Sunday, October 16, 2011

More on Bryant's OOO

Here is more from our ongoing IPS discussion of OOO and Bryant, from p. 11 of that thread:


Given several discussions of late about contradiction and complimentarity the following from chapter 2.2 is interesting:

“It is a peculiar characteristic of substances that they are non-dialectical. As Aristotle remarks, '[a]nother characteristic of substances is that there is nothing contrary to them'. [60] Beginning with Hegel, dialectic takes on two meanings that are distinct but often conflated with one another. First, and especially in a Marxist context, dialectic can be taken to refer to thinking that is specifically relational in character. Marx, for example, shows how commodities can only exist in certain social formations characterized by wage labor and capitalism. Later, in our discussion of regimes of attraction and exo-relations we will see how some notion of dialectic in this relational sense can be retained with respect to local manifestations. Second, dialectic can be taken to mean a thinking of relation in terms of contraries and contradictions that are sublated in ever greater wholes or totalities. While onticology readily recognizes the existence of antagonisms, it sees no reason to see antagonisms as the equivalent to contraries or contradictions.

“Substances are not defined by contraries or opposites, but simply are what they are. This, of course, is not to suggest that substances do not come into being or that they cannot pass out of being, only that they do not admit of opposed or contrary terms. An individual ncane toad does not have an opposite. Rather, if there is contrariety, it exists only in the domain of qualities. Later, when discussing local manifestation and virtual proper being we will see that there is reason to doubt that contrariety is a genuine ontological category. Insofar as substances are not constituted by their relations, insofar as relations are not internal to their terms, it follows that substances cannot be dialectical in either the relational sense or the sense of contrariety. Contrariety, if it exists, exists at the level of qualities, not substances. It is only through an erasure of substances, through a reduction of substances to their qualities, through the gesture of actualism as discussed in the last chapter, that it can be supposed that substance is dialectical.”

And the following from chapter 2.3 explains that such dialectics arises within the epistemic fallacy. It is interesting to note how much of “what is given in experience” is indeed the basis for most (post)modern philosophy, even its more embodied and enactive kinds, as well as in the 'observer in the observed' varieties. This is truly a radical break with all of that.

Locke, Kant, Hume and much of the subsequent philosophical tradition ends up where they do precisely because they fall into what Bhaskar calls the 'epistemic fallacy' and actualism, confusing questions of our access to beings with questions of what beings are. Beginning with the actualist thesis borne out of a desire for secure foundations (i.e., a desire secondary to the demands of ontology), they restrict discourse to what is given in experience. They then find that they are unable to account for the furniture of the universe precisely because substance is that which withdraws from any givenness, experience, or, indeed, actuality. As such, substance is not something that can anywhere be found in experience—no one has ever seen or experienced, I contend, a single substance—but is rather an irreducible ontological premise necessary if our commerce with the world and experimental activity is to be intelligible. The existence of substance is not something that can be arrived at through an experience or a direct observation, but can only be arrived at as a premise through transcendental argumentation. When we adopt the actualist gesture of restricting knowledge to what is directly given in experience, this way of reaching substance is irrevocably foreclosed.”

As to what is 'transcendental argument,' recall from chapter 1.2:

“As Deleuze reminds us, the transcendental is not to be confused with the transcendent.[19] The transcendent refers to that which is above or beyond something else. For example, God, if it exists, is perhaps transcendent to the world. The transcendental, by contrast, refers to that which is a condition for some other practice, form of cognition, or activity.... Too often questions of the transcendental have been confused with questions of the transcendent. The point, however, is that transcendental questions are questions about what renders a particular practice or activity possible. Transcendental questions are questions of what a particular practice requires to take place and refer to what is immanent to these practices.

“Additionally it should be noted that transcendental questions are not foundationalist in character. Transcendental questions do not seek an absolutely secure and unassailable foundation for knowledge or practice, but merely ask, 'given such and such a practice, what must be the case in order for this practice to be possible?' As such, transcendental inquiry sidesteps the epistemological project inaugurated by Descartes and so compellingly critiqued by Hume, by disavowing the project of seeking for an absolute foundation for knowledge.”

