Brief thoughts on Bryant’s Origami

I’ve had the chance to briefly return to Levi Bryant, since the final published version of his article “The Interior of Things: The Origami of Being” has just become available. In my previous post about it, I end up defending Graham Harman’s OOO from Bryant’s critique. But that addresses just half of Bryant’s article. In the other half, he defends his own origami metaphysics against the possible charge of undermining. This can be seen as part of a larger conversation started in The Speculative Turn, where Harman proposes his two well-known polemical notions of undermining and overmining (“On the Undermining of Objects”). Philosophies of pre-individual processes fall into the former camp. Bryant hopes to avoid undermining, and thus reach common ground with OOO through an alternative conception of the object. I doubt he really believes it, though. He puts “object” in scare quotes.

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The Bergson-Deleuze universe is not something I have much experience with, and Bryant’s work is clearly part of that tradition. The only reason I’m writing anything about it is because I think the article gives enough to go on. I don’t think you need to master its entire implied background. Still, I’ll keep it pretty short.

Concepts like “becoming” and “process” seem to present a clear choice. They call for either a unitary layer at the root of all things – a swirling energy, a wrinkly plane – or they presuppose a more or less coordinated dichotomy between matter and form. That is, they either undermine (at first) or duomine right off the bat. Bryant starts with the former, though in defending his ontology from the accusation of undermining, he turns to what we might call fuzzy overmining.

He claims that an “object” in his origami metaphysics does not reduce to its conditions:

In short, hurricanes as “objects” are not undermined by having antecedent conditions. Hurricanes…come into being from a broader field of existence, that create a unique dynamic fold or form of origami, and are beings that stand as their own individualities in coming into being.

But the hurricane need not reduce to its elements to be undermined. As Graham Harman often points out (and Bryant’s “neo-Aristotelian” charge gives Harman sharp teeth here), the pre-Socratics had TWO ways of undermining. One is a radix of a deeper element, such as atoms, which Bryant notes does not apply to origami metaphysics. The other kind of undermining is pre-individual unitary formlessness, recently associated with Jane Bennett’s vibrant materialism. This is what Bryant does, too. He claims that hurricanes participate in a single ontological substrate, a “field of existence” or “form of origami.” Origami is a useful metaphor here, since it is made from a single substance: take a look at that picture above.

Bryant’s explanation following this undermining move is to assert a mixture of continuity and singularity. For not only is the hurricane a fold of something beneath it, he writes, but it is also an “endo-structure” or individual thing in its own right. The source of its individuality is found in directly accessible patterning.

It is a local pattern within the plane of existence that differentiates itself from the broader plane of existence while nonetheless being continuous with or related to this plane.

He notes that the pattern does not withdraw at all. Any apparent withdrawal or excess is an illusion generated by our attempts to reify a constantly fluctuating but directly accessible set of differences. (Shades of the Adorno I’ve been reading…) Presumably, this is possible not just for humans but for all entities because they all participate in the same underlying fabric of reality. Once again, see that picture above.

So there are really two aspects to origami metaphysics. One is the unitary substrate, the field. The other is the constant metamorphosis of its crinkling shapes. If the existence of the hurricane falls back on an undermining plane, the essence of the hurricane is all flux (direct contact plus constant chaotic changes in motion). The risk of a duomining form/matter dialectic has now been translated into a duomining topology of fields and folds.

I might change my tune if I spend more serious time with Deleuze, who knows. But right now I think an origami metaphysics is fundamentally incompatible with an object-oriented conceptual framework, especially one that is so wary of over- and undermining.

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