Scale, Events and Object-Oriented Philosophy

I am very fluey writing this, and have easily gone through a third of a big box of tissues blowing my nose. I’ve taken a day off work and with not much else to do I thought I’d catch up on my blogging.

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A couple of years ago I flagged the problem of scale when dealing with Deleuze’s conception of events. In a couple of passages from The Logic of Sense he raises the example of a battle and he makes two keen points.

1) “If the battle is not an example of an event among others, but rather the Event in its essence, it is no doubt because it is actualized in diverse manners at once, and because each participant may grasp it at a different level of actualization within its variable present” (100). The virtual battle-event can be grasped by the participants in a multipliticity of ways. The virtual battle ‘hovers’ above the participants. Any conflict can be used as an example of this, particularly those that are not resolved with a shared horizon of experience. The Israel-Palestinian conflict is a good example of differential conflicts being actualised from the singular conflict. This is evidenced by the different temporalities invoked by both sides when discussing/arguing about the conflict, which I saw much of when working at Gleebooks as part of the event staff. One side will raise ‘this’ incursion ‘then’, the other side will raise ‘this’ armed intervention at this other ‘then’ and so on until a cosmic blockade is reached between differential experiences of religion. They are not arguing about the question of causality and who did what to which people when, but they are presenting (at least) two actualisations of the conflict itself.

There is the pure virtual conflict that contains the multiplicity of every singular act inflicted upon/by human and non-human participants, then there is the conflict that emerges on the horizon of experience as experience. Further along the ontological chain, the experience of conflict is discoursed and gains an individuated intelligibility. (Hence, the differend between participants in the singular multiplicity of the pure event who buttress their relative position with differentiated, that is, different conflicts.) In the midst of the actualised conflict the pure event of the virtual conflict can only be intuited, it is not yet actual. A less socially frought example of ‘conflict’ or the clash of bodies is provided by my working through of the shared event of the kiss (from 4 years ago!).

2) “Everything is singular, and thus both collective and private, particular and general, neither individual nor universal. Which war, for example, is not a private affair? Conversely, which wound is not inflicted by war and derived as a society as a whole? Which private event does not have all its coordinates, that is, all its impersonal social singularities?” (152) Every event is a cascade of events. If we were Time Lords like Dr Who, but without the Doctor’s Time Lord capacities, then we would be overwhelmed by the differentiated temporalities (perhaps best represented by Rose Tyler’s absorption of the ‘time vortex’). How can a wound be inflicted by ‘war’? A wound is inflicted by an adversorial combatant, surely? Yes, but only within the restricted temporality of the wounded person’s experience. The ethico-political question, expressed unfortunately in a somewhat negative way, is how to be worthy of the wounds inflicted upon us. The wound considered as an event is already a cascade of events of various temporalities (including relations of futurity with the present). The wound could be an actualisation of a future ‘victory’, a past ‘grudge’, or a haphazard biography absent of any normative consistency, which could all be of the singular pure virtuality.

Deleuze is pushing beyond this kind of delineation of events achored to the emergent horizon of human experience, however. The concept of the fourth-person singular is necessary intervention to even conceive of a horizon of experience that is not bound by normative human constraints. Does this mean that Deleuze is explicitly advocating a position whereby a near-God-like figure can stand above and beyond the triviality of the merely human, a kind of hyper-objectivity? No (lol). How can there be actualisation without experience (in an expanded non-human Whiteheadian sense, of prehensions prehending each other). I want to suggest the fourth person singular necessarily commands a capacity of perception that indeed evades the individuated human subjectivity, but only because of the capacity to emphasise with absolutely open intuition the emergent horizon of experience as the experience of any event as it is differentiately actualised.

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My reason for bringing this up again has been the interesting work of Levi over at Larval Subjects as he has also grappled with the problem of scale from a slightly different conceptual orientation, a systems-based or complexity-based object-oriented interpretation of Deleuze and others. Towards the end of this post on Nested Objects and Political Engagement, he writes:

objects or individuals at a larger level of scale tend towards a stable state in the face of most perturbations. Far from the perturbations fundamentally changing the organization of the object, they are, in most instances, simply absorbed by the system or object and function to reinforce the organization of the object.

I suggest that the systems that appear to tend towards a more stable state perhaps only do so because they exist as actualised temporalities experienced as relatively more stable (the US has just had the Fourth of July celebrations; so how old is the US? Ok, which US are you talking about?). The great cultural celebrations of a nation (national days, etc) differentially repeat not only the ‘cultural values’ of the ‘imagined community’ of the ‘nation’ but also enable the experience of the ‘nation’ according to its monumental temporality that is quite literally actualised as ‘monument’. Hence the ideological component of all these moments of cultural reinforcement. They only work if those experiencing them expect them to work. Expectation is a relation of futurity whereby the future past (of the present) is experienced as an already-always. The horizon of intelligibility emergent with the experience of the actualised ‘nation’ on a ‘national day’ works to block other possible futures. Steve Shaviro’s work has been really useful on this question. Here is what I wrote back then:

I think Shaviro’s reading of Whitehead’s concept is actually more productive than Massumi’s notion of ‘anticipation’ briefly developed in Parables of the Virtual. Both attempt to account for relations of futurity, but Massumi’s is organised around the superposition of one moment upon the next, and this, it seems to me, elides the relation of contingency that makes possible demanding the impossible.

Levi notes something similar but from a systems-based perspective of his object-oriented philosophy:

The issue here is one of how individuals that compose a larger scale object can act on that object without simply reinforcing its existing basin of attraction. In part this requires the formation of new organs or objects that, in another post, I referred to as “alliances” following Latour and Harman. The second problem is that even where a new sub-multiple or object is formed through an alliance, and even where this object is intense enough to push the larger scale multiple of which it is a part into a new basin of attraction, this new basin of attraction is itself highly unpredictable.

My interpretation of Levi’s observation regarding the politics of the big and little is of a virtual war waged between (at least) two different actualisations of ‘conflict’ in question.

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A contemporary example is the turgid neo-liberal managerial discourse of ‘opportunity’ evident in my current vocation as a writer (and also within the academy). Workers are meant to be on the look out for ‘opportunity’ in the workplace or work milieu (if freelancers). They are meant to capitalise on the opportunity and maximise the positive outcome of opportunity to further their respective careers. There is a continuum of opportunity that is differentiated by relations of futurity made possible by the character of contingency around which opportunity is organised.

1) If opportunity is presented by those in power to a worker, then the contingency is often disciplined in accordance with the outcomes of productivity demanded by the managers and the way surplus value is extracted from the worker’s labour.
2) If opportunity presents ‘itself’, then it is because the contingency of labour relations and relations between worker productivity and the market have not been actualised. A new relation to the market can be actualised.
3) If a worker creates ‘opportunity’, then it is because he or she has critically appreciates the mechanics of labour relations and relations between worker productivity and the market in its virtuality, an example of the limited fourth-person singular; that is, the worker does not perceive the situation though the identity and horizon of experience of a ‘worker’ per se. The worker actively differentiates a new set of relations that can only be apprehended through action. (What Deleuzians call counter-actualisation.)

To enfranchise workers in the emergent entrepreneurial mode of the unfortunately called ‘creative capitalism’ means equipping them with the capacity to appreciate the dynamics of managerial techniques and apprehend new conditions between labour and the market through the praxis of their own labour. It is not a matter of grasping the relations between specific individuals or objects (big or little) but of appreciating how the relations between individuals are actualised and differentially repeated in experience.

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