Levi R. Bryant

The Democracy of Objects

    3. Virtual Proper Being

    What would a truly democratic encounter between truly equal beings look like, what would it be—can we even imagine it?
    Timothy Morton [76]

    3.1. The Mug Blues

    Although we have addressed Locke's criticism of substance as an occult entity not warranted by the givens of experience, the problem of the bare substratum remains. If substance is not its qualities, does this not entail that substance as such is without qualities and is therefore a bare substratum? And if substance is a bare substratum, does this not entail that all substances are identical? If this is the case, then this spells the ruin of the concept of substance for substance is supposed to account, in part, for the individuality of substance. Yet where substance is bare, all individuality is erased. If this difficulty is to be avoided, we require some way of talking about the structure or formatting of substances or split-objects without this structure consisting of qualities. Towards this end, it would prove helpful to investigate the being of a particular substance.

    Suppose, for the sake of argument, that my blue coffee mug sitting here on the table is a substance. When I distinguish between the virtual proper being of an object and the actual local manifestation of an object, I am attempting to distinguish between the object qua formatted structure and as an enduring unity, and the object qua qualities or properties. The virtual proper being of an object is its self-othering substantiality, its being as substance, or its being as a (more or less) enduring unity. Here it is important to bear in mind that the time of endurance is irrelevant to whether or not a substance is a substance. A substance can exist for the briefest moment before being destroyed, or for billions of years. It will be recalled that, according to Aristotle, no substance is any more or less a substance than any other. This holds no less for the difference between a rock and a human than it does for an object that is long-lived or instantaneous.

    The virtual proper being of an object is what makes an object properly an object. It is that which constitutes an object as a difference engine or generative mechanism. However, no one nor any other thing ever encounters an object qua its virtual proper being, for the substance of an object is perpetually withdrawn or in excess of any of its manifestations. Rather, the virtual proper being of an object can only ever be inferred from its local manifestations in the world. By contrast, the local manifestation of an object is the manner in which a substance or virtual proper being is actualized in the world under determinate conditions. Here it is important to emphasize that manifestation refers not to phenomena or appearances for a subject, though clearly this can take place as well. When I refer to manifestation, I am not referring to givenness to a subject, but rather to actualization within a world. Objects require no subject to manifest themselves in the world. The universe could be a universe in which no sentient beings of any sort exist and manifestation would continue to take place. We are therefore fortunately relieved of playing Atlas. Consequently, appearances and phenomena, what is given, are a subset of manifestation, not the reverse. Manifestation is an ontological predicate, not an epistemological predicate.

    It is my contention that traditional ontology was correct to distinguish between the substance and qualities of objects, but mistaken in how it thought about the nature of substance. It is correct to hold that objects cannot be reduced to their qualities because qualities change and shift while the object remains this substance. Traditional philosophy goes astray, however, in concluding that because substances cannot be reduced to their qualities, then substance must be the object stripped of all qualities or, as Locke puts it, a bare substratum. Where substance is conceived in this way, its concept becomes entirely incoherent.

    My thesis is that the substantiality of objects is not a bare substratum, but rather an absolutely individual system or organization of powers. Powers are the capacities of an object or what it can do. The powers of an object are never something that is directly manifested in the world. And if this is so, then this is because the qualities of an object are only ever local manifestations of the object’s power. That is, the domain of power possessed by an object is always greater than any local manifestation or actualization of an object. For this reason, following Manuel DeLanda, I distinguish between the phase space of an object and the powers of an object. A phase space is a set of points that can be occupied in a series of variations. For example, as a pendulum swings back and forth, it passes through a series of points between two maxima and a minima. Each of these points is a point in phase space. Moreover, none of these points are ever occupied all at once. Likewise, we can think qualities or properties as points an object manifests or actualizes as points in a phase space. The power of the pendulum is its ability to move through this phase space, to produce these actualizations, while each point the pendulum moves through is a local manifestation of this power of the pendulum.

    Two points follow from this thesis about the relationship between substance or virtual proper being and qualities or local manifestations. First, we should not speak of qualities as something an object possesses, has, or is, but rather as acts, verbs, or something that an object does. Second, knowing an object does not consist in enumerating a list of essential qualities or properties belonging to an object, but rather consists in knowing the powers or capacities of an object. As we will see in the next chapter, this entails that no object is ever fully known insofar as every object necessarily has an infinite phase space while simultaneously having a finite structure of powers.

    Here I return to the blue mug with which I began this section. Within the ontological framework I am proposing, it would be inaccurate to suggest that the mug is blue or that the mug possesses the quality of blue. Rather, if we had an ontologically accurate language, we would instead say that “the mug blues” or that “the mug is bluing” or that “the mug does blue”. The blueness of the mug is not a quality that the mug has but is something that the mug does. It is an activity on the part of the mug. Nor would it be accurate to claim, at the level of the mug's virtual proper being, that “the mug has blue power”. The mug does not have blue power, but rather coloring power. If this is the case, then it is because the mug always has the power to produce a broader range of colors than the shade it produces at any given time.

    The decision to think qualities of an object as acts or doings rather than as possessions, along with onticology's rejection of the thesis that the mug has blue power rather than coloring power, is motivated by two interrelated concerns. First, qualities are acts on the part of objects precisely because qualities vary. If it is inaccurate to suggest that the mug is blue, then this is because the mug is a variety of different colors as a function of the exo-relations with light the mug enters into. As I look at the mug under the warm light of my desktop lamp, it is now a very dark, deep, flat blue. Now I open the shade to my office window, allowing sunlight to stream in. The mug becomes a brilliant, bright, shiny blue. Sharing a romantic moment with my coffee mug by candlelight, the colors are deep and rich as they were under my office light, but now the blue flickers and dances in response to the shifting intensity of the candle flame. And finally, I blow out the candle and the mug becomes black.

    Here there are a couple of points worth making. First, in pointing to the manner in which the qualities of the mug change, I am not making the claim that these qualities are unreal or that the mug is truly one shade of blue and that these other shades are distortions or deviations from the mug’s true color. Rather, these qualities of the mug are entirely real and the mug is all these colors. Indeed, we can say that in principle the mug is potentially an infinite number of colors because there is no limit to the exo-relations into which the mug can enter. Consequently, we cannot say that we would finally get the true being of the mug by adding up all the qualities that it actualizes. The being of the mug is not the sum of its qualities, but rather qualities are unique events that a substance produces.

    Second, what is true of the color of the coffee mug is also true of all its qualities or properties. For example, the spatial shape of the mug, while certainly far more enduring than the color of the mug, is no less variable, in principle, than the color of the mug. The mug tends to have a relatively stable spatial or extensional structure because it exists within a stable regime of attraction or set of exo-relations. Change the temperature or gravity of the mug’s exo-relations and the extension or spatial shape of the mug will also change.

    Here, then, we encounter one of the central ways of distinguishing between the virtual proper being of an object and its local manifestations. Where local manifestation is geometrical, virtual proper being is topological. As described by Steven Connor,

    Topology may be defined as the study of the spatial properties of an object that remain invariant under homeomorphic deformations, which is to say, broadly, actions of stretching, squeezing, or folding. [It is] not concerned with exact measurement, which is the domain of geometry [...] but rather with spatial relations, such as continuity, neighborhood, insideness and outsideness, disjunction and connection [...]. Because topology is concerned with what remains invariant as a result of transformation, it may be thought of as geometry plus time, geometry given body by motion. [77]

    Where geometry treats fixed metric properties and shapes, topology, by contrast, treats of structures capable of undergoing variation through operations of stretching, squeezing, or folding while retaining its structure. Here the distinction between topology and geometry should not be understood mathematically in terms of two different ways of approaching space, but rather philosophically as two distinct aspects of substance. The topological domain refers to the domain of how the virtual powers of a substance are organized, whereas the geometrical refers to how substances are actualized in locally fixed qualities. There is no less a topology and geometry of colors in substances than there is topology and geometry of spatial qualities in objects. As a consequence we can say—and I'll have much more to say about this in section 3.5—that the virtual proper being of objects is characterized by a topological plasticity that is nonetheless absolutely individual and concrete.

    The coloring power of the mug is not a Euclidean property of the mug, a geometric property of the mug—which is to say, a fixed property—but is rather a topology or series of variations that are a function of the exo-relations the mug enters into with other objects (different photons of light). For this reason, we must say that the mug blues, that it “does” blue, rather than that the mug is blue. The bluing of the mug is the local manifestation of the mug. Likewise, if we don't say that the mug has blue power, but rather has coloring power, then this is because the mug has the topological power to produce a whole range of colors ranging from black to brilliant blue. This range is the power of the mug, while every point or variation within this range is the phase space of the mug. Finally, the actualization of a point within this topology or phase space is a local manifestation of the mug. Aristotle's formal cause must be rescued from its fixed-structure Euclideanism and placed soundly within the field of topology or structures that contain the potential for a series of variations volcanically locked within substances. And this is why I refer to objects as “difference engines” or “generative mechanisms”, for objects are these powers of producing differences in the world at the level of qualities or local manifestations.

    Why, then, are we inclined to say that the mug is blue rather than that the mug blues and has coloring power? I think there are three reasons for this, one cognitive, another sociological, and a third having to do with logoi, local ontological situations, or regimes of attraction in which objects manifest themselves. Cognitively our thought and perception is geared towards action and therefore what interests us. As Bergson so nicely puts it,

    [m]y body [...] acts like an image which reflects others, and which, in doing so, analyzes them along lines corresponding to the different actions which it can exercise upon them. And consequently, each of the qualities perceived in the same object by my different senses symbolizes a particular direction of my activity, a particular need. [78]

    In relating to other objects, there's a way in which our body reduces objects, simplifies them, as a target of its own aims, needs, and desires. As a consequence, variations in objects are ignored and the object is reduced to a geometric identity most congenial to its desired action. As we will see in the next chapter, this is not a peculiarity of human or animal nature, but rather is true of all inter-object relations, whether animate or inanimate, whether human or animal, whether living or non-living. The reduction or simplification of one object by another object is a general ontological feature of how objects relate to one another. In short, this sort of simplification is not an epistemological peculiarity of human beings.

    Sociologically, philosophers, as writers and scholars, do a lot of sitting. This is also true of those times when we pause to reflect and wonder what objects are. Everything is still. Rather than acting on objects, we look at objects. Where acting on objects tends to produce qualitative differences in the objects, gazing at objects tends to reveal fixed properties (especially if we and the object are sitting still). As such, when we cast about for objects to contemplate, our tendency is to encounter objects in relatively fixed circumstances. The philosopher picks up the first item that is about or nearby, such as my blue mug. But as a result of these relatively fixed circumstances characterizing reflection, we encounter qualities not in their changes or transitions, but rather as abiding qualities possessed by an object. We then build this lack of engagement with objects and the consequent non-variation into the very foundations of our ontology without realizing it. In this connection, Gilbert Simondon suggests that a prejudice for fully constituted local manifestations or the geometric reflects the social hierarchy of Greek philosophy. [79] Likewise, in works like Pascalian Meditations, Pierre Bourdieu shows how what he calls “the scholastic disposition” leads us to systematically distort questions about the nature of practice. [80] The claims of Simondon and Bourdieu hold not only for ancient Greece and sociological questions of practice, but also for our contemporary historical moment and questions of ontology. Intellectual work today, no less than in ancient Greece, is dependent on a certain distribution of labor that renders academic life possible by relieving a particular segment of society largely independent of manual labor. This, in turn, leads objects to be encountered in a particular way insofar as the academic, by and large, does not encounter the volcanic potentials hidden within objects by virtue of not directly acting on objects. As a consequence, this leads to a systematic distortion of ontological questions and what constitutes an object.

