Timothy Morton

Realist Magic: Objects, Ontology, Causality

    1. Like an Illusion

    Surprisingly, the Viking 1 lander, which remains on Mars, is considered part of the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum.
    Ann Garrison Darrin and Beth Laura O’Leeary, eds., Handbook of Space Engineering, Archaeology, and Heritage

    In 2011 Saeed Ahmed painted over Gorilla in a Pink Mask, a painting by the artist Banksy. As the Guardian newspaper makes clear, the wall of a new Muslim cultural center was “covered with graffiti.” The online Banksy Forum swiftly denounced the painting-over as “vandalism of the first order.” [1] Graffiti makes clear the physical properties of writing, along with its graphic and painterly qualities.

    Now we could stop here and consider ourselves to have done some Derridean work. [2] Or we could think in the well-worn grooves of cultural studies, reflecting on the relationship between high and low art. In his defense, Ahmed observed, “I thought [the piece] was worthless. I didn’t know it was valuable. That’s why I painted over it.”

    Let us, however, proceed a little further. One of the many intriguing things about graffiti is that it straddles decorating and causing or affecting. Astonishingly, Saeed’s erasure of Banksy is capable of being construed as vandalism against graffiti itself. When something is erased it has been affected by some other object. Why? Because there is a profound ambiguity in objects, which is precisely the Rift (Greek, chōrismos) between their being and their appearance. This results in appearance having a slightly evil aura, according to some philosophical views. Because you can never be sure. Appropriately enough, a painting of a gorilla in a pink eye mask, the sort worn to a masquerade or by some Lone Ranger, is ambiguous on many levels. Are humans gorillas in pink masks? Is the gorilla male or female? Is pink a girl’s color? Is it art? Is it vandalism? We can ask the final two questions because art is always already vandalism. And what is vandalism? Why, causality …

    One could read Realist Magic as an extended meditation on the conundrum of Gorilla in a Pink Mask and its whitewash fate. Why study or make art? Because when you do so, you are exploring causality. A bonus feature of Realist Magic, then, will be to place the arts and their study at a central point in the affairs of the world. Notice that my argument is the inverse of the usual anti-utilitarian one, which argues that artistic things are only meaningful insofar as they correlate reality with humans. Such arguments abound these days and they are just asking for trouble. “We know very well that the universe is just a machine of particles, but we must make it meaningful for us somehow”; or “For humans it’s deeply significant even though we are insignificant”; or “Useless things are really useful in some other way.” There are many variants of this justification of the aesthetic. All of them are just art as whistling in the dark. In this book, by contrast, I shall argue that there is no dark. It’s all aesthetics, all the way down, the mechanistic view or eliminative materialist views being precisely one aesthetic effect among many, but taken as real: absurdly, as more real than others, as if to say that a clunking and whirring sound were more real than other sounds. How can one aesthetic effect be more real than another? To assert otherwise is to fall prey to some kind of theology, even if it comes dressed as scientism. (Heidegger and Derrida call it ontotheology when a philosophy says that all things are x, but some things are more x than others.)

    The Mystery of the Cinder Block

    And so to business. There’s no way to break the object-oriented ontological news gently, so we must perforce commence with a rough and ready version. The proposition that begins the next paragraph says something that is given to me in experience. For this reason alone I find it hard to trust, because as an avid reader of poetry, I am liable to mistrust statements of all kinds. Yet as you read this book you will see that the following statement could not have been otherwise, nor could there have been another way to begin. Only insofar as you make it through the book, will you discover the remarkable, strange, totally non-given quality of the proposition.

    There are objects: cinnamon, microwaves, interstellar particles and scarecrows. There is nothing underneath objects. Or, better, there is not even nothing underneath them. There is no such thing as space independent of objects (happily contemporary physics agrees). What is called Universe is a large object that contains objects such as black holes and racing pigeons. Likewise there is no such thing as an environment: wherever we look for it, we find all kinds of objects—biomes, ecosystems, hedges, gutters and human flesh. In a similar sense, there is no such thing as Nature. I’ve seen penguins, plutonium, pollution and pollen. But I’ve never seen Nature (I capitalize the word to reinforce a sense of its deceptive artificiality).

    Likewise, there is no such thing as matter. I’ve seen plenty of entities (this book shall call them objects): photographs of diffusion cloud chamber scatterings, drawings of wave packets, iron filings spreading out around a magnet. But I’ve never seen matter. So when Mr. Spock claims to have found “Matter without form,” he is sadly mistaken, as is Henry Laycock, who asserts the same thing. [3] You can now buy a backpack that is made of recycled plastic bottles. But an object doesn’t consist of some gooey substrate of becoming that shifts like Proteus from plastic bottle to backpack. First there is the plastic bottle, then the production of the bag ends the bottle, its being is now only an appearance, a memory of the backpack, a thought: “This bag is made of plastic bottles.”

    This is a book about realism without matter. Matter, in current physics, is simply a state of information. Precisely: information is necessarily information-for (for some addressee). Matter requires at least one other entity in order to be itself. Matter is “materials-for”:

    The work is dependent on leather, thread, nails, and similar things. Leather in its turn is produced from hides. These hides are taken from animals which are bred and raised by others. [4]

    Nature likewise is “discovered in the use of useful things.” [5] I take use here to apply not only to humans, but also to bees with their flowers and hives, chimpanzees with their digging sticks, slime molds with their wet pavements. This is not an argument about how humans impose meaning on mute things. It’s an argument about the fact that what humans call matter and Nature are ontologically secondary to something else. A sort of backward glance confers the material status of matter and the natural status of Nature: the backward glance not of a cognizing being, necessarily, but of a task accomplished. The key turns in the lock: “Oh, that’s what the key was for.” There must, then, be something “behind” or “beyond” matter—and object-oriented ontology (OOO) gives us a term for this: simply, what is behind matter is an object.

    Instead of using matter as my basic substrate, I shall paint a picture of the Universe that is realist but not materialist. In my view, real objects exist inside other real objects. “Space” and “environment” are ways in which objects sensually relate to the other objects in their vicinity, including the larger objects in which they find themselves. Sometimes humans have called some of these sensual relationships Nature. Then we run into all kinds of difficulties and frankly ideological confusions. A snail is Nature, perhaps—but a cooked snail isn’t? Or a cartoon of a snail? Or an irradiated snail?

    There is no space or environment as such, only objects. Moreover, in the succession of these objects, there is also no top object: no entity that lords it over the rest, whose reality is superior to or more powerful than theirs, one ontotheological object to rule them all. Although this may seem startling, the reason why is quite straightforward. If there is no space separate from objects, then a top object would imply either: (1) this object is unlike every other object and really is “space” for all the rest; or (2) this object floats or sits inside some kind of “space”—which on this view would simply be the inside of another object. When physicists try to think about the Universe as an entity in its own right, they soon run into the edges of this problem. Thus some physicists have suggested a bubble multiverse in which our one is simply one of many—which strictly pushes the problem back a stage further: where does this foam come from and in what is it sitting? God’s hot tub, perhaps. OOO is more comfortable with the implication of this assertion—a potentially infinite regress—than it is with ontotheological top objects.

    For much the same reason, it’s evident that there is no bottom object, either, no smallest entity that subtends all the others, somehow more real than them. An object withdraws from access. This means that its own parts can’t access it. Since an object’s parts can’t fully express the object, the object is not reducible to its parts. OOO is anti-reductionist. But OOO is also anti-holist. An object can’t be reduced to its “whole” either. The whole is not greater than the sum of its parts. So we have a strange irreductionist situation in which an object is reducible neither to its parts nor to its whole. [6] A coral reef is made of coral, fish, seaweed, plankton and so on. But one of these things on its own doesn’t embody part of a reef. Yet the reef just is an assemblage of these particular parts. You can’t find a coral reef in a parking lot. In this way, the vibrant realness of a reef is kept safe both from its parts and from its whole. Moreover, the reef is safe from being mistaken for a parking lot. Objects can’t be reduced to tiny Lego bricks such as atoms that can be reused in other things. Nor can they be reduced upwards into instantiations of a global process. A coral reef is an expression of the biosphere or of evolution, yes; but so is this sentence, and we ought to be able to distinguish between coral reefs and sentences.

    The preceding facts go under the heading of undermining. Any attempt to undermine an object—in thought, or with a gun, or with a particle accelerator, or with the ravages of time or heat—will not get at the encrypted essence of the object. By essence is meant something very different from essentialism. This is because essentialism depends upon some aspect of an object that OOO holds to be a mere appearance of that object, an appearance-for some object. This reduction to appearance holds even if that object for which the appearance occurs is the object itself! Even a coral reef can’t grasp its essential coral reefness. In essentialism, a superficial appearance is taken for the essence of a thing, or of things in general. Feminism, anti-racism and queer theory are justified in assaulting this kind of essence by any means necessary.

    In thinking essentialism we may be able to discern another way of avoiding OOO. This is what Harman has christened overmining. [7] The overminer decides that some things are more real than others: say for example human perception. Then the overminer decides that other things are only granted realness status by somehow coming into the purview of the more real entity. On this view, only when I measure a photon, only when I see a coral reef, does it become what it is, in a kind of “upward reduction.” But when I measure a photon, I never measure the actual photon. Indeed, since at the quantum scale to measure means “to hit with a photon or an electron beam” (or whatever), measurement, perception (aisthēsis), and doing become the same. What I “see” are deflections, tracks in a cloud chamber or interference patterns. Far from underwriting a world of pure illusion where the mind is king, quantum theory is one of the very first truly rigorous realisms, thinking its objects as irreducibly resistant to full comprehension, by anything. [8]

    So far we have made objects safe from being swallowed up by larger objects and broken down into smaller objects—undermining. And so far we have made objects safe from being mere projections or reflections of some supervenient entity—overmining. That’s quite a degree of autonomy. Everything in the coral reef, from the fish to a single coral lifeform to a tiny plankton, is autonomous. But so is the coral reef itself. So are the heads of the coral, a community of tiny polyps. So is each individual head. Each object is like one of Leibniz’s monads, in that each one contains a potentially infinite regress of other objects; and around each object, there is a potentially infinite progress of objects, as numerous multiverse theories are now also arguing. But the infinity, the uncountability, is more radical than Leibniz, since there is nothing stopping a group of objects from being an object, just as a coral reef is something like a society of corals. Each object is “a little world made cunningly” (John Donne). [9]

    The existence of an object is irreducibly a matter of coexistence. Objects contain other objects, and are contained “in” other objects. Let us, however, explore further the ramifications of the autonomy of objects. We shall discover that this mereological approach (based on the study of parts) only gets at part of the astonishing autonomy of things.

    There are some more things to be said about mereology before we move on. Again, since objects can’t be undermined or overmined, it means that there is strictly no bottom object. There is no object to which all other objects can be reduced, so that we can say everything we wish about them, based on the behavior of the bottom object. The idea that we could is roughly E.O Wilson’s theory of consilience. [10] Likewise, there is no object from which all things can be produced, no top object. Objects are not emanations from some primordial One or from a prime mover. There might be a god, or gods. OOO wants to return at least to one of Aristotle’s four causes (the formal), but it might be keen to drop two others (final causes, telos). If there’s no top or bottom object there just is no final cause. If one has modified telos to be “goal-like” rather than “actually final” one has lost what is special about final causes. “Goal-like” behavior is only “goal-like” for some other entity, not a deep property of things. Suppose there were a god. In an OOO universe even this god would not know the essential ins and outs of a piece of coral. Unlike even some forms of atheism, the existence of god (or nonexistence) matters little for OOO. If you really want to be an atheist, you might consider giving OOO a spin. God is irrelevant. She or he just as well might or might not exist. There is no problem either way. With some Buddhists, one could call this position non-theism to distinguish it from theism, but also from atheism, which still has some skin in the theism game.

    Why? Reductionism and eliminative materialism are locked in eternal combat with their theistic shadow. Mechanism distributes the “hot potato” of telos throughout reality, endlessly passing it from one entity to another, shuffling it under the carpet of as many entities as possible like hash browns on a plate of eggs. [11] A mechanism is always a mechanism-for. A spoon is a machine for holding a piece of boiled egg. Holding is a mechanism of the hands for grasping things like spoons. The hands are machines for holding, writing and countless other tasks. They are made of bones, which are machines for … Thus intelligent design theology is the permanent shadow of mechanistic biology. The only difference is that intelligent design is explicit about teleology: there is a designer. Mechanistic biology, by contrast, is duty bound not to be honest about its teleological impulse.

    Scientism is a symptom of a certain anxiety that is released in modernity. The anxiety that thinks a telos or a top or bottom object is a resistance to that great discovery of modernity, fueled by democracy, philosophy and by the emergence of consumer capitalism: nothingness. There is no top being in a democracy, no king or emperor—there is an uneasy, ideal equality between you and me. In modern philosophy, there are no metaphysical givens. And in capitalism, I have a supposedly free choice between these two different types of shampoo, and my factory might as well make shampoo bottles or nuclear bomb triggers.

    Since Kant, modern philosophy has been preoccupied with where to put the nothingness that seems to ooze out everywhere. Kant puts the nothingness in the gap that opens up between the real and the (human) known. For Hegel, nothingness is an inert blankness that must be overcome—OOO considers this move to be a regression from Kant and not helpful. For the object-oriented ontologist, nothingness is not a blank void or simply the gap between (human) knowing and what is real. It is what the theologian Paul Tillich calls a meontic rather than an oukontic nothing. [12] This meontic nothing is what Heidegger talks about, constantly.

    Nothingness, rather than absolutely nothing: and this nothingness pervades things like myriad cracks in the shell of a boiled egg. Because a thing withdraws, it disturbs us with an excess over what we can know or say about it, or what anything can know or say about it—this excess is a nothingness, not absolutely nothing, but not something to which one can point. If we could point it out, it would be right there, and we would know it—but the withdrawal of a thing cannot be located anywhere on its surface or in its depth. I break a piece of chalk to find out what it is. Now I have two problems where previously I only had one. [13] Nihilism, which argues that the void is more real than anything that appears, is perhaps a way to cover up this more anxiety provoking nothingness with an absolute nothing: a defense against the key discovery of modernity. Nihilism wants to empty its pockets of everything, including the space in the pocket—as if one could pull the nothingness out of the pocket itself, to rid oneself of the inconsistency of the thing. “Believing in” nothing is a defense against nothingness, a metaphysics of presence disguised as a sophisticated undermining of all presence.

    Yet the OOO universe is to be discovered “beneath” nihilism, as if the deep water in which modern thought swims turned out to be hiding a gigantic, sparkling coral reef of things. Nietzsche and Heidegger insist on the importance of overcoming nihilism thoroughly, by traversing it—but both were unable to detect the sparkling coral reef. OOO thinks at a depth that is by definition difficult for humans, to say the least. Much of what it can say must be said by analogy or by metaphor, just as Heidegger intuited that poetic language gave some hesitant glimpse of things. Gone since Kant are the metaphysical islands of fact lovingly worked and reworked by the scholastics. Below the shoals of phenomenological fish—thoughts, hopes, loving, hating, proposing—studied by Husserl in the wake of Kant and Hegel, glides the U-Boat of Heidegger, making its way through the dark waters of Angst-ridden nothingness. But Heidegger’s sonar only returns an anthropocentric beep from the universe of things. OOO is like a bathysphere that detaches from the Heideggerian U-Boat to plumb the depths at which the sparkling coral reef is found. At the end of the journey, this coral reef is found not to be under an ocean at all. The entire ocean, with all its darkness, its fish and its floating islands of metaphysical facts, is just a projection of one of the things in the coral reef—the human being. OOO is a Copernican turn within the supposed Copernican turn of Kant, who argued that reality was correlated to (human) acts of synthetic judgment a priori. The crack in the real that Kant discovered—I can count but I can’t explain directly what number is, for instance—is only a (human) mental crack among trillions, such as the crack between a polyp and the ocean floor, or between a polyp and itself.

    Let us continue to explore the coordinates of the non-theistic universe of OOO. If there is no top object and no bottom object, neither is there a middle object. That is, there is no such thing as a space, or time, “in” which objects float. There is no environment distinct from objects. There is no Nature. There is no world, if by world we mean a kind of “rope” that connects things together. [14] All such connections must be emergent properties of objects themselves. And this of course is well in line with post-Einsteinian physics, in which spacetime just is the product of objects, perhaps even a certain scale of object larger than say 10-17cm. [15] Objects don’t sit in a spatiotemporal box. It’s the other way around: space and time emanate from objects.

    To reiterate, if there are no top, bottom, or middle objects, then it is possible that there is an infinite regress of objects within objects, and an infinite progress of objects surrounding objects. This possibility seems less objectionable to OOO than the notion that there is a top object or a bottom object. Thus we must very seriously revise our commonly held theories of time and space, bringing them at least up to date with relativity theory. The mereological properties of objects are startling. There are more parts than wholes, as Levi Bryant argues. [16] An object is like Doctor Who’s Tardis in the popular BBC television series: the time-and-space-traveling, shapeshifting craft of Doctor Who. The Tardis is bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. This startling intuition is just one way in which OOO escapes correlationism, reductionism and holism in one fell swoop. If you like, it means that a feature of the Kantian sublime—inner space is bigger than outer space—is extended to all entities. This means that an object can contain things that are not it—an example of the kind of set discovered by Georg Cantor, but ruled illegal by Russell and the logicians of brittle metalanguage. The Kantian sublime is an aesthetic way to detect the nothingness that Kant discovers, the “Unknown = X” that pervades (human) reality. [17] As I have just suggested, this is just one flavor of nothingness, one crack in a universe riddled with cracks.

