Common ontology

(By the way, the logic of “with” often requires a heavy-handed syntax in order to say “being-with-one-another.” You may suffer from it as you read these pages. But perhaps it is not an accident that language does not easily lend itself to showing the “with” as such, for it is itself the address, and not what must be addressed.) –Jean-Luc Nancy

An interesting discussion has come up between me and Levi Bryant over at Larval Subjects (here and here). It seems to get at a genuine differend between Levi and me, which I would like to explore. The topic, broadly speaking, has to do with entities/beings and how they relate, how they are or are not in a world, and additionally, if there is any sense to the expression “the world.” His position is that unless a being is in relation with something, it doesn’t share the world with it; and each things’ “world” is its mass or mesh of relations. My position is that even when something is not related to something else, they still share this world, sharing in the coming of the world, our world. (I might also challenge anyone to show me something that isn’t related to anything else…) If I could have kept my response to the space of a comment, I would have, but since not, I’m posting it here. Insofar as the following piece is part of an on-going discussion (and so partly addressed directly to Levi or those familiar with object-oriented ontology (“OOO”)), I hope my readers will forgive me for writing a bit looser, a bit less fabulously and free than usual.

As a preliminary remark, I am never more challenged in the area of expression than when it comes to these direct questions of ontology. I have no less than five drafts trying to relate my position (informed by Nancy, as you all would guess) to object-oriented ontology. None of them have ever satisfied me; and yet I know the link is there, or I would have long ago given up. Thus, I hope that my words are not reduced to “my position,” insofar as I’m testing waters more than I’m advancing theses. In any case, I don’t wield the kind of theoretical prowess that Levi does; I only hope that this does not betray an immaturity on my part. As Nancy writes, “The strict conceptual rigor of being-with exasperates the discourse of its concept,” and I believe I know this exasperation well. (Perhaps this is what I share with Levi more than anything; but this very exasperation is our being-in-common.) If ontology becomes an explicit theme here, it can only do so at the cost of a kind of general confusion, a general going-haywire in my discourse; and on the other hand, all of my posts have to do with “fundamental ontology,” because ontos is always a question of ethos and praxis. In that sense, the tone of a thing tells us more than anything else what it is, for its tone is its ethic, its practice, its ontology, its rapport.

1 – “co-“

Fundamental to any adequate expression of ontology is the prefix “co-.” We can think what we will of Heidegger, but his philosophy in Being and Time registers a profound shift in our thinking of Being, precisely at the point where he discovers this: to be WITH is not a categorical but an existentiel of being-there. This means that the “with” is not “added on” to a being encased in itself, but that “being-with” [Mitsein] precedes or founds “being-there” [Dasein]. Simply put, to be oneself is eo ipso, precisely thereby, always already to be in-common. In a word, to be-there is already to be-with. But let’s be quick to emphasize that this does not determine anything about whatever being is in question. It is a statement regarding the structure of being-the-there as being-with. Whatever is there is with, with itself and/or with others, even in the absence of all relation (if that is possible), even in utter withdrawal (I’ll return to this).

Where Nancy comes in here is very precise. Heidegger, as we know, never developed his existential analytic into a co-existential analytic, he never developed this Mitsein to its full extent; and where he did return to it, it was always in the form of a “people” [Volk] endowed with destinal qualities, etc. For Heidegger, this would mean that every being is a unique expression of some With that transcends it, a race, a people. But in making this move, Heidegger mistakenly transfers the structure he uncovered (being-there exists in being-with) into a kind of communal substance that each being would then express. This is how Heidegger registers both facism and communism, the whole rupture of his age, an age that felt the demand of the “social” more than any other, but did not know how to think this social without the idea of a common Subject, Substance, Nation, or Group. But we shouldn’t give up on the coexistential analytic or a thinking of being-with because of the mistakes of Heidegger and his age.

While I can’t take much time with it here, Nancy both starts and takes his distance from here, when he first differentiates “common-being” from “being-in-common” (see The Inoperative Community). I can only emphasize that when he and I write “with,” and if I say each thing or being expresses “with” equally, this means that each thing expresses this common structure of being-with as being-in-common simply in its being-(the-)there. It never expresses a common-being, substance, essence, world, etc. There’s nothing behind it, and this “with” is “nothing at all,” “nothing in particular.” This is where we take leave of Leibniz if we take him to mean that each thing is one particular view point of the whole world, or of God. No, I couldn’t agree with Levi more here, because there is no “the world” that each thing expresses. In my view, however, the focus or locus of the matter is on this being-in-common of each thing, which does not take anything away from the fact that each thing is absolute (or withdrawn), but rather makes it so. Each thing is in-common insofar as each thing is “with,” but precisely to the extent that each thing is the origin of the whole world. This is the idea I will try to develop here.

What makes this so difficult to discuss is that this “being-with” does not negate the “ownness” of a thing, but in fact even makes it what it is. This coexistential analytic is only the next step in a long process of being withdrawing into the intimacy of “its own.” All of this talk of withdrawal in objects is not unconnected to the idea that the gods themselves have withdrawn. Furthermore, there is a certain type of theology that says it is only through withdrawal of the gods that something like “the world” or “existence” can begin in the first place. Christianity mobilizes this most radically in the notion of kenosis: God’s absolute withdrawal totally empties Him of absolutely everything; and this emptying-out-of-God literally “is”… “the world.” We won’t get into that, but simply note that the emergence of the “subject” is tied to this withdrawal (and also note in passing: there is a historicity to this emergence). At the heart of any “ownmost” we discover the structure of being-with. The point applies most readily to what we call the subject, ego, or self, but it applies likewise to any object. It is a question of the structure of that ownness, or how ownness is not an egoity but rather a hidden intimacy that draws the thing deeper into itself than it imagined it could go. Object-oriented ontology says: object are withdrawn. The question for me simply has to do with the “with” in this “withdrawn.”

This would be the heart of the differend, perhaps: For me, everything is “related” because we all share this common structure of being-related-to, even if this just means being-related-to-myself. Because we are all there, we are all also with something else, even if that something else is myself! Not “related” in some scheme of interconnection, not “forged together” in some purposeful collaboration between humans and/or nonhumans, but simply being-related-there by dint of the fact that being-there is structured (“internally,” if you want) as being-with — as being-with-its-(other-)self (withdrawn, subtracted, split, divided, etc.). This is a “with” that cannot be destroyed, since its always literally there wherever any being is. The implications are deep (ontologically and politically), because it is only by dint of sharing this common structure (which says nothing about “what” we share but only that we share this structure “in that we are there”…) that we can speak for ourselves as “us,” the only reason we can have a discourse like OOO to begin with, which aims to speak for neutrinos, airplanes, etc. In other words, for me and Levi and OOO general, what’s at stake is this commonly-shared-structure of being. Theoretically, my only stated aim is to inject Nancy and my understanding of him into this discussion and to suggest that others do the same.

2 – “world”

Now to move on to the question of “the” world more specifically. When I say “Right now, I’m in the world, sharing in the world’s coming, etc.,” I’m not saying anything radical. When taken theoretically, however, it’s easy to read that “in the world” as if I meant “in this big container called the universe/world.” I do not mean that. I mean that I am in a place where beings and things touch and depart, come close and separate, obviously without ever making a unity but always doing so commonly, in-common. I am in a place that we all share (even the inanimate, the distant, the dead). As for what “sharing” means, French comes much closer with the verb partager which means “to share,” “to distribute,” but also “to part” or “partition,” or “to set apart.” So when I say that I’m sharing the world with everything and everyone else in the world, I don’t mean that we make “one” or that there are fixed borders, not at all, but that the part of the world apportioned to me is not for all that just a “part.” It is (for me and for each thing) “the whole thing,” “the whole deal,” “the whole world,” each time. But this each time happens in-common. This “it is absolutely there” of each being or thing is what we all share in-common. Strange way to say it, but it is as if each thing is “a part apart” without for all that being “apart,” since each thing nevertheless shares this common structure of with, and so shares in the common coming of (the) “world(s).”

In being “a” world unto itself, each thing or being is “the whole world.” Worlding is what each being does, but not as if it were acting out some essentially or forging relationships. Again, this is not Leibniz insofar as there is not some Something preceding “things themselves” that each thing then expresses. No, it means that each thing is an origin of the whole world, infinitely withdrawn from “the” world and yet in it — but only in it because making it or making it up, as its “one and only” origin, each time. (Strangely enough, it is as if each thing, just by being-itself-there, expressed the Christian motif of “being in the world but not of the world”; again, we have to set this aside for now.) There is only world insofar as everything in it withdraws from it, is subtracted from it, and yet subtracts itself from it “in” it. In this sense, I’m in total agreement with Levi: “the” world is what never takes place and never could take place. If it did, it would simply be another totalizing or transcendent God, Subject, or Nation, fully interpellating its subjects and all things, etc. Levi and I are in total agreement contra any omnipotent common-being of this sort. As I see it, “the” world is only the taking-place of this plurality of origins/worlds/things, and this “that it all takes place”… never itself takes place. “The” world is mediately/immediately a plural articulation of worlds, with no common denominator save for the “fact” that they “are.” But this facticity, this “are,” means “with,” “are-with.” And so the thought of “the world” is even more demanding, the question of the creation of the world no less enigmatic.

