Famoso Inn (with swimming pool) by Jeff Brouws
A fading swimming pool set amidst flourishing foliage. A fish-topped fountain, now inhaling musky air. A lone chair, overlooking a dried aquatic hotelscape. These are a few of the many objects contained in Jeff Brouws' "Famoso Inn (with swimming pool)," in which the San Francisco photographer's anthropological exploration of bleak aesthetics interrogates the origin, decay, and memorial space of industrial modernity. Yet, the static moment musters not just collapsing markets, but caressing entities, each translating its enmeshed ecology into its own unique terms. Decay, capital, and bleakness are, themselves, implicated as conceptual objects in the frame, recorded as finite beings in a contingent material array. Here, we see a set of objectal powers unfurled before the human gaze, such as earth toned saturation and blue-hued siding soiled by brusquely textured debris. At the same time, we are exposed to the inadequacy of our own perception in representing the hyperpluralized being of Others, both human and nonhuman, that are constantly animating their own relational architectonics and spatiotemporality, encountering the sublime horror of uncertainty with each burst and retreat.
Q: Your work on the intersection of post-structual political philosophy and anarchist theory led you, along with Saul Newman and Todd May, to develop a line of thinking that has come to be called 'post-anarchism', in which classical anarchist thought is coupled with postmodernism to critique Cartesian subjectivity and modernist essentialism. What prompted you to read post-structual and anarchist theory in conjunction with one another, especially with regard to the work of Nietzsche and Deleuze?
A: I remember reading Michael Ryan's excellent Marxism and Deconstruction and thinking, "I want to do for anarchism what Ryan did for Marxism." I wanted to inject the anarchist tradition with a heavy dose of radical post-structuralist philosophy. I knew that anarchism was flexible and fluid enough to accept such an injection, and I thought the results might be interesting. I admired the modern anarchist tradition, but, like Saul and Todd, I really thought that modern anarchism could benefit from an encounter with structuralism and post-structuralism. I was really just looking to update the anarchist canon by adding some new critiques. I didn't realize at the time that we were helping anarchist theory mutate or evolve into what we now call "post-anarchism." But in retrospect, I suppose it's not surprising that this happened. Again, it just shows the flexibility and adaptability of the anarchist tradition.
Nietzsche was a natural choice. I had already written my dissertation on Nietzsche's troubled, yet productive relationship with the Enlightenment. It made sense to deploy Nietzsche against certain Enlightenment ideas about subjectivity and essence. Nietzsche led directly to Foucault, whose post-structuralist genealogies strike me as quite anarchist in their political orientation. And Foucault led to Deleuze. Deleuze is absolutely indispensable. He had certain unique thoughts about spatial relations and structures of organization (the rhizome, for example). He also had some ideas about psychology and power that aren't really to be found anywhere else. It was with good reason that Foucault said this of his friend: "One day we may call the twentieth century Deleuzian." Deleuze has had a very broad influence on post-anarchism, especially in recent years. When I wrote the editorial introduction for the inaugural issue of Anarchist Developments in Cultural Studies (2010), I noted that most of the essays in that issue were informed by Deleuzian theory in one way or another.
I grieve for—and with—the families of those slain in last Friday's Newtown massacre, especially the parents of the 20 schoolchildren who perished only days before the Christmas holidays. As images of shattered homes scatter across my television screen, I'm reminded of the need to step back, decontextualize, and think things through. Already, commentators are parsing motive and meaning. Is this a sobering reminder of the United States' lax gun laws? A testament to the plight of people with mental illnesses, like Asperger's Syndrome or personality disorders (from which the shooter, Adam Lansa, may have suffered)? Has our nation become so culturally violent that mass shootings are less manifestations of our communal discourses than inevitable outcomes of a shared pathological heritage? What to say, think, do?
Assignation of meaning is an understandable, if ultimately fruitless, endeavor, immediately following a traumatic rupture in our sociopolitical thoughtworld. Even as we decry the shooting as "senseless," we seek to make sense of our fragmented individual and collective consciousness. Moreover, we're reminded of our finitude. Not just mortality, mind you, but our inability to categorically summarize our sensibilities. At many distances from the event, we are sublimely affected, overcome by the weight of a broken totality, a disruptive and ambiguous becoming, the 'pure event', to borrow from Deleuze. Who can be blamed for attempting to locate such disruption within the borders of a teleological narrative that tells us what happened and when, what defines "before" from "after," what moments are important and what can be cast aside, in what direction we must now step to secure tomorrow for our subjectivity?
