From subject to object. From the same (thing), the known (thing), to the something, the something else, the something different. From the same place to somewhere else; another place. Yet we do not know ourselves, do not know our own place - not least as thing - only as the point in the present from which we picture past and future. Do not know our casing, except as the house of (our)self. Home of memory, stored as language, and as images, sounds, all the imprints of the senses. So, if something else appears, something, someplace different, if the object is new, then we compare it to our stock of the past and apportion it a name according to the conservative rule of metaphor by which we recognise things (what is it like). And if the object has no self and we feel that it should, then we can project a self into the object as its most significant content, filling it as if with an-other to aid our understanding (genius loci, personification, prosopopoeia and other anthropomorphisms). From self to object; a subject thinks interiority where its only source of experience of interiority (its self) is invalid.
From subject to object. But not (yet) from us to others, or from I to (an)other. These categories are reserved for animate, thinking forms; thinking from subject to other is thinking from subject to subject - even if that other subjectivity is subsequently negated (as in the case of sadism or sacrifice).
Approaching the object. Approaching difference on a purely material level. Unless prejudged… nothing (no recognition, no object). Unless pre-judged (subject to a perception pre-formed and pre-forming): in which case we have only the eternal return of the same. The repetition of the prior (re)forming the same (‘the concept destroys the object’): (de)forming the other... Approaching absolute difference. In a way… If we can… If we could only forget the past (but then would there be anything at all; anything to experience at all, with only the pre-cultured senses of an infant - experience without recognition).
Yet should we not have begun with the object, as the physical perception of which (the matter of light rays, of vibrating air, of the molecules of scent, when not the pressure and texture of touch) is what matters here - matter that approaches us? Matter from outside that somehow impinges on our interior. Matter we have been taught to recognise (matter we remember). Or else something so gross, so invasive of our senses, as to be immediately perceived as a potential threat (a sudden loud noise, an overwhelming smell, the approach of something large, demanding a survival response, be it flight, the cry for help, or the bowing of the head that constitutes the birth of the sublime). Objects whose matter gets through (is converted into a signal matter, a matter of sign), are matters, are matter, that matter to us…
From object to subject… (Laying aside for a moment all empiricism as, like our other responses, our, apparently, more direct experiences, as this too is a matter of memory, of received knowledge offered at the moment of meeting - the ’thing’. But without which: no meeting). And so again… from subject to object).
No pure Object. Therefore all attempts at access end with the approach to the pure Object. The approach road of the pure object. The sacred path, the dromos, the tree-lined way to the temple or the funeral site, sites of worship, sites of containment (and again the approach to the object, as with the approaching object, is a path to the sublime, object of terror, object of salvation). The universe of the pure object, the pure alien, cold, foreign, black as absence, white as sterility, but always absent, a vacuum - which nature apocryphally abhors and in-so-doing fills, as it is in our nature to do, to fill with our nature, the contents of our human, or second, nature. The object: a vessel to fill; to fill up all and only with ourselves. Making the object. Making ‘it’ the same as all the others (inanimate others, objects) now decently clothed in familiar garb. Leaving far behind the distant horizon of the pure object: the impossible object. Consigned now to the past; consigned by the past, by memory – to a distant (if disturbing) echo. Something absolutely Other.
And of course the realm of the Object begins with our own bodies. Where fragile but persistent self-consciousness ceases. For it is our bodies that absorb perception and feed the (mediated) results to consciousness. ‘We do not know what a body can do’ (Spinoza). What would we not do obviate this terrifying admission? Ourselves as Other. Absolutely Other to ourselves.
As material as matter as impenetrable (as ding an sich, as the thing-in-itself) as…. Nothing (is) as impenetrable as the object, impossible material; impossible materialism (nothing is…). The material self, our material self; this can be taken as object too. Seized as an object. Handled. Self as object. Others as object. Seized as object. As matter (a matter for the sciences). And as the animate matter we personify through habit or duty (the matter of the human sciences). Personification: the would-be civilising trope (after Levinas, a trope guaranteed by the face); the evil of whose denial is only exceeded by its negative affirmation (sadism; recognition as the spur to cruelty; the boot on the face).
Object(s) as absolute other(s). Sent to us as gift, as offering (Nature’s gifts, Nature’s offering, our offerings to… the return of gift) in the form of the scapegoat (other; but because still containing a piece of ourselves, the assumption of sentience) as sacrifice; as also (simultaneously) an economic sacrifice – even if purpose made…(time set aside, all sacrifices begin with the gift of time).
Others. As other, as absolute other. Absolute difference (cold and empty as the pure object). But when less-than-absolute then knowable (when human or approaching human, the other is knowable) knowable through the unstoppable osmosis that pours ourselves into any ‘other’ vehicle that may present itself (even the inanimate, witness the personification at work in genius loci). Knowable as the black hole, the vacuum, the impossible pure object that draws in, that demands, that calls out for the coating of content that we must all unthinkingly provide…
An other (personification) with the (absent) attributes of the pure Object, the Absolute Other (the god of negative theology).
Was Plato perhaps right after all? We approach matter, we are matter, we do matter: but we are ideal. (We live in language, in culture, in signs: we are ideal matter, the matter of the ideal).
