Keeping up with Graham Harman means continually being tempted to respond to him, and since he doesn’t allow comments on his blog, for reasons I completely understand, I can only hold my tongue or flap it here. (Or I can do the respectful thing and write up a lengthier and more in-depth argument, but that would take more time and energy than I currently have. For that reason, I’m not asking for or expecting a response from Graham, but since he reads this blog, he may as well know that I need more convincing.)

So, a quick reply to his “response to Shaviro” blog post:

He writes:

And I just don’t see how both Whitehead and Deleuze belong together due to the topic of “process”. Whitehead is a philosopher of actual individuals, Deleuze really isn’t. Latour is a philosopher of actual individuals, Bergson, Simondon, and DeLanda really aren’t; in fact, the exact opposite is true. [. . .] What is most characteristic of Latour and Whitehead as metaphysicians is their belief in the ontological principle: everything that happens has its reason in the constitution of some actual entity. And I don’t see how that could possibly be said about Deleuze, Bergson, or Simondon.

This seems to be classifying each thinker according to the way they present space — as made up of actual individuals (Whitehead) or objects (Latour) versus something more amorphous in Deleuze — rather than how they present time. In contrast to the philosophical mainstream, which each of them opposes or critiques in some way, all three present time as emergent, open, and in a process of creative becoming. In Latour this is less clear, but he says so little about objects and so much about processes of network-building, i.e. relational processes, that I think it’s fair to include him in this category. I also think that both he and Delanda are discussing the same sort of thing — processes of network-building or assemblage (as a verb) — except that Delanda is doing it at multiple scales (though consistent with his “flat ontology”) and theorizing them with the aid of Deleuze-inspired complexity theory, where Latour puts most of his attention on the linear details — the translations and mediations by which the networks are built.

It’s true that for Whitehead, “everything that happens has its reason in the constitution of some actual entity,” but that’s only the case if we take that “constitution” as including the relations that make it up (including the “lure” of God, if we use his theological language, that brings out the creativity of every actual occasion/entity). An “actual entity” is a thing in time, not (exactly) in space. It is an “occasion,” an “instance,” an “entry into the concrete,” an “act of experience arising out of data,” a “throb of experience,” a “process of ‘feeling’” where “‘feeling’ is the term used for the basic generic operation of passing from the objectivity of the data to the subjectivity of the actual entity in question.” It is “nothing but the unity to be ascribed to a particular instance of concrescence.” (All quotes are from Process and Reality.)

So even if the universe can be described as made up of things — actual occasions (things in time rather than in space) — these things can never be stopped and held frozen; they are perpetually in the process of coming into being and perishing, always in motion. And we are among them, always in process, connecting outward and taking in, always becoming, subjectivating from out of the objective data of the previous moment, and always becoming a little differently as we cross the gap by which the subjective unity concresces in each given moment. Whitehead’s “actual occasions” are not to be understood as “things” the way we commonly understand things, i.e., as stable structures enduring over time, which we can describe from the outside because we, too, are stable enduring observers spatially separated from the objects we’re describing. To be sure, there’s a relative stability attained in those things he calls “societies,” but these are relational networks, rather like Latour’s networks or Delanda’s assemblages or Deleuze/Guattari’s rhizomes and machines, which are always in process and subject to being taken apart or coming together in some other way the very next moment. And all of that is exactly how I understand Deleuze’s description of the world, except that Deleuze makes it even more of a point to emphasize the process-relational nature of things, the machinic desiring-production, the network-building (Latour), the ongoing movement of concrescence and becoming (Whitehead).

I would certainly agree that one can emphasize the processual and relational in each of these thinkers (Deleuze’s flows, Latour’s network-building, Delanda’s assemblage, Whitehead’s creativity) or the “objective” and static (Whitehead’s societies, Delanda’s assemblages, Latour’s objects and networks, Deleuze’s machines, states, and syntheses) — in other words, the verbs or the nouns — but against the background of western philosophy as a whole, is there not more kinship than difference among these thinkers? It’s Whitehead who is most commonly called a “process philosopher” and a “process-relational” thinker, so if we are to exclude him from this counter-tradition of process philosophers, we would need a very strong argument for that. I’m open to reading it when Harman’s chapter in The Speculative Turn comes out (or elsewhere), but until then, I will be sticking to my process-relational “beatnik conspiracy.” And I promise I will do my best to hold my comments from this point on until I can articulate them in a more traditional (published argument) form.

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Related posts:

  1. More on Harman, or what’s outside the system of relations?
  2. the politics of objects & relations
  3. relations vs. objects, part x
  4. The beatnik brotherhood
  5. Process-relational theory primer
  6. in defense of relations (again)