If one is to choose a theoretical path suited for addressing the indeterminacy of mass violence, one could focus on the materiality of the event. Earlier this year, object-oriented philosopher Levi Bryant sparked an uproar when he claimed that a shooting was not, in and of itself, a political act. While many critics complained that Bryant was inserting an artificial caesura between politics and being (as if being is always already enmeshed in specific political networks), he was actually remarking on the ontological precedence of the latter over the former, pointing out that an entity must exist before entering into political assemblages. Being, in this sense, is non-normative; a thing is before it is something or exists for something. This holds equally true for bullets, guns, mental illnesses, and political ideologies, among other components of violent acts. Believing that subjectivity and aesthesis are perpetually forged by and propounded within performative power discourses (the famous "everything is political" maxim), political idealists argue that Kantian finitude prevents us from recognizing autonomous existence, leaving power analysis and ideological critique, writ large, as our central ontopolitical tasks. Yet, ideological critique, by itself, only recapitulates the forms of hierarchy it purports to problematize, positing an 'enlightened' critic as an intellectual sherpa for the blind masses, while disregarding the material conditions of possibility that ground people in hegemonic power structures and discipline possible opponents.
Bryant, then, is correct to prioritize being before politics. Everything can be made political, even if thingness is not inhered with distinct political formations. To say otherwise is to valorize hyperrelationism, the idea that all things are glued together in a coexistential, coeval, non-contingent relational network—a consequence of claiming that all things are interrelated. Here, we can carve an opening for object-oriented ontology to speak to the shootings. In order to address the complexity of mass shootings, one must first acknowledge the being and potentiality of the myriad entities in play. For OOO, this includes not just the shooter and his or her weapons, but mental illnesses, political ideologies, gun laws, guns themselves, bullets, capitalism, violence, aggression in social discourse, Halo, elementary school infrastructure, multiple spatiotemporalities, and more. Putatively real or not, all of these things are equally objectal, possessing be(com)ings and withdrawn potential that exceed any relation into which they enter. Furthermore, each of these entities is capable of producing material effects. Rather than dissimulate the travesty beneath the limited cloak of an anthropocentric subject and the ideological haze of its attendant human agency (whereby power is primarily analyzed in terms of signification and social construction), OOO teases out the power exertions enacted by objects, human and nonhuman alike, as they shape their own relational space. It's important to note that OOO doesn't disavow critical theories. To the contrary, it views these methods as imperative to understanding power at the human level. Since humans have a lot of power, materially speaking (anthropocentric climate change, drone warfare, or human trafficking, anyone?), critical theory remains a crucial part of our theoretical toolkit. To possibilize the revelatory ambition of ideology critique, however, we must acknowledge the power that nonhuman actants have on colliding objectworlds and investigate the dissensuality of objectal encounters.
Accordingly, OOO interrogates the material constitution of and contributions to social assemblages and events, an understanding of which can then be used to make normative claims about how social assemblages should be modified to discourage or promote the occurrence of certain events and ideas about eventuality. Taking the Newtown massacre as a site of analysis, OOO might ask: What mereologies do nonhuman—even inhuman, by some standards—objects possess that propound the social and normative ecologies in which the shooting arose? How do these entities, like capitalism or violent cultural codes, regulate their constituent parts and, in turn, interact with one another? In what political networks are significations of psychoaffective alterity deployed and to what end? What aesthetic sensibilities are involved in the process of entities translating one another's experiences (and experiences of one another) into their own terms, and how might this advance or complicate attempts to characterize the trauma resulting from the shooting, as well as the agonism stemming from the plurality of interpretations pouring forth from the event? How is the becoming of the event existentially different from its narrative depictions? More importantly, what difference(s) are cleaved by 'power', however we come to understand its obectality, and what relations does it enter into? Are these relations static or an open field? How does power move throughout other objects, large and small, from an elementary school in Newtown to the Mortonian hyperobject of technoviolence? What withdrawn potential does it obtain and forceful excretions does it produce? Once these ontopolitical questions are substantively effectuated, we can move to the meta-normative query that is on everyone's mind—namely, what, if anything, is to be done?
From the poetics of airborne perspectives to the halting grind of airport delays; from the politics of full body scanners to pressures on labor unions and massive corporate mergers; from narratives about contemporary globalization to the early instrumentalities of Empire; from serving as staging grounds for ecological crisis to acting as reserves for certain performances of gender & sexuality; from the secret machinations of drone warfare to the banalities of in-flight WiFi—air travel finds itself at the nexus of myriad popular conversations and charged discourses.
This special issue of Criticism will explore the cultural forms and philosophical implications of human flight, spanning from early modernist representations to the most current developments and heated debates. The articles in this issue of Criticism will bring timely critical perspectives to bear on ideological, theoretical, and aesthetic matters of air travel.