    Finally, third, the objects that populate our world tend to exist in fairly stable sets of exo-relations or regimes of attraction. For example, gravity, pressure, and temperature are fairly stable on our planet—at least in the environments where we most commonly act. This entails that there is very often very little variation in the qualities of the objects that make up the furniture of our daily experience. This, no doubt, is one reason that the confusion of objects with their qualities is such a persistent tendency of thought. If Aristotle was able to think the formal cause of objects in largely fixed Euclidean or geometric terms rather than in dynamic topological terms, then this is because there is often a sort of détente of exo-relations among objects leading to fairly stable qualities or local manifestations among objects. If I am led, for example, to think my body as possessing a rather fixed form, then this is because the atmospheric pressure produced by the Earth's gases pressing down upon me is fairly constant. If, by contrast, a mad scientist were to place me in a room that slowly decreased atmospheric pressure, the form or shape of my body would change in subtle ways up to the point where I would finally decompress and become a plurality of objects. Likewise, the form of my body changes in subtle ways with changes in temperature, becoming now more compact when it is very cold and somewhat swollen when it is very hot. Even the spatial form of my body is an act on the part of my body, something that my body does, not something my body has or is. This is why I refer to logoi, local ontological situations, or regimes of attraction rather than logos. These logoi or local ontological situations are relatively stable exo-relations among objects that tend to generate, as a consequence, enduring and stable qualities in objects.

    3.2. Deleuze's Schizophrenia: Between Monism and Pluralism

    No one has explored this anterior side of substance—in the transcendental, not the temporal, sense—more profoundly than Gilles Deleuze. In Difference and Repetition, Deleuze names this dimension of substance that is formatted or structured without possessing qualities the virtual. Here the virtual is not to be confused with virtual reality. The latter is generally treated as a simulacrum of reality, as a sort of false or computer generated reality. By contrast, the virtual is entirely real without, for all that, being actual. The term “virtuality” comes from the Latin virtus, which has connotations of potency and efficacy. As such, the virtual, as virtus, refers to powers and capacities belonging to an entity. And in order for an entity to have powers or capacities, it must actually exist. In this connection, while the virtual refers to potentiality, it would be a mistake to conflate this potentiality with the concept of a potential object. A potential object is an object that does not exist but which could come to exist. By contrast, the virtual is strictly a part of a real and existing object. The virtual consists of the volcanic powers coiled within an object. It is that substantiality, that structure and those singularities that endure as the object undergoes qualitative transformations at the level of local manifestations.

    However, in evoking Deleuze's concept of the virtual, we must proceed with caution for two deeply opposed tendencies animate Deleuze's discussions of the virtual. On the one hand, Deleuze often speaks of the virtual in terms of an ontological monism that suggests he is committed to the thesis that there is only one substance that is then broken up into discrete entities through a process of actualization. Monism tends to come in one of two variants. One variant of monism has it that only a single substance exists and that everything that exists is a property or quality of that one substance. Spinoza's monism, for example, argues that only a single substance exists and that all entities (modes) are expressions of this one substance. Another variant of monism has it that there is only a single type of being, but that being is populated by numerically distinct entities of this type. Lucretius, for example, could be construed as a monist of this sort, as he holds that only atoms and their combinations exist, not two distinct ontological types such as Plato's world of the forms and the fallen world of entities or appearances.

    Deleuze often appears to advocate this former sort of monism, while object-oriented ontology and onticology might appear to be committed to the latter type. Throughout Deleuze's work, we find the theme of a single substance that somehow comes to be formatted into discrete entities. By contrast, object-oriented ontology advocates the thesis that being is composed only of discrete entities or substances. DeLanda articulates this variant of Deleuze nicely when he remarks that,

    Deleuze distinguishes the progressive unfolding of a multiplicity through broken symmetries (differentiation), from the progressive specification of the continuous space formed by multiplicities as it gives rise to our world of discontinuous spatial structures (differenciation). Unlike a transcendent heaven which exists as a separate dimension from reality, Deleuze asks us to imagine a continuum of multiplicities which differentiates itself into our familiar three-dimensional space as well as its spatially structured contents. [81]

    I will discuss Deleuze's concept of multiplicity momentarily, but for the moment it is important to note that “multiplicity” is among Deleuze's terms for the virtual. The suggestion here is that the virtual seems to consist of a single continuum, such that there is only one virtual, one substance, that is then partitioned into apparently distinct entities. And indeed, as Deleuze remarks, “all [multiplicities] coexist, but they do so at points, on the edges”. [82] Moreover, Deleuze's constant references to the virtual as the pre-individual suggests this reading as well, for it implies a transition from an undifferentiated state to a differenciated individual. If the virtual is pre-individual, then it cannot be composed of discrete individual unities or substances. Here the individual would be an effect of the virtual, not primary being itself.

    On the other hand, Deleuze speaks of the virtual as a part of the real object. Here Deleuze seems to move in the direction of the second sense of the monism, where monism entails that being is composed of a pluralism of distinct entities, all of the same type. As Deleuze remarks, “the virtual must be defined as strictly a part of the real object—as though the object had one part of itself plunged as though into an objective dimension”. [83] Deleuze goes on to ask,

    How, then, can we speak simultaneously of both complete determination and only a part of the object? The determination must be a complete determination of the object, yet form only a part of it. Following suggestions made by Descartes in his Replies to Arnauld, we must carefully distinguish the object in so far as it is complete and the object in so far as it is whole. What is complete is only the [virtual] part of the object, which participates with other parts of objects in the [Multiplicity] (other relations, other singular points), but never constitutes an integral whole as such. What the complete determination lacks is the whole set of relations belonging to actual existence. An object may be ens, or rather (non)-ens omni modo determinatum, without being entirely determined or actually existing. [84]

    In treating the virtual as a part of the object and as completely determined (structured), Deleuze seems to suggest that the virtual—far from constituting a pre-individual continuum that is then parceled up into discrete entities—is, in fact, purely discrete and individual. Under this reading, multiplicities or endo-relational structures would be discrete, existing individuals. Here there would be no transition from the pre-individual virtual to the individual actual, but rather the relation between endo-structure and actuality would be a transition between unexercised power and actualized quality within an individual.

    It is not my aim here to provide a commentary on Deleuze's ontology nor to remain true to his thought, but rather to determine how it is possible for substance to be formatted without this formatting consisting of substance's qualities. My contention is that the transcendental condition (in the transcendental realist sense) under which it is possible for an object to be out of phase with its qualities lies in a formatted structure that is not itself qualitative. It is only in this way that the bare substratum problem can be avoided and Aristotle's insight that substances are capable of carrying contrary qualities can be vindicated. However, paraphrasing Karen Barad in her discussion of Niels Bohr, “I propose an ontology that I believe to be consistent with [a number of Deleuze's] views, although I make no claim that this is what he necessarily had in mind”. [85] Consequently, Deleuze's thought is only relevant here insofar as it advances our understanding of the split-nature of substance. In chapter 1, I take it that I have demonstrated the ontological necessity for the existence of discrete or individual substances. Contra Deleuze's Spinozist monism and his continuum hypothesis with respect to the virtual, this necessity follows above all from the requirement that objects be separable from their relations to other objects if experimental activity is to be intelligible. In order for experiment to be possible, it is necessary that it be possible to form closed systems in which objects can express their powers. If objects or generative mechanisms were merely expressions of a continuum that is itself one, then it is difficult to see how this condition could ever be met. Yet given that it seems that this condition is regularly met, it seems that Deleuze's monism must clearly be mistaken.

    Approaching Deleuze's thought more directly, two difficulties seem to besiege his monist continuum hypothesis. First, if the virtual is a single substance that is then partitioned into discrete entities, it is difficult to understand why the virtual ever departs from itself to become “alienated” in individuals at all. Deleuze's tendency is to speak of the actual, of the individuated, as that which contributes no differences of its own but which is merely a sort of sterile secretion of the virtual. As Deleuze puts it,

    [d]ifference is explicated, but in systems in which it tends to be cancelled; this means only that difference is essentially implicated, that its being is implication. For difference, to be explicated is to be cancelled or to dispel the inequality which constitutes it. The formula according to which 'to explicate is to identify' is a tautology. We cannot conclude from this that difference is cancelled out, or at least that it is cancelled in itself. It is cancelled in so far as it is drawn outside itself, in extensity and in the quality which fills that extensity. However, difference creates both this extensity and this quality. [86]

    The terms “implication” and “explication” should be read etymologically here, rather than literally. “Explication” denotes not the activity of explanation, but rather “to unfold”. Here, then, the emphasis should be placed on the term “plication”, which indicates that which is folded. Consequently, the term “implication” should be read not in the sense of a possible logical inference from a given fact, but rather as denoting that which is enfolded or hidden in something else. From this we can derive the following table:

    Implication Explication
    Virtual Potent, yet unactualized difference/Cause of beings/Pre-Individual Canceled Difference/Formation of Quality/Sterile Being
    Actual Condition/Cause of the Actual Product/Individual being without causal efficacy/Completion or end of Process
    Table 2

    Following Simondon, Deleuze arrives at this conception of being and the relationship between the virtual and the actual on the grounds that “[i]t is notable that extensity does not account for the individuations which occur within it”. [87] When Deleuze refers to an extensity, he is referring to an entity with qualities situated in time and space. Returning to the example of my blue coffee mug, simply by examining my coffee mug here and now, I cannot determine how it came to have the shape it has, the color that it has, why it is sitting here on my desk, etc.

    Deleuze's suggestion is thus that because extensity does not account for the individuations that occur within it (the qualities and structure that make it this individual), we must refer to another dimension, the implicit, the virtual, to account for these individuations. Furthermore, since the extensive consists of individual or individuated entities, Deleuze concludes that this supplementary dimension must be pre-individual. As Deleuze remarks, “[t]he individuating is not the simple individual”. [88] However, in making this move, Deleuze renders the motivating grounds of individuation thoroughly mysterious. If the virtual is, as Deleuze suggests, a continuum and a whole populated by potent yet unactualized differences, and if the actual is merely a secretion or excresence of the virtual, what is it that leads the virtual to ever ex-plicate itself, to unfold itself, or to leave itself and fall into the sterile, actual individual? Difference comes from the domain of the virtual, not the actual, for the actual is precisely that domain where difference is canceled. Here, then, we encounter a problem similar to the one that haunted Plato's theory of the forms, where we are left to wonder why the world of imperfect creatures ever comes into being and why the world of the perfect forms doesn't simply reside in tranquil and unmoving eternal existence.

