The Rhetorical Problem of Our Time

Equivocation.

I think I must give off a sort of Louis Theroux vibe. People on the most extreme fringes feel comfortable opening up to me for some reason, even as I make it clear that I’m not with them. This has given me the opportunity to have frank conversations over the years with fundamentalists and radicals of just about every ideological flavor. In each case, the currency of the realm is equivocation. Its function is not to prove that Side A is right by virtue of the fact that Side B has done bad things too; it is to show that Side A and Side B are the same, and so the only choice is Side C, which just turns out to be Side A by another name. It’s simple. It’s lazy. But it’s still the most effective way of sewing moral confusion. Mind you, this is nothing new…But add it to the epistemic confusion caused by information overload, and you’ve got a rhetorical H-bomb.

Equivocation is reason why Trump has been able to thrive where other politicians might have crashed and burned. And it’s why when Trump eventually does crash and burn, others will likely thrive in his place.

His “many sides” response to the white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, VA is the most disgusting example yet of Trump’s equivocalist rhetoric. The scary thing is that he was probably on mental autopilot when he said it. Equivocation is a worldview as much as it is a rhetorical tool.

This is one of the reasons I’ve been pursuing the slippery topic of similarity in recent years, which unfortunately is understood as being…well…equivocal to equivocation (i.e. the repetition of the same essence). I think we need to be able to think past repetition as being repetition of the same. Equivocation is a way of casting similarity as the repetition of the same quality which differs only in proportion (i.e. quantity). Deleuze got the closest to a new way of thinking repetition when he saw difference as emerging out from the amplitude/intensity of the repetition of the same. But like the equivocal understanding of similarity, this just reduces quality to quantity. I believe we need to think repetition as a distortive, qualitative thing which can best be understood by a radical re-thinking of similarity.

 

 

 

 

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10 thoughts on “The Rhetorical Problem of Our Time

  1. This seems spot-on, and I was especially interested in your comment about equivocation being a worldview. I probably shouldn’t leap away from the context of the current political disaster, but as it happens, your post popped up right when Google alerted me to an essay by Arianne Conty about nature and culture in the academy. The two weirdly connect. For Conty, actor-network theory’s “might makes right” political problem becomes evidence that ANT is deterministic about all action. Conty basically accuses Latour of equivocation like you describe here, with human agency and non-human agency being wrongly compared at the expense of humans. In other words, ANT treats all action like nature, “determined and therefore unintentional.” (Spoiler, but a revealing one: Conty wants to go hard in what she takes to be the opposite direction, with a Felix Guattari-inspired panpsychism. The takeaway, though Conty certainly doesn’t put it this way, is that if we have to equivocate we might as well choose the better side and lend some moral integrity to everything with our sympathetic imaginations.)

    I’ve seen at least the negative half of this in my own neck of the woods (a musicologist named Richard Taruskin made the exact same criticism of Latour a few years ago). In any case, I think your idea that equivocation can be a worldview also applies to smart people who have a special sensitivity to it like cilantro. Equivocation infects not only those who are willing to flagrantly “trump” it up, but also those who see it everywhere like in the Conty essay. I do finally have a question. How does univocal thought get caught up in an equivocal worldview? I intuit it does, but I’m not sure how.

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  2. Hi Eric,
    Thanks so much for commenting. As ever, you’re the best interlocutor anyone could ask for. Sorry for the delay in reply, but I wanted to get enough time to find and read the Conty piece you were talking about. (Thanks for turning me on to it, by the way.)