The issue will feature six full-length articles, as well as a cluster of book review essays that engage recent work on global tourism, pre-histories of air travel, airport aesthetics, the labor of flight, aircraft design, aero-militarism, and other matters of transport.
To submit a proposal, book review idea, or full article, contact Dr. Christopher Schaberg, Loyola University New Orleans, email@example.com
Proposals by 1 July 2013; final submissions will be due 1 December 2013.
Criticism provides a forum for current scholarship on literature, media, music, and visual culture. A place for rigorous theoretical and critical debate as well as formal and methodological self-reflexivity and experimentation, Criticism aims to present contemporary thought at its most vital.
To view the video that accompanies the following text, please visit: Object Criticism.
First published in 1988, Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses employs magical realist tropes to explore identity formation and hybridization in the European immigrant experience. Narrated through the eyes and dreams of two Indian expatriates in Britain, the novel's portrayal of divided postcolonial selfhood and indictment of Western materialism have been routinely hailed by literary critics, with humanities scholar Harold Bloom calling the work Rushdie's “largest aesthetic achievement” and comparative literature scholar Timothy Brennan saying that the book represents, “the most ambitious novel yet published to deal with immigration in Britain.” Yet, not everyone saw The Satanic Verses as a satirical, fictionalized case study in immigrant alienation. In one of the most heavily cited acts of Islamic extremism, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, former Supreme Leader of Iran and an Islamic scholar, issued a fatwa against Rushdie on Valentine's Day, 1989, urging Muslims to kill the writer and his publishers, forcing Rushdie into police protection for more than a decade.
It's easy to critique Khomeini's proclamation in ideological terms, as either nationalistic xenophobia couched in a perversion of Islamic jurisprudence, as Bernard Lewis argues, or an Occidentalist reaction to structural injustice and historical grievances, as claimed by Edward Said. Such critiques are often influenced by one's reading of the novel—does The Satanic Verses problematize Islamic culture, Western border-making, or both? Mining the novel from the perspectives of ideological and literary criticism can help us clarify questions of authorial intent, understand sociocultural effects of and upon power exertions, and deconstruct the semiotic coding of axiological motifs. What these modalities fail to account for, however, are the material constitution of textual interactions, as well as a text's or work's material effects.
The reason is twofold. First, literary criticism, within which critical ideological theories are often espoused, takes homogenized textual being as an ontological given. For example, two critics, one in Bombay and another in Berkeley, may propose oppositional interpretations of The Satanic Verses, but each takes the material composition of Rushdie's narrative to be the same in both spaces, such that they believe themselves to be debating a single text or, at the very least, a common material encounter. Second, literary criticism recuperates meaning within the perceptual dominion of a conscious reader, situating textual encounters as always already occurring within an anthropocentric aesthetic frame and, in turn, reducing the being of a text to a meta-aporia about signification. In this way, literary criticism—from new historicism and new criticism to postcolonialism and deconstruction—valorizes processual epistemological indeterminacy over contingent ontological arrangements, enacting textual boundaries by abjecting non-narratizable forms of being from the critic's performative space.
How might object-oriented ontology respond to this theoretical crisis? If, as Graham Harman has argued, modern critical gestures often fail because of their insistence on holistic entanglement and unbreakable relational schemes, what might an object-oriented textual study espouse? Harman has proposed the critical task of modifying elements of a text—such as its diction, narrative structure, or perspective—to determine at what point a text begins to lose its objectal identity. At what point is The Satanic Verses, for example, no longer recognizable as itself, thereby showing that texts are autonomous from their contexts and manifest, or sensual, properties? While valuable for excavating the substantiality of a text, Harman's exercise, nonetheless, conflates textual deformations with an original work-in-itself, glossing over the individuality and withdrawn being of literary objects forged by structural revision. Shortening The Satanic Verses in an American classroom may yield a narrative similar to its Whitbread Award winning counterpart, for instance, but this truncated text exists as an autonomous material entity that must be decontextualized from modes of production disparate from Rushdie's original. In other words, even when we alter a text to discover points at which the narrative dimension of a literary entity exceeds its context, we must remember that our alterations involve a relation between, at the very least, ourselves and the text being altered, leading to the creation of a new literary object.
