I’m getting set to read Tim Morton’s continent essay on objects as autonomous zones. In Plastic Bodies, the book, I think of objects in one aspect as having what I call “fleeting autonomy” and “temporary immunity,” so I’m quite keen to know how Tim’s neurons are firing on this issue. Report forthcoming.
There is audio of the recent ‘Real Objects or Material Subjects?’ conference at Dundee (March 2010) available at Daily Humiliation. Hallward, Harman, Johnston, and Williams talk about objects, matter, subjects, and related metaphysical issues.
Thanks to Graham Harman for alerting me.
There are posts here and here by Larval Subjects that are no doubt attuned to my interest in granting autonomy to objects while at the same time claiming that (sensuous) relationality is constitutive of identity. Indeed, L.S. is an obvious ally for many reasons, I am slowly learning. Given that so much of my time is devoted to the dissertation and teaching, I’m doing my best catch up with his thinking, and I fear that some of my posts will merely be echoes. That’s a disclaimer.
Be a Spinozist: ‘Children are Spinozists,” Deleuze and Guattari tell us in A Thousand Plateaus. This means, in part, that they tend to apprehend objects as assemblages, rather than as beings whose functions are specifically determined by nature (organic) or craftsmanship (inorganic). Objects are what their relations enable them to be; they are whatever they can link up with. This does not mean that objects are merely their relations. It implies that objects are imbued with more power than their substantial form contains. Is this power really possessed by the object or does its relations determine its power? Analytic metaphysicians debate this question, I have found out recently. This is a great question, a Spinozist question. In any case, the child more readily discerns possible connections, aggregates, and therefore thinks of the world of objects in terms of machines instead of organs. They don’t ask, What is the chair? They ask: What is a chair? The difference here is the difference between asking for the genus and specific difference of a chair or asking after the Form of chair, and asking what a chair can do. Not what is it made to do, but what can it do? For Spinoza this is understood as affective capacity–the capacity to affect and be affected by other objects/bodies. Children are especially adept at cataloguing the affective capacity of objects, and in virture of this their method of organization (their taxonomy) is more concrete, keyed into the imperceptible forces that join bodies into composites or tear bodies apart from one another. Children are neither Aristotelian nor phenomenologist.
Reading Calvino’s Under the Jaguar Sun, a passage on taste prompted the idea that taste has a peculiar aspect to it that vision does not: taste lacks adumbrations or profiles. Of course, it has depth and complexity. Just think about the way a sommelier will describe the flavor of a specific wine: he or she will identify the qualitative identity or style of the wine. When you taste a mouthful of wine, you taste the whole of the wine. In fact, when you and another person taste the same wine, you are both tasting the entirety of the wine. It is not the same physical bit of liquid that you taste; the liquid that touches you rather than another person gives you a different profile of the liquid as such, which must be divided and shared. The taste, however, cannot be divided: it is shared, but paradoxically shared at once in its entirety.
Vision cannot apprehend the object in its entirety in a glance. Merleau-Ponty tells us that we perceive things, not profiles of things. Our body knows that when it sees the front of a cup, the back of the cup is there too; the cup can be picked up. But of course we do not see the back of the cup, we apperceive it. The existence of the back of the cup can be confirmed by turning it around or circumnavigating the object. That is, we can build up the complete cup through the series of profiles it presents to vision. Moreover, two persons cannot see the same profile simultaneously. Taste, by contrast, cannot be built up from its profiles and can be experienced by a multiplicity of persons simultaneously. The fact that when we speak about seeing ‘the whole cup’ through one of its profiles we are equivocating with the term ‘seeing’ sheds light on the the way in which we literally taste the whole wine when it is in the mouth. Apperception is absent in taste.
All of the talk of profiles and adumbrations in phenomenology seems to pertain mostly, if not exclusively, to the visual realm (although touch seems to be adumbrated as well, but also to present phenomenal aspects absent from vision). Or rather, profiles pertain only to the formal aspects of objects, not their quality. The qualitative life of objects cannot be incorporated in the framework of adumbrated objects, but it nevertheless pertains to those objects. Perhaps what has been said about taste here is true of the sensation of color, too.