Introduction: Objects in Mirror are Closer than They Appear
I love the disturbing corniness of the P.M. Dawn song “Set Adrift on Memory Bliss” and the accompanying video, in particular the extended mix that features footage from Spandau Ballet’s song “True,” which provides the backbone of the tune.  The corniness of the tune and the video is a little threatening, and it has a personal resonance for me. I heard it emanating over and over again from my brother’s bedroom, in the summer of 1992, while he was rapidly descending into schizophrenia.
It was so sad to watch Steve doing this: it was as if he was saying goodbye to his mind. He kept listening to it over and over. And of course, that’s what the song does: it attends to an affective state, memory bliss, over and over, as a way to say goodbye to someone—or to hold them in mind, not letting go. We just can’t be sure. It’s why the song works. It’s a hip-hop song, made of pieces of other songs, samples. The song is almost like something you’d sing over one of your favorite records, a cherished object you play over and over again. And of course these pieces of objects are also elegiac, also about holding on to the feeling of something slipping away, being faithful, being true, but knowing that you are losing something. Treasuring an illusion, while kissing it goodbye. I found this so poignant in my brother’s listening to this tune, my own cherished memory of my brother which I turn over and play again and again, reciting it to you now, like an ancient Greek rhapsode, the original rappers, the guys who memorized swathes of Homer and Hesiod and, as they say of musicians, interpreted them.
The song is a reading, an interpretation, of a Spandau Ballet song (“True”), which itself seems to be trying to copy or evoke something, to do justice to something, in the way that Number 1 hits so often do, as if they were busy quoting one another in some strange heaven for pop tunes. Prince Be certainly knows how to allude to everything, from Joni Mitchell to Wham!’s “Careless Whisper” to the Pointer Sisters’ “Neutron Dance” to A Tribe Called Quest’s “Bonita Applebum,” quaintly renamed “Christina Applecake,” to his own song “Reality Used to be a Friend of Mine.” There is even a cameo shot of Julian Lennon, from his tribute to his father, “It’s Too Late for Goodbyes.” 
You could almost believe that the lost objects are right here—and they are right here, in the form of colors, sounds, words—one inside the other like Russian dolls: that inset piece of Spandau Ballet, corniest of New Romantic songs (there you go again: new Romantic), displaced amidst the strange psychedelia of P.M. Dawn, yet paid homage to at the same time. And yet those aesthetic forms are about absence and loss and illusion. Something is gone, and my fantasy of that thing is gone. Losing a fantasy is much harder than losing a reality. Yet here it comes again, that chorus, endlessly sampled—at least for the six minutes of eternity that the song carves out. You feel set adrift in the periodic cycling of presence, of the present, of a present that is full of absence, hesitation, mourning. In this respect, Prince Be might be the reincarnation of William Wordsworth.
Things are there, but they are not there: “That’s the way it goes.” The line suggests how things function, how they execute, how they have already disappeared. They have withdrawn, yet we have traces, samples, memories. These samples interact with one another, they interact with our us, they crisscross one another in a sensual configuration space. Yet the objects from which they emanate are withdrawn.  This doesn’t mean that in every object there are, say, subsections 1, 2 and 3 and then Mystery Subsection 4 (the withdrawn section). This thought assumes objects can be broken into pieces somehow. Withdrawal means that at this very moment, this very object, as an intrinsic aspect of its being, is incapable of being anything else: my poem about it, its atomic structure, its function, its relations with other things … Withdrawal isn’t a violent sealing off. Nor is withdrawal some void or vague darkness. Withdrawal just is the unspeakable unicity of this lamp, this paperweight, this plastic portable telephone, this praying mantis, this frog, this Mars faintly red in the night sky, this cul-de-sac, this garbage can. An open secret.
The title of this book is a play on the literary genre of magic realism. Later in the twentieth century, writers such as Gabriel García Márquez developed a writing that incorporated elements of magic and paradox. In magic realist narratives, causality departs from purely mechanical functioning, in part to resist the seeming inevitability of imperialist “reality,” in part to give voice to unspeakable things, or things that are almost impossible to speak according to imperialist ideology. Realist Magic argues that reality itself is not mechanical or linear when it comes to causality. Indeed, causality is a secretive affair, yet out in the open—an open secret. Causality is mysterious, in the original sense of the Greek mysteria, which means things that are unspeakable or secret. Mysteria is a neuter plural noun derived from muein, to close or shut. Mystery thus suggests a rich and ambiguous range of terms: secret, enclosed, withdrawn, unspeakable. This study regards the realness of things as bound up with a certain mystery, in these multiple senses: unspeakability, enclosure, withdrawal, secrecy. In this book I shall be using these terms to convey something essential about things. Things are encrypted. But the difference between standard encryption and the encryption of objects is that this is an unbreakable encryption. “Nature loves to hide” (Heraclitus).
The title Realist Magic is also meant to provoke thoughts about philosophical realism, the idea that there are real things. Realism is often considered a rather dull affair, with all the panache and weirdness on the antirealist side of the debate. We shall see that this is far from the case. The trouble with many theories of causality is that they edit out a quintessential element of mystery. Moreover, this might be a defining feature of theories of causality. It seems elementary that a theory of causality should put “understanding” in the place of mystery. Causality theories are preoccupied with explaining things away, with demystification. A theory of cause and effect shows you how the magic trick is done. But what if something crucial about causality resided at the level of the magic trick itself?
To think this way is to begin to work out an object-oriented view of causality. If things are intrinsically withdrawn, irreducible to their perception or relations or uses, they can only affect each other in a strange region out in front of them, a region of traces and footprints: the aesthetic dimension. Let us explore an example.
P.M. Dawn’s song “Set Adrift on Memory Bliss” is disturbingly sweet, yet a strange sound cuts through the sweetness. A high-pitched glockenspiel sound, a periodic sound. A cycling sound, like the sound of a musical box. A slightly maddening sound. The notes are strange, pitched oddly, dissonantly, in relation to the soothing sway of the Spandau Ballet sample. Like a broken children’s toy, something slightly mad, something slightly threatening. Sparkling as it rotates, a cold sliver of death, an absence of affect. No warm blood in that sound, it’s a broken object stuck in repetition, atonal, slightly reminiscent of the beginning bars of Pierrot Lunaire.
