body as it is in various states, under certain affections, one might say, only the vicar of Peter (but not a picture of Peter). What guides us from this hermetic realm of vicar Peter to powerful action in the world? There are two things that form Spinoza’s answer. The first is Joy or Pleasure. That is, we imagine things, we form the vicar of things driven by a guideline of what feels best. The real pleasure we are feeling, as even the simplest of organisms, is that which pushes us towards the real connections with world, and in fact for Spinoza constitutes a change in these connections. There is very little of this discussed in Graham’s treatment, but there is one way in which he touches on this aspect of guiding pleasure in the vital concept of “allure”. Allure is the thing, the aspect, that erupts out on the vicar so encrusted with accidents which separates out an otherwise inseparatable “quality” from the essence of the object.

“The separation between a sensual object and its quality can be termed ‘allure.’ This term pinpoints the bewitching emotional effect that often accompanies this event for humans, and also suggests the related term ‘allusion,’ since allure merely alludes to the object without making its inner life directly present. In the sensual realm, we encounter objects encrusted with noisy accidents and relations. We may also be explicitly aware of some of their essential qualities, though any such list merely transforms the qualities into something accident-like, and fails to give us the unified bond that makes the sensual thing a single thing. Instead, we need an experience in which the sensual object is severed from its joint unified quality, since this will point for the first time to a real object lying beneath the single quality on the surface.”

Here Graham is playing with the two aspects of allure: to seduce, and to allude. We are asethetically seduced, thrown forward in pleasure toward the “real object” (we realize a disjunction, and we do so through a connection). But for Spinoza, it is not just that Pleasure and Joy push us towards the connection, but also that such experiences also form real changes in our bodies. We are given to think this thought after that thought, this rather than that because we are actively affirming aspects of our own bodies (General Defitions of the Affects), affirmations which directly confer alterations in our degrees of power, Latourian changes in degrees of Being. I have great affinity for the linking of our ability to act in the world and be constituted as objects through the power of metaphor, being allured and alluding to something beyond; but something more than this has to be at play (and the very tenousness of Graham’s solution testifies to this). For a thinker like Spinoza there are two kinds of improvements in the capacity to act. There are the moment to moment fluctuations of pleasure and pain, random increases and decreases in connection (which may fall to the feet of good and bad metaphors or jokes for Graham), a happenstance fortune, but then there are the comprehensive increases in the capacity to act which come from possessing more adequate ideas about oneself and other things in the world – connecting and building on our knowledge of those connections. The speculative imaginations and interplay between vicars and deputies all frosted over with gems or patinas of an inner world, a comes-and-goessea of rich affections, is also supplimented by a fabric of operative cohesion, the way in which we can systematically and bodily combine with other objects forming more powerful living wholes.

Containment: The Closed Loop of Mental Acts

In this way the principle of containment that Graham puts forth is an embodiment of Spinoza’s parallel postulate, that all our material constructions are also mental ones:

1. CONTAINMENT. The intention as a whole contains both the real me and the sensual tree.

As I pass from thought to thought, affirming one aspect of my body or another, giving me more or less reality than before, the “containment” of the sensuous vicar within me is simply the vectorization of the real ontological change that occurs by virtue of my intentional shiftings. And these, though enriched by metaphorical allusions to object states beyond my inadequate pictures of them, are re-anchored, are given traction by the very mutuality of world, and the power of causal explanation in the first place. The vicars of my world are vivified through their expression of the matrix of my real interactions with the world (they stand not only in the place of the real object they supposedly represent, like a local priest does the Pope, but also stand for the constitutional relations which make up that object, beyond that object). In this sense, it is not just the allure of the separation of the quality of the whole, destabilizing the vicar, that leads us forward, but also the powerful signification of accidents themselves. For as Graham states of the accidents of a sensuous object, they have a “dual status”:

“Accidents alone have the dual status of belonging and not belonging to an object, like streamers on a maypole, or jewels on a houka. Accidents are tempting hooks protruding from the sensual object, allowing it the chance to connect with others and thereby fuse two into one.”

But accidents do not simply happen, they point, they indicate. Their dual status directs us to connections and allows us to see that they are not accidents at all. The look of fear and tension that ripples across the body of the zebra is the vibrant, electric line which connects the lion mid-air to our own own selves, not to mention the vivacity of the grass plain. It is through the accident that we realize that we are already composed as a multi-object in which the accident was no accident at all, but an indication. So when Graham lays down the very reach of what his conclusion can provide, the suggestive depths of the object exposed by allure:

“The key to vicarious causation is that two objects must somehow touch without touching. In the case of the sensuous realm, this happens when I the intentional agent serve as vicarious cause for the fusion of multiple sensual objects: a fusion that remains only partial, encrusted with residue accidents. But in the case of real objects, the only way to touch a real one without touching it is through allure. Only here do we escape the deadlock of merely rolling in the perfumes of sensual things, and encounter qualities belonging to a distant signaling thing rather than a carnally present one. The only way to bring real objects into the sensuous sphere is to reconfigure sensual objects in such a way that they no longer fuse into a new one, as parts into a whole, but rather become animated by allusion to a deeper power lying beyond: a real object.”

what is not grasped hold of firlmly enough is the positive bodily assemblage of our bodies with other bodies that is continously going on through an essential perception of causation and reflectional report. If it is true that other real objects indeed retreat ever away from their qualities, and that allure and accidents to the essence of internal vicars constantly destablize our mental objects, this only provides a base ground of a much more conscienable construction of our bodies as affectively in combination. The retreat of other object/bodies provides the occasion for our mutual co-construction.

Campanella: To Know is to Be

It is here that I would like to introduce Campanella’s golden contribution to modern epistemology, a principle that has been long excluded from having influence. To know something, Campanella tells us, is to become it…literally  to become it. What is happy about Graham Harman’s reclamation of the word “essence,” rescued from its various deconstructions, is that it puts us back in touch which Late Renaissance and Late Scholastic thought which worked imaginatively and constructively with the concept. And although I have complained that Graham’s operation from pure Idealist and Representationalist assumptions, it is his embrace of the concept of “essence” that reanimates the possible importance of Campanella’s thought. In fact, his wonderfully designed “asymmetrical confrontation” between the sensuous object and the real me in a new “whole intentionality” comes very close to Campanella’s notion that we indeed, when we come to know something actually are transformed into it. In Graham’s version we are transformed into a hyper-object which is constituted of a real “me” and the sensuous vicar of another object. 

Let me present a few select quotations which include the presentation of the idea so as to give some occasion for a comparison:

“cognoscere est esse” – “Everything knows itself to be, is contrary to non-being, and loves itself. Therefore, everything knows itself through itself, and it knows other things not through itself, but inasmuch as it becomes similar to them. This similarity is so great that one thing perceives other things by perceiving itself changed into, and made, the other things, which are not what it is itself.”

– Del Senso pp. 83-4

So then with sensation [sensatio] would be assimilation, and all knowledge [cognition] is possible because of the fact that the knowing essence of a thing becomes [facio] the object to be known. Having become the object itself, it knows it perfectly, for it already is the object, therefore to know is to be; therefore anything that is multiple, the multiple knows, and what is few, few.

– Met., II, 6, 8, 1, p. 59a

“I admit that in all created things such a reflexive knowledge [of the soul], as well as the knowledge [that the soul has] of other beings, is only an accident. It comes from the outside, and the intellect understands them [i.e. other beings] insofaras it knows itself changed into, and made, them. But as far as the essential and original knowledge of one’s self is concerned, I firmly hold with Augustine that the intellect, in its act of understanding, does not differ in any way from the object of its understanding.”

– Met. II, 6, 6, 9, p. 36b

There are a few immediate challenges of vision to Graham Harman’s two-kinds-of-objectsworld, at least in terms of the direction of thought. The first is that Campanella’s process of assimilation seems to run at cross current to the Heideggerian idea of objects forever in retreat from their qualities. Instead of a world where real things tumble back into an infinite depth, human beings (and for Campanella all things) instead actively combine with and literally become the things that they come to know. Their entity is transformed into the entity of other things, thus in some sense their essence into those essences. But while this process of ontological transformation seems quite alien to Graham’s Heideggerian absences, there does seem some affinity to Graham’s inner-world sensuous/real object combinations through whole intention. At the very least we combine with and become in composite the vicars of other things, and thus to some degree with other things. In fact, I think that Graham and Campanella are saying very similar things when they talk about the creation of a change, a new intentional object. Like Graham, Campanella asserts a distinctness between oneself and what one has come to be (called by Campanella the difference between “innate” knowledge of one’s essence and “illate” knowledge of other things, including oneself reflexively), but this does not foreclose genuine transformation, the way that I combine through self-tranformation. But contrary to the difficulty of an unbridgable chasm between one’s own object and other object (how does the real touch the real), this new composite transformation, the assimilation, has genuine powers of awareness of its own, a new essence if you will. One has already become the object under contemplation and is already perceiving the world through its horizon. The separation between real objects thus in Campanella is lapped over.