Also recall Bryant's article (linked on p. 7) using Derrida's transcendental argument of iteration. One relevant passage:

“Derrida’s thesis is thus that every 'sign' contains within it the possibility of breaking with the context in which it emerged, such that it can fall into other and different contexts.... It is only where entities are autonomous and independent substances that they can exceed and escape their context. What Derrida articulates in this passage is a variation of Aristotle’s concept of primary substances; for the very being of primary substance is to exceed and be detachable from every context.... There is no reason, therefore, to restrict this property of iterability to signs. Iterability or the ability to break with all and any context, is an essential feature of every entity such that every entity harbors a volcanic excess over every context.”


At this point, I still struggle with -- and find hard to accept -- the idea that something like a blue mug has an essential/substantial mugness wholly independent of all relationships.  For instance, 'mug' is a conventional designation -- and an instrumental one.  It doesn't make sense to me to speak of there being a special, unique (if ever-elusive) mug-substance.  To call it 'mug,' to me, is already to define the object relationally.

With that said, since I've returned to SpinbitZ and have started reading around in it again, as I mentioned the other day that I would, I am wondering if there is a possible relationship between the OOO discussion of substance and Prigogine's notion of 'active matter' -- the idea that matter has "infinite depth of detail" ("infinite depth, activity and modification") (p. 184).


Yes, recall the following from a prior forum post:

"In the later collaboration between Deleuze and Guttari, the writings of Ilya Prigogine become increasingly important. Prigogine, whose book La nouvelle alliance appeared in 1979, argues for a self-ordering of chemical components into patterns and relationships that cannot be read off from the previous state of chemical disarray.... It is not the introduction of some sort of ordering mechanism that makes the chemical clock appear. It is an inherent capability of the chemicals themselves for self-organization that gives rise to this phenomenon. It is as though there were virtual potentialities for communication or coordination contained in the chemicals themselves, or at least in their groupings, that are actualized under conditions that move away from equilibrium."

Also see DeLanda's chapter 23 in The Speculative Turn. For example:

"The mechanism-independence of singularities implies...that they can become divergently actualized in many different material mechanisms.... The view of the material world that emerges from these considerations is...rather an active matter endowed with its own tendencies and capacities, engaged in its own divergent, open-ended evolution, animated from within by immanent patterns of being and becoming" (392).

The following from Bryant's referenced article helps me to understand his notion of the object:

"Substances are negentropic unities whose identity consists in their operations through which they produce themselves across time. As such, they evolve, change, and mutate in all sorts of ways. The terms 'substance', 'process', and 'dynamic systems' are all synonyms within the framework of my onticology."

Hence the use of Luhmann, as well as D&G who were influenced by Prigogine.

From Bryant's article referring to the mug:

"The power of the mug to produce various colors both never manifests itself and is infinitely inexhaustible—even for God –such that any color the mug 'does' is an effect of the mug’s withdrawn powers. As a consequence, the withdrawn dimension of objects, the pure past, or virtual proper being of substances must be thought as potency or the potentiality to be actualized otherwise or differently under different conditions."

My mind, wyrd as it is, associates this with the old porn movie Debbie Does Dallas. My contemporary philosophical version is now Mug Does Blue. How promiscuous!
To counter the Bo(h)rg, resistance is not only not futile but a necessary condition of autonomy. From


"The word we most commonly use for this withdrawal is 'resistance'. There is always something in the object that refuses or resists complete integration by the other object." *

He then goes into Derrida on interation of the sign (referenced above), a possible response to Balder's point on the mug as a relational sign.

* Also referenced somewhere above, see my discussion of how parts are not completely subsumed in any whole, and how nested hierarchies with their hegemonic and transcendent properties are unaware of ( or ignore or reduce via straw) this sort of critique.

Bryant: "By the same token, however, we only ever encounter substances in and through their local manifestations as worldly testament to a ghostly and subterranean substantiality that forever slips between our fingers."


Am I wrong that a mug is not a negentropic unity? By this definition, it seems that an autopoietic system would be a 'substance,' but not an artifact like a mug.


Good point. He goes into the difference between auto- and allopoetic machines, which differ in ways yet are the same in some ways. I'm not yet clear on the differences but the mug is obviously (seemingly, anyway) allopoetic, yet has 'substance' nonetheless. Not sure yet on how he answers your question.