    To reiterate once again: there can be no “top object” that gives meaning and reality to the others, such as a certain kind of God. And there can be no “bottom object,” some kind of fundamental particle or ether from which everything else is derived. Likewise, there is no ether or medium or “middle object” in which other objects float. Such a medium has been given many terms and explanations over the years: periechon (“surround”), world, environment, Newtonian space and time, Nature, ether, ambience, circumambient fluid. [18] Even the pot of gold at the end of the Standard Model rainbow, the Higgs field, might be an example of an ontotheological “middle object” that gives meaning to other subatomic particles, like a symptom that supplements a set of behaviors, thus undermining their coherence and giving away their inherent absurdity. [19]

    How does this happen? OOO finds an explanation in objects themselves. Indeed, the ideal explanation would rely on just one single object—a rather cheeky fact, in a world where interconnectedness is the standard issue of the day in so many areas of life. There are very good reasons for this brazen cheek. If we can’t explain reality from just one single thing, we are stuck with a scenario in which objects require other entities to function, and this would lead to some kind of undermining or overmining, which OOO rules out. We shall see that we do indeed have all the fuel we need “inside” one object to have time and space, and even causality.

    What are these objects, then, that claustrophobically fill every nook and cranny of reality, that are reality, like the leering faces in an Expressionist painting, crammed into the picture plane? On what basis can we decide that there is no top, middle, or bottom object, that objects are bigger on the inside than they are on the outside, that they generate time and space, and so on? It’s time to proceed to a concrete example. Come to think of it, let’s use something made of concrete.

    Think of a cinder block—the more gray and mundane the better. (In English English, this is a breeze block; in Australian English a besser block.) A butterfly alights on the block. She has a butterfly’s eye view of it as her wings brush its stubbly exterior. I feel along the sharp sandy surface of the cinder block. My hands encounter hand-style impressions of the block, testing their slightly careworn softness against the rough texture. An architect makes an exploded view of a cross section of the block. But a cross section of a cinder block is not a cinder block. A finger’s impression of a cinder block is not a cinder block. A butterfly’s touch on a cinder block is not a cinder block.

    Now imagine that the cinder block for some reason has a mind and some rudimentary sense organs, perhaps a nose and a mouth and a crude pair of googly eyes like the talking vegetables on The Muppet Show. The block extrudes its tongue and gets a lick of its cool, rough, grainy hardness. Does it know the cinder block as such? It has the taste of itself in its mouth. But the taste of a cinder block is not a cinder block. Imagine the cinder block develops telepathic powers. In a single instant it knows its blockness in its entirety. But knowing a cinder block in a single instant of telepathic communion is not—wait for it—a cinder block!

    Perhaps the problem is that I need to see the block as a process, not as some static lump. These days processes do generally seem more charming to more people than seemingly rigid blocks. Perhaps I will get further if I include the way the block was formed from Portland cement and sand in a cast, and the ways the block will be used in building, and the socioeconomic conditions that produced the block. But if I see it this way, I am left with the exact same problem. All I have done is swap the term process for the term object. Now the process, however I see it, has the same problems as the original block. How can I comprehend this process itself, without translating it into some other form—a discussion, a book, a painting, a series of measurements? Changing the term object for the term process is only a matter of aesthetic nicety. We are still stuck with the problem of fully grasping a unit: the cinder block as such, the process as such. [20] If we imagine that objects are inherently self-consistent—being “static” is an aesthetic defect, too, according to modern taste, though that is very much moot—then we may perforce feel the need to supplement our view with some kind of process philosophy that is able to think change and motion (Bergson, Whitehead, Deleuze). We have thus performed an ontotheological trick. We have arbitrarily decided that some things (processes, flows) are more real than other things (objects). In Chapter 3 I shall revisit the notion of process in considerably more depth. For now we shall have to leave it at that.

    Perhaps the problem is that we are three-dimensional beings trying to understand objects that exist in a temporal dimension as well as the three spatial ones. [21] Perhaps if I add another dimension to my description I will “see” the real cinder block. Let’s give it a whirl. The approach solves quite a few problems. For instance, I can see that the block has distinct temporal parts that compose is, just as it has spatial ones. This seriously dilutes the problem of the block’s persistence: the problem of whether I’m seeing “the same” block as I saw a few minutes ago, or last year. Now the block-last-year is a temporal part of an object that also has the temporal part of the block-a-few-minutes-ago. If I could really see in four dimensions, I suppose that I would see the block as a tube-like structure that consisted of all kinds of fronds and tentacles that depicted how it was made and how it was used. I would see the concrete being poured into the cast at one end of the tube, and the block disintegrating into dust at the other end.

    We are, however, left with some significant problems concerning persistence. What demarcates the temporal boundary of the block—its beginning and end? What constitutes the boundary between one temporal segment and another one? Let’s imagine that this view is wildly successful: what would the Universe look like if so? The entire Universe is now a single lump of something or other, distributed like some crazy trillion-tentacled octopus throughout spacetime. The block would be one region of this tentacled mass, but in the absence of a successful way to distinguish between the block and the non-block, we are left with a vast sprawl of Cartesian extension. We can see the past and the future and the present as a single sequence—at the cost of losing the specificity of the block altogether. On an extreme version of this view, there are no cinder blocks or mountains or trees or people, because those objects are too inconsistent for the view to handle. [22]

    But that’s not the really big problem. The real trouble is, none of the temporal block-segments would be the block! The block from last week to next week is just a segment of a world-tubular block. [23] The very attempt to introduce consistency has spawned a nightmare. The more we study the block as a “hunk” of four-dimensional matter, the less we can see it as a block. We are no longer dealing with a block, but what in relativity theory is called a world tube that is a mere tendril of a Universal extension lump, segmented into various parts. [24] It doesn’t seem as if this way is a great method for getting to know the block either. So if there are any four-dimensional beings out there, I’m afraid their chances of knowing the full block are slim to none, just like the rest of us.

    Perhaps Maurice Merleau-Ponty was correct. [25] Perhaps if I can somehow see every single possible angle, every single possible configuration of the block, I can know the block as block. Maybe the ultimate exploded view diagram of the cinder block is available. Imagine that some godlike version of Richard Scarry has written a gigantic children’s book called What Do Cinder Blocks Do All Day? This marvelous book contains diagrams of every aspect of the block. As fun to read as this may or may not be, it’s not the cinder block.

    So perhaps we need to get a little tough with our poor block. If somehow I were able to assess every particle of the block, every hole in the block; if I were able to evaporate it and then bring it back to its original state, or drench it with water, shoot it into the Sun, boil it in marmalade—if I were able to do everything imaginable to it, wouldn’t I know it for what it was? Imagine a wondrous machine, created by an insane genius, a machine that allows me to see every possible aspect of the cinder block, not simply as illustrations or diagrams, but as actual configurations of the block itself. I use the machine. The machine does everything to the block.

    As I sit there, grinning happily while the machine does its thing, a thought starts to nag at me. In using the machine, I have automatically excluded the one single accidental encounter that the janitor has with it when, cleaning away the cigarette butts and plastic cups after the party to celebrate the machine’s successful functioning, he carelessly stubs his left big toe against one corner of the cinder block and shuffles away, not paying much heed to the ontological cataclysm that has just occurred. Having every single possible encounter with the cinder block rules out only having had one encounter with it. “All” experiences of the block are reduced to “not-all.” [26] Why? Because neither the machine’s billions of encounters, nor the janitor’s unique toe-stubbing incident, are the block! The reason: because there is a real block. There is no view from nowhere from which I can see the entire block, no sub specie aeternitatis. [27]

    In this sense, even God (should she exist) has a partial view of the cinder block. I once had a friend who said he wanted to do everything. I seem to remember “killing a man” was somewhat high on his rather late adolescent list. Even if you could do everything, I replied, wouldn’t that rule out only doing some things? If you could do everything, you would never have the experience of not having done something. Should she exist, an omniscient omnipresent God would envy the most meager and partial knowledge of a few routes around a dull suburban neighborhood. [28]

    The three approaches I outlined have some significant family resemblances. The main one is the attempt to iron out inconsistencies in our picture of objects. Throughout this book I shall argue that all attempts to iron out inconsistencies are destined to fail in some way or other. I shall offer an explanation for this—objects themselves just are inconsistent. For now, let’s continue to do some ironing and see what happens.

    Maybe I took the wrong approach. Maybe I was too brutal. Perhaps I have been a Baconian sadist, destroying Nature in order to know it. Maybe if I just sit here and wait patiently, I will see the real block. I wait. I become impatient. I develop all kinds of contemplative practices to stay there looking at the block. I become enlightened. The block still refuses to spill the beans. I train a disciple to take over from me when I die. She sees nothing of the real block, which now has a large crack across the top, inside of which you can see right through it. She starts a religious order that carefully transmits my instructions about how to monitor the block. For tens of thousands of years, cultures, peoples, robots study the block, which is now looking pretty gnarly. A hundred thousand years later, a fully enlightened robot sits monitoring the faint traces of dust hanging in the air where the block used to sit. Still no dice. Even Buddha doesn’t know the block in the sense of “know” as “grasp as a definite concept whose reality can be checked against a definite, given thing.” When it comes to knowing about cinder blocks, Buddha is just as badly off as God.

    Let’s give up. Imagine the cinder block all on its ownsome. A scandalous thought perhaps, maybe even impossible to think. The block is not just a blank lump waiting to be filled in by some “higher” object (overmining). The block is not a blob of something bigger or an assemblage of tinier things (undermining). The block is not made real by some medium (the “middle object”). The block is itself. It is specific. It is unique. We might as well think it as a specific, unique real thing. The block already has qualities, such as front, back, and so on. Yet these qualities are only ever aesthetic appearances, no matter whether there is any other “observer” around to see. Yet these appearances are real aspects of the block: it isn’t a pyramid, and it doesn’t have a swan’s neck. The object itself is riven from the inside between its essence and its appearance. This can’t simply mean that the cinder block is a lump of substance that has a certain shape and color and that those are its accidents. We have already ruled that out. It must mean that in itself the block (essence) is also a non-block (appearance).

    The conclusion seems magical, but it’s a very ordinary kind of magic. It requires no special features, no supervenient soul or mind or animating force of any kind. It requires that our cinder block have no hidden material squirreled away inside it, no extra folds or hidden pockets of any kind. It only requires that the block exist. There is a block, whose essence is withdrawn. Withdrawn doesn’t mean hard to find or even impossible to find yet still capable of being visualized or mapped or plotted. Withdrawn doesn’t mean spatially, or materially or temporally hidden yet capable of being found, if only in theory. Withdrawn means beyond any kind of access, any kind of perception or map or plot or test or extrapolation. You could explode a thousand nuclear bombs and you would not reveal the secret essence of the cinder block. You could plot the position and momentum of every single particle in the block (assuming you could get around Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle) and you wouldn’t discover the withdrawn essence of the block. Ten of the world’s greatest playwrights and film directors (let’s say Sophocles, Shakespeare, Garcia Lorca, Samuel Beckett, Akira Kurosawa and David Lynch just for starters) could write horrifying, profound tragedies and comedies and action movies about the block and still no one would be closer to knowing the essence of the block. The block itself could evolve a godlike intelligence in which it had omniscient knowledge of itself. The slightest rat dropping, falling from a rafter above the block in the warehouse where I keep it to remind me of the obdurate persistence of things, comprehends the block in an absurdly limited way that rules out the possibility that the omniscient block knows everything about itself.

    This blasted cinder block is beginning to get on my nerves so perhaps we had better change the subject. But before we leave it there in the warehouse, let’s just reflect on what an elementary yet wonderful discovery we’ve just made. We live in an infinite non-totalizable reality of unique objects, a reality that is infinitely rich and playful, enchanting, anarchic despite local pockets of hierarchy, infuriating, rippling with illusion and strangeness. In this reality, objects are perfectly straightforward, with no transcendental or hidden aspects. Yet precisely because of this very fact, objects are completely weird: they hide out in the open, under the spotlight. Their very appearance is a kind of miracle.

    We could go so far as to suggest the possibility of what Bryant calls a dark object, an object that has no relations with any other entity whatsoever. These objects are strictly unthinkable, because if we try, we have already forged some kind of relationship with them. Our theory must allow for the existence of unthinkable objects. But even to talk about this is to involve oneself in a play of contradiction. It’s like looking at a red theater curtain, swaying gently, illuminated by spotlights. Is there anything behind it?

    Since there is no top object from whose VIP lounge we could survey everything perfectly and properly, no object is properly what it is—not even for itself. [29] The OOO universe is a universe of impropriety, of the improper. Yet we know this because in another sense objects only are what they are, nothing more or less, since there is no bottom object to which we could reduce them. Objects are sternly irreducible, yet marvelously improper at one and the same time. Since no object is exempt from the uncanniness we have just discovered in the cinder block, no object is the Philosopher’s Stone that will transmute everything into perfect, obvious, well ordered straightforwardness.

    This is a Shredded Wheat world (“Nothing added, nothing taken away” was how it was advertised in the 1970s). But a humble bowl of this sort of Shredded Wheat makes the most coruscating psychedelic lightshow look pale and boring. This is a reality in which the realness of things is in direct proportion to their weird pretense, the way in which things wear perfect replicas of themselves, so that everything is a masquerade, yet absolutely, stunningly real—and for the very same reason. If this isn’t enough of a miracle, wait until you have considered how causation works in this reality. This is the main topic that this book explores.

    The Rift

    We should by now be in a position to think more closely how objects are ontologically riven between essence and appearance. If we refuse to accept this, we are left with some unpleasant choices. We could go for a world of real non-contradictory objects whose qualities were pasted onto them like stamps on Play-Doh: some kind of default Medieval ontology. Mark Heller gets into this pickle: since he can’t accept objects with imprecise boundaries, he is compelled to think objects as mind-numbingly dull “hunks of matter” unrecognizable as spoons, comets or Lego bricks. [30] We not only lose people and concrete and traffic signs, we also lose the briny sparkle of seawater and the cold elasticity of clay. Since there is no genuine way to distinguish between a thing and the matter that surrounds it, Heller gradually reduces the entire universe to one formless lump of extension. Some would prefer there were no tables, quarks or ocean currents rather than accept the Rift.

    We could go with sets of non-contradictory relations, in which the “hot potato” (as Harman says) of a bona fide object is passed infinitely down a chain of relationships, never reaching the bottom. [31] Or we could go with nominalism or nihilism, in which objects are only what other objects make of them—these overmining views collapse into the relational one fairly straightforwardly. We could be reductionists who say that some objects, namely tiny ones, are more real than non-tiny ones—tiny being a question-begging adjective (tiny for whom or for what?). Or we could be holists who think that objects are simply manifestations of some larger flow, begging the question another way—how does this flow manifest as something different from itself (the question Neoplatonism tries to answer)?

    Or we could just drop the requirement that everything in reality conform to a principle that has never been adequately justified, except in some taboo-like sense—thou shalt not think things that are self-contradictory, on pain of being ostracized from logic. If OOO is correct, then Aristotle’s critique of materialism and his embrace of different types of causation, including formal causation, has something interesting to tell us; but his originary assertion of LNC (the Law of Noncontradiction) does not. [32]

    The intuition that there is something screwy about LNC when it comes to real objects is particularly potent when we think of objects that are especially large and long lasting relative to human scales. For instance, consider global warming, an entity that is made up of sunlight, carbon dioxide, fossil fuel burning engines and so on. Seven percent of global warming effects will still be manifest a hundred thousand years from now, slowly being absorbed by igneous rocks. That’s more than ten times all of recorded history so far, a preposterously high number. It’s almost inconceivable. Yet we see the effects of global warming all around us: we see charts from NASA that plot temperature rises; we feel rain on our heads at strange times of the year; we witness drought. None of these experiences are directly global warming: they are its aesthetic effects.

    Think again about Bryant’s dark objects, objects that have no relation whatsoever to other objects. Whether or not these objects actually exist in this reality is open to question. But the fact that OOO allows for their existence is beyond doubt. The trouble is, when we think of objects, we are subject to extreme observation selection effects. A thought-about object is no longer an object in total isolation. At least one other object is now relating to it, namely my thinking. It’s tempting to think that the Hegelian “correlationist” paradigm arose out of such a phenomenon—trying to think an unthinkable object resulted in an observation selection effect whereby that object was bound up with the thinking of it. Speculative realism starts from the assumption that the world doesn’t have to be correlated to some (human) observer in order to exist. This kind of givenness isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, since humans (and sentient beings in general) are not uniquely good at disclosing it. If neutron stars and RNA also disclose givenness, the existence of a universe without humans is not very much of a problem. (We shall see, however, in the context of thinking about how objects begin, that deep phenomenological probing on givenness can reveal some counterintuitive and powerful insights. It is a profound rather than a superficial givenness, though it is still givenness, and thus falls within the realm of appearance or what Harman, following Heidegger, calls the “as-structure.”)

    It’s ironic, then, that the very objects that are the most removed from relations provoke relationist reactions. Dark objects present us with a paradox—something similar to the Liar or to Lacan’s haunting statement: “What constitutes pretense is that, in the end, you don’t know whether it’s pretense or not.” [33] To think them is to think the purest possibility that they might exist. It’s the ultimate congruence of withdrawal and tricksterish illusion. Is there something behind the curtain? Objects are unspeakable yet perfectly available. They aren’t just lumps of whatever. They appear-as all the time: as a cinder block, as cinder block dust, as wet, fresh smelling concrete in a mold. That’s what objects do.