Commentators have been confused by the seeming contradictions in Campanella’s metaphysics of assimulative becoming. How can one remain oneself, an essence with innate knowledge, and yet be transformed into a new thing, accidentally, forming illate knowledge, a transformation which itself has perfect knowledge. The answer to this contradiction I believe in part lies within just Graham’s own composite object he calls “the intention as a whole”. But also in part in the Spinoza advisement that such an intention-as-a-wholeis itself a real change in reality in relation to all other things. Its very affectures vectorize in real connections to other real things, and this vectorization expresseses itself in both the organisms experiences of Joy and Sadness, and in real world capacities to act. The reason why this is so is that the human boundary (or the human Subject) provides no priority of boundary in the world. It is always cross-cut and in combination with other bodies/objects with which it is in assimilation. Campanella’s view is one of expansive corporation, given the ground that each thing is already part of one great animal existence, the animal of the world.

An illustration may suffice. Instead of Heidegger’s hammer, let us speak of the surfer and his wave (the same dynamics occasion themselves). When surfing a wave to talk of the essence of the wave which is forever in retreat from its qualities is superfluous of the act. In the act, even to speak of the absolute separation of the surfer and the wave does not realy help, for, in a certain regard the surfer and the wave have become one thing, expressing mutually a series of dynamic forces. To put it in Harmanian terms, the real object of the surfer has combined through its intention with the vicar of the wave which is clustered with various accidents and qualities such that these deputized effects produce a new object real surfer/sensuous wave. I sugggest that the example shows what disservice the model does to actual human interfaces with the world. It is much more that the surfer has entered into and become the wave, been transformed into its entity to the degree that it is now reading the world beyond their combination through what Graham would otherwise call its accidents. In fact though the surfer does not likely have the object of the wave at all in his/her mind, but rather is concentrated solely on the patternings of these accidents, their readable, expressive rhythms and force which do not really constitute an object of their own. These “accidents” instead express the dynamic relations within the mutual object wave/surfer/board such that a relative stability and forward progressing vector is sought. They are internal to that kind of object, where the boundary of where one is, and through what one is reading (a limit of the board, one’s toes, one’s hamstring strength, a counter current tugging of the wave form, whitewater upsurge) is ever under negotiation, passing in and out.

This readability through other objects as also actively engaged in the world, and our ability to combine with them in telling, epistemic assemblages (harkening back to Spinoza’s notion of the imaginative imitation of the affects which grounds the social) points not only to the revelatory capacity of objects as they necessarily express their own interiors (making pale the significance of a Heideggerian retreat), but also points to the very insufficiency of the notion of “sensuous object” itself. Last night I was laying in the dark and listening to my cat purr in the dark. My mental activity was not composed of “listening to an accident of my cat’s essence” and the purr itself did not constitute own object (for it had no accidents or qualities that I held in juxtaposition), I simply was traveling along with the sound, riding out on its cadence. This turns our eye back to a criticism with which I opened this post, the idea of Representation as the exemplar of mental activity. As I have criticized elsewhere, this object-orientation of Graham’s grows from an Idealist rooting, Husserl’s outright Cartesianism, a philosophical assumption I call Central Clarity Consciousness [ Downunder: Central Clarity Consciousness (CCC) ]. Out of the presumption that intentionality is essentially the creation of a representing object comes Graham’s thinking of the vicar of some external, real thing. The true difficulty though comes in Graham’s ambition to work his metaphysical priniciples down out of the human world and end up with a world in which human actors, or even biotic actors are not the only things which have standing. If Graham would have stayed simply in the human realm he would perhaps be satisfied with something like Kant’s Idealism. But he does not:

Whereas Kant’s distinction is something endured by humans alone, I hold that one billiard ball hides from another no less than the ball-in-itself hides from humans. When a hailstorm smashes vineyards or sends waves through a pond, these relations are just as worthy of philosophy as the unceasing dispute over the chasm or non-chasm between being and thought.

The mental activity that cuts human beings off from all other objects is not to be something which only human beings are burdened with. All objects suffer from this original sin of “hiding essences”. The entire universe is alienated from all of its other parts, and the only problem is the problem of “caustion” (wherein clearly we see that the entire Universe is actually in some sense connected to the rest of itself). In this way has simply taken the chasm between human beings and all things and distributed it down through the layers of animation. And has set up for himself not only the difficulty of describing the connection between human beings and other objects (a connection which he can only allude to), but then takes this difficulty of connection down into the depths of all objects, inanimate or otherwise. How can we be generous enough notto say that Graham has begun with a simple problem, an essential conception of knowledge as representation, and then multiplied it to near infinity. Well, the answer seems lies in the obverse of Graham’s chasm, that things (and human beings) are already connected, and that the nature of this connection is key to understanding just what mental activity is. If we are to have a post-human, de-centered philosophy which does not privilege human “access” to the world, we really must let go of the notion that mental activity itself, even human mental activity, is not essentially a question of representation, and thus not certainly a question of “object”. What this does to Graham’s project I cannot tell, but if one does not make this move, one is forced to answer such questions as, “What does it mean for a oak desk to hold the ‘vicar’ of the fountain pen that lies upon it?” or, “How does a tree ‘represent’ the breeze to itself?” or “What composes the ‘accidents’ of the ‘deputy’ of my person in the rag doll I am holding?” As long as we confine ourselves to a primary notion of inner, senuous objects which either do or do not match up with external real objects we are forced to an incredible projection into depths of all kinds of inanimate materials in which there seems to be no means of giving them conceptual anchorage. Unless one pulls back into the Idealist human-centered world of Kant or Husserl or Hegel, it seems one has to give up the notion of object as representation altogether.

The Sincerity of Objects

Graham is not numb to this problem, and in his essay on vicarious causation seeks to overcome it. And he does so in an admirable way in the notion of “Sincerity”. Sincerity is the Harmanian word for Intentionality, and it is through sincerity that Graham hopes to sink the human experience of objects down into the animal world, and hopefully down into the abiotic world of material inanimate things. He defines sincerity variously, but generally as a kind of directed absorbtion, at the categorical minimum of the contact between a real object and a sensuous one (instantiating his own terms in a near defintional circle):

“For our purposes, intentionality means sincerity. My life is absorbed at any moment with a limited range of thoughts and perceptions. While it is tempting to confuse such absorption with ‘conscious
awareness,’ we need to focus on the most rudimentary meaning of sincerity: contact between a real object and a sensual one.”

I am not clear at all how “sincerity,” as it is defined as asymmetrical touching differs from “conscious awareness” for Graham, but perhaps this attempted distinction is an artifact of Graham’s resistance to panpsychism. Generally though, sincerity is a projection of human experience, marked by the expense of energy in some kind of directed attention:

 

3. SINCERITY. At this very moment I am absorbed or fascinated by the sensual tree, even if my attitude toward it is utterly cynical and manipulative. I do not contain the sensual tree, because this is the role of the unified intention that provides the theater of my sincerity without being identical to it. And I am not merely contiguous with the tree, because it does in fact touch me in such a way as to fill up my life. I expend my energy in taking the tree seriously, whereas the sensual tree cannot return the favor, since it is nothing real.

 

The question is, just how far down can the concept of sincerity go on the biotic and inanimate ladder. Is it robust and facile enough a concept to travel far enough so as to grant full nobility to (and thus also explain) the mechanism of causation of even the simplest actors in the world. In my “The Problem with Spinoza’s Panpsychism” I speak of the difficulties of reading the prospectively panpsychic actions within the most inert objects, and there seek to define these internal events semiotically, that is, as horizon-defined indications. So when there is a causal effect upon a body, events within that body perform a kind of double duty. They mutually signify actions within the horizon of the body, but also these events can be read as directed to (or the result of) external events. Do we have the barefaced minimum of Graham’s asymmetry of contact at the simplest level? Would a body defined by its horizon of closure (by Spinoza imagined to be either a ratio of motion and rest, or a pressed together layer of parts) constitute both a real object, and events within it also possess a “sincerity” of directed re-action, what Graham calls the sensuous object? There seems to be some traction here, but still the concept of internal object tugs against the grain.

This traction is not without consequence for when Graham considers the ultimate question of where or how the connection occurs, he idntifies it as sincerity, the directed expenditure of energy, that  must be the site of the answer:

This must be the site of change in the world. A real object resides in the core of an intention, pressed up
against numerous sensual ones. Somehow, it pierces their colored mists and connects with a real object already in the vicinity but buffered from direct contact. If light can be shed on this mechanism, the nature of the other four types of relation may be clarified as well.