A second object-oriented approach to literary criticism contends that texts are autopoietic actants productive of multiple histories. Championed by Levi Bryant and Eileen Joy, this trajectory focuses on what is “built” by texts that enter into and depart various objectal assemblages and relational networks. Premised on the notion that meaning is 'post-textual', in the sense that the ontological being of a text precedes its critical interpellation, Bryant's and Joy's approach unveils the anthropocentrism haunting modern literary criticism—namely, the reduction of texts to vehicles for transmission of latent meaning, such that the materiality of textual media is irrelevant to discussions of content. Accordingly, this theory downplays questioning authorial intent and discursive critique in favor of investigating a text's machinic productivity. Case in point: Harriet Beecher Stowe's anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom's Cabin amplified emancipatory affectivity in the American North, while engendering regressive effects in the pre-Civil War South. Similarly, The Satanic Verses provoked new political, religious, and irreligious affectual expressions in both the Western World and Middle East, upon its publication, spurring the creation of new objects, aesthetic sensibilities, and mereologies, like interfaith dialogues and pro-fatwā riots, as it challenged the homeostatic regulation of governing assemblages through which it circulated. Still, this critical method performs the double-move of elucidating the materiality of texts acting upon both human and nonhuman entities, while simultaneously restricting the initiation of literary architectonics to human consciousness. Perhaps, then, Bryant's and Joy's resistance to modern critical hermeneutics can best be described as 'post-correlationist', in which texts carry the potential to produce different affects and readings that can, in turn, foment changes to the material conditions in which ontologically equivalent entities interact.
Despite its limitations, post-correlationist criticism may be the closest object-oriented thinkers can come to a genuinely object-oriented literary criticism, from which cognition, criticism, and material revolutions can all be viewed as persisting both from and alongside ontologically irreducible textual objects. If contingent textual production always implicates reasoned judgements about a text, though, then it necessarily brackets nonhumans from critical processes or, at the very least, posits humans as relational intermediaries. Thus, to complement the post-correlationist maneuver, I propose deploying a critical strategy that focuses on the becoming of texts, as well as the manner in which their properties are made apparent within differing assemblages. Called 'object criticism', this move focuses on the point of relation between texts and other objects, both human and nonhuman, to glean an understanding of what happens when ontologically inexhaustible objects translate one another into their own terms. Here, the focus is not on the consequences of mediated interpretation or exegetical synthesis, but the material traces of continually repartitioned aesthetic sensibility as a textual encounter unfolds, accounting for the difference generated by an object molding its own spatiotemporality. Rather than interrogate texts as pre-determinative epistemic regimes, object criticism asks what conditions of relational possibility exist within an objectal assemblage. Rather than ground post-textual material shifts in the radical pluralization of a literary object's anthropic mediation, object criticism maps the extension of a text's agency on to its objectal peers and vice-versa, manufacturing cartographies of aleatory networks in which the combination of texts, humans, and nonhumans form new substances with withdrawn powers of their own. Of The Satanic Verses, object criticism queries the co-extensive ecological links animated by the enmeshed text's potential to stabilize and destabilize its interlocutors—how do the book's real and imaginative spaces collide with other existential loci to shape the aesthetic conditions of possibility under which its inhered powers—to challenge Islamic law, incite anti-Western clashes, and redirect diplomatic poetics—become visible. And while it doesn't compel specific normative commitments about the meaning of a text, object criticism may harvest ontopolitical insights about the contingency of relations between substances comprising a textual assemblage, relations that can be contested, resisted, or altogether broken by entities seeking new, more emancipatory forms of being.
Here's a snippet from an interview with Elizabeth Grosz, to be published in the inaugural issue of Interstitial Journal (if you're interested in submitting, the deadline is December 31, 2012):
Q: To begin, you're often recognized as a feminist materialist, yet materialism, itself, is a hotly contested theoretical frame, and one whose traditional parameters are being challenged by new philosophical trajectories, like speculative realism. How has materialism informed your political and ontological commitments? Moreover, why do you think new feminist materialism has been so heavily utilized in thinking through twenty-first century social problems, even beyond feminist research or women's studies?
A: Materialism is an ontology, one that is often set up in opposition to the ontology of idealism. I would not call myself a materialist at all because of how strongly this opposition has figured in the history of Western thought in framing what materialism is, whether it is understood in terms of atomism, of physicalism or in terms of dialectics. I am interested in an understanding of the real or the universe that does not reduce what is there to matter but is capable of conceptualizing the nuances and layers of ideality that matter carries within itself. For me, this ontology is a politics (and an ethics) to the extent that this is the open ground on which we exist and the forms the horizon of possibility for all out actions. It does not give us a politics (or an ethics) in itself, but it does orient us toward political and ethical action.
