I am slowly trying to catch up with what Graham Harman’s object-oriented ontology (OOO) is all about. Yesterday I read his review of Manuel DeLanda’s ontology of which I am much more familiar with. Harman is very positive to DeLanda’s ontology since he considers DeLanda to be one of few realists within continental philosophy which is dominated by idealism. Hence, “if Zizek [a major influence in for example microarchaeology] marks one frank extreme of contemporary continental thought, DeLanda represents the other” (p. 370).
DeLanda marks the emergence of “neomaterialism” and “neorealism.” What is new here than? Well, in the old fashioned realism that people find to be outdated is that there is an arbitrary division between natural substance (nature) and artificial aggregate (culture). DeLanda replaces these with assemblage that covers all real entities such as computers, mosquitoes, EU, galaxies, bottles, etc. I have repeatedly discussed the concept of assemblage on this blog. There is no longer a dialectical model of interaction between things. Relations are external to their terms (p. 371).
There are no essences in DeLanda’s assemblages. Individual assemblages are instead defined by morphogenetic processes. It is here we begin to see the difference between Harman and DeLanda. Harman argues that DeLanda, since he is a Deleuzian, moves away from the concrete individual toward a previous historical trajectory of emergence (p. 372). The individual is just a momentary actualization of a long process. Harman argues that DeLanda’s ontology therefore also is designed to oppose actualism which is the view that reality only consists of things here and now. Hence, DeLanda “celebrates the flow of genesis over fully formed individuals” (p. 373). DeLanda emphasizes phase spaces, attractors, bifurcations, topological invariants, which lie outside the individuals of the populations that embody them (p. 375). For DeLanda, “individuals become sterile crystallizations atop a dynamic genetic process or pre-individual virtuality” (p. 376).
However, as Harman (p. 373) rightly points out, “real things lose most of their histories…” If a thing’s whole history was preserved in the present its emergence would not be able to break with the forces that made it emerge. Harman suggests that we should attempt to escape relationism rather than actualism. He wishes to “establish a new model of individual entities as free of all relation, and hence as cut off from each other and from their own histories” (p. 374). He argues that DeLanda wrongly claims that “since individual entities are always actual, they are also always relational…” (p. 379). For Harman actualism and relationism need not be the same. Objects are actuals since they are individuals rather than disembodied topological invariants. Harman seeks to “develop a new theory of specific objects: withdrawn from their constituent parts and environmental wholes, yet somehow managing to engage in causal interactions with those neighbors anyway” (p. 380).
I still have not made my mind up whether or not process or object best describes reality. As archaeologists we often try to see the relations an object has had in the past. What we do get are snapshots, actuals if we want, here and there. These snapshots are separated by vast temporal (and sometimes spatial) voids. In my Licentiate thesis I claimed that such snapshots were part of a discontinuous duration a la Bachelard. In my Doctoral thesis I focused on continuous duration a la Bergson or the modified version by Deleuze. My earlier approach may actually fit OOO better than my current focus on morphogenetic trajectories of various assemblages (causeways and caves). I need to know more about OOO’s view of time and change.
Harman, Graham (2008). DeLanda’s ontology: assemblage and realism. Cont Philos Rev 41:367-383.