The differentiated powers of lumpy productive substance

Posted by | Chris | 22.2.11 | 1 Comment

In a continuing series of comments regarding comments about replies to replies Levi Bryant talks about anteriority and references a twitter discussion here and here.

For me this is the most exciting debate to come out of The Speculative Turn, highlighting the differences and marking terrain not just between OOO and "Grantian-Schellingian powers" (for want of a better designation) but at the heart of metaphysics. This question runs right back to Plato and Aristotle: what is primary, substance or power?

Bryant himself pointed out the lineage of this discussion just a few days ago. However, and I think representatives of OOO would agree, it is too simplistic to mark alliances in terms of Aristotle-OOO/Plato-powers. While these alliances are extant, in both cases a process of appropriation, argumentation and transformation is underway. Here, I wish to make two brief points: 1) I disagree with Aristotle'/Levi's reading of Plato; and 2) there is a problem of powers predicated of substances which the productive substances of OOO occlude rather than solve.

First, the Platonic forms are not reified predicates. There is no beauty itself, since new beautiful things are always possible and the complete history of beauty is unrecoverable. The failure of Socrates and his interlocutors to adequately define any of the ideas attests to their non-objectifiable nature. I argue instead for a powers ontology reading of Platonic physics, although this is a point for extended discussion.

Second, the gambit of OOO, that being is plural and substantial, is an attempt to do justice to our experience of mid-size objects and to avoid an ontology of pre-individual apeiron. Plurality is unproblematic, but the substantial element of OOO is tied to a problem of anteriority -the answers to which seem to dissolve the difference between powers and substances.

OOO argues for the creation and destruction of substance and so any necessary ontological substance - a primary substance as uncreated pre-requisite of all being - is ruled out. With productive substances there is a regress of "objects all the way down". I agree with OOO that this is an unproblematic regress, akin to contemporary debates around ungrounded powers.

In powers ontologies their is often an equivocation regarding powers and substances: powers are ungrounded, yet they are also dispositional and predicated of things; i.e. held by something, therefore not ungrounded but grounded in substance. This is the problem of anteriority: if powers are held by substances then from where did the substances come? If substance is a product of powers then either these powers must also be held by substance - and this regress is problematic - or powers are not predicated of substance and are properly ungrounded.

It seems to me that the argument for productive substances of OOO avoids this problem by blurring the definition of substance and power. If "substances are produced out of other substances" and "anteriority is not something other than substances, but rather is composed of other substances" how is substance different from power? The answer to this question is made quite plain by Morton: "production is a substance"; i.e. they're not different except that the production of OOO is 'chunky' or 'lumpy'.

As Bryant observes then, it seems that there is in fact little dispute between ontologies of substance and those of productive powers. But, I feel that this reply leaves too much unexplained. In marking the difference between power and substance we are also returned to another dispute: the relational vs. non-relational. This is a challenge to powers ontologies to which no reply has yet been properly articulated.

Regarding any apeiron of powers, the avoidance of which the lumpy productive of OOO is aimed at, Shaviro puts the point well: "The "pre-individual" (in Simondon, Deleuze, Grant) is NOT continuous, not the whole, not undifferentiated. Rather, it's the realm of powers."

Is there a difference between power and substance? I don't think that they can easily be collapsed and therefore this dispute goes on.


One Response to “The differentiated powers of lumpy productive substance”

  1. peter
    18/3/11 06:11

    excellent post mate. it occurs to me that OOO vs Powers is almost a symmetrical recasting of the debate between idealism and materialism; in that they are negative versions of each other coming to the debate at oblique angles to each other: substance vs powers/mind vs matter. obivously this a gross oversimplification of this debate and neither side is reducible to either materialism or idealism. i just find it odd that a lot of debates in philosophy and elsewhere seem to be of a binary nature...

    id be really interested to hear you expand on this subject more, especailly a powers ontology reading of plato.

    we've reading "ideas for a philosophy of nature" and so far have not even made it out of the introduction, but its been great to hear iain work through his theories of a philosophy of nature. last week focused on a schellingian (via kant, possibly also via leibniz as well!) re-reading of the spinozistic combination of the finite (as product) and the infinite (as process of production) necessitating each other; and(!) being recast into the individual/brain (as a an instantiation of nature thinking itself to itself - i.e. the genesis and localization of the transcendental in nature as process of production).

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