But right here at the cusp of the inanimate Graham draws back from the potential sufficiency of this dynamic, for he finds in the human realm the allure of the aforementioned “allure,” turning to how metaphor breaks down the whole of senuous objects in a liberating sense, allowing the real object of the human being to “poke through” its senuous veil and reach the distant signals of other real things. This is a tremendously poetic and beautiful description and full of potential analysis of the relationship between metaphor, image and thought (reminding us of Nietzsche’s essay“On Truth and Lie in the Extramoral Sense”) But while we may make epistemic inroads to internal events of tennis balls, goldfish bowls and airport tarmacs using the widest notion of “sincerity” one finds it quite conceptually unlikely that the same could be said of some concept of “metaphor”.

The reason for this is obvious, and already mentioned. Mental activity, especially the breadth of which that Graham would like to populate the world, simply cannot be characterized by “objecthood,” certainly not sensuous objects of the kind that their “quality of being a whole” which metaphorical allure works to disrupt is an essential character. Here lies the poisoned pawn of Central Clarity Conciousness (CCC), an assumption which will drive Graham’s actor-theory ever back toward the realm of linguistically endowed human beings. Further complicating the issue is that Graham would like to link the disruptions of our essential objects via “allure” to the very mechanism of causation itself. As he describes them, such disruptions almost waken us from our dream of swirling, wind-blown, Lucy-In-The-Sky-of-Diamonds, accidents and strangely buffered objects, to the jutting through of the signals from afar which produce real causation. Just how does Graham see this happening? How do the metaphorical increases of connection between our own internal sensuous objects bring contact with other external objects?:

“….just as two sensual objects are vicariously linked by a real one, two real objects must be vicariously linked by a sensual one. I make contact with another  object, not through impossible contact with its interior life, but only by brushing its surface in such a manner as to bring its inner life into play. Just as only the opposite poles of magnets make contact, and just as the opposite sexes alone are fertile, it is also the case that two objects of the same type do not directly touch one another.”

By bringing about the linking of sensuous objects in our own mental life, we so to speak stir the inside of other objects so as to inspire (I can think of no better word) internal connections of other objects which would result in causation…real contact. How a bullet seduces  our bodies unto death only brushing our surface.

But what a fantastic theory. If we are to augment it to allow it to cover something more than even only a portion of human articulation we are going to have to unchain it from its object-hood bonds. When I chop at a piece of wood with my axe, I am not “brushing its surface” so as to nudge it into a metaphorizing  allurement action which then opens it up to the possibility to being cleaved in two. Even as lovely a conception this might be, there simply is not enough argumentative ligature to make it remotely hold as an explanation. If indeed we want to maintain the worm-hole conception of causation of inside of object to object, as suggestive as a metaphorical theory of causation is, we are going to have to turn to a much more polyvalent conception of internal senuous event.

First of all, in a bit of digression, we have to admit that aside from the mental object orientedness that drives Graham’s philosophical position, we are really  subject to an infinity of causations continuously. We are being radiated by solar activity, drawn to the earth in gravitous fields, struck by photons that allow us to see, soundwaves allowing us to hear, just to name a bare few of millions upon millions of forces and effects. Even in the confines of a strictly human realm, to view causation as a kind of eruption in the veil of sensuous closure, a special event of allurement, one would have to admit that this is a regular and continous process. Further so, all objects would be undergoing such sincerity driven allurements at such an enormous rate that our bodies (and all bodies) would be semiotically ripping open at the seams. Such a picture would do much to destablize any real “me” object that Graham imagines founds my causal connections to the world. The sites of “sincerity” are everywhere.

But I would like to take up another aspect of Graham’s use of Sincerity and its rather obvious psychological and ethical freight. To call a directionality of an object “sincere” is not just to distinguish it from insincerity, for how can a rose garden be “insincere,” or a dog, as Wittgenstein would like to tell us. It is also to allude to the way in which the directionality of others, and not just human others, allows us to make powerful sense of the world. Because we can see the directionality of the zebra as it reacts to the leap of a lion, the surface evidence of the expenditure of energy in orientation, we too can make ourselves directional towards an important external event. The sincerity of one object links our sincerity to the world, so that the lion, the zebra and I all are sincerely focused and in a certain kind of agreement. Interestingly the same kind of psychological/ethical frieght is carried by another philosopher’s analytical term, Charity. Donald Davidson in his theory of the radical interpreation of others (human beings), argues that we can only make sense of their behaviors if we charitably grant that they are making the most sense possible (and that they are in some way sincere). We must assume the coherence of their thought in order to be able to interpret it. [Here is a fantastically performed ten minute video explanation of the Principle of Charity, entertainingly argued if you have not seen it: Skeptism refuted in Under Ten Minutes]. I would argue that Graham has chosen just the right type of word when he is looking for what it is that reveals the mechanism of connection between sensuous and real objects. The coherent directedness of attention which marks sincerity is intimately related to the coherence of explanation which marks our charitable capacity to interpret others (even if others are lying, we locate their “lie” within a sincerely directed behavior of some kind, even if it be unconscious).

This leads us back to Campanella I believe, the way in which we literally become the things that we know. Our directed intentionality which for our purposes is not composed of objects, but merely of vectors of distinctions, directs us from within to the internal contact with other objects in such a way that we can literally feel because we are one new entity, their internal directedness. We have epistemically subsumed them, changing our own borders. In lived contact, as they are so directed, sincerely, by the order of their own internal coherence toward extra-horizon events, through our mutality of bodies we perceive through their sincerity with the world. In this way causation shoots through the entire assemblage and transformation, through the prosthetic becomings which extend our real bodies out to the furthest reaches of their terminus.

Descartes of all people (who may have been vastly misread as a Representationalist by the Idealist tradition that followed) gives us a very good example of such this kind of mutality of seeing in the figure of the blind man and his cane:

It sometimes doubtless happened to you, while walking in the night without a light through places which are a little difficult, that it became necessary to use a stick in order to guide yourself; and you have then been able to notice that you felt, through the medium of the stick, the diverse objects around you, and that you were even able to tell whether they were trees, or stones, or sand…(Treatise on Diotrics, first discourse)

…just as when the blind man of whom we have spoken above touches some object with his cane, it is certain that the objects do not transmit anything to him except that, by making his cane move in different ways according to their different inherent qualities, they likewise and in some way move the nerves of his hand, and then the places in his brain where the nerves originate. Thus his mind is caused to perceive as many different qualities in these bodies, as there are varieties in the movements that they cause in his brain…(fourth discourse)

Objects Without Sincerity

If we are to grant a sensuous relationship between a stick and its enviroment, then we must be able to say that the sincerity of a blind man’s directional attention is linked to, and signficantly knows the sincerity of the stick. In a very real sense the blind man has become his cane in knowing it. (Descartes uses this analogy to actually explain how vision works, as the rays of light which enter our eyes operate as a kind of prosthetic extension of the human body out into the world, something close in theory to a Semiotic Realism.) In this way, speaking of the cavernous retreat of the stick is a bit obscurant. Yes, the stick can break or fail and much of its reportability disabled, but because our perceptions are not object dominated, this can simply be read as a change of essence. In the end Graham’s essences of objects that fall back into vaccuums never reachable, hiding from every kind of eye, are simply objects without sincerity. And what are objects without sincerity? They are either the spectral creations of philosophers preoccupied with a CCC optical metaphor of what consciousness is, the sense that because what we think is primarily a visualization “parts” must hide, or it is merely the capacity of think of things as fundamentally distinct, made of difference, a groudwork for our own ability to make and distinguish differences.

What I propose, and I do realize that Graham could never accept this because the core inspiration of his philosophy is the matching inversion of objects accomplished by Husserl and Heidegger, one must keep sincerity by discarding the essentialization of mental activity into objects. Seeing them both as two kinds of objects, two sides of a coin, each locked away from each other simply exposes the fundamental problem of Idealism, a problem that Graham himself is locked within his philosophy when begining, rather creatively, with these ingredients. As mentioned above, if Graham were to remain within Idealism and its human-centric philosophy of access, there would be no problem with this at all. In fact he would have on his hands a beautiful, poetic ontology of animate metaphorization which would productively enrich human discriptions of themselves. The problem is that as we leave the capacities of human beings the very picture of mental activity as object representation with confined borders and bejeweling accidents breaks down (if it ever was sufficient in the first place, which I contend it was not). If we want to reach down into the authenticity of non-human and even abiotic actors and regard their own sincerities as actorly and also maintain a vigorous, vivid sense of what causation is, the illusive white shadow of un-sincere object essences as products of Representationalism must leave the stage. We can retain a strong sense of essence in the manner that Campanella and Spinoza discuss it, but this is under a process of self-transformation and assimilation (in terms of real contact, the assimilation goes both  ways!). We regularly and emphatically read the world through our embodiment of others, our prosthetic/cybernetic combination with others, divining the world, so to speak, through our sincere reading of their sincerities.