    I’m definitely aware of the body of “might makes right” criticism of Latour and ANT out there. Ray Brassier makes a pretty good case along those lines in his essay which appears in ‘The Speculative Turn’ (a rare bit of common ground with Harman). And insofar as OOO is linked to ANT (through the idea of a flat ontology), the same criticism gets applied to it as well. I think, though, that Conty overplays her hand just a bit in her critique of Latour, as she seems to lump him in with reductive materialisms. He’s been quite vigorous in his rejection of matter as res extensa (particularly in the idea that measurability is the passport to existence). Although he sticks with his flat ontology, it seems like in his recent work (e.g. ‘An Inquiry into Modes of Existence’), Latour is trying to at least add some texture to the flatness by qualifying different kinds of experience. So, you might have a collection of things like a pencil, a piece of paper, a person, a pear, and a pogo stick (you know the old Latourian litanies). You can arrange those things in any permutation you’d like, but let’s say that in any given instance, they are identifiable (on the surface anyway) as being the same material things. Of course for Latour, what’s going to be ontologically salient is the relations between those things–what Latour refers to in ‘Modes’ as [PREP] or prepositions. The [PREP] is going to depend upon the genre of existence, such as Politics, Fiction, Technology (off-hand I think he identifies like fifteen in total). Just as in generative grammar where you can combine a finite lexicon with a finite number of syntactic rules to create an infinite number of sentences which then acquire discrete meaning within different registers (think, for instance, of double entendres), Latour thinks you can create discrete existential meanings out of a potentially limited number of things, depending upon the modal frames in which they relate. This isn’t totally inconsistent with Latour’s earlier thinking on, for instance, the difference between an actor and a figuration wherein the actor and the figuration may be identifiable as the same thing but functionally different in the world, depending on the relational quantity of the latter. And this certainly opens him up to the kind of might-makes-right criticism that we see in Brassier, Harman, Conty, and others. It’s just that in his recent work, he is more interested in the qualities of those relations than he is in the quantity. Conty asks, ‘But should we attribute the same agency to technological tools and to stones that we attribute to trees and polar bears?’ My guess is that Latour would answer by saying that the question itself is premised on a category mistake, that ‘agency’ does not transcend the multi-modal frames of existence.

    The obvious question is…What is ontologically capable of demarcating those modes of existence if not the human subject? Though I don’t think he explains it sufficiently, Latour does something very clever by using all this talk of prepositions, syntax, and, in particular, speech genres to make his modes of existence argument. First of all, he’s using human categories such as Fiction, Religion, and Technologies as universal demarcations for different modes of existence. And he’s using terms of language/speech to explain them. Some very good objections notwithstanding, what could be more human than language? But, in the case of genres–human though they may be–they cannot be *decided* into existence by a human subject. No one mind can say that they are going to invent a new genre and then go out and do it. They can be identified, and individual actors can be faithful to that identification; but they cannot be decided. Genres are real, but they are fuzzy and emergent (‘self-similar’ as I’d like to say). This is how, I think, Latour is attempting to have his cake and eat it too. He can point to someone like Conty and say ‘No, I don’t think a stone has the same intrinsic agency as a polar bear or a human. Don’t be ridiculous!’ But he can also say ‘The mode of existence in which a human has more agency than a stone emerges out of much more than human deliberation.’

    Does Latour actually pull it off? I dunno.

    Two more quick points:
    1) I’m actually really intrigued by Conty’s Guattari-inspired notion of sympathetic imagination. It almost sounds like something S.T. Coleridge (in his more vitalist moments) could have come up with. I particularly like the way she talks about ‘internalizing alterity’ in reference to the anteater. It definitely seems to be “in sympathy” with my own ideas about emergent similarity and the production of difference, but she’s able to talk about it in a richer, more vivid way. I’m going to keep following her work. Thanks again for that recommendation!

    2) Your question about univocal thought and an equivocal world view. I wouldn’t actually say that univocal thought gets caught up in the equivocal worldview. It’s more that equivocalists are not sufficiently equivocal…or perhaps that they are not sufficiently dualistic. It’s like in the old theological debates: in what sense can you say that God is good and that man is good? It wouldn’t do to say that the goodness of God is the same as the goodness of man because that would put God and man on the same plane. But then what do you do with that word “good”? One easy answer was to say that man’s goodness is analogical to God’s goodness, wherein “analogical” meant proportionate. Aquinas, Aristotelian that he was, had a problem with this because it really meant that goodness would be the same with-respect-to proportion, which while not quite univocal, is, Aquinas found, uncomfortably monistic. It would essentially collapse everything into one substance, with difference only existing in proportion. He argued that you cannot do this and uphold a fundamental difference between God and creature. Aquinas went into a very long argument about proportion vs. proportionality which I won’t summarize here. But I like to keep the spirit of Aquinas’ critique in play. It’s sort of counter-intuitive to say this, but equivocals should not be taken as multiples of the same, differing only in proportion. That, to me, is just a weak monism masquerading as something else. I feel like I could and should say more about this, but I’ve got to run.