    Let’s return to Heller’s hunks of matter for a moment. Heller explores the status of a table as an object. You take little chips out of the table—at what point can you no longer call it a table? [34] This is a version of the Sorites paradox mentioned earlier. I have a heap of sand. I remove one grain. It’s still a heap. I can keep going until I have just one grain left. It’s not clear at what point, if at all, it stops being a heap. Try it in reverse. If I have one grain of sand, it doesn’t make a heap. If I add another grain, it doesn’t make a heap either. Now I can carry on with the same reasoning process indefinitely—so I never get a heap, no matter how many tens of thousands of grains I pile up.

    Heller is trying to explain the existence of objects, yet he spends a lot of time running again and again into this Sorites buzz saw. Why? Heller thinks that it’s because of some inaccuracy in his way of understanding tables. So Heller decides to give up the ghost and talk about objects without any specificity at all. Since you can’t tell when a table is a table, you are left to fumble around with well behaved but dull lumps of matter. Perhaps the saddest moment is when Heller decides to build a machine that will do the job for him—and runs into the buzz saw yet again, because how can you design a machine to figure out when the table stops being a table, if you don’t know? [35] You are thrown back on your perception.

    Sorites paradoxes are said to depend upon vague predicates: “is a heap,” for instance, or “is bald.” Now we know from Darwin that “is a species” is also a vague predicate. Why? Because evolution is incremental and the difference between one life form and its mutated sibling is not well defined. Likewise “is alive” is a vague predicate. To break the vicious circle of DNA and ribosomes, we need some kind of RNA world consisting of RNA and some non-organic replicator such as a silicate crystal. Vague predicates, in other words, might not be evidence of vague objects. It seems that DNA is a very precise chemical, and that cats are very precise mammals. [36] I certainly don’t see the cat as a blurry, vague blob, but as this specific cat, sitting here on this mat. Phenomenology comes to the rescue here, with its discovery of intentional objects. I don’t assemble the cat from a rough aggregate of cat pixels, rather the whole cat appears in my consciousness. The precision of my cat awareness seems to be evidence that cats are pretty precise.

    This suggests that there are Sorites paradoxes not because reality is vague, but because reality is paradoxical. This means that entities may not be entirely subject to the Law of Noncontradiction (LNC). So Heller can build all kinds of machines for measuring when a table stops being a table. He will never succeed. Why? There is a very fundamental reason, according to OOO. Because any knowledge about a table (mine, a machine’s, whatever) is not a table. It’s just not possible for my knowledge about tables to replace this table. So there will inevitably be moments where I am stumped as to whether I am seeing a table or not. The table withdraws.

    If we’re going to have tables and RNA and badgers and silt, in all their specificity, we might have to give up the idea that we can be totally definite about them. If you want to be definite, you may have to accept a universe with all the appeal of a cold lump of gray oatmeal.

    Sorites paradoxes also arise from overmining. For instance, there is the common tactic of seeing objects as bundles of qualities: an apple is simply something that is round, juicy, sweet and so on (for my mouth). A cat is this furry thing here on this mat, and if I remove the fur one hair at a time, does it remain a cat? Or, as Peter Geach has suggested, are there as many cats on the mat as there are hairs, so that when I remove a hair, there is a different (kind of) cat on the mat? [37] Overmining tries to conquer the Sorites paradox in the following way. Suppose that that when I put a cup on this thingamajig here, it’s a table. This is one way to vanquish the Sorites paradox. The deep problem, however, has to do with the existence of this thingamajig despite me. Sure, it’s “as-structured” as a table: I think of it as a table, it is a table for the objects around it, not a squashed banana, and so on. [38] The two issues might meet at some point. Suppose I have a wafer thin table after removing n chips. I put a cup on it and it falls right through. I think it’s a table but it no longer functions as one. Or I’m camping. I use a handy tree stump as a table, knobby as it is and wobbly as it makes my cup. The thingamajig in each case is quite unique, quite different. The tree stump smells of sap and has insects crawling around it. The badly glued piece of furniture in my kitchen, which I’ve been abusing with this Stanley knife, smells of baby food and is highly polished on one side.

    Peter Unger gives an extreme method of overmining in his analysis of “the problem of the many.” A cloud is this puffy thing made of droplets in the sky. Except it isn’t: the cloud is made of all kinds of other puffy things that could be seen as clouds. The edges of the clouds are particularly ambiguous, as is the part of a rusty nail where the rust blends into the non-rust. [39] If we go on, we can do the philosophical equivalent of cloud busting. If we rule out the smaller clouds one by one, because they are clearly not the whole cloud, then all of a sudden we have no cloud. [40]

    We simply can’t undermine a table into little wood chips and find the table in there. Yet we can’t overmine the table either. How come I can as-structure either the manufactured furniture or the tree stump (in my perception, my language or my usage) as a table? How come the floor can? Or this small crumb of toast and marmalade? The OOO answer is that they are non-tables. What they are withdraws from access even as I rest my cup on them and say “Hey, nice table.” We must tread carefully here, to avoid the thought of overmining. This doesn’t mean that there is no table, but rather that how I use the table, including thinking about it, talking about it, resting my teacup on it, is not the table. The whole point is that the table is not simply a table-for (me, my teacup, the floor, the concept table). This is not a non-table in the sense that François Laruelle means: there is no unspeakable, radical immanence that no philosophy can speak—that philosophy must banish from its mind in order to utter what for Laruelle are its garbled half-truths. In saying non-table I am not suggesting that we laugh at tables or at ourselves for even thinking of such a daft idea as a piece of wooden furniture. Precisely the opposite. The total vividness of this actual table, this tode ti (Aristotle), this unit, this unique being here, wooden cousin of the friend of many philosophers, is what is unspeakable, ungraspable. In this respect OOO draws on the powerful insight of phenomenology that I stated above. Again, I don’t perceive a thousand cat-like dots that I resolve into a cat, but instead the whole cat is intended by my mind, right there and whole, a fact that seems to be borne out by very recent magnetic resonance imaging of activity in the visual cortex of the brain. [41]

    We can’t simply say that tables are lumps of blah that we call tables or use as tables. And we can’t simply say that tables consist of little lumps of blah. Doing both at the same time (undermining and overmining together) is how contemporary materialism functions. [42] The OOO view thus requires that we seriously modify or drop the idea of matter. Matter is always matter-for. If you use the term matter, you’ve already reduced a unique object to “raw materials-for” something-or-other. I light a match. The match is made of matter? No, it’s made of wood from a tree. The tree is made of matter? No, it’s made of cells. The cells? And so on down to electrons. The electrons are made of matter? No, they’re made of ... and so on. Thinking “matter” is thinking with blinkers on. It suits correlationism.

    Yet might we say that a match is wood-for? As in wood-for-lighting-a-fire, for instance? Might it not be possible to believe that “purpose-built” objects are indeed at least to some degree objects-for without thinking that objects are only what they are because they are correlated with some human need or conceptual apparatus? Agreed, insofar as I think you could imagine that objects are purpose built without being a correlationist. Perhaps as long as you realize that they are objects-for “to some degree.” By then you’ve gone quite a long way towards conceding that the match is also wood-for a particle of dust that settles on it. It’s also wood-for an ant who climbs over it. It’s also wood-for a toy house made of matchsticks. Once you’ve gotten rid of the idea that it’s “raw materials-for” then you have no good reason to cling to the human telos of matches. A non-materialist but realist view might include more entities in its vision of what things are “for” (the as-structure). Alexander Pope’s poem Windsor Forest admires the scope of a beautiful forest (which still exists to some extent). Look, says the poem: look at all those potential battleships for the English Navy. [43] Philosophy should do better than that.

    The problem with “matter-for humans” exposes a deeper problem, that matter is matter-for anything. Matter isn’t what it’s cracked up to be, some kind of real substrate of things that emerges as those things. It’s part of the as-structure, ontologically secondary to objects. “Matter” is correlationist in that it’s always correlated to some entity. Matter is the “out-of-which-it’s-built” of an object. It is the object’s past, or a past object. When you study it directly, it ceases to be matter. This is a problem for eliminative materialism, which holds that if you can explain what you’re studying in terms of supposedly basic material components, then you can eliminate the larger thing that you are explaining in favor of those components. If you don’t stop at some metaphysical substrate such as prime matter, you end up with equations in the void—you end up, pretty much, with idealism or nihilism. Since correlationism is hostile to the idea of dogmatic metaphysics, it is at risk of ending up with the void, if it goes the materialist route. The void becomes more real than other entities.

    The disturbing thing about the Rift between appearance and essence is that it’s undecidable, irreducibly. We can’t specify “where” or “when” the Rift “is.” The Rift means that we are confronted with an illusion-like reality. The ramifications of this illusion-like reality will become clearer as we proceed.

    The Object Called Subject

    Is it the case then that what are called objects are merely subjective impressions? Not at all. In this and the following section, I shall draw from some examples in my own experience to demonstrate some facts about objects in general. Not surprisingly, we shall find evidence for the Rift. There is a reason why looking at my experience is an acceptable procedure in OOO: it is simply that I am an object among others. Now the common reaction to the sentence “I am an object” is a handwringing horror, or posthuman thrill, that I am saying that I am just a puppet. Neither of these is the case. Both sides of the artificial intelligence debate (for and against) think that being a subject is a special thing—some kind of qualia appear in consciousness or being a person is an emergent property of lower level cybernetic systems whirring away. [44] We need to rethink what we mean by subject. But in many ways what is called subject and what is called object are not that different, especially not from the OOO perspective.

    We are conditioned to think that “subject” is one thing and “object” is another. Here, however, I shall be treating them as exactly the same. What is called “object” in everyday speech is just as removed from an OOO object as the conventional “subject” is. On this view, what are normally called subject and object are simply aesthetic properties that are shared in some way between objects. Whether this means that OOO compels us to adopt a panpsychist view, namely that your toothbrush is sentient; or whether OOO is claiming by contrast that your sentience is toothbrush-like; both are a little beside the point right now, though we shall shortly revisit the choice.

    OOO holds that everything is an object, including the seemingly special one we call subject: the one we delight in bestowing upon or withholding from other beings, as if we were custodians of the subjectivity equivalent of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. By contrast, some might hold that subjects and objects are very different. For instance, post-Kantian thinking tends to favor the view that you just can’t argue against subjective states, whereas you can argue with objective facts. Since, however, where the art lives is the causal dimension, the difference between “subjective” and “causal” is nonexistent. In a modern universe, we would not be able to distinguish subjective states as superior or inferior or whatever. We can only do that about empirical data and selves are not empirical data but transcendental facts. In the OOO universe, aesthetic experience is real and tangible yet unspeakable.

    In an OOO universe, the human aesthetic is a little island in a larger ocean. The ocean is the causal ocean. Drugs are good examples of things that seem to straddle the causal and the aesthetic in our everyday speech about objects. One can indeed compare and contrast different kinds of aesthetic “experience.” Indeed, this accounts for how psychoactive drugs work in the first place. They disprove by their very existence the rigid line between subjective and objective facts. They act causally on your brain, that is, aesthetically, producing all kinds of phantasm. What we call subjectivity is just a causal event that “happens to us,” that we snatch out of the aesthetic continuum of causality and call meaningful, human, whatever. So it’s perfectly possible to describe subjective states in detail, as well as to compare them and argue about them. In the following section, I shall attempt to show how some fairly ordinary experiences, such as jet lag, can be thought as a message from the causal ocean. Humans are not that different from other entities, since what minds do is not ontologically that different from what other entities do. Consciousness just is what I shall shortly describe as interobjectivity, the configuration space of relatedness. Since they place a high premium on the aesthetic, and since their aesthetics prove in oblique ways that there are nonhuman entities (even within human beings), we can mine Kant and Hegel, not for more insights about how minds and worlds can’t know one another, but what the interior spaces of objects are, and what the aesthetic spaces are between them.

    Uncanny Causality

    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. Objects are not just themselves—they are uncanny: they are both themselves and not-themselves. It is my habitual causal relationship with them that makes them seem to sink into the background. This background is nothing other than an aesthetic effect—it is produced, in other words, by the interaction of 1+n objects. This book names the phenomenon interobjectivity. 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—an object that is, in other words, not caught in the mesh of relations.

    Let’s take an example that I know something about—me. I think this is a legitimate technique, since as Heidegger argues, “any ontology” must “take its guideline from Da-sein itself.” [45] In other words, as an object among other objects, I have a clue as to their objectness fairly handy, in my experience of things. The genuine uncanniness of objects, their quality of being themselves and not-themselves, is easy to test when you travel to a strange country. You have jet lag and everything seems weird. Bedclothes and street sounds seem to lurch towards you with unseemly intimacy. When I arrive at a strange new place, the sensual vividness of objects seems to jump out at me in front of those objects. Smells are sharper and more penetrating (the different bacteria coating other objects interacts with my smelling system, I guess). Light switches and plug sockets seem to emanate clownlike parodies of themselves that leer out at me, mocking my incompetence. Washing or shaving becomes a weird, slightly seductive, slightly unpleasant experience. Reality seems closer to me than “normal.” Then everything clicks into place, often after a couple of nights of sleep.

    In the state of jet lag, things are strangely familiar and familiarly strange—uncanny. Then it hits you: this is the default state of affairs, not the world in which regularly functioning things seem to subtend their aesthetic effects. Your regular house in your regular street is really like this. In truth, their smooth functioning is merely an aesthetic effect to which we have grown accustomed. The smooth world is the illusion! The clown-like weirdness of the uncanny situation you find yourself in, on the other side of planet Earth, groggy with jet lag and fumbling for the light switch, is the reality. The idea that I reach for the light switch across a distance that I can ignore is the illusion. What in fact happens is that the light switch has already appeared uncomfortably close to me, leering at me like a circus clown, without distance at all. My intention to switch it on, and the mechanical action of doing so, implies an interpenetration between me and the light switch that is already in place, like a force field.

    At this ontological level there is not much difference between what I, a human with a mind (supposedly) do, and what a pencil does to a table when it rests on that table. Holding, sitting and thinking belong to the aesthetic dimension, that is, the causal realm. There is another realm: the realm of being. Objects of all kinds (me, the cup, the table) occupy both realms. So the shifting, clown-like apparition quality that I experience in my phenomenological space is, I claim, common to the way any object appears to any other object. Every object says “myself” as Gerard Manley Hopkins puts it (see this book’s epigraph). But in saying “myself” the object is also saying “I am at this very moment lying,” “This sentence is false.”

    I started wondering why I really, really dislike taking the shuttle bus to the airport. Of course there’s the exhaustion involved in getting up super early and accommodating other humans as the airporter stops at address after address. (Nothing like getting up at 3am to reveal the inner misanthrope.) But that’s not it, not completely anyway. It’s that, in the course of picking up those others, I get a totally different feeling about where I live. The airporter drives down different roads in the pitch darkness of northern California small town night. I soon forget where the heck I am even if it’s only a few street away from “normal.” The journey becomes a stimulating kind of jazz. Town jazz. Playing my hometown like a jazz player could pick up your trumpet and make it sound different. Not totally different, but uncannily different.

    The town becomes uncanny, because its withdrawal becomes obvious. This is not my town. It’s like that moment when you put on a new pair of glasses but stretched out in time, involving swaying cars and a small group of strangers. Then you realize how much your world was just a sensual object. Then it strikes you that your regular world was itself a kind of displacement of some real object(s). The sense of place is already a displacement. Place is the weird one; space is the reified box. As the airporter rounds the corner of the block just a few streets away from your familiar haunts, you realize that your town is irreducibly withdrawn from access. That the strange dreamlike airporter interior with its reflections of outer lights and bizarre swaying of your body, is what it is like. More real than the dream you were just living in. Or a transition to a different dream, and the ironic gap between them. So that what is most uncanny is the sense of familiarity you have just left behind. The jazz you took to be a plastic disposable pop song.

    Philosophy has perpetually thought causality to be at work “behind” the scenes. Perhaps there is a deep existential reason why it does this. It does seem to parallel the long history what Heidegger calls the forgetting of being, the long march toward objectified lumps. But why? There is also an uncanny parallel with what in psychiatry is properly called the schizophrenic defense, in which the schizophrenic imagines all kinds of causal chains and threads to be at work behind his back. What this is blocking is how causality takes place “in front of” things. This “in front of” doesn’t mean spatially a few inches away from an objective thing, closer to our eyes. It means that causality is the way objects talk to one another, apprehend one another, comprehend one another: causality is the aesthetic dimension.

    Some forms of speculative realism imagine an abyss of dynamism churning beneath things. [46] OOO, by contrast, imagines the abyss to be in front of things. When I reach for the coffee cup, I am reaching into an abyss. By imagining a secret causal mafia behind the scenes, perhaps the schizophrenic is defending herself against the abyss in front of things, in the relationship between the tomato and the serrated knife. The abyss is not a featureless swirl, however. Let us explore it a little.

    The Abyss of Interobjectivity

    It would now be best to delve a little further into the phenomenon I have been calling interobjectivity. The causal dimension—that is the aesthetic dimension—is nonlocal and nontemporal, which is another way of saying that objects are closer than they appear in the mirror of our habitual patterns. Objects are somehow entangled together in the causal–aesthetic dimension—I borrow the image from quantum theory, in which when objects do come very close, they become the same thing. I am not sure what limits the nonlocality and nontemporality of the causal dimension, if anything. There are no empty pockets in physical reality.