That musical box rotation is the secret of the whole song—a sense of being stuck, of coexisting with these cycling processes. Grief is the photograph of an object buried deep inside you: every so often it releases some of its photons into the bloodstream. Grief is the footprint of something that isn’t you, archaeological evidence of an object. Freud said that the ego is the record of abandoned object cathexes.  Like a petrified slab of ancient mud with a dinosaur’s footprint in it. Like a glass whose shape was molded by blowers and blow tubes and powdered quartz sand. Every aesthetic trace, every footprint of an object, sparkles with absence. Sensual things are elegies to the disappearance of objects.
That sound, that broken musical box coldness, is the echo of a nonhuman world. A little fragment of the nonhuman, embedded in the soft warmth, indigestible. As if you could wipe away all the other sounds on the record and you would just be left with that. It intrudes. Yet it’s so much more delicate, so much more childish, so much more just pure twinkling, than anything else.
Doesn’t this tell us something about the aesthetic dimension, why philosophers have often found it to be a realm of evil? The aesthetic dimension is a place of illusions, yet they are real illusions. If you knew for sure that they were just illusions, then there would be no problem. But, as Jacques Lacan writes, “What constitutes pretense is that, in the end, you don’t know whether it’s pretense or not.”  You can never know for sure, never know if it’s an illusion. “She was right though, I can’t lie.” Yet Prince Be is so tuned to the possibility that he could be seduced by the memory: “An eye for an eye, a spy for spy, / Rubber bands expand with a frustrating sigh … I feel for her, I really do.” I know this much is true. Reality is like an illusion, with the stress on that ambiguous like.
Intense yet tricksterish, the aesthetic dimension floats in front of objects, like a group of disturbing clowns in an Expressionist painting or a piece of performance art whose boundaries are nowhere to be seen. Prince Be has a very fine sense of this when he says “I think it’s one of those déjà vu things, / Or a dream that’s trying to tell me something … Reality used to be a friend of mine.” It’s a maddening dimension for my brother, who finds it hard to look at pictures of smiling Buddhas, because he thinks they are enjoying the confusion too much. They aren’t quite sincere, there must be something wrong with them, that Mona Lisa enigma could conceal a void, absolutely nothing at all, or a meontic void, a nothingness. Just a smile. If there are only objects, if time and space and causality, as I shall argue, emergent properties of objects—if all these things float “in front of” objects in what is called the aesthetic dimension, in a nontemporal, nonlocal space that is not in some beyond but right here, in your face—then nothing is going to tell us categorically what counts as real and what counts as unreal. Without space, without environment, without world, objects and their sensual effects crowd together like leering figures in a masquerade.
With their claustrophobic intimacy, this crowd of Expressionist things prevents anything like an “ideology of the aesthetic” from forming. In this book the aesthetic just isn’t optional candy on top of objects, nor is it some dating service that bonds them together (since they are ontologically separated). As part of the project of object-oriented ontology (OOO), the philosophy whose first architect is Graham Harman, this book liberates the aesthetic from its ideological role as matchmaker between subject and object, a role it has played since the days of Kant.
Realist Magic is an exploration of causality from the point of view of object-oriented ontology. I argue that causality is wholly an aesthetic phenomenon. Aesthetic events are not limited to interactions between humans or between humans and painted canvases or between humans and sentences in dramas. They happen when a saw bites into a fresh piece of plywood. They happen when a worm oozes out of some wet soil. They happen when a massive object emits gravity waves. When you make or study art you are not exploring some kind of candy on the surface of a machine. You are making or studying causality. The aesthetic dimension is the causal dimension. It still astonishes me to write this, and I wonder whether having read this book you will cease to be astonished or not.
The advantages of such an approach are manifold, but perhaps the best is that this approach to causality can include all kinds of phenomena that other theories have trouble with. An OOO theory of causality can, for instance, include shadows and fear, language and lipstick, alongside billiard balls and photons.
The reason why art is important is that it’s an exploration of causality, which as we know since post-Newtonian physics involves a lot more than just little metal balls clunking one another … entities interact in a sensual ether that is (at least to some extent) nonlocal and nontemporal.  That’s how objects can influence one another despite the fact that they are enclosed from all forms of access, as my argument will outline. So when old fashioned art criticism speaks of timeless beauty, it is saying something quite profound about the nature of causation, not about spuriously universal human values.
Even if we rule out plausible causal sequences like “His anger made him hit the irritating old man” and focus only on “physical” causation, there are some mysterious things that seem to manifest in the causal realm that an OOO approach can explain quite well. Aesthetic-causal nonlocality and nontemporality should not be surprising features of the Universe. Quantum physics notwithstanding, even electromagnetic fields and gravity waves are nonlocal to some extent. At this moment, gravity waves from the beginning of the Universe are traversing your body. Maxwell and other pioneers of electromagnetism imagined the Universe as an immense ocean of electromagnetic waves. And then of course there’s the real nonlocal deal—the quantum mechanical one. Consider the aesthetic shape of an electromagnetic field (how birds navigate, using tiny quantum magnets in their eyes).  Since at this level matter just is information, theoretical physics is already in an aesthetic conceptual space. Even the atomist Lucretius imagined causality working through aesthetic “films” emitted by objects.  But the arguments in this book go beyond a fanciful exploration of theoretical physics. They can be applied to any sort of entity whatsoever, not just the kind the physicists study.
One advantage of arguing that causality is aesthetic is that it allows us to consider what we call consciousness alongside what we call things. The basic quantum level phenomenon of action at a distance happens all the time. Thinking of a black hole is far safer than being in the vicinity of one, yet somehow thinking links us to it. Bertrand Russell denies physical action at a distance, arguing that causation can only be about contiguous things. If there is any action at a distance, he argues, then there must be some intervening entities that transmit the causality. In a wonderful passage Russell argues thus:
Yet isn’t this an elegant definition of the aesthetic dimension? Action at a distance happens all the time if causation is aesthetic. What is called consciousness is action at a distance. Indeed, we could go so far as to say that consciousness-of anything is action at a distance. Empirical phenomena such as mirror neurons and entanglement bear this out. Thus to be located “in” space or “in” time is already to have been caught in a web of relations. It is not that objects primordially “occupy” some existing region of spacetime, but that they are caught in the fields of, and otherwise “spaced” and “timed” by other entities. Minimally, what physics calls action at a distance is just the existence-for-the-other of the sensual qualities of any entity—an argument this book shall elucidate as we proceed.