    Cheers!
    Noah

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  3. Thanks for your super-thorough response. I’m certainly convinced by that Latourian defense against Conty, and glad to see your take on Latour’s more recent work, a lot of which has gone over my head. Also, your phrase for sloppy equivocals (“multiples of the same, only differing in proportion”) helps me to see what I probably wrongly thought of as the hidden univocal element. I’ll leave my question about that for last.

    I do feel like I should clarify what got me thinking with the Conty article. Believe it or not, I had this blog post in the back of my mind when I read the article, and that’s where most of my interest in it lay. So I dropped my first impressions on your lawn. My first thought was, OK, it looks like Conty’s accusing Latour of equivocation. My second thought was that it really is useful to see equivocation as a sneaky asymmetry, which Conty also does (nature>culture), and it’s also interesting/strange that she responds by apparently *flipping* that asymmetry. My third thought was that an equivocal worldview might not just mean an automatic tendency (a la Trump) to falsely compare unlike things with the same standards, but might also mean a tendency to see equivocation everywhere as if there were little choice, like how Google’s image AI sees faces in everything.

    As for my first thought, my own version of a Latourian defense goes back to his old idea about method that I think now falls under “double click” (and reminds me of Harman’s critique of the taxonomic fallacy, which I’m more familiar with). Latour might explain that his nature/culture polemic is about how both sides (analogically?) rely on networks of mediation, and we shouldn’t make a priori decisions about what is social or natural. So then Conty looks like she’s smuggling in the very point under dispute by accusing ANT of housing everything together under deterministic (unmediated) nature. As for my second thought, I believe I see what you like in the idea of “internalized alterity,” and now it occurs to me that it might even be possible to challenge Conty (while supporting her idea) about whether it is as animistic as she wants it to be. For instance, in her phrase “an organism whose form is both maintained and transformed in relation to an otherness,” it might be the case that the only definitive “active subjectivity” is the word “organism.”

    Now I have to admit I’m feeling less sure that I get the terms equivocal and univocal. This might relate to my problems with the linguistics end of things, so I’m sorry if I’m asking about something basic. But here goes: if it’s true that certain (bad) equivocals tacitly imply monism, then doesn’t univocity come into play? In the Trump example, for instance, could we zoom out and say he’s making univocal claims about the qualities shared by all Bad Guys on both sides (violence, screaming insults, holding signs, or whatever)? Or does the rhetorical asymmetry in favor of the white nationalists prevent that sort of reading?

    Thanks so much again!
    Eric

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  4. Once again, Eric, I must apologize for the delay in my reply. I’m two weeks into the semester, and it’s already kicking my ass. I’m hoping things will calm down by the end of the month.

    If you’re still a little unsure about the univocity-equivocity stuff, it’s almost certainly because I haven’t been clear enough in articulating my understanding of it. Let me have another crack at it. You can trace the univocity-equivocity arguments in metaphysics from Aristotle to the Islamic philosophers to the Medieval Scholastics to the debates between Deleuze and Badiou, with several stops in between (BTW, I can’t recommend Badiou’s short book on Deleuze enough). Obviously, a term like “univocal” is cognate with “voice,” so the topic begins with language. I talked about this a little bit in my previous reply but just to restate it, the speculative grammarian wing of the theologians (Islamic and Christian) were interested in the question of how much we could understand about God with our human language. Again, if I say that God is good and that humans are good, do both senses of “good” have the same referent? If they do, then we’re dealing with univocity. If it’s the same term with different referents, then we’re dealing with either a strong equivocity (in which case, we have no real understanding of God’s goodness and so probably no understanding of God in general) or some manner of analogicity (which Aquinas favored and tried to tease out). The metaphysical implications of univocity might be that God is not separate from his creation/creatures (and this is where Spinozan monism comes in). On the other hand, a strong equivocity could mean that God has nothing to do with his creation, which could also pose a problem for revealed religions like Judaism and Islam, but particularly for Christianity with its trinitarian doctrine. In that sense, I suppose the advocates of a watchmaker god are strong equivocalists.