There is certainly more than enough room for Graham’s concept of Allure, the way that seeming accidents which are part of our patterned coherences and also not, the sparkle of something that catches our eye, the dark stain spreading inordinately. In fact I argue that our consciousness is not at all directed towards objects marked by their quality of wholeness, but rather is composed of the attention to allure itself. The pure center of attentive direction, of sincerity, is not an object, but a living line continually breaking open bringing the forces of coherence into play. Such allurement is not the condition for causation (for phsycial interactions is not mind-dependent), but rather the operation of dynamic coherence itself, that which makes a body a body, the way that it endures, seeking a homeostasis amid change. Thus I can embrace Graham’s praise for metaphor as means for productive connection; it is just not the only means for building the connection between objects or bodies [I discuss the possible place for metaphor in the otherwise taken to be unfriendly philosophy of Spinoza in these two posts: Spinoza’s Confusion of Ideas, and then, Metaphor ; Spinoza and the Metaphoric Rise of the Imagination ].  Metaphor, or detaching allurement, is simply not the only path to connection, and certainly not its precondition in the abiotic world. In this way we have to disagree with Graham’s ultimate conclusion that all causal events are founded upon an occasion of allurement, an allure that opens the door to causation:

The separation of a thing from its quality is no longer a local phenomenon of human experience, but instead is the root of all relations between real objects, including causal relations. In other words, allure belongs to ontology as a whole, not to the special metaphysics of animal perception. Relations between all real objects, including mindless chunks of dirt, occur only by means of some form of allusion.

We leave this conclusion as insufficient not because it is too poetic, but because it is not poetic enough, it does not touch at the heart and power of what poieõ, what “making”,  is. It does not go deep enough into the object nor the object’s composition, or the full embrace of sincerity driven down into the abiotic, non-representational levels.

Do I believe that in-animate objects can and do “read” the sincerity of other objects, and thus in some sense “become” them. I do. Air molecules that reverberate and carry a sound in some sense sincerely express their own directionality such that they read the sincerity of molecules near them. I do not include Graham’s notion that the outsides of these objects do not touch because really under these circumstances the borders of things is ever under dispute or change, and so the notion of “touching” or “contact” also is under revision. I do think though that his concept of asymmetry of intentionality, taken as a whole (I would simply prefer a horizoned direction) gives strong light to just what perplexing thing Campanella meant when he said “To know is to be” and that our entity is turned into the entity of another thing. What I would amend is that this assimilation is best seen as cybernetic/prosthetic, a communication of sincerities across bounds within new epistemic and still ontological horizons. It is not just that I am able to hear the distant signals of real objects through the veil of sensous ideas, poked through. Real power is simply not that isolative, not so pale. It is rather that my body is directly composed of such connections, the transferal of sense-making coherences, cause on cause, composed of in part my capacity to read the causal links and sincerities of others. And as a human being this consists of the very real ontological difference that causal explanation makes in my own person. If I know how something works, know it through its causes, my own capacity to act in the world  is also increased.

Related to this is something that Graham only slightly touches on in his essay, that there must be a real object on the other side of the connection otherwise it is not a connection at all. This is the important vector which distinguishes mere mental pro-fascinations from real changes in the capacity to act. If I were a racist I could be trapped in the various fantasies I generate about a particular person of color. What is it that disguishes these “sincerities” from genuine contact? This is vital distinction, one that cuts to the bone of real power in the world, but as far as I can tell it is not one that Graham wants to link to causation itself. This missing discernment is I believe related to Graham’s almost poetic notion that the real object of us is somehow always cut off from the effects of others, or that real connections are somehow mind-dependent. There is no sense from him that we are already causally bound to not only our environment and to others in such a way that our identification of the nature of these bounds is paramount in any path to greater activity or power. It is rather a philosophical picture, perhaps the picture of an artist, of how it is that I can get my isolated, cavernous, retreating self connected to the distant signals of other things. For this reason I suspect that the mechanisms for distingushing real contact from simple sincerity of attention is quite undeveloped in Graham’s theory of causation. Causation which in many normative descriptions of the world assumes a cornerstone placement if only as a barrier or limit one runs up against, in Graham’s approach becomes one of the very last things explained (and as yet remains so at least in terms of the inanimate). But this is important because we want to be able to distinguish between our mere fantasies about the world and others, and concrete possibilities of change. As such, in need  of such, we cannot simply turn to the allurement of accidents of essences, or a metaphorization of sensuous objects, for such imaginative creations on their own no more lead to an assured connection with the real objects we think we have before our Cartesian eyes.

If we are going to talk effectively about changes of power and activity in the world it is principally to the difference between a non-connective sincerity and a connective one, a difference which can only be thought of in terms of degree, for all sincerities  are connective to something I would contend (there are no brains in vats). I will leave the development of this aside, only to suggest that when we turn to what causation is, our approach to sincerity necessarily involves a charity which makes the sincerity of others readable, and if readable to any degree, inhabitable and transforming in the very real Campanella sense. Interpretation of others and the world is bodily assemblage in which what is internal to other things in some sense becomes internal to use, thus indeed, the molten centers of objects do touch.

[I want to say thank you to Graham Harman for providing one more latch-point for the thinking of Tommaso Campanella whose philosophy I seek to renew.]

Graham Harman’s “essence” contra DeLanda, à la Campanella

Listening From Afar

Just finished listening to Graham Harman’s lecture “Assemblages According to Manuel DeLanda” [mp3] (given at the London School of Economics and Political Science, on 27 November 2008), as part of my attempt come to grips with just what Graham is saying about causation, and much comes clear as he tries to applaud and criticize DeLanda, forming a critical triangle between himself, DeLanda and Latour.

And there is much that is substantive on cause in this lecture, though it passes in and out as a subject. Graham tries to position himself just right, a Goldilocks between DeLanda’s rather fusing, if genetic, depths hiding beneath actualizing expressions and Latour’s satisfying emphasis upon real, though occasionally isolated, and far too-shallow actors in networks. The lecture is not long, and there is a lengthy thought-experiment driven discussion that follows.

It is here, in the discussion where Graham brings up the reality of the essence of the “McCain Victory Coalition” a very real thing that simply did not come about, was not actualized. I had run into this initially in one of his comments on a blogged post and certainly had trouble with it, in concept, conjuring up far too much reality for a science fiction of “possible worlds”. But Graham’s consistent emphasis on essence got me thinking (he makes a very good point that much of the postmodern baby-with-the-bathwater  treatment of essence is due to a conflationary reading of essence, in particular carried out by Derrida).

The “Neapolitan Volcano”

What really came to mind was the philosophy of Tommaso Campanella and his own treatment of essence. There struck me to be great affinity between Graham’s idealization of essence in a notion of retreating objects, split off from their qualities, and the thinking of the late-Renaissance heretic. So while I have spent too much time attacking Graham’s OOP from the perspective of Spinoza (who admittedly is fashionable these days), it seemed right to come to Graham’s support from an extremely unfashionable thinker, one who had almost vanished from the philosophical canon. At the very least it gives me an chance to put forth some more of Campanella’s thought, and perhaps drawn one more line of affinity between Graham’s OOP and late-Scholastic/Renaissance thought.

Here I post without much comment a summation of Campanella’s treatment of essence and existence, taken from Bonansea’s excellent book, Tommaso Campanella: Renaissance Pioneer of Modern Thought. It begins with a quotation from Campanella  himself, followed by Bonansea’s commentary:

To [Scotus’s] second and third arguments we answer that existence is the limit of essence. Since it cannot be distinguished from what is limited and modified, any more than the extreme end of a line that can be distinguished from the line itself, it follows that existence belongs to the same predicament of essence, or better, to the predicament of quantity which is the measure of substance. I mean transcendental quantity; for the angel too, has a limited quanitity of power, and this limit is from his own existence. However, if one considers the extrinsic terminal factors, existence must be said to be an accident. Indeed, although time, place, and all the surrounding beings are also essences, yet they do not belong to the quiddity of a thing that is thereby circumscribed and located in a particular place and time. They are but accidents which contract a thing into such and such an existence.

Met. II, 6, 2, 4, p. 10a

“Existence is, therefore, neither matter, nor form, nor their composite, but their extreme and ultimate mode. It is a transcendental measure that implies a real relationship to external things. It is the end of being and the beginning of nonbeing; or rather, the connecting link between being and nonbeing. Insofar as it has being, it belongs to essence; insofar as it has nonbeing, it belongs to nothingness.

In these statements we have, we believe, the exact meaning of Campanella’s notion of extrinsic existence as something distinct from intrinsic existence. This notion enables us to understand why the existence of a finite being can be said to be identical with essence and at the same time really distinct from it. In the first case, existence stands for the actual intrinsic entity of a thing; in the second case, it stands for the beings outside of an individual essence which is thereby limited by its own nonbeing. For, it should be noted, although in Campanella’s philosophy existence limits essence no less than essence limits existence, the actual limitation or contraction of both essence and existence is from nonbeing.