Now in Plato’s time they used to call action at a distance demonic. It was the action of demonic forces that mediated between the physical and nonphysical realms of existence. This is what Socrates says about art in the Ion: he compares art to a magnet in a string of magnets, from the Muse, goddess of inspiration, to the artist, to the work, to the performer, to the audience, all magnets linked by some demonic force.  We call this demonic force electromagnetism, but it’s remarkably similar to Plato’s insight: the electromagnetic wave transmits information over a distance; a receiver amplifies the information into music coming through the speakers of the PA system so you can hear P.M. Dawn. In an age of ecological awareness we will come again to think of art as a demonic force, carrying information from the beyond, that is, from nonhuman entities such as global warming, wind, water, sunlight and radiation. From coral bleaching in the ocean to the circling vortex of plastic bags in the mid Atlantic.
The trouble is, all this art is a translation, a metaphor for something. There is a profound ambiguity in the notion of interpretation, which Socrates notes. What is a just interpretation? What is justice, when it comes to a work of art? Socrates decides that a work of art isn’t an accurate picture of something. It’s a performance of something, some inner demonic force. And when the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra interprets a Mahler symphony, it doesn’t mean that they tell you exactly what it means. They just play it. Yet within interpretation as performance and delivery we encounter a further ambiguity: between spontaneity, something emerging seemingly from nothing and reading, skill, expertise. Improvisation, as Derrida pointed out, is a kind of reading in which reading and writing are not so easy to distinguish. “The camera pans the cocktail glass, Behind a blind of plastic plants … ” (“Set Adrift on Memory Bliss”). Why this deep ambiguity? Because the aesthetic dimension just is an ambiguous self-contradictory, tricksterish, illusion dimension; any theory that edits this out isn’t worth the candle.
You start to read yourself, as a performer. Miles Davis asserted—at least this was attributed to Miles Davis, perhaps it’s simply one of those sayings that float around in the demonic aesthetic dimension—that you have to play a long time to sound like yourself. Improvisation is music that listens to itself. It tunes. Art is a tuning, a Stimmung. And in an age of decisive awareness of nonhumans—that is, in an age when even instrumentalists such as Richard Dawkins and Republican Congresspeople have to mop their brows when global warming causes a heatwave—ecological art is going to be more and more about this kind of tuning.
That’s the trouble with tuning. It’s not about correct or incorrect interpretation, though surely some interpretations are better than others, since there are real objects. Like in jazz, a better solo would reveal something about the metal and the curvature and the size and the spittle of a trumpet; a good solo is when the instrument takes you over.  When the audience applauds an incredible solo, they are trying to touch the inside of a trumpet. The fact that trumpets can be manhandled in this way—or are they trumpet-handling humans?—to release what Harman calls their “molten core,” tells us something about objects in general.  Because this never works absolutely—no solo ever exhausts the trumpet—there is that feeling that there is always more of the object than we think. One object—say an oud, a lute—can be attended to, attuned to, in different ways that bring out strange hidden properties of that object. In this sense playing an oud is like doing phenomenology. You are attending to the inner structure of the object, allowing yourself to be taken over by it. An oud is roughly the same object as a lute. How come you can get such different sounds from it, such different translations? The answer is the way things withdraw from total access. And this would be why Le Trio Joubran kills with their ouds, while a good player of Dowland is merely exquisite. Because there are real ouds, real lutes, no matter whose fingers are sliding up and down their necks.
It’s not about adopting some position outside of the universe, some perfect meta position, some perfect attitude. That is just impossible, in an object-oriented universe, and in the current ecological emergency, just unfeasible. Even if you go to Mars, you are going there in relation to the emergency on planet Earth, as Kim Stanley Robinson’s novels make so painfully clear. No, when you tune you are making another object. Tuning is the birth of another object: a tune, a reading, an interpretation. A rhapsodic rap about listening to Spandau Ballet and remembering your ex-lover. Every tune becomes an elegy for the disappearance, that is, the fundamental ontological secrecy, of an object or objects.
Yet when you tune, real things happen. You are affecting causality. You are establishing a link with at least one other actually existing entity. You are painting a black hole—the black hole is here, its horrifying opacity is right here, in the painting, yet not here. You are doing a drip painting: you are dripping about paint, like the way writing about music is like dancing about architecture. In OOO terms, this is what all objects are doing with each other. After all, no object truly contacts another one. They really only share what Harman calls their “notes.” So architecture columns (or whatever it does) about human relationships. And dogs sniff about trees (nicely, “about” can also mean “around”). And pencils pencil about pencil sharpeners. The storm storms concerning the chimney it blows through. The calculator calculators concerning the bank balance I’m anxious about. The birds bird about the BP oil slick, telling us about it in bird metaphors. The train trains about the flash of lightning. The camera on the side of the track cameras about it. The photon photons about the electron. And weather weathers about global warming. And writing writes about music. Just like dancing about architecture.
Paintings have always been made of more things than humans. They have been made of paint, which is powdered crystals in some medium such as egg white or oil. Now when you put the painting on the wall, it also relates to the wall. A fly lands on it. Dust settles on it. Slowly the pigment changes despite your artistic intentions. We could think of all these nonhuman interventions as themselves a kind of art or design. Then we realize that nonhumans are also doing art all the time, it’s just that we call it causality. But when calcium crystals coat a Paleolithic cave painting, they are also designing, also painting. Quite simply then, the aesthetic dimension is the causal dimension, which in turn means that it is also the vast nonlocal mesh that floats “in front of” objects (ontologically, not physically “in front of”).