    And there are other problems tied into this. In his conversation with Moses, YHWH revealed himself to be the world’s first existentialist (take that, Sartre!): “Ehyeh asher ehyeh [I am that I am].” This was taken to mean that God was pure existence, that he had no potential/limit. God is simple being. Which is a totally different way of being than his creatures. For example, I have hair on my head today; but if I’m anything like my grandfathers, I won’t have it in twenty years. (Is it paternal or maternal? I’m worried.) I have the potential to change, but I also have limits on how I can change, which are based on my essence. So, if the Ray Kurzweil dream comes true and we can upload our consciousnesses onto a hard drive and live forever, that uploaded consciousness might feel like me, but it wouldn’t be me because my essence and existence are separate yet bound together, and my essence is limited. I could not *become* that consciousness. None of this would apply to a simple being like the Abrahamic God. So, in order to talk about the goodness of God, you might just need to say that God is goodness and that just as his existence is necessary, so is his goodness. But if you did that, wouldn’t you be taking away God’s freewill? It’s a mess. Enter Duns Scotus (whom I believe was called “The Subtle Doctor”). Scotus said that in order to actually have a metaphysics, we need to be able to talk about “being” as a unified concept. He went on to say that we can have a unified, objective concept of “being,” even if that objective concept is not the same as being itself. In that sense, there can be a univocity of being, even if the subjective experience of being is totally different from objective knowledge about it.

    To the best of my knowledge, Scotus didn’t go any further than that. But his insight did open the way for more monistic conceptions of being which would eliminate the pesky divide between existence and essence, so that you could truly talk about “being” with a single referent. From there, you could go the existentialist route, arguing that being is what being does. Or you could go the process route, arguing that being is a constant flux of relations. Now we can bring the univocity-equivocity argument into the Deluezean era. For Deleuze, not only does “being” have a single referent (the flux of relations/pure difference), but our subjective experience of being (which allows for an objective concept of being) emerges from contracted repetitions of pure difference. In this way, the circle of the univocity of being is complete. Obviously, a philosophy like Harman’s OOO begs to differ. As you know, in H-OOO, a thing endures beyond its relational qualities. So, to bring the univocity-equivocity distinction to this plane of discourse, I’d say that something like H-OOO can be roughly categorized as equivocal. That is, you cannot talk about being and becoming as the same thing. And I think it’s possible to say the same of Latour’s recent thinking.

    I’m almost done. I promise.

    It’s obviously a huge leap from this metaphysical stuff to the rhetoric of equivocation. And I was probably wrong to even suggest it. But I would say that in the rhetoric of equivocation, there is a tacit belief that the entities in question (e.g. the white nationalists and the protesters) are nothing more than their accidental qualities. And if their accidental qualities appear the same (screaming insults, holding signs, etc.), then they must be essentially the same. (Nevermind that the apparent sameness of accidental qualities is a deeply subjective and convenient judgement.) It seems to me to be a lazy, cowardly and inconsistent form of univocalism, even if those propagating the rhetoric of equivocation don’t understand it as such. The laziness and cowardice of it is obvious. But it is inconsistent because it basically says that those entities which you are judging are nothing more than their qualities, and that as judge, you alone posses a being separate from your accidental qualities. In rhetorical terms, it means that you alone have an ethos, the essence of which you get to decide upon. And any difference in ethos the white nationalists and protesters might bring to the situation is inconsequential because, in your judgement, they are the same in pathos. This further allows someone like Trump to share the white nationalist logos while believing that he can avoid the appearance of white nationalism.

    I fear I’ve made things worse. Does any of this make sense?

    Noah

    PS–I didn’t even get to your additional insights on Conty and her notion of internalized alterity. I really like what you said about contesting her notion of the “organism.” I feel like there’s even an opportunity for us to co-author a piece along those lines. I’ll try to return to it soon.

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    • I found your explanation of univocity vs. equivocity clear, pithy, and helpful. Much appreciated!! I think I’m on the right page about it now. Just to be sure, here’s my schematic understanding. Univocal comparisons have the same referent, which gives them a tenor of wholeness (e.g., God’s existence coinciding with his essence) at the expense of particularity (God’s free will). Equivocal comparisons have distinct referents and so are flavored with precise granularity (Godly goodness vs. human goodness) at the expense of mediation between the terms. At any rate, it looks like I tripped myself up in the first place by confusing “equivocation” with “equivocity.” Equivocation is a show of false univocity. [I still need to think carefully through that interesting split between the three rhetorical modes in your final Trump example.]

      Oddly enough, I hadn’t thought of relating Graham Harman to this duel, but now with more confidence about the terminology I feel like I can observe a few things. (Apologies if this comes across as more cryptic than it has to be. I’m happy to expand on any of it.)

