Anontology 2: Ontology Without Objects

Readers may be curious why I have couched the concept dark matter, which is an avowedly ontological concept (or rather, a non-ontological or anontological concept), in such blatantly epistemological language – judgment, determinability, the ‘unknown unknown’, et cetera. Am I simply referring to a version of the Kantian indeterminate object = x, and so on?

I’ll answer in two ways: the first a short, too easy answer, and the second one that gets at my basic concern or contention with ‘object-oriented philosophy’, and with (philosophical) ontology in general.

The short answer is that I intend this talk of judgment and determinability not in the narrow sense of human cognition, but more broadly as shorthand for inter-object relations. So dark matter is akin to the Kantian x, but only for the kind of ‘Kantianism of objects’ that Graham has championed. An existential judgment, in this sense, need not involve cognition, but only some kind of inter-object interaction or relation.

In order for a given object to relate to or interact with another, that other object must exist in some capacity or degree, even if we grant that this capacity is null before said interaction. So a ‘judgment’ that a thing exists or exists in such-and-such a degree is made not simply by humans, but also by other objects: a leaf ‘judges’ sunlight to exist when it absorbs it via photosynthesis, et cetera.

This of course makes dark matter as a hypothetical object difficult to pin down: can objects really form hypotheses about other objects that ‘may or may not exist’? This is my point however. Dark matter as unspecified can neither be said to interact with objects, and hence to be deemed existent through these interactions; nor can it be said to not interact with objects, and hence be non-existent in view of said interactions. The point is not simply that we do not know if dark matter has relations; the point is that the objects don’t ‘know’ either. Dark matter is akin to the neutrino, passing right through objects without any registration by the latter. Hence, judgment cannot be passed.

The second answer leads me back to a contention I had earlier raised with object-oriented philosophy, namely, why should we assume that the real as it exists apart from human beings has an objectal form? Why is the Real made up of objects? Graham rejected this criticism by claiming that such skepticism regarding objectality leads us either to anti-realism of some sort, or to posit the real as made up of an indivisible ‘formless lump’ onto which humans impose individual objectality, or of a pre-individual field of intensive variations that ‘crystallize’ into actual objects.

Whatever the value of these realist alternatives to object-realism, this nonetheless missed my point. I am no more trying to restrict humanity from any possible knowledge of the Real than I am trying to offer an alternative picture of it. My point is that all of these options – the reality of individual objects, of a formless unity, of an intensive spatium, or of noumena as unknowable but thinkable – simultaneously posit the Real as separate from thought, and nonetheless bind it to a given conceptual articulation.

Objectality, unity, intensity, unknowability – these are all concepts. If we are to hold to the rejection of correlationism characteristic of Speculative Realism, we must altogether abandon images of the Real that bind it to a concept, and instead posit that the Real is already given without concept. Philosophy cannot determine the mode of existence of the Real as it is apart from thought, because existence itself is still a determination of thought, through the concept. Non-philosophy properly begins by accepting this essential limitation of philosophy, and instead claiming that it is not thought that may (or may not) determine the Real, it is the Real that determines thought (in-the-last-instance).

So when Levi says:

The minimal condition for whether or not a philosophy counts as “realist” can be found in what that philosopher thinks can be said of a world in which all humans and rational animals have ceased to exist. Here the dividing line is not between whether or not the philosopher holds that a world independent of humans exists, but rather whether or not certain entities known by humans would exist as they exist even if humans did not exist…

he nonetheless betrays that for his onticology, the Real itself is amenable to concepts, to human thought. Even if the world is indifferent to its ‘being thought’ by humans at any given time, it is nonetheless still essentially bound to conceptual determinability.

My point here is not that the Real would fundamentally change if thought were to vanish, nor that the Real exists in some unthinkable form beyond thought. The thought of objects is not some ‘mere appearance’ of a greater Reality. My point is that the Real is neither genuinely thinkable nor unthinkable, but foreclosed to thought; it cannot be contained by either concept (thinkable or unthinkable), but eludes this decisional dyad. Both thinkability and unthinkability are modes of givenness, positing the Real as given in one or another concept. But for non-philosophy, the Real is already given-without-givenness; it is indifferent to either concept.