Do you think that 'new feminist materialism' has been so heavily used in thinking about social problems? This would surprise me. I would not accord it quite this power. There is a convergence of interest on the part of a number of feminist theorists that has returned to the question of materiality that was so powerful with the rise of Marxism and its reliance on historical materialism in the 1960s and 1970s. But with the demise of that project that so interested many feminists, the so-called 'new materialism' that has been published in a few anthologies recently, looks like a revitalization of materialism. Almost everyone—especially in the natural sciences—is committed to some sort of materialism. The more interesting question is: what kind of materialism? I am not at all sure that the 'new feminist materialisms' share a common concept of materiality. Certainly there is not a close fit between speculative realism and feminist materialism. This is in part because speculative realism doesn't address itself to the questions of power and resistance that are so central to feminist (and other politically oriented forms of) materialisms, but also because speculative realism, and its cognates, including object-oriented philosophy, situate themselves so clearly in the tradition of a post-Kantian epistemology that denies any specificity to the corporeal form of the knowing subject.
A few weeks ago, Matthew Segall and I exchanged tweets about the origin of anthrodecentrism, object-oriented ontology's term from displacing human subjectivity from its post-Kantian position of philosophical privilege. Segall first used the term in a July 12, 2011 comment on Adam Robbert's excellent blog, Knowledge Ecology, then followed this comment with expanded usage on his own thought-provoking blog, Footnotes 2 Plato. According to this site's records, my first usage came on June 18, 2011, in a post about object-oriented poetics. I next used the term in a post about the ongoing "OOO equals nihilism debate," initially attributing the term to Segall and later revising the post to reflect my earlier coinage. As the term gained traction, I quite consciously formalized its coinage as a signifier for a central tenet of OOO (namely the aforementioned move against human privilege and restriction), inserting it into the Wikipedia article on OOO that I was composing at the time. In reviewing my blog logs, however, I've learned that I moved posts around quite frequently to conserve space (Go Daddy was pretty funkified, back then), so I can't be absolutely certain that my June 18 post was written before Segall's July 12 comment. In terms of citation, I think it's safe to attribute the creation of the word to Segall and its formalization as object-oriented nomenclature to me, sort of like Foucault borrowing from Bentham (albeit in the compressed spatiotemporality of the Internet Age). For the record, there are sadly few published instances of the term, despite its explanatory utility (the most recent is my post "Patently False: Copyright Law and Textual Being" at In Media Res).
Neither Segall nor I are interested in privatizing the term, it should be stated. More interesting to me (as well as him, I assume), are the differing trajectories that have emerged from our employment of the word. In a recent post, Segall explains his understanding in the following manner:
Anthrodecentrism is both proscriptive and descriptive. In terms of democratic governance, it is corporate persons and not human persons who determine the law. Money is speech. Money talks. Descriptively, then, anthrodecentrism is a fact about the way global techocapitalism functions in its total domination over the human worker/consumer/slave. We no longer live in a human-scale world. We live in a world dominated by corporate egregores. Morton likes to bring up the fact that we’ve entered a new geological era, the “anthropocene”; but to my mind it is precisely what is no longer human about our civilization that is destroying human society along with the earth community. Proscriptively, anthrodecentrism implies a radical politics of de-centralization and anarchism, which is not chaos and lawlessness, but free association and political activity for the sake of the common (rather than the private) good. “Common” here means not just common for humans, but for the entire cosmic community.
Thus, for Segall, anthrodecentrism connotes a double move against human domination, in which entities larger than and external to, even if partially comprised by, humans subsume the agency of individuals, while simultaneously necessitating a more inclusive theory of commonality. Partitions between human social constructs and the so-called 'natural' world are dissolved, in this way, making political neighbors out of flora and fauna, people and plants, priests and beasts. Being a 'cosmotheandrist', Segall grounds his version of anthrodecentrism in universal divinity, such that human desire is viewed as only one form of divine striving within the universe of creaturely longings. To counter the dominion of corporations and other institutional hegemons, we must "reorient anthropos" in a direction that is aligned with the equally significant desires and lifeworlds of nonhuman beings, forging a human pathway that affirms the divinity inhered and unfolding within all of creation.
As far as theology goes, it's not a bad street to walk, pointing toward a more human way of interacting with the world at large. Segall's intent is different from my own, however, which, as I wrote in the Wikipedia article, can be summed as the rejection of post-Kantian privileging of human being over nonhuman forms of being, leading to the theory that all relations distort their relata in the same fundamental fashion and, concurrently, that all entities and relations between entities exist on equal ontological footing. Therefore, for me, Segall's emphasis on human institutions and actions, while poignant, recuperates nonhuman being within the world of human description and reference. Similarly, his idea of the divinity residing within all forms of being, as Graham Harman would say, undermines objects by situating them as manifestations of an all-encompassing singular substance, even if it's a constantly evolving one. This may be a less virulent correlationist trajectory than the one Kant proposed, allowing for a non-categorical account of difference (i.e, Whiteheadian panexperientialism). Nonetheless, it remains unable to fully account for nonhuman agency and material effects, in my view, because both agency and materiality are posited as distended outgrowths of a unified logos. What this prevents is the particularity necessary for agonism and dissensus, naturalizing specific agential formations as 'givens' and inhibiting sociopolitical contestation through the deification of a single relation—in turn, immobilizing the capacity of entities to enter into, disrupt, and break free from differing networks, performances, and chains of being.