You are working directly with people’s optic nerve and field of vision, as in a Bridget Riley painting. You cause the optical system to vibrate, creating interference patterns. Your painting is a device, a machine, an object that has causal effects. In reality. Aboriginal Australian painter Yukultji Napangati makes devices that scintillate in just this way, that lurch towards you in front of the painting, that threaten your sense of propriety. Napangati was one of the nine people who walked out of the Outback in 1984, some of the last Neolithic humans on Earth. This is what she makes: devices to talk to the spirit world, to allow the demonic force to assault you. In the flesh, not so much in a jpeg, they act like a dozen superimposed Bridget Rileys: the patterns just interlock and suggest layer upon layer of movement and hypnotic scintillation. They are frightening. And they are also paintings of where a small group of women wandered over some sandhills, doing a ritual here, digging for some roots there. An interpretation.
Objects and Non-Objects: p ∧ ¬p
The demonic aesthetic and the demonic causal are just a whisper apart from one another in thinking. Descartes worries precisely about action at a distance: perhaps he is being controlled by demons.  His refusal to accept this possibility leads to the cogito. Descartes mistrusts the sense of being deceived, using the Law of Noncontradiction to eliminate it. Many philosophers reproduce the bright line Descartes draws here, including speculative realist Quentin Meillassoux, who separates reason from belief with a laser-like certainty.  This separation has to do with real things that are not just thoughts in the (human) mind. Meillassoux argues that the stability of the universe makes it appear (but only appear) as if it could not have arisen by chance.
Yet physics argues that the appearance of stability is a function of randomness. Random patterns are the ones that seem regular. Clumping is a feature of true randomness. Meillassoux seems to take the idea that randomness equals instability, just like those he is refuting. He decides to eject the idea of randomness, because it implies some order, some law—he is trying to prove that there is no reason why things happen. This is only the case with mechanistic systems, such as dice (Meillassoux’s example) and billiard balls (Hume). Quantum entanglement is truly random. What does this mean? It means for instance that in certain highly repeatable conditions the likelihood of a photon being polarized in a certain direction is totally uncertain before a “measurement” takes place. This is why quantum phenomena are incredibly good at generating random numbers.
“Totally uncertain” means that no matter how much information you have, you won’t be able to predict the state of the photon. This is patently not the case with dice and billiard balls. Totally uncertain means uncertain in itself, rather than when we measure. One explanation for this total uncertainty is that a photon is in two or three different orientations simultaneously. This violates what Meillassoux takes to be the fundamental law (the one law he chooses not to violate), the Law of Noncontradiction. What does this violation mean? It means that you sure can apply “probabilistic reasoning” to the universe, and that far from being “meaningless” (Meillassoux), this is how incredibly basic things seem to operate. 
What would it mean not to eliminate the demonic dimension from causality? I do not encounter patterns and relations that are resolved in my mind into paintings, mud and glasses. These things encounter me directly, as themselves. But more precisely, every entity throws shadows of itself into the interobjective space, the sensual space that consists of relations between objects, carving out its own version of Plato’s cave. It is like the poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins that provides one of this book’s epigraphs:
This myself has an uncanny dimension. Like the person who assures you they are being sincere, can we ever really believe that objects don’t play tricks with us? Again: “What constitutes pretense is that, in the end, you don’t know whether it’s pretense or not.”  Duns Scotus speaks of the haecceity of a thing, its thisness, and Hopkins translates this into verse.  Yet the thisness is not imposed from without, objectively. It wells up from within. Hopkins himself says so explicitly: What I do is me. Quite so: it is a case of I versus me. In this difference between a reflexive and a nonreflexive personal pronoun, we detect archaeological evidence of the Rift (Greek, chōrismos) between a thing and its appearance. That concept, the Rift (I shall now begin to capitalize it), is highly significant in this book.
What Hopkins gives us then is not a brightly colored diorama of animated plastic, but a weird stage set from which things stage their unique version of the Cretan Liar Paradox: “This sentence is false.” To speak otherwise is to have decided in advance what things are, which contradicts the way the poem itself forces us to experience things. “Tumbled over rim in roundy wells / Stones” are felt and heard before we hear what they have to say for themselves against the walls of the well and in the deep water within: the first line is an invisibly hyphenated adjective, tumbled-over-rim-in-roundy-wells. The adjective takes almost as long to read as it might take for an average stone to hit the water. The adjective draws out the stone, just as the dragonflies “draw flame.” The stone becomes its tumbling, its falling-into-the-well, the moment at which it is thrown over the rim. Then splash—it’s a stone alright, but we already sensed it as a non-stone.
All the things by which we specify the object are not the object. By we I mean humans, lavatory brushes, quasars and durum wheat, and the object in question itself. We have a very strange situation then, in which there are objects, and there are qualities and relations between these objects and other objects. There is a chōrismos, an irreducible gap. Qualities and relations are much the same thing, since they are born in interactions between the object and 1+n other things. A cinder block is hard and cold to a fly, it’s stubbly to my finger, it’s fragile to a well-placed karate chop. It’s invisible to a neutrino. Think about a zero-degree dark object, some object that may or may not be behind a red curtain. It strictly has no qualities for us, yet this very lack of relationship is itself a kind of relationship, as if the dark object radiated some kind of energy that passed through us.
The qualities of the object are not the object. Objects then are both themselves and not-themselves. In defiance of the Law of Noncontradiction—a law that has never been properly proved—objects present us with the following paradox: objects are both objects and non-objects. All objects are open secrets, like the Liar: This sentence is false. Or like Russell’s set paradox: the set of things that are not members of themselves.
We are now in a region of thinking traversed by logicians such as Graham Priest, who work on things that can be self-contradictory, in violation of the supposedly universal Law of Noncontradiction (LNC). The Liar, the Russell set paradox, and Kurt Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem all point to the possibility that this law does not always hold. For instance, Gödel establishes that for every logically coherent system, there must be at least one theorem that the system cannot prove, in order for that system to be true on its own terms: something like “This sentence cannot be proved.”
Such entities seem to stretch the limits of thought, limits that some philosophers want to keep brittle and rigid—or else they insist that some things in reality just aren’t logical at all. Let us suppose that we can voyage beyond these limits without departing from logic. What kind of logic would we need? Priest and Jay Garfield imagine that “Contradictions at the limits of thought have a general and bipartite structure”:
The first part is an argument to the effect that a certain view, usually about the nature of the limit in question, transcends that limit (cannot be conceived, described, etc.). This is Transcendence. The other is an argument to the effect that the view is within the limit—Closure. Often, this argument is a practical one, based on the fact that Closure is demonstrated in the very act of theorizing about the limits. At any rate, together, the pair describe a structure that can conveniently be called an inclosure: a totality, Ω and an object, o, such that o both is and is not in Ω.
