For what it’s worth, here’s the Power Point that went along with my talk. I changed the title to “Beatnik Brothers? Harman’s Objects and the Becoming-Whiteheadian of Deleuze.” I meant “of Deleuzians” (some of whom were in the audience: Manning, Shaviro, Massumi and Hansen I think). The first two slides are the original title (slide) and the revised one.
The main questions were: What’s at stake in dividing Whitehead from Deleuze? What are the other axes along which we can configure the spectrum of ontological positions? (I skipped some of that in the actual talk, but the axes, apart from Harman’s individuality-versus-multiplicity/blurredness-of-an-object axis, include a morphogenetic “how do complex systems of relations arise?” axis, and the onto-epistemic “how do ontology and epistemology intersect?” axis, and the ethico-political “how do truth-ideas and truth-effects interact?” axis, and others.)
The final bit of my paper draws on the closing piece of Circus Philosophicus:
These [moments of greater interest to the process-relationalist] are times, for instance, when he suggests that it is not up to us to decide to withdraw or re-emerge from our relationless cocoon. It is, as he puts it in the final chapter of Circus Philosophicus, up to the things beneath us on the scale of objects, the parts that make us up. Sleep overcomes us, and waking overtakes us, not because we decide to do these things. “Only the zebra’s pieces,” he writes, “are able to guide it into new situations of some kind.”
Free will, Harman continues, “does not exist for objects, but only for pieces of those objects.” There is, he says, “an excess in our pieces beyond what is needed to create us, and this excess allows new and unexpected things to happen.” It is this way with all objects: “We are awakened neither by our own powers nor by the world outside, but by the swarming landscape within.[…] The dormant zebra, like all other objects, awaits a hailstorm from below.” (CP, 75)
I find this version of the object more lively, in Jane Bennett’s terms, more Deleuzian even, insofar as it suggests a swarming dynamism within an object that is no longer a black hole of pure withdrawal, but that has become an actual field of relations affecting the object. That this zebra is woken from within – from its “pieces,” as he puts it (as if the zebra’s body were an Ikea construction) – does not mean that it cannot also be awoken from without. This is, after all, a zebra Harman sees painted on a flag that is waving in a hailstorm. In this strange closing chapter of a strange book, a chapter framed by an account of Bruno Latour’s hosting the author in his flat in Paris, Harman acknowledges both the strangeness of this idea and the strength of the Latourian burgundy flowing in his blood when this idea seized him.
Something about this seizure – the swarm of burgundy, entering Harman’s body from a Parisian glass and filling it over the course of an evening, the swarm of a thought process, ricocheting between a painted zebra waving in the wind and an idea building in the mind of a philosopher – that tells me that Harman’s objects are affected not just by the pieces within. They are kicked into life because of a world in which what is within and what is without ceaselessly ricochet back and forth across the boundary of a questing selfhood. This, to me, seems as Whiteheadian and Deleuzian as anything.
Pass the burgundy. You may discover yourself to be a beatnik brother after all.