Levi R. Bryant

The Democracy of Objects


    Can I claim authorship of the book that follows? In the typical and frustrating manner of a philosopher—if such I am—I can only answer that this depends on what authorship is. Certainly, I spent months typing words and editing various drafts of The Democracy of Objects. Yet if there is some truth to the ontology that I here develop, then every object is also a crowd of objects. Moreover, the circumstances under which this book came to be written, coupled with the way in which this book was written, render this point especially true. This book was already on its way to coming into being before I even conceived of it as a result of my encounter with the literary and media theorist Melanie Doherty. I met Doherty around eight years ago under unusual circumstances when I was at the height of my Lacanian period, singing endless odes to the signifier and fully enmeshed within the linguistic and rhetorical turn. A deep and productive friendship ensued that continues to this day. Doherty continuously challenged my focus on the signifier and the semiotic, conceding that these things play a role, but also drawing my attention to the role the non-semiotic and material plays in the formation of social relations. Like the reincarnation of Alice that she is, she sent me down the rabbit hole of thinkers such as Latour, Ong, Kittler, Haraway, McLuhan, Marx, and a host of others, while also underscoring the singularity of mathematics, science, neurology, and biology. While I remain a resolute Lacanian—how couldn’t I, having suffered through all the seminars, having gone through analysis, and having practiced for a time myself?—I gradually found that I could no longer maintain my Lacanianism in the form I had initially articulated it, and had to set forth to develop a new ontology (for me), capable of taking into account the points that Doherty was making. I had to find a way to silence her endless protestations of “but! but! but!”, but have since found that she is an equal opportunity critical thinker who finds opportunities to ask “but!” in response to my newly developed ontology. Badiou speaks of events and the truth-procedures that follow from them, while Deleuze speaks of encounters and the invention they invoke. Doherty has been an event, encounter, truth-procedure, and source of endless invention in my thought. She deserves as much credit for the authorship of this book as I do. I ardently hope she begins to write soon so that I might have the opportunity to protest “but!” in relation to her thought.

    Then there was my encounter with Graham Harman nearly three years ago. I first approached Harman to be a third editor for The Speculative Turn as a consequence of the diligent help he provided in pulling the collection together and putting Nick Srnicek and me in contact with various presses. At the time I knew very little about Harman’s ontology, having read scant little of his work (he did earn his Ph.D., after all, from a rival school!), and finding him generally rather suspect; no doubt as a result of projective identification. Over the next couple of weeks, a very friendly yet intense email discussion erupted between the two of us, with me arguing from a Deleuzian relational-monist perspective and Harman arguing from the standpoint of his object-oriented philosophy, defending both the existence of substances and their autonomy from relations. I came out of the tail end of that debate transformed, finding that I needed to rework the entirety of my thought within a framework that made room for substances independent of relations. Every page of the book that follows is inspired by Harman’s work, such that it is impossible to cite all the ways in which he has influenced my thinking.

    A number of the concepts and lines of argument developed in the The Democracy of Objects were initially developed on my blog Larval Subjects and I owe a deep debt of gratitude to those who amused themselves by participating in those discussions. Adrian Ivakhiv, whose own ontological instincts and ecological sympathies are so close to my own, yet simultaneously so alien, constantly challenged me from a process-relational perspective, driving me to better hone my arguments and concepts. The same is true of Christopher Vitale’s engagement, which forced me to better articulate my claims. Ian Bogost’s unit-operational ontology has been a deep influence in my thought as well. Joseph C. Goodson has often understood object-oriented ontology better than myself and has constantly given me insights into this burgeoning ontology that I hadn’t yet seen. Adam Kotsko, Craig McFarlane, and Anthony Paul Smith have all provided helpful, if sometimes painful, criticism that has motivated my thought to evolve. Paul Bains, for over a decade, has drawn my attention to traditions and thinkers in the history of philosophy, introducing me, in particular, to autopoietic theory and Peircian semiotics. Alex Reid and Nathan Gale have provided me with endless inspiration from the domain of rhetoric and composition studies. Moreover, Michael, from Archive Fire, has kept me honest from the domain of ethnography. Steven Shaviro has been a constant source of illumination for me and has challenged my own thought in his debates over relations and events with Graham Harman. I aspire to be as magnanimous as he some day. Jeremy Trombley has provided similar inspiration from the direction of ethnography. Similarly, the loquacious Pete Wolfendale has forced me to refine arguments and concepts within a framework that is alien to me, hopefully rendering my claims sharper than they would have otherwise been. Finally, I would be remiss were I not to mention the profound inspiration I’ve drawn from the devilish novelist Frances Madeson and the sublime poet Jacob Russell. Perhaps some day I’ll rise to the levels of their art, but for the moment I plod along in the world of the concept. Would this book be what it is—however short it may fall of rising to the contributions of time and thought they’ve put into discussion—had I not encountered these voices? Given the fact that this object was composed in this milieu, it is difficult for me to see how they are not also authors, with me functioning as a sort of stenographer.

    Jon Cogburn, Timothy Morton, and Michael Flower provided invaluable editorial and philosophical critiques of earlier versions of this book. Not only did Michael Flower engage in the monotonous task of editing this text, but he also created the majority of the diagrams. Jon Cogburn, a friend from nearly two decades ago but whom I’ve only recently had the privilege of getting to know again, provided cogent critique and editorial comments from a philosophical orientation very foreign to my own background. I am tremendously fortunate to have his friendship and eagerly look forward to developments in his own thought in the years to come. I have only had the pleasure of knowing Timothy Morton’s friendship this year, but despite the short time of our encounter, he generously provided extremely helpful editorial advice and has been a deep influence on the concepts developed in the text that follows. Carlton Clark and Timothy Richardson both endured long and disjointed conversations with me revolving around the main claims of this book, providing excellent suggestions to improve my arguments and conversations. April Jacobs also provided helpful editorial advice.

    Andrew Cutrofello, who supervised my dissertation which later became Difference and Givenness, taught me how to read philosophy creatively so as to produce new philosophy out of the material of the history of philosophy. He also instilled me with a spirit of rigor and careful argumentation. His influence and the lessons he imparted to me continue throughout the pages of this book. Finally, I would like to thank my partner Angela and my daughter, both of whom were patient with me as I wrote this book, and supportive of the project.

    Books are born out of a crowd of voices, taking on a unity where the traces of these voices often disappear. I am both humbled and tremendously grateful for all those voices that assisted me in the composition of this text.