      First, and perhaps most importantly, it looks to me that in their metaphysical register univocity and equivocity link up with Harman’s concepts of undermining and overmining. (Let me know if you think I’m, er, equivocating here.) Second, Harman’s objects do seem equivocal insofar as they differ from other objects (including their own parts), yet they also seem univocal insofar as their qualities are mediated by the single thing that grounds them. And that’s not the end of it. While RO-RO and SO-SO are equivocal, RO-SO is…something else, because the real object makes direct contact with the sensual object. (Nor do they amount to container and contained.) Indeed, Harman seems to have come around to the importance of your viewpoint on analogy with his recent comments on mimesis.

      Thanks again for clearing up my confusion and giving me so much more food for thought. Best of luck with the start of the semester.

      Eric

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  5. Hey Eric,

    Yes, I think you’re absolutely correct to bring the univocity-equivocity problem into Harman’s arguments about undermining and overmining. In undermining, all of being is reduced to an undifferentiated ur-layer of matter; whereas in overmining, there is nothing but relations. In both cases, you’re speaking of being with one voice. Harman’s talk of the “third table” (Re: Eddington’s arguments about the scientific image) definitely situates him elsewhere. I’d be interested to know if he’s ever thought of locating his philosophy inside of this problem explicitly.

    You bring up a super interesting point about the RO-SO relationship. I have to say it caught me off guard. I was really thinking about equivocity in Harman in terms of having to speak about objects and their qualities with different referents. But of course there is a real division of being along the lines of the real and the sensual, which, in some way, makes the division between objects and their qualities necessary (‘necessary’ in the analytic philosophical sense). If there were only ROs and RQs out there relating to one another, then I think you’d have to accept that differentiation in qualities is merely the product of varying permutations of objects in space. And thus objects themselves only differ according to the structures of their relations. And the logical end of that thinking is to throw out relata altogether, so that you’re left with relational structures only. This is in fact what Ontic Structural Realism attempts to do. It’s a weird one because you’re essentially discarding qualities, and then discarding objects; and then what you’re left with is, once again, qualities—qualities which you have already forced yourself to define as structural relationships. On the other hand, if you allow for the sensual to be actual (is that the right word?) alongside the real, then you can no longer reduce differentiation in qualities to one permutational structure or another because qualities themselves are already internally differentiated (RQ & SQ). And since you can’t reduce qualities to one permutational structure or another, you cannot reduce objects to their qualities. Q.E.D., as it were.

    I’m interested in what you said about inter-object relations: “yet they also seem univocal insofar as their qualities are mediated by the single thing that grounds them.” Please tell me if I’m wrong, but my understanding is that you’re talking here about withdrawal as the action that allows for grounding and mediation. I might have something to add there, but I’d like hear a little more about what you think before I go making an idiot of myself.

    Best of luck on your semester as well!

    Noah

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    • I think I was casting about in the dark a little with some of my comments… So here are more! One topic is the possible connection between undermining/overmining and univocity/equivocity. The other topic is my belief that objects might be considered univocal with respect to their qualities.

      (1) I’m willing to accept that Harman’s undermining and overmining are both univocal, but I’m having trouble working it out that way. My initial idea was to map overmining onto equivocity. For instance, in an extreme form of overmining (Harman’s Whitehead, for instance), every relation would be unique and fully exhausted. So a change in state would mean the death of the last one. Maybe overmining could be called univocal *within* a single relation? Yet for a rigorous overminer, no two views of the “same” thing could be the same… Not sure my brain is tailored to this problem. (If I am right to map these terms onto each other, though, then the easiest way around the problem is to claim that equivocity usually has a univocal supplement in its pocket, and vice versa. We’d then have duovocity to match duomining.)

      (2) Regarding my suggestion that objects seem univocal with respect to their qualities, you add: “my understanding is that you’re talking here about withdrawal as the action that allows for grounding and mediation.” That’s a fascinating idea. I admit I never thought about the connection between the object-quality axis and withdrawal, because I associate withdrawal with the “vertical” (real-sensual) axis. My comment about object-quality univocity was instead motivated by what Harman calls his Husserlian or horizontal axis, for which there are no free-floating properties. A sensual object would be the single shared referent of its qualities.