So if I continue to speak of “the” world, it is to address the non-totalizable rather than to define a totality. When I address the world (you, anything), I address it from one outside the world (“me”) to another outside of the world (“you”). Clearly the world is not a container for us outsides, no more than a casket can contain a person. Here, world = spacing, dispersal, deposition. Here, every “thing” is not only withdrawn, but in its withdrawal it is itself an absolute origin of the world. There would be no “the” world that mediates all these origins; but neither would “world” be something added on to “things.” Each thing or being is the origin of the world and thus not related “secondarily.” Worlds don’t come secondary: we might say they are existentiels of objects, not categoricals. This is what we all have “in-common”: we are all equally absolute and priceless origins of the world, so absolute and priceless that the world we seem to take place in never, itself, takes place.

All of these disparate (or disappearing) worlds/things/origins share in the coming of the world, or in the becoming-world of the world (yes, whatever this means, our world). Each outside of the world (each entity, being) divides the world from itself in coming. They each partition the world infinitely, making it a world that is “definitively” there in being not-all, in always being to-come and in never stopping with coming. The very facticity of the “that it is there” of anything whatsoever is its absolute “relationality” (on the one hand, because where there is one thing, there are always many other things also; and on the other, because even when utterly withdrawn and in the absence of all external relations, I am still “with myself”). There is no thing that is not with other things, no world that isn’t exposed to other worlds, exposed as an origin of the world, in-common. This doesn’t mean that relations precede or succeed relata, that interconnectivity precedes or succeeds things, but rather that no matter what, each “relata” instantiates relation as such, each thing instantiates the/a whole world, each time for the first time. We’re all in the same boat in doing this, and we are all singular-plural origins of the world. We “relate” qua our subtraction-from-the-world, which we are (in the verbal sense); and nevertheless this subtraction makes a world, makes it come.

3 – “with-drawn”

In that sense, the question, “Which comes first, being or relating?” can no longer hold up. To be is to relate-to, even if this means to withdraw-utterly-from. There’s no mandate or obligation on relating, but neither is there any escaping it, since to go into exile (or die) is also to relate, even if it means to relate-away. In withdrawing, the “with” is still drawn to it, even if it is drawn to it in drawing away. If I stopped responding, if I turned off my blog, shut off my G+, Facebook, Twitter, and e-mail, this would sever countless relations. But I’d still be relating nonetheless, relating in being absent. Admittedly, some would miss me more than others; but missing isn’t a relation? and what about those who only stumble upon these words years later? If I stopped editing this post, or if you stopped reading it, that’s still relating. I don’t see anyway that anyone can jump out of being-with anymore than one could jump out of being-there. I am (or each instant is) a unique origin of the world in being totally withdrawn from every world (or in being totally withdrawn from every spatio-temporal matrix). To stop reading here changes nothing about the ontological composition of the world. Withdrawal cannot help but open up the world ever more, opening it up to the “outside of the world.” To exist is to go into exile, so go, if you must. From time to time, perhaps instantly, it demands that we stop articulating this ontology, despite the fact, or even knowing that, wherever we go, we are articulating it — with, with-drawn.

Even stranger: I can only “stop” insofar as I’m represented to others or to myself. Death itself only happens in representation, because no one can ever take away the origin of the world that I am. This is a bit like Graham Harmon saying that even when a cotton ball is devoured by flames, the fire only touches the flammable part. Thus even in utter obliviation and death, the fact that “I” am an origin of the world cannot be taken away. And insofar as I am an origin of the world to the very extent that I’m withdrawn from the world, “death” would only seal up the enigmatic nature of me-as-origin even more. Therefore, I am totally unafraid: death has been conquered, vanquished, resurrected insofar as the origin that I am cannot be erased, because it never existed anywhere save in my withdrawal from the world and all things. Paradox of all paradoxes: withdrawal is genesis! 

I am immortal (escaping whatever spatio-temporal matrix) because no one can take away the fact that I am being: “subtracted” (Badiou), “withdrawn” (Heidegger), “inscribed” (Derrida), “exscribed” (Nancy). The uniqueness of “me” is this “immortal” origin. Personally, I am indebted to OOO for bringing to light the fact that what I say here about “me” also applies to any and all things (but trust me, OOOer’s, this is also in Nancy); and that’s all I have been developing here, despite the difficulty I am having. From this perspective, OOO is a discourse about the immortality of objects, or the material immortality in or of all things. Whether or not you jive with that lingo matters little. For all of us, I think it is a matter of giving the respect due to each thing, as it is, before it gets caught up in any “worldly” scheme, including space and time itself.

Immortal: each sentence exscribes a body or a thought that can’t be represented; each paragraph tries to get at what cannot be gotten at; each book reaches toward a common sense of being that cannot be represented but only sensed in the trust of the exasperated thought; our world like an instant of writing such that the writings vanish into cyberspace despite the instants’ going-nowhere; nothing can be represented, the instant is absolute, endless in its never-having-started; for there is only meaning in the sharing of this unshareable, this common ontology; the only meaning of all our words in being-sharing-being, where sharing meaning always shares the fact that each thing or being is co-essential in co-existing, or even in being “coexistence” itself, existing the very “co-” it is; co-origination of meaning, things, and world. –Stress, coffee, backlash, epiphany; origin and/in disappearance; sense, non-sense, absence; laughter, love, loss, separation… isn’t it all there? there in this enigmatic world from which nothing can ever be erased, insofar as it wouldn’t be there as it is without us and what we’re bringing to it, constantly, as inexchangeable origins of this, this world always coming/never coming?

Clearly, there is no outside of the world. Industrialized, technologized, computerized, globalized, increasingly we know that we all share this world, without back-worlds, without afterlife-worlds, etc. And yet in another sense, every thing, every being, is outside the world, removed from it. And absolutely so: to the point that I am withdrawn even from myself, withdrawn from my age, my looks, my words, from everything, withdrawn into the inaccessible origin that I am. Inaccessibly immortal. And that each thing is: the outside of the world that makes the world itself come, without any unified border, without any finality, without any accomplishment in meaning or destiny, but being itself the spacing and spacing-out of all things, and thus never even “being” itself. This is why the world, when we feel it, or when we sense it, is pure gift, gratuity, excess, grace. The feeling of being going far beyond itself, yet going there with itself, subtracting itself from the orders of the world, meaning, sense, perhaps even from being itself…

Let me come to a close with these final remarks and leave this disorderly text as it is, surrendered to your careful or careless reading, in any case, it won’t matter much, since everything about being-with exhausts us, even as it renders us such fine joys. Levi mentions the homeless and other entities that “do not share a world with other entities at all,” by which he means that there are no relations between those entities (homeless people) and the world they could be related to and share (their locale, their city, etc.). But isn’t it true that they are nevertheless in that world? Isn’t it true that they’re excluded from the world only from the viewpoint of the world that excludes them? Isn’t it true that from their point of view, they are still in “the” world, still “in relation” to it, even in the absence of any relation and despite the world’s utter indifference to them? And don’t they talk more than anyone about about how terrible the world is, about how cruel the world is, and about the end of the world as such? Don’t they know “the world” in all its callousness better than anyone?

So, Levi, the crux of our disputatio seems to be that, for you, where there is an absence of relations, there is no world, whereas for me, even where there is no relation at all there is sharing, there is an in-common, even if it is cruel and dispassionate, if only because everything, no matter what, is an equal origin of the world, and “the world” only means the common exposure of origin to origin, world to world, inside and out — not a mediator, but the mediation (with) and dispersal (withdrawal), always juxtaposing, always altered. Both of us want to do justice to the excluded entity, whether they be homeless people or endangered sharks, this is sure. My claim is simply that the biggest reason for this is because each person, each thing, is an absolute origin of the world. Hopefully my remarks have made some sense to you, and that they will sink in despite their admittedly unmanageable length. I am finally publishing a text having to do with OOO, and for me, that is something. Cheers my friend.

Addendum: Although I have drawn, always tangentially, from Jean-Luc Nancy’s work, I would hope that my readers extend him the courtesy of attributing every idea expressed here to me and my articulation of the truth, and not to his. It would kill me if, in reading a response, someone used it to make a statement like “Nancy thinks that…”, etc. For both of us, to read is a matter of experience, not a matter of truth-claims, and my articulation is nowhere near to Nancy’s on many levels, stylistically and substantively. And furthermore, without spending some time immersed in someone’s tone, it’s impossible to converse with them on any relevant level, that is, on any level beyond the merely representational (which amounts to heresay). Those interested in Nancy’s texts on ontology and the world would do best to reference Being Singular Plural, The Sense of the World, and The Creation of the World; or Globalization, and definitely in that order, unless you’re interested in starting at the very beginning with The Inoperative Community on the topic of common-being vs. being-in-common.

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21 Responses to Common ontology

  1. Jake Riley says:


    I have been following you and Levi for a bit now and am in awe at the level of philosophical sophistication displayed on both your blogs. I’ve been going back and forth between your post and the post of Levi’s you are responding to and trying to figure out the difference. I think that Levi’s understanding of you thinking the world “as a container” was a bit reductive given the fact that Heidegger and those who follow in his footsteps (Nancy as one of them, at least the way I have read him) have already thought through the world as something other than a spatio-temporal container that we dwell in, even if for Heidegger the development of a world is limited to Dasein and, to some extent to animals (who are “poor in world”) rather than “objects’ and ‘things’.

    In this sense, I think your articulation of the world as always a “becoming-world,” (never arriving at some sort of unified whole or anything like that) was a good way of putting it. I think the disagreement here lies in the amount of ‘worlds’. Levi writes,

    ” a world is nothing but a network of relations between structurally coupled entities. These relations take work to be maintained (they always threaten to fall apart; and this can be a good thing) and they take time to happen and be forged.”

    From what I can gather, this implies that there are several “worlds” taking place at any given moment and in many different places and times,as Levi claims that “The universe (and already we’re speaking poorly with the definite article) is a pluriverse. And each verse or universe is oasis, a network of relations, discontinuous with other verses, universes of worlds.”

    When you write, ” But isn’t it true that they are nevertheless in that world? Isn’t it true that they’re excluded from the world only from the viewpoint of the world that excludes them?” I think that you point to the problem of calling the homeless, the immigrant “dim objects.” They are only ‘dim objects’ from the perspective of ‘the world’ (what world? whose world? the perspective of the privileged? and just who does that include?) that excludes them; for them, they see themselves as (a)part of ‘the world’ from their own ‘origin’ of THE world, as you put it. These ‘dim objects’ may see themselves as excluded from ‘the world’, but they are related to it and apart of it, withdrawn from it, but not to the point that they make up their own ‘world’ or ‘universe’.

    I’m not sure how well I’ve articulated this, and I hope that my comments are taken as an attempt to enter the conversation rather than as a critique against you or Levi, as I have seen people do, especially on Levi’s blog.

    • fragilekeys says:


      I think what you’ve written here is exactly correct, especially when you point out that the debate partially has to do with the ‘number’ of worlds. I agree with your characterization of Levi’s thought — there are always a multiplicity of worlds, and therefore there can never be one world or a “uni-verse.” This repudiation of the “one” is not unlinked with Levi’s atheism, which is not the same as my atheism (see my post Against Atheism, although it would need updating at this point); but it also has to do with our common beef with what might be called “transcendent unifiers,” which in Nancy’s case fall under the term “common-being.” What frightens Levi and OOO in general is that something big would “determine” or “impose itself” upon something smaller, i.e., the world dictating what objects or people are to do. It’s not only an ethical stance, however; it is also an ontological statement, namely, that we cannot impose our will upon objects without there being a remainer, a resistance, and so on. We share this sympathy, but for myself, I am not ready to give up on the notion of “the” world, “this” world, this “one and only” world, which is ours (and I mean all of ours, from the vegetable to the microscopic to the interstellar).

      And so coming at this by way of number seems inevitable and these are admittedly sticky problems. If the chair I’m sitting in is in relation to the floor, and to the air surrounding it, and to the pillows on top of it — for Levi, all these relations (including me currently sitting on it) make up the chair’s world. I simply have a hard time knowing where to draw the boundary. At what point is the chair not involved with the Milky Way? At what point does the chair’s world stop and the rest of the world begin? But so far as I can tell, this question can’t even make sense for Levi, since what is outside the chair’s world is not “the rest of the world” but… what? space? nothingness? It is as if everything, in having its own world of relations, were absolutely the only world whatsoever. Here I agree while also disagreeing, because each thing’s “only world whatsoever” is related to an outside of that world — the rest of the world. If for him there are only a multiplicity of worlds, then I might say that “the world” is outside that all these multiple worlds share. We have to say strange things like: every thing is (the or an) outside of the world, but also “in” the world, and these multiple-outsides of the world let the world be “the” world in the first place. This is why “the” world is but the spacing of multiple worlds; and it is why it never comes, even as it is always coming (ejecting, dispersing, zipping by, etc.). Perhaps we could say the world is the common “outside”: everything is outside of it, but every “outside of it” is inside it…

      In both of our thinking, so far as I can see, there is a recognition that each being “has” its own world and web of relations, and this web is absolute in the sense that it is singular and unique to that specific being, whatever it is (however, see below). The difference lies in the “extent” of this relating. For Levi, to relate means to relate materially, and through a medium of some sort. I’m not sure his term for it, but I believe that for him “relate” means something like “prehend” or “apprehend.” It really does mean to forge a connection of some sort. When I’m talking about relation, I’m talking about a “relating-to” prior to any “relationship,” which seems impossible if relating is something that happens or has to happen. In that sense, “being-with” or “be-ing” does not happen, it is. In other words, things can be and are related to one another, even if they establish no relations together.

      (Perhaps we should return to Wittgenstein’s remark that, “The limits of my language mean the limits of my world” (5.6) [this insight can be extended to anything; perhaps this is what Levi ultimately says when he says that a world is the extent of a being’s relationships], but also, “‘The sense of the world must lie outside the world’ (6.41) [and here we immediately enter the territory of a being’s being-with “its own” outside, which is the “rest” of the world]. We also have to push Wittgenstein’s, “Whereof one cannot speak [the outside of the world? the world itself?], one must stay silent.” Paradoxically, we have to do so for there to be the world, or rather, a world that makes sense, in the first place. This is why Nancy says, I think in Corpus, “Whereof we cannot speak, there of we must not stop speaking,” and all of his work in Adoration is geared toward the idea of “opening” or “addressing” the outside of the world in the world.)

      So I actually only agree to a certain extent with Levi that there are “multiple worlds,” and I would even insist that there really is a “the” world. But crucial to this remark are two basic ideas: (1) that the world of every being is the whole world, both because it takes place outside of the world and because this outside takes place “in” the world as the worlds very outside, absolutely; and (2) that the world, as any world, “contains” — implies, insists upon, withholds, opens up…. IS… “its own” outside. (This is the strangeness of the syntax of being-with.) The outside of the chair’s world is in relation to the chair as its own outside. It’s no different for me, even if I can recognize that the sense of the world lies outside “the” (= “my”) world. Again it is a question of propriety, and ultimately the distinction between being and having.

      I believe that in the long run the shift that takes place, perhaps in the 19th or 20th century, or perhaps at the very dawn of “civilization” as we know it (i.e., the civilization of reason and (a)theism, of the exposure of man to man and of man to all beings, the civilization linked to what Nancy calls the deconstruction of Christianity)– I believe in the long run the transition goes from being-as-having-being to being-as-being-being. Kafka and Celan were so insistent upon this point: being does not have its being, it is not “itself.” Being “does itself” as “its own” outside. And this own outside is “the whole world,” just as each being “is also” the outside of the whole world. And if you’ll forgive me for jumping so fast, I believe that it is this vision of relation in the cosmos that leads us to the “Christian” commandment of love: love thy neighbor as thyself, because you are other than thyself already. Or: be the relation to the outside of yourself, which you are; be the “outside of the world in the world,” relating-to-the-outside with respect to every being you encounter, and do so by valuing each of these beings as absolutely outside the world just like you. Just as you are absolutely outside yourself. Christian or not, Nancy calls this the general mutation which gives rise to civilization in all the ugliness of its exposure in the first place. And the name of the transition runs from “observation” (of idols, gods, etc., but also of having, property, propriety, etc.) to “rapport” (world of the with, being as being-between, being-beside, being-to — being as being being)– from “having” to “relating.”

      Let’s leave it there for now, as I know I’ve complicated this post quite a bit by now (the concept or _____ of the “outside” has imposed itself on our thoughts). You make it sound like you are a reader of Nancy, which is good to hear! But while I say there aren’t enough of us, I am also hesitant to reference his ideas because of how we tend to treat ideas in general. In a way, it is a crime, to say anything about someone’s ideas without spending countless hours with them; but we are impatient creatures, I suppose. I’m curious what you’ve read. For these questions, “The Sense of the World” is most determinative. It arrives in 1993, and within a few years he will write “Being Singular Plural” and his first text on “The Deconstruction of Christianity” (this phrase first shows up, to my knowledge, in “The sense of the world”). The contemporaneity of these texts isn’t to be overlooked — even if all of Nancy’s works (even if all of his sentences, fragments, etc.) shine with a singularity all their own. The reason for this would be their insistent relationship to “their own” outside; i.e., their insistence on relating to the world, even if from the outside of the world — and so always relating to the outside of the outside of the world, which is what “I” am! And also what each being would be. This is why each thing is interchangeable, absolutely precious and priceless (cf. caritas, the need for charity). You will also enjoy “Adoration,” forthcoming, and ultimately this book will be a grand clarifying “final note” on Nancy’s corpus (although I certainly hope he is healthy enough to keep working toward a volume 3– but one never knows).

      Thanks again for the comment. I will check out your blog in the future. Best,

  2. Pingback: Being-With « Larval Subjects .

  3. Will says:

    Yes one of the great things about Nancy IMHO is that he he thinks withdrawal other than that of a strategy of protection (a la Derrida’s critique of Heidegger analysis of technology), Though as you mention the syntax which comes from it is hard to swallow which is perhaps regrettable and limits its use when not playing at home.


    • fragilekeys says:


      To be honest, you have not said nearly enough for me to make any sense of your comment. Please, for everyone’s sake, don’t ever rely on people knowing what you are talking about. This ties in to your comment about “playing at home,” and here, where I think I do understand what you are trying to say, I totally disagree with you (see below). When we write or share ideas we need to do so in a way that develops them and, above all, re-presents them so that whoever reads our comment will not just read that “we agree” (who cares? I guarantee I don’t) but will instead read the idea itself– and even more than that, will read how the idea bleeds into life, and must bleed into ones life of necessity. Otherwise, we are wasting our breath, if not being lazy as such. There is no idea in what you’ve commented here. I’m not trying to be rude or insult you; but this blog is a space for thinking, not agreeing.

      Secondly, the syntax used to express being-with does not get easier over time. Your comment seems to imply that there is some “getting used to it,” or that reading Nancy or whoever somehow initiates us in to understanding this syntax. But it is “hard to swallow” because there is no content, no meaning, no signification given to understand through this expression. Furthermore, the ontology is not separate from what is. In that sense, to express it (or to agree with a certain expression of it) is totally superfluous. As Nancy’s initial quote on this post says, the “with” is the address, not what must be addressed. But at any rate, I guarantee that you and I are not playing on any kind of home turf together, since I share home turf with no one, not with Jean-Luc, and to be quite honest, not even with myself. Until you have brought yourself in your studies to this kind of location, I doubt that the idea of “being-with” has really bled in. Lastly, there is nothing regrettable about the difficulty of syntax, and I do not think that difficult syntax (or challenging thinking!) “limit its use.” In the first place, there is no use to put it to, certainly not toward the end of agreement or understanding (it is the address, not what must be addressed); and in the second, the syntax is difficult of necessity, and it is only with bearing with the difficult that we get a sense for what is at stake with being-with.

      I hope you will take my comments in a spirit of friendship and challenge. In my own personal intellectual life, I have little tolerance for offhand comments, for shorthand notes, or for sloppy treatments. I am not accusing you of these things based on your two sentences, but I am asking for a bit more serious engagement if you choose to comment here again. Otherwise, I’m left writing notes like these, which are clearly ‘unfair’ insofar as your note was so brief. However, being-with is a praxis in thinking and communication far before it is something to be understood, and this alone I take seriously. We must do justice to the difficulty, not jovially believe we have mastered it. Very truly I tell you, the minute one thinks he has mastered something, the minute he can be sure he has not grasped anything about it at all. And I would add that this holds, above all, to the question of being-with.


  4. Will says:


    I do not take it to be contentious to make a point that familiarity with a persons work makes it easier to contextualize and understand their intent. In the body of your post do you not assume it to some degree when you touch upon topics in Nancy’s only to move on? To me, you are over emphasizing the dis-connectivity angle to all of this which risks, bizarrely, privileging the opposite in a kind of enantiodromia. After all Nancy is a thinker of immanence and our singular outsiderness shares a common plane.

    Perhaps you think I bear my disconnectedness lightly, but as you say “ideas bleed into life” but for me they do so without need of any self-consciousness on my side being a part of the “throwness” of it all. Though I grant in the absence of flesh and blood person in front of me is conducive to thinking out loud – so yes superfluous. Yet nevertheless as you say, with is the address not the content and you saw fit to respond the way you did.

    I could say more – but I am late for work! Of course being your blog and all, if I choose to participate in future I’ll try to keep in mind your expectations if I am to expect dialogue to take place.


    • fragilekeys says:


      Your points are all well taken, and thank you for taking mine well. Of course familiarity with an author helps. However, I admit to a kind of fear about that — fear of standing as a representative for another thinking. As I tried to make it clear in the Addendum, it bothers me when people base their notion of a source author on the writings of a secondary author; but to that very extent, I try my best never to be a secondary author, to but write as a source author on my own. That is why I rarely let anyone’s books sit before me when I write, because if it isn’t going to flow freely, or in the course of writing (not always, maybe never from consciousness, as you rightly point out), then I haven’t let it “bleed in to me” (or whatever metaphor you’d like to use).

      Second, I certainly don’t mean to censor what anyone feels needs to be shared here in response to anything I or anyone else says. I detected in your first message that you had spent time with these ideas, as much as I felt robbed of what you really might have said about them. It isn’t much I’d ask for, just that this ‘might have said’ get’s said to some extent, which your second message accomplishes. Curiosity and my hope of understanding what you were saying were the underlying motivation behind my message. Of course, I realize everyone has limited time in this world, and there are certainly many things more important than ‘saying’ all this. As you say, the address is there, and we are thrown into it — even if this doesn’t lessen the demand within us to make our own address.


  5. Will says:


    I think we uncrossed some wires there – good stuff. Some of the fear and trembling you spoke regarding representation of others I can relate to. How I try to work through this en-trepidation is to try and bear in mind that to follow someone is to in some sense anticipate that which you are following (the sending before the reception if you like). I picked this up from from Derrida somewhere and was recently underlined by Malabou in an interview. This alongside Deleuze’s idea of repetition as a productive difference, Zizek’s betrayal as a certain fidelity etc… made me somewhat more at ease. (You can link this in with what you said regarding greek-juedo-christain religion in which the trepidation regarding the ‘other’ symptomatic of the nebulous vengeful jewish god verses the Christian god of love, and Levi’s OOO as a return of the greek gods – put much too crudely).

    For example, I live in Wales which is a country bolted on the side of England which has its own language separate from that of English. However the Welsh language uptake is low but is enshrined in public law so that road signs, correspondence from the local government, ceremonies etc… must be in duel language. But in protecting the language in such a way it is enshrined as a dead language.

    Whilst I admire your openness and ability to have productive encounters from difference, I concede some points you concede some points etc… I do not think all encounters are productive, or rather fail and do not reach the status of encounter (encounter here used in the determinate sense rather than an openness or affirmation of the other – if you get my drift). Which brings me back on to the original topic.

    Levi work is interesting insofar as it is one response to a certain strain of continental thinking, which leads into a new direction which ultimately originates in a cherry picking/different reception of Kant. This particular reading/strawman making over-determines those who were influenced by Kant, Hegel, Husserl, Derrida etc… I find it deeply problematic.

    Further complication arises in that prior to Levi himself seeing the light of nature/realism he himself was the product of the very tradition he now criticises. Imagine a family fable if you will… Daddy too busy reading and writing books to fuck mother nature, so son gives her a good seeing too instead. I do not know how booked up you are on Freud/Lacan (their relationship to Derrida/Nancy itself problematic – but let us put that to the side for now) another name for this is Psychosis (not as in an ad hominem attack but as a formal structure of discourse understood in particular way by Lacan).

    Hope you are still with me. You mentioned earlier about the possibility of a third term mediating between to entities and its possible role for Levi’s OOO. This is what is explicitly excluded by OOO, as entities bump into each other “directly” (scare quotes!) and in the process “directly” (scare quotes again!) ‘translate’ (Levi’s word!) each other. It is for this reason Levi treats language/signs to be themselves objects or substantial (understood in the pejorative sense in the context of a critique of metaphysics of presence) ‘things’. This again is unique to the structure of psychosis as understood by Lacan, as result of father being unable to play the role of mediator between the mother /child dyad. Another symptom of psychosis is the predominance of imaginary relations (understood as a particular type of relations a la Lacan) of which Levi’s conception of multiple individualized worlds is an example.

    Earlier you somewhere mentioned about when a object starts and stops – a legitimate question in my view – however it is the baby that gets thrown out with the bath water (an English saying) with the rejection of empirical realism in favour of what is termed ‘ontological realism’ (which is btw IMHO a laughable redundant phrase/category).

    Apologies for Joycian-esq stream of consciousness and poor etiquette, if by some miracle you can make sense of it – GREAT! If not, or you wish me to clarify/expand on something I am happy to do so.



  6. Jake Riley says:

    Will (and Tim)

    I hope you don’t mind me interjecting into your conversation, but I have a couple questions/comments for you. Will, when you talk about a particular reception of Kant, are you speaking about the Speculative Realists claim that it’s Kant’s “Copernican Revolution” that is where we go all wrong? (This is Meillasoux’s contention, as I understand it, in After Finitude). The problem SR has with Kant is that it basically solidified that we would only talk about anything as it is “for us” (humans), ushering in the era of “Correlationism ” which seems to be a way to ignore rather than “work through” (to refer very cursorily to psychoanalytic rhetoric) the tradition. And is this what you find deeply problematic? May I ask why? (I find it problematic too, but Levi’s ability to argue his point and his insistence on his interlocutor’s ability to articulate an alternative position and play out its consequences, much like Tim’s insistence on your elaboration, makes me very reticent to challenge it from a position he may be able to dismiss as naive or as a typical objection that he has already refuted).

    In some sense, I see OOO (which, as Levi clarified for me, is a species of SR) as a reaction against this focus on the “subject” and “subjective” experience — and it IS a reaction. What I mean by this is that many phenomenological thinkers have tried to get away from traditional distinctive western metaphysical categories of subject/object, but most would agree that Husserl, Heidegger, and Sartre (for example) ultimately privilege “subjective” (lived) experience. So my question is always: why swing back to the “object” pole — even if the “object” is not understood as a traditional metaphysical object (instead the object is “withdrawn” — the primary metaphysical [?] claim in OOO). Why not use a different term, such as Latour’s “actant?” (and I know that Latour plays into OOO’s thinking). As a side note,

    I think your comment that “ontological realism” as a redundant term is revealing as well as when you note that Levi is part of the tradition he now critiques (but, as he has explained, he still finds in this tradition insights and does not, and cannot simply dismiss it — this is why I like him better than the Meillasoux – style SR, which doesn’t really engage with figures he dismisses as “correlationist” — at least in After Finitude).

    Levi is clearly interested in material relations (and might this be another way to frame what you call “imaginary relations?”). Material events must occur in order for something (object) to relate to another thing (object), regardless of what that “thing” is. What I find so powerful about Levi’s position is his ability to incorporate many other insights of other disciplines to support his ontology. He writes in a post in response to Tim (where he claims that Tim’s “being–with” is a ‘dogmatic claim’),

    “The price of this is incredibly high, requiring us to reject all sorts of things from other disciplines such as the points about time of travel and information theory with respect to relation I’ve been making”

    -So there’s an “empirical” and “material” aspect to Levi’s ontology, which is usually absent in the quasi-poetic philosophy of the phenomenologists (and those who follow in their tradition). Perhaps its this kind of hybridization of disciplines that you find problematic (a bricolage, if you like)? In that sense, it seems like Tim’s ontology (per Tim’s request, I will not say Nancy’s), is. . “flatter?” than even Levi’s? I mean to say that when Tim says there’s a being-with prior to any material relation, that means there is something (which is No-thing) that structures and conditions the possibility of relating to any other thing. Levi seems to be moving one step up in the ontological ladder and saying, it seems, that what grounds relations is not some kind of ontological a priori structure, but rather material mediations. Levi’s problem with phenomenology, at least the way I read him, is that phenomenology brackets this “world.” This is why Levi resorts frequently to empirical examples of “networks,” as in his example about his travel network to Amsterdam. Levi writes,

    “In this regard, there will be some entities that are brighter in a network than others because they will be more richly connected or related. Others will be all but invisible because there’s no set of linkages between them. In many of these instances relations could be occasioned, they’re just not occasioned at present. What interests me is the cartography of these places and relations, how they were formed, how they are structured, what paths exist in them, and where they diverge.”

    Again, we return to a rhetoric (and I do not use this to term pejoratively) to brightness/dimness and intensity. Does this relate to an object’s (which, I think in this case, could be considered one of the “nodes” in the network) withdrawnness? That is, all objects are withdrawn to some extent, but are their degrees of withdrawnness? — and if so, does that depend on how we define the “system” (here I am drawing on Levi’s use of Luhmann’s systems theory), which I think we could also say is the “network” of relations that ARE occasioned rather than the ones that are not occasioned? If this is true, though, doesn’t dimness and brightness depend on the position of the observer? Am I too stuck on epistemological questions here and not enough on “ontological”?

    I apologize for the wide ranging questions here that probably should be fielded on Levi’s blog rather than here, but the occasion for the response came from a couple things Will said, so I figured I’d respond here. I hope my comments are taken in the spirit of “thinking” rather than agreeing — or “defending.” I also don’t claim to speak for Levi — these are just some of my observations given reading his recent posts.



    • fragilekeys says:


      I think you are correct that OOO is a reaction against the “subject” and “subjective” experience. But being reactionary like this often seems to lead to readings of the tradition that I find rather boring and reductionist. For example, Harmon’s reading of Heidegger: everything comes down to tool-being, and there is no mention of his thinking on freedom, on the essence of reason, on language, on the decision for existence, etc. Can we really dismiss all that and think we’ve dealt with “Heidegger”? That’s why Nancy and Derrida are simply much more interesting to read (i.e., much less given to “understanding,” much more difficult!). One will say that these topics are “too human,” that we need to get beyond all of that, but here I would make two points: (1) reason, freedom, and language, are not just human problems, and since time immemorial, they have involved all the pebbles in the world too; (2) “human” itself has never been a non-problematic designation, and to the extent that OOO is atheist and rejects human-divine cohabitation (in body or in world), it makes this designation something easy to poke fun at, etc. And if you don’t like to hear it put that way, just remember that for Kant himself, reason had to hold itself to the “unconditioned” in order to be reason. In other words, a reason that didn’t hold itself to the “outside of the world in the world”… was simply more hot air, more discourse. For an address to resonate in the world, it has always had to resonate with the whole world and with its exterior. So I’m not sold on the idea that just because I’m explicitly talking about non-human things I’ve actually overcome the “subjective paradigm” (whatever that is!). Remember, to do so, one is still talking, one is still theorizing, one is still presenting ones theories to a language-speaking public, one is still relying on reason, etc. So for me, it really is a question of address — of ontology, of ethics, of rapport, etc.

      In other words, overcoming the self-enclosure called “the human” or “humanity” has been a problem for philosophy and for “us” since time immemorial. One can be as atheist as one likes, but when one then “throws the baby out with the bathwater,” we really miss what’s truly at stake with spirituality or religious passion, which I believe ultimately amounts to self-transcendence on as many levels as possible. I imagine some will read intentions into these words that I don’t really have– so be it. In any case, if OOO really wants to address this kind of human-transcendence (and who, after all, would this apply to?), it’s going to need to do more than forge a network or bricolage of theories. Also: for a theoretical paradigm that speaks so highly of getting beyond signification, representation, etc., I’ve found they are awfully reliant on these. It’s a “do as I say, not as I do” type of thing, so far as I can see. This is not to fault anyone, but just to say that ‘getting beyond representation’ is not as easy as saying one has done so (same goes for getting beyond ‘subjectivity’).

      As for the recent conversation between Levi and me, it has shown me that we are largely on different tracts when it comes to ontology. I personally do not think that a network-oriented view of things or mapping out these relationships is all that revealing, or helpful. I don’t see its application or its interest very clearly. But I’m not someone who writes in view of being applied; I write to address the outside of the world, the outside of myself, and, sure, the outside of humanity. You can browse around this blog and get a taste for all that if you like, although the meat of what I’m doing is still churning elsewhere.

      The basic ontological point I have been making is that for there to even be relationships, beings have to be with other beings. But there is more to it than that: being is always being(s), even when it is just “one” being. Where there is “one,” there are many — inside and out. Beings are “with” (themselves/others, themselves as others, others as themselves…) inside and out. Yes, I am with all the things on my block before I forge any relationships with them, but I am also always already with myself (which means, “other” than myself). Note: this could be applied to the designation “human,” of course…

      I think this is the dimension Levi has missed in my argumentation so far. When I’m pushing to say that being = being-related-to, or being-beside, or simply being-to, I’m meaning this to apply inside and out. Something is related to itself before it is itself; and if it weren’t related to itself, it wouldn’t “be” at all. To “be” (active, verbal sense) is to “go-toward-another” or to “go-toward-the/my-inside/outside.” Again, here the categories of intimacy and extimacy get tied up, because to be “related to” myself means: to be related to the “outside” of myself within me, and also to be related to the “outside” of myself outside of me. Do you see how far I’m pushing this, how far it needs to be pushed? To be myself means to relate to my outside, which means to relate to the whole world, to relate to the outside of “humanity,” etc. (And of course this means: relating to any other, other people, other creatures, other things. Again, we only note in passing the commandment to love another as myself…) It means to be suspended in my tracks, thrown to my other-opposite side, so as to be myself. It is only in contact with or in being with this exterior (person, place, instant, thing…) that “I” come about in the first place. Following this line of thought, to rely on any kind of designation or any kind of necessity already overlooks the fact that simply for me to “be” requires this being-with-the-outside. In that sense, there is nothing to “do” with this ontology. The only thing it can do is bring “one” to a halt, in a kind of revelation that being = being-in-excess…

      What happens when we really touch on this excess or on this outside, instead of merely barking that we need to “get over ourselves”? But touching on this excess is what philosophy (mystics, poets, etc.) have always done. This touching-on-the-outside is not a theme in Nancy’s work, it’s what his work does, or even what it is. This would be his infinite interest for me– but what “him,” after all? We’re not talking about an entity that can be designated in a network of relations or signifiers; we’re talking about a “man,” a “be-ing,” who touched and touches upon this “outside of the world” in words — thus being “being-to.” It’s what puts us in touch with an outside-of-time, with the void where being is pure “to-be” before it “is” any one thing. The crazy thing is that this void is always with itself: it is never pure void. It is “void” not because it is less, in the direction of nothingness, but “void” because it is more, in the direction of excess and the outside. This is why Heidegger crosses out “Being” in his later work. “Being” is not simply “there”, because being is not what “is” in the static sense; but rather, there, being is what comes to be. To be there is to come to be, and it is to come to be there in-common. “The sense of the world”…

      I think following that line of thought you can see why I am pretty far away from OOO’s explicit concerns, even if I can at least sense how theirs are close to mine. But I see no need to get into their polemics. OOO and SR wants to be an academic phenomenon. Their writings are often specifically meant to “change things” or “change the orientation” that it finds in academia, and explicitly so. I honestly don’t think this is necessary and, at most, amounts to screaming against the wind; but that is their prerogative, not mine. In a word, OOO takes positions, but what I and my ilk are after is the exposure or ex-position of all positions. Hopefully you have noticed that whenever I get to describing my “position,” it takes me far outside of what came before. There’s no stability in what I write because there’s no stability in being. It doesn’t exist anywhere, because it can only ek-sist. “One” can only come to be.

      Thank you for asking your questions, Jake. I know I have not really answered your questions (maybe Will will do that), but instead given you my “general takeaway.” Hopefully it has been of help nevertheless.


      • Jake Riley says:


        This is great! You have articulated my own reservations about OOO and SR. One of the things i have always loved about Nancy (the little I’ve read of him — mostly Listening and some of Corpus), Derrida, Heidegger, Levinas, and to a certain extent, even Baudrillard is that concern with “style” over ‘position’. I think I get what you are saying that you don’t “apply” or “do” anything with such complex thinking or ontologies. On the contrary, most of the writing is something that spurs on more thinking and writing.

        The being-with-oneself I think is really interesting because it reminds me of a lot of the work of Derrida that I’ve read where he is talking about the death of the other in me, for instance, in a talk he gave on the occasion of Roland Barthes death. Rather than speaking “about” Barthes, Derrida addresses Barthes, but obviously not in the sense of Barthes immortal spirit or anything like that. There, Barthes is not a “thing,” or an “entity that can be designated in relationship of signifiers.”

        Anyway, sorry if this is a more “I agree” post, but your response helped me think through a few issues I’ve had with OOO (to a certain extent I was playing devil’s advocate in my last post).

        Perhaps I should put my cards on the table and say that I am working within an academic context not as a philosopher but as an English graduate student with a focus on rhetoric, theory, and new media. I just happen to have a background in continental philosophy, particularly phenomenology and its critics/heirs. SR/OOO seems to be the next big thing in this strange, hybrid, and not so well defined field, as Ian Bogost, Alex Reid, and Graham Harman become incorporated into the academic theory conversation.

        Thanks again for such a thoughtful response. I look forward to further discussions that focus more on the articulation of your own thinking. I find what I’ve read on this blog about (a)theology/God really fascinating and a significant challenge to an easy dismissal of religious language.



        • fragilekeys says:


          “Listening” is one of my favorite books by Nancy. The move from a phenomenological subject to a resonant subject (although of course it is difficult to give a sense to this movement) seems like the pinnacle “task” for us these days (again, a task in what sense? perhaps simply a task accomplished by listening). This insight has more generally to do with the movement from a paradigm of “sight” (theoria, where what is apprehended is apprehended at a distance, where clarity can be achieved without direct participation, or without being altered oneself) to a paradigm of “touch” (where what is apprehended is contacted in its glance/cut/separation, such that clarity is there in the obscurity of this touch that alters me). If you are interested in these questions as well as those having to do with “philosophical style,” you should definitely check out “The Sense of the World” (1993). I’ve come to it surprisingly late in my reading of Nancy (literally, last!), but now that I have, I view it as the foundation for just about everything that comes after it. It’s one of those “where is philosophy at?”-type books that seems indispensable, and it’s crazy it’s so little discussed (although maybe that’s a good thing).

          One final comment on OOO. While I’m apt to make the kind of criticisms I’ve made above, I want to make it clear that I think things really do come down to the original work that each specific thinker does. To that extent, Levi is by far the most interesting of them all, in my opinion. Part of our recent exchange has shown me that, in a sense, it isn’t really possible to have a conversation unless I make a greater effort to get on the terminological turf he sets up. For example, when we both use the word “relation,” we simply have different things in mind. In the future, I know I need to do a better job of meeting him there if I really want to participate — even if the “terminological endeavor” has certain problems, including that of access for outsiders (see my post Nontology if you are interested in more ideas I have in this area). Honestly, I’m humbled that he’s willing to engage with someone such as myself, and it definitely shows how he “puts into practice” his network-ontology and the imperative on forging relationships he espouses.

          In spite of whatever polemics come along the way, we are really engaged in thinking out loud together, all of us. Differences aside, this above all is what counts.


  7. Will says:

    Tim & Jake,

    I must confess to a warm fuzzy feeling arising from our conversation!

    I will show my hand as well in order to provide a bit of context to the way in which I have responded to issues & questions that have arisen thus far. Regarding academic verses non-academic angle I sit somewhere in the middle as I finished my post-graduate in International Relations last year and have since taken up a day job but hope to in some unspecified date in the future to do a PhD. To this end I have just submitted an abstracts for an academic conference in order to start building an ‘academic’ CV.

    In my undergraduate/post-graduate studies I was in a department that I would describe as a weird hybrid of empirical scepticism (think David Hume) and Critical Theory reacting to the dominance in IR of a certain theory that was the spawn of Kant. The broader picture being that they, if you like, responded to the Kantian legacy in one particular way, whereas my interest in Derria/Nancy lead me to respond to it in another. A typical response to my essays would be the curse of “A very interesting essay…” (code for WTF?) …but fails to engage with the question”. A by product of this, for me, is a burning desire for academic recognition in order for some self vindication i.e. “Fuck you, I do know what I am talking about, look these people recognize the value my work …” which would allow me to finally put to bed my own sense of crippling self doubt.

    The reason why I wanted to state this, was in order for you to be aware of the possibility of my critique of “Object Orientated X” as being a transference of the sum of anxiety that motivates my work and not to do with Oox per say. This must be a factor, though I do not personally believe it can be reduced tout court to my personal ‘issues’.

    One way to understand SR is the attempt to, in a similar manner to which Marx inverted Hegel, inverts Kant and puts him the right way up. Kant’s purpose of the first critique was the legitimate and illegitimate employments of reason, and in this sense it is he who was the ‘first’ to criticize correlationism. I detect a kind of Machiavellian manoeuvre in which phenomenology as part of the Kantian legacy erred from this original mission by posing that the critique of correlationism was itself a false problem – here we have philosophies of immanence of which Nancy is but one example. The Machiavellian manoeuvre is this; instead of stating this outright they instead attribute phenomenologies twist on Kant to KANT HIMSELF. So actually, it is not Kant that is inverted as such, but phenomenology.

    Why do I find it deeply problematic? Because through this inversion parts of phenomenology which ‘immanence philosophy ‘ themselves critique or move beyond is effaced. Example: Tim’s/Nancy’s ‘encounter’ with Levi/OOO, Levi is unable to respond to Tim’s outlining of how Nancy re-works Mitsein, the battle is essentially lost in advance because Levi is able to dismiss Tim’s position de jure. Oh despair.

    In Tim’s ‘exchange’ with Levi, the latter states something like “There are no sovereigns in my ontology”, which is fucking REDICULOUS as the sovereign is he himself – Levi! He ‘created’ OOO! So essentially you can not have a debate with Levi as he takes the position of Master making judicial statements without engagement. For more info this google something like “Lacan Masters discourse”.

    I will finish my response later…

    Cheers guys!


  8. Jake Riley says:


    I just ordered The Sense of the World through the Florida library network. Once I read it, I’ll write a blog post and maybe we can have a blog discussion about the text. I’m currently working on a paper for a seminar, but I should be able to get to it as summer comes closer. Listening really is a brilliant and, frankly, beautiful text — very poetic. On that poetry note, I will be looking at the post about Nontology and “poetic” ways of being.

    Again, as useless as this may be, I completely agree with you about Levi being the most interesting (to me at least) in the OOO/SR field and though I haven’t engaged with him in a “direct” manner yet on his blog, I probably will try to do so soon. I still have trouble with getting the terminology down, even though I’ve read parts of Democracy of Objects and several of his blog posts, but I think that its worthwhile to speak on those terms.


    This leads me to your comments. The “immanence philosophy” that you see Nancy as taking part, even as it critiques phenomenology, I think still uses phenomenological language. I’m not saying this is a defect, quite the contrary, since it is using phenomenological language against the grain (i.e. Nancy’s mit-sein is not Heidegger’s), but if it still works within that phenomenological language, I think that this is what Levi objects (pun intended?) to – or at least that’s what he seems to be saying when he talks about phenomenology “bracketing the world.” The “world” that is bracketed in phenomenology, so far as I understand it, is a whole slew of discourses and disciplines because it dwells in the language of phenomenology rather than trying to get out of it.

    But here, I am inclined to agree with Tim that this is not as easy as changing the rhetoric/language to talking about “objects.” You mention your reading of Derrida, and I think Derrida takes Kant’s challenge about the limits of reason very seriously in works like “Faith and Knowledge.”

    Jumping to another comment, I think you know this, but if I remember correctly, Levi draws on Lacan a lot and so I would be interested in knowing what he thinks about your claim that he claims for himself a sovereign position in his own “master discourse.”



    • fragilekeys says:

      Jake & Will,

      Levi discusses discourses in many places on his blog. Search for “discourse” or see this document Let’s not have a free-for-all, conjectural discussion here, especially not about someone who is not actively involved in the conversation. I’m not trying to censor the dialog, but I will object when it turns toward discussions of people and not ideas, since this is an utter waste of everyone’s time. Will especially, I think some of your slanders against OOO are a bit unfair and reductionist (not everything is a struggle with/against “daddy”), and you even admit to propping yourself up in contrast with OOO and SR (although I see the truth in many of your objections and certainly they are not ‘personal issues’ as you say)– let’s just not waste space here making a big display of it. The most effective critique is from within, not without, anyhow.


  9. Will says:


    Fair cop. I was lazy and crossed the line towards the latter part of my last reply in invoking Levi the person as opposed to articulating my point in an abstract manner. If I was behaving myself I would have introduced the distinction between subject of enunciation (the singular I who speaks) and the subject of the enunciated (the content of the speech), then I would have to have explained how for Zizek language effaces the singularity of the subject etc… Though I must protest my innocence regarding claims of conjecture, I’ve read extensively around the stuff I am talking about. Christ, I’ve followed Levi for 3+ years (in various degrees of intensity) as an example. I could be just plain wrong and have gotten the wrong end of the stick, we all must be sensitive to that possibility in our thinking – unless your thinking takes the form of masters discourse… My comments should be taken in the spirit they were given i.e. pointers as to the direction of my thinking on SR/OOx not as a presentation of my thought which would require a laborious fleshing out of the bones. If my paper gets excepted for the conference I will have to do that of course, and would probably re-start blogging again. Again I would emphasize that the aspects of Lacan/Zizek’s work that cover ‘Daddy issues’ is structural/formal in nature and refers to the role of the signifier and whether it can be reduced to correlationalism which is in keeping with the scope of the current debate. Further, OOO claims that it incorporates the work of Lacan/Zizek and speaks in terms not too disimular to than myself (though less sweary).

    I was also quite clear in my post that I consider SR to be working in a tradition of thought that is common to my position, so if it seems that I am propping myself up with SR it is because I am – but for the purposes of an immanent critique. If I feel all warm and gooey for you guys and hostility for SR/OOx it is not personal but merely that I am trying to clarify my position vis-à-vis SR/OOx. I concede that this is not necessarily the praxes you seek to emulate, and the style is not in keeping with Nancy who nevertheless continues to influence me. Deleuze had Hegel, Derrida was greedy and had both Foucault & Lacan, Lacan had ego psychology etc… I’m ‘using’ SR/OOx.


    Good questions. Nancy, Zizek, Malabou all working in the shadow of Derrida, a uniting theme across their responses to him is immanence as well as a return to Hegel. The stakes of this return to Hegel are quite high, he being the first phenomenologist if you like – and so, on my reading, flank OOO’s position. If OOO claims to incorporate for example, Zizek, it needs to deal with his return to Hegel in a way other than to say Zizek is a Lacanian, Lacan says X which is idealist, therefore Zizek is an idealist (See Levi’s reading of him in Democray of Objects). Especially since the stakes to the return to Hegel is to try to extract him from certain influencial readings which were dominate in the French scene post WWII and has cast a long shadow up until this day in continental philosophy. One way to characterise Zizek’s project is a re-interpretation of Lacan based on this ‘new’ Hegel.

    So yes, OOO may not like the way in which Husserl puts the world in parenthesis, and I may disagree on OOO take of this bracketing. All this is immaterial however and begs the question if the philosophies of immanence flank and escape OOO’s readings of these figures.

    On the question of the pun ‘objecting’ object, Levi touches on it in Democracy of Objects in relation to Zizek and not OOO per say. On my reading the choice ObjectOO was essentially a strategic one based upon an evaluation that the stock of phenomenology is overpriced and anthropocentric.

    One way to situate Derrida is that he undertakes a Husserlian reading of Heidegger. A key text of Derrida IMHO is his introduction to Origin of Geometry where he establishes the contours of his project and going forward he applied his project to different areas. This affinity for Husserl puts him in the Kant camp of Kant/Hegel divide, so yes I agree with your claim that Derrida takes the limits of reason seriously (in fact too seriously for some – hence his ill reception in some quarters!). However this is not to suggest that Hegel didn’t take the limits of reason seriously, he just conceives of them differently – hence the stakes involved in the return to Hegel.

    Levi’s constructing an ontology, by its very definition he is going to be occupying the position of master. I haven’t levelled these specific claims at Levi…yet, but thats because I would need to flesh out my position more if my claims are to be taken seriously – quite right too! OOO’s relationship to Lacan is a vexed and interesting question in its own right. Why it is so complicated is that Deleuze also figures in Levi’s reception of Lacan which informs OOO’s position whilst at the same time OOO re-interprets that which it draws from on the basis of OOO position. In Democracy of Objects he responds to Zizek’s project on the superficial similarity regarding a stance on split objects, I think that is misleading (I don’t think OOO’s objects are very split) and it is instead a working through of some of the issues pertaining to Lacan’s legacy. In context of Deleuze railing on Hegel, Zizek is Levi’s Hegel if you like.


  10. Will says:

    “In context of Deleuze railing on Hegel, Zizek is Levi’s Hegel if you like.”

    Sorry, that should have read “In context of Deleuze railing on Hegel through Lacan, Zizek is Levi’s Lacan if you like.”

  11. Pingback: Social Constructivism Again: What SR Means to Me « Larval Subjects .

  12. Jake Riley says:


    I’ve been reading The Sense of the World and would like to engage in a discussion with you about it. The issue is that I know you don’t like to try and speak “for” Nancy, or to pin down his position, but I tend to be a close reader/obsessive citation machine when it comes to these works rather than taking on the language immediately and theorizing-poeticizing-“praxising” (if you will) in my own right. I was wondering if you would be interested in looking at some of the passages and trying to make “sense” of some of Nancy’s articulations and claims.

    I say this, in part, because I was going to respond on Levi’s blog to your comment that, “to write one must dig behind the idea that words exist on some semiotic or purely significative level, and accord them the reality or thinghood that they actually deserve. If we don’t do that, we stay in the realm of ideas, meanings, significations,”

    For Nancy, at least in Sense of the World, he claims that “sense” is not the same as signification. I saw a connection between Nancy’s sense of sense and Levinas’ distinction between the Saying/said, except that by using “sense” Nancy emphasizes an interpretation of sense as sensation, body, and extension (which he gets into in Corpus, so far as I can remember). I guess I’m wondering if in this comment you are drawing on Nancy’s attempt to think “sense” which is something beyond (but not in a transcedent/transcendental sense) “signification?” I am curious if Nancy here is getting at the kind of “materialism” Levi has been writing toward in the last few posts, or if Nancy’s understanding of sense (which, I realize, has more senses than one) can help us to think outside of mere “signification” as reference or index.

    If you need to be be a lot clearer, I will do so in the morning. I thought I’d take a stab at it since all of this has saturated my mind all day.



    PS: I’m curious to see where the comments over at Levi’s blog will go, given your last few posts there. I feel like maybe Levi is reading some of Will’s comments/attitudes into your own (he seemed a bit peeved about the psychotic comment). Particularly since you write this ( to one of my previous comments):

    “Part of our recent exchange has shown me that, in a sense, it isn’t really possible to have a conversation unless I make a greater effort to get on the terminological turf he sets up. For example, when we both use the word “relation,” we simply have different things in mind. In the future, I know I need to do a better job of meeting him there if I really want to participate — even if the “terminological endeavor” has certain problems, including that of access for outsiders (see my post Nontology if you are interested in more ideas I have in this area). Honestly, I’m humbled that he’s willing to engage with someone such as myself, and it definitely shows how he “puts into practice” his network-ontology and the imperative on forging relationships he espouses.”

    • Jake,

      I would be happy to have a conversation about certain passages with you in more depth. Do you have G+? You can find me at Tim Lavenz, or just e-mail me at

      You are absolutely correct to point out that “sense” is quite different from signification. This is obviously the key question: how to make sense in discourse when sense exceeds significations by a factor of infinity? How to do justice to what “infinitely precedes consciousness and the signifying appropriation of sense, to that which precedes and surprises the phenomenon in the phenomenon itself”? All along, this is Nancy’s key concern. I believe you are right: it is analogous to Levi’s concerns about materialism. But all in all, Levi himself still sticks to a method of writing and thinking that attempts to appropriate things with significations. This is why he is forced to constantly defend his usage of terms, the “meaning” of materialism. I have given this quite a bit of thought, and it is not a slight against Levi, but it is clear to me that he is still very concerned with having a correct representation of things, of making his signifiers mean what he intends them to mean, and of defending certain positions and claims because of their significance, even if that significance is intended to turn itself toward things themselves and to do justice to the material. This could not be more opposed to the praxis of thought that Nancy calls us toward, because this praxis of thought will never be content on making or establishing or taking positions in any form. Nancy says quite clearly in his later work that taking positions is precisely what needs to be avoided if we are to assume responsibility for the excess of sense over significations, because no matter what the position itself is, it is still a position, it is still roped in to signification (the signifying appropriation of sense), even when that ‘position’ is manifestly ‘anti-signification’. Am I making sense? To explicitly denounce signification does not mean you’ve escaped it; you just woven an even tighter and more difficult knot within it. But signification denies itself; its a matter of entering the movement of this denial, the movement of sense’s resistance to any and all signification (any position, any truth-claim, any terminological attribution, etc.).

      Tied up with this is the one who appropriates in the first place, namely, the one who puts forth the theory or the signification. In order to take a position, there has to be someone there taking a position. To defend a theoretical term, there has to be some subject there to define and defend it and its consistency within the network of other terms (again, my post Nontology discusses this). This person can say whatever they like about ‘subjects,’ but ultimately, this kind of position-taking and term-defending requires the subject of vision to hold everything together. My approach holds that this subject of vision, the one who would take positions, make claims, and define terms, this ‘subject’ is always already exposed to the excess of sense, to the excess of the world. A praxis of thought that assumes responsibility for the excess of sense over signification can therefore only mean the constant ex-position of whatever position I might find myself in. It assumes responsibility for self-non-consistency, for how everything falls apart. As I said in my comment on Levi’s blog, “Any view that considered the relationship “forged for good” would quite simply be a forgery. For the relationship to be forged “for good,” this means forged continually. In other words, no transcendental signifier or system of meanings/ideas to hold either the group or the theory together. Frightening, but true: nothing holds together.” I myself, including whatever truth there is to my discourse, am suspended — “null and voided,” as my mother used to say. “A different gesture is necessary,” and perhaps this is why Levi recently felt like I was throwing mysterious jargon at him. I can only respond that, no, I am practicing thinking, trying to do justice to the excess of sense over whatever my words could “mean” — counter-acting myself, exposing myself to the excess over my intentions, to the excess over whatever signifying appropriation I might undertake. And obviously still do take: it’s not about denying signification, but about taking it to its absolute limits, where sense spills over it and undoes whatever conscious access I have to it, whatever intention I might assign.

      It is in this sense that ‘taking positions’ is absolutely barred to me. It not only means never speaking ‘for’ Nancy (what an absurdity!), but never speaking from a position of certitude about my own thinking. It means not making signifying/appropriative moves on any level, and especially not with regard to my “self.” It makes me a foreigner to my own thought, in a sense; but this is the painful excess (ABSENCE!) of sense to which I and all of us together bear witness. My self and my thinking are exposed to this sense and so exposed to the (sense of the) world. To do justice to this exposure is much more important than having the ‘correct’ position. I’m sure Levi and I are totally at variance on this point, but for me the insight runs too deep, and the need for vigilance is too strong to be “brief and to the point.” Who could I defend, what meaning could I defend, when I myself am nothing? This is a praxis of thinking that feels no need to defend a subject position within it (certainly not to defend my life, since truth itself passes the harshest judgment upon me), because its discourse is acknowledged-inconsistent, in excess of itself, “standing firm” in a position of absolute vulnerability and ex-position– an “unlearned knowing,” to speak like Laruelle.

      I wanted to key in, finally, on one word you used in your post. You said that, “all of this has saturated my mind all day.” That word “saturated” was so serendipitous, as I have recently been reading Jean-Luc Marion whose work centers around the idea of the “saturated phenomenon.” To be brief, there are three types of correspondence between our intuition of things and our concept of things: (1) perfect, where intuition and concept match, (2) weak, where our intuition falls helplessly short of the concept, and (3) saturated, where our intuition exceeds the concept. In the latter case, Marion’s concern, we are talking about phenomena that cannot be rendered objectively intelligible. There is no adequate concept for the intuition — there is no signifying appropriation possible in light of the thing’s actual sense. Although Marion and Nancy are following pretty different paths, they seem to meet up here where we recognize that no concept, no signification, will ever match up to the phenomena that exceeds (or surprises, suspends) phenomenality as such. By “exceeds phenomenality,” however, we mean something very precise. We don’t mean an erasure of the conditions of phenomenality (or of our experience of it); at issue are phenomena that bring those conditions to their limit point, where the limit itself is touched. Phenomenology, according to Marion, handicaps itself because it makes the double move (or double presupposing) of the constituting-I and the horizon of that I (whether as “world” (Husserl) or “Being” (Heidegger) or “ethics” (Levinas)). Marion wants to liberate phenomenology from these constraints of the “I” and the “horizon,” again, not by erasing them, but by saturating them, exposing them to the excess of the phenomenon in the phenomenon itself. (Perhaps some will see in this need for liberation a correlate in the need to overcome the human-world correlate. I for one find this debate over human-world access to be rather boring. To me, it is evidently and phenomenally obvious that this “correlate” is always already thwarted. There’s no need to insist on this when the fact of it already overtakes us, whether we like it or know it or not. It’s not a matter of “recognizing” anything, but of entering a movement, making a gesture different. Again, the irony is thick: humans opposing the human-world correlate, when it is in fact the world itself that has always and will always oppose them! Yet another ruse of ‘indication.’)

      For Marion, the saturated phenomena is precisely that thing (or nothing? non-thing? sense?) that brings us in touch with the limits of our own sensing. The intentional aim finds itself rebuked by an ungraspable object or by the ungraspability of the object, or of objects in general. “Intention” or “intentional aim” is disqualified by this “intuitive excess.” This means that whatever intention is irrevocably and infinitely altered. Every concept becomes saturated by intuition, and every signification is fulfilled by something other than the intended one. This leads, in part, to disappointment, because our concepts themselves become unidentifable, insofar as they can no longer be what we intend them to be, for their signification has now entered into a flux of sense that precedes and exceeds consciousness and the “signifying appropriation.” Furthermore, there is pain: the saturated phenomena is always “almost too much,” or it really is “too much.” It is an ordeal of excess; but we resist this excess (ABSENCE!) of sense at our own peril. Excess itself asks: will you receive me? will you enter in to my loving movement? It inspires respect, and fear and trembling, in its withdrawal from the signifying appropriation of an “I” along a world-horizon, or even from the horizon of being as such. It can only mean a saturation of the I and what Marion calls a “counter-experience.”

      The excess of sense counter-acts the subject of sense at every turn, distrupting his significations, his terms, his intentions, and his discourse. But as with Nancy, we have to be responsible to this excess, even if this “counter-experience” means exposure, vulnerability, and pain — and the crumbling of all meanings, concepts, words, networks of associations, theories. To combine the two, I’d say it is quite literally a matter of counter-sense, of vigilant counter-sensing. Ultimately, we are back at Augustine’s distinction between veritas lucens and veritas redarguens, between the truth that shines or demonstrates, and the truth that “remonstrates” or accuses. The latter holds us accountable to our relationship with this excess (ABSENCE!) of sense. For Levinas, this would translate as our relationship with the immemorial Other, with his face or with that face that is not ours, and yet makes us possible, constitutes us; for the issue has precisely to do with the move from a constituting-I to an I that is “constituted” (or “deconstituted” as Nancy would probably prefer to say) by what exceeds it infinitely– an I that is given or donated, as if we really only had ourselves on loan from the other, from elsewhere, from the “things themselves.” In this accounting, which we ourselves can never account for, we love truth so as to bear it and suffer for it. Unavoidably, this means merciless evidence against the one who suffers it, for he falls infinitely short of what it demands of him. He cannot handle the excess. It is the “light of truth” against all my foresight, counter-acting forever me who it affects. But in the end, this is what we are responsible for: substituting the love for excess for the evidence of disclosure.

      Make sure and contact me about discussing other passages in more depth, and thanks as always for your focused and astute listening.


  13. Pingback: Poetics of Resistance: Radical Politics in the Waning Years of Capitalism « Footnotes 2 Plato

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