Tag Archive: Bryant

Realism & Peirce


Levi is out swinging (in the most entertaining way possible; I love it when he gets on a roll, and I do agree with him on much of it).

Of course, there’s not much new in what he says (that hasn’t been said by Left-realists for the last few decades, and by Latour more recently). But of course it still needs to be said (in some circles, like to Left anti-realists) and it’s better said by constructivist realists (like Bryant, Latour, et al.) than by anti-constructivists (on the Right or Left). Constructivist realism — a realism that avows the constructedness (enactedness, emergentness, historicity) of everything, from quarks to civilizations to universes — is where things are at. (Which is why I appreciate Levi’s philosophizing so much.)

The comments that follow his post include some rejoinders from Peircians (like Mark Crosby and Matt Segall), who don’t like Bryant’s seeming characterization of Charles Sanders Peirce as an anti- or non-realist. In response, Levi writes that “we never really see Pierce employed outside the humanities.” Here he needs to be corrected.

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Democracy of Objects

Levi Bryant’s The Democracy of Objects is finally available and readable on-line, courtesy of a wonderfully innovative relationship between Open Humanities Press and the University of Michigan Library’s Scholarly Publishing Office. The book is part of OHP’s New Metaphysics Series, edited by Graham Harman and Bruno Latour.

As regular readers know, Levi has been a longtime philosophical companion and frequent sparring partner to this blog. On occasion that sparring has gotten enflamed, but the heat has always, in the end, generated much light — which is what philosophical sparring is all about. I’ve read parts of the book in an earlier version and strongly recommend it; it’s an important contribution to contemporary efforts to carve out a post-anthropocentric metaphysics.

Levi Bryant has a wonderful post up in response to my announcement of Stengers’s book. If mine was “less appealing” to him, as he puts it, this may not be a bad thing, as it seems to have elicited a shimmering cascade of resonating strings in his thinking. (Perhaps appeal has a devilishly indirect manner of working…)

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Progress (toward Ω?)

(This is a slightly revised version of the piece I posted a few hours ago…)

I haven’t posted about the debate between object-oriented and process-relational ontologies for a while here, in part because I said I’d had enough of that debate.

But the more I read of Levi Bryant’s work — both in Democracy of Objects (which he’s kindly sent me a pre-publication version of) and on his blog — the more convinced I am that there isn’t much of a debate, at least not over fundamental and incommensurable differences, between his version of OOO and my understanding of PR ontology.

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Levi Bryant has proposed a ceasefire on the objects/relations debate, and followed that up with a nice post calling for self-moderation of our more confrontational urges and for a more affirmative writing (and blogging) style that would render the form of our writing more consonant with its content. I’m all for the latter; it’s something I try to practice when I’m not too overcome by impatience (which is easy to get in the heatedness of online exchanges like these). As for a ceasefire, we aren’t of course at war, but stepping back and holding our metaphorical fire makes sense, and could even be timely given the agreements that Levi and I, at least, seem to have reached (which I’ll spell out in a moment). It’s become clear to me over the last year and a half or so of discussions with Levi that while he responds to things heatedly, he always comes back in friendly and generous demeanor, and I value that quality in him.

As for those points of agreement — anyone wanting to trace how these arose can read backwards from his reply to my comment to his reply to my reply to his reply to Chris’s replies to our replies to each other, probably starting with my attractions of process post (!!) — they are these:

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repetition with (slight) difference

Just a few quick responses to Levi Bryant. Levi writes:

1) entities are nonetheless patterned or structured despite their becoming, 2) they are unities, and 3) they cannot be submerged in or exhausted by their relations. Relations can always be detached. Objects can always enter into new relations. [. . .] if you hold that entities are constituted by their relations then you lose that excess by which it is possible to account for how anything new can enter the world.

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Buddhist objects & processes


Does object-oriented ontology = Buddhism? Tim Morton has been making intriguing sounds to that effect, and Levi Bryant has begun to ask him the hard questions about how and whether that might be possible — of how to “square the circle” of independent substances (OOO) with Buddhism’s conditioned genesis (a.k.a. dependent arising, codependent origination).