      But I’m really intrigued about the possible role of withdrawal here. It JUST occurred to me that you probably — and quite reasonably — read my comment in terms of RO-RQ, not SO-SQ. In that case, I am a lot less sure about throwing the term “univocity” around. I just don’t know how RO-RQ might fit into the scheme. I’ll put down a couple more points, but who knows if they are relevant. First, my understanding of the object-quality link is that it must take place in the context of an attachment (RO-SO). Another way of putting it is that the interior of an object is not just the fourfold (RO, SO, RQ, SQ); rather, the object is composed of a relation between real objects, and this relation occurs via the action of RO-SO. In a sense, then, the fourfold “starts” with the sensual object, not the real one. Second, while RQ withdraws and SQ doesn’t, both of them are initially mediated by a sensual object (Harman says this, erm, somewhere — I think Quadruple Object?). Again, though, I have no idea if any of this is relevant to what you were going to add.

      Cheers,
      Eric

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  6. Hi Eric,

    The usual apologies for my delay. I just can’t seem to carve out any time during the working week for anything besides teaching and committee work this semester. I hope that can change.

    Once again, Eric, you are a much more careful and astute reader of this stuff than I am. Having read your blog posts (particularly those on ‘Dante’s Broken Hammer’), I think you’ve developed an understanding of the concept ‘attachment’ that probably outstrips even Harman’s understanding for nuance and application. If you feel you’ve got a book rattling around in your head, might I suggest you begin with ‘attachment’? God knows what you could do with the concept when you marry it to your scholarship in musicology.

    At any rate, I think I see what you’re saying about the object-quality link. The multiplicity of SQs (linked to/for the RO) must be severed in favor of the unity of an SO in order for productive mimesis to occur, and that severing is part of attachment. I’m not sure I would go so far as to say that an object is composed of a relation between real objects. I’m more comfortable with the idea that an object emerges from an indirect relation between real objects. Sort of, anyway. I’m thinking here about how Harman explains space and time in terms of relations. Space can be understood as the withdrawal of one RO from another. And while metaphysics need not always check its work against epistemic consensus in physics, that idea seems to me to accord pretty well with an expansional universe. What’s more interesting is time. If I understand it correctly, time emerges out of that productive severing of SQ multiplicity in favor of SO unity. It seems to me that the difference between qualitative multiplicity and object unity is what Bergson would have called “duration,” which he opposes to time. Time, according to Bergson, belongs to the intellect, whereas duration belongs to lived (sensuous?) experience. In the Husserlian mode which you mentioned, the relationship between SQs and RQs (eidos) is grasped by the intellect. It is an empirical induction going from sense data to categorical knowledge. If we go with Bergson on this one, then we might be able to see time as a tension between SQs and RQs rather than that between SQs and the SO. For example, I see sense bareness on my forehead, and I understand said bareness to be higher (‘height’ as an RQ) on my forehead than it was before. And then comes deduction: (major premise) A higher hairline indicates aging; (minor premise) the hairline on my forehead is getting higher; (deduction) therefore, I am aging. That’s one way to categorically intuit time. I’m sure there are others. The point is that time here is a matter of intellectual speculation on the relationship between categories, categories which represent RQs to which we have no direct access. Thus, even if time is real, we have no direct access to it. It is excluded from lived, sensuous experience, and so (contra Harman) should have nothing to do with the SQ-SO tension.

    The reason why, I think, Harman invokes time rather than Bergsonian duration is that time can still be understood as moving discretely, whereas duration is continuous. Continuity is generally abhorrent to H-OOO. That’s a square I have a hard time circling too (or perhaps a circle I have a hard time squaring). But I’m willing to stand by this distinction between sensuous duration and eidectic time because I think the concept of endurance in OOO assumes what it needs to explain. In H-OOO, ROs are able to endure because they are not exhausted by their relations with other objects. They are not exhausted by those relations because they withdraw. Aye, there’s the rub. Endurance and duration are more than just linguistically cognate words. In order to have endurance, you must also have a place for duration. Endurance as withdrawal in H-OOO is a negative, outward action. It is a nothingness projected out to another RO. But I’d suggest that it’s a positive, inward action. It is self-similar repetition.