    These observations lead to a second problem. As Hallward notes in his controversial study, Out of This World, Deleuze's ontology essentially conceives being in terms of creativity and creating. This, according to Hallward, leads Deleuze to distinguish between the creating and the creature, the individuating and the individual, with the creature and the individual being granted a derivative status to that of the creating and individuating. As Hallward puts it,

    Almost every aspect of Deleuze's philosophy is caught up with the consequences of this initial correlation of being, creativity and thought. Roughly speaking, it implies: (a) that all existent things or processes exist in just one way, as so many distinct acts of creation or so many individual creatings; (b) that these creatings are themselves aspects of a limitless and consequently singular creative power, a power that is most adequately expressed in the medium of pure thought; (c) that every creating gives rise to a derivative creature or created thing, whose own power or creativity is limited by its material organisation, its situation, its actual capacities and relations with other creatures, and so on; (d) that the main task facing any such creature is to loosen and then dissolve these limitations in order to become a more adequate or immaterial vehicle for that virtual creating which alone individuates it. [89]

    Hallward's third point here is particularly salient. In treating difference, the virtual, the implicit, as that which is responsible for individuation, and the explicate, the actual, the individual as the product of individuation, Deleuze inevitably grants the creature or the individual a derivative place within being. The individual becomes a product of being, an effect of virtual difference, but certainly cannot be treated as a motor of difference in the world. Like the trail of slime left behind in the wake of a snail or slug, the individual is merely the remainder or excresence of a differential process of individuation that has already moved on.

    What we thus get in Deleuze's thought is a sort of vertical ontology of the depths. Rather than entities or substances interacting with each other laterally or horizontally, we instead get an ontology where difference arises vertically from the depths of the virtual. As a consequence, the individual takes on a secondary status as a mere effect of the genuine processes that all occur at the level of the virtual.

    In a philosophically rich review of Hallward's book, John Protevi contends that Hallward illicitly flattens the complexity of Deleuze's ontology. As Protevi remarks,

    The relations among actual, virtual and intensive form the most important issue in explicating Deleuze's ontology. I would argue that we should consider the intensive as an independent ontological register, one that mediates the virtual and actual, which are its limits. Even if one doesn't accept this and insists on a dualism of the virtual and actual, one would have to say that the intensive belongs with the actual. [90]

    Protevi goes on to argue that,

    Spatio-temporal dynamisms, that is, morphogenetic processes exhibiting intensive properties, are processes of individuation, of emergence from pre-individual fields. The paradigm cases for Deleuze are embryos and weather systems. In the biological register, the "field" of individuation (the gradients of which are laden with pre-individual singularities) is the egg, while the process of individuation is embryonic morphogenesis; in the meteorological register, the field of individuation is the pre-condition (the bands of different temperature and pressure in air and water) to the formation of wind currents or storms, which are the spatio-temporal dynamisms. [...]. Any resident of Louisiana will be able to locate hurricanes for you in terms of their spatio-temporal co-ordinates. To be fair, we do have to distinguish between the location of a hurricane as embedded in a geographic co-ordinate system—its extensive properties—and the thresholds proper to its intensive properties. It's only at certain singular points in the differential relations among air and water temperature and wind currents that thunderstorms, tropical depressions, tropical storms, and hurricanes form. Nonetheless, the point is that the weather system itself is the intensive process by which those singularities are actualized, and that this intensive process operates here, in this world. [91]

    Quite right. What Protevi doesn't seem to notice, however, is that this treatment of the relationship between the virtual, the actual, and the intensive requires a significant revision of Deleuze's ontology. In his reading of Deleuze's ontology, we note that Protevi perpetually refers to discrete and actual substances or individuals that interact with one another and perturb each other in a variety of ways. Far from a monistic virtual continuum that is then cut up into discrete entities, Protevi's parsing of Deleuze's ontology requires the existence of discrete substances or entities that interact with one another and evoke virtual powers within one another through these interactions. And here, in passing, we should recall Deleuze's constant polemics against the concept of causality. As Deleuze remarks,

    It is sufficient to understand that the genesis takes place in time not between one actual term, however small, and another actual term, but between the virtual and its actualisation—in other words, it goes from the structure to its incarnation, from the conditions of a problem to the cases of solution, from the differential elements and their ideal connections to actual terms and diverse real relations which constitute at each moment the actuality of time. [92]

    If Deleuze is so quick to reject the notion of causality, then this is because causality works laterally or horizontally, from object to object, whereas the virtual works vertically from the implicate to the explicate. It is precisely this thesis that must be rejected under Protevi's account. If Deleuze's account of time in the relation between the virtual and the actual is here embraced, it is difficult to see how the actual terms evoked in Protevi's characterization of Deleuze's thought can have the sort of causal efficacy Protevi attributes to them. Rather, under Deleuze's model of virtual time, any causal relation between actual terms can only be apparent or a sort of transcendental illusion. My point here is not that Protevi is mistaken in his account of the relation between the virtual, the actual, and the intensive, but rather that Deleuze's account of virtual time, of the time of actualization, must be abandoned if something like Protevi's account is to remain coherent. It must be possible for actual terms to causally interact with one another and for the actual to affect the virtual.

    But if this is the case, then we can no longer say that the virtual is the pre-individual and the actual is the individual. The virtual is not something that produces the individual, but rather must strictly be a dimension of the individual. It is precisely the individual that precedes the virtual—transcendentally, not temporally—not the virtual that precedes the individual. If it is to be possible for substances or individuals to perturb each other, then being cannot consist of a whole or a continuum, but must instead come in discrete packets or substances. Moreover, it follows that the actual dimension of the entity cannot mark the erasure or cancellation of difference, but must instead itself be an instigator of difference in other entities and one of the mechanisms by which the volcanic, yet unactualized, powers of the virtual are released and set forth in the world. And here I note that when outstanding commentators on Deleuze such as Protevi and DeLanda set out to analyze the world, it is precisely in these terms that they speak. Far from treating the actual and substances as derivative, they instead display a profound attentiveness to the differences that individual substances make. Here the ontology of theoretical practice belies the ontology espoused when striving to describe what they're doing in their practice.

    In an interview Deleuze once remarked that,

    Philosophers introduce new concepts, they explain them, but they don't tell us, not completely anyway, the problems to which those concepts are a response. Hume, for example, set out a novel concept of belief, but he doesn't tell us how and why the problem of knowledge presents itself in such a way that knowledge is seen as a particular kind of belief. The history of philosophy, rather than repeating what a philosopher says, has to say what he must have taken for granted, what he didn't say but is nonetheless present in what he did say. [93]

    It is in this way, I believe, that we should approach Deleuze's deployment of the concept of the virtual. In short, what is the problem to which Deleuze's concept of the virtual responds? However dimly Deleuze might have discerned the problem himself, the problem to which the concept of the virtual seems to respond is that of the split in objects between withdrawn being and qualities, coupled with the problem of the bare substratum. It appears that Deleuze clearly recognized that the being of substance cannot be identified with its qualities and actualized structure. Because substance changes, because it is capable of carrying contrary qualities, substance, in its proper being, must differ from its qualities. However, if substance is to differ from its qualities, then it requires a form of structure that is formatted without being qualitative. Without this other dimension of substances, we fall into the bare substratum problem discussed in the last chapter, where substances are completely blank, completely indifferent, and therefore, absurdly, all identical to one another.

    It is precisely this domain of being that the virtual names, for the virtual is structure and potency without quality. However, having dimly glimpsed this problem, Deleuze immediately falls into a set of errors that lead his account of the virtual into incoherence. Oddly, these problems seem to arise from conceding far too much to actualism. Having recognized that the domain of the actual or qualities and extensities is incapable of accounting for the individuality of the individual or the substantiality of substance, Deleuze nonetheless treats the actual as the sole domain of the individual or primary substance. As a consequence, he's led to characterize the domain of the virtual as the pre-individual, when he should instead treat the domain of the virtual as the domain of the individual, the substantial, or that which persists through change. The consequences of this decision are profound. By treating the domain of the virtual as the pre-individual and the domain of the actual as an effect of the virtual, Deleuze is left without an account of why the virtual actualizes itself at all (despite his impressive efforts to the contrary), and is led to treat the actual as a mere product, an excresence, that itself has no efficacy within being. What is required, by contrast, is an account of the virtual that treats it as a dimension of primary substances or discrete individuals, where substance precedes the virtual (transcendentally, not temporally) not the reverse, and where actual entities are capable of interacting with one another. It is to this account of the virtual that I now turn.

    3.3. Virtual Proper Being

    In Difference and Repetition, Deleuze remarks that “[t]he virtual is opposed not to the real but to the actual. The virtual is fully real in so far as it is virtual. Exactly what Proust said of states of resonance must be said of the virtual: 'Real without being actual, ideal without being abstract'“. [94] Within the framework of onticology, the claim that the virtual is real is the claim that the virtual is always the virtuality of a substance or individual being. Put differently, the claim that the virtual is real is not the claim that the virtual is a potential being, but rather the claim that the virtual is always the virtuality or potentiality of a being or substance. Here the genitive is of the utmost importance. The virtual always belongs to a substance, not the reverse. Moreover, the virtual is always the potential harbored or carried by a discrete or individual being. In this regard, we must distinguish between the two halves of any object, substance, or difference engine. On the one hand, there is the actual side of an object consisting of qualities and extensities, while on the other hand, there is the virtual side of substances, consisting of potentialities or powers. In claiming that the virtual is “ideal”, Deleuze is not claiming that the virtual is mental or cognitive—though minds too have their virtual dimension—but rather that the virtual is relational. These relations, however, are not relations between entities, but constitute the endo-structure of an object, its internal topology. Finally, we can claim that it is entirely possible—if not common—for actually existing entities to remain in a state of virtuality such that they are fully real and existent in the world, fully concrete, without producing any qualities or extensities. Only on this condition can we make sense of Bhaskar's claim that it is possible for generative mechanisms, difference engines, or substances to be real while remaining dormant such that they are out of phase with their qualities or events.

    How, then, are we to understand this dimension of substance that is formatted without possessing qualities? Two features in particular render Deleuze's concept of the virtual particularly well suited for theorizing this withdrawn dimension of substance. On the one hand, Deleuze is careful to emphasize that the virtual shares no resemblance to the actual. “Every object is double without it being the case that the two halves resemble one another”. [95] If the actual is treated as embodying qualities and geometrical structure in the sense specified in section 3.1, then this captures the manner in which the virtual dimension of a substance differs from anything qualitative, thus providing us with substance that is structured or formatted without being qualitative. To illustrate this lack of resemblance between the virtual and actual halves of split objects, Deleuze gives the illuminating example of genes. “[G]enes as a system of differential relations”, of which virtual multiplicities are composed, “are incarnated at once in a species and the organic parts of which it is composed”. [96] Genes, as a contributor to the overall form that an actualized organism embodies form a set of differential relations and singularities that share no resemblance to that actualized organism. Genes are among the conditions for the form the organism will take, but in no way resemble that organism.