I worry about Graham Harman. Living in Cairo, he conducts research in a tumultuous world and experiences firsthand the violence of a nation coming to grips with disposing a tyrannical regime and forming a new government. Unsurprisingly, I closely follow what Harman writes about events on the ground in Egypt, much of which is more informative than mainstream American press coverage. That said, I sometimes disagree with his gloss, albeit from the safety of Hawai'i. Regarding recent protests at the United States embassy in Egypt, Harman had this to say:
Having lived in Egypt for 12 years I’m well aware that incendiary religious discourse is viewed there as lying beyond the pale of free speech. But I don’t really care in this case, just as I didn’t care in the case of van Gogh’s film in the Netherlands or in the case of the Danish cartoons. The Arab street should not intimidate Western countries out of an absolute defense of free speech rights. Nor is it the role of the U.S. government to apologize for a film it neither made nor endorsed.
I don't disagree with Harman's comments about free speech. I'm a free speech purist and always have been. Accordingly, I, too, believe that the U.S should denounce attempts to curtail the freedom to assemble and express oneself, even in cases of extreme hate speech. That said, I think Harman's statement excludes the context of the demonstrations. If free speech is deemed categorial, it must, of course, be extended to all peaceable demonstrators. More importantly, as Rachel Maddow argues, free speech must be explained, as well as defended. In the Middle East, and particularly parts of Egypt, the United States is viewed through the dual prisms of domestic practice and prior foreign policy. In the case of the former, as Harman states, religious discourse and dispositions are unassailable for many Egyptians, a standard that has been public policy—at least for Salafists and the Muslim Brotherhood—for some time. That doesn't mean that all Salafists and Brotherhood members are violent extremists. What is does indicate, though, is a cultural divergence in need of topological mapping. To put it succinctly, we can't universalize American democratic principles any more than Egyptians can normalize their own sociopolitical thoughtworld(s).
Then, there is the latter point, that of governmental culpability. Again, Harman is right that the U.S. did not make, distribute, or in any way endorse the vile anti-Islamic film at the center of the current protests. Just as many Egyptians find it difficult to believe that hate speech can traverse Western airwaves with impunity because of repression in their own countries, however, Americans should critically consider the enunciative locus for many of the Egyptians' complaints. For approximately three decades, American leaders supported Hosni Mubarak, whose administration favored U.S. interests in the Arab world (Egypt not only signed a peace accord with Israel in 1979, but supported the First Gulf War and military intervention in Iran). Mubarak, as everyone with a news carrying device knows, oversaw an administration (especially an Interior Ministry) alleged to have detained, tortured, and killed so-called criminals (read: suspected political activists) without charge, thanks to Egypt's now-defunct emergency law. From Foreign Policy:
Once in the custody of the security forces, prisoners are often subject to "beatings, electric shocks, suspension in painful positions, forced standing for long periods, water-boarding, as well as rape and threatening to rape victims and their families," HRW reports. Over the last two decades, the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights has followed 460 torture cases, including 125 that led to death between 2000 and 2009 alone. Since 1992, 73 people have been "disappeared." Torture is widely used to extract confessions to all variety of crimes. Most infamous are the instances of "renditions," in which Egyptian authorities have interrogated alleged terrorists and enemy combatants captured by U.S. forces using methods that would be illegal on American soil...Accused Islamic radicals aren't the only ones subjected to such treatment in Egypt. According to a February 2010 diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks, in murder cases, "police will round up 40 to 50 suspects from a neighborhood and hang them by their arms from the ceiling for weeks until someone confesses." A separate cable from 2009 notes that "NGO contacts estimate there are literally hundreds of torture incidents every day in Cairo police stations alone."
In the wake of the Arab Spring demonstrations that ousted Mubarak, it became clear that these methods had been applied to dissenters and regime critics, too, fostering anti-Mubarak sentiment throughout the international community. When dealing with the potential shockwaves of an incendiary Islamophobic film, the U.S.'s historical support for a brutally suppressive regime becomes the baseline for street negotiations. Put differently, it's hard for people to believe you're not backing anti-Islamic media when you've not only colonized their part of the globe and turned a blind eye to torture in the name of national interest, but crafted the tear gas with which they're currently being bombarded—for speaking freely.
To view the video version of the following text, visit the following link: Becoming, Object-Oriented.