    Let me go back to the tension between SQs and SOs, which Harman thinks of as time and I think of as duration. Harman affirms that when there is contact between objects, another object emerges (with the strict provision that that new object is not reducible to the sum of objects in contact (i.e. it is not just an assemblage)).–Health warning: I am now going off on my own.–When the contact objects translate/imitate one another, there is an emergent difference. That difference is the multiplicity of SQs being productively severed from the new unity of SO. The new RO is sort of retroactively existent (Re: your point about how the fourfold “starts” with an SO), since it must have been there in tension with the new SO (and that’s why there’s good reason to think of time itself as an RQ linked to discrete objects rather than a univocal concept). Again, the emergent difference is duration. I think that same object is able to change and yet remain a unity (i.e. endure) by the same means of duration. It is just that here the object is in a continuous translation/imitation of itself, a self-mediation distinct from mediatory relations with other objects. In other words, it is engaged in self-similar repetition. This self-mediation (distinct from other mediatory relations) is what withdrawal actually looks like in my estimation. You can step back and look at these revolutions of self-similar repetition as temporal moments, but it’s really a matter of continuous duration. That puts me dangerously close to process philosophy territory. Not sure what to do about that. There is a lot more to spell out here, and I’m afraid I wasn’t quite there in my book, but I’m trying to do it in subsequent projects. Is there anything about that that accords with your arguments in the final paragraph of your last post?

    BTW, since this string of comments has turned into yet another fantastically productive dialogue, would it be OK if I posted it again as a blog post of its own (a new object, if you will)?

    Best,
    Noah

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    • Big leap: I think I’m going to try to get at the difference between you and Harman. Since I feel like I’ve pushed us way out of bounds, I’ll tentatively plan to leave off after this. But I’m very interested to see your reply. Keep in mind that I’m coming at this from a previous intuition – or assumption – that both of you have complementary perspectives on a similar model of reality, so trying to tease out a deeper gap is quite an interesting exercise for me.

      (1) To start, I really like how you associate SO-SQ with Bergson’s “duration.” I think Harman would endorse it too. More than that, I’m convinced duration is a better term than Harman’s time. (I’m also convinced that Harman has yet to find a good term for the “explicit” version of SO-SQ. I’ll probably throw together a blog post about it separately to ween me off of this wonderful conversation.)

      You then go on to note that Bergson’s time (as opposed to duration) refers to categorical intuition, “and so (contra Harman) should have nothing to do with the SQ-SO tension.” That sounds good to me. My only argument here is with the contra Harman part. This issue looks like a terminological preference to me—albeit a potent one, given the risks with terms like time and space. The word “time” simply means something else for Bergson than it does for Harman. Harman claims SO-SQ is a continuum, like Bergsonian duration. And Husserl’s own protentions and retentions don’t fit under Harman’s concept of time, either. That said, I’d be interested to see how SO-SQ is discrete for H-OOO. It would be a fresh, stimulating challenge to his model. (I have in mind something analogous to Peter Gratton’s attempt in his speculative realism book to show that, despite what Harman asserts, H-OOO is a two-world theory. Though I don’t think Gratton succeeds, it might well be true that Harman is inconsistent when he claims SO-SQ is continuous. I suspect in any case that a good argument for a discrete SO-SQ would still have to cede a kind of functional continuum of infinitesimals.)

      (2) On to the topic of endurance… I don’t think H-OOO falls back on withdrawal to account for endurance, but instead of jumping directly into that issue, there might be an opportunity here to hit on a difference between your thought and Harman’s without doing an injustice to either. It involves the level of scale where endurance takes place.

      A Roderick-object endures “in a continuous translation/imitation of itself, a self-mediation distinct from mediatory relations with other objects.” By contrast, a Harman-object is said to somehow endure without mediating relations with any other things, including itself. The “somehow” does have an explanation. A Harman-object endures through the mediating ties of its *parts* with one another. It is endurance as maintenance. When RO.1 translates RO.2 (as SO.2), the “larger” compound object (RO.3) endures through the duration of its interior (SO.2–SQ.2 for RO.1). You can probably see the importance of attachment here, not just for me but I think for Harman as well, especially in his recent work.

      Though I’m not sure how it plays out in your respective ontologies, here’s my crack at the difference between R-OOO and H-OOO where they currently stand. R-OOO preserves the notion of *self-similarity* at the same scale as the object. It does not depend on exterior relation or (self-same) tautology, though it does seem to depend on a distinction between self-relation and other-relation. By contrast, H-OOO preserves the notion of *withdrawal* at the same scale as the object. This does NOT mean endurance itself depends on withdrawal. Rather, it means endurance for H-OOO depends on the maintenance of attachments between a thing’s parts. An object’s inclination to attach to certain others, its “ethos,” is a sort of other-similarity, and the other-similarity of a thing’s parts enables it to endure self-similarly.

