The substantiality of an object is not to be found in its qualities, but rather in the ensemble of its powers or capacities.Â Â This entails that we never directly encounter an object because no object ever actualizes the totality of its powers in all the ways in which those powers can become manifest.Â Â Rather, there is always a hidden excess or reserve of potentiality that dwells within the object.Â Â This is why I refer to the qualities of an object as local manifestations of the object. They are actualizations of the object at a particular point in time and under determinate conditions or relations to other objects. It follows then that qualities areÂ acts on the part of an object.Â Qualities or properties are not something an objectÂ has, but are something that an objectdoes when it relates to other objects in the world.
I like a lot of this formulation; in particular, the idea that “there is always a hidden excess or reserve of potentiality that dwells within the object.” However, I reject Bryant’s claim that “this entails that we never directly encounter an object.” To the contrary: we do encounter objects all the time, the entire universe is composed of objects encountering other objects. The fact that these encounters do not involve the manifestation ofÂ all the powers or capacities of the objects in question doesÂ not mean that the objects are somehow failing to encounter one another, or that there needs to be aÂ split between an object and its manifestations, as Bryant and Graham Harman both maintain.
When a mosquito bites me, I am changed thereby, although this is only to a relatively minor (albeit irritating) degree. When I slap and kill the mosquito, it is changed so extensively as to be altogether obliterated. When the mosquito bites me, it only interacts with a few of my qualities (my skin, my blood, my body heat). And even when I murder the mosquito, I only encounter a few of its qualities: I interfere with its physiological organization, but I do not attain its inner life (and yes, I am inclined to think that a mosquito has something of an inner life; for that matter, I would even maintain that the dead mosquito, or even — as Harman likes to say — a “mindless chunk of dirt” — has something like a perspective, or what Whitehead would call a “subjective form”, a manner in which it prehends or interacts with other entities, and therefore the rudiments of an inner life).
However: I still maintain that there have been actual encounters between the mosquito and myself, both when it nourishes itself by sucking my blood and when I express my irritation by killing it. Yes, the mosquito’s knowledge of me, and my knowledge of it, are both incomplete; we each have particular perspectives from which we perceive and act upon one another. But there is no good reason that I can see why this should entail that (in Harman’s terms) I only encounter the “sensuous” mosquito rather than the real mosquito, or that the mosquito should only encounter the sensuous Shaviro rather than the actual Shaviro. Or, in Bryant’s terms, it is precisely because the mosquito interacts with certain of my powers or capacities or local manifestations, and I interact with certain of its powers or capacities or local manifestations, that we must say that the mosquito and I do encounter one another and interact — this is precisely the way that two entities perceive one another and interact.
In other words: I do not see the point in maintaining, simply because interactions (or relations) are always partial and limited, to therefore hypostasize whatever was not grasped (prehended) in the event of a particular encounter as a shadow object that exists in and of itself apart from the encounter. (Quite ironically, this means that Harman and Bryant are more Kantian than I am — in spite of what I have said on this subject before). The mosquito only apprehends particular aspects of me; but it is “me” as a complete object, rather than just those particular aspects or manifestations of me, that is changed by the encounter. To say that objects do not encounter one another, because they cannot entirely know one another, is to reduce ontology to epistemology, once again.
With all this, I am clearly agreeing with Adrian Ivakhiv and Christopher Vitale against Harman and Bryant.Â But I would like to remain sensitive to Harman’s proposal for “a cease fire to this friendly shooting war.” For me, the point is this. Harman and Bryant have stimulated my thoughts, even (or especially) when I disagree with them. I need them in order to develop my own ideas, even when these are at variance with theirs. The important thing to do is to avoid the habit (which is inculcated into all of us as academics, I fear) of focusing everything upon the critique of others, instead of positively developing one’s own ideas. I can’t avoid criticizing certain aspects of Harman’s and Bryant’s work, since my own positions have in fact been formulated (in part) in reaction or response to theirs. But I hope I have succeeded in using these criticisms as only a jumping-off point to my own development of ideas that go in a somewhat different direction. The problem is when the criticisms become an end in themselves, so that the war of disagreements becomes more significant than the positive developments of ideas by both parties. Hopefully I have avoided that.