Where’s the love?

“In short, all things equally exist, yet they do not exist equally”

That things are is not a matter of debate. What it means that something in particular is for another thing that is: this is the question that interests me.

The above quotes are from Ian Bogost’s Alien Phenomenology, or What It’s Like to Be a Thing, which I’m about halfway through. Fantastic, fascinating book. In addition to being a charming wordsmith, Bogost is offering here a posthuman metaphysics in which object-oriented ontology (OOO) flattens the realm of existence by ontologically equating humans, animals, things, systems, processes, ideas–well, everything.

Bogost’s articulation of meanwhiles is particularly powerful, and not unlike (human-centered) thoughts that have crossed my own mind (I’ll be thinking over/writing about this more). In the meantime, though, one thought strikes me: where’s the love? Or hate, for that matter? Or frustration? So far (and maybe this is coming soon in the book; I’ll see), Bogost covers things, from chile peppers to microprocessors, animals, the imaginary (unicorns), and complex systems like global logistic systems. What I have not seen (or noticed) accounted for, per se, are abstract concepts like love, hate, happiness, frustration, justice, fairness, compassion, etc.  I could imagine Bogost saying that such emotional or conceptual phenomena are a part of complex human-centered systems that might be defined/described in a multitude of ways, much like he does by describing the example of the ill-fated  E.T the Extra-Terrestrial video game (which I fondly remember being confounded by in my youth). Besides, moving away from human/world correlationism is what this book seems to be all about.  But I’m trying to wrap my head around how such abstract concepts as fear, wonder, grief, or joy might be accounted for as things that exist equally with iron ore, an international conference for peace in the Middle East, or mayonnaise.

10 thoughts on “Where’s the love?

  1. I think this is a terrific question, Joe. I finished AP last weekend, and I have been meaning to get together a blog entry, but things have been hectic with the start-up of the two online classes I’m teaching.

    Your question about abstract intensities is difficult for me to respond to. I don’t know how OOO’s leading custodians (Harman, Bryant, Morton, Bogost, Bennett, who else?) would respond to this, either. Bogost’s discussion of metaphorism might get close to this, if metaphorism provides us with a method for something like speculative object-empathy (walking not in the shoes of an object, exactly, but perhaps hovering in its atoms, inhabiting its shape). Still the emotional spectrum you describe does not–as far as I can tell–have a place in the OOOosphere. This is one of the reasons I find OOO extremely difficult to embrace (for very long) as a first-principle philosophy. I appreciate the way it re-tunes me to objects and ontology in an all-things-being-equal kind of way. And while I appreciate grasping and also visiting this philosophical principle, I’m reluctant to make OOO an intellectual homestead. I guess what I’m saying is that it’s more a ticket for a speculative adventure, a brief vacation (or respite) from a more predominant experience in which self (an outcropping of correlationism, no?) oftentimes gets too much in the way.

    But let’s hold onto the question you pose here for our upcoming reading group meeting(s), okay? I’ll be sending around a schedule about two meet-ups to discuss AP sometime soon (I hope to have the dates set by the end of next week).

  2. Aha. I don’t talk about abstract concepts like these much in AP, but there is some material in there. There could be more; they are harder to cover than are oranges. In any case, love and jealousy and wonder exist the same for me, metaphysically speaking, as do camels and Carthage.

    Derek, I’m not sure why you think OOO doesn’t embrace these concepts?

    1. Really enjoy the book, Ian. I’m noticing a bit more of the abstract on my second read. The boundedness of physical/concrete objects does make sense in terms of fitting into the space you have in AP. I think rereading Lakoff and Johnson along with AP might be fruitful for me, after all, they deal with abstractions in all levels of conceptual metaphor they detail: complex metaphors like Life is a Journey or Argument is War (and their multitude of entailments) along with the more immediately experiential orientational (Up is Good: “upstanding citizen”; Down is Bad: “That was lowdown”) and ontological (Anger is Heat: “He blew his top!”; Anger is Cold: “His icy stare”) types of metaphors.

