objects, larger objects and relational forms

Things may well come from other things (Levi, here), but they don’t just pop into existence either. Rather, things come from processes in which, for the most part, multiple other things are implicated. Indeed, the creation of a thing could be understood as an event, or rather the product of an event.

An event is a particular processual co-implication of things, precisely choreographed to produce the thing(s) that it produces. Whether this is the creation of designer sunglasses, a vegetable curry or a musical performance, it is clear that what is produced is a function of a particular relational configuration that includes things but is not reducible to those things. The big question is whether any autonomy can be granted to this relational configuration and, indeed, whether it could even be generative in some sense, inflicting some kind of order on the things co-implicated in it – perhaps in some kind of a recursive manner.

Take, for example, the humble mushroom. On the one hand, we can think of mushrooms as things that release spores which settle in certain places, prepare themselves as mycelium and then pop out as the next generation of mushrooms. Alternatively, this entire process can be understood to be predicated on a particular relational pattern that is interwoven with other relational patterns of wind, water/moisture, light, soil, tree-trunks, etc. that make the perpetuation of the objects: mushrooms-spores-mycelium-… even remotely possible.

To ignore these conditions of production and their <i>abstractness</i> from the things themselves may be to miss an important part of the dynamics of where objects come from. One response is to argue that these dynamics are just evidence of a larger object – i.e. the mushroom colony – which emerges from the interactions of mushrooms, spores and mycelium over time. Since all objects are processual in their own right, the colony is itself the process of its own perpetuation. I am very sympathetic to this notion BUT I also think that the question of whether this colony produces the mushrooms or vice-versa is the wrong question. The two are fundamentally co-implicated in and co-constitutive of each other. The colony does not just emerge from the interactions of the mushrooms, etc. but makes the re-production of mushrooms itself a possibility. Without the mushrooms and spores and mycelium as actual objects with their own autonomous powers, we clearly would not have colonies… but also vice-versa!…

Understanding the relationship between objects and the relational forms that permit their reproduction may benefit from more intensive inquiry. In the case of mushrooms and their colonies, there is a clear pulsating, generative, life-force at work. But what about the production of ceramic bowls, which are not – in any remotely immediate sense – complicit in their own creation (except, perhaps, as potential-bowl-taking-form-through-the-intimate-affective-relationship-between-potter-and-blob-of-clay). Here, it is the craft of pottery, access to clay, the need for vessels (for use or aesthetic purposes), patterns of societal relations and ways of life, certain aesthetic proclivities that set the ground for the production of bowls. The bowl can only come to be because of a series of abstractions that permit a particular constellation of objects to find themselves oriented toward the production of a given bowl. These abstractions, or relational forms, are vibrant coordinations that are not merely the deployment of objects with distinct powers but a particular pattern of mobilisation of those powers that culminates in the production of bowls. Of course, these bowls have their own agency and powers and become actors in their own rights, further modifying the ecologies within which they circulate, potentially modifying the very relational forms from which they sprung.

Intervention in the domain of objects must, therefore, be considered alongside intervention at the level of abstractions and relational forms. This calls for a practice-, action- or activation-oriented philosophy that is capable of mobilising new abstract yet affective relational forms which may be operative both sensually and non-sensually. Non-sensual relational forms (abstractions) makes reference to the notion that there are always factors at work in a given ecology that are not immediately given to the direct sensual experiences of the objects involved but that are nonetheless structuring of those very experiences – and, therefore, of the transformations and perturbations that unfold in a given event.

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About andreling

collaborative explorer-activist working for inter-subjective improvement in the quality of life on planet earth
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One Response to objects, larger objects and relational forms

  1. Jason Hills says:

    Excellent exposition. It’s a more detailed point that I also made on my blog after having read Levi’s Atheology post. I focused more on temporality and history and their contribution to processionality and generativity.

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