…The difference between a thing as it is in the mind of God and the same thing as it is in its actuality consists in this, that the latter case its being is contracted to a definite concrete existence. This amounts to saying that by its creation a thing does not acquire a better existence, but only an existence that contracts to a particular and concrete essence the essence that exists in the mind of God in the form of a universal and nobler idea. Since existence is in turn also contracted to a certain particular essence, no distinction can be admitted between essence and intrinsic existence in finite things, just as no distinction is to be admitted between them as they are in the mind of God. (Theol. I, 3, 9)”

Tommaso Campanella: Renaissance Pioneer of Modern Thought  (180-181)

I find this synthesis interesting, and in keeping with much of Graham’s retreating object essences. Campanella grants a full nobility of object essence outside of causes extrinsic to its concrete existence, and uses the suggestive metaphor of the reaching of concrete existence as the reaching of a limit, like the very end or terminus of a line. The accidents of its concrete existence (what Graham calls its qualities) are actually for Campanella the intersection of Being with Nonbeing, into what he calls a contraction. Concrete existence forms a horizon of this intersection, a particularization, to which the essence of something is not reduced. It is in terms that would be satisfying to Graham, in surplus to this horizon. The intrinsic essence of a man as it becomes concretized through the external causes on which it depends comes into contact with what it is not (not-man), is actually coming into contact with Nonbeing itself. And it is not just the essence that is particularized, but so is existence itself. There are almost three layers coming into contraction.

Aside from simply seeing some homologies in thought (many of these simply being a product of Campanella’s attempted synthesis of Scholastic debates), Graham’s surplus object essences and Campanella’s collision of Being with particularizing NonBeing, it was also his claim that there is such an object as the McCain Victory Coalition (something I still have problems with). But I wanted to investigate the degree to which Campanella would grant just such an object. Here I post Bonansea’s commentary on the status of contingent objects in Campanella’s thought (found in a chapter on the Primality of Potentia (power/capactity), something that Campanella reads as co-constitutive of all Being):

“Just as power is needed for acting, so it is needed for being (Met. II, 6, 5, 1). A being that always is has its power to be ab intrinseco, or else it would have to depend on another being for its existence. Such is the first being, whose power to be is its own esse. Beings that now are but at one time were not, i.e., contingent beings, have their power to be ab extrinseco. They are called possible insofar as they can be made through their causes, and actual inasmuch as they actually exist outside their causes. In the first case they have only an imperfect power to be, since this power rests with a cause outside of themselves; in the second case they have a perfect power to be within themselves, because they already exist (Met. II, 6, 5, 3).

One might think that in contingent beings the power to be precedes their own existence; in fact, many things are possible that do not exist yet. However, this is not true, for what is possible already has some sort of existence. It exists causally in its cause, virtually in the agent, potentially in its power, and really, existentially, in the thing itself when it is out of its own cause. No matter how a thing can be, somehow or other it already is. If it can be perfectly, it is perfect; if it can only be in an imperfect way, it is imperfect (Met. p.21a-21b). To state the something has the power to be and not assign to it any sort of being or existence is highly inconsistent. Power to be is therefore an “essentiaity” of being (Met. p. 21b). It is being itself insofar as it is or will be (Met. II, 6, 6, 7).

Tommaso Campanella: Renaissance Pioneer of Modern Thought (150) 

Not addressed are contingent objects which have not, and this will not now come into existence, such as the one Graham preposes (unless one imagines that McCain’s Victory Coalition could come into play in a next election). But this notion of the potentia/power of a thing that already exists in its causes (ab extrinseco), and in its intrinsic essence yet concretized, seems to be the very concepts that Graham is capitalizing on when asserting that such an object must in some sense exist. I offer from this excentric but beautiful thinker a pillar of conceptual support from across the centuries for Graham’s claim for the existence of non-concretized potential objects, at least as a rough point of affinity.

Inhuman Causation

To turn to a different question, in terms of my discoveries within the lecture on the subject of causation, Graham admits what to me is the rather profound difficulty to explain what causation is at the very level of the inanimate (where we assume the preponderance of causation in the Universe occurs). He is quite fair with this, never hiding this fault. But this is huge. I quote from the discussion that followed:

“It is not exactly clear to me how it happens in the case of inanimate objects. We can it better in the case of human things. We can ask ourselves why some metaphors work and others don’t. Um, why some jokes work and some others don’t. Um, its not entirely clear to me why in the case of certain physical interactions sometimes there is a causal effect, sometimes there is no causal effect when two things meet at all. Sometimes it goes in only one direction….I think what we do methodologically is that we first have to look at the human cases and see why the object is severed from it traits, first, and then we kind of retroactively try to think down to the inanimate level and see how it might work there. That’s why you have to start with aesthetics to get at causation.”

There are two problems that I see with this problem. It is good that Graham excavates the problem itself, trying to point out that for a Realist other supposed solutions to this problem, (how do the buried essences of things touch each other), may not really be solutions at all; something of the problem of cause may have been swept under the philosophical rug (and he provides an excellent critique of DeLanda’s dismissal of determination). Yet to offer a metaphysics of the world which does not even posses a strong, rough-sketch approach to animate interactions, while seeking to undermine the common materialist notions of causation seems to me to point to the insufficiency of one’s essential theory. Graham appears to be saying something like, If you are going to be a Realist of the sort that I claim you should be you cannot accept the generally accepted materialist notions of causation, but…I cannot really give you a coherent replacement description in its stead. One gets the sense that the appeal of the theory in poetic or narrow sense (as opposed to a systematic metaphysics of the world), is supposed to override the requirements of a robust explanatory power. It is something like, if you are going to be a Realist, causation between inanimate objects cannot at all happen like that, but I cannot really tell you how it does happen. This can be the beginning of a tremendous effort of new and creative thought (how to fashion a theory-coherent explanation for a huge portion of reality already well-described by other historical assumptions), or, as in often the case, when so much phenomena and event fall outside of a descriptive theory this is the sign of the death-throes of a theory, an Idealist inspired theory so strained one or more of its basic assumptions much be changed.

But more challenging that this is that the primary focus for Graham’s OOP is objects themselves, that is, objects without human beings. The inability to coherently and powerfully describe the conditions of interactions between two objects without any human beings around is at the very least highly problematic, if not fatally self-contradictory. The very methodology that Graham prescribes, and he is again a very forthright, is that we must start from the human and extrapolate down further and further as far as we can go. What would not make the conclusions we arrive at through such an extrapolation not  a completely human-centered, perhaps outright Idealist creation, I can’t tell. The entire construct is woven out of human experience as exemplar and ideal (hence his projection of rather psychological terms such as “allure” to describe what happens in causation). The consequence of this, and this is just my feeling, the only thing tha would save a non-human centered project result spun from human extrapolation is panpsychism itself, that is, the processes we human beings are carrying out when we actually make such a theory are fundamentally part of the processes that all things carry out (we are not fundamentally a kingdom within a kingdom).  Such a conclusion though would I think require a non-psychological, non-affectuating, non-quality ridden projection, a re-essentialization of just what it is that we are doing when forming this theory and all other things (which would unfortunately require that Graham abandon his otherwise worthy Husserlian/Cartesian/Idealist influence…it would not leave his theory standing).

All this being said, both the affinity of thought come from Tommaso Campanella’s home in a Naples prison, to the apparent road-block of a non-humanizing, human-originated theory of the object and causation, lead me to the anticipation of what Graham will come up with. This is the funny thing about metaphysics. The inherent contradictions in attempts to totalize, explain and describe everything are not simply the sign of its fundamental mistep as an activity, a kind of category error as Wittgenstein or Ryle might have it, but rather work much as the net in tennis, as an obstical to be artfully and gracefully overcome, like the imposed meter in a Alexandrian sonnet. If the obstical is not too steep, and the lines coherent enough, we gaze in wonder at the play.

How the PSR lifts OOP out of Occasionalism

Experimental Communication

Larval Subjects, in a charitable gesture proposed an experiment of argumentation, that instead of me simply eluding to a certain thinker from the middle of the 17th century, or specific aspects of that thinker’s thought which I imagine to a great degree would help Graham Harman in his project, I should present specific arguments which would somehow prove my point that now-called Object-Oriented Philosophy is in need of the kinds of thinking being done by this remote thinker, S******.

Larval Subjects writes, quoting me:

Also I would humbly suggest this little experiment. You write:

I would respond to your counter-claims against panpsychism, or your guarding of Graham’s conatusagainst my suggestion to him that Spinoza’s ontology at the very least bears strong resemblance to what he is saying, in particular in resolution to his biggest and admitted problems with his own position…

Try making your case without mentioning the name of Spinoza or the terms Spinoza uses at all. Instead of saying “Spinoza solves your problem” (which implicitly says to the person you’re addressing “therefore you have no work to do”), instead simply state your claims and how you think they have a particular solution to problems you discern in the other person’s position.

