“The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.”
–Alfred North Whitehead

Harman’s Crucified Objects and Whitehead’s God: More on Withdrawal

Continuing the discussion that begin on Knowledge-Ecology earlier today, here are some highly speculative reflections after reading the first few pages of Graham Harman‘s Guerrilla Metaphysics (2005) again:

I’m reminded that we must deal with more than the absolute difference between objects and relations, but that between an object and itself. Objects withdraw not just from other objects, but from themselves.

“Objects withdraw absolutely from all interaction with both humans and nonhumans, creating a split between the tool-being itself and the tool-being as manifested in any relation. And along with this rift between objects and relations, objects are also split in themselves between their sheer unity as one object and their multiplicity of traits” (p. 5).

He goes on in ch. 6 to talk of the “ether”/”solar wind”/”vicar” connecting objects with each other. Despite the withdrawal of their “inner life,” they continue to “nurture or damage one another in every instant” (p. 73).

What does it mean to say an object withdraws from all of its relations if that same object withdraws also from itself? What, in the end, withdraws?

“In the sensual sphere, there is a difference between the banana as a single intentional object and the banana as a set of sensuous qualities. But there is also a lower floor of being, where we find a difference between the real banana as a single private reality, and that same real banana considered as a multitude of real attributes, quite apart from any relation that other entities may have with it” (. p. 77).

So there is an apparent banana, the appearance of that banana, a real banana, and a bundle of real banana qualities. This is Haman’s quaternity, a structure he admits may at first seem “bizarre.” With the second duality between the real banana and its many real qualities, he aims to describe “vacuous actualities,” objects never fully deployed in the world. This is a metaphysical, and not a physical, description. Which is to say that he of course realizes that the physical banana would be destroyed by digestion, or at least its matter transformed into something else, but nonetheless argues that the metaphysical banana–the idea/form of the banana–withdraws from digestion. It withdraws because many of its real qualities are not at all touched by chemical processes in the stomach. What does the dark stomach care about the pale white color of banana flesh?

Harman’s difficult to understand “vicarious cause” needs to account for more than just relations between one object and other objects, but the relations between an object and itself. The inner life of an individual object is itself some kind of dynamic “ether” that is never quite completely what it is (more like a power, as Iain Hamilton Grant might say). Harman calls this ether the “glue of the universe,” that which “binds macrocosm and microcosm alike” (p. 93). The ether provides this glue despite the fact that nothing ever really touches anything else, since all anything else can really feel is the pain or pleasure of the bleeding wound of quaternal crucification.

Carl Jung, from the Red Book

Harman outs himself as an occasionalist metaphysician, though he claims his recapitulation of this traditionally theological position can succeed without theology. Whitehead’s God function is, ultimately, what allows everything in the universe to touch. Whitehead assumes the cosmic solidarity provided by God’s Love is just as powerful, and metaphysically relevant, as the creative differentiation achieved by finite occasions. Finite occasions do withdraw from each other in Whitehead’s system, making them distinct individuals; but this private subjectivity is only a single phase in concrescence, a partial description of the fully crucified occasion known as a banana. For Harman, it is never just a banana, but a complexio oppositorum between a real banana, a sensual banana, a real banana’s qualities, and a sensual banana’s qualities. For Whitehead, the concrescence of any given banana-occasion into ONE banana also includes God, whose Love transfigures the ongoing inner life of the occasion into something cosmic, lifting it from the deadly cross of private time and space into the etheric dimension of universal feeling. Harman leaves out God and so of course ends up seeing radiant vacuums everywhere instead of little Christs. But perhaps the difference is merely nominal.



12 responses to “Harman’s Crucified Objects and Whitehead’s God: More on Withdrawal”

  1. stefan Avatar

    great post Matt.

  2. stefan Avatar

    no idea why I called you Matt, I don’t even know you. apologies. still love the post.

  3. Jason Hills Avatar
    Jason Hills

    Good post.

  4. Leon Avatar

    This is a stretch, but it hit me once you mentioned the “deep floor” of being. If you have read my book or know anything about how the terms natura naturans or natura naturata are used, it seems that the “first” banana would subsist on the “other side” of that ontological difference.

    I just wonder whether relations have meaning there on that “other side” of the divide. If objects are truly individuated and contain or subsist in their own “private” reality, then either each object *is* its own pre-emergent world if there are no relations or the object’s relations are part of it (contained intrinsically only at this “point”) as it is in some sort of heterogeneous momentum (tendency).

    Just riffing here, but what do you think?


    1. Matthew David Segall Avatar

      Hey Leon,

      I’m not sure what I think… this is getting rather abstract. My point in the above post was to suggest that Whitehead’s scheme allows for both a moment of privacy for every occasion and a “perfectly definite bond” (P&R, p. 41) between all occasions in the universe. Harman has left out the bond because he has left out God.

  5. Leon Avatar

    Just to clarify the above. I suppose I am asking, “When do relations *begin*?” if the object itself is truly individuated in an *absolutely* private reality. Relations would have to be contained intrinsically, but then the meaning of the term would be lost. Contained as a power or potential, a hunger perhaps for empathy and outward bonds? Or collapsing back in on itself continually while the relations subsist merely as embers of possible connection.


    1. Jason Hills Avatar
      Jason Hills

      This is something that Leon and I have been discussing. Let me say it more strongly. How is an object *not* just a pre-emergent world. Ian dropped by my blog and gave a hint of how he gets around that (promiscuity). We already have Levi’s answer (dynamic systems/autopoetic), so what’s Harman’s?

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