    On the other hand, the concept of virtuality allows us to theorize the manner in which substances are always individual substances without requiring reference to other substances or beings. According to Deleuze, the virtual is composed of “multiplicities”. I will have more to say about multiplicities momentarily, but for the moment it bears noting that according to Deleuze, “'[m]ultiplicity', which replaces the one no less than the multiple, is the true substantive, substance itself”. [97] Deleuze draws the concept of multiplicity from the differential geometry of Friedrich Gauss and Bernhard Riemann. As explained by Manuel DeLanda,

    In the early nineteenth century, when Gauss began to tap into these differential resources, a curved two-dimensional surface was studied using the old Cartesian method: the surface was embedded in a three-dimensional space complete with its own fixed set of axes; then, using those axes, coordinates would be assigned to every point of the surface; finally the geometric link between points determining the form of the surface would be expressed as algebraic relations between the numbers. But Gauss realized that the calculus, focusing as it does on infinitesimal points on the surface itself (that is, operating entirely with local information), allowed the study of the surface without any reference to a global embedding space. Basically, Gauss developed a method to implant the coordinate axes on the surface itself (that is, a method of 'coordinatizing' the surface) and, once points had been so translated into numbers, to use differential (not algebraic) equations to characterize their relations. [98]

    The concept of multiplicity is of great significance not for only mathematics, but ontology as well. For through enabling us to think the internal structure of a space without reference to a global embedding space, the concept of multiplicity also enables us to think the being of an individual substance independent of its relations to other substances or its exo-relations. It is for this reason that I refer to the virtual proper being of substance as consisting of endo-relations, an endo-structure, or an endo-composition. The point is not that all substances are spatial—when we discuss flat ontology we will see that this is not the case—but rather that multiplicity allows us to think individual substance in a purely immanent fashion detached from any sort of global embedding space or set of exo-relations. While substances can and do enter into relations with other substances, their being qua substance is not constituted by these exo-relations. Exo-relations often play a crucial role in the qualities a substance comes to embody at the level of local manifestations, but the being of substance in its substantiality is something other than these exo-relations. As an additional consequence of this concept of multiplicity, the Kantian conception of space and time as containers must here be abandoned as well in favor of a model of space and time arising from substances.

    In defining multiplicities Deleuze remarks that “the utmost importance must be attached to the substantive form: multiplicity must not designate a combination of the many and the one, but rather an organisation belonging to the many as such, which has no need whatsoever of unity in order to form a system”. [99] A moment later, Deleuze goes on to explain that multiplicities must “thus be defined as a structure”. [100] If multiplicities must be defined as a structure or a system, then this is because the elements that compose them,

    must in effect be determined, but reciprocally, by reciprocal relations which allow no independence whatsoever to subsist. Such relations are precisely non-localisable ideal connections, whether they characterise the multiplicity globally or proceed by the juxtaposition of neighboring regions. In all cases the multiplicity is intrinsically defined, without external reference or recourse to a uniform space in which it would be submerged. [101]

    In his drive to formulate a differential ontology or account of being resting on nothing but difference without reference to identity, Deleuze’s concept of multiplicity is pulled in two opposing directions. On the one hand, associating unity with identity, Deleuze wishes to deny any unity to multiplicities. On the other hand, in his discussions of multiplicities Deleuze seems ineluctably drawn to treating them as unities. With respect to this second tendency, we need only observe the manner in which Deleuze refers to multiplicities as structures where all the elements are reciprocally determined, such that they embody an organization. If multiplicities are structured or organized, if they are intrinsically “defined”, then it seems difficult to maintain that they lack unity.

    Rather, it appears that the very being of multiplicities consists in their unity. It is only on these grounds that we can refer to them as substances. In thinking multiplicities, Deleuze seems to be groping for the classical categories of totality or community. A totality is a system in which all of the parts depend on one another such that they are, as Deleuze puts it, reciprocally determined. My body, for example, is a totality. By contrast, a community is not so much a social entity, as a system in which all the parts simultaneously cause and affect one another. Thus, for example, every organic body is simultaneously a totality and a community insofar as its parts are both dependent on one another and constantly interact with one another. Likewise, the relation between the Earth and the moon is a community insofar as the moon's gravitation affects the Earth and the Earth's gravitation affects the moon. It is precisely this sort of structure that Deleuze seems to have in mind when he evokes the concept of multiplicity. However, while systems of this sort are certainly differentiated internally, they are nonetheless unities or substances.

    In defining the being of the virtual or multiplicities, Deleuze argues that “[t]he reality of the virtual consists of the differential elements and relations along with the singular points which correspond to them. The reality of the virtual is structure”. [102] If Deleuze treats the virtual or multiplicities as pre-individual and the actual as individual, then this is because he fails to adequately distinguish between the topological and the geometrical within substance. Concluding that the individuality of the individual resides in its qualities, parts, or in geometric extensity, Deleuze is forced to deny individuality to multiplicities. But as I argued in section 3.2, this thesis is untenable for a variety of reasons. Rather, while multiplicities are without qualities, they are nonetheless the structure or “form” that functions as the ground of a substance's qualitative variations.

    Here, then, we might think of Harman's discussion of Xavier Zubiri in Tool-Being. There Harman begins by noting that “[t]he reality of a thing cannot be identified with its presence”. [103] Here presence can be equated with the actuality of a substance or thing, with the properties or qualities that it embodies. In contrasting the substance of a thing with its qualities or properties, Harman's Zubiri accords closely with Bhaskar's thesis that substances can be out of phase with their events or properties. Harman goes on to remark that “[t]he reality of a thing cannot be regarded as a substance endowed with properties. Instead, the thing is always a system, a system that unifies all of its numerous 'notes.'” [104] In treating the substantiality of a thing as a system of notes, Harman's Zubiri displays an exceptional proximity to Deleuze's conception of virtual multiplicities as composed of differential relations and singularities. Harman goes on to remark that,

    A reality is defined as that which acts on other things by virtue of its notes. This term “note” is meant as a replacement for the word “property”, which Zubiri regards as biased towards reality viewed conceptively, that is, from the external standpoint of a relation rather than from the thing in and of itself. To speak of a property, he says, is to speak of the idiosyncrasies that distinguish one thing from another; in this way, the property is an extraneous feature grafted onto some underlying substrate, and always viewed from the outside rather than from within. As opposed to properties, the notes of a thing make up even the most intimate parts of that thing: “matter, its structure, its chemical composition, its psychic 'faculties', etc”. Instead of qualities belonging to a substance, Zubiri's notes are the reality of the thing itself. [105]

    Like Zubiri's notes, Deleuze's singularities are the most intimate reality of a thing, defining and structuring its being. However, unlike Zubiri's notes, Deleuze's singularities do not replace the concept of properties or qualities, but rather are evoked as the ground of properties or qualities. Singularities are those potencies that generate qualities or properties as acts on the part of the object. And if Deleuze is compelled to develop the concept of singularity to account for the being of objects, then this is precisely because the properties of objects or substances are variable and changing, yet a substance still—within certain limits—remains that substance. What is thus required is a ground that is plastic, that can vary, while retaining its identity. It is precisely this requirement that the concept of multiplicity satisfies.

    Unfortunately, Deleuze tells us very little as to just what these singularities are. We know that we need them, that substances must possess singularities, but insofar as these singularities are not themselves qualities, we don't know what they are. In Difference and Repetition, Deleuze defines singularities as “the point of departure for a series which extends over all the ordinary points of the system, as far as the region of another singularity which gives rise to another series which may either converge or diverge from the first”. [106] Unfortunately, this definition isn't very helpful. What are the ordinary points? What are the singular points? What are the series in question? Perhaps some light is shed on this issue if we return to the concept of topology.

    It will be recalled that topology is a sort of dynamic geometry that studies the invariant features of an object that remain the same under homeomorphic deformations through operations of bending, stretching, folding and so on. Thus, for example, within the framework of Euclidean geometry, a triangle and a quadrilateral are completely distinct, whereas in topology quadrilaterals and triangles are equivalent to one another. If this is the case, then it is because triangles, through operations of folding, stretching, and bending can be transformed into quadrilaterals and vice versa. To transform a triangle into a quadrilateral, simply take one of its vertices and fold it over. In this regard, singularities occupy a paradoxical place within topology. Clearly singularities must simultaneously define the series of ordinary points and mark the threshold at which new forms emerge. On the one hand, the singularities of a topological space cannot be, for example, the vertices of the triangle. Were this the case, then the triangle and the quadrilateral would not be structurally equivalent. Rather, the vertices of the triangle and the quadrilateral must define ordinary points within a topological space of singularities. And here it bears noting that the singularities of a topological space themselves never appear or manifest themselves. What manifests itself are the ordinary points, the Euclidean geometry, of each individual figure. The singularities serving as the ground of these figures can only be inferred. They are never directly given but are perpetually withdrawn. There is no shape that embodies the singularities of the topological space, nor does the corresponding geometrical space ever resemble the topological space. On the other hand, singularities define thresholds between different topological spaces. For example, if I take a strip of paper and fasten its two ends or twist it and then fasten its two ends, I am now in two new topological spaces with their own variety of possible mutations.

    Now, in evoking topology in the context of onticology's ontological concerns, it is important to exercise caution. First, topology is concerned specifically and exclusively with spatial relations, whereas ontology is concerned with entities and qualities of all kinds. Second, topology is concerned with homeomorphisms or structural identities across a variety of distinct entities, whereas here I am trying to account for the substantiality of individual entities. Consequently, parallels between topology and multiplicities diverge in important respects. The lesson to be drawn from topology is that there are variations that are nonetheless structure- or system-preserving. As Deleuze puts it, “[e]very phenomenon refers to an inequality by which it is conditioned. Every diversity and every change refers to a difference which is its sufficient reason”. [107] Phenomena here should be understood in the sense of “local manifestation”, whereas inequality or difference should be understood in terms of the singularities or notes belonging to a multiplicity as the condition or ground for the production of qualities.

    In Intensive Science and Virtual Philosophy, Manuel DeLanda proposes to treat Deleuze's singularities as attractors. With a few qualifications and conceptual modifications, this is the interpretation of Deleuze's singularities that I would like to defend. However, before proceeding to discuss attractors, it is first necessary to distinguish the position I am developing here from DeLanda's position. In Intensive Science and Virtual Philosophy, DeLanda argues that Deleuze's concept of multiplicities is designed to replace the old philosophical concepts of essences, and that things, substances, or objects are to be explained in terms of how they are produced, rather than in terms of their essence. As DeLanda puts it, “[i]n a Deleuzian ontology [...] a species (or any other natural kind) is not defined by its essential traits but rather by the morphogenetic process that gave rise to it”. [108]

    Clearly onticology, and object-oriented philosophy more broadly construed, rejects this thesis. In section 3.2, we already saw that DeLanda endorses the Deleuzian thesis that the virtual is composed of a monistic continuum of singularities that is then cut up into discrete entities with qualities. There I argued that this position is incoherent and that the virtual must instead be strictly conceived as a part of discrete entities such that each object has its own virtual dimension. Likewise, the thesis that an entity is defined by the morphogentic process by which it came to be conflates two distinct issues. While many entities must certainly come to be, it does not follow from this that the being of entities can be defined by the process by which they came to be. Were this the case, then we would reduce entities to their history. However, as every parent knows, while they were certainly the efficient cause of their child coming to be, the child has a being independent of this morphogenetic process by which it came to be. The being of a being cannot be reduced to its efficient cause, but also has its formal or structural cause.