      Thanks so much again for indulging me,

      Eric

      p.s. Sure, always feel free to move our comments to a new spot. I’m flattered!

      p.p.s. On my question about where RO-RQ fits into the scheme of [univocal/equivocal/analogous], I’m increasingly inclined to think the answer would have to match RO-SO…still not sure though.

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  7. Hi again, Eric.

    Alright, we’ll make it an even ten! Thanks for again allowing me to publish the conversation separately. I can’t tell you how valuable these dialogues have been for me.

    I’ll start with a quick response to your p.p.s.: I think the univocal-equivocal description is only useful insofar as it can be generalized to an entire metaphysics. This means that things can get sloppy with nuance, but there you are. It is a useful epistemological shortcut, but a shortcut nonetheless. My position on Harman’s metaphysics is that it is indeed an equivocal system. The biggest reason for this is that his objects do not have a being-as-such built into them. A corollary to the no being-as-such is that there is an irreducible division between objects and qualities, which is also usually a good sign of an equivocal metaphysics. Nonbeing-as-such usually bears a complementary relationship to being-as-such, so I’m actually more interested in what he has to say about nonbeing. I think the topic has been explored, particularly in responses to Badiou and Zizek, but I haven’t studied those responses closely enough, so I’m not entirely clear on that score. I have thought in the past that the non-relation between ROs is forms the most important part of his response to nonbeing, but I could very well be wrong. My own response to nonbeing-as-such has to do precisely with what we have been discussing with regards to repetitive similarity functioning as “difference engine” (to borrow a term from Levi Bryant).

    Now on to the areas which have seriously (and wondrously) diverged from the original conversation. I’ll maintain your organization of points from the previous response.

    1) Time and Duration. You have shown me the error of my thinking with regards to the continuity of the SO-SQ relation. I also really liked your illustration of “the functional continuum of infinitesimals.” It might be argued that the “confrontation” of the SO and SQs constitutes a discrete moment, but I don’t think that would hold water either. And you’re right that “time” in this case is a matter of preferential terminology. Harman, after all, has said that he is not a realist about time. But I think as a matter of epistemology, Bergson’s distinction between duration and time is valuable, and perhaps even necessary. It’s not enough to say that time is just a conceptual stand-in for something that looks more like Bergsonian duration. Again, I think it belongs to the categorical intuition of RQs, which is part of the “theory” tension between SOs and RQs for the reasons I gave in my previous response. And I think placing the categorical intuition of time within another tension altogether actually strengthens the argument for a real division between time (qua duration) and space that OOO is seeking, since it puts the categorical intuition of time in the same realm as the categorical intuition of extension in space, leaving the distinct relational modes which constitute duration and space entirely to the ontological side of the equation. Perhaps to a poststructuralist’s delight, I also think that affirming the SO-SQ tension as the place in which categorical intuitions of temporal and spatial extension renders those intuitions less fundamental/universal and more subject to intensities (involving as it does the intentional object) than Kant would have had us believe.

    2) Withdrawal and Endurance. OK, you’re batting 2 for 2. I concede your point on endurance-as-maintenance. It took me several reads to get my head around your explanation, but that’s only because I was trying to find holes in it…and I couldn’t. It did leave me scratching my head about what role withdrawal really needs to play in the whole thing (until I remembered allure). Rather than the proliferation of non-relation (my default understanding of withdrawal), you’re talking about the continuous production of intrarelations, which serves to prevent the exhaustion of an object’s discrete reality. As per Part 1 of our discussion, there is really no need to talk about an RO enduring through time; it’s all about enduring beyond its relations with other objects, and so I think your reading holds up well. You have clearly defined a connection between endurance and attachment, and I think that’s right. Perhaps the parallel connection is between withdrawal and allure. I have actually been planning on doing a separate post about withdrawal-allure in reference to some fresh insights I have recently gleaned both from our dialogue and from reading Kierkegaard again. I hope that future post will serve as a decent supplement to this conversation.

    All the best!
    Noah
    PS-I’m looking forward to reading your own dovetail post on The Mystery Bin.

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