    There is something that the phenomenologist José Ortega y Gasset calls ingenuousness, but which we could also call sincerity, after Harman. [47] Sincerity means that you are irreducibly glued to your “intentional objects” (Husserl), your experiences, or, in the words of Buckaroo Banzai, the 1980s cult film character, “Wherever you go, there you are.” [48] For instance, if you try to maintain a critical distance towards an experience you are having—there you are, distancing yourself. You just can’t jump outside your phenomenological skin or, as Jacques Lacan famously puts it, there is no metalanguage. [49] We are shrink-wrapped in reality. Reality is sincere: since there is no metalanguage, there is no way to jump outside of it. Even when you perform a cognitive act such as “going meta,” trying to get a purchase on some statement, for instance, there you are, doing that. This affects our view of language. On this view, a statement is more like a performance in a ballet or a drama—a deed, as Danièle Moyal-Sharrock puts it. [50]

    Relationships between objects are sincere in this respect: they are sincerities. Sincerities are fundamentally open, because we can never get to the bottom of them. Who knows exactly what a human way of walking is? Yet there you are, a human, walking. “Middle objects” such as background, world, environment, place, space and horizon are non-objects, phantoms that we (and maybe some other sentient beings) employ to domesticate this wild and uncompromising state of affairs. In truth, objects are both more real and more illusory than we want to know. Elsewhere I argue that ecological awareness consists precisely in concepts such as world and place evaporating, leaving behind real entities that are far closer than they appear in the mirror of human conceptuality. So that, in general, human beings are now living through an extended and urgent introduction to OOO, whether they like it or not, whenever they confront phenomena such as global warming and the uncanny resemblances between lifeforms.

    Any attempt to reduce the double properties of objects—they are both themselves and not-themselves at one and the same time—is doomed to failure. These 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. Such smoothing-out also occurs in physics. Nonlocality, for instance, and quantum coherence (the way particles seem to be blurred into one another or occupying several places at once) seem to refute LNC at a basic level of material reality. So theories such as the many worlds explanation get rid of the inconsistency. [51] The trouble is, such theories maintain LNC at the cost of a potentially infinite number of parallel universes that open up to accommodate the inconsistent positions of a quantum. It’s a bit like sweeping dust under the rug. It doesn’t really go anywhere.

    OOO objects are simultaneously enclosed and entangled in a sensual (interobjective) ether. A metaphysical system that doesn’t take the dialetheic (double-truthed) quality of objects into account is prone to inconsistency in at least one part of its argument. We shall investigate this as we proceed. 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. It would be better to start with the facts—namely that objects exhibit p ∧ ¬p. Such a view has the advantage that we don’t need to specify some originary object 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.

    For now, let’s simply consider mechanism. Machine-like functioning, which is what our common prejudice often takes causality to be (at least since Newton and Descartes), must only be one specific kind of emergent property of some deeper nonlocal, nontemporal ocean in which things directly are other things. Machines are made of separate parts, parts that are external to one another by definition. What causality just isn’t is this kind of mechanical functioning, like the metal balls in an executive toy. The click of the balls as they hit one another is a sound that implies the existence of at least one other object—the ambient air that vibrates, causing the click to be heard. How come this click or clunk is more real than other forms of causality such as attraction, repulsion, magnetism, seduction, destruction and entanglement?

    Clunk causality implies a determinist view: two balls must be contiguous with one another, the causality only goes in one direction, and there must be at least a necessary, if not a sufficient reason for the clunk in the ball that does the clunking. Yet when we go down a few levels, we discover that quantum behavior is irreducibly probabilistic. What does that mean? It means that indeterminacy is hard wired into the behavior: it’s not as if we could clean up our way of analyzing it and it would then look determined. So there are physical reasons why determinism doesn’t work: we’re talking about both sufficient and necessary conditions failing at some point. It means that Hume is in trouble. [52] But there’s another big reason not to like determinism. When you have a strong statistical correlation such as the likelihood that you will get cancer if you smoke, and you are a determinist, you can wish that fact away. That’s the trouble with the post-Humean view that causes can’t be directly seen, only strong correlations between associations of data. [53] Kant was the philosopher who explained a deep reason for the truth of Hume: there is a transcendental crack between appearing and knowing. OOO is part of this lineage insofar as it posits a myriad transcendental cracks—reality is riddled with the Rift. This is the reason why philosophers of immanence are disturbed by OOO: it thinks transcendence, but not beyond things—transcendence is in the cracks in an eggshell in a box of eggs in the supermarket.

    Tobacco companies and global warming deniers rely on the common resistance to the nothingness inherent in the realization that there are cracks in the real. There is no “proven link” between smoking and cancer—but that’s evidently not the point. Likewise, global warming denial takes a leaf out of the determinist notebook. Since there is no obvious link between the rain falling on my head and global warming, it must be untrue. Or my theory of causality is out of whack. Large complex systems require causality theories that are non-deterministic just like very small quantum scale ones. Clunking is an illusion that seems to happen to medium-sized objects such as billiard balls, but only when we isolate the clunk amidst a welter of other phenomena.

    Clunk causality is in denial about the long history of more subtle approaches to causation. The Arabic philosopher al-Kindi defines all causes as metaphorical—apart from God, the unmoved mover (al-Kindi is an Aristotelian theist). [54] Al-Kindi did so when my ancestors were clunking one another (talking of clunks) with crudely fashioned weapons, in the last years of the tenth century AD. Causation is metaphorical—that means that causes are overdetermined. The balls are held in place by a wire frame. The frame sits on a desk. The desk is part of an office in a large corporation. All these entities are causes of the executive toy’s clunking sounds. Overdetermination, metaphor—they mean the same thing. Or, in translation, translation: metaphor is just Greek for translation, since meta means across and -phor means carrying. This is a far more suitable way to think causality than mechanical clunking. It provides a reason why many forms of empirically observed causation are probabilistic. Overdetermination is particularly evident in cases of omission and prevention. How can we say “His failure to call out caused the accident” without considering the father’s reading his email, not looking at the child running into the street, the car without adequate brakes driving too fast down the street, and so on? [55] If we hold that there must be non-metaphorical causes, then omissions and preventions are only counterfactual, and only ontically given causes exist: our theory of causation is then a positivistic one. Omissions and preventions are therefore only ways of talking in shorthand about causal chains. On the view established here, however, it is entirely possible for something to be affected simply by being left alone: omission and prevention are hard wired into the theory of causation, rather than simply being counterfactual ghosts. Meditation, for instance, could be defined as a leaving-alone of objects. This leaving-alone is an omission that has real effects. By allowing objects to remain inconsistent, rather than reducing them to appearances (for me), I act nonviolently. And so on.

    One object plays another one. This empty orange juice bottle is playing the table in this airport, waggling back and forth as the table sways due to a wonky leg. Objects are shared by numerous entities in a common sensual space. This shared space is a vast nonlocal configuration space. Phenomena such as human subjectivity—“intersubjective” phenomena that is—occupy small regions of the space of interobjectivity. Every interobjective phenomenon requires 1+n real objects. This means that for every interobjective system, at least one real object is withdrawn. Consider a beat. A beat occurs when one tone is canceled by another tone. You make a beat by cutting a continuous tone. The gap between the two is a beat.

    Every event in reality is a kind of inscription in which one object leaves its footprint in another one. Interobjective reality is just the sum total of all these footprints, crisscrossing everywhere. It’s nonlocal by definition and temporally molten. The print of a dinosaur’s foot in the mud is seen as a foot shaped hole in a rock by humans sixty five million years later. There is some sensuous connection, then, between the dinosaur, the rock and the human, despite their vastly differing timescales. [56]

    When we return in our mind’s eye to the time of the dinosaur herself, we discover something very strange. All we find there is another region of interobjective space in which impressions of the dinosaur are transmitted—tooth marks in a some hapless prey, the frozen stare of the dinosaur as she looks at her next victim, the smooth scaly feel of her skin. More dinosaur prints, even when the dinosaur is alive. Even the dinosaur doesn’t know herself entirely, only in a rough translation that samples and edits her being. A mosquito or an asteroid have their own unique sample of dinosar-ness, and these samples are not dinosaurs. Why?

    Because there is a real dinosaur, withdrawn from access even from herself. Black holes are right here, in magazines and on the web, as jpegs and gee-whizz pop science essays and sci fi movies. Yet they are not here, evidently. But even if you could somehow climb into one with a video camera, you couldn’t know the whole story about black holes. Why? Because your video of a black hole is not a black hole. Because black holes are real.

    The sum total of all the sampling events by which an object inscribes itself on other objects is a history, in both senses of that wonderfully ambivalent Greek term—since history can mean events and recording. Raindrops splatter on the ground in western California. They record the history of La Niña, a massive weather system in the Pacific. In particular, they record how the Japanese tsunami of 2011 scooped up some of La Niña and dumped it on trees and hills and other objects in the object called the USA. La Niña itself is the footprint of a gigantic object called global warming. Another footprint may well have been the Japanese earthquake itself, since the changing oceanic temperature may have changed the pressure on Earth’s crust, resulting in an earthquake.

    The quake destroyed four nuclear reactors. Quanta from these reactors, known as alpha, beta and gamma particles, inscribe themselves in soft tissue around the world. We are living textbooks on global warming and nuclear materials, crisscrossed with interobjective calligraphy.

    Causation Without Clunking

    We are beginning to see how we can do without a mechanistic theory of causation: all to the good, since mechanistic theories just fail to cope with relativity or quantum theory. [57] There is an ontological reason why we need to avoid mechanism. If all objects are unique, there is no sense in which we can specify a mechanical level that somehow chugs along beneath objects. This would require consistent machine parts, and according to the view of OOO, we are just not living in that kind of reality.

    There is a far deeper problem. If all objects are unique and enclosed from access, they can never truly be said to touch one another! Harman thus outlines an OOO theory of vicarious causation. This may sound absurd on the face of it, but is it? Consider quantum theory for a moment. If objects truly touched one another at the quantum level (down towards the Planck length, 10-33 cm), they would become one another. [58] Above this level, what we think of as touching has to do with how objects resist one another. The fact that I can rest my hand on a cinder block means that the quanta in my fingers are failing to bust through the resistance wells on the surface of the block. From a rather straightforward physics point of view, objects just don’t touch one another in the ways we take to be given in our experience. When something touches something, even when it seems to penetrate that something, it’s not really fusing with it. Its quanta are failing to fuse with it.

    Touching, no matter how intimate, involves a necessary aesthetic distance. People commonly think of causality as a clunk that breaks through the aesthetic screen, like Doctor’s Johnson’s boot. This kind of clunking is one aesthetic phenomenon among many. I am touched, for instance, at this very moment, by gravity waves emanating from the beginning of this Universe. A chemical solution can be touched by a catalyst. Soft tissue is touched by high energy photons such as gamma rays, giving rise to mutagenic effects.

    Two deep philosophical traditions have explored how causation can be vicarious: how causation does not have to imply direct touching. One tradition is Islamic; the other is Buddhist. We’ve looked at Al-Kindi briefly; now consider Al-Ghazali, whom Harman cites as a foil for his theory of vicarious causation. Al-Ghazali was an occasionalist—he held that only God could make anything happen. Fire doesn’t really burn a piece of cotton—somehow God magically intervenes and uses the fire as an occasion for the cotton to catch alight. [59] Why is this important for our purposes? Because if objects are withdrawn from one another, there must be some vicarious way in which they affect one another. We don’t need it to be God—in fact, we don’t need God at all. All the vicariousness we want can be found in the aesthetic dimension in which things are enmeshed.

    Now this is remarkably similar to an argument in Mahayana Buddhism. Even the example is similar—it involves fire and fuel. Nagarjuna, the great philosopher of Buddhist emptiness (shunyatā), argued that a flame never really touches its fuel—nor does it fail to touch! (Here’s a dialetheia again.) If it did so, then the fuel would be the flame or vice versa, and no causality could occur. [60] Yet if they were totally separate, no burning could take place. Nagarjuna argues that if something were to arise from itself, then nothing would happen. Yet if something were to arise from something else that was not-itself, then nothing can happen either. A mixture of these views (both–and and neither–nor) is also possible, since such a mixture would be subject to the defects of each one combined. For instance, on this view, the idea that things arise neither from themselves nor from something else is what Nagarjuna calls nihilism, on which basis anything at all can happen. The logic of causal explanations, he argues, is circular. [61] Emptiness is not the absence of something, but the nonconceptuality of reality: the real is beyond concept, because it is real.

    What explains burning? Buddhism is non-theistic, so it isn’t God. Instead, it’s emptiness. In other words, the lack of an intrinsic, non-contradictory, purely given being means that objects can influence one another. We see flames spurting out of candles all the time, but if the candle were to be touched by the flame, it would simply be part of that object, and a flame can’t be burnt—it is the act of burning. Yet if the flame and the candle were separate, we would never see flames jiggling about on top of candlewicks. Causality, according to this view, is like a magical display—there is no physical reason why it is happening. Rather, the reason is aesthetic (magic, display). Furthermore, the magical illusion happens all by itself, withdrawn from perception.

    There is no “causation” as such—that’s a superficial illusion, a presence-at-hand as Harman would say. Like Al-Ghazali, for whom God provides the causal links between unlinkable objects, a kind of magic happens (without God) and we see flames emerging out of candlewicks and billiard balls smacking one another. There is nothing underneath this display. And the display happens whether “we” observe it or not.

    What does this mean? It means that causality is aesthetic.

    The Trouble with Pretense

    The term “withdraw” suggests what snails and turtles do—pulling themselves into some small dark chamber into which it’s difficult to see. It suggests some kind of spatial dimension behind or beyond or inside the visible: to draw oneself within, to retire. I rather like this valence. I’ve spent much of my scholarly life so far sticking up for introversion—heaven knows the hale and hearty environmentalist discourse out there could do with more snail-like behavior. But withdraw as an OOO term does not really mean “move to a place behind the current position.”

    Alongside the term withdrawal, this book employs imagery associated with magic, illusion and display. Withdrawal is what happens right under your nose, because, to quote Lacan again, “What constitutes pretense is, in the end, you don’t know whether it’s pretense or not.” [62] Causality is like an illusion. If we knew it was an illusion, it would not be an illusion, because we would be sure of its ontological status.

    Many indigenous cultures think of Nature not as the reality underneath things, but as the pretense in front of things. The machinations are not happening under the pretense. The machinations are the pretense. Causality is happening “out in front of” the object. That’s why it’s so hard to see. Reality is a trickster and objects behave like playful children—even the black hole at the center of the Milky Way annihilating everything in its path. Such a view is glimpsed in apophatic theories of allegory. Moses Maimonides argues that the literal level is the superficial one. The figurative level is like a golden apple contained in a superfine filigree of silver. [63] From a distance it looks as if we are seeing a silver apple. What we are really seeing is a fine mesh that only appears to be solid. This is the mesh that lies in front of objects. The interconnectedness of everything is a finely woven tissue that floats in front of what elsewhere I have called strange strangers: all entities, from Styrofoam and radio waves to peanuts, snakes and asteroids, are irreducibly uncanny. [64] In Harman’s terms, this mesh is a sensual ether. The real objects are the strange strangers. [65]

    The trouble is, when you only have the meshwork, the mask, without the possibility that there’s something real underneath it, then you have no play, no pretense, no illusion, no display, no magic. You know it’s an illusion—so it isn’t an illusion. You know there is no essence—this becomes the essence, a shadowy, inverted form of the very essentialism you are trying to escape. This is the trouble with performance art, or at least the manifestoes of conceptual art. By undoing the difference between art and nonart, by self-consciously getting rid of self-consciousness and professional artists, conceptual art ignores the Rift between essence and appearance, reducing the ontological to the merely ontic. An overall atmosphere of jaded cynicism hangs over it. [66]

    By contrast, if there truly “is no metalanguage,” as Lacanian and post-structuralist theory has been asserting for decades, even if you are aware that it’s an illusion, the illusion still works. [67] A phenomenon (Greek, phainesthai, to appear) is both an appearance and a false appearance. [68] This is why a horror movie can be just as scary the second time around. If there really is no metalanguage, even if you know “it’s an illusion,” it still functions. For causality to happen, objects don’t have to deceive other objects totally. How could they? They are prevented total access. Causality is an illusion-like play, precisely because of the fundamental Rift between withdrawn essence and aesthetic appearance, a “place” of profound ambiguity in the being of a thing. That’s why causality works.

    The object withdraws from itself. Even the object itself is not an adequate expression of itself, since there is a profound Rift between essence and appearance. This is by no means the off-the-shelf Aristotelianism with which ontology has been stuck for centuries, including that of Descartes and later. This is not the difference between substance and accidents. On the OOO view, substance is another “translation” of a withdrawn object by some other entity: say a pair of scales that measures the weight of a cupcake but not its flavor or sex appeal. Somehow “we” have decided that substances are dull boring things like bland tasting plain cupcakes, and that accidents are aesthetic and therefore superficial, like candy sprinkles. Whenever we look for essence, we won’t find it—because it exists.