    Moreover, DeLanda seems to be at odds with his own thesis, for later, in the same text, he proposes a flat ontology that would be “one made exclusively of unique, singular individuals, differing in spatio-temporal scale but not in ontological status”. [109] In formulating his ontology as a flat ontology, DeLanda's thesis seems to work against his prior claim that the being of beings is to be conceived in terms of their morphogenetic processes. For here it seems that DeLanda takes the Aristotelian route of treating individual substances as what are primary. As Aristotle puts it, “anything which is produced is produced by something [...], and from something”. [110] In other words, individual substances are produced by and through other individual substances. As a consequence, individual substances necessarily precede processes of production and are the condition of production. The point, then, is not that we shouldn't examine processes of production. We should. Rather, the point is that substance ontologically precedes production.

    In Intensive Science and Virtual Philosophy, DeLanda remarks that “[s]ingularities [...] influence the behaviour [of objects] by acting as attractors for [their] trajectories”. [111] Here it is crucial to note that the concept of attractors is not a teleological concept. Attractors are not goals towards which a substance tends, but are rather the potentialities towards which a substance tends under a variety of different conditions in the actualization of its qualities. As DeLanda goes on to say, “singularities are [...] the inherent or intrinsic [...] tendencies of a system, the states which the system will spontaneously tend to adopt [...] as long as it is not constrained by other forces”. [112] In this respect, DeLanda's attractors are extremely close to Bhaskar's generative mechanisms developed in A Realist Theory of Science.

    However, in contrast to DeLanda—though I believe his analysis already suggests this distinction—I want to argue that attractors are not states of an object or substance, but rather are what in substances preside over the genesis of actualized states or local manifestations. In this respect, the attractors of a substance constitute what Harman, following Zubiri, refers to as the notes or the most intimate reality of the object. They are the generative mechanisms within an object that preside over the events or qualities of which the object is capable. However, while serving as the condition of these events or qualities, these attractors are not themselves qualitative or events. As DeLanda puts it, “attractors are never actualized, since no point of a trajectory [of an object] ever reaches the attractor itself”. [113] As such, the attractors or singularities inhabiting the endo-structure of an object are radically withdrawn. They are that which serves as the condition for the actual dimension of an object, for the local manifestations of an object, but are never themselves found on the actual side of an object. For this reason, DeLanda contends that we must “make [...] a sharp ontological distinction between the trajectories as they appear in the phase portrait of a system, on the one hand, and the vector field, on the other”. [114] The phase portrait or phase space of an object is the variety of states an object occupies at the level of its actualized qualities or properties, while the vector field consists of the attractors that preside over the genesis of these qualities. Thus, for example, the phase space of the coffee mug would be, among other things, the variety of different colors it actualizes, whereas the attractor would be that singularity that functions as the genetic conditions for all of these different colors. It is the attractor that persists throughout these variations or transformations.

    The claim that objects are split-objects is the claim that they are split between their virtual proper being and their local manifestations. The virtual proper being of an object is its endo-structure, the manner in which it embodies differential relations and attractors or singularities defining a vector field or field of potentials within a substance. The local manifestation of a substance is the actualization of a point within the phase space of this vector field in the form of actualized qualities. If it is crucial to distinguish between virtual proper being and local manifestation, then this is because the qualities of an object can undergo variations while still remaining the object that it is. It is a vague recognition of this capacity within substances that leads Aristotle to distinguish between substance and its qualities. However, if we are to avoid falling into Locke's bare substratum problem while maintaining the distinction between substance and its qualities, it is necessary to articulate the way in which substance can be structured without possessing qualities. It is precisely this problem that the concept of virtual proper being resolves. Yet, above all, the distinction between virtual proper being and local manifestation teaches us that objects are plastic. As a function of the exo-relations objects enter into with other objects, the attractors defining the virtual space of a substance can be activated in a variety of different ways, actualizing objects in a variety of different ways at the level of local manifestations. It is for this reason that the confusion of objects with their actualization in local manifestations always spells theoretical disaster, for in doing so we foreclose the volcanic potentials harbored in the depths of objects.

    3.4. The Problem With Rabbits and Hats

    In Prince of Networks, Harman, following Latour, levels a trenchant critique against the concepts of potentiality and virtuality that are at the core of my concept of split-objects. By responding to this critique, I hope to render the concept of virtual proper being a bit more concrete and bring out some of its important consequences. In Irreductions, Latour remarks that “[t]he origin of potency lies in this confusion: it is no longer possible to distinguish an actor from the allies which make it strong”. [115] As Latour goes on to remark, “[t]alk of possibilities is the illusion of actors that move while forgetting the cost of transport”. [116] Perhaps one way of articulating this critique would be to say that you can't pull a rabbit out of a hat without first putting it in the hat. The problem with the concept of potentiality under this model is that it treats the rabbit as if it were already in the hat, without accounting for the work it takes to put the rabbit in the hat.

    This seems to be precisely the sense in which Harman takes Latour's critique. As Harman argues, “[t]o speak of something existing in potentia implies that it is already there but simply covered or suppressed. This is what Latour denies. For him, a thing is only here once it is here, not sooner”. [117] Illustrating this point, Harman remarks that “[f]or Latour a person does not stand up by drawing on an inner reservoir of potency, but through a series of mediations—nervous excitations acting on muscles, which then shift the body's weight onto a hard, unyielding floor. Numerous allies are brought into play even in the simplest movements of our bodies”. [118] What Latour wishes to capture are all the translations an actant or object must go through in order to engage in even the simplest of motions such as standing up. In this regard, the problem with the concept of potentiality is that it treats these powers as already residing in the being of the substance, thereby leading us to ignore these myriad translations necessary for an action to take place. We say, for example, that the prince has power even when he doesn't exercise it, thereby ignoring all the work that goes into keeping soldiers in line, maintaining a legal system, forming stable alliances with other nobles, dealing with peasant uprisings, and so on. Or, similarly, we say that the acorn contains an oak tree within it, such that it is already there only waiting to come out.

    In response to Harman-Latour's critique of potentiality, there are a couple of points worth making. First, while Harman and Latour's points about translation and work are well taken, this critique seems to miss the point that substances must be susceptible to these translations. Returning to Harman's remarks about standing up, I readily grant that nerves must be excited so that muscles must be activated so that feet can press against a hard floor, and so on. However, in order for nerves to be excited, nerves must be capable of being excited. When Harman and Latour argue that only the actual exists, are they arguing that the excited nerves are an entirely new entity, or are they claiming that this entity merely changes its states? If they are making the claim that the excited nerves are an entirely new entity, then they seem committed to the rather odd thesis that entities are popping into existence ex nihilo. As a consequence of his principle of irreduction and commitment to Whitehead's ontology, it seems that this is precisely the thesis that Latour advocates. Within the Whiteheadian framework, every actual occasion (entity) is an instantaneous entity that is fully complete in its being. As Steven Shaviro puts it,

    each occasion, taken in itself, is a quantum: a discrete, indivisible unit of becoming. But this also means that occasions are strictly limited in scope. Once an occasion happens, it is already over, already dead. Once it has reached its final “satisfaction”, it no longer has any vital power. “An actual occasion [...] never changes”, Whitehead says; “it only becomes and perishes. [119]

    What we get with Whitehead is a sort of radical actualism where every change implies an entirely new entity. Yet if this is the case, it is difficult to see how we can get from one entity to another entity. Rather, it seems that entities must possess the capacity, the potentiality, to undergo change.

    In this regard, another way of understanding the concept of virtual singularities or attractors is in terms of Spinoza's concept of affect. As Spinoza writes in the Ethics, “By [affect] I understand the affections of the body by which the body's power of activity is increased or diminished, assisted or checked”. [120] What makes Spinoza's concept of affect so interesting is that it doesn't restrict affect to what is felt, but links the concept of affect to the capacities of an object. And here, if I refer to the capacities of an object, then this is because for Spinoza all entities, whether human, animal, or inanimate possess what Spinoza calls affects. And these affects consist of both an entity's “receptivity” to other entities and the various capacities an entity has to act. Unless we are to fall into an atomism where there is an insurmountable gulf between entities, it seems that we must attribute to objects affects in Spinoza's sense. Those nerves must have the capacity of being excited or stimulated.

    In discussion with me surrounding these issues, Harman remarks that, “[c]ontra what Bryant implies [...] however, I don’t think that the acorn already has oak-qualities. I think it has acorn-qualities”. [121] However, this is precisely what I don't claim. To suggest that the acorn has oak-qualities would be to conflate qualities with substance. But as I argued in section 3.3, the virtual proper being of an object cannot be equated with anything qualitative. Virtual proper being is radically other than qualities. Moreover, it cannot be said that the acorn already contains the oak tree. What the acorn contains are acorn powers or attractors, and while these powers or attractors are entirely determinate, their actualization is a purely creative process producing new qualities and eventually a new object. In this respect, Harman and I are very close, for like Harman I advocate the thesis that the acorn does not contain oak-tree qualities, but is fully determinate at its virtual level as an acorn. The virtual dimension of objects is concrete without being actual. In this regard, Harman and Latour seem to conflate the virtual with the possible.

    It is precisely this conflation of the potential with the possible that Deleuze seeks to avoid with his account of the virtual. As Deleuze cautions,

    The only danger in all this is that the virtual could be confused with the possible. The possible is opposed to the real; the process undergone by the possible is therefore a 'realisation'. By contrast, the virtual is not opposed to the real; it possesses a full reality by itself. The process it undergoes is that of actualization. [122]

    Deleuze criticizes the concept of the possible for reasons similar to those Latour levels against the potential. In short, he criticizes the concept of the possible for treating the rabbit as if it were already in the hat. As Deleuze argues,

    Every time we pose the question in terms of the possible and real, we are forced to conceive of existence as a brute eruption, a pure act or leap which always occurs behind our backs and as subject to a law of all or nothing. What difference can there be between the existent and the non-existent if the non-existent is already possible, already included in the concept and having all the characteristics that the concept confers upon it as a possibility. Existence is the same as the possible but outside the concept. [123]

    Between the possible oak tree and the actual oak tree there is absolutely no difference beyond the brute fact of existence. If, then, we conflate the potentiality of the acorn with the possibility of the oak-tree, we are making the claim that the acorn already contains the oak tree, but in a potential state.

    Alternatively, “[t]he actualization of the virtual, on the contrary, always takes place by difference, divergence or differenciation [...]. Actual terms never resemble the singularities they incarnate”. [124] In contrast to a process of realization or a movement from the possible to the real, the process of actualization is a creative process within substances that requires work. Moreover, the local manifestation produced in the process of actualization is something new and shares no resemblance to the singularities which it actualizes. To illustrate this point, let's return to the vexed example of the acorn. The virtuality of the acorn is not the oak tree, but rather is the notes of its being. The singularities that characterize its concrete existence are folded deep within that existence and withdrawn from the world. When the acorn enters into exo-relations with other entities, these singularities will be activated in a variety of ways depending on the exo-relations it entertains with other entities. If the soil is too damp and the temperature doesn't get warm enough, the acorn rots. If the temperature is right and there is a requisite amount of water in the soil, the acorn begins to germinate. But now, as the acorn germinates, it encounters other entities in the field of its exo-relations. There are, for example, all sorts of other plants growing in the region of the acorn with which the acorn's own roots must compete. As a consequence of this, the seedling becomes weak and anemic or strong and thriving. The region in which the acorn grows is perhaps particularly windy, with sheets of wind buffeting the plain where the seedling grows from a predominantly westerly direction. When we come across the oak tree decades later, we notice that it is bent and knotted in an easterly direction like a carefully pruned bonsai tree. It is as if the oak tree has become petrified wind.

