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Individual and universal singularities

by on April 20, 2013

The value of DeLanda’s philosophical-ontological foray into simulations comes down to one key point: the mechanism-independent operation of universal singularities. As Delanda writes

The term “universal” is used for two related reasons: first, the events in which tendencies are manifested and capacities exercised may be entirely different in detail and yet be shaped by the same singularities; and second, two series of events each constituting a different mechanism may nevertheless possess overlapping possibility spaces and display common features that are mechanism-independent.’

The second reason explains the ontological value of simulation. If mechanism-independent (universal) singularities exist, then it is possible for a universal Turing machine to model other systems (assemblages) by drawing upon the same universal singularity. That is, if a simulation can duplicate, within a degree of variation, the possibility space of another assemblage, then one can posit that the same universal singularity is at work. This would be important for methodological purposes.

But more important is the potential value of an ontology that derives from universal singularities. As DeLanda reminds us, the primary ontological concept that we have to operate from is essences. What makes us human? We understand the argument from essences that ultimately relies on some divine support. What is the postmodern/critical theoretical explanation? That “human” is a discursive, cultural representation, but that it isn’t real. What does OOO offer us? That individual humans are withdrawn objects that are always in excess of any relation, but that doesn’t really tell us how we manage to also be object that are not withdrawn and are capable of reproduction, for example. Science can offer us some other explanation about humans as a species, but the concept of species is not without problems. Here we might turn toward Latour in an effort to understand how matters of concern are composed. From DeLanda’s perspective the problem with species might have to do the intersection of universal singularities with individual singularities (in this case, individual humans). Individuals are always more/other than what universal singularities might impart. That is, species cannot exist on the principle of shared essences, but species might exist as assemblages in their own right emergent from populations of animals.

What universal singularities offer then is a way to understand how objects emerge that both accounts for their unique emergent properties and their ability to participate in productive relations. Without universal singularities or essences, we don’t really have a way of accounting for the way properties, tendencies, and capacities get distributed among objects.


From → DeLanda

  1. jmdaven permalink

    This view of human species as an assemblage of unique members all emerging from out of a single singularity would seem to lead to a genealogical sort of work. A mode of investigation somewhere between Foucault and Darwin, carried out in part by computers. I could see singularities emerging that could describe something like the shared y chromosome, a basic form of language, or the geographic origins of mankind. But how these would overlap with individual singularities is a bit opaque to me. I might tend towards the singularity of being asleep at 2 a.m., speaking a certain number of words a day, or going to certain places repeatedly. I would say thought that none of these specific things are essential. Perhaps the only important emerging singularity from any simulation would simply be that I have tendencies, that I have tend towards certain singularities instead of complete disorder.

  2. For my final, I have been considering postmodernism as a precursor to OOO (precursor is probably not the right word, another failed representation….maybe begging for a resurgence in ontology?). I have been considering the questions, “What is the postmodern/critical theoretical explanation? That “human” is a discursive, cultural representation, but that it isn’t real. What does OOO offer us?” My tentative stance is that OOO has drawn out the crisis of representation and real understanding well beyond what even Baudrillard’s simulacra could manage, but I think the two discourses ask similar questions, the difference being that PM seems perfectly content not to answer them, where as OOO is making a genuine effort to get there (though I tend to think this is only an effort). However, now that such PM heavy weights as Fredric Jameson have begun referring to the PM era in the past tense, I think OOO and SR found value in PM’s most pressing questions: questions that most certainly were being asked all throughout the former theoretical era. While the chronological end of the postmodern era is as obscure as it may be arguable, the mid to late 80’s into the early 90’s seems to be a reasonable point of noticeable transition.

    As we see in the works of DeLillo, and more specifically for my current efforts, Auster, the question of representation was very much an ontological one, or at the very least, one the required ontological answers. Auster’s “City of Glass” (the focus of my final) seems to take up all sides of the debate up to that point (1985) without ever taking sides, but yields no answers, just deeper uncertainties (I must avoid detail here as I am still refining this argument, and so I am not just repeating myself tomorrow during my brief presentation). In this sense, I see postmodernism as throwing open the door to such works as “The Quadruple Object” and in a sociological sense, Actor-Network Theory, but I think it runs into the same failings: the theorists and philosophers may indeed be correct, but what is to be done with it? I can’t answer this, nor could the literature that urged this paradigm shift (though that is probably too strong of a term).

    I am very curious as to how you see this relation between PM and OOO, Prof. Reid. Do you think this is an accurate appraisal? For that matter, to return to simulation, I almost wonder if literature isn’t something of the culture simulations of these theories. Since widespread social implementation of philosophy is close to an impossibility in an ideologically repressive age (not that that is anything new), does a singularity exist between the fictional text and the world, a singularity beyond the author or material object? Is this perhaps the only singularity that representation can provide, a metaphorical proxy at best? I know this is basically the same question that raises philosophical doubts about simulation in general, but literature seems uniquely suited to take the individual into account as it traces an event, as such, I think literature can act as a logical simulation to a certain degree.

  3. All right, I feel like my complaints are sufficiently answered here. It makes a lot more sense when you put it this way. It seems to me like there could be a fruitful collaboration between De Landa, with his universal singularities, and Meillasoux or Badiou, with their focus on mathematics.

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