It is in this sense that anontology is a non-conceptual or non-philosophical realism. It is a realism that claims not that objects without humans would continue to exist as they did for humans, nor the contrary; ‘object’ and ‘existence’ are both conceptual determinations, but the Real is already given without such conceptual determinations.

I realize I might sound like a bit of a broken record, so let me sharpen my critical distance from Levi’s realism. For him, objects exist, and we may have access to the way objects exist, but this access does not determine said mode of existence. My claim is that both ‘object’ and ‘existence’ are themselves determinations of thought that posit the Real as given in such a way. It is pointless to say the Real would still be given in this way, in this mode of givenness, because this still poses a bilateral correspondence of Real and concept which does not hold for the Real itself.

In other words, Levi’s position that modes of existence are indifferent to thought, even while they are thinkable, misses the point that mode-of-existence is itself a thought or determination of thought. It posits that the concept is sufficient to the Real, even if the Real is not determined by this concept. But this still amounts to a certain autonomous sufficiency of the concept. Our claim is that concepts are only relatively autonomous, determined by the absention of the Real without-concept.

Anontology seeks this Real without-concept, and this obliges us to admit that the Real is foreclosed to conceptualization; i.e., as soon as we use concepts, we lose the Real. Yet we can nonetheless adopt a symbol that, without conceptualizing the Real, acts as a stand-in or marker for the fact of its foreclosure, which would amount to the suspension of the sufficiency of concepts. Far from ruining conceptuality or philosophy, this opens up a new creative power for philosophy.

Ontology as anontology is no longer required to be an autonomous determination of the Real; it is no longer required to be sufficient to its object or to speak authoritatively of its object. It posits ontology as determined by its object, but not determining of this object. The various conceptual articulations of the Real thereby become a material within which we can enact the foreclosure of that Real, and thereby posit the relative autonomy of ontology and ontological concepts, suspending their authoritative claims to sufficiency while nonetheless opening them to an ‘improper use’.

To summarize, I think Levi’s shift from epistemological to ontological philosophy misses the fact that they are always co-implicated. Ontology always relies on a conceptual determination of the Real, even if we allow the Real to possess these determinations in-itself. Non-philosophy suspends the dyadic co-implication of epistemology and ontology, of thought and Real or concept and object, and extracts the Real itself as indifferent to this dyad, not determined by it but unilaterally determining of it. Anontology is the product of this operation, it is ontology deprived of its authority and reduced to a material for thought, no longer a law for the Real.

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8 Responses to Anontology 2: Ontology Without Objects

  1. kvond says:

    Planomenology: “My point is that the Real is neither genuinely thinkable nor unthinkable, but foreclosed to thought; it cannot be contained by either concept (thinkable or unthinkable), but eludes this decisional dyad.”

    Kvond: I don’t know if this is of interest to you, because I do not yet follow the full scope of your proposed argument, but this distinction beyond distinction is an essential point made by Plotinus’s Neoplatonism, which is that the One is beyond distinction, and it is not until it expresses itself in the first hypostasis as Nous, Intellection, that such things as “thinkable” or “non-thinkable” or “being” or “nonbeing” come into play. The One does not even have Being, under this consideration.

    Derrida crticized this kind of Neoplatonic Negative Theology (as it was expressed in Pseudo-Dionysius), as a way of trying to back door Being to a hyperstate, but there is a question whether this criticism has traction.

    I like your idea of using a symbol for the stand in of this hyper-state, something which refers to something over and beyond and a fundamental ground. In a sense, this is all that we can do, assume the surplus.

  2. reidkane says:

    I’m certainly interested. I wonder what influence, if any, Plotinus had on Laurelle. From your description of the former, they certainly seem close in some respects.

  3. Pingback: Dark Matter Again « Larval Subjects .

  4. kvond says:

    Planomenology,

    I don’t know Laurelle well at all, but it would be hard to assess this unless from Laurelle himself, as Plotinus’s influence upon philosophy is incrediblely defused such that you only find lasting traces. For instance he made Augustine a panpsychist to help defeat the Gnostic-type heresies of spirit/matter dualisms, and a version of his Neoplatonism continued through the para-Christian authorship of Pseuod-Dionysius, who also carried these notions through the Medieval Ages with some authority. He was translated into Latin by Scholastic heavy-weight Duns Scotus in the 9th century, bringing the notion of gradated hierarchies to the nominalist/realist debate, apparently influencing Spinoza.