    The point here is that the singularities or attractors belonging to the acorn do not contain the oak tree in advance. Rather, the acorn negotiates a milieu of exo-relations to other entities in producing its local manifestations or qualities. The attractors that preside over this process are radically non-qualitative. Here I find myself inclined to embrace Latour's thesis that “[w]hatever resists trials is real”. [125] The problem with Latour's formulation is that it is purely negative and relational. In situating the endo-structure of an entity in terms of resistance, Latour emphasizes what occurs when an entity enters into exo-relations with other entities. This confuses epistemic criteria through which we or other entities recognize another entity as real, with what constitutes the reality of the entity regardless of whether anyone or anything knows it. In this regard, he thinks the being of an entity from the perspective of other entities encountering that entity. The wind, itself composed of many entities, encounters the seedling and must move around it. The seedling resists the wind. It is by virtue of its singularities, its endo-structure, that the seedling is able to resist the wind, but these singularities aren't the resistance. Rather, the singularities would be there in the seedling regardless of whether or not anything interacted with them.

    From these observations, a number of distinctions follow. On the one hand, we must distinguish between symmetrical and asymmetrical qualities or local manifestations. Symmetrical qualities are qualities that can repeatedly snap in and out of existence. For example, the various shades of color the coffee mug manifests are symmetrical qualities in that, barring a transformation of the endo-structure of the coffee mug, these qualities can come in and out of existence. Turn off the lights and the mug becomes black. Turn on the light and the mug returns to that particular shade of blue. Asymmetrical qualities, by contrast, are irreversible qualitative transformations that take place within an object. These are qualitative transformations that can be produced by either the object itself, or through exo-relations to other objects. Thus, for example, the bent figure of the tree is an asymmetrical quality produced by the tree's exo-relations to the wind and perhaps other plants in its vicinity it competes with for sunlight. The key point not to be missed with asymmetrical qualities is that they are irreversible. Asymmetrical transformations cut off other possibilities within the vector field of a substance's attractors.

    On the other hand, we must distinguish between exo-qualities and endo-qualities. Exo-qualities are qualities that can only exist in and through a set of exo-relations to other objects. Color, for example, seems to be a quality of this sort. Color is an event that only takes place through a network of exo-relations between the molecular endo-composition of the object, particular wavelengths of light, and a particular neurological structure in an organism. Take any of these elements away and color puffs out of existence. As such, color, as an exo-quality, is a genuine creation of these three agencies being woven together. It is not the cup that is colored, but rather the entanglement of these agencies that produces color as an event. The cup merely has the power to contribute to the production of this exo-quality. Endo-qualities, by contrast, are qualities that really are in the object. However, endo-qualities, as local manifestations of a substance, come about in two ways. First, endo-qualities are local manifestations that can come about through the internal dynamisms of an object independent of any other objects. Here the object need not be perturbed by another object for the endo-quality to be produced. Second, endo-qualities can come about through exo-relations to other objects, where these exo-relations irreversibly transform the local manifestation of the object. All asymmetrical qualities are of this sort. These events also harbor the power of transforming the endo-structure of objects, leading to the genesis of new singularities, powers, attractors, or vector fields in the virtual proper being of an object.

    The great error to be avoided lies in conceiving the virtual or potential in teleological terms, or in believing that the entity could be captured or fully grasped by summing up all possible points of view on the object. The relation between virtual proper being and local manifestation is not a teleological relation or a relation between an agency and a goal. Throughout the last three chapters, I have attempted to argue that objects can be fully concrete without locally manifesting themselves or actualizing themselves in qualities. Another way of putting this is to say that local manifestation is not the fulfillment of objects. Local manifestation is something that objects can do, but an object that does not locally manifest itself is not lacking in some way, nor is it somehow incomplete. Nor is it the case that we would encounter the complete being of a substance if only we could see it from everywhere at once. Where the local manifestations of a substance are concerned, these manifestations are, in principle, infinite. There is no limit to the number of local manifestations that an object can actualize, precisely because there is no limit to the exo-relations an object can enter into and the exo-relations it can consequently produce. Yet even if God exists and is capable of perceiving an infinity of local manifestations, the being of objects is nonetheless radically withdrawn even from God for the subterranean dimension of substance, its virtual proper being, is in excess of any of its local manifestations. The virtual proper being of objects consists not of qualities, but of powers and these powers are never exhausted by local manifestations. In this regard, there is never a complete mapping of any phase space, but rather only ever a limited mapping of a phase space dependent on the exo-relations into which the object has been placed.

    Here I see no reason to follow Bhaskar in privileging closed systems over open systems. Bhaskar's thesis seems to be that the events we witness when a substance is placed in the closed system of an experimental setting constitute the true being of an object. Here, I believe, Bhaskar betrays his fundamental insight: that substances can be out of phase with the qualities or events of which they are capable, and that there is therefore a fundamental difference between substance and qualities. All that takes place in the closed system of an experimental environment is the situating of an object within a particular set of exo-relations such that particular events take place. Nothing about this suggests that the substance thus situated is exhausted by this setting or that we have been brought before the true being of the object. That being is always withdrawn and in excess of any of its manifestations. As every cook knows, when placed in other exo-relations other local manifestations take place.

    As I reflect on Harman's vigorous critique of potentiality, it seems to me that the real motivating desire behind this critique is the desire to preserve the concreteness of objects. As Harman writes,

    The recourse to potentiality is a dodge that leaves actuality undetermined and finally uninteresting; it reduces what is currently actual to the transient costume of an emergent process across time, and makes the real work happen outside actuality itself. The same holds true if we replace 'the potential' with 'the virtual', not withstanding their differences. In both cases, concrete actors themselves are deemed insufficient for the labour of the world and are indentured to hidden overlords: whether they be potential, virtual, veiled, topological, fluxional, or any adjective that tries to escape from what is actually here right now. [126]

    However, if what Harman says here is true, I fail to see how it is possible for an object to change while remaining the same substance. Rather, this thesis seems to lead us to the punctualistic atomism of Whitehead's actual occasions, where each change constitutes an absolutely new entity. Here, perhaps, we should distinguish between the concrete, the actual, and the virtual. Harman appears to treat the concrete and the actual as synonyms of one another. Yet if we treat the concrete and the actual as synonyms of one another, then we're forced to go the route of Whitehead and treat every change in an actual entity as an absolutely new entity. With each stroke of the keyboard, with each movement of my finger, with each beat of my heart, I am, under this model, not the same entity now writing this essay, but rather am an absolutely new and distinct entity. This seems like a high ontological price to pay for preserving the concrete and seems to lead to the thesis that entities are created ex nihilo precisely because no entity contains potentials by which a new entity could be produced.

    It is far better, in light of these concerns, to distinguish between the concrete, the actual, and the virtual. Within this framework, all entities are absolutely concrete, but have virtual and actual dimensions. The virtual is not the possible, nor is it an entity or substance that doesn't yet exist. Rather the virtual is a fully concrete, real, and existing dimension of objects. Nor does it indenture objects to hidden overlords, rendering actuality irrelevant. This would only hold if the true being of objects were their virtual dimension, but as we have seen, the virtual is but a dimension of objects and actuality plays a key role in objects; not the least of which lies in unleashing potentials within objects when they enter into exo-relations. Here, in many respects, I sense that my position and Harman's are much closer than might initially be suggested. In Guerilla Metaphysics, Harman remarks that “[a]n object may drift into events and unleash its forces there, but no such event is capable of putting the object fully into play”. [127] Without the dimension of potentiality or virtuality, it's difficult to see how it would be possible for objects to unleash their forces in this way. In his most recent work, Harman distinguishes between real objects and real qualities, and sensuous objects and sensuous qualities. Real objects and qualities refer to objects and qualities withdrawn from all relation to other objects, while sensuous objects and qualities refer to how one object encounters another object. Between Harman’s real objects and sensuous objects, I sense more than a passing resemblance between my virtual proper being and local manifestations.

    3.5. Žižek's Objecting Objects

    Characterizing objects as split-objects onticology naturally invites comparison with Žižek's conception of objects as developed in his ontology. In concluding this chapter, I will discuss both where onticology is in agreement with Žižek and where it diverges from his thought. In The Parallax View, Žižek remarks that,

    Many times I am asked the obvious yet pertinent question about the title of my longest book (the present one excepted): “So who or what is tickling the ticklish subject?” The answer, of course, is: the object—however, which object? This, in a nutshell (or, rather, like a nut within the shell), is the topic of this book. The difference between subject and object can also be expressed as the difference between the two corresponding verbs, to subject (submit) oneself to object (protest, oppose, create an obstacle). The subject's elementary, founding, gesture is to subject itself—voluntarily, of course: as both Wagner and Nietzsche, those two great opponents, were well aware, the highest act of freedom is the display of amor fati, the act of freely assuming what is necessary anyway. If, then, the subject's activity is, at its most fundamental, the activity of submitting oneself to the inevitable, the fundamental mode of the object's passivity, of its passive presence, is that which moves, annoys, disturbs, traumatizes us (subjects): at its most radical the object is that which objects, that which disturbs the smooth running of things. Thus the paradox is that the roles are reversed (in terms of the standard notion of the active subject working on the passive object: the subject is defined by a fundamental passivity, and it is the object from which movement comes—which does the tickling. But, again, what object is this? The answer is the parallax object. [128]

    The parallax object of which Žižek here speaks is “the apparent displacement of an object (the shift of its position against a background), caused by a change in observational position that provides a new line of sight”. [129]

    The concept of the parallax summarizes a long line of development in Žižek's thought revolving around the non-identity of the One with itself. As Žižek remarks elsewhere, “[t]he Hegelian Twosome, rather designates a split which cleaves the One from within, not into two parts: the ultimate split is not between two halves, but between Something and Nothing, between the One and the void of its Place”. [130] As a consequence, “the Real is the 'almost nothing' which sustains the gap that separates a thing from itself”. [131] With respect to the ontology of objects, Žižek's concept of the parallax functions to surmount the Kantian opposition between the thing-in-itself and phenomena or between reality and appearance.

    It will be recalled that one of Kant's central claims is that we only ever have access to phenomena (appearances) and never things-as-they-are-in-themselves (reality). As a consequence, in the best case scenario, we are unable to determine whether reality or things-in-themselves are anything like they appear to us, while in the worst case scenario it is possible that reality or things-in-themselves are entirely different from how they appear to us. The Hegelian gesture for overcoming this duality advocated by Žižek lies not in showing how we can overcome appearances, but rather in arguing that this split between phenomena or appearances and things-in-themselves arises from within appearance itself. [132] In other words, the split between reality and appearance is a sort of illusion of perspective. As Žižek remarks,

    [A]ppearance implies that there is something behind it which appears through it; it conceals a truth and by the same gesture gives a foreboding thereof; it simultaneously hides and reveals the essence behind the curtain. But what is hidden behind the phenomenal appearance? Precisely the fact that there is nothing to hide. What is concealed is that the very act of concealing conceals nothing. [133]

    In short, the parallax that Žižek effects with respect to the relation between appearance and reality is not to show us how we can get beyond appearances to reach or touch reality, but lies rather in showing how this apparent gap between appearance and reality lies, in fact, on the side of appearance itself. Not only is appearance internally split, but this split is itself an appearance, a sort of optical illusion. If, then, this constitutes a parallactic shift, then this is because where, in the first figure of subjectivity, we experience ourselves as trapped within appearances, unable to touch reality, we now see this as an illusion qua illusion. Put differently, we come to see that appearances themselves are structured in such a way as to produce this very illusion. It is for this reason that we can say, in Žižek's sense, that objects are split. And as a consequence, reality is not something beyond or behind appearances, but is rather appearance itself.

