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A Problem with Bryant’s Specific Substance

by on February 21, 2013

I find Bryant discussion of Deleuze to be the strong point of Democracy of Objects so far. He clearly knows Deleuze criticism well, and gives enlightening readings of the virtual and the actual, differentiation and differenciation, and more. So far, a small qualm I have with his work is that he relies too heavily on Harman to inform his own ontology and criticize others’.

A specific problem I have with Bryant so far is his determination of specific, particular substance for each object. He seems to give each substance a finite number of virtual ranges which contain infinitely points of expression or local manifestation. He continues by giving the example of his mug, specifically its topological character:

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 (91).

The problem with this topological determination of the mug’s substance is that he seems to misunderstand the morphology in topological space. Topological forms are defined by their loops. A handleless cup for instance would have no loops, topologically it can easily be morphed into a ball or a pancake. However, a handled cup, say a coffee mug, is topologically very different, for because of the handle, such a mug is morphologically a doughnut. A handleless cup and a coffee mug are fundamentally and substantially different topologically. Now for Bryant, it seems that if one dropped a coffee mug, and thus broke its handle, the cup’s substance would remain the same. It would still be the same coffee cup. However, topologically, the coffee mug has become something totally different. Now if one were to include this difference in topology in the infinite range of allowed topologies of the coffee mug’s substance, then Bryant could allow the mug to remain substantially the same, however, this would make the mug’s substance, or its virtual possibilities, so extended, so infinite, that its substance would or could be very difficult to logically distinguish from say, a cup. At this point his substance would be reduced more to a Deleuzian bare, identical substance. I think this criticism is in fact applicable to more of Bryant’s listed virtual possibilities (e.g. colorness or ability to color). Take for instance animals completely incapable of sight, to such a creature a colored object would have a fundamentally different substance than such an object would for me. Now his onticology seems to account for this, but he does not say who between the color lacking creature and I, the human, would be rightly access or more closely access the object’s substance. How can one be sure that the object’s capacity for color is part of its virtual substance or just an interpolation of the subject? Do creatures with greater capacity for sensual experience have greater (albeit limited) access to an object’s virtual potentialities? Or do all things have ontologically equal (in)access to the object’s virtual potentiality?


From → Quadruple Object

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