“ …any relation must count as a substance. When two objects enter into a genuine relation, even if they do not permanently fuse together, they generate a reality that has all of the features that we require of an object. Through their mere relation, they create something that has not existed before, and which is truly one… Granted, a relation between two objects may last only a brief while. But the same is true of objects that are obviously substances, such as mayflies or the fleeting chemical elements of californium. Durability is not a requirement for objecthood, just as being part of nature or having an exceptionally tiny size is not.”
“Inspired and radical claims,” is how Levi at Larval Subjects recently described this passage from Graham Harman’s Guerrilla Metaphysics. I remember that while reading the book I found these claims particularly troubling. I was thinking about them again today (or I guess it’s yesterday by now) while I was out running.
I start out walking, one foot or the other constantly maintaining contact with the road. So this ongoing relation between feet and road is itself a substance, an object. Then I start to run. With each stride both feet temporarily leave the ground. Does this mean that, whereas walking constitutes a single object, running creates a new object every time one of my feet hits the road? Or does the act of running constitute an ongoing relation between feet and road even when the feet aren’t actually in contact with the road? Maybe running is an “objectile,” a process with object-like qualities and vice versa, a kind of two-stroke engine moving steadily across the surface even when both “pistons” are up in the air. Or maybe the substance of running includes feet, road surface, and a zone of air extending a few inches above the road surface, with which my feet never lose contact.
As I run I look at a pedestrian walking toward me on the other side of the street. Now I’ve established a relation between my eyes and that person: another new object comes into being! Then my attention is drawn to a tall pine tree: yet another new object! But what about the eyes-pedestrian relational object: it’s gone now, the connection having been severed by shifting my gaze to the evergreen. While looking at the tree I blink my eyes, then open them again. Though my brain maintained continuity of attention on that tree, assuring me that the tree’s existence persists even with my eyes momentarily closed, in fact I could not see the tree during the blink. So did the eyes-tree object extinguish itself with that blink, only to be replaced almost immediately by a nearly identical eyes-tree object?
It seemed to me in reading the book that Graham insists on this proliferation of temporary objects because he’s persuaded that two objects never come into direct relationship with each other. Relations between objects are indirect and vicarious. Relations within objects, however, are direct. In order for my foot to have a relationship with the road, then, a new merged foot-road object must come into being. As subcomponents of this new merged object, foot and road can enter into relations with one another inside the inner “plasm” of this merged temporary foot-road object.
Levi says that this proliferation of temporary merged objects brings a lot of clarity to some persistent conundrums confronting continental philosophy. Maybe so. I must say, though, that it seemed to me while running that my two feet were continually making intermittent, alternating, direct contact with the road. Well actually, the contact wasn’t quite direct: I always wear shoes when I run, intentionally preventing direct (and painful) contact of feet with road. Anyhow, that’s the impression I get while engaged in the activity. I suppose I could teach myself to realize that these impressions are mistaken, just as I’ve taught myself to realize that the sun isn’t really going around the earth even though it looks that way. I could also remind myself that each time I glance toward the sun during the day I’m creating a new temporary eyes-sun object, and when I look away I’m destroying that object. Kinda cool.