Knowledge Ecology on an Object-Oriented Ecology, and some reflections on substance

Adam Robbert over at Knowledge-Ecology has posted a great piece on his conception of an object-oriented ecology. He draws primarily from Graham Harman, Tim Morton, and Isabelle Stengers. I’m re-posting my comment to him below:

Really well written, Adam. You’ve definitely provided an outline for a robust OOE. I agree with your assessment that it promises to overcome the various “-centrisms” hampering other approaches to environmental ethics.

My one concern is the idea of substance in OOO. I’ve written about this elsewhere, but in short, I wonder why we need to bring back substance in order to secure the notion of withdrawal when a process ontology already secures it quite well. Objects withdraw even from themselves, which suggests to me that objects are not fixed substances of any kind, but concrescual occasions perishing into objective immortality just as they open into subjective novelty. Objects are not substances, but subject-superjects. An object’s withdrawal is constituted by the subjective pole of its concrescence, which hides from the environment of the object, and from the object’s own habitual prehension of its past.

Instead of talking of “real” v. “sensual” qualities, I prefer to take Schelling’s route, wherein both the dark and the luminous aspects of entities are equally real:

“Every entity,” writes Schelling,

“everything that is, wants to be in itself and out of itself at the same time. It wants to be in itself inasmuch as it posits or collects itself together as what-is [als Seyendes], as a subject; to this extent it opposes development and expansion. It wants to be out of itself inasmuch as it desires to be what it is in itself once more, and hence externally. In the first case, it is something withdrawn by itself, which sets itself in opposition to what is outside of it; but it sets itself in opposition only in order to reveal and declare itself against this outside as what it is in itself. It cannot, therefore, remain in this withdrawn condition” (Ages of the World).

In short, a process ontology polarizes what Harman et al. seem to dualize. The essence of an object is no more withdrawn than it is apparent; it is essentially the budding pulsation which includes both as moments in its concrescence. With Schelling/Whitehead’s position, we get everything useful about OOO without the, to my mind, unnecessary dichotomy between real and sensual. Perhaps I am just oversimplifying Harman’s position, however.

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