    OOO is a form of realism. It’s just that any attempt to reify essence becomes an ontotheological preference for one ontic being over another. These beings are all appearances, and appearances are always appearances-for (some other entity). Yet appearances are not just the cheerleaders of some faceless football team of essences. The Rift between essence and appearance itself is what fuels causality. An object is not an illusion. But it is not a non-illusion. Much more threatening than either is what is the case, namely an object that is utterly real, essentially itself, whose very reality is formally ungraspable. No hidden trapdoors, just a mask with some feathers whose mystery is out in front of itself, in your face. A miracle. Realist magic. This all means that the skills of the literary critic and the architect, the painter and the actor, the furniture maker and the composer, the musician and the software designer can be brought to bear on the workings of causality.

    The History of Substance

    Now we can take a step back and assess where we have come. Despite the fact that physics since 1900 has given good reasons for thinking that reality has an essential aesthetic component, the aesthetic is in bad shape in the realm of the humanities. If you want a good defense of art, don’t ask a humanist—or even an artist, possibly. They are liable to tell you that art is a lie, a beautiful illusion, deceptive sprinkles on the dry, gray cake of the real. They will tell you that like the cavalry, these sprinkles are brought in when the gray cake starts to fall apart. The sprinkles act as a kind of pathetic fairy dust that might fool deluded saps in the trenches but not the officer class up on the hill, surveying the ideological struggle from an infinite distance. Have humanists in general, despite their extraordinarily creative ways of thinking about causes at work, decided in favor of the default clunk causality, a causality that no explanation of quantum scale phenomena supports?

    Perhaps the humanists will tell you that reality is really a special kind of art, a flowing, oozing, lava lamp kind of art. What makes lava lamps work isn’t art, however: it’s heat and liquids and viscosity and other physical properties. What these materialists mean is that this particular view—an officially sanctioned view we see everywhere nowadays—is the one true view. Thus process relationism becomes a way to police what counts as good and bad art. It may be about lava lamps but it’s no different from socialist realism: there’s an official way of seeing reality, and woe betide you if you don’t cleave to it. Or you call it on aesthetic perception being just a matter of taste. It replies, No: this is about science, this is about the real. It seems as if most humanists don’t want to defend art per se, let alone the humanities themselves. The strongest recent defense of the humanities has come from a theoretical physicist, who defended the critical thinking taught in humanities classes. [69] Some humanities scholars have become embarrassed about such things, having painted themselves into a corner: if art is only a beautiful lie, so what? Defenses of the humanities start from this position, which is why they end up anodyne at best. [70]

    Art is in trouble, and the reason why has a very long and deep history. This history is intimately connected to the sad story of ontology—how thinking drifted away from it. So far the philosophical movement of speculative realism has traced the story of the demise of the humanities back to Kantian correlationism, the restriction of philosophy to the human–world correlate. Yet the problem goes even further back, to the early Renaissance split between logic and rhetoric. Logic was once considered the first and second parts of rhetoric: discovery and arrangement, what you are going to say and how you are going to argue it through. Then Peter Ramus and others separated logic from rhetoric. At one stroke, rhetoric was restricted to mere style (Latin, elocutio); science as a separate discipline was born; and so was aesthetics. When we say nowadays that someone is being rhetorical, we mean that she has style but no substance.

    Attitudes to rhetoric have profoundly affected the long history of philosophy. Consider in particular the separation of rhetoric from invention and ordering, or as they could be known, science and logic. This separation, a massive world-historical event, defined earlier metaphysicians as scholastic pettifoggers. Nowadays, that thought means that one is as likely when one hears the word “metaphysics” to imagine a section in a bookstore to be avoided by “proper” thinkers as to imagine philosophy. The separation of logic and rhetoric gave rise to science as a separate discipline and the reduction of rhetoric to style—and the subsequent withering of style into tropology, and the subsequent withering of tropology into metaphor. The Freudian, Nietzschean, and deconstructive strategy is to find a kind of style (elocutio) within discovery (inventio), the realm of science, and arrangement (ordo or dispositio), the realm of logic: to subvert logic and science by showing how they include–exclude rhetorical gestures, narrowly considered as style. The eliminative materialist strategy is blithely to ignore rhetoric as a third-class citizen of the republic of knowledge. [71] Significantly, then, deconstruction and eliminative materialism share the same attitude towards rhetoric. So that when we read a Dawkins or a de Man, a Dennett or a Derrida, we are still reading someone fully caught in the Ramist pinball machine that divides style from substance.

    The restriction of rhetoric to decorative candy on the surface of meaning went along with the restriction of philosophy. Indeed, the two are intimately related. Descartes drew a line between himself and his predecessors, provocatively stripping things of all but their basic extensionality, and trusting science to take the ontological reins. Yet Descartes himself was hobbled by the weight of ontological tradition. Precisely at the moment at which he thought he was escaping scholasticism, he was only too bogged down in it. [72] The dominant (still dominant) Cartesian view of “constant objective presence” was underwritten by mathematics and physics. This presence was cognized with intellectio rather than sensatio (Greek, aisthēsis). [73] To think reality thus is precisely to edit out the aesthetic dimension. The aesthetic then becomes the mere “personalization” of objects, “subsequently outfitting beings with value predicates.” [74] Like an expert criminal, the proto-correlationist thought that makes objects into non-contradictory objective constancy leaves no trace: we just assume that this is the case. OOO has a long row to hoe in this regard, since it must tackle not only two centuries of post-Kantian correlationism, but also five centuries of Cartesian fumbling—fumbling, moreover, a ball that is more than two millennia old: the rather bland ball of substance decorated with accidents.

    This affects everything. It’s about how ontology has become taboo. It’s about how the aesthetic arose as a dimension separate from, even hostile to, rhetoric (consider Kant’s opposition to rhetoric). [75] It’s about how philosophy has become obsessed with perfect arguments rather than suggestive cognitive work, as Harman puts it. [76] It’s why the only alternative to perfect freeze-dried arguments is sheer tropological play. It’s why there is a vigorous search for new and improved forms of metaphysics such as the lava lampy materialisms on offer currently, although according to the view offered here, such materialisms regress even from the choice between freeze-dried perfection and powdered void.

    OOO takes us out of the interlocking machine that separated substance from accidents and rhetoric from logic. This is precisely because it imagines style as an elementary aspect of causality rather than as candy on top of lumps of stuff bumping together indifferently. Appearances are not simply the cheerleaders for the faceless football team of essences. Thinking about art is thinking about causality.

    The division of rhetoric and logic, and later the split between aesthetics and science, helped to break the lock theism had on knowledge and art. Yet some strange things carried over, like a hangover headache, from the earlier period, disparagingly dubbed Medieval by the modernity that sought to transcend it. First, the notion of infinite space, which had begun as a condemnation by the Bishop of Paris, with Pope John XXI’s blessing, of doctrines that limited that power of God in 1277: Thou shalt not imagine that God couldn’t create anything he likes. God is powerful enough to create an infinite void; therefore, he did. [77] It took until 1900 for physics and inductive logic to get over that little theistic nugget. Currently we conceive of spacetime as an emergent property of objects, thanks to Einstein, not as a gigantic bowl in which objects float. Why is this important? Because the infinite void underwrites atomism, and therefore mechanism. Moreover, since the causal dimension is not mechanistic, OOO gives us a truly non-theist perspective, not some toy universe that could have been wound up by an intelligent designer. OOO cleans up this mess, by paradoxically returning to a time when logic and rhetoric can be thought together. As we shall see, rhetorical theory provides a working model of many aspects of causation. If you really want to get over the modern period, this is what you have to do. Give up fighting for the value of little pieces of human candy. See the aesthetic dimension as the blood of reality.

    In the early modern period, aesthetics became all about how humans perceive, and then that was restricted to how humans perceive specific objects, namely, works of art. [78] Gone was the workmanlike pragmatics of fully-fledged rhetorical theory. Gone was the applicability of rhetoric to a vast variety of walks of life. If we return to a more rounded view of rhetoric, indeed a view that thinks rhetoric as causality, we will be accused of scholasticism. For it is precisely the term scholasticism whose usage denotes that we are in modernity. Scholasticism, like the word weed, means something that you don’t want to have around: philosophy in the wrong place, about the wrong stuff. This is roughly the current sad position of ontology in the scheme of things. Aside from Heidegger, who somehow was allowed into the elite club of modern philosophers, ontology smacks of angels dancing on the heads of pins and unmoved movers and celestial spheres. It smacks, in other words, of a time when Aristotle was taken very seriously. Yet if humans are going to exit modernity—which the current ecological emergency seems to be demanding—then the philosophies that arise will begin to look quite Aristotelian.

    After all, it was Aristotle who argued for different forms of causality than mere clunking efficiency, which he thinks is just one of four: material, formal, efficient and final. We can probably agree that in a post-Darwinian age, final causes will not come back tout court. We can let go of teleology, which means that a large chunk of theism just evaporates. In turn, material causes can be dealt with by the various arguments I present here. In a nutshell, “raw materials” are precisely as Marx says, things that come in at one end of the factory door: it doesn’t matter what they are, just as long as the factory works on them. Matter, then, is always relational—it’s matter-for. Material causes are metonymies, tropes that indirectly evoke another thing: a chair made of wood, a chip made of silicon. So much for material causes.

    It’s formal causes that are going to make a significant comeback. Formal causation and vicarious causation are part of the same phenomenon. Yet “modern” science since the seventeenth century has been so keen to eliminate all but efficient and material causes. But quantum theory necessitates a revisiting of formal causation. An electron shoots through the hole in a doughnut of electromagnetism, and it responds as if it were within the doughnut. It is probably responding to the shape, the form, the aesthetics of the field: this is the Bohm-Aharonov effect, one of the first observed kinds of nonlocality. [79] Likewise birds detect the quantum signature of electromagnetic fields, not actual ions. [80] Nonlocality implies that something very deep about our world is formal, not efficient, or material—that is, aesthetic. Formal causation just is vicarious, in a universe without matter per se or telos. Another term for formal cause is “aesthetic dimension.”

    If birds navigate by detecting the nonlocal quantum signature of electromagnetic waves, their sense of direction is formal. What are formal causes? Why, the things they study in art schools and literature programs: the shapes of things. Given atoms in a void, a causality that focuses on efficiency can tell you how they spin around and clunk each other. But we are not given atoms in a void. We are given a quantum soup in which spacetime itself may well be an emergent property of objects of a certain size. We are given planets and black holes that emit time and space like stones casting ripples on the surface of a pond. We have lifeforms that assume a certain shape depending on the way their genome expresses itself. We have sunlight, balloons, almond butter and aspen trees. We have objects that smack, plop, sparkle and shimmer.

    It looks as if contemporary science, and OOO, are both in the business of reviving formal causation, downplaying material causes or even eliminating them. The upshot is that “matter” is only what a unique thing looks like when it’s being used/exploited/worked on by some other thing. Efficiency is only an emergent property of formal relationships. Yet for a sense of the contemporary taboo on formal causes, only consider the fate of Rupert Sheldrake, whose 1981 book on what he calls formative causation incurred the wrath of the eliminativist editor of Nature, so much so that the editor was only too happy to compare himself, astonishingly, with the Catholic church persecuting Galileo. If this sounds like eliminative materialism shooting itself in the foot, that is because it is. [81]

    Thus when Harman decided that the only way to explain causality, given withdrawn objects, was through some kind of aesthetic process that he termed allure, this was a bold and counterintuitive move indeed. When one object has an effect on another, this must only be through some kind of aesthetic dimension. Thus when the dinosaur we met earlier steps into some mud, she leaves a footprint. She translates the mud into dinosaur-ese. She dinosauromorphizes it, just as I, a human, inevitably anthropomorphize it when I put my hand in it or speak about it. Sixty-five million years later, a paleontologist inspects a fossilized dinosaur footprint. She coexists with the dinosaur and the ancient mud in a nontemporal configuration space, which I have termed interobjectivity. She can influence the footprint, and the footprint can influence her, in this shared sensual space. It’s as if this level of reality is a vast mesh of crisscrossing lines, marks, symbols, hieroglyphics, riddles, songs, poems and stories.

    The kind of causality that best describes objects has to do with information flow, copying, sampling, and translation. A space in which the aesthetic form of an object can exert a causal influence. This means that clunk causality—the billiard ball clicks that we visualize as soon as we hear the phrase “cause and effect”—is only one kind of event in a much larger aesthetic dimension that includes all kinds of other events. We can swap theistic and nihilistic voids for withdrawal. Infinity and eternity, which Aristotle rules out (and which Arabic philosophers also ruled out, and Europeans didn’t listen), imply empty space, in which objects clunk into each other like stainless steel balls in an executive toy.

    Causality has been imagined as a kind of mechanical clunking for several centuries now. Relativity and quantum theory put huge dents in clunk causality. Even electrolysis and electromagnetism put dents in it. But clunk causality works well with a disdain for what is called scholasticism, namely, anything like an attempt do produce an ontological account of reality. But we persist in thinking a clunky mechanist materialism, in which a sub-basement full of whirring machines chugs along and everything is just a manifest image, some kind of candy, on top of this machinery. Clunk causality beats Aristotle’s four causes down to one: pure efficiency. We assume we know what reality is made of—matter. And we assume that form is aesthetic appearance, just the decoration on the surface. We already concede to a default ontology that doesn’t even want to call itself an ontology.

    As I argued above, the Arabic philosopher al-Kindi has a beautiful critique of clunk causality: a clunk is only ever a metaphor. The ball clunking the ball is also held in place by strings attached to a metal frame. They are also the cause of the clunk. The frame sits on a desk in the executive’s office. The office is part of a global corporation. And so on, all the way back to the Unmoved Mover: causation is metaphorical. [82] Causality is much better thought as translation.

    Accepting this changes our view profoundly. Clunking is only one of a vast variety of possible kinds of translation. We have decided that clunking is more real than magnetizing, or seducing, or inducing, or catalyzing, or entangling. Why should a clunking sound be the only genuine metaphor for causality? A genuine metaphor for metaphor—how absurd.

    Many readers of Harman’s work say that they accept, or are at least prepared to admit, the possibility of withdrawn objects. But allure as the engine of causality? Cause and effect as metaphor, as translation? This they find hard. Yet this is the very piece of OOO that I find intuitively the most interesting and compelling. Not only that: the aesthetic account of causality is fully in line with the most profound scientific theories of physical reality. It’s this essential piece of OOO that Realist Magic explores, in three phases that correspond to how objects come into being, persist, and cease to be.

    Objects Are Hypocrites

    Let’s begin by outlining how we could use rhetorical theory to think about causality. We could rewrite the whole of rhetoric as object-oriented by reversing the implicit order of Aristotle’s five parts of rhetoric. The five parts are invention (or discovery); ordering (or disposition); style; memory; and delivery. Instead of starting with invention and proceeding through disposition to elocution, then on to memory and delivery, we should start with delivery. Delivery is precisely the physicality of rhēma, speech. Demosthenes used to practice his delivery by filling his mouth with pebbles and walking uphill. Pebbles and hills played a part in Demosthenes’ rhetoric. But rhetoric is far more concerned with nonhuman entities than that.

    Reversing the order explodes the teleology implicit in common assumptions about rhetoric (common for instance in university level composition classes): first you have an idea, then you figure out how to argue it, then you pour on some nice ear candy, then you recite it or upload it or whatever. Withdrawn objects do not exist in-order-to anything. We often assume that delivery is secondary to rhetoric, kind of like the volume control or the equalizer on a stereo—it’s a matter of conditioning the externals of rhetoric. This isn’t what Demosthenes and Cicero thought. Asked to name the most important parts of rhetoric, Demosthenes replied “First, delivery; second, delivery; third, delivery”—at which point his interlocutor conceded, but Demosthenes was ready to go on. [83]

    If we rethink delivery not as a bottle into which the already-existing argument is poured like a liquid, nor as an envelope that delivers the message like mail, but as a physical object and its sensual medium, we will be thinking of it like Quintilian, who says of great actors that “they add so much to the charm of even the greatest poets, that the verse moves us far more when heard than when read, while they succeed in securing a hearing even for the most worthless authors, with the result that they repeatedly win a welcome on the stage that is denied them in the library.” [84] The object-oriented explanation for this is that the voice, an object with its own richness and hidden depths, translates the words it speaks—a spooky evocation of the encrypted heart of objects not via revelation but via obscurity—as if (as if, mind you) it were summoning forth an obscure dimension of language. Quintilian discusses Quintus Hortensius, whose voice must have “possessed some charm” for people to rank him second only to Cicero, given how awful his written speeches appeared. [85] Now before the reader accuses me of logocentrism, realize that it’s not that voice really gives access to the hidden depth of meaning—it’s that voice is an object in its own right, vibrating with uncanny overtones. Like ekphrasis (heightened, vivid description), like metaphor, voice leaps forth towards us, unleashing its density and opacity. Voice has what Harman calls allure, the sensual energy of the dimension in which causality happens. [86]

    We can proceed from thinking of voice as an object in its own right to asserting that a pencil resting against the inside of a plastic cup is a delivery of a pencil, a certain kind of physical posture similar to a loud voice or a cajoling whine. A house is delivery, disporting its occupants and its rooms and its backyard into various configurations. A record player is delivery, as is an MP3 player. A book is delivery. A waterfall is delivery. A computer game is delivery. A spoon is delivery. A volcano is delivery. A ribbon is delivery. A black hole is delivery. Working backwards through the five parts of rhetoric from this expanded sense of delivery, we would end up at inventio. We could say that inventio was actually object withdrawal—a dark or reverse inventio, “covery” rather than “discovery.”