Aside from the curious nature of this request by someone other than Graham Harman that I address Graham Harman himself (Levi is not privy to at least some of the talk Graham and I have done on the question of S******), this seems like a worthy thing to do…in part, becauseLevi offers this as a kind of compromise in style. I should leave off my usual near-polemical engagements with his oft stated principles, and he might consider my criticisms more deeply; but also in part because it has always struck me as rather obvious that nearly every position that Graham Harman has put forth has a natural correspondent in S******’s ontology, and that at the very least a thorough dialogue between the two positions (Graham’s new and inventive transformation of Heidegger via Latourand Spinoza’s Classical treatment of Substance), would at least be productive, if for no other reason that we could come clear of exactly where Graham Harman’s Object-Oriented Philosophy departs from any S******-informed aid, despite the homologies. If I have been vague in my reference to S****** in the past with either Levi or Graham, it has been that I, perhaps wrongly, presumed that the positions I referenced were rather well known, and their beneficent, supporting effect upon the topics considered somewhat obvious. Because I seldom received substantive, argument-centered rejection of my suggestions of homology, I could not tell just at what level my suggestions were dismissed. I will seek to make these connections more clear.

What this has to do withLevi’s own version of Object-Oriented Philosophy, I really have no real idea, since it really is unclear how much he maintains just such a philosophy. It is hard to keep track of his pursuit of affinities with Graham’s OOP, seemingly, as Graham recently commented, to have fallen back onto his own Bergson/Deleuzian tendencies, and possibly, fatally in term of OOP, leaving behind Graham’s corner-stone thought of the retreating essence of objects. In short, aside from a list of Principles, Fallacies and defintions, some of which bear Latourian influence, I am not sure at all just what kind of OOP metaphysics Levi is putting forth. I have been left with only trying to coherently relate the Principles and Fallacies and definitions to each other.

Graham’s Aporia of Objection

In my discussions with Graham over why he resists any informing help from the philosophy of S******, I have received two fundamental objections, only one of which I can systematically approach here. Firstly, and perhaps most insurmountingly, Graham has when pressed simply admitted that his distainfor S****** comes from this thinker’s “fashionable” popularity, with the obvious implication that this popularity is not intellectually justifiable. I can’t tell if he is thinking of the pseudo-S****** exposed by later Deleuze (and Guattari), the BwO kind, or he is simply referring a general Cultural presence. Unfortunately he cites of all people Zizek, the most fashionable of thinkers, who has written a book against the S******-inspired Deleuze, as a confirmation that S****** is merely “in”. It seems that Graham tires of even hearing S******’s name, in the way that many tired of hearing Heidegger’s name. When objection raised is not very much more than, “I just don’t like that style of pants,” there is not much more that one can do (other than just wear that style yourself, try to show how they look pretty good, and ask a person to at least try them on and see how the feel). This may be insurmountable, like so much of fashion.

The other objection that Graham has put forth is that he objects to S******’s determinism and Stoicism, and this can be substantial. By Stoicism I presume that he means his treatment of the affects, the offering of a paththat suggests that we become more active and less re-active the more that we understand how the world is, and how we are. This is an elaborate issue, and I have also creatively struggled with this aspect of S******’s prescription, so at the very least I have some sympathy for how Graham feels. I am a novelist and poet. The last thing I want to be told is that my very path forward which is so rich and significant is somehow fundamentally in error. But I will not address this aspect here as it does not bear upon the specific difficulties Graham has encountered in his own philosophy, a weakness of description which has a particular S****** salve. It is to the question of determinism I turn, the lone remaining substantive objection that seems to have bearing upon Graham’s resistance to help from the 17th century outcast Jew.

Graham’s Problem with his Own Philosophy [the experiment in body]

Workout out a theory of vicarious causation lately, seeking to overcome the difficulties of Latour’s cut-off occasionalism, Graham Harman has been trying to patch up one of the most attractive (for him), but more problematic aspects of his Latourianphilosophy. If nothing “touches” nothing else, and each object/instant is a new one, what is the account for coherent change. His description of Latour’s occasionalism gives context for this problem:

But since these relations shift from moment to moment, the black boxes do not endure for more than an instant, unless we consider them as “trajectories” crossing time across a series of minute transformations. They must also be constantly maintained. This makes Latouran ally of the doctrine of continuous creation, also associated with many of the occasionalists. There is no connection between instants, since each is an absolutely unique event, with nothing enduring automatically from one moment to the next. But occasionalism has an even more powerful implication that we have already mentioned: the inability of any two actors to touch one another directly.

From a draft of the forth-coming Prince of Networks [re.press, this Spring]

Whereas 17th century and earlier Arab theorizers of occasionalism had “God” to be the guarantor of the order of change, Latour presents approvingly a kind of Secular Occasionalism, albeit with the rather large problem of explaining just what does the job that “God” used to do for in prior historical versions. The failure is genetic to his philosophical descendants. It seems, as far as I can tell, Graham has been working very hard on trying to bandaid this rather large hole in the thinking. He is rather drawn to the isolating power of Latour’s occasionalism (perhaps even poetically so), but plagued by the very secularism and localism that also appeal to him. (And he does not want all these occasions to merely be percolating up from some kind of field, a laval mix of intensities in DeLanda or Deleuzian fashion, this would not do justice to the nobility of the object.) To my ear the rather obvious answer is a notion of Substance, not the substance of individuals in the strict Aristotlean sense, and idea which Graham repeatedly orients himself both towards and against, but Secularized Substance in a monism of one world, which expresses itself determinatively (this provides the connective tissue between occasions, this is the “God” of past theories, extended out so abstractly to no longer be “God” per se).

Now this is where Graham will buck. He does not want to see the world as determined. He wants it to be “weird”. The guys of science get to play with all kinds of weird stuff, why not philosophers? They get extra-dimensions, things that pop into and out of existence, crazy and beautiful fractal diagrams, and philosopher get propositions, and “concepts”, like perpetual children they get to play with blocks of ones, twos and threes stacking them in endless but rather dull variety. Who wants a determined world?

But I want to investigate what “determination” means, or what presupposing a “determined world” means. There are quite a few different tacks to take on this, but I want to force forward one. A determined world is merely the presumption which allows for the power of an explanation. That is to say, ifthere is going to a real change in one’s  power, an increase in one’s  capacities to act in the world when one understands the explanation of something, this is because  the world itself is determined. Leave off the great fantasies (or nightmares) of a clock-work universe, clicking like gears, or the unappealing idea that what flavor of icecream  you are going to choose tomorrow at the ice cream shop is already in some sense known. This is not the point of understanding the world to be determined. The point is that when someone explains to you how something works, and you understand this explanation, you and your relationship to the world fundamentally changes. This is the power of explanation.

It may be something as simple as “you have to depress the clutch when starting your car” or more satisfying, the complex reason why this is so; it may be “if you talk to him in a gentle voice, you get better results” or substantively, a detailed reason why this is so either with this person or people in general; it may be “you can only add those two variables under these conditions, because these kinds of equations only work in this way” or, “your disc drive only can hold x amount of data, unless you perform these operations on that data, because…”. The examples are endless, and the changes in power through the comprehension of causes are vital and real (any metaphysics that cannot explain or marginalizes this constitutive power remains marginal to the world). A determined world is one in which explanations have traction. The explanation does not have to be the ultimate or definitive one (in fact, questions must be raised if even such a kind of explanation is a coherent thought). It is rather merely that explanations work. They do work, and they explain work. If you are going to remove the sense-value of a determined world you have to account for the power of explanation, and this is precisely what Graham’s philosophy does remove and then does not do.

If one wants to get a grip on the power of explanation, consider what Michael Della Rocca calls The Principle of Sufficient Reason(PSR). The base assumption of the PSR is this:

Consider first the PSR, the principle according to which each fact, each thing that exists, has an explanation. The explanation of a fact is enough – sufficient – to enable one to see why the fact holds. The explanation of a fact enables us to see the explained fact coming, as it were. If the explanation of the thing were not sufficient in this way, then some aspect of the thing would remain unexplained, unintelligible.

S****** (2008 )

Here we touch on a more enriching aspect of explanation. It is not just that explanation allows us access to what works, but it also allows us to see the facts of “working” coming. It provides the depth of a surface of interactions (occasions) in such a way that our position among them is changed, improved. In fact all metaphysical engagments with the world, either explicitly or implicitly, in the power of the PSR. But the principle does not require that all aspects of a thing are currently being explained in their every degree, but only that they can be explained. This is an important point because here I think Graham would like to have his black hole of the essence of objects forever in retreat from the mind.

First though I would like to take up a foundational aspect of Graham’s OOP, Latour’s so-called Principle of Irreduction. Graham describes the irreducibility/reducibility this way:

Since an actant  cannot be split into durable substance and transient accident, it follows that nothing can be reduced to anything else. Each thing simply is what it is, in utter concreteness. We cannot reduce a thing to some privileged inner core by stripping away its inessential features. But at the same time, anything can be reduced to anything else, provided the proper labor is done. This two-faced principle of irreduction  is less paradoxical than it seems, since both sides result from the same basic insight. To reduce one thing to another is to see it as an effect explainable in terms of a more fundamental layer of reality.