On closer analysis, inclosures can be found to have a more detailed structure. At its simplest, the structure is as follows. The inclosure comes with an operator, δ, which, when applied to any suitable subset of Ω, gives another object that is in Ω (that is, one that is not in the subset in question, but is in Ω). Thus, for example, if we are talking about sets of ordinals, δ might apply to give us the least ordinal not in the set. If we are talking about a set of entities that have been thought about, δ might give us an entity of which we have not yet thought. The contradiction at the limit arises when δ is applied to the totality Ω itself. For then the application of δ gives an object that is both within and without Ω: the least ordinal greater than all ordinals, or the unthought object. 
The first paragraph describes well the phenomena catalogued by OOO: things withdraw, which means that they limit what one can think about them. Things also contain other things that are not strictly them—just as a zebra is not reducible to its atoms, from an OOO point of view, and yet a zebra is composed of just these particular atoms. Objects are thus inclosures in Priest’s and Garfield’s terms. They are “closed”—a zebra is not a giraffe—and yet not closed—they contain things that are not themselves. When we study beings, we find at least one thing in them—this is Priest’s and Garfield’s delta—that are “both in and not in” them. To be a thing, on this view, is to be riddled with contradiction.
Consider the well-known Sorites paradox: what constitutes a heap? One grain of sand doesn’t constitute a heap; neither do two; nor do three; and so on. If we go on like this, we have ten thousand grains of sand that do not constitute a heap. Or consider a bald man’s head. Adding one hair means that he is still bald; two hairs, ditto; three, ditto. We discover there’s no magic number in which bald flips into hairy.
These paradoxes occur in the real world. Consider being in a doorway: are you inside or outside the room? Consider the status of a poem’s title: is it the beginning of the poem or outside of it? Consider a frame: is it where the picture stops, or still part of the picture? Consider a first person narrative. Is the narrator who is telling the story identical with the narrator about whom the story is being told? In many cases, authors or stories play with the irreducible gap between these two I’s. Every object says “myself.” But in saying “myself” the object is also saying “I am at this very moment lying,” “This sentence is false.”
Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species is based on paradoxes that involve dialetheias—contradictions, “double truths.” You just can’t specify when one species ends and another begins, just as you can’t specify the first little old lady who said the word “shizzle.”  In fact, so dire is the paradox of evolution that Darwin should have used some kind of wink emoticon, had one been available, and scare quotes: The “Origin” of “Species” ; ). The punchline of Darwin’s book is that there are no species and they have no origin. Yet every day we see skinks, kiwis and sheep, not to mention slime molds, viruses and mushrooms, uniquely themselves. These lifeforms are made of other lifeforms, which in turn are made of non-living entities, all the way down to the DNA level and beyond. Yet they are unique and specifiable as this actual slime mold, this little patch of bright yellow looking like a spot of dog’s vomit at the end of my cul-de-sac.  A slime mold is a non-slime mold, or as one philosopher puts it, a rabbit is a non-rabbit. I take this to mean not that no rabbit exists, but that there is a real rabbit whose essence is withdrawn. 
Objects are non-objects. I do not mean a non-object in the sense that for François Laruelle there is an unspeakable, radical immanence that no philosophy can speak—nay, that philosophy must actively exclude in order to exist, hence his invention of “non-philosophy” to account for this radical immanence.  An object is a non-object not because it is “really” something else, a void or some featureless lump or a moment in my reflective process—but because an object isn’t something else. The “selfness,” the Duns Scotus-like haecceity, of a thing baffles everything around it with its radiant, barbed identity. Blake wrote about seeing infinity in a grain of sand.  He was technically correct: this is a very OOO insight. And he precisely means not that some abstraction underlies a grain of sand, but, as he puts it, this “minute particular” is irreducible to anything else at all. Reality, on the OOO view, is a dense thorn bush spiked with diamond tipped thorns that dig into my flesh from every angle—that are my flesh. To find oneself in an OOO universe is to allow the thorns to sting you, a little more each day.
But wait, there’s more. There are objects and non-objects. In other words, there is an object and there are all the things that are not that object; some of those things are the relations the object is caught in with other objects; some of those things are straightforwardly other objects. Mathematical objects, for instance, on this view, are unreal objects that have to do with the qualities and relations of real objects. “Two” does not exist outside the countability of some objects as two. Two means countably two—two is computable two, not some Platonic two floating in some beyond. We can describe two by describing what some objects, for instance a counting machine, do when they encounter objects that are countably two.
If objects are irreducibly secret, causality must reside somewhere in the realm of relations between objects, along with things like number, qualities, time, space and so on. This is congruent with the last century of physics. For Einstein, space and time are also emergent properties of objects: objects don’t float in a neutral void but emanate waves and ripples of spacetime. Clocks run faster in orbit above Earth than they do on Earth’s surface. This congruency is a good sign that an object-oriented theory of causality is on the right track. But it’s not strictly necessary: if anything the necessity goes the other way around. In other words, quantum theory and relativity are valid physical theories to the extent that they are object-oriented.
Causality floats in front of objects, figuratively speaking. It doesn’t lie underneath them like some grey machinery. Another way of saying this is that causality must belong to the aesthetic dimension. To study the aesthetic dimension, then, is to study causality. Art students and literary critics have a reason for celebrating. Not because reality is a construct, but amazingly, because it isn’t. Precisely because reality is real—that is, encrypted against access by any object, including a probing human mind—the aesthetic dimension is incredibly important.
Objects withdraw, yet they appear: p ∧ ¬p (p and not-p). And objects can contain beings that are not themselves, thus exemplifying Russell’s paradoxical (and for him, illegal) set of things that are not members of themselves. Now to some people, this means that objects can be anything, since anything can result from a contradiction (ex contradictione quodlibet, ECQ). There are good reasons for supposing that ECQ doesn’t hold just because LNC doesn’t hold.  The fact that contradictions can be true doesn’t necessarily imply that just anything can be true (triviliasm). The fact that baldness is vague doesn’t imply that being bald could manifest as sprouting azaleas from the top of your head.