    But why do objects or phenomena produce this sort of illusion whereby phenomena appear to be manifestations of an inaccessible reality? Žižek's answer is that this effect arises from the split in the object embodied in the relation between the object and the void of its place. As Žižek remarks, the

    identity of an entity with itself equals the coincidence of this entity with the empty place of its “inscription”. We come across identity when predicates fail. Identity is the surplus which cannot be captured by predicates—more precisely (and this precision is crucial if we want to avoid a misconception of Hegel), identity-with-itself is nothing but this impossibility of predicates, nothing but this confrontation of an entity with the void at the point where we expect a predicate, a determination of its positive content (“law is..”.). Identity-with-itself is thus another name for absolute (self-referential) negativity, for the negative relationship towards all predicates that define one's—what?—identity. [134]

    Because entity, according to Žižek, is this non-identical identity divided between the object and the empty place of its inscription, it creates a “reality effect” in the object such that the object simultaneously appears to be an appearance through predicates and the expression of an unreachable reality in excess of this appearance. As Žižek argues elsewhere,

    [objet] a, qua semblance deceives in a Lacanian way: not because it is a deceitful substitute of the Real, but precisely because it invokes the impression of some substantial Real behind it; it deceives by posing as a shadow of the underlying Real. And the same goes for Kant: what Kant fails to notice is that das Ding is a mirage invoked by the transcendental object. Limitation precedes transcendence: all that “actually exists” is the field of phenomena and its limitation, whereas das Ding is nothing but a phantasm which, subsequently, fills out the void of the transcendental object. [135]

    And, as Žižek will go on to remark a moment later,

    What we experience as “reality” discloses itself against the background of the lack, of the absence of it, of the Thing, of the mythical object whose encounter would bring about the full satisfaction of the drive. This lack of the Thing constitutive of “reality” is therefore, in its fundamental dimension, not epistemological, but rather pertains to the paradoxical logic of desire—the paradox being that this Thing is retroactively produced by the very process of symbolization, i.e. that it emerges from the very gesture of its loss. In other (Hegel's) words, there is nothing—no positive substantial entity—behind the phenomenal curtain, only the gaze whose phantasmagorias assume different shapes of the Thing. [136]

    The key point not to be missed is precisely that the “reality effect” is a result of inscription in the symbolic. Everywhere Žižek is careful to remark that the fundamental opposition is not between a signifier and an opposing signifier such as the opposition between wet and dry, but rather that the fundamental opposition, the founding opposition, is between a signifier and its place of inscription. [137] However, insofar as a signifier simultaneously embodies itself and the emptiness of its place of inscription, it is always non-identical to itself in its identity, thereby suggesting an excessive being beyond itself. Yet this excessive being or reality is something that can never be reached precisely because it is a radically void or empty place. In other words, this being, this transcendence, is an “optical illusion”.

    The fundamental point is that it is not a domain distinct from the symbolic, but rather is a peculiar twist in the symbolic. As Žižek explains,

    the bar which separates [the symbolic and the real] is strictly internal to the Symbolic, since it prevents the Symbolic from “becoming itself”. The problem for the signifier is not its impossibility to touch the real but its impossibility to “attain itself”—what the signifier lacks is not the extra-linguistic object but the Signifier itself, a non-barred, non-hindered One. [138]

    In short, the real is not something other than the symbolic, but rather is a sort of effect of the symbolic resulting from the difference that haunts every signifier by virtue of the split between the signifier and its place of inscription. Because the signifier always embodies this difference between itself and its place of inscription, the signifier always and everywhere necessarily fails to attain identity with itself. However, this very failure to attain identity with itself is precisely the very essence of its identity. As Hegel playfully remarks in the Science of Logic, if A were identical with itself, why would I need to repeat it? The repetition of an identity in a tautology like “A = A” actually marks the difference or non-identity of A with itself. Along these lines, Žižek will compare the shift from viewing the real as a prediscursive reality that is then “chopped” up by mind to viewing the real as an effect of the symbolic, to the shift from special to general relativity in Einstein's theory of gravity.

    And is not the shift from purification to subtraction also the shift from Kant to Hegel? From tension between phenomena and Thing to an inconsistency/gap between phenomena themselves? The standard notion of reality is that of a hard kernel that resists the conceptual grasp—what Hegel does is simply to take this notion of reality more literally: nonconceptual reality is something that emerges when notional self- development gets caught in an inconsistency and becomes nontransparent to itself. In short, the limit is transposed from exterior to interior: there is Reality because and insofar as the Notion is inconsistent, doesn't coincide with itself. The multiple perspectival inconsistencies between phenomena are not an effect of the impact of the transcendent Thing—on the contrary, this Thing is nothing but the ontologization of the inconsistency between phenomena. The logic of this reversal is ultimately the same as the passage from the special to the general theory of relativity in Einstein. While the special theory already introduces the notion of curved space, it conceives of this curvature as the effect of matter: it is the presence of matter that curves space—that is to say, only empty space would be noncurved. With the passage to the general theory, the causality is reversed: far from causing the curvature of space, matter is its effect. In the same way, the Lacanian Real—the Thing—is not so much the inert presence that “curves” the symbolic space (introducing gaps and inconsistencies in it), but, rather, the effect of these gaps and inconsistencies. [139]

    And to complete Žižek's sentence, we can say that the gaps and inconsistencies in the symbolic produce these effects of the real. The shift from the “special theory of the Lacanian Real” to the “general theory of the Lacanian real” is thus a shift from viewing the real as a prediscursive reality that is subsequently formatted by the symbolic and that perpetually perturbs the symbolic, to a theory of the real as an effect of the symbolic or deadlocks of formalization within the symbolic such that any reference to a prediscursive real is mythological or a sort of optical illusion. As a consequence, any defense of pre-discursive reality becomes the height of dogmatic thought.

    Returning, then, to the quotation with which I began this section, why is it that the real or the split object in Žižek's sense “tickles” the subject? If the real tickles or perturbs the subject, then this is because it creates the illusion of the Thing that the subject simultaneously lacks access to and that blocks its access to this Thing. This Thing is the illusion of something that would satiate and satisfy the subject’s unsatisfied desire.

    The Real is thus the disavowed X on account of which our vision of reality is anamorphically distorted; it is simultaneously the Thing to which direct access is not possible and the obstacle which prevents this direct access, the Thing which eludes our grasp and the distorting screen which makes us miss the thing. [140]

    However, this Thing from which we are blocked is precisely an effect of the internally split nature of the object between the object and its place of inscription. If the object appears suggestive of a Thing, of a complete object beyond appearances that would satisfy our desire once and for all, then this is precisely because, at the level of appearances, predicates fail to capture the object. However, if predicates fail to capture the identity of the object, then this is precisely because the object is internally fissured by the void of its place of inscription in the signifier, suggesting a fullness through its very absence that can never be filled.

    As a consequence, this split within the object becomes the site of social antagonism. “The 'Real'” is “the traumatic core of some social antagonism which distorts” our view of actual social organization. And, as Žižek goes on to remark, “the parallax Real is [...] that which accounts for the very multiplicity of appearances of the same underlying Real—it is not the hard core which persists as the Same, but the hard bone of contention which pulverizes the sameness into the multitude of appearances”. [141] Earlier Žižek remarks that the Real, the parallax gap, is “that unfathomable X which forever eludes the symbolic grasp, and thus causes the multiplicity of symbolic perspectives”. [142] Insofar as the symbolic is haunted by an irreducible and ineradicable kernel of the Real, it becomes the site of social struggle as different groups strive to fill in the void that perturbs the symbolic.

    In the preceding pages I have not done nearly enough justice to the complexity of Žižek's ontology and his account of the relationship between the subject and the object, but have only sought to outline the most relevant features of his account of being. In the next chapter we will see how a good deal of Lacanian psychoanalysis and Žižek's critique of ideology can be retained within the ontological framework proposed by onticology. However, it is clear that ontologically onticology and Žižek must diverge markedly from one another. The first point worth noting is that for Žižek the object is a pole in a relation between subject and object. In other words, there is one type of being, the subject, and another type of being, the object. The object is always an object for a subject and the subject is always a subject for an object. As such, Žižek’s ontology is a variant of absolute correlationism or the position that there is no being apart from the subject.

    Within the framework of onticology, by contrast, there is no special category referred to as “the subject” that is necessarily and irrevocably attached to an object. Rather, the central thesis of onticology is that being is composed entirely of objects or primary substances. To be sure, objects differ from one another and have different powers or capacities. Moreover, there are objects which we refer to as persons. However, the category of objects composed of persons possesses no special or privileged place within being, nor are all beings necessarily related to persons in some form or another. As Latour remarks, the zebras gallop across the steppes just fine without the benefit of our gaze. Humans are among beings and are beings among being, they aren't at the center of being, nor are they the necessary condition for being. Were Žižek's claims true, there could be no being apart from the human insofar as language, no matter how alien and alienating, only exists for humans and perhaps some other animals.

    By way of a second point, while both onticology and Žižek argue that objects are split, the two do so for radically different reasons. For Žižek, objects are split between their appearance and the void of their place of inscription in the symbolic. As a consequence of this divide between place-holder and place, objects can never be identical to themselves. Insofar as objects are split between their appearance and the void of their place of inscription, objects are effects of the symbolic or the signifier. Here Žižek directly follows Lacan, for as Lacan remarks in Encore, “[t]he universe is a flower of rhetoric”. [143] The claim that the universe is a flower of rhetoric is the claim that the universe is an effect or product of rhetoric. The universe, for Lacan, is that which blooms out of language and speech. And indeed, earlier we find Lacan remarking that, “[t]here isn't the slightest prediscursive reality, for the very fine reason that what constitutes a collectivity—what I called men, women, and children—means nothing qua prediscursive reality. Men, women, and children are but signifiers”. [144] Presumably Lacan would claim the same thing of flowers, zebras, subatomic particles, burritos, stars and all other entities.

    The thesis that objects are an effect of the signifier, the symbolic, or language is a variant of what I call the “hegemonic fallacy”. Put crudely, in political theory a hegemonic relation is a social, ideological, cultural, or economic dominance exerted over all other members of the social field. For example, Christianity and, in particular, evangelical Christianity, has a hegemonic influence on United States politics in comparison to other religious beliefs or the absence of religious belief altogether. Onticology shifts the concept of hegemony from the domain of political theory to the domain of ontology and might be fruitfully compared to the concept of ontotheology. Within the framework of onticology, the hegemonic fallacy occurs whenever one type of entity is treated as the ground or explanans of all other entities.