  1. Bryant mostly accepts Varela's ideas about the difference between allo- and autopoietic objects, i.e., that the latter "produce their own elements and strive to maintain their organization over time" (4.3). The former are ‘produced,’ like a mug. But what they have in common is that they both have a boundary which distinguishes them from their environments. Therefore this boundary sets the parameters for an object's limited interface with its environment and thus defines it as such. Hence both undergo 'actualizations' in relationships with said environment yet both maintain their autonomy via their boundary and thus both have ‘substance’ in this way. It’s only when we view substance as some kind of metaphysical entity beyond the structural limitations imposed by said boundaries that it seems odd to say a mug has substance. Bryant is trying hard not to confuse that definition, as he seems to be doing a good job for me, at least, as I don’t see his object substance as the same or similar to “invisible, ethereal (completely non-detectable) unicorns.”

    The non-metaphysical withdrawn aspect only seems to suggest that an object, including artifacts like a mug, can manifest or actualize in myriad ways depending on context, and that such manifestations are if not infinite then certainly quite various. He is only trying to account for such multiplicity of expression, trying to ascertain what ‘transcendental’ condition makes it possible that this is the case. Given that we cannot exhaust the possible contexts that might indeed change how a mug actualizes then perhaps there is an inexhaustible ‘substance’ to it that ever recedes from view during any particular manifestation? To support this he brings in Spencer-Brown’s ideas that when a distinction is created, like an object’s boundaries, there is always an unmarked and unknowable space. This seems to apply not to just what is outside the boundary but to its inside core (see khorons). He also brings in Derrida’s interation, above, showing how even an artifact like a sign (word) has multiple meanings depending on context, yet retains autonomy in that it isn’t equivalent to any other word. It retains its ‘substance’ but yet such substance is not something that ever completely enters into presence, always retaining a hidden aspect or unmarked space that remains open via a potential to manifest in as yet unknown contexts.

    Or something like that?

  2. Also consider that 'active matter' in most cases is allopoietic, yet has inherent 'powers' of substance as explored on p. 11 of this thread. I'm also reminded of the kennilingus categories of sentient and insentient holons, and Edwards' critique thereof.* See particularly the section on heaps and the secret life of dust. Just a snip on heaps:

    "To specialists on aquatic, geological, or desert environments, the seemingly inert and randomly assembled entities such as puddles/ponds, sand dunes/beaches, or piles of dirt/rocks may each be regarded as a complete holonic ecosystem in themselves (again see Brian Eddy's very insightful remarks on this issue). And this criticism may be extended to every 'thing' that might be defined as a heap under the holonic category system."


  3. From Spinbitz:*

    "Active matter...has the property of infinite depth, activity and modification....[therefore] no finitely detailed law, equation, generalization or set of initial conditions (i.e., no principle of the same) can absolutely predict or determine the outcome of any sufficiently complex event.

    "Spinoza acknowledges, in the world we see around us, many things seem to be contingent—or merely possible, and not necessary. That is, it seems that things don’t have to be the way that they are… In fact, Spinoza goes on to say, every particular thing in the world is contingent when considered solely with respect to its own nature" (184-5).

    However Bryant might disagree with Joel in that substances “do not admit of opposed or contrary terms ….if there is contrariety, it exists only in the domain of qualities” (p. 11 of this thread).


  4. More from the IPS discussion:


    It depends, perhaps, on how you're framing this: are you talking about contrareity among substances, or are you talking about what might be the opposite of the category of substance altogether? Regarding the former, I believe my point to Tom recently was similar: a tree (an OOO substance) does not have a polar opposite, the way a quality like bright or heavy or solid does. But with that said, is it still possible, when discussing substance as a category, to conceive of a polar opposite of substance? What is not-substance?


    Bryant uses a similar example, saying the ncane toad has no opposite. Yet in the quotes on p. 11 he admits that there is contrareity in local manifestations and qualities, so as a category there is a distinction between substance and not substance. But it seems these 'opposite' categories do not have to be 'in relation,' i.e., the substance can exist without ever entering into a local manifestation or relationships. He seems to be saying that assuming the latter is the epistemic fallacy, which reduces the ontological autonomy of substances.

    Put another way, what is/are the condition(s) necessary to make categories possible, and do such conditions themselves partake of opposition? Which of course reminds me of khora.*



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