Any attempt to reduce the dialetheic properties of objects—they are both themselves and not-themselves at one and the same time—is doomed. Such attempts to smooth out the terrain of things are rife in metaphysics: objects are made of atoms; or they are substances decorated with accidents; or they are components of a machine; or they are instantiations of a process; and so on. The very attempt to introduce consistency creates more drastic inconsistencies, as if objects were viral, sneakily upgrading themselves in the face of the attempt to make them behave. If we started with p ∧ ¬p we wouldn’t need to specify some originary entity outside the universe, some kind of prime mover or causeless cause (God) that makes it all work. There is enough dynamism in p ∧ ¬p already for things to start working all by themselves. If you really want to be an atheist, you might have to consider dropping mechanism and relationism in favor of the object-oriented view.
Meillassoux rules violations of LNC out of court totally. Then he lets them back in a little bit, via a consideration of paraconsistent logics—that is, logical systems that employ seeming paradoxes but in a relatively constrained way. Meillassoux constrains their constraint even further by policing paraconsistency—he holds that they have only to do with databases and other software entities.  Meillassoux is afraid that if LNC is breached, philosophy opens the door to belief and restrains thinking. The fundamental difference is that I hold that contradictory beings exist—that this is what existence is in some deep sense. In other words, violations of LNC such as the Liar paradox (“This statement is false”) exist as archaeological evidence of something in the ontological realms. The fact that consistent systems are also incomplete (Gödel) is also compelling, despite what Meillassoux says about logical systems and inconsistency. There are plenty of paraconsistent theories that pertain not to software but, for instance, to the way hydrogen atoms behave, and the way waves propagate.
OBJECTS IN MIRROR ARE CLOSER THAN THEY APPEAR
An ontological insight is engraved onto the passenger side wing mirrors of every American car: Objects in Mirror are Closer than They Appear. What we take to be the object “behind” its appearance is really a kind of perspective trick caused by a habitual normalization of the object in question. It is my habitual causal relationship with it that makes it seem to sink into the background. This background is nothing other than an aesthetic effect—it’s produced by the interaction of 1+n objects. The aesthetic dimension implies the existence of at least one withdrawn object. To put it another way, in order for anything to happen, there has to be an object in the vicinity that has nothing to do with the happening in question. For instance: the pixels out of which these words are made as I type them on my Macbook don’t care what you are reading right now. That’s why you can read these words (or at least, it’s one reason why).
And now here is Professor Morton’s handy shoplifting advice. Always do it in front of the camera. Don’t try to hide what you’re doing. The only time I got caught (I know of what I speak) is when I tried to hide it. Why? If you do it in front of the camera, no one watching will be able to believe what she is seeing. Do it slowly, deliberately, right in front of security. The sense that causality must be happening “behind” objects is a phenomenological illusion. When one object (for instance me) transitions from a certain set of objects to another set, it briefly undergoes the uncanny realization that not-at-homeness is always the case, that sensual relations are never the real thing. What we call causality, say when a finger depresses a light switch, is an uncanny moment that happens in front of the encrypted objects, when a strange object perturbs a domain that has achieved a necessarily, structurally false ontic familiarity. The thorn tips of reality are hiding in plain sight, right in front of the camera.
Causality is already happening: the light switch rests on the wall, the wall supports the switch, electrons are flowing in the wire, the wall is part of a house. All these are causal statements from this point of view. What we call causality is just an uncanny disruption of a metastable system of entities that only appears to be real because it lasts longer than the moment of the “cause.” Mechanistic and other forms of “behind the scenes” theories of causality must therefore be seen as a desperate attempt to normalize this uncanny state of affairs.
The weird clownlike demons that float in front of objects are up to all kinds of tricks. Think about radiation. A unit of radiation is some kind of quantum, such as a gamma ray. It’s very hard to see a gamma ray in itself. You have to cause it to be deflected in some way, or to mark some inscribable surface such as a photographic plate. So you can see gamma rays when they illuminate a body, like in an X-ray photo. Gamma rays tune to us, gamma ray-pomorphizing us into a gamma ray-centric parody of ourselves. Radioactive materials are wonderful for thinking about how causality is aesthetic. At the quantum level, to see something just is to hit it with a photon or an electron: hence to alter it in some way. Every seeing, every measurement, is also an adjustment, a parody, a translation, an interpretation. A tune and a tuning.
Now scale this up to think about nuclear radiation from plutonium, the entity that exists distributed over Earth for 24.1 thousand years. This entity is nothing but the sum of all the gamma, alpha and beta ray inscription events occurring throughout the 24.1 thousand year period. It is the living history of plutonium. The dust in Nevada. The dust of Bikini Atoll. Bikinis. All the glass-like substances created when nuclear bombs explode. The sound of the bomb radiating out into the atmosphere. The shock waves that produce seismic effects. The half-life of plutonium and uranium. That monstrous pool of melted uranium at Chernobyl, which you can only look at in a photograph unless you want to die quickly. Photons striking the uranium record it on a photographic plate or in the memory of a digital camera. Software samples this image at a certain rate, creating a jpeg that you are now seeing. The jpeg introduces gaps in the image because of its unique sampling rate and its lossy compression. Everywhere we look, aesthetic–causal events are occurring.
Time to start again, from scratch. Consider again Yukultji Napangati’s painting Untitled, 2011, which resides in the Art Gallery of New South Wales, highly commended for the 2011 Wynne Prize. At a distance it looks like a woven mat of reeds or slender stalks, yellowed, sun baked, resting on top of some darker, warmer depth. A generous, relaxed, precise, careful yet giving, caring lineation made of small blobby dots. The warmth reminds you of Klee. The lines remind you of Bridget Riley. As you come closer and begin to face the image it begins to play, to scintillate, to disturb the field of vision. It oscillates and ripples, more intense than Riley. This is a painting about, a map of, a writing about, a lineation of women traveling through the sandhills of Yunala in Western Australia, performing rituals and collecting bush foods as they went. The painting is a map of an event unfolding in a two-dimensional rendering of a higher dimensional phase space.
