Vitale is upset

December 11, 2010

I’ll just respond very briefly to one of his passages aimed at me:

“For Whitehead, as for networkolgical relationalism, there is withdrawal AT EVERY POINT OF CONTACT BETWEEN RELATIONS. And you can call these points of contact objects if you choose, and argue that they in fact constitute relations, and vice-versa. Does that mean these points of contacts are relations, or objects? Who cares?! These are just words, no? The question isn’t what words you use, but rather, how you link them…”

The whole point is that it’s not a merely linguistic difference. I’ve been very clear about why I don’t think Whitehead has any conception of withdrawal, and here it is again: for Whitehead, actual entities are always analyzable into their prehensions, aka relations, and to say otherwise is to fall into a notion of “vacuous actuality.”

By contrast, I affirm the notion of vacuous actuality. But whereas Whitehead identifies that term primarily with objective pieces of physical stuff moving through space, I hold, explicitly against Whitehead, that objective pieces of stuff moving through physical space is as relational a concept as you can have.

The reason it’s easier to argue with Shaviro than with Vitale is that Shaviro at least admits that we are faced here with a genuine philosophical disagreement, not with a word game.

One other point, though I’m guessing Levi will address this at greater length because I know it drives him up the wall… What sense is there in saying that just because OOO opposes the linguistic turn, we also think language is unimportant? We simply don’t think it’s the transcendental horizon of access to everything. The OOO position here is clear as day.

Finally, “trumpery” doesn’t merely mean “attacking a straw man,” as Vitale claims in his post. If that were the case I wouldn’t have needed to invent a new term, and could simply have said “attacking a straw man.”

Trumpery means that instead of giving an argument, you simply imply that your opponent’s position is traditionalistic and passé. And the victim of such trumpery is almost always objects. Instead of facing up to OOO’s arguments for why the world (both real and sensual) is broken up into units, people simply make dismissive remarks about the commonsensical presupposition, based in some grievous historical rut or on slavish adherence to “phenomenology,” that the world is made of units: not of a lump, not of vaguely defined “structure,” and not of vaguely defined “pre-individuals.”

No, the difference here is not a word game, and if Vitale’s recent declaration of increased sympathy to OOO was based on the conclusion that there’s no difference between OOO and relationism, then his sympathy is misplaced. I vehemently oppose his notion that there is already a concept of withdrawal in Whitehead. There simply isn’t. There is a concrescence that might be called a kind of “privacy,” as even Shaviro wants to claim, but the concrescence is a cluster of prehensions, aka relations. That’s not the case in OOO, period.

[ADDENDUM: And if it’s just a difference in words, then how can Vitale claim that we are wrong? Which is it? Are we saying the same true thing in different words? Or are we saying something wrong? It can’t be both.]

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