According to prevailing astrophysical consensus, our universe began with a Big Bang approximately 13.7 billion years ago. In that moment, say cosmologists, the universe expanded rapidly from an extremely hot and dense singularity, eventually cooling enough to allow energy to be converted into various subatomic particles. Over thousands of years, these particles—protons, electrons, and neutrons—combined to form atoms, the building blocks of matter. The first atomic element to be produced was hydrogen, clouds of which fused together through gravity to form stars. Other, heavier elements coalesced within stars or as a result of supernovae, eventually leading to the isotropic universe we view today.
While this thesis may be conventional wisdom for cosmologists, it presents a challenge to object-oriented ontology: How might an object-orientation account for the originary singularity of the Big Bang, as well as the plurality of beings to which it gave rise and their existential continuity over shifting spatiotemporal conditions? Their evolution and, in some cases, destruction? In other words, what role does the concept of 'becoming' play in object-oriented thought, if any?
It's not an easy, or trivial, question, since any philosophy that claims to equalize the field of relations between objects, humans included, must explain the possibility and occurrence of change. A substance metaphysics that disregards change quickly collapses into the quasi-Latourian view that reality is composed of static spatiotemporal ephemera replicating themselves from one moment to the next. Here, real entities are reduced to discrete instants, relegating any idea of a sustained and affected essence to the dustbin. On the other hand, as Graham Harman has shown, the all-too-common theory that objects are mere phenomenological effects of underlying processes is similarly repulsive to an object-oriented philosophy, in its reduction of reality to the process of transformation, such that only 'becoming' is real, while any given substance in-itself is merely an illusion. Moreover, processual becoming is often coupled with a single foundational substance, like Whitehead's panexperiential God, further undermining the existence of objects as fully agential, ontologically inexhaustible beings.
What, then, is an object-oriented thinker to do? At least four possibilities emerge. First, one can reject sustained becoming in favor of 'accidentalism', whereby changes occur purely through objectal encounters. From this position, becoming is not something that unfolds internal to an object, but results from the inscription of one object upon another. When rains pours down upon a rock, for example, it physically weathers the rock, however slightly, into an altered state. Yet, the fundamental being or essence of the rock is not affected by the rain, nor is its internal configuration. What changes, instead, are the rock's—and rain's—external contours. In this way, accidentalist becoming is restricted to what might be called the shapative properties of an object, and entails a privileging of Aristotelian formal causation.
Second, one could couple accidentalist becoming with materialist causation, extending the impact of an encounter to the material composition of an object. From this vantage point, when rain pours down upon a rock, the relata are impacted at the constitutional level. Case in point: Chemical oxidation, in which a metal, such as iron, comes into contact with water, oxygen, or other strong oxidants, like salt, causing the transfer of electrons from iron to oxygen, creation of carbonic acid, and bonding of liberated oxygen and dissolved iron to form iron oxide. This corrosive process, commonly called “rusting,” changes both the shape and molecular structure of the entities involved in the electrochemical relation, consummating in a process of material transmogrification, or changes to an object's matter. While rust is an explicit example of material becoming, one could argue that all relations—including social relations, as Marx demonstrated—involve material interactions and that becoming, therefore, always implicates material effects.
A third approach adopts the materialist position, but from within the context of systems philosophy. Primarily associated with Levi Bryant, who coined the term object-oriented ontology, this approach views the becoming and identity of an object as one and the same. In Bryant's ontology, objects are entropic systems, perpetually under threat of breaking apart. In order to prevent disintegration, objects employ a variety of regulative practices to maintain structural integrity. At the same time, however, they develop internally and through encounters with other objects, and are individuated within a non-teleological temporality that is relative to the systemic events necessary for replication of an object across objective space and time. An obvious example, here, would be a human, whose corporeal existence, even after death, requires the functioning of a number of biological systems. As a child, a human exhibits certain cognitive and physical traits, such as the ability to crawl and mimic its surroundings. As the child develops into an adult, however, its systems change due to interactions with other objects, as well as the processes of aging and maturation. Becoming, then, is the development of an object and its systems, as they continually acquire new powers, while simultaneously forfeiting many old ones.
Each of the three accounts of becoming described so far has its virtues. Accidentalist and materialist becoming mesh well with physicalist theories of scientific reasoning. Systemic becoming, on the other hand, broadens the scope of change to include the internal dynamics of objects, where becoming transpires both internally and externally over multiple spaces, places, and temporalities. Still, all three versions have their detractors. The accidentalist and materialist approaches fail to adequately capture the mereology of objects, or the relations of parts of an object to an object-in-itself. Critics of systemic development, for their part, claim that it runs the risk of adumbrating the withdrawn being that grants an object its independence beneath an ad nauseum series of processual fluctuations, only a select portion of which are encountered by objects relating to each other at any given time.