    Object-oriented rhetoric is not the long march towards the explicit, but a gravitational field that sucks us from delivery to withdrawal, from the sensual into implicit secrecy and silence. Aristotle’s Rhetoric depends on silence, because rhetoric needs listeners: so the second part of his magnum opus is devoted to the painstaking elucidation of different types of affect, different styles of listening. Harman argues that metaphor makes even the sensual qualities of objects, which seem readily available to us, seem withdrawn. [87] What metaphor does, then, is not unlike another trope, which the old manuals call obscurum per obscures: describing something obscure by making it seem even more obscure. [88] Percy Shelley was very fond of this trope—his images endarken rather than enlighten. [89] If we generalize this to the whole of rhetoric, object-oriented rhetoric becomes the way objects obscure themselves in fold upon fold of mysterious robes, caverns, fortresses of solitude and octopus ink. Discovery and enclosure are, as Heidegger argues, very closely related. [90]

    While thinking about an object takes us from delivery to (dis)covery, being an object is a matter of all the different parts of rhetoric happening at one and the same time. Instead of looking at the five parts of rhetoric as a step by step recipe for making meaning explicit (“first you pick a subject, then you organize your argument...”), we could see them as simultaneous aspects of any object that render that object mysterious and strange yet direct and in your face. Accounting for them this way prevents us from distorting them as present-at-hand (Heidegger, vorhanden) entities or metaphysical substances decorated with accidents: there’s a plastic cup and now we add some color, now we see it has a certain shape, and so on. This simultaneity of aspects accounts for what musicians call timbre, a word that conjures up the substantiality of timber. A note played on a plastic cup sounds very different from the same note played on a smoothly polished wooden cylinder. Timbre is the sensual appearance of an object to another object, in contrast to Xavier Zubíri’s notes, which are aspects of the hidden dimension of a thing. [91] So rhetoric in an object-oriented sense is the way the timbre of an object manifests.

    If we started with delivery, the availability of a sensual object, we’d immediately unfurl a host of mysterious qualities that spoke in strange whispers about the object of which they are aspects. Delivery deforms both what it delivers and the deliveree, stuttering and caricaturing them, remixing and remastering them. [92] Working backwards, the sensual object persists (memoria), it displays a unique “style” (elocutio), it organizes its notes and parts (dispositio and ordo), and it contains what Harman calls a “molten core” that withdraws from all contact (inventio). [93] The plastic cup does this to the pencil. The garden does this to the house. The plastic cup even does it to itself. The parts of the cup “deliver” the whole in a more or less distorted way, accounting for various aspects of its history and presenting the cup with a certain style, articulated according to certain formal arrangements—and finally, these qualities themselves are uncannily unavailable for present-at-hand inspection.

    The molten core of a thing is wrapped within the delivery. Latin gives us a clue about this by translating the Greek for delivery, hypokrisis, as either actio or pronuntiatio. [94] We get the word “hypocrisy” from hypokrisis. [95] It stems from the verb to judge or interpret—objects interpret themselves. Yet in so doing they are like actors, both dissembling and generating an entirely fresh set of objects—as an orchestra “interprets” a score by playing it. For instance, hypokrisis can signify the tone or manner of an animal’s cry. The cry expresses the animal, yet it’s also an object all its own. Pronuntiatio is more like the manifest appearance of an object to another object. It speaks to the dissembling part of hypokrisis. Actio sounds more like execution (Heidegger’s Vollzug), the dark unfolding of an object’s hidden essence. Actio speaks to the way objects magically foam with being.

    Objects, then, are hyprocrites, forever split from within. I’d rather live in a hypocritical Universe than a cynical one. We’ve had quite enough of that, a symptom of how the standard philosophical game for two hundred years has been “Anything you can do I can do meta.” During this era, philosophy has more or less tacitly agreed that leaping away from objects into the beyond is the mark of true philosophy and intelligence.

    Is it not possible to imagine that an object-oriented rhetorical theory might account for vicarious causation, the only kind of causation possible between ontologically vacuum-sealed objects? Harman talks about “elements” or “quality objects”—the aspects of sensual objects that somehow communicate with one another. [96] Could my strange reverse rhetoric supply a model for this? Is it possible then that an element resembles a phrase, or a rhetorical period? Harman hints that the linguistic trope of metaphor might be alluring precisely because it gives us a taste of some kind of deeper causality. [97] Can we imagine the interaction between a pen and a wooden table as made up of rhetorical phrases and periods, whereby the elements of one object persuade another? Consider the Latin root of persuasion (suadeo), which has to do with how one object urges, impels, induces or sways another. [98] The aesthetic, in other words, is not a superficial candy coating on the real, but is instead the lubrication, the energy and the glue of causality as such. To think so is truly to exit the Ramist machine.

    The Play of Phenomena

    Objects are forms of delivery, which means that objects are hypocrites—which in turn means that they are actors. The most comprehensive way to think causality is to think drama. Let us explore the difficult and surprising facts that this hypothesis brings up.

    In the essay “Experience,” Emerson writes of the “evanescence and lubricity of all objects, which lets them slip through our fingers then when we clutch the hardest.” [99] Not only is this a description of how humans (fail to) know objects, but also it’s a rather elegant image for what happens between any objects whatsoever. In what now sounds like an OOO joke, Emerson says that this dynamic whereby our clutching objects causes them to slip from us is “the most unhandsome part of our condition.” There is a play on the notion of handiness (German, Zuhandenheit) that one can’t fail to miss if one is an object-oriented ontologist. In his tool-analysis, Heidegger draws a distinction between tools that are zuhanden (to-hand) and vorhanden (present-at-hand). Heidegger argues that when we just use a tool, it disappears into its functioning; it appears when some breakage (or our aesthetic framing of it) isolates it from its background. Harman develops this to apply not only to hammers and the like, and between humans (and the like) and hammers (and the like), but also between and within any and all entities. [100] Harman argues that in order to grasp the most consistent version of the tool analysis, we must accept that any event whatsoever—including the use of the hammer as a tool, the very example Heidegger excludes—is a translation of an object into a vorhanden parody of itself.

    You are wandering around the Tate Britain art gallery in London with a friend. Both of you know something about art and you’ve studied art history and criticism. You come to the huge, extraordinary collection of Turner paintings. You stop in front of Rain, Steam and Speed, a painting of a train emerging from some mist. The train seems like a ghost, swathed in prismatic clouds of color. You have a conversation about the painting. Your friend says: “Turner celebrates ‘the Railway Age’ and the affirmation of progress embodied by the locomotive with an allegory developed from the Baroque, and in a style deriving from a study of Rembrandt.” But you disagree—you reply: “The painting is Turner’s protest against the machine despoliation of the environment, in this case a lovely section of the Thames long dear to the painter.” [101]

    What is going on here? Are both of you correct at the same time? Wouldn’t this imply a contradiction, a dialetheia? Fans of Aristotle are wary of violating LNC. So you look for another reason to justify the contradiction. Maybe you should be relativists. Perhaps you belong to different interpretive communities, as the literary critic Stanley Fish has argued. [102] But this argument has two problems. First, it pushes the issue back a stage. Now you have to explain how these interpretive communities exist. Second, and more seriously, do you two really belong to different communities? You went to the same school, you’ve been friends for two decades, you studied with the same teachers, and so on. This is a common experience in looking at paintings, or reading poetry, or listening to music. The difference wouldn’t be possible if there wasn’t some basic agreement. So you rule out the Fish solution. After all, one of the pleasures of looking at paintings is informed disagreement.

    It appears then that some art-critical contradictions are true. [103] Why? The OOO answer is that there is a profound ontological ambiguity in objects themselves. This ambiguity is reflected in relations between and within objects. We need to explore the nature of this ambiguity some more.

    Let’s return to the meeting between you and your friend in the Tate Britain. You recall that Immanuel Kant makes some similar observations in his Critique of Judgment. The experience of beauty is paradoxical, because it appears as if beauty is emanating from the object, not from yourself. The experience is universalizable: it’s as if it should apply to everyone, anyone with a pulse should love what you’re loving. You want to send postcards of the painting to all your friends. Yet you realize that it would ruin their experience, if not yours, if you forced them to like what you like. It seems as if you are close to saying that taste is relative. But no—because of the first criterion, which is that beauty appears to emanate from the object. It would spoil it if you felt it coming from inside you. Then perhaps you could assess what neurochemicals were involved and make a drug that would give you the same experience, or double, or triple. Beauty also avoids relativism because of a third component, a nonconceptual quality. There is a je ne sais quoi about beauty: Kant argues that no element in the picture can be isolated, and labeled beautiful. I can’t find an “active ingredient” of beauty.

    Doesn’t this mean that beautiful things are irreducible? We can’t reduce them to their parts because this would be isolating an active ingredient. We can’t “reduce upwards” to the whole, because this would mean that the parts of the painting were expendable components of a machine. This painting is beautiful, but the beauty is nowhere to be found in it. It is a strange, uncanny situation. We are having a powerful experience that gives us goosebumps, makes us cry. Yet when we look for the source of the experience, we can’t find it. Yet the source is just this painting, this piece of music, not that one. What is happening?

    Isn’t there an echo here of something a little bit object-oriented in Kant himself, the father of correlationism? Can’t we claim that beauty proves that reality is not solipsistic, or even at its core relativist, since beauty is evidence of the existence of at least one (other) secret object? Indeed, the experience of beauty is a kind of inner evidence of something in me that is not quite me. It seems to come automatically, and there is nothing I can do to manipulate it. For Kant, it is possible to have an experience that is not based on ego—the experience of beauty is precisely this, which is why perhaps he sees it as a crucial part of the Enlightenment project, and why Schopenhauer made a logical enough progression from Kant to Buddhism. The freedom discovered in beauty is profoundly impersonal and thus it’s “object-like,” if only we can separate “object” from “hard plastic ball” or whatever. It means beyond your ego.

    Here it is, the beautiful painting, and I can’t quite tell you what is beautiful about it. Some kind of mind meld is happening, some kind of link between the object and myself. And the experience is universalizable, that is, I can share it because it’s based on the possibility that everyone could have it. Even though I can’t impose my experience on you, I can coexist with you nonviolently as we both experience our inner space. The aesthetic experience that we humans now call “beauty” is a naked experience of relations between entities: between the Turner painting and me; among the brushstrokes in the painting; between me and you, both having the experience; and so on. Why the je ne sais quoi? I propose a rather surprising Hegelian solution to this problem: because the significance of any set of relations is in the future. Significance contains a vital ingredient of not-yet, to-come. The meaning of an object is another object. [104]

    A causal event is a set of relations between objects. All relations are aesthetic, not just ones between humans and objects such as Turner paintings. Thus we must carefully investigate aesthetics for what it says about the “meaning” of (art) events, since this will give us a clue as to how things work in reality. Perhaps one reason why it is so hard to catch causality in the act unless you hold some kind of vicarious or dialetheic view is that the one thing that cannot be done to relations between objects is catch them “before” or “during” the event of their relating. As every good humanities scholar knows, meaning is retroactive. No one ever stood furtively on a street corner in twelfth-century Naples, discussing how they were going to shake up the art world: “Let’s start this thing, right. Let’s invent perspective and travel round Africa, find the spice islands and rediscover Platonism. Let’s call it the Renaissance—that sounds catchy.”

    If causality is aesthetic, then events only “take place” after they have happened! To say this is to make the Hegelian point that for something to happen, it has to happen twice. In scintillating prose, Percy Shelley describes poets as “the hierophants of an unapprehended imagination, the mirrors of the gigantic shadows that futurity casts upon the present” [105] A hierophant is someone who makes the sacred appear, perhaps a shaman rather than a priest. What this closing section of A Defence of Poetry claims is that the significance of an artwork is in the future. The poet is a kind of channel or medium who somehow beams the future into the present.

    Now Shelley reaches this position from an opening that couldn’t be more physicalist, or materialist. Each person (perhaps even “all sentient beings”) is a kind of “Aeolian lyre,” a sort of wind instrument that is played by external stimuli, and modulates or translates these stimuli into its own unique timbre. Almost every fairly respectable home had one in the eighteenth century, just as now we have iPods with speakers. What are you hearing when you hear an Aeolian lyre? You are hearing the wind, modulated through the strings and the wooden body of the lyre. You are hearing two objects as they relate to one another. Now the lyre can only sound after the wind is interacting with it; and vice versa—and after you have heard the pressure waves created by the vibration, translated by a transducer in your inner ear that turns the pressure waves into electrochemical signals. The significance of the relation is in the future. In this sense, as strange as it sounds, relations are messages in bottles from the future. Their significance is not-yet, constantly.

    Heidegger makes a very similar point about the wind: we never hear it directly, only in the doorway, the fireplace, the tree. [106] Direct seeing is not a guarantee of givenness. We tend to think that realness lies in what is obvious, but Realist Magic is arguing that realness lies in what is oblique and mysterious. There is no way to catch the wind in the act before it has been modulated by something. The sound of the wind is in its future. It should be possible to see how the seemingly materialist beginning of Shelley’s essay joins up with the seemingly idealist end of the essay. That is, if we drop the notions of matter and idea and instead adopt an object-oriented view, we can see that Shelley and Heidegger are only saying that in themselves, entities are withdrawn: what we think of as their “identity” is already a kind of parody of them. And this parodying process is precisely what causality is. Shelley’s Aeolian lyre image is wonderfully appropriate for our purposes, since it’s an aesthetic object. It seems that the significance of an aesthetic event is in its future.

    Nothing speaks more to the futural quality of relations than the phenomenon of dreams. There is something profoundly ambiguous about a dream, often disturbingly so. Why? Because as Freud argues, dreams can be interpreted infinitely because the deep content of dreams is profoundly latent, unconscious. [107] Now dream interpretation is already happening while you are dreaming, for instance in the attitude you are having about the dream. Moreover, this attitude is one of the core meanings of the dream. The brilliance of Freudian analysis is that it decides not to hunt symbols (such as phallic ones), but to investigate the form of the dream, like a literary critic investigating the narrator: who is she, what attitude does she have, what is her mood, her attunenment? There is already a relation in the dream itself, a relation between the dream images and the dreamer. The deep content of the dream is latent, that is, it’s withdrawn. Like a good Kantian, Freud asserts that the deep content just can’t be accessed, because when you do, it becomes another kind of manifest content, and thus it’s relational: it’s a set of relations between a content and a content-holder, yet again.

    What then if all relations between all objects were like dreams, not just sentient or just human ones between images and image-maker? Consider again two entangled photons. They “don’t know what they are” yet: they must be “measured,” that is one of them must be polarized in a certain direction, in order for their significance to be revealed. There really are two photons. Then they are “interpreted,” that is, physically adjusted. Physical adjustment, interpretation, causality, aesthetics: all these terms say the same thing. This is not an idealist world in which the photons aren’t real until they are perceived. No, it’s precisely the opposite, even more opposite than the usual materialist or realist account. That is, perception as such is a physical intervention in the world, which means that causality is profoundly aesthetic.

    Kantian beauty is a relationship between entities. What Kant calls the sublime is the vertiginous irreducibility of one object to another object. For Kant, the sublime is provoked by another entity (such as mathematical infinite or the vast scope of the Universe), which acts as a trigger, a sort of irritant, that throws the mind back on itself. [108] When this happens, an abyss of freedom opens up. You experience the raw vastness of your inner space. This experience is as it were the quintessence of the nonconceptuality we glimpsed in the experience of the beautiful. The beautiful and the sublime are not so much opposites as they are related like the liquid center and brittle shell of a piece of chocolate. The beautiful is the basic aesthetic experience, whose essence is the unconditional freedom of the sublime. Would it not be possible to assert, then, that the transcendental freedom that Kant finds in the sublime is simply an echo of the essence of a certain entity or object, namely ourselves? And that if there is not very much difference ontologically speaking between ourselves and a cinder block, the Tardis-like openness of all objects is what manifests as the sublime in our particular human experience?

    Since this openness is an irreducible aspect of an object’s realness, the only way to get an experiential foothold on one is to relate to it. Yet to relate to it is to be caught in an adjustment, an attunement, between myself and the object. This attunement is what Kant calls a vibration, a possibly violent oscillation between my inner space and the object. This vibration gives us the vertigo Kant describes as the sublime. Our relating with objects opens up the abyss of freedom because each relation is a dance on a volcano, an emission from the opaque void of an object. Relations are uncanny and hollow because they dance at the edge of volcanoes.

    Time emerges from relations between things. The meaning of an object is in its future, in how it relates to other objects, including those objects that constitute its parts. Relations are hollowed out from the inside by the uncanniness of the objects between which they play. This hollowness just is time. To figure out what a relation is means to build another relation. Relations thus contain a nullity that collapses forwards as more relations are built onto them. This tumbling nullity is what is called time. Because they are to-come, relations evoke a feeling of process: hence the illusion that things are processes, that process relationism is the most adequate description of how things are. Yet because time emerges from relations we can never specify in advance what they will be. Process relationism is an ontic or ontotheological attempt to pin down exactly what things are, by way of what OOO sees as an inevitable parody of what things are: causal events. Process relationism tries to reduce the intrinsic ambiguity of relations between things. These relations are inherently contradictory, like the relations you have with a Turner painting in the Tate Britain, versus the ones your friend has.

    The point is that for relations to be ambiguous, they don’t have to be anything at all. We don’t have to imagine that an elephant might sprout flowers all over itself when it squirts water over its back. This is our old friend ECQ (ex contradictione quodlibet), otherwise known as explosion: the idea that if we accept that (some) contradictions are true, then anything could happen. It’s clear for instance that our two readings of Turner’s Rain, Steam and Speed are better than this one:

    Rain, Steam and Speed is about a tomato called Ronnie who juggles hardboiled eggs on Titan.