Object: cinema. Object; the more apparently ‘other’; the more a screen for ourselves. As the object coats our perception constituting its limit, delimiting its containment, configuring our world, so all the more does it form a wall on to which we project… our world. This happy coincidence of worlds constitutes our sane and steady reality. A complete lack of phase; our insanity. The slighter, yet persistent (if ignored) diremption of subject and object, the perpetual, everyday shaking of our ‘grip on reality’, an ever-present question directed at the foundations of each.
And as ever-present, eternal. Trace of the absolute in our contingent world. Finally an ’outside’ which admits its origins, ‘inside’. As for the ‘outside’, ‘outside’, the rhetoric of eternity is still ever-present as the would-be unassailable (and so inaccessible) foundation in each and every manifestation of the rhetoric of the cure, of unity and of the bridging of the division of subject and object. The desire for whose cure is as contagious as the belief in the coincidence of worlds that governs our waking lives.
Only believers know the object.
If the object is measured by quantity and its object-hood determined by the relevant indexes, then its subjective aspects are borrowed from the values we give it, the communities that use it, the culture in which it finds itself embedded. Yet the modes of measure too are aspects of a given culture, are also signs, and so part of the process of meaning-making, signs designed for measure based upon utility (all, as with artificial or formal languages, governed by axioms). Signs also to be found, in small, but significant part, under the sign of the subject. But what of the signals, the stimuli, that provoke these signs, these knots in the over-arching mesh, our networks of cultural construction, are they not emissions of the object, are they not in fact the object itself? As are indeed the matter of the signs, and as are the bodies, our material bodies, that house and transmit them? Subject and object, both are locatable in all that is thinkable, opposites co-present in one-another, conditioning one-another (subject to the laws of binary organisation). It is this ghostly doubling, a double voicing that is often, and with some optimism -in an echo of the old dream of unity, of the overcoming of all division- referred to as the ‘middle voice’. It is this seamless doubling that allows this division to be workable, useful, fecund… (most simple binaries, on close inspection, dissolve into a pluralism of part/whole relations, many parts now make up the whole and any attempt to rebinarise it is seen as the founding act of a fundamentalist or sectarian ideology; however the subject/object division, like sexual difference, itself divided by sex and gender, refuses either to be fragmented or shown to be an illusion fostered by interested parties). The persistence of the subject/object division requires other strategies (the questioning of any superimposed hierarchy, the location of the image of each in the foundation of the other; like a double row of mirrors: the subject in the object; the object in the subject (receding to infinity…)). As in all binary relations, where unavoidable divisions (unavoidable because only exchangeable for another division of the same kind) appear as the limit or origin of a question.
The presence of good ‘bad infinities’, extending both ways (subject and object side), is a good sign, a sign that the edge of the crater of significant meaning has been reached (only circling; hermeneutics, remains, or in the key rhetorico-ideological trope of our time, the embarrassing proclamation that one is proceeding outside of, or beyond, the wall of the crater, when in the eyes of all observers one has simply turned around and is heading back to familiar ground, still firmly, ‘inside’… ). Subject and object; the Ur-text and foundation of all theoretical division: idea/thing, nature/culture, mind/body, etc. The division of our selves and our bodies (and their material context in turn), all, in part, crossable by way of the bridge each puts over into the other (without entirely becoming the other).
The subject’s cloak of matter; the object as shelter for the subject.
The subject’s cloak of matter; the object subjected by measure and priority.
Matter as quantity (as quantifiable); the intricate but empty scaffolding that shores up our material world. The measure of use: but not the measure of value (‘for us’ and not for ‘everyone’).
Matter as quality (the expression of a viewpoint from colour perception to value); the gift of value proceeds from the object’s role in our subjective constitution and the latter’s ongoing repair, as a balance against our tendency to entropy.
It is a matter of identity, or rather its lack, the idea of the division of self and thing, of subject and object (and so mind and body), where the passage of one into the other, the bridge between the two ‘orders’ of thought, of understanding and of science (of qualitative and quantitative thought), is crossed by the ritual exchange of the one for the other. An exchange where matter is translated into spirit. Matter robbed of one (useful) form, one (useful) function in the realm of utility, so robes the spirit, so fuels the maintenance of the self, the engine oil that anoints the soul (the latter thus declaring its needs as superior). A matter of mind. Matter or Mind. An artificial division once set up, then needs somehow to be crossed. A passage between the two -now separated- entities or orders needs to be found. And for the river between the two continents to be crossed the ferryman must be paid. The most useful of ‘useless’ expenditures. A builder of bridges over impossible gaps, even capable of building structures, over there, on the other side of the chasm… In this way things become persons, communities, cultures… only the rate of entropy, the speed of wear and tear is different (from the wearing out of a style, to the destruction of an ornament that is outdated, or in the time/money spent on such, and on leisure services…our society’s instantly consumed artefacts, its sacrificial meat and wine). The thing in the thing is sacrificed to the self and the community that supports it (as a culture must be supported by more than one self, even if that community is largely imaginary). The thing in the object is what must recreate and repair the entropy of spiritual exhaustion (the self in the subject); this is the source of its value, a value beyond reason or quantity. Even if measurable by such, as when demanding a large expenditure of such, as a rationale beyond reason appeased only by the thing in the object that can be so exchanged – and so sacrificed, so given, in exchange. (As also the thing in the person taken as sacrifice for the self in the self, for its community and their mutual recognition – whence the history of the scapegoat and the pogrom).
Ritual object. Matter for the subject.
Copyright 2007, Peter Nesteruk