The preliminary schedule is out for The Nonhuman Turn in 21st Century Studies.

The list of speakers reads like a “who’s who” of the neo-ontological, speculative-realist crowd in cultural and media theory: Steven Shaviro, Jane Bennett, Brian Massumi, Erin Manning, Mark Hansen, Ian Bogost, and Tim Morton are among the keynotes, while lesser mortals like myself, Mackenzie Wark (not so lesser last time I checked), and others known to the philoso-blogosphere (Woodard, Stanescu, Denson, et al.) are also scheduled to present.

While not all the leading object-oriented philosophers will be there, it strikes me as a wonderful opportunity for dialogue between the ones who will (Morton, Bogost, and some up-and-comers, I assume) and the process-relationalists, who, by my count, just may be in the ascendant at this event (Shaviro, Bennett, Massumi, Manning, et al.).

The abstract I sent in for my talk is too ambitious for the time I’ll have. But it gives an idea of where I’m heading as I prepare for it. Here it is…


Process-Relational Theory and the Eco-Ontological Turn:
Clearing the Ground Between Whitehead, Deleuze, and Harman

Calls for a nonhuman or posthuman “turn” can be taken as echoing a call for an “ecological turn” that environmental thinkers have made for decades. Precursors to an “ecological ontology” and/or an “ecological epistemology” can be found in the work of Bateson, Maturana and Varela, Gibson, Ingold, and others. More recently, philosophers influenced by Deleuze and Guattari (such as Stengers, Delanda, Protevi, and Berressem) have taken up these calls for an eco- or geo-philosophy.

This paper argues that in this task of developing an ecophilosophy, there is value in recognizing a “process-relational” tradition as running in parallel to subtantialist, materialist, idealist, and dualist philosophies over the centuries. Such a tradition, while loosely construed and somewhat artificial, unites philosophers as disparate as Heraclitus, Chuang Tzu, and Nagarjuna with Peirce, Whitehead, Hartshorne, Simondon, Deleuze, and Stengers.

The bulk of the paper responds to Graham Harman’s recent critique of process-relational approaches. Harman argues that process-relational thinkers have already had their day and have failed to account for the stabilities and inner depths of objects that make up a (posthuman) world.

Building on comparative and interpretive work by Rescher, Weber, Shaviro, Faber, Griffin, Kakol, and others, I briefly recapitulate the ontological distinctiveness of the process-relational tradition, and make the case that however widely notions of relational interconnectedness may have spread in our time, a clearly articulated process-relational philosophy has not been widely accepted in modern times (contrary to Harman’s suggestion otherwise). I proceed to argue that a process-relationalism grounded in the encounter between Whitehead, Peirce, and Deleuze can better account for the depths of Harman’s “objects” than Harman’s object-oriented metaphysics precisely because those depths point toward the processuality that constitutes the beating heart of all things.

Harman’s critique ignores the way in which Whitehead’s actual occasions constitute an ongoing infusion of creative novelty into the universe. The novelty comes neither from a pre-existing reserve of hidden qualities of objects (as in Harman’s object-oriented ontology) nor from some external realm of displaced “eternal objects” (as some interpretations of Whitehead suggest), but from each decisive act of prehension that constitutes every instance of actualization in the universe. The question of how this creativity is generated is arguably left somewhat mysterious; it is, for the most part, assumed to be there in the nature of things. Deleuze’s and Delanda’s gestures toward nonlinear dynamic systems topologies provide useful indications of how the virtual, when considered as equally real and dynamic as the actual, might account for the generation of this creativity. Peircian evolutionary semiotics (of firstness, secondness, and thirdness) provide a different means of approaching the same problem.

Drawing on these and other resources in the process-relational tradition, I argue, presents a promising foundation for an ecological ontology that would recognize the creative capacity for novel interactions among human and nonhuman agents, while also suggesting a basis for evaluating which kinds of interactions might attain greater intensities of beauty and satisfaction (in Whitehead’s terms) than others.

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Related posts:

  1. relations vs. objects, part x
  2. Nonhuman Turn Day 1: Massumi
  3. still process-relations all the way down
  4. subjects & objects, together or apart…
  5. Those objects in the rearview mirror…
  6. Bryant’s objects & a possible object/subjectology