    Though causality is aesthetic, my argument means that the occurrence of just anything at all is not inevitable. [109] The trouble is, we will never be able to specify a causal chain in advance without resorting to ontotheology or smuggling in ontic prejudices about what counts as an object or a causal event. As Harman puts it, “a pebble can destroy an empire if the emperor chokes at dinner.” [110] If we are prepared to do away with noncontradictory causal relations we should be open to the possibility that anything could happen.

    When we subtract the Kantian correlationist distortion, we see that the Kantian experience of beauty is possible simply because a relation between objects has as its basis a strange nonconceptuality, a je ne sais quoi. This nonconceptuality requires another relation, an interpretation, to make sense of it, which in turn requires another relation. Since all relations are physical interventions, all aesthetic interpretations are like what psychology calls acting out: they do not know what they are about. Causality is like a play or a mime. Imagine a mime who doesn’t know what she is miming. She is frantically gesturing to you, asking you to make sense of what she’s doing. This is the nature of causality. As Emerson writes, again in “Experience,” “There is a certain magic about [a man’s] properest action, which stupefies your powers of observation, so that though it is done before you, you wist not of it. The art of life has a pudency, and will not be exposed.” [111] OOO simply generalizes this observation to all entities whatsoever. Accounts of causality, among the many different sorts of philosophical accounting for things, frequently wish to strip the mystery from the world. I am arguing that this mystery is a crucial component of causality as such, so crucial that to eliminate it is to fail to understand how causality functions. Why? Because the significance of any action is to-come. Time, space and other aspects of causality happen because of a deep ambiguity in things.

    Causality is like a drama. It is no wonder that drama simply means “things that are done” or “doing” (Greek), just as opera means “works”; and opera and drama both have “acts.” Consider again the default positivism of clunk causality. There is a further problem with clunk causality. Its adherents seem hell bent on excluding precisely the aesthetic dimension, identifying it for instance as a realm of “pseudo causation” (Wesley Salmon). This is deeply symptomatic of an uncanny awareness that the aesthetic dimension contaminates the positivistic materialism we have come to accept as the default ontology. At a small scale, aesthetic phenomena just are physical, and vice versa: to measure is at some stage “to hit with a photon,” as is “to see.” The sorts of things that clunk causality wants to rule out are shadows, sounds, lights and electromagnetic phenomena: a goodly portion of reality.

    Not only this: it seems often as if what clunk causality theories want is to catch causality in the act without having to interfere with it, a fantasy that quantum theory has totally disabled. It seems as if the ideal causal event would be a totally invisible and inaudible one. Yet we know from phenomena such as entanglement and superposition that such events, strangely and ironically, refute clunking in other ways, for instance by producing so-called action at a distance. Before they are measured, two photons can be entangled as they emerge from a certain laser: they are capable of acting instantly based on the other’s spin and momentum, and so on. [112]

    The ideal conditions for clunking to occur are precisely those conditions in which all kinds of spooky non-clunking occurs. I can’t mark the photons with some special x (as for instance Salmon wants) to prove that they are the same when they emerge from the laser as when they are entangled. To do so would be to alter them in a very significant way. There is an irreducible uncertainty here: indeed the fact that “marking” is causality is the basis of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle: “measure” at the quantum level means “alter (momentum, position) by means of another quantum.” [113] We can go up to the level of medium-sized objects and find all sorts of parallels. Certainly, I can mark a cricket ball with an x to show that it’s the same ball when I toss it across the pitch. Salmon gets tied in knots trying to distinguish this kind of mark from a causal interaction. Would it not be more efficient simply to admit that I have already causally tampered with the ball by marking it? Even at this macro level, the ideal cricket ball would just spontaneously land in Salmon’s hand and say “Hey, you know I am the same ball you threw from the other side of the pitch, really, I am—trust me.” Or perhaps the ball is able to convey its identity over time by telepathy. Somehow Salmon might just spontaneously know that the ball was the same. Which begs the question: a whole area of clunk causality is to account for how things appear to remain the same over time.

    This should alert us to the fact that the aesthetic dimension, the dimension of light and sound and vibration and, moreover, their apprehension by all kinds of entities from ears to loudspeakers to photographic plates to human neurons, not to mention the knife that makes the x on the cricket ball, is an irreducible aspect of the causal dimension. Indeed, as I shall continue to stress, the aesthetic dimension just is the causal dimension.

    Thus there are drastic problems for positivistic clunk theories of causation. Some phenomena such as moving lights, shadows and so on can exert real causal effects, yet these are what positivistic clunk causality tries to rule out. [114] This is evident, since they are the effects of certain causes themselves, and we should expect them to act on things in their turn. A shadow can hit a light sensitive diode and turn on a nightlight. Why this is ruled out as a causal event beats me. Why it isn’t even mentioned in the mainstream literature is symptomatic of a stunning blind spot. A spotlight hits a surface—say, the frayed red curtain of some slightly degraded cabaret in a small town miles from the metropolis. The audience’s pupils contract to take in the brilliance of the bright red circle of the illuminated piece of curtain. Why is this not a causal event? Never mind whether we cross the light with another light or change the filter or the other kinds of example that the clunkers want to use. The stunning thing is why they don’t see the simple spotlight’s action as a causal event in the first place. [115]

    In order for light to hit the curtain, the electric filament or halogen in the bulb has to reach a certain temperature so that the atoms are excited enough to release photons. Light at this scale is particular as well as wavelike: it just does clunk and splash around. In order to illuminate the curtain, the photons must not all be absorbed by the quanta on the curtain’s surface. This sounds ever so causal to me, but again, clunk causality wants to rule it out. It’s baffling.

    Phil Dowe gives the example of someone running alongside the moving spotlight, holding up a red filter so that the light is “marked” like the cricket ball. [116] Yet this marking is not definably “on” the light. Yet if there is no mark, we can’t be sure that it’s the “same” light as it moves across the curtain. Dowe admits that with this example, the assumption of a fundamental difference between real versus pseudo causality breaks down. Isn’t this the real problem—the compulsion to reduce inconsistency results in yet more inconsistencies. Why? The whole discussion seems absurd, down to the example itself: as positivism struggles to police the boundary between physical and aesthetic events, it produces the clownish aesthetic demons that confound its principles. Freudians would take note of the precisely aesthetic, dramatic counterfactuals that positivism produces to police itself: the Sydney Opera House, a light show, a shadow. [117]

    I suggest that the reason more inconsistencies appear the more you try to nail down physical versus pseudo causation is that there is an irreducibly aesthetic aspect of causality. To try to catch causality in the act without this aesthetic dimension produces significant paradoxes and aporias in positivistic theory. It seems to come down to the fact that aesthetic phenomena require some 1+n extra entities—a field of energy, dilating and contracting pupils, inscribable surfaces, all kinds of mute yet significant entities that are neither inside nor outside the causal process that clunk causality tries to isolate. The 1+n suggests a region of entities that we can’t account for directly. Again, this tells us something deep about causality. Even more fundamentally, the trouble arises when philosophy tries to smooth out the intuitively obvious Rift between an object and its properties, so as to avoid logical and set-theoretical paradoxes that seem to violate the Law of Noncontradiction (LNC). [118] Consider this: if an object were totally different from its sensual object, we would have a nihilistic situation where an apple could be grasped as an egg or a toaster could be an octopus. Conversely, if an object were totally the same as its sensual object, then we would have an identitarian ontotheology on our hands, and nothing could arise, and moreover, we would have a situation in which beings are ultimately determined by some form(s) of what I’ve called top object.

    On the view proposed in this book, LNC can’t hold for objects, because there is a radical cut between an object and its sensual qualities, and this takes the form of a contradiction, p ∧ ¬p. If we can only accept that these paradoxes are all right, we will have less of a problem accounting for causality. Of course, this will mean showing that the existence of contradictoriness at this level doesn’t imply just any old thing at all—trivialism, or ex contradictione quodlibet (ECQ). Fortunately, as argued above, there are good reasons for supposing that ECQ doesn’t necessarily hold if we let go of LNC. [119] A cut between an object and its manifestation to other objects doesn’t mean that the manifestation can be anything at all.

    Take the basic phenomenon of motion. Positivistic causal theories have trouble with the simple fact of inertia: the way in which an object continues to move when it’s not interfered with, formalized in Newton’s First Law. [120] In Chapter 3 I shall argue that motion is much better thought as the result of an inherent ambiguity in objects. If we refuse to think this way, we risk being saddled with all kinds of unsatisfying “ontic” baggage—prejudices that we have smuggled in to our ontology from an unexplained elsewhere.

    Causality takes place in an aesthetic dimension that consists of some kind of moving stage set, like a traveling theater. There is a whole media set up involving stages, curtains, props and lighting that produce the causal event—I use the term produce in its fully theatrical sense. Notice that I’m not arguing that there must be a human audience, or human producers. The audience might consist of fish or Martians or dust particles. The producers might be black holes or photons or the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra. It might be one of those plays in which the audience is included in the drama.

    What is the sense of threat and strangeness that grips you when you enter a circus or a theater? Is it really the case that this is a fantasy space where the normal rules are suspended? Or is it that you realize that the illusion is on the other side of the circus tent, in the outside world you took to be real, and that what you are witnessing when you watch drama (Greek: action) is the play of causality? Isn’t it the case that you took the world outside the tent to be real precisely because you treated its aesthetic qualities as secondary to its supposedly physical, causal ones?

    There are many plays and movies that, after watching them, cause you to see the world that way, for a time. The rotoscoping graphics of A Scanner Darkly, for instance, force the audience to see the world outside the cinema that way, at least for a few disorienting minutes. [121] What precisely is the dynamic of this sensation wearing off? Is it that we return to real reality? Or that we superimpose a socially acceptable distance and normality on the world, having had it ruthlessly stripped away in the theater? Or rather, we have the illusion of depth and distance stripped away, the illusion that there is a mechanism underneath the display. Drama undermines the fake perspective that makes things appear to be really happening against some neutral background. You realize that causality is happening in your face, closer than breathing.

    Let’s revisit the two main ways of avoiding OOO outlined earlier:

    • 1) Undermining. Things are reducible to smaller entities such as particles. Or things are only instantiations of deeper processes.
    • 2) Overmining. Objects are blank lumps with their appearances glued to their superfices, or added by some “perceiver.”

    On both views, objects are basically blah until they interact with other objects. Instead I would rather locate a Rift between appearance and essence within the object itself. Objects on this view are quaking with vitality. But to achieve this we shall have to accept some kind of paraconsistent, possibly dialetheic logic, the kind of logic proposed by Graham Priest, a logic that allows things to be what they seem, and not what they seem, simultaneously. Otherwise we are back to default substances-plastered-with-accidents.

    Now we can discern a third way of avoiding OOO. This would be to claim the inverse of (2):

    • (3) There are no substances, and it’s all appearance-for, all aesthetics all the way down. [122]

    I want to preserve the Rift between appearance and essence. Why? Because this preserves, paradoxically, the very aesthetic-ness of the aesthetic dimension. Look at it this way. If reality were “aesthetics all the way down” then we would know it was “just” an illusion: so it wouldn’t be an illusion. We would know that it was pretense—so it wouldn’t be pretense. We would have a kind of inverted ontotheology of pure affects without substances. Let’s quote Lacan once more: “What constitutes pretense is that, in the end, you don’t know whether it’s pretense or not.” Until thinking is ready to accept that objects can be intrinsically unstable, both essential and aesthetic at the same time, we are stuck with options (1)–(3), all of which are ways of avoiding OOO.

    Once we accept this inherent instability, the Rift between essence and appearance, we don’t need to have objects pushed around by processes or particles, or others’ perceptions of them. They can do just fine on their own. This seems to be the case with a single quantum, which appears visibly to occupy more than one place at once, to “breathe” in the words of physicist Aaron O’Connell. [123] In that case, as a rough and ready rule, let’s assume that causality happens in three acts, just like in a play—if we include the aesthetic dimension it might be appropriate to see aesthetic phenomena as distorted archaeological evidence of causality. [124] Act one is how things begin. So on with the show.

    Aristotle remarks that dramas have a beginning, middle, and end. [125] When he says this, he means something more than the first page, the last page, and the total number of pages divided by two. Aristotle means that there are phenomenologically distinct qualities of beginning, persisting and ending. Likewise, I have divided this book into three subsequent chapters that correspond to the beginning, middle, and end of an entity. Why? I mean, is there any deeper fact that this arrangement accounts for, or is it just helpful in terms of formal organization? It does indeed seem that there is some kind of ontological cut between arising, persisting and ceasing. So much does this appear to be the case that I shall argue that it’s difficult, perhaps impossible, to specify that the “same” entity is involved in arising, dwelling and ceasing. This is just one of the inconsistencies and double-truths that we shall have to get used to in an object-oriented ontological account of reality. Beginning, middle and end are after all different formal parts of a novel or a play or a movie. Hollywood directors talk instinctively about acts one, two and three of a movie. I argue that there is some reason for this talk: they are talking, in however distorted a way, about how causality really works.

    Somewhat provocatively, and somewhat against my own intuitions, I have decided to call the phases of an object “birth,” “life” and “death.” This is not meant to suggest that objects are “alive” if by that you are to think of me as a vitalist. However, it seems to me that the common or garden understanding of what objects are is far too mechanistic and reified. I agree with Jane Bennett that it might be useful, if only for the sake of imagining things more openly, to inject a little bit of animism into the discussion. [126] For reasons I give throughout, it would be better if we had some term that suited neither vitalism nor mechanism. This approach seems quite congruent with what we know about lifeforms: that they are made of non-life. [127] And it seems congruent with what OOO holds about objects: they are not just lumps of dullness. The best I can think of is appending some kind of negation to life and death, so that objects become undead. But explaining this will take some time: so birth, life and death remain in the chapter titles.

    The following chapter, “Magic Birth,” explores the origin of an object. This is done in two related ways: through a thought experiment that imagines a nursery for objects in the shape of the pond at the end of the street on which I live; and through an analysis of Cantor’s transfinite sets that restores the dialetheic paradoxes that some interpretations struggle to omit—most notably, in our time, the ontology of Alain Badiou that is based on the Zermelo-Fraenkel interpretation of Cantor. The chapter then moves to an alien-phenomenological account of the beginning of an object, drawing from aesthetic theories of beginning (aperture) and the sublime. (“Alien phenomenology” is Ian Bogost’s term.) Chapter 2 argues that how an object begins consists, in short, in the opening of a fresh Rift between essence and appearance. For Badiou, the existence of an entity means that it is identical with itself. In Realist Magic, however, the existence of an entity is the existence of a Rift within identity.

    Chapter 3, “Magic Life,” accounts for the persistence of objects. Since time is an emergent property of objects, this persistence is not just haphazard loitering in a preexisting street called Temporality Avenue. Every object “times,” in the sense of an intransitive verb such as “walk” or “laugh.” The present moment, which many philosophical systems (such as Augustine’s) take to be more real than past or future, is here examined as a deceptive, shifting zone of suspensions. Musical and narrative theory is used to elucidate presence, which is never as objective and as given as some suppose. In turn, the fact of motion, and in particular inertia (continuing to exist in the sense of continuing motion), becomes explicable within the framework of OOO. The persistence of things, I argue, is the suspension of the Rift between essence and appearance that constitutes an object.

    Chapter 4, “Magic Death,” is an account of how an object ends. The end of an object is simply the closing of the Rift between essence and appearance, and thus the reduction of an object to appearance only. This presents us with a startlingly counter-intuitive fact, that the appearance of an object is that object’s past, while the essence of an object is the future of the object. If the main term for the alien phenomenology of Chapter 3 was suspension, the principle term in Chapter 4 is fragility. I give an OOO definition of fragility based on an interpretation of Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem, which traces its ancestry to Cantor’s discovery of transfinite sets, explored in Chapter 2. Badiou supposes an object’s end to be the termination of its identity with itself. Because he cleaves to LNC, a plague of Sorites paradoxes threatens to arise: when something is nearly dead, how identical is it with itself? Where is the line? The view that ending is the closing of a Rift, a return to consistency—at least in a certain region of reality—is not afflicted with these paradoxes, because it does not imagine objects in what amounts to a positivistic manner.

    Realist Magic ends with a brief conclusion about what it has accomplished. I conclude that what the book amounts to is a return to a weird non-theistic Aristotle, less preoccupied with final causes and the Law of Noncontradiction. This Aristotle is summoned at the moment at which humans become aware of their ecological impact on Earth.


