Tuesday 6 April 2010

Something gains substance by its unique relational emplotment not in spite of it. A substantial thing is related to but non-identical with anything else. The more unique the more coherent; the more coherent the more substantial; the more substantial the more unique (in a spiral-form rather than a circular sense with the missing dimension being relationality).

Latour's Substantiality

Harman criticises Latour for reducing everything to relations. Against this Harman posits substance as that which withdraws from all relationality. Latour of course also has a conception of substance - in fact it is central to his ontology. Whereas Harman sees substance as an absolute distinction - either something is a substance or it is not - Latour, as he so often does, gradientialises it - something becomes a substance through its trials of strength; substantiality is a badge of honour, a hard won achievement. What is stopping us from reconciling these two positions? What if we abandon Harman's absolute distinction between substance and relationality and instead see substance as something earned rather than something simply inherited? Can we not say that the more substantial an entity becomes the more it withdraws from relationality? The fire consumes the cotton in its entirety only if the cotton is relatively ill defined in relation to the fire. If the respective entities are firmer, more distinct and substantial then each have properties that elude relationality - i.e. their encounter through burning.