Tim’s task strikes me as quite challenging, especially because Buddhism is conventionally thought to be as relational as philosophical traditions can get. Levi has a clear exposition of conditioned genesis, which he rightfully depicts as the cornerstone metaphysical principle on which Buddhist practice, psychology, and soteriology are all built.

It’s necessary, however, to think carefully about Buddhism’s relationality. One of the popular metaphors for thinking about conditioned origination is the idea of Indra’s jeweled net. Levi uses the image of a spider web, but the idea is the same. He writes:

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Levi Bryant’s detailed and generous replies to my critical queries, both in the comments section of this post and at Larval Subjects, and Graham Harman’s replies here (and in an e-mail exchange) have helped me get a much clearer sense of where the main differences lie between their respective “object-oriented” positions and my relational view. In the process, I’ve been once again impressed with both of these philosophers’ willingness to engage with those who disagree with them, and to do that publicly, and practically at the speed of (digital) light. Here I just want to summarize what I see as the main difference between an object-oriented account of the world and a process-relational account.

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let a thousand objects bloom

Here’s a quick reply to Levi Bryant’s reply to my post from this morning on objects and relations:

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(This post spun off from the last, where I concluded by noting the increasing amount of debris out in the upper atmosphere. Somehow I couldn’t resist pulling that image into the vortex of ecopolitics and the objects-relations debate, which is carrying on at hyper tiling, Object-Oriented Philosophy, Larval Subjects, and elsewhere.)

Like the tail of a dog who, in his immersed excitedness at any signs of life, notices movement behind himself and lurches back to catch it, humanity’s material ecologies are wagging behind us in various ways: from reports of melting glaciers and impending crashes of the ocean’s fish stocks to images of the Pacific Trash Vortex, space junk accumulating in the atmosphere (anyone remember the rains of space debris on Max Headroom?), the mountains of e-waste accumulating around the world (which, in our future history, take over the terrestrial landscape around the time of Wall-E), and the repositories of toxic and radioactive waste that dot the landscape all around us, though we rarely see or think about them. Sooner or later, the trash will hit the fan, somewhere at least, if not everywhere at once.

Our social ecologies work the same way, with “blowback” to social injustice arriving in the form of terrorism and other forms of political violence. If, as I’ve argued before, it’s better to think in threes than in twos — with our material ecologies (“nature”) and social ecologies (“culture”) supplemented and filled in with mental or perceptual ecologies, the actual interactive dynamics out of which the material and the social, or the “objective” and the “subjective,” continually emerge — then what is blowback in the perceptual dimension?

That’s easy: it’s guilt, bad dreams, and the other affective undercurrents that plague our “unconscious.” These are our responses to the eyes of the world (human and nonhuman). It’s what makes us feel that things aren’t right. It’s the traumatic kernel of the Real, which Lacan (and, somewhat differently, Buddhism) place at the origin of the self, but which in a collective sense is coming back to haunt us globally. (I’ve made the case for a psychoanalytically inspired ecologization of Fredric Jameson’s political symptomatology of culture here and here.)

We misperceive the nature of the world for the same reasons that we misperceive the nature of the self. Every social (and linguistic) order interpellates its members somewhat differently, but, over the course of humanity’s long history, most such orders have incorporated into that process some sense of responsibility to more-than-human entities or processes. In whatever way they were conceived — as spirits or divinities, or in terms of synthetic narrative or conceptual metaphors (life-force, the Way, the path, the four directions, etc.) — these have generally borne a crucial connection to what we now understand as ecology. Modern western capitalism has fragmented these relations, setting us up individually in relation to the products of a seemingly limitless marketplace, but leaving us collectively ecologically rudderless. So even if scientists, the empirical authorities of the day, tell us we’re fouling our habitat, we haven’t really figured out how to respond to that, at least not at the global levels where many of the symptoms occur.

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