Do objects work?

A recent exchange with Ian Bogost on twitter has got me thinking about possible productive engagements with OOO again.

Context: Basically I’ve been working on questions of ‘know how’ and the way we (humans) mobilise to engage with given challenges, enthusiasm at the centre of this process. Traditionally, enthusiasm has been expunged from epistemology as an affected or religious irrationalism. I read Polanyi’s work on the role of passion and belief in the production of knowledge as useful in rethinking enthusiasm as productive and so on. The connection to OOO is that when enthusiats produce ‘know how’ they more often than not do so from an assumed functionalism of whatever it is they are mobilising to engage with. ‘Functionalism’ here does not mean something akin to Ellul’s “technique” or the subsumption of the human by technology, it is more of an always partial appreciation of the way socio-technical systems work. Not actual objects, but abstract systems that are understood according to their virtual singularities, actualised in ‘this’ socio-technical system. The other reason why Polanyi is useful is due to his discussion of ‘tacit’ or embodied knowledge, which provides an epistemological excess of what is ‘explicitly’ known of this partial appreciation. All this got me thinking about Heidegger’s notion of work and in the context of the Empyre discussion the invocation of Harman’s creative reading of Heidegger in terms of tool-being (readiness-to-hand vs presence etc).

It is not apparent to me that Harman uses Heidegger’s notion of work at all. Of course, I am a Heidegger novice, so this may just be ignorance on my part, or perhaps in the theory work of OOO Harman calls it something else. But I went through Harman’s book Tool-Being again, reading for any engagement with Heidegger’s notion of work, and couldn’t find any. Maybe Harman discusses it elsewhere? I haven’t been able to find such a discussion. Why is this important? One of the qualifications from Heidegger and the ‘withdrawal’ of the object is that this happens in work, and by ‘work’ I think Heidegger means something like an existential functioning. In Harman’s inversion or ‘democratisation’ of tool-being to all objects, this determination of withdrawal through work gets discarded. Instead withdrawal is assumed. (Unless ‘work’ is an object, but, well, I don’t understand that at all.) Here is the passage from Heidegger that got me thinking about all this.

On twitter I was attempting to articulate what I saw as a possible productive engagement with OOO, or at least a middle ground (a bit like that magic tunnel between universes in Fringe), in terms of link between the ‘work’ of Heideggarian/OOO ‘objects’ and Simondon’s concept of ‘transduction’. Reading Stiegler’s work on Heidegger and Simondon is instructive at least as a starting point. Stiegler emphasises how for Heidegger there is a ‘they’ (hence, resonates for me the assumed ‘alien’ character of OOO objects) while for Simondon there is a ‘we’. The ‘we’ in this context means that ‘we’ are forever collectively individuated. It is relative simple for me to imagine a D&G reading of Simondon and indeed there are a number of such investigations already, of assemblages and so on. If Stiegler’s thesis of technics is taken seriously, the enthusiasts I study do not work on socio-technical systems, rather they are attempting to repair or modify a quality/character of the technics through which they in part exist, involving the nonhuman ‘affects’ (affects in Spinozist sense) of tertiary retentions. Tim Morton’s Derridean version of OOO may have other connections to Stiegler’s work.

Do ‘objects’ work? What happens to the Heideggarian concept of ‘work’? I don’t mean that humans are the only ones with agency and they do ‘work’. Nonhumans ‘work’ all the time. A certain Whiteheadian reading/intervention may be possible here; the work of prehending prehensions etc. It seems that through the democratisation of tool-being Harman makes ‘work’ equivalent to being (or whatever the opposite of withdrawal is, ereignis maybe, I am not sure if there is an opposite in OOO) in that it is now radically and absolutely diffuse along with every opposite-of-withdrawal.

Why all this is fascinating (for me at least) is that if there is an OOO version of ‘work’, then to imagine if ‘transduction’ is possible from the POV of a Heideggarian OOO appreciation of ‘objects’. It is not a problem from an event-based ontology premised on the actualisation of virtual singular-multiplicities, but it does at least indicate a way around the problem of an infinite regress of tool-being for OOOers.

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