Monday, 15 May 2017

Metaphysics, Ontology, Immanence

Where metaphysics is the branch of philosophy that deals with abstract concepts (being; knowing; identity; time; space), ontology is the branch of metaphysics which deals with the nature of being. I’m no ontologist, although years ago i did toy with referring to myself a metaphysician - but you should see the kinds of dubious stuff some of the people who call themselves that deal in.

Reading Kathrin Thiele’s Quantum Physics and/as Philosophy: Immanence, Diffraction, and the Ethics of Mattering in Rhizomes #30 (2016), She explains Karen Barad’s relational ontology as an ontology in which individualized things and objects are no longer presupposed as simply there’, in which even the world itself is not simply given’ and out there’, but in which every-thing is accounted for as an enactment of the entangled nature of nature.”


Immanence refers to those philosophical and metaphysical theories of divine presence in which the divine encompasses or is manifested in the material world. Immanence is usually applied in monotheistic, pantheistic, pandeistic, or panentheistic faiths to suggest that the spiritual world permeates the mundane.

In this sense perhaps it is fair to say that the idea of immanence directly opposes the idea of transcendence. The way out of the human predicament is not through transcending it and entering the world of the divine, the spiritual world - which exists only in the imagination - rather it is by truly entering the material world, where matter matters. This is a world not beyond subject/object in the way that a Buddhist might think of enlightenment but an experience of being/becoming prior to subjects and objects.

I have some problems with Leonard Lawlor’s explaination of immanence in Symptoms of the Planetary Condition: A Critical Vocabulary’ (Mercedes Bunz, Birgit Mara Kaiser and Kathrin Thiele Eds. meson press 2017.) but it’s all I’ve got:

Del­euze and Guattari define immanence as experience: immanence is a field of experience” (1994, 46–48). When they speak of a field of experience, Deleuze and Guattari ask us, however, to reverse the traditional way we think of experience. Usually, we think of experience as a relation between a sub­ject who senses and an object that is sensed. Usually, we think of experience as vision and something seen. In this case, the experience and the thing seen are related back to the seeing subject who synthesizes the views of the thing seen. The syn­thetic activity of the subject is therefore prior to the experience and makes it possible. By asking us to reverse the traditional view of experience, Deleuze and Guattari ask us to imagