Assemblage Theory

the ethics of desiring objects

Starting to catch up on some reading now, and I was very interested in Levi Bryant's and  Ian Bogost's discussion and of object-oriented theories, desire, and politics. Of course, in a way it is quite familiar in that I spent many years, in grad school in particular, engaged with ardent Marxists over any number of points. Eventually my experience with such "conversations" was that these folks weren't actually interested in a dialogue in which we might both learn and grow; instead they seemed motivated either to win me over to their point of view or failing that to castigate or shame me (and to be honest, as I recall, the matter moved quite quickly to the latter strategy). So from that perspective, I appreciate Levi and Ian's willingness to engage where my response would probably tend more toward a blow off. 

So the upshot for me is that I'm not too interested in the question of how these theories can serve existing political fantasies, but I was curious about the attempts here to explain object-oriented theory in terms of fascination (though I would use desire) rather than (ethical/political) imperative, especially as these move toward Buddhist thought. 

Even in Marx it is possible to differentiate between an analytic/descriptive philosophy that seeks to understand how society operates and the revolutionary praxis that describes how society should operate. Obviously the two are interrelated to the point where one might say the failure of latter has cast doubt on the former. No doubt there is a long history connecting philosophies with descriptions of ideal states going back to Plato. On the other hand, Deleuzian philosophy, for example, is marked by the absence of such a "win state" and has be criticized on this point. However, while it may lack a political program, Deleuze's work is not without insight into living and ethics. This lack of teleology is one common point with at least certain strands of Buddhism. While not conflating Buddhism, Deleuze, and object-oriented philosophy, the three might share in common a kind of non-deterministic compositional process and molecular ethics, where actions are not judged by their ability to assure specific outcomes. 

Now that isn't to say that people-actor-objects are not interested in outcomes. Of course they are, but that interest, which Bogost discusses as a replacement for imperative, is an emergent property of assemblages or networks. Here we get molarized ethics and desires of the kind that can form and drive enterprises like object-oriented philosophy. As I see it, the point of an object-oriented approach is to understand processes of molarization as they emerge non-deterministically from molecular ones.

I think there are useful connections here with Buddhism. Buddhism, or more to the point, Buddhists, certainly can have molar ethical obligations and political goals. But I think the point of "letting go" is recognizing that molarization, and its attendent desires, are the root (and route) of suffering. Perhaps one might be Deleuzian playful here and suggest that while molar desires have roots, molecular desires are rhizomatic and rootless. Molecular ethics hinge on the recognition of interdependence among objects within assemblages. Similarly, Buddhist ethics hinge on the principle of dependent co-arising, as such they result from an understanding of what is (dependent co-arising) rather than what should be

Now I think these things are likely troubling for object-oriented philosophy and its desire to focus on objects over processes (I wonder if it can "let go" of that focus). Nevertheless, OOP, with its exohumanist approach (to coin a term over anti- or post- humanism), shares this practice of an ethic that emerges from what is rather than what should be.