Andre Ling’s critique of relational reality: objects are real!

Andre Ling’s reacts to our review of Charlene Spretnak’s book on Relational Reality, published yesterday:

Objects Are Real!, By Andre Ling:

‘I must admit I get a bit frustrated by statements like ‘everything is interconnected’ or, more specifically this: ” the realization that all entities in this world, including humans, are thoroughly relational beings of great complexity who are both composed of and nested within networks of creative, dynamic interrelationships. Nothing exists outside of those relationships.” There has been a vibrant ongoing philosophical debate online about the relational vs. object-oriented approaches to philosophy. The relationalists believe that all entities can be reduced to their relationships. Reality is then a giant tangle of relations and entities are entangled clusters of these relations; the points where multiple relations converge into a dense nucleus. Key philosophical influences here include Deleuze (used by both camps), Whitehead and William James and some leading lights here are Brian Massumi and Erin Manning. Those in the object-oriented camp insist that objects cannot be reduced to their relations to other objects. Rather it is objects that enter into relationships with each other. There is a consensus in both camps in the understanding of reality as ecological (prompting Stengers, for example, to propose the term ‘ecosophy’ as an alternative to philosophy) but the critical gap is in the autonomous, irreducible status the object-oriented philosophers give to objects (which include both physical objects and ideas). If objects can enter into and exit various relationships without themselves undergoing change then surely they cannot be reduced to those relationships. Objects also enjoy a certain degree autonomy from their parts: if you cut off my leg I am still me. Furthermore, objects are understood to have withdrawn powers/capacities, which is precisely what enables them to introduce novelty, to be available to different kinds of uses and, indeed, what makes any kind of change possible at all: if all entities were already fully deployed as bundles of entirely external relationships, the universe would resemble a grid-lock with no possibility of change/movement. OOO-ers hold that it is the inner reality of objects – the fact that they are never fully deployed or expressed through their relationships with other entities, that opens up possibilities for change, movement and novelty. Furthermore, a fully relational ontology is most probably also necessarily one that depends on what OOO-ers call ontotheology: the belief that everything, ultimately, can be reduced to one, the source, the ground of being, God – a kind of singular universal relational web, with everything else (entities) being a kind of transitory or surface appearance/expression of that underlying reality. OO philosophy challenges this kind of thinking which is often a source of heated debate amongst both camps. OOO holds that there is no fundamental ground of being; there are just myriad kinds of objects, a kind of epic list of things that populate the cosmos, entering into and exiting their relationships with each other, being created, being destroyed, transforming and being transformed by each other. This in no way means that the relationships are not important, or even a central question (which is why I am so obsessed with Stengers’ ideas of ‘ecology of practices’, ‘ecosophy’ and ‘cosmopolitics’) and matter of concern for us in the contemporary period. The hegemonic patterns of relationships that have been established amongst the myriad entities that populate our world can be characterised as structural injustices, as capitalism, as a direct threat to continued human survival. Our practices, our world-views, our institutions, the way we relate to each other and the other entities around us are sick. However, to write-off entities as mere epiphenomena, secondary to relationships, with no autonomy (ontological, physical or otherwise) of their own, seems to be a bit of a case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater.”

(source: a Facebook discussion, August 2012)

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