To that last point, I say that an ontology that valorizes one set of encounters over others—like relations between cell phones and batteries at the expense of graphite anodes and lithium cobalt cathodes, or vice versa—discounts the complex mereological interplay involved in objectal structures. To account for both the mereology and independence of entities, I propose a fourth becoming construct, which I call differential becoming. Drawing upon the materialist and systems approach, differential becoming sees objectal assemblages as actively homeostatic, or constantly re-ordering their parts to maintain equilibrium. This intrinsic re-ordering of an assemblage may be internally or externally instigated. In contrast with the systemic account of becoming, however, differential becoming holds that objects maintain a common withdrawn being, even as its parts relate to one another and to a larger, comprised object. Becoming, from this perspective, is not a process external to objects, or a dynamic sea in which objects submerge and float over time. Instead, becoming is posited as an inhered potential, or 'power', of objects. Again, consider a child that matures into adulthood, passing through several developmental stages along the way. Whereas the systemic account defines becoming as the development of the child into an adult who manifests new, “developed” powers at both the mico- and macro-objectal level, the differential account argues that capacity for development is a power of the child's withdrawn being. Most importantly, differential becoming emphasizes the affirmative difference made by an object, even unto itself. And it's here that systemic and differential becoming sharply diverge. In an object-oriented systems theory, being is difference, and difference precedes knowledge. For the differentialist, on the other hand, differences produced by and within an object precede epistemological considerations, but are not reducible to the withdrawn being of an object-in-itself. Rather, difference is theorized as a positive effect of objects generating their own spatiotemporality. In other words, difference differentiates itself from being as an entity shapes the time and space through which it moves and within which it relates to other beings. Put simply, proponents of systemic becoming are right when they say, “To be is to differ.” From the differential perspective, however, their adage needs a slight revision: “To differ is to become, and to become is, perhaps, the fundamental power of all objects existing equally on an immanent plane of being.”
Two views. Pick one. Or none, if you disagree with both.
Dreams as affective manifestations: Virtually no one denies that dreams can be affective, productive of nonconscious phenomenological vectors capable of precipitating new patterns of thought and forms of relation. But are they fully embodied and substantive objects, things-in-themselves retaining their own autonomous and withdrawn inner being? According to Levi Bryant, the answer is no. For an entity to be deemed objectal, Bryant's argument holds, its being must exist independent of all other entities. Full stop. Since dreams are dependent upon the being of a dreamer, neurological impulses, semantic memories, neocortices, and the like, dreams cannot enter into, be extricated from, or form relations with other objects, and are, thus, reduced to the status of qualia, or 'local manifestations', an animation of qualities expressed by objects interacting within a specific and fragile spatiotemporal configuration, one that is broken upon the dissipation of the dream or the act of waking. From this view, dreams do not possess difference or becoming apart from the material difference effected by the entities from which it is drawn. And since, for Bryant, being is difference, dreams cannot be said to possess autonomous being, no matter how forceful their emotional residue may be.
Dreams as material objects: Claiming that dreams are nothing more than 'local manifestations' involves denying the mereology of dreams-in-themselves. If we grant that whole objects are existentially severable from and ontologically inexhaustible by their constituent parts, then we can say that dreams are quasi-imag(in)ed beings comprised of neurological and psychoemotive bits, made intelligible in the way that other mental manifestations, conscious or otherwise, are presenced and, for that matter, withdrawn. We get hung up on the putative immateriality of dreams, which appears to foreclose standard modes of sensory perception. Yet, at some level, dreams are 'percevied', inasmuch as they produce memories and corporeal effects—ever wake up shaking, following a powerful nightmare? Once we dismiss the correlationist circle—dreams exist for no other entity than the dreamer, who only has access to meta-cognized oneirological ideation—we're left with the the possibility of dreams as agential beings, whose existence exceeds qualitative apprehension. Dreams cannot even be denounced as pure products of consciousness, in light of nonconscious biological factors involved in their fruition. Borrowing from Ian Bogost's phenomenological interrogation of video game characters, we can ask the question: What is the real dream? Is it the dragon that chases me as I sleep? The electrical flow of information between the hippocampus and neocortex? Protoconscious processes that suppress the release of norepinephrine and serotonin? Sublated experience and neuroses? Perhaps the answer is, as Bogost would hold for Mario or Zelda, that all of these are the dream, meaning that all of these entities exist immanent to one another, such that no one entity is singled out as being more 'real' than its counterparts and relata. Like Zelda, the dream is real for each of its aforementioned components, leaving the sleeping dreamer as just one object among many toward which the dream gestures, distorts, and translates into its own terms. Dreampomorphizes, as Timothy Morton would say.