Then something begins. What? You begin to see the “interobjective” space in which your optic nerve is entangled with the objects in the painting. The painting begins to paint right in front of you, paint the space between your eyes and the canvas. Layers of perception co-created by the painting and the field of vision begin to detach themselves from the canvas in front of you, floating closer to you. This “floating closer” effect is associated with the phenomenology of uncanniness.
The painting gazes. Intersecting shards of patterns within patterns, patterns across patterns, patterns floating on top of patterns. A constant mutagenic dance between the levels of patterns. The painting is a device for opening this phenomenal display. It comes lurching towards you, hypnotizing you and owning you with its directives of sandhill, women, rituals, bush food, walking, singing, lines. You feel gripped by the throat with the passion of the imagery. All the hairs on your arms stand up and the painting has you in its electromagnetic field. The painting dreams. Causality begins.
What does this mean? I do not access Napangati’s painting across a space. The image is not a mute object waiting to have its meaning supplied by a subject, nor is it a blank screen; nor is it something objectively present “in” space. Rather the painting emits something like electromagnetic waves, in whose force field I find myself. The painting powerfully demonstrates what is already the case: space and time are emergent properties of objects. For Kant, “space is the pure form of sensible intuition”: what must be given in advance in order for objects to be intuited.  Relying on Newton, Kant thinks space as a box. But in this book, space is emitted by objects.
That this fact is common to relativity and to phenomenology should give us pause. Perhaps just as remarkable is the fact that relativity and phenomenology arose roughly synchronously towards the beginning of the twentieth century. Just as Einstein discovered that spacetime was the warped and rippling gravitational field of an object, so Husserl discovered that consciousness was not simply an empty limpid medium in which ideas float. Consciousness, as revealed by phenomenology, is also a dense, rippling entity in its own right, like the wavering water of Monet’s contemporary water lily paintings: the water that is the true subject of those paintings.
The aesthetic form of an object is where the causal properties of the object reside. Theories of physical causation frequently want to police aesthetic phenomena, reducing causality to the clunking or clicking of solid things.  It is not the case that a shadow is only an aesthetic entity, a flimsy ghost without effects. Plato saw shadows as dangerous precisely because they do have a causal influence.  When my shadow intersects with the light sensitive diode, the nightlight switches on. As stated above, when a quantum is measured, it means that another quantum has intersected with it, altering it, changing its position or momentum.  Aesthetics, perception, causality, are all almost synonyms.
When the light-sensitive diode detects my shadow, it perceives in every meaningful sense, if we only accept that objects exert an aesthetic influence on one another (aisthēnesthai, Greek “to perceive”). When I am caught in another’s gaze, I am already the object of causal influences. Causality does not take place “in” a space that has been established already. Instead, it radiates from objects. The gaze emanates from the force field of a Napangati painting. It gathers me into its disturbing, phantasmal unfolding of zigzagging lines and oscillating patches.
There is no such thing as a phenomenologically empty space. Space is teeming with waves, particles, magnetic seductions, erotic curvature and menacing grins. Even when they are isolated from all external influences, objects seem to breathe with a strange life. A tiny metal tuning fork thirty microns long rests in a vacuum. To the naked eyes of the observers outside, it is breathing: it seems to occupy two places at the same time.  There is already a Rift between an object and its aesthetic appearance, a Rift within the object itself. Causality is not something that happens between objects, like some coming out party or freely chosen bargain into which things enter. It pours constantly from a single object itself, from the chōrismos between its essence and its appearance. The chōrismos gives rise to “blue notes” that both do and do not “express” the object in question, just as a blue note is pitched exquisitely, infuriatingly, impossibly between harmony and dissonance.  Objects are blues singing femmes fatales in the seedy cocktail lounge of reality.
An object is therefore both itself and not-itself, at the very same time. (“What is the difference between a duck? One of its legs is both the same.”) If this were not the case, nothing could happen. The uncanniness of objects, even to themselves, is what makes them float, breathe, oscillate, threaten, seduce, rotate, cry, orgasm. Because objects are themselves and not-themselves, the logic that describes them must be paraconsistent or even fully dialetheic: that is, the logic must be able to accept that some contradictions are true.  Objects are dangerous, not only to themselves, but even to thinking, if it cleaves to rigid consistency. If thinking refuses to accept that objects can be dialetheic, it risks reproducing the dualisms of subject and object, substance and accidents, dualisms that are unable to explain the most basic ontological decision—the one that insists that things are objectively present, as they are. The thing becomes imprisoned in a philosophically constructed cage, a mechanism or in some kind of ideality that falsely resolves the dilemma by shunting everything into a (human) subject. Moreover, thinking itself becomes brittle. The more rigorous the metalanguage, the more susceptible it is to more and more virulent contradictions.  Thinking should learn from Antigone and bend, like a willow: “Seest thou, beside the wintry torrent’s course, how the trees that yield to it save every twig, while the stiff-necked perish root and branch?” 
Phenomenology, then, is an essential cognitive task of confronting the threat that things pose in their very being. Without it, thinking is unable to break through the traditional ways of philosophizing that Martin Heidegger calls “sclerotic.”  After phenomenology, we can only conclude that a great deal of philosophizing is not an abstract description or dispassionate accounting, but only an intellectual defense against the threatening intimacy of things. Moreover, since there is very little difference between what happens to a light sensitive diode and what happens to a human when they encounter a shadow, we can only conclude that there is a strange kind of nonhuman phenomenology, or, as Ian Bogost puts it, an alien phenomenology. 
The reader will find that the phenomenological approach requires a cycling, iterative style that examines things again and again, now with a little more detail here, then with a little more force there. It’s like turning a curiously shaped stone around in one’s hands. There are good reasons for this outside the general scope of phenomenology. For a start, thinking objects is one of the most difficult yet necessary things thinking can do—trying to come close to them is the point, rather than retreating to the grounds of the grounds of the possibility of the possibility of asserting anything at all, as Harman puts it in his first outline of OOO.  The difficulty lies in the nature of objects themselves and in the two-hundred-year—within a five-hundred-year—within a two-thousand-year—cycle in which thinking has been caught. Moreover, since the OOO view is new in the world, and since the theory of vicarious causation is its most counter-intuitive aspect—though, as I hope to establish, the theory is also one of its most satisfying aspects—the chapter that follows this introduction must reiterate in greater detail some of the themes that have already emerged, in order to lay a foundation for setting out the scope of book as a whole. I shall thus reserve a detailed outline of Chapters 2, 3 and 4 for the end of the first chapter, where it will make much better sense. Before we proceed to the alien phenomenology, Chapter 1 will revolve again around the reasons why the aesthetic dimension is the causal dimension.
