Friday, February 24, 2012

Immanence AND Transcendence: Response to A-Theology

Recently, Levi Bryant of Larval Subjects posted on “A-theology” per the subject of immanence and transcendence.  Matt of Footnotes to Plato responded.

To both of these gentlemen, who are on opposite sides on many issues, I ask the question

Immanent to what? 

Why must we sling around a relational term without explaining the relateds?

I respond that the answer is “nature.”  But then I say that nature is both immanent and transcendent … to itself.  How?  Nature is generative, and time and chance are real.

I presume that Matt knows this angle and neglected to mention it, as he has posted much on this.  Levi’s commitments are less clear, and I will respond to him in the remainder of this post.  In short, my comments amount to the statement, “but almost no one holds the positions that he is against!”  The reader should not be lead into thinking that Levi’s opponents actually hold the positions that he launches a polemic against, because they do not.

First, his description of “immanence” and “transcendence” is partial, and he knows this, so I am just drawing attention to a few points that his readers might overlook and that make his claims problematic.  His insistence on “immanence” implying “external relations” and “disjunctive diversity” never explains the problem of change, i.e., how change is possible.  It’s a basic logical problem that one falls into whenever one champions pure externality.  In fact, it seems very, very odd to be quoting Whitehead throughout that section, as Whitehead would never agree with that view.  Second, he appears to then embrace internal relations when discussing “entropy” despite his insistence that it is “opposite of the logic of conjunction found in holisms.
This is where I remind the reader that western philosophies that maintained pure internal relations disappeared nearly a century ago, and thus Levi is not targeting serious contemporary discussions.  I add “serious” because we should be able to find a people people still maintaining a simplistic doctrine.  To forestall the obvious, no, Western process thought and Buddhism are not doctrines of “pure internal relations.”  Process thought was never that, and Buddhist views are far more nuanced depending on the school.

The problem that is most obvious to me about Levi’s view is its atemporality and this its myopic view of transcendence.  Like “internal relations,” relatively few philosophers would accept his definition of “transcendence;” he’s targeting a minority segment that may not even represent his interlocutors.  When he discusses transcendence, he engages in mereology again, and I presume that his understanding of mereology, especially when it comes to temporality, is too simplistic.  I see little recognition of constitutive part-whole relations, e.g., of the sort made famous in Hegel’s phenomenology.  But let me move on to my last point on temporality rather than be mired down.

While the existence of entities as such is independent, it is at best only independent from an atemporal point of view.  Time and change are two sides of the same coin.  Seen from a temporal (historical) standpoint, entities’ existence as such is not independent, because any entity is not self-sufficient in its own being over time.  It might appear like that from an atemporal perspective.  Pointing out that objects are dynamic systems, autopoetic, etc. does not solve this problem.  This is why I have not been supportive of object-oriented ontologies; it’s neo-substance talk with so many bells and whistles that distract from the fact that it does not resolve the classical counter-arguments against substance metaphysics, e.g., the problem of change and temporality.  Harman has a solution to this that is clearly worked out, in which case it is just creatively implausible.  Levi can do no better than Harman, no matter all his appropriations from other philosophies, until he deals with this problem.  This is why so many OOO bloggers jumped onto the idea of contingent withdrawal some weeks ago; it’s a recognition of the problem.

Some advice.  Start by working the problem of temporality and be sure not to spatialize time.  Moreover, embrace asymmetric mereological relations, e.g., meditate upon Hegel, which will help understand where recent views of temporality are coming from.  And bring me a hamburger and fries while I am busy pontificating.

Apologies that I cannot be more detailed in my discussion, as I lack the time.  Regardless, I'm not really saying anything new.  What I say just does not appear to stick.

1 comment:

  1. A footnote. Levi's latest post (2/27/12) could be construed as a response to the questions here and posted elsewhere in the blogosphere as a reaction to his Post. Levi patiently explains his well-established views about the generativity of objects using the metaphor of "machines" and reference to Deleuze and Guattari. It's a good post, and in very different terms many of my own views coincide with what he expresses despite a wide guld in background. However, it does not address the issues detailed here. Hence, for anyone thinking of construing his response as a response to the ongoing discussion, it is not, though it may never have intended to be. To be clear, I do not think he intends it to be.


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