  3. Thanks for your question, Ian. I suppose it is more the case that I am puzzling over the different degrees of wondering (both as a way of naming my own activity of wondering and as a kind of anthropocentric projection onto other units). That is, I can wonder about a love-hate relationship between, say, a decorative glass pear and the shredded crate-paper it is packed in, but in terms of method, I’m not sure where such wondering would lead. A statement such as “pear loves crate-paper” suggests an onto-valuation, which in turn establishes not a flat ontology but one that is now invested with distinct contours. It becomes a raised-relief ontology, no? Articulating abstract value relations among units also makes the tiny ontology bigger. Maybe? Might be too fanciful to dwell on for long. Granted, pear-crate-paper is but one speculative undertaking, and I can cast onto other units the same metaphysical potential for love, jealously, etc., yet as a newcomer to the OOO conversation, the pragmatist in me doesn’t fully grasp what we might do differently with such speculation. Neither am I (as of yet) clear about the forms of evidence that would help us do anything other than wonder about the love (or whatever other abstract linkage) among other units. Maybe it allows us to grapple anew with agentic shift?

    I very much liked AP, by the way, and I appreciate–to the extent that I understand it–what OOO sets up. I would just say it takes some getting used to, and in trying to get used to it, I’m still sorting through what one must leave behind to identify with it as a first-principle philosophy. OOO seems to me to demand more than a re-shuffling of the philosophical deck, so to speak. Is there anything you can recommend for getting a better handle on how OOO embraces concepts of love, fear, anger, etc.?

    1. I think you are articulating some of what’s bubbling beneath the surface of my thinking here, Derek, and Chelsea and Clay have touched on this, too. This word “object”, it’s a word that can be quite literal–ball bearing, brain, wildabeast, decorative pear. “Object” is available as an abstract concept, too (i.e., an object of thought): love, anxiety, justice. What I’m mulling over, I think, is the physical boundedness of literal objects compared to the metaphorical/imaginary boundedness of lady justice, the green-eyed monster of envy, or (as Lakoff and Johnson might suggest) love as a journey with entailments like bumpy roads or wrong turns.

      Here’s another line of thinking I hope we might discuss when we meet: a petosky stone is “knowable” (or relateable is probably the better term) to me metaphorically; I understand a petosky stone’s relata by metaphorically applying my own sense of selfhood. And the petosky stone would, presumably, do the same to relate to me. But might it not be a correlational fallacy to speculatively project the capacity for selfhood onto a petosky stone? Is this related to what Derek is getting at in terms of a bigger,raised-relief ontology?

      1. I need to respond to other comments here in more detail… hopefully later today. But for now: if you read my version of OOO, it’s very, very flat. That’s why I call it “tiny ontology.” There is no *ontological* distinction for me between toasters and wildebeests and love and anxiety. I think what many are (perhaps correctly) observing is that we often still talk about “medium-sized” objects in OOO, and while that’s true to an extent, Tim Morton’s work on hyperobjects is quite useful in relation to the questions being posed here.

        More on the other questions soon, I hope.

  4. Ahhhhh – I heard about this post from Derek, and came to check it out. Joe, are you getting at these abstract notions as like…units in and of themselves? I see Derek applying them to objects (ie: do these cars parked next to each other hate each other? Are these coffee mugs angry?), but from what I can tell in your original post, and bear with me as I’ve only read Chapter 4 of AP, it doesn’t sound like these abstractions are attached to objects, and rather that they are objects in their own right….as if you could somehow take the essence that is love/hate/anger/madness/various states of being or feeling and put them in a jar – then what? Now I’m thinking about Joan Osbourne’s “If God had a face….” song (because really, our ideas of God are fairly abstract, no? God as object? Probably this isn’t the space for that…). Am I understanding you correctly? This morning Grace said it would be funny if shoes could feel – so, whatever notion those shoes might experience, is worth recognizing as equal to the shoes themselves, and that notion needs not be attached to the shoes, or a person, in order to exist. Yes?

  5. Joe, and everybody else, this is totally great.

    I think that there are some things to pay close attention to when you are discussing the objectness of abstract concepts. One is that there is a very real difference between the object of a culturally constructed idea of these concepts, and the object of an individuals experience with the concept. I’ll use love as my example. There is the culturally constructed idea of love that is one object. This may or may not have anything to do with a love that exists between an object (me) and another (my partner, or my couch). While the cultural idea of love may inform the love that exists between me and my partner there are also other factors that inform that micro-level love that have no bearing on the cultural level. Because of this reality, I think that when you discuss the idea of abstract concepts being objects it is important to be very precise with what it is you are talking about.

    Another interesting thing to think about is the life span, and re-creation of such concepts. Is fear (or wonder, frustration, etc.)ever present and at all times existing, or does it eventually expire and thus require re-creation?

    and I’ve now lost myself.

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