    I see something of the same Plotinus conceptual influence in Badiou’s count-as-one, though have no idea if this is an influence or a coincidence.

    The general notion though that the Unity of Being actually is beyond the reach of Nous intellection, and therefore is aconceptual was a fairly widespread assumption of many Christian mystical and arational movements.

  5. Quick question Reid (and I really appreciate the work you’re doing on Laruelle) — you talk about anontology enabling the suspense of claims to conceptual sufficiency, and thereby opening up the creative potentials of “improper use”… but how does this actually operate? I understand Laruelle in a schematic form in terms of his critique of philosophy, (which seems entirely accurate) but its the development of a productive positive project out of the critique which I have yet to grasp! So ok, we invert the usual relation between ontology and its object (the real), thereby allowing ontology to be determined BY the real, rather than the other way around- but how does this work out in practice? I’m thinking specifically in terms of a post-Laruellian aesthetics, seeking to avoid the usual tyranny of philosophy which obviates the actuality of the object in favour of “readings” which tell us nothing except how the particular philosophical system itself operates. I take it it is not simply the case that in suspending claims to authority that we acknowledge this insufficiency?

    • reidkane says:

      Alex,

      Believe me, I’m not much better off than you in the department of ‘practical non-philosophy’. Unfortunately, the vast bulk of the work Laurelle and his compatriots are doing in this direction is untranslated, and I don’t have the French to even begin approaching it.

      So I’ve been trying to figure it out on my own. The two directions I’ve been taking it in are that of Agamben’s messianic utopianism, especially in his readings of St. Paul and Benjamin (hence the discussion of abandon and improper use), on the one hand, and on the other that of a rigorous practicable formulation of schizoanalysis. I’m only beginning down those roads however.

      I’m especially unsure in the aesthetics department, as it’s not my area of philosophical expertise. The most basic explanation I can give, though, involves adjoining to the conceptual machineries of suspended philosophical decisions a kind of theoretical prosthetic that enacts the foreclosure of the Real, or that embodies the ‘hole in the conceptual’ that decision puts under erasure (although I don’t think Laurelle would agree with this kind of Lacanian locution). This symbolic prosthetic would function similarly to the Lacanian drive-object which, rather than the ‘already lost’ object of fantasy, embodies the loss itself.

      Practically speaking, this amounts to more than a simply refutation of philosophical authority, and points towards a kind of collective project, on the basis of the circulation of such a symbol and instantiation of such a transcendental organon (abstract machine?), of solidarity in abandon by the Real. This project would seek to appropriate the ‘deactivated’ or unauthorized conceptual machines for the purposes of a universal promulgation of itself (universal in regards to social bodies, but also heterogeneous theoretical fields, practical projects (artistic, political, etc). Unfortunately, I can’t get much more concrete than that. I mean, I can sketch out what I think this would look like or how it would work, what it can do, etc, but theoretically that’s about as far as I understand it.

      I’ll try to clarify this a little further in response to your other comment.

  6. Kate says:

    I’ve been trying to get a grasp on what Laruelle is saying but it wasn’t until I read this that it made any sense to me! Thank you for clarifying his project. I guess one question remains and that is why does Laruelle use such obscure language? Perhaps this is part of his effort to mathematize or scientize philosophy, to replace the grasping at meaning with a theoretical rigor?

    • reidkane says:

      Kate,

      I’m glad to help! I’m currently working on a series of posts that will attempt to clarify the non-phi vocabulary, so look out for those. As for why Laurelle is so constantly obscure and jargon-laden, I can’t really say for sure. Brassier suggests it is methodological, attempting to break with traditional philosophical discourse and syntax. It’s probably also to some extent stylistic; I know I was initially attracted to Laurelle in part by his obscure language, although I’m a bit of a masochist in that way. I think that theoretical rigor is probably the best explanation though: he is trying to invent a thoroughly alien language – alien to philosophy and the world in general – so as to avoid explaining philosophy in philosophical terms. All I can say is that wading through the obscurity certainly pays off, and the vocabulary does become more fluid and intuitive with use and study.

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