From a draft of the forth-coming Prince of Networks

Hopefully one can see that the second half of the principle, what we can call the Principle of Labored Reduction, rests entirely upon a notion of a determined and explainable world. That is, there is a declared necessity for concrete changes in the world which are specifically traceable, labors, whose accurate description of constitutes the legitimacy of any reduction (such a tracing simply cannot exist in a Secular Occasionalist Universewhere actors simply pass into and out of existence without causation). The very priority of a descriptive labor of translations (the coherent movement from one occasion to another) undermines any strict metaphysical isolation of actors from each other. Instead, causes and the labor of causes must be real and connective chains. There is a determination of translation. Unless one is to do without the second face of the “two-faced” principle (and there is a temptation to fall in love with the postmodernish freedom of the first face), determinations and explanations are essential.

Having granted that there is some determinative power of the explanation, presupposing somelevel of determination in the world, let us return to the hard problem, whether “some aspect [of a fact] would remain unexplained” or unintelligible. The difficulty that Graham might have with this non-missing aspect of fact is resolved if we accept that our finite natures as bodies and minds prevent us from holding completely Adequate, and therefore completely sufficient explanations (Della Rocca as well as myself agree that this is not possible). That is to say, in a Latourian sense, we might have a very good explanation of how automobile parts work together in a car, and how these workings also are expressive in terms of an understanding of thermodynamics, but each of these explanations is a translation of the phenomenae. They are sufficient unto their needs and models, but there is no reason to grant that these explanations capture every aspect of the thing described. In fact, as we search for the completely sufficient explanation, we are pushed ever wider, looking into the conditions of the conditions we are examining. The PSR  becomes an asymptotic limit toward which we head when we attempt to completely understand things. And as we assemble more and more sufficient explanations, creating them materially out of our very position in the world, our position in the world itself changes. What we can grant is that by virtue of the limited nature of our capacities, any description will merely be partial, and that we can only get closer to understanding things, becoming more active in a seemingly contingent, happenstance world, by virtue of our ability to combine with them. 

But there is an additional way in which the PSR  serves Graham’s engagement with Latour, for OOP has difficulty to the way that Latour flattens out the ontology of actors such that a thing is nothing more that its relations to other things. Graham wants to say that the essence of objects stands apart from, or in retreat from all the effects of other object/actors. The essence is the difference that does not make a difference, so to speak. In this way Graham sets Latour’s implied metaphysics in the family of other flatten ontologies such as those of DeLanda and Deleuze, the matrix of a sush of mere intensities (in Latourperhaps Plasma) which suddenly give riseto actors. Graham wants a certain depth below the object, something in surplus to its qualities in effect.

From our perspective we can grant with Latour that manifestations in the world, modal manifestations are utmost and complete (that is, they do not leave anything is reserve). Yet, the PSR directs us to the immanent cause of those concrete and full manifestations, so in keeping with Graham’s need to deepen these postmodern ontologies, grants a ground of Immanent depth. In order to fully appreciate this “save” one has to compare varieties of the idea of an “essence” of an object.

But what of the modal essences that do not involve existence and are contained in the attributes? What do they consist of? Each essence is part of God’s power insofar as the latter is explained by the modal essence [E4p4dem]. S****** always conceived of the modal essences as singular, starting withthe Short Treatise. Hence the texts of the Short Treatise that seem to deny the distinction of essences (ST II, chp. 20, n. 3; app. II, I) actually only deny their extrinsic distinction, which would only imply their existence in duration and the possession of extensive parts. The modal essences are simple and eternal. But they nevertheless have, with respect to the attribute and to each other, another type of distinction which is purely intrinsic (65)

S******: Practical Philosophy, Gilles Deleuze

Here, in the intrinsic distinction of eternal essences which form part of a sufficient explanation of concrete manifestations, lies the depth that Graham Harman wants to add to Latourand others. As to the nature of the depth that Graham wants to give to esssences, it seems to be something between positing entities which are somehow dormant in the way that we are when we sleep (only much, much deeper, something like a coma). They lie in something like a dark sea, but not in any sense of the kinds of flat intensity ridden ontologies of DeLanda or Deleuze. They have something specific to them, something intrinsic, but non-relational. I cannot help but think that the kinds of essences of Substance that PSR  reasoning drives us to, eternal but still not-yet-existent, or just-having-existed intrinsic relations, is very close to what Graham is idiosyncratically and creatively driving towards.

Not S******

Because Graham’s OOP solution the aporia of Occasionalism is not yet completed, one cannot really critically address its possibilities. In as much he has put forth reasons why he will would not appreciate a S****** cueing  of his philosophical problems I am left with either a highly problematic question of the “fashionability” of a thinker, or the strong problem of seeing the world as determined and subject to powerful concrete changes through explanation. If one is going to do away with explanation as a vector of changes in power, what keeps the world from jumbling together into one incoherent saute pan of sauces, and upon what does the demand for the tracings of translation anchor itself?

In the main body of this I have refrained from using S******’s name, even in code, and only have resorted to his terminology at a bare minimum, as Levi has proposed. The violations were be the use of the term “determination” (which is the name of that which Graham objects, a term needing to be explained), and “essence” a term which Graham uses himself, and makes for a necessary correspondence (some words simply have no equivalents). “Modal” as it is found in the Deleuzequotation simply means “particularized way of existing,” something which is both immanently caused and transitively caused. Hopefully I have provided at least sense of how I imagine OOPcan be deepened by a dialogue with a thinker who is perhaps now fashionable. If it is any solace to those that shrink the popularity of this marano, he spent a very long time not being fashionable at all, but rather lived many of these centuries out of joint, either as a dispicable atheist or an out-moded and naive Rationalist. If any thinker’s “essence” retreated from his or her qualities, it was probably this one.

The “ens reale” and the “ens rationis”: Spelling Out Differences

The Pleroma and Creatura: Bateson

Gregory Bateson, a father of modern cybernetic has some very important things to say about the nature of differences, and has been fruitfully appropriated in any number of ways, primarily due to his very powerful defintion of Information as “a difference that makes a difference”. But it should be noted that Bateson’s approach to differences is one that drives a very firm, dualistic line between Mind and Matter, one that follows Carl Jung’s categories of the Pleroma and Creatura:

The significance of all this formalization was made more evident in the 1960s by a reading of Carl Jung’s Seven Sermons to the Dead, of which the Jungian therapist Jane Wheelwright gave me a copy. I was at the time writing a draft of what was to be my Korzybski Memorial Lecture and began to think about the relation between “map” and “territory.” Jung’s book insisted upon the contrast between Pleroma, the crudely physical domain governed only by forces and impacts, and Creatura, the domain governed by distinctions and differences. It became abundantly clear that the two sets of concepts match and that there could be no maps in Pleroma, but only in Creatura. That which gets from territory to map is news of difference, and at that point I recognized that news of difference was a synonym for information. (Angels Fear, Introduction)

For Bateson, the separation is one of processes, and not one of Substance like it is for Descartes, but all the same, it imposes a strict heirarchy which privileges the mental over the physical. A stone simply is restricted to the domain of the Pleroma, while any differential making process, even the simplest of biotic discrimination is given over to the realm of Creatura:

It is, of course, true that our explanations, our textbooks dealing with nonliving matter, are full of information. But this information is all ours; it is part of our life processes. The world of nonliving matter, the Pleroma, which is described by the laws of physics and chemistry, itself contains no description. A stone does not respond to information and does not use injunctions or information or trial and error in its internal organization. To respond in a behavioral sense, the stone would have to use energy contained within itself, as organisms do. It would cease to be a stone. The stone is affected by “forces” and “impacts,” but not by differences. (Mind and Nature, Chapter II)

To most of us this is a perfectly acceptable, perhaps even obvious designation. There seems a powerful instinct that tells us that a stone simply is not in any sense like an amoeba, which is to say, what a stone does (if it does anything at all) is somehow categorically different than what an amoeba does (though both can kill you). The difficulty arises for anyone who wants to theorize in a way that does not privlege the Mind over Matter. This begins perhaps as a desire to not privlege human realities over animal realities, and then ultimately to give over to even the animate some kind of “right”, some play in the game in determining what is “real” and thus “what matters”. When Mind (in some form of Idealism) becomes the heirarchial source point of what matters, somehow this all slips back into a remote solipsism of the merely human world (and then even, the Western world, or the American world, or white upper middle class academic world). If one instanitates a fundamental primacy between the Pleroma and Creatura, wherein the Ceatura determine the status of the Pleroma in heirarchial, a priori fashion, something of the Mind/Bodd, Spirit/Matter dichotomies that have long haunted philosophy are dragged forward (often with explicit political consequences of such binarism).

