Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Anti-Monadology

I am responding to Levi Bryant's Latest on "Wilderness Ontology."

My Americanist (Peirce-Deweyan) take, rather than the self-reflexive analysis of the referent of analytic or continental, is to ask about how the thing is continuous with and constitutive of mind.  Mind is the late stage of a natural process that eventually becomes human, but was the rock, the earth, and the air before that.

Hence, the observed "sees" the human observer first, and we mistakenly reverse that order. But the observed can do that not because it is a "self-enclosed monad," but precisely for the opposite reason.  It is itself by virtue of what it is not.  If one can think this thought without reducing relationality to symmetry and efficient causality--I am not claiming that Levi does this--then they may begin to understand emergence or creativity as basic to nature.  Such creativity is not a monadic concept.

Is the rock anti-realist with respect to me?  No, its relations to me are as real as any other.  In fact, its relations with me are just as real as mine with it, and together we create my consciousness of it.  Moreover, the rock values me as I value it; it has its tendencies as much as I have mine, although my valuing has a notably different temporality.

Am I post-human?  Not really on my radar, but there's no less wilderness here.  Perhaps more, since I cannot shut it out.


  1. Anti-monAdology, perhaps?

  2. For those wondering where this is coming from, read my prior posts, e.g., the series starting with "The Twilight Moon and Radiant Heavens"

  3. I wonder what you think of the point Dewey makes about the "pervasive quality" of experience as background horizon for the appearance of objects? I believe his notion that experience is pervaded with the qualitative effervescence emanating from the world is a fundamental one. There is a directness in the experience of the background that acts as the context for punctuated forces such as "objects" to even appear to us. And when we trace this (immanent) context we find that no punctuated event (object) comes into being without the fundamental support and 'sustenance' of the cosmic/material/energetic and pre-individual processes which produced it.

    In my view, then, the "pervasiveness" and force of the general experience of humans anchors an awareness of the fact that the various potencies at work in the world strike us DIRECTLY in our constituent body minds (via particular "situations" as Dewey might put it), but only PARTIALLY because of our limited (yet affording) capacities for perception and translation.

    Regardless, I definitely like the idea of Dewey's thought seeping into the object/process debates.


  4. Not only do I have thoughts on this, but is is my precise research specialty; hence, it's my dissertation, many presentations, and some articles if the process ever speeds beyond a snail's pace.

    I have avoided blogging on my research before I publish it. I will respond later in more detail when I have a moment.

  5. Michael,

    I will presume some familiarity with Dewey and will be brief; I apologize for the little leaps of thought and would love to clarify later. Also, read many of my prior posts for the metaphysical side of what I discuss here.

    Much of my work is a unification of Dewey's theory of habit and his theory of experience qua pervasive quality and continuity. Along with Victor Kestenbaum, I will say that habits are "transcendental conditions" for the possibility of meaning, but only in the same way the neuronal paths and body-memory are "transcendental." The pervasive quality of experience is how human consciousness encodes its world, but since we are in and of the world, nature, there is nothing non-natural about it. Quality comes from the interaction of human nature and that bit of nature experienced. Recall that Dewey wrote:

    "There are two little words through the explication of which the empiricist’s position may be brought out—“as” and “that.” We may express [t]his presupposition by saying that things are what they are experienced as being; or that to give a just account of anything is to tell what that thing is experienced to be. By these words I want to indicate the absolute, final, irreducible and inexpungible concrete quale which everything experienced not so much has as is. To grasp this aspect of empiricism is to see what the empiricist means by objectivity, by the element of control" (MW 3:162-163; 78-79).

    Hence, a "quale" is something that the thing is, although qualitative experience is our encoding of these real properties, a collaborative extension of the thing. Only a Cartesian insists that the intellectual properties, e.g., substance, extension, etc., are the real ones. Moreover, The "object" is evoked by the act, yet not just our own act, but its acting on us as well. The body acts, has a bodily "intentionality" prior to any conscious intentionality. The object is an event in the procession of interaction between the human body and the thing(s). The "control" (of the act) are the bodily habits that we happen to have, which are principally due to nature and culture.

    Thomas Alexander parses the difference senses of "quality" (or immediacy) as follows, where consciousness as the “immediate awareness of meanings”:

    "is “involvement” with the environment in simply biological situations, and “interaction” or “brute existence” in simply physical ones. All situations therefore have “immediacy,” but only human situations have qualitative immediacy; likewise, all situations are mediated or related, but only human situations mean through their relations" (Horizons of Feeling).

    His point, which might not be clear out of context, is that "quality" is "interaction" or "brute existence" at one level, "involvement" at the next, and qualitative conscious experience at the next, yet each of these later levels includes the earlier as constitutive but non-identical.

    As I've said before, a pragmatic voice in the debate is able to say a lot of the same things without the decades of continental baggage (and benefits), and thus may reveal a lot of their implicit assumptions. Many of the SR peeps are already getting a trickle-down version from Deleuze qua Whitehead qua Peirce.

  6. Jason, that is fantastic! I was thinking the same in terms of immediacy and 'levels' of interactions. And when you thrown in "habits" - in the sense Dewey (and ultimately Hume) means - what you get are constant conjunctions of properties with consequence. And with understanding 'consequences' at an ontological register, we can then learn a bit more about how elemental properties lead to language and 'meaning' when assembled as particular matrices of action (human systems or 'things'), and through evolutionary/historical processes.

    I'll say more about all this on my Blog this week.

    It is exciting to find your work, as we seem to resting on the same insights towards similar ends.

    Have you allowed William Connolly or Jane Bennett's work into this mix?


  7. Thanks, Michael.

    Dewey does not mean "habit" in the sense that Hume means except on the superficial level. Dewey means it as derivative of Peirce, only thoroughly biologized and psychologized. See Kestenbaum on this, The Phenomenological Sense of John Dewey, that thinks this in conjunction with Merleau-Ponty. As for "constant conjunctions of properties with consequence," I'm not quite sure what you mean, as that is not familiar terminology in the scholarship or historic texts. Please do clarify, although you seem to be on the right track.

    I have never heard of William Connolly or Jane Bennett. When I looked them up, seeing that they were political scientists, it was not obvious what the connection was. Politics and Dewey, yes, but politics and pragmatic phenomenology, no. Do let me know.

    I work in the rather arcane and technical aspects, so I'm a bit of a nit-picker, if you'll excuse my asking for clarification. I'm trying to systematize Deweyan thought, which makes the Peirceans smile and the Deweyans cry.

  8. Levi's text, The Democracy of Objects, is now online. In a month or so I should have something to say about it--crunched for time. We've discussed jointly doing something, since he appears to be doing something notably different in OOO, and for my part, SR per its continental heritage might benefit from another process metaphysics voice that is not coming from Whitehead or Deleuze. That, and I like to get my hands dirty in all the arcane details, as my posts hint upon.