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14 April 2011

Withdrawing Objects

Levi Bryant recently posted a response to a question I had about his onticology.  My question was from another post he wrote a couple weeks back:
“…sensual objects are the way in which one real object encounters another real object. That real object encountered, however, is withdrawn from the real object that encounters it.”
Then do we ever encounter the real object? Can we ever know it? Or can we only hope to know the sensual objects that exist within ourselves? How is this different from correlationism? Maybe I’m missing something…

And his response:
Nope, Jeremy isn’t missing a thing. As I understand it– and maybe others disagree with me –the OOO critique of correlationism is not a critique that would finally deliver us to the real itself or things-in-themselves. It is not an epistemological realism. OOO’s critique of correlationism is a critique of the privileging of human correlation. Put differently, OOO multiplies correlations, it doesn’t get rid of correlations. There is the way humans correlate to the world, bats correlate to the world, rocks correlate to the world, aardvarks correlate to the world, hurricanes and tornadoes correlate to the world, social systems correlate to the world, dust mites correlate to the world, etc., etc., etc. Another way of putting this would be to say that OOO strives to take up the point of view of other entities on the world. A number of entities correlate to the world in rather uninteresting ways, but a number of entities correlate to the world in very interesting ways. This is what is meant by “second-order observation”. In second-order observation we are not observing another object, but are rather observing how another object correlates to the world about it. We are striving to adopt the point of view of that object. Rather than encountering the object “for ourselves”, we are striving to observe how the object encounters the world “for itself“. What is it like to be a bat?
I like this a lot, and I like Adrian's response to Levi as well.  I'm going to have to take some time to figure out what it means for my practice of anthropology.  But, in the meantime, it raises two more philosophical questions for me - questions that might be answered by simply reading Levi's book The Democracy of Objects (which he kindly provided a draft copy of back in August, but I've been too busy to sit down with yet) - but I'm going to throw them out here and see what comes of it.

1) This must mean, then, that "sensual objects" - those objects that exist primarily within other objects (Levi likes to use Popeye and Donald Duck as examples) - are not withdrawn, or are at least partially not withdrawn in relation to the objects that contain them.  This must be the case, because otherwise we wouldn't be able to know our sensual objects either and we'd end up having to create sensual objects of sensual objects ad infinitum and we would never really know anything.  I just wonder how this plays out in Levi (and Graham's) ontology.

2) This is a deeper question perhaps, and will undoubtedly reveal my ignorance of philosophy, but this blog is all about my ignorance, so there's no reason to be hesitant.  The question is, why do our ontologies require withdrawal?  That is, why do we need to account for an ontological gap between objects?  Would our ontologies fall apart if we eliminated withdrawal or the ontological gap?  Objects impact one another all the time - in the simplistic sense of billiard balls bouncing off of one another, and in the much more sophisticated sense of conscious beings having a conversation.  Don't these impacts provide a basis for at least a limited knowledge of one another independent of the sensual objects that they create of one another?  Granted, representation is another issue entirely, my question is, is there the possibility for interaction, communication, or relation between objects prior to representation?  A rejection of an ontological gap, if not of an epistemological gap?
I talked about something like this in my post on empirical realism.  I never got a response to that post, so it may be completely wrong-minded - if so, I'd like someone to explain why.  Don't worry, I won't take it personally - I'm more interested in how these philosophies apply to my anthropological practice, so I have little investment in being right or wrong on a particular philosophical point.  :)

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