    1. Stephen Bates, “Banksy’s Gorilla in a Pink Mask” Is Painted Over,” The Guardian (July 15, 2011), http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2011/jul/15/banksy-gorilla-mask-painted-over (accessed September 16, 2011). See Bobby George, [formerly http://dreamduke.tumblr.com/post/7657062564/bansky]. return to text
    2. In particular, consider The Truth in Painting, tr. Geoffrey Bennington and Ian McLeod (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1987). return to text
    3. John T. Dugan, Star Trek, “Return to Tomorrow,” first broadcast February 9, 1968; Henry Laycock, “Some Questions of Ontology,” The Philosophical Review 81 (1972), 3–42. See Arda Denkel, Object and Property (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 188–194. return to text
    4. Martin Heidegger, Being and Time, tr. Joan Stambaugh (Albany, N.Y: State University of New York Press, 1996), 66. return to text
    5. Heidegger, Being and Time, 66. return to text
    6. The term irreduction is derived from Bruno Latour: The Pasteurization of France, tr. Alan Sheridan and John Law (Cambridge, Mas.: Harvard University Press, 1993), 191, 212–238. return to text
    7. Graham Harman, The Quadruple Object (Ripley: Zero Books, 2011), 7–18. return to text
    8. This is not the place to get into an argument about quantum theory, but I have argued that quanta also do not endorse a world that I can’t speak about because it is only real when measured. This world is that of the reigning Standard Model proposed by Niels Bohr and challenged by De Broglie and Bohm (and now the cosmologist Valentini, among others). See Timothy Morton, “Here Comes Everything: The Promise of Object-Oriented Ontology,” Qui Parle 19.2 (Spring–Summer, 2011), 163–190. return to text
    9. John Donne, Holy Sonnets 15, in The Major Works: Including Songs and Sonnets and Sermons, ed. John Carey (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009). return to text
    10. Edward O. Wilson, Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge (New York: Knopf, 1998). return to text
    11. Harman uses the term hot potato to describe the way relationist theories include–exclude the object: Guerrilla Metaphysics: Phenomenology and the Carpentry of Things (Chicago: Open Court, 2005), 82. return to text
    12. Paul Tillich, Systematic Theology 1 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1951), 188. return to text
    13. Martin Heidegger, What Is a Thing? (Chicago: Henry Regnery, 1967), 19–20. return to text
    14. Martin Heidegger, What Is a Thing? 243. return to text
    15. Albert Einstein, Relativity: The Special and the General Theory (London: Penguin, 2006); Petr Horava, “Quantum Gravity at a Lifshitz Point,” arXiv:0901.3775v2 [hep-th]. return to text
    16. Levi Bryant, The Democracy of Objects (Ann Arbor: Open Humanities Press, 2011), 73–77, 152, and in particular 208–227. return to text
    17. Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, tr. Norman Kemp Smith (Boston and New York: Bedford/St. Martin's, 1965), 51. return to text
    18. Leo Spitzer, “Milieu and Ambiance,” in Essays in Historical Semantics (New York: Russell and Russell, 1948; repr. 1968), 179–316. return to text
    19. I note in passing that physicists Stephen Hawking and Basil Hiley have both wagered that there is no Higgs. return to text
    20. Ian Bogost thinks objects as units: Unit Operations: An Approach to Videogame Criticism (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2008). return to text
    21. Mark Heller, The Ontology of Physical Objects: Four-Dimensional Hunks of Matter (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 1–29. return to text
    22. Heller, Ontology, 75. return to text
    23. This is the case on Heller’s own admission: Ontology, 47–49, 68–109. return to text
    24. David Bohm, The Special Theory of Relativity (London: Routledge, 2006), 159–174, 175–176. return to text
    25. Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception, tr. Colin Smith (New York: Routledge, 1996), 67–69. return to text
    26. This is the Lacanian not-all set: see Bryant, The Democracy of Objects, 250, 253, 255–257. return to text
    27. This is Spinoza’s phrase: Ethics, ed. and tr. Edwin Curley, intro. Stuart Hampshire (London: Penguin, 1996), 174. return to text
    28. This is far more peculiar than simple skeptical empiricism, which says that the object is perceived in different ways by different perceivers. It’s also strikingly different from idealism, in which to be perceived is to exist. There really is an object there and my experience of it is not just “a different take on the same thing.” My relationship with the object constitutes an entirely unique realm. This refreshes the Buddhist idea that different sentient beings inhabit different sorts of reality. Far from esse est percipi idealism, what this means is that there are real objects and that they are withdrawn. If a hell-being drinks a glass of water, she tastes molten lead. If a hungry ghost drinks a glass of water, she tastes a glassful of pus. To microbes, the water is their home. To humans, the water slakes their thirst. How can water do all this? Because it exists. return to text
    29. This is to extend and modify the notion that “there is no metalanguage,” in other words, there is no privileged place outside of reality from which we can view it correctly. OOO cashes out this principal tenet of post-structuralism better than post-structuralism did. By returning to phenomenology, OOO allows for an all encompassing “sincerity” that makes cynical distance impossible. Yet at the same time, this particular sincerity is charged with irony, like a thunderstorm filled with electricity. And by raising the stakes from epistemology to fundamental ontology, OOO prevents any kind of smugness or distance from creeping its way into the attitude that “there is no metalanguage” codes for. return to text
    30. Heller, Ontology, 84. return to text
    31. Harman, Guerrilla Metaphysics, 82. return to text
    32. Aristotle, Metaphysics, tr. and intro. Hugh Lawson-Tancred (London: Penguin, 2004), 88, 89–97, 98–103. return to text
    33. Jacques Lacan, Le séminaire, Livre III: Les psychoses (Paris: Editions de Seuil, 1981), 48. return to text
    34. Heller, Ontology, 70–72, 80–81. return to text
    35. Heller, Ontology, 94–96. return to text
    36. David Lewis, “Many, but almost One,” in John Bacon, Keith Campbell and Lloyd Reinhardt, eds., Ontology, Causality and Mind: Essays in Honor of D. M. Armstrong (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 23–42 (26–28). return to text
    37. Arda Denkel, Object and Property (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 82–83, 211–212. Peter Geach, “Ontological Relativity and Relative Identity,” in Milton K. Munitz, ed., Logic and Ontology (New York: New York University Press, 1973), 287–302. return to text
    38. I use Graham Harman’s Heideggerian notion of the as-structure: Tool-Being: Heidegger and the Metaphysics of Objects (Peru, IL: Open Court, 2002), 8–9, 40–49. return to text
    39. Lewis, “Many, but almost One,” 23. return to text
    40. Peter Unger, “The Problem of the Many,” Midwest Studies in Philosophy 5 (1980), 411–467. return to text
    41. Shinji Nishimoto et al., “Reconstructing Visual Experiences from Brain Activity Evoked by Natural Movies,” Current Biology 21 (2011), 1–6, doi:10.1016/j.cub.2011.08.031. return to text
    42. Harman, The Quadruple Object, 13–16. return to text
    43. Alexander Pope, “Windsor Forest,” The Poems of Alexander Pope: a One-Volume Edition of the Twickenham Text, with Selected Annotations, ed. J. Butt (London and New York: Routledge, 1989). return to text
    44. See Margaret A. Boden, ed., The Philosophy of Artificial Intelligence (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1990). return to text
    45. Heidegger, Being and Time, 22. return to text
    46. Iain Hamilton Grant, “Suprematist Ontogony and the Thought Magnet,” Object-Oriented Thinking, Royal Academy of Arts, July 1, 2011. return to text
    47. José Ortega y Gasset, Phenomenology and Art, tr. Philip W. Silver (New York: Norton, 1975), 63–70; Harman, Guerrilla Metaphysics, 39, 40, 135–143, 247. return to text
    48. W.D. Richter, Dir., The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai across the Eighth Dimension (20th Century Fox, 1984). return to text
    49. Jacques Lacan, Écrits: A Selection, tr. Alan Sheridan (London: Tavistock, 1977), 311. return to text
    50. Danièle Moyal-Sharrock, “Words as Deeds: Wittgenstein’s ‘Spontaneous Utterances’ and the Dissolution of the Explanatory Gap,” Philosophical Psychology 13.3 (2000), 355–372. return to text
    51. See for example David Deutsch, The Fabric of Reality: The Science of Parallel Universes—and Its Implications (London: Penguin, 1998). return to text
    52. Phil Dowe, Physical Causation (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 14–29. return to text
    53. Judea Pearl, Causality: Models, Reasoning, and Inference (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 78–85. return to text
    54. Al-Kindi, “The One True and Complete Agent and the Incomplete ‘Metaphorical’ Agent,” in Classical Arabic Philosophy: An Anthology of Sources, tr. and intro. Jon McGinnis and David C. Reisman (Indianapolis: Hackett, 2007), 22–23. return to text
    55. Phil Dowe, Physical Causation, 123–145. return to text
    56. This connection between differing timescales becomes apparent in Werner Herzog’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams (IFC, Sundance, 2010), a documentary about the Chauvet cave paintings of 30 000BC. return to text
    57. David Bohm, Quantum Theory (New York: Dover, 1989), iii–v, 167; The Special Theory of Relativity (London: Routledge, 2006), 217–218. return to text
    58. Casimir forces glue nanoscale cogwheels together: Anon., “Focus: The Force of Empty Space,” Phys. Rev. Focus 2, 28 (December 3, 1998), DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevFocus.2.28, available at http://physics.aps.org/story/v2/st28, accessed June 27, 2012. return to text
    59. Al-Ghazali, The Incoherence of the Philosophers tr. Sabid Ahmad Kamali (Lahore: Pakistan Philosophical Congress, 1963). See also Harman, Guerrilla Metaphysics, 92–93. return to text
    60. Nagarjuna, The Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way, tr. and commentary Jay L. Garfield (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), 28–30. return to text
    61. Eleanor Rosch, “Is Causality Circular? Event Structure in Folk Psychology, Cognitive Science and Buddhist Logic,” Journal of Consciousness Studies 1.1 (Summer 1994), 50–65. return to text
    62. Lacan, Le séminaire, 48. return to text
    63. Moses Maimonides, Guide for the Perplexed, http://www.sacred-texts.com/jud/gfp/gfp008.htm, accessed August 18, 2012. return to text
    64. Timothy Morton, The Ecological Thought (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2010), 14–15, 17–19, 38–50. return to text
    65. Harman, Guerrilla Metaphysics, 33–44, 77, 81–84, 84–87. return to text
    66. Allan Kaprow, “Education of the Un-Artist 1,” “Education of the Un-Artist 2,” in Essays on the Blurring of Art and Life, ed. Jeff Kelley (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003) 97–109, 110–126; Theodor Adorno, Aesthetic Theory, tr. and ed. Robert Hullot-Kentor (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997), 103–105. return to text
    67. Jacques Lacan, Écrits: A Selection, tr. Alan Sheridan (London: Tavistock, 1977), 311. return to text
    68. Heidegger, Being and Time, 25; 23–34 are pertinent in this regard. return to text
    69. Gregory Petsko, “Save University Arts from the Bean Counters,” Nature 468.1003 (published online, December 22, 2010), doi:10.1038/4681003a. return to text
    70. See for example Martha Nussbaum, Not for Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2012). return to text
    71. This affects speculative realism itself. For instance, Quentin Meillassoux’s negative view of rhetoric is a direct product of scientific dominance. A default materialist relationism reigns supreme. See Graham Harman, Prince of Networks: Bruno Latour and Metaphysics (Melbourne: Re.Press, 2009), 175. return to text
    72. Heidegger, Being and Time, 89. return to text
    73. Heidegger, Being and Time, 89. return to text
    74. Heidegger, Being and Time, 92. return to text
    75. See Don Abbott, “Kant, Theremin, and the Morality of Rhetoric,” Philosophy and Rhetoric 40.3 (2007) 274–92. return to text
    76. Harman, Prince of Networks, 163–85. return to text
    77. Edward Casey, The Fate of Place: A Philosophical History (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997), 106–116. return to text
    78. Terry Eagleton, The Ideology of the Aesthetic (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1990), 1–30. return to text
    79. Yuri Aharanov and David Bohm, “Significance of Electromagnetic Potentials in the Quantum Theory,” Phys. Rev. 115.3 (August 1, 1959), 485–491. return to text
    80. Maria Isabel Franco et al., “Molecular Vibration-Sensing Component in Drosophila Melanogaster Olfaction,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 108.9 (2011), 3797–3802, DOI 10.1073/pnas.1012293108. return to text
    81. Rupert Sheldrake, Morphic Resonance: The Nature of Formative Causation (Rochester, VT: Park Street Press, 2009). return to text
    82. Al-Kindi, “The One True and Complete Agent and the Incomplete ‘Metaphorical’ Agent,” in Classical Arabic Philosophy: An Anthology of Sources, tr. and intro. Jon McGinnis and David C. Reisman (Indianapolis: Hackett, 2007), 22–23. return to text
    83. Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria 11.3. This fourth part of the Loeb Classical Library edition of Quintilian is not readily available in hard copy, but an online version can be found at http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Quintilian/Institutio_Oratoria/11C*.html - 3, accessed August 15, 2012. return to text
    84. Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria 11.3. return to text
    85. Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria 11.3. return to text
    86. Harman, Guerrilla Metaphysics, 142–44, 172–82. return to text
    87. Harman, Guerrilla Metaphysics, 162. return to text
    88. Richard Lanham, A Handlist of Rhetorical Terms: A Guide for Students of English Literature (Berkeley, Los Angeles and London: University of California Press, 1969). return to text
    89. Timothy Morton, “Introduction,” The Cambridge Companion to Shelley (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 1–13. return to text
    90. Joan Stambaugh, The Finitude of Being (Albany: SUNY University Press, 1992), 7–11, 59–70. return to text
    91. Xavier Zubiri, On Essence, tr. A.R. Caponigri (Washington DC: Catholic University Press, 1980), 46–47. See also Harman, Tool-Being, 243–268. return to text
    92. Alphonso Lingis, The Imperative (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1998), 135. return to text
    93. Harman, Guerrilla Metaphysics, 102–6, 119–21; 161. return to text
    94. Charlton T. Lewis and Charles Short, Latin Dictionary (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1879), actio, pronuntiatio. return to text
    95. Henry George Liddell and Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon: Revised and Augmented throughout by Sir Henry Stuart Jones with the Assistance of Roderick McKenzie (Oxford. Clarendon Press, 1940), ὑπόκρισις. return to text
    96. Harman, Guerrilla Metaphysics, 164–70, 171. return to text
    97. Harman, Guerrilla Metaphysics, 172. return to text
    98. Lewis and Short, Latin Dictionary, suadeo. return to text
    99. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Experience,” in The Essential Writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson, ed. Brooks Atkinson, intro. Mary Oliver (New York: Modern Library, 2000) 307–326 (309). return to text
    100. In Harman Tool-Being, 19, 24, 28, 35–36. return to text
    101. These are genuine quotations from John Gage and John McCoubrey. See Brandon Cooke, “Art-Critical Contradictions,” paper given at the American Society of Aesthetics, San Francisco, October 2003. return to text
    102. Stanley Fish, Is There A Text in This Class? (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1980), 147–174. return to text
    103. For a trenchant discussion see Brandon Cooke, “Art-Critical Contradictions.” return to text
    104. I adapt for my own purposes a famous line of Harold Bloom’s: “the meaning of a poem can only be a poem, but another poem—a poem not itself.The Anxiety of Influence: A Theory of Poetry (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), 70. return to text
    105. Percy Shelley, A Defence of Poetry, in Shelley’s Poetry and Prose, ed. Donald H. Reiman and Neil Fraistat (New York and London: W.W. Norton, 2002), 509–535 (535). return to text
    106. Martin Heidegger, “The Origin of the Work of Art,” in Poetry, Language, Thought, trans. Albert Hofstadter (New York: Harper & Row, 1971), 15–86 (26). return to text
    107. Sigmund Freud, Interpreting Dreams, tr. J.A. Underwood, intro. John Forrester (London: Penguin, 2006), 148–149. return to text
    108. Immanuel Kant, Critique of Judgment: Including the First Introduction, tr. Werner Pluhar (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1987), 113–117. return to text
    109. I argue this in contradistinction to Quentin Meillassoux, who gets rid of the principle of sufficient reason in order to maintain LNC: After Finitude: An Essay on the Necessity of Contingency, tr. Ray Brassier (New York: Continuum, 2009), 34, 40–42, 48–52, 60, 132. return to text
    110. Harman, Prince of Networks, 21. return to text
    111. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Experience,” Essential Writings, ed. Brooks Atkinson and Mary Oliver (Modern Library, 2000), 307–326, 318. return to text
    112. Anton Zeilinger, Dance of the Photons: From Einstein to Quantum Teleportation (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010), 45–55. return to text
    113. Bohm, Quantum Theory, 99–115. return to text
    114. Dowe, Physical Causation, 104–107. return to text
    115. Dowe, Physical Causation, 64–90. return to text
    116. Dowe, Physical Causation, 75. return to text
    117. Dowe, Physical Causation, 75–79. return to text
    118. Dowe, Physical Causation, 77. return to text
    119. Graham Priest, In Contradiction: A Study of the Transconsistent (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), 5–6, 42. return to text
    120. Dowe, Physical Causation, 54, 63. return to text
    121. Richard Linklater, Dir., A Scanner Darkly (Warner Independent Pictures, 2006). return to text
    122. This is Steven Shaviro’s position: “Kant and Hegel, Yet Again,” http://www.shaviro.com/Blog/?p=991, accessed August 18, 2012. return to text
    123. Aaron O’Connell, “Making Sense of a Visible Quantum Object,” TED Talk, March 2011, http://www.ted.com/talks/aaron_o_connell_making_sense_of_a_visible_quantum_object.html, accessed June 27, 2012. return to text
    124. See Harman, Guerrilla Metaphysics, 101–124 for a discussion of how poetic metaphor is archaeological evidence in just this sense. return to text
    125. Aristotle, Poetics, in Aristotle, Horace and Longinus, Classical Literary Criticism, tr. T.S. Dorsch (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1984). 41. return to text
    126. Jane Bennett, Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things (Durham: Duke University Press, 2004), 119–120; Timothy Morton, The Ecological Thought (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2010), 8, 110, 115. return to text
    127. Timothy Morton, “Some Notes towards a Philosophy of Non-Life,” Thinking Nature 1 (2011). return to text