    In treating language or the signifier as the ground of being or the universe as an effect of the signifier, this is precisely what takes place in Žižek and Lacan. Beings are hegemonized under the signifier or language, just as they are hegemonized under mind in Kant. Lurking in the background of Žižek's argument is, I suspect, a variant of the epistemic fallacy and actualism as discussed in the first chapter. Just as Locke rejected the coherence of the concept of substance on the grounds that we are not given any access to substance in consciousness, the grounds for rejecting anything like prediscursive reality would lie in the fact that we can only speak about prediscursive reality through signifiers or language and that, no matter how hard we strive to escape language, we only produce more signifiers. Here language is the actuality that is given and we are invited to think of all being in terms of the epistemological or how beings are given to us through language.

    However, as we saw in the first chapter, this argument only follows if it is possible to transform properly ontological questions into epistemological questions. The reasoning through which we arrive at the existence of objects is found not in our access to objects through language or consciousness, but rather through a reflection on what the world must be like for our practices to be intelligible. And indeed, it is difficult to see how language could ever have the power to divide or parcel in the way suggested by the linguistic idealists were it not for the fact that the world is itself structured and differentiated. Absent a world that is structured and differentiated, the surface of the world, as a sort of formless flux, would be too slippery, too smooth, for the signifier to structure at all.

    The point here is not that we should ignore the signifier, language, and signs, but that the signifier cannot function as the ground of being. Here the “hegemon” of the hegemonic fallacy needs to be taken seriously. A hegemon is a monarch that stands above, overdetermining everything else in a collective of objects. A hegomonic relation is a vertical relation from top to bottom, where the entity serving as the hegemon functions as a monarch governing all that falls underneath the hegemon. In Žižek-Lacan's schema, this is precisely how language functions. The hegemon of the hegemonic fallacy thus functions like an active form giving structure or formatting a passive, structureless matter. Rather than thinking in terms of hegemonic conditioning, onticology recommends that we instead think in terms of entanglements of objects. Without sharing all the conclusions of her agental realism (especially her relationist ontology), while nonetheless being deeply sympathetic to her project, I borrow the term “entanglement” from the work of Karen Barad. [145] Barad encourages us to think in terms of entanglements of different agencies and the diffraction patterns these entanglements produce. As described by Barad,

    diffraction has to do with the way waves combine when they overlap and the apparent bending and spreading of waves that occur when waves encounter an obstruction. Diffraction can occur with any kind of wave: for example, water waves, sound waves, and light waves all exhibit diffraction under the right conditions. [146]

    The concept of diffraction patterns proposed by Barad embodies a much “flatter” conception of being than the sort of vertical conception of being we encounter in hegemonic ontologies. Where a hegemonic ontology treats one agency as making all the difference, an ontology premised on entanglements is attentive to how a variety of different objects or agencies interact in the production of phenomena. Just as new patterns emerge when waves intersect one another or encounter an obstacle with no one agency entirely responsible for the pattern, networks of objects interacting with one another produce unique patterns that cannot be reduced to any one of the agencies involved. Thus, Barad remarks, “diffractions are attuned to differences—differences that our knowledge-making practices make and the effects they have on the world”. [147] And here the crucial point is that “these entangled practices are productive, and who and what are excluded through these entangled practices matter: different intra-actions produce different phenomena”. [148] Within an entanglement and a diffraction pattern there can be no hegemon, which isn't to say that some objects might not contribute more differences within a particular constellation than other objects. It is precisely this tangled contribution of differences that an obsessive focus on the signifier blinds us to. And once again, the point here isn't that signifiers and signs don't contribute differences, but that we need to be attentive to the role played by other, non-signifying differences within a collective.

    With reference to Barad, we thus arrive at the profound difference between Žižek's conception of split objects and the conception of split-objects proposed by onticology. For Žižek, the object is internally split between its appearance and the void of its place of inscription within the symbolic order, whereas for onticology objects are split between their manifestation and their virtual proper being. Here local manifestion is not manifestation to a subject or humans, but rather actualization in the world. Moreover, local manifestation would take place regardless of whether or not any humans existed to receive it and whether or not the symbolic existed. And, in this respect, the multiplicity of perspectives Žižek discusses are not the product of the split between appearance and the void of the place of inscription in the symbolic, but rather are a product of different intra-actions among objects. As we saw in our discussion of virtual proper being, the virtual dimension of objects is such that it can actualize itself in different ways as a function of the various exo-relations into which an object enters with other objects. There is nothing special or privileged here about the human-object relation. What is true of the human-object relation is true of any object-object exo-relation, regardless of whether or not humans are involved or exist. And insofar as this is true of object-object relations regardless of whether or not humans exist, it follows that the signifier cannot play a constitutive role in the constitution of objects. The key point here is that local manifestations are, in part, a product of how objects act on one another when they enter into exo-relations. Salt brings about different local manifestations in water than, for example, wood.

    However, while local manifestation is a phenomenon that takes place regardless of whether or not humans exist, the concept of exo-relation and local manifestation does encourage us to be particularly attentive to questions of how humans act on objects through their instruments and under specific conditions in the production of local manifestations. In short, so long as we remain within the framework of representation, asking how we mirror or reflect objects, we have posed the questions of epistemology poorly. The logic of representation, based as it is on visual metaphors of reflecting and mirroring, raises only the question of whether there is a similitude between the representation and the represented. As such, it necessarily misses the field of exo-relations and inter-actions among objects in the production of local manifestations. What onticology instead recommends is a particular attentiveness to fields of action among objects that enter into exo-relations with one another, examining how these inter-actions produce a variety of local manifestations in a diffraction pattern.


    1. Timothy Morton, The Ecological Thought (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2010) p. 7. return to text
    2. Steven Connor, “Topologies: Michel Serres and the Shapes of Thought,” Anglistik 15 (2004): 106. Quoted in Cary Wolfe, “Bring the Noise: The Parasite and the Multiple Genealogies of Posthumanism”, in Michel Serres, The Parasite, p. xvii. return to text
    3. Henri Bergson, Matter and Memory, trans. Nancy Margaret Paul (New York: Zone Books, 1991) pp. 48–49. return to text
    4. Gilbert Simondon, L'Individuation: à la lumière des notions de forme et d'information (Millon: PUF, 2005) p. 51. return to text
    5. Pierre Bourdieu, Pascalian Meditations, trans. Richard Nice (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2000). return to text
    6. Manuel DeLanda, Intensive Science & Virtual Philosophy (New York: Continuum, 2002) p. 23. return to text
    7. Deleuze, Difference and Repetition, pp. 186–187. Modified. return to text
    8. Ibid., pp. 208–209. return to text
    9. Ibid., p. 209. return to text
    10. Barad, Meeting the Universe Halfway, p. 69. return to text
    11. Deleuze, Difference and Repetition, p. 228. return to text
    12. Ibid., p. 229. return to text
    13. Ibid., p. 38. return to text
    14. Peter Hallward, Out of This World: Deleuze and the Philosophy of Creation (New York: Verso, 2006) p. 2. return to text
    15. John Protevi, “Out of This World: Deleuze and the Philosophy of Creation,” Notre Dame Philosophy Reviews, August 3, 2007. return to text
    16. Ibid. return to text
    17. Deleuze, Difference and Repetition, p. 183. return to text
    18. Deleuze, Negotiations, trans. Martin Joughin (New York: Columbia University Press, 1995) p. 136. return to text
    19. Deleuze, Difference and Repetition, p. 208. return to text
    20. Ibid., p. 209. return to text
    21. Ibid., p. 210. return to text
    22. Ibid., p. 182. return to text
    23. DeLanda, Intensive Science and Virtual Philosophy, pp. 11–12. return to text
    24. Deleuze, Difference and Repetition, p. 182. return to text
    25. Ibid., p. 183. return to text
    26. Ibid. return to text
    27. Ibid., p. 209. return to text
    28. Harman, Tool-Being, p. 244. return to text
    29. Ibid. return to text
    30. Ibid., pp. 246–247. return to text
    31. Deleuze, Difference and Repetition, p. 278. return to text
    32. Ibid., p. 222. return to text
    33. DeLanda, Intensive Science and Virtual Philosophy, p. 10. return to text
    34. Ibid., p. 47. return to text
    35. Aristotle, Metaphysics, p. 1033a25. return to text
    36. DeLanda, Intensive Science and Virtual Philosophy, p. 15. return to text
    37. Ibid. return to text
    38. Ibid., p. 31–32. return to text
    39. Ibid., p. 32. return to text
    40. Bruno Latour, “Irreductions,” The Pasteurization of France trans. Alan Sheridan and John Law (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1988) p. 174. return to text
    41. Ibid. return to text
    42. Harman, Prince of Networks, p. 128. return to text
    43. Ibid. return to text
    44. Steven Shaviro, Without Criteria: Kant, Whitehead, Deleuze, and Aesthetics (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2009) p. 19. return to text
    45. Benedict de Spinoza, Spinoza: Complete Works, trans. Samuel Shirley (Indianpolis: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 2002) p. 278. return to text
    46. Harman, “Levi Responds,” Object-Oriented Philosophy. May 24, 2010. Available at http://doctorzamalek2.wordpress.com/?s=Levi+Responds. return to text
    47. Deleuze, Difference and Repetition, p. 211. return to text
    48. Ibid. return to text
    49. Ibid., p. 212. return to text
    50. Latour, “Irreductions,” p. 158. return to text
    51. Harman, Prince of Networks, p. 129. return to text
    52. Harman, Guerrilla Metaphysics, p. 81. return to text
    53. Slavoj Žižek, The Parallax View (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2006) p. 17. return to text
    54. Ibid. return to text
    55. Slavoj Žižek, For They Know Not What They Do: Enjoyment as a Political Factor (New York: Verso, 2002) p. xxvii. return to text
    56. Ibid., p. xxvii. return to text
    57. For an excellent discussion of how Žižek overcomes this deadlock by drawing on Hegel, cf. Adrian Johnston, Žižek's Ontology: A Transcendental Materialist Theory of Subjectivity (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 2008). return to text
    58. Slavoj Žižek, The Sublime Object of Ideology (New York: Verso, 1989) p. 193. return to text
    59. Žižek, For They Know Not What They Do, p. 36–37. return to text
    60. Slavoj Žižek, Tarrying With the Negative: Kant, Hegel, and the Critique of Ideology (Durham: Duke University Press, 1993) p. 36–37. return to text
    61. Ibid., p. 37. return to text
    62. Cf. Žižek, For They Know Not What They Do, pp. 72–80. return to text
    63. Ibid., p. 112. return to text
    64. Slavoj Žižek, The Puppet and the Dwarf: The Perverse Core of Christianity (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2003) p. 66. return to text
    65. Žižek, The Parallax View, 26. return to text
    66. Ibid. return to text
    67. Ibid., p. 18. return to text
    68. Lacan, Encore, p. 56. return to text
    69. Ibid., p. 33. return to text
    70. cf. Barad, Meeting the Universe Halfway. return to text
    71. Ibid., p. 74. return to text
    72. Ibid., p. 72. return to text
    73. Ibid., p. 58. return to text