The world is not an aggregate of objects

So I’ve been reading Brian Massumi’s new book Semblance and Event. Here are some notes on the “Introduction: Activist Philosophy and the Occurrent Arts” followed by an edited comment of mine (after the large block quote) I left on Levi Bryant’s blog in response to a post about whether or not atractors do anything. I think Levi’s interpretation of ‘attractors’ (via Delanda) will be very useful staking out the differences between object-oriented ontologies and event-oriented ontologies. I am definitely in the EOO camp as the title of my blog suggests.

Massumi begins with a discussion of the event as ‘bare activity’. ‘Bare activity’ refers to a minimalist ontological account of activity as event (“the just-beginning-to-stir of the event coming into its newness out of the soon to be prior background activity it will have left creatively behind”).

Then explores the event in the opening section in terms of (list numbers are arbritrary):
1) self-creation of novelty (Whitehead)
2) channeling of general activity to special activity (Whitehead)
3) the emergence of a purity (James) or “pure feeling” (Whitehead)
4) the doubling of the event into co-occurent relational and qualitative dimensions.

(Note: Interesting that Massumi is offering a process philosophy reading of Deleuze’s work; compare with Badiou’s reading that emphasises the “synthesis of past and future,” in Deleuze’s definition of the event as “always that which has just happened and that which is about to happen, but never that which is happening.” It is important to note that “that which is happening” does not necessarily correlate with “activity” as such. I have always struggled to understand what Deleuze meant by this, particularly his discussion of Aion in TLoS. It makes sense that we never experience the infinitive as such, otherwise it would be an experiential variation of infinite regress. Why do we need an infinitive, then?)

Disjunctive relations (a “separative transition across a threshold of becoming”) and conjunctive relations (“how the before and after of a threshold passed mutually include each other in the same event, as ‘pulses’ of the same change”) are both always present.

(Note: From a Spinozist position it is interesting that Massumi refers to James’s description of conjunctive relations as “a “tendency” or “striving” that continues across threshold over marked by resistances and obstacles.” For Spinoza, the capacity of the connatus to strive was amplified or diminished by active and passive affections.)

(Note: So ‘conjunctive relations’ will need to be further unpacked if it is defined in terms of the way ‘the before and after of a threshold’ mutually include each other in the same event, thus address my confusion earlier in Massumi’s introduction regarding ‘bare activity’ and Deleuze’s distinction between what has just happened/about to happen with what is happening.)

The ‘onward phasing’ of the event is modulated by the ‘ingression’ of ‘bare active relation’. (Note: Use of ‘ingression’ is curious here as it was used by Whitehead to describe how eternal objects ‘ingressed’ in actual occassions. So is a ‘bare active relation’ simular in some ways to ‘eternal objects’? I’ve always understood Whitehead’s ‘eternal objects’ as similar in effect (as effect) to singularities as described by Deleuze. See discussion in The Fold, for example.)

Massumi positions ‘activist philosophy’ as distinct from object-based philosophies.

Activist philosophys emphasis on the occurrent makes it a fundamentally nonobject philosophy. Deleuze enters the fold of activist philosophy when he says that “the event of alteration” is “one with the essence or the substance of a thing” (Deleuze 1988b, 32). This is another way of saying there is no essence or substance to things other than the novelty of their occurrence. “I have, it’s true, spet a lot of time writing about this notion of event: you see, I don’t believe in things” (Deleuze 1995, 160). He believes in the world as process (Deleuze and Guattari 1983, 2–5; Deleuze and Guattari 1987, 20). Whitehead is on much the same page: “a well-marked object is not an inherent necessity for an event. Wherever and whenever something is oging on, there is an event” (Whitehead 1964, 78). Nature itself, the world of process, “is a complex passing of events” (Whitehead 1964, 166). The world is not an aggregate of objects. To see it that way is to have participated in an abstraction reductive of the complexity of nature as passage (Whitehead 1964, 74-98). To “not believe in things” is to believe that objects are derivatives of process and that their emergence is the passing result of specific modes of abstractive activity. This means that objects’ reality does not exhaust the range of the real. The reality of the world exceeds that of objects, for the simple reason that where objects are, there has also been their becoming. And where becoming has been, there is already more to come. The being of an object is an abstraction from its becoming. The world is not a grab-bag of things. It’s an always-in-germ. To perceive the world in an object frame is to neglect the wider range of its germinal reality.

My comment on Levi Bryant’s blog makes a similar point in the context of Levi’s discussion of singularities:

[Levi’s interpretation of Delanda’s definition of attractor] is a major point of difference from those interpreting Deleuze, Whitehead and others in a way congruent with, for example, Massumi’s work.

Aren’t you worried about leaving out massive parts of reality, i.e. what actually happens in the world, from your ontology then? This has been my central criticism since reading Harman’s book on Latour.

An ‘attractor’ (or I prefer ‘singularity’, usually mutiple singularities) characterises a threshold within a system, such as the system of OOO that is based on naming a composition of singualrities/events as objects or actors because they pass a certain threshold of non-human coherency/consistency in their object-based eventhood. You actualise that OOO-threshold singularity differently to the way I do, for example.

There is an excess here that is not accounted for by only focusing on actors without incorporating a ‘sense’ of the acts, where an ‘act’ is only one possible dimension/slice/configuration of a singular event. (Does it even make sense to talk about act-less actors? Then there are all kinds of problems around what the ‘act’ is.)

I like Ian Bogost’s keynote diagra address from a few years ago where he breaks down a game into a ‘mess’ of constituent potentialities characterised by the object relations (code-for-hardware, etc.) for engaging with a different, but related state of affairs.

With the tea boiling example we couldn’t possibly exhaust the different dimensions of the event, but it is irrelevant as these different dimensions (different POV, ways of incorporating it into wildly divergent perceptual apparatuses ‘insect media’ etc) are still arranged by the singularities.

Wouldn’t that mean that singualrities have a radical importance for OOO in that without them you couldn’t characterise an object as an object without them, as the qualities of an object are qualities-for-a-subject, but the singularities are empirically transcendental. The singularities of a object (transductive threshold of water boiling) come to characterise an event (making tea) by modifying the behaviour of the system (Levi + kitchen + colleague’s dirty teaspoons (i.e. further series of singular points) + etc).

‘Attractor’ already involves a space-time fold of the cosmos into a subject (human or otherwise), so I’d imagine it would be rejected by OOO. Surely Delanda use of the term is drawing on a particular terminology to make a point about singularities.

4 thoughts on “The world is not an aggregate of objects”

Comments are closed.