- P.M. Dawn, “Set Adrift on Memory Bliss,” Of the Heart, of the Soul, and of the Cross (Gee Street, Island, 1991); available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kl1ju_NfnhM.
- Spandau Ballet, “True,” True (Chrysalis Records, 1983); Wham! “Careless Whisper,” Make It Big (Columbia, 1984); A Tribe Called Quest, “Bonita Applebum,” People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm (Jive Records, 1990); The Pointer Sisters, “Neutron Dance,” Break Out (Planet, 1984); PM Dawn, “Reality Used to be a Friend of Mine,” Of the Heart, of the Soul, and of the Cross; Julian Lennon, “Too Late for Goodbyes” (Atlantic, Charisma, 1984).
- The term “withdrawal” is Graham Harman’s translation of Heidegger’s term Entzug. See Harman, Tool-Being: Heidegger and the Metaphysics of Objects (Peru, IL: Open Court, 2002).
- Sigmund Freud, The Ego and the Id, tr. Joan Riviere, revised and ed. James Strachey, intro. Peter Gay (New York: Norton 1989), 24. I am grateful to James Manos for originally suggesting this to me.
- Jacques Lacan, Le séminaire, Livre III: Les psychoses (Paris: Editions de Seuil, 1981), 48.
- The term is Graham Harman’s. See Guerrilla Metaphysics: Phenomenology and the Carpentry of Things (Chicago: Open Court, 2005), 33–44.
- Erik M. Gauger et al., “Sustained Quantum Coherence and Entanglement in the Avian Compass,” Physical Review Letters 106 (January 28, 2011), DOI 10.1103/PhysRevLett.106.040503.
- Lucretius, On the Nature of Things, tr. William Ellery Leonard (Internet Classics Archive, MIT, http://classics.mit.edu/Carus/nature_things.4.iv.html), 4.26–215. See Levi Bryant, “Of the Simulacra: Atomic Images (Lucretius),” http://larvalsubjects.wordpress.com/2012/04/24/of-the-simulacra-atomic-images-lucretius/.
- Bertrand Russell, Human Knowledge (New York: Simon and Shuster, 1948), 491.
- Plato, Ion tr. Benjamin Jowett, available at http://classics.mit.edu/Plato/ion.html (accessed June 25, 2012).
- I’m grateful to Bill Benzon for an ongoing discussion of these matters.
- Harman’s term comes from Prince of Networks: Bruno Latour and Metaphysics (Melbourne: Re.Press, 2009), 215.
- René Descartes, Meditations and Other Metaphysical Writings, tr. and intro. Desmond M. Clarke (London: Penguin, 1998, 2000), 22–24.
- Quentin Meillassoux, After Finitude: An Essay on the Necessity of Contingency, tr. Ray Brassier (New York: Continuum, 2009), 28–49.
- Meillassoux, After Finitude, 100.
- Gerard Manley Hopkins, The Major Works, ed. Catherine Phillips (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009).
- Lacan, Le séminaire, 48.
- John Duns Scotus, Philosophical Writings, tr. Allan Wolter (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1987), 166–167.
- Jay Garfield and Graham Priest, “Nagarjuna and the Limits of Thought,” Philosophy East and West 53.1 (January, 2003), 1–21 (4).
- Darwin draws the same analogy with etymology. No study of dialect can specify the very first speaker of a word, for the simple reason that in order to exist, a word has to be repeated: The Origin of Species, ed. Gillian Beer (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1996). Gillian Beer, Introduction, The Origin of Species, xix.
- I refer to the Dog’s Vomit slime mold, Fuligo septica.
- Ray Brassier, “Behold the Non-Rabbit: Kant, Quine, Laruelle,” Pli 12 (2001), 50–82.
- François Laruelle, Philosophies of Difference: A Critical Introduction to Non-Philosophy (New York: Continuum, 2011).
- William Blake, Auguries of Innocence, 1. The Complete Poetry and Prose of William Blake, ed. David V. Erdman (New York: Doubleday, 1988).
- Graham Priest, In Contradiction: A Study of the Transconsistent (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), 5–6, 42, 103, 185.
- Meillassoux, After Finitude, 76–79.
- Martin Heidegger, What Is a Thing? tr. W.B. Barton and Vera Deutsch, analysis by Eugene T. Gendlin (Chicago: Henry Regnery, 1967), 198–199.
- Dowe, Physical Causation, 17, 25, 59, 63–64.
- Plato, The Republic, tr. Desmond Lee (Harmondsworth; Penguin, 1983), 317–324 (514a–520a).
- David Bohm, Quantum Theory (New York: Dover, 1989), 99–115.
- Aaron O’Connell, M. Hofheinz, M. Ansmann, Radoslaw C. Bialczak, M. Lenander, Erik Lucero, M. Neeley, D. Sank, H. Wang, M. Weides, J. Wenner, John M. Martinis and A. N. Cleland, “Quantum Ground State and Single Phonon Control of a Mechanical Ground Resonator,” Nature 464 (March 17, 2010), 697–703.
- It is appropriate to pay homage here to Levi Bryant’s “The Mug Blues,” a multivalent pun on essence versus appearance: The Democracy of Objects (Ann Arbor: Open Humanities Press, 2011) 87–94.
- Priest, In Contradiction 9–27.
- Priest, In Contradiction, 17–23.
- Haimon, in Antigone, tr. R.C. Jebb, http://classics.mit.edu/Sophocles/antigone.html.
- Martin Heidegger, Being and Time, tr. Joan Stambaugh (Albany, N.Y: State University of New York Press, 1996), 20.
- Ian Bogost, Alien Phenomenology or, What It’s Like to Be a Thing (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2012), 1–34.
- Graham Harman, “Object-Oriented Philosophy,” Towards Speculative Realism: Essays and Lectures (Ropley: Zero Books, 2010), 93–104 (95).