The Difference that makes a/the Difference

For this reason one must keep in mind the essential metaphysical base from which Bateson is employing his work (Marx makes just such fateful Nature/Culture distinction from the start as well).  If one is going to grant equal footing to the non-human (and non-biotic) actor in the world, this essential binary must be categorically undone. As long as one has divided up the entire world into realms, one realm becomes paramount, and the line merely shifts.

What Bateson has in mind when he speaks of “a difference that makes a difference” is the way that information connects what is “out there” in the world to the “in here” of a cybernetically organized system. To put it most simply, the internal relations within a system form a boundary which is sensitive to only particular kinds of disturbances (a blind person does not turn his head to see someone waving to him from across the street, a tick does not drop from its leaf when a breeze blows). The difference out there in the world that makes a difference in here, is for Bateson the difference that makes a difference, it connects inside to outside.

But out of a completely unintended difference in the way that Bateson has framed his defintion of Information, I would like to use his notion of difference differently. Because I am not interested in giving priority of mind over matter, I am less concerned with the way that mental systems exercise dominance over physical structures (picking out what matters so as to eventually predict and control it), I am not going to follow the breadcrumbs of difference from outside to inside. This is far too Idealist for me. Rather, I want to see if we can talk about differences in such a way that the things a stone is doing, and the things that an amoeba are doing, are in someway signficantly related (and such that the actions of each are given footing).

Bateston states his defintion of Information in at least two ways in separate works.

1. A difference that makes a difference.

2. The difference that makes the difference.

It might sound trivial, but in the spirit of acknowledging even the smallest of differentiations, of this variation between the definite and indefinite article, I would like to spin out a profound distinction which maps onto a fundamental ontological distinction of Medieval Scholasticism. Much of Scholasticism spent its time trying to iron out the remarkable, but underdeveloped semiotic point that Augustine made, that signs transcend the Culture/Nature dichotomy. There are natural signs, and their are signs of convention. And (natural and cultural) signs are defined as:

“a sign is something which, offering itself to the senses, conveys something other to the intellect,” (Signum … est res praeter speciem quam ingerit sensibus, aliud aliquid ex se faciens in cogitationem venire) (Augustine De doctr. chr. II 1, 1963, 33)

Attempting to work out the full consequences of an ontology of the semiotic which transcended the Nature/Culture barrior, Scholastic philosophy realized that there must not only be material signs “out there”, but also mental signs “in here,” and much ado was made on how to connect the two (until in modern times gradually questions of signification became a questions of representation…many like to put this at the foot of Descartes, or even the Locke, but it is not altogether clear that this is the case).

A product of this debate was the two classifications Ens Reale and Ens Rationis. A real thing, and a rational thing. These are treated in various ways, often as the difference between “physical being” and “logical being”, but I want to speak much more broadly, without precision. An ens reale is a thing in the world, and an ens rationalis is a thing in the mind. Is here that I want to propose a loose though hopefully enlightening homology.

1. A difference that makes merely a difference  is an ens reale.

2. The difference that makes the difference is an ens rationis.

Leaving behind Bateson’s use of information as the thing that connects inside to outside, as an ontologist I want to speak of differences in their variety of states. Following Plato’s initial definition of being as the capacity for anything to affect or be affected, as found in the Sophist, the general sense of the reality of differences is that anything that makes a difference in general, “a difference” has being, and is ens reale. But any difference that is strictly internal  to a closed horizon relation of parts, is an ens rationis, that is which is to say, it is a difference that makes the difference, recursively. In this way, and event out there in the world, perhaps lightning strike, is an ens reale difference insofar as it is not taken with in an overarching internal circuit of relations, and its effect upon the human organism, that actual internal differences which are within the horizon of person, are each ens rationis. It is important to keep track though, that every ens rationis is an ens reale. The question is: Is every ens reale also an ens rationis. I think they are.

Spinoza’s Bodies as Certain or Fixed Ratios

As I mentioned previously, Spinoza’s defintion of Body is far more rich that it is often taken to be. More than simply a billiard ball image of circulating motions (which is how it appears at first glance), his panpsychic metaphysics grants some degree of mind (Idea) to any extensional expression, such that even the simplest of bodies in composite have a foothold in the mental. Here is the definition in bodily terms:

Definition: When a number of bodies of the same or different magnitude form close contact with one another through the pressure of other bodies upon them, or if they are moving at the same or different rates of speed so as to preserve an unvarying relation of movement among themselves, these bodies are said to be united with one another and all together to form one body or individual thing, which is distinguished from other things through this union of bodies. E2p13a2d

It is quite interesting that Spinoza finds what separates out one body or individual from another is a certain or fixed ratio, certa ratione. It seems safe to say that not only living things preserve for Spinoza through a certa ratione, but also taken to be inanimate things. We have here the potential for categorical description that crosses through the Pleroma/Creatura divide that Bateson privleges. The ultimate question is: Do abiotic wholes which do preserve through a certa ratione, also achieve within that horizon of “individual” an order of differences that allows us to say that they are each ens rationis.

It is hard to know exactly what Spinoza has in mind: when he describes this perpetuation of communicated motion, for instance, is it a different sense of body than that brought about by external causes in the earlier part, When a number of bodies of the same or different magnitude form close contact with one another through the pressure of other bodies upon them, or it is simply the internal specification of those external forces? What we can do is use the definition as tellingly as possible. What I suggest is that differences that are internal to an object or body as Spinoza sees it, are differences that are indicative of a mutuality of effects. A change in this part of the body effects a change in another part of the body, and then another, and so forth, such that the whole is still maintained. And there need not be the cybernetic closure that Bateson enjoys with Creatura. The entire world would seem vectored with communicated balances between bodies that however briefly or enduringly remain in ratio with each other. These mutuality of communications I hold is the threshold for an ens reale to be an ens rationalis. The cybernetic closures which map a territory are certainly different kinds of internal organizations of horizons, but rocks, breeze patterns, neuron rhythms, photon pathways, planetary equalibriums, dust corners, electron loops, all possess an internal coherence of differences which is preserved, and in which a single difference (I would say) semiotically indicates consequences of internal coherence. Stones “think”.

Stone Cognitum

There is a perspective of stones, one that is not reducible to the way in which differences in stones make differences upon us. In this sense, as Graham Harman says in Latourian fashion, stones translate other stones when they encounter each other. (I do not see how such a claim can be separated out from panpsychism.) The internal relations that make up a stone (semiotic, of each an ens rationalis), are also each an ens reale (a difference that makes a difference) which can make a difference that makes the difference to us (or some other internal set of relations), is itself also a difference as ens realis.

There are several interesting ways to procede from this, but the one that I would like to take up follows through from my last post on Spinoza, and that is that any ens realis (a difference that makes a difference), is not only already a difference that makes the difference in the internal expression of Substance as a modal whole, and thus an ens rationalis. But it is already caught up in any number, perhaps an infinite number, of ens rationalis horizoned closures. In this way, differences which are semiotic to an internal whole of differences, are also because real, differences that are internal to a plethora of bodies that cross cut that body. That “fixed ratio” is tugged at from any number of other “fixed ratio” directions, as parts of its coherence respond not only to an external horizon of differences, but also to their participant share in a cross-sectioning fixed ratio, communication whole. Any ens rationalis is Semiotically Conjoined to a variety of mentalizations.

For this reason, it is not just that the totality of coherent differences that make up a body are occluded from us, selected out by our cybernetic, ratioed closure, but also that the semiotic investment of those differences is occluded from that body itself, the coherence of its inside/outside closure. And the same is said of our own body (bodies, really).

There is another aspect which should be grasped so that we don’t fall too deeply into any Subject/Object binary. And this is something I will develop later. Because ultimately an entia rationales closure is itself a perspective, when one or many entia rationales closures come into supportive relationships to each other they can be read as forming new bodies. This is to say, when we come to know something else and intimately relate to it in a bodily, the boundary between us and it at least is semiotically problemized (if we seek to keep them completely distinct). Thus, it is not merely the case that the “kernel” of relations of an object we engage is kept from us, like a forever retreating shadow, but also the case that as we engage an object (an aspect of our environment), we at a very real, semiotic level (that is, at the level of entia rationales), become it.

Thus, as the carpenter uses his hammer, or the lens grinder his grinding lathe, there is a communication of motions which exceed the boundary of bodies, forming one of two (to some degree). The world is felt, mutually, through the performance union of both bodies. It is for this reason that Tommaso Campanella tells us: To know is to be, cognoscere est esse. This is not a metaphorical transformation of the subject into the object, but rather a real, substantial in-form-ation, binding the two bodies both epistemologically and ontologically, through the ordering of their mutual coherences. If the object of the hammer remains somewhat blind to the carpenter (some of its variety of aspects still hidden), these aspects must be accorded their place within the causal, and hence semiotic, internal relations of the body (body + body). Ultimately, these differences can only be the differences of Conjoined, and thus often silent, Semotic inherence at the bottom of any entia rationales closure, the way that an ens rationalis is necessarily polyvalent to a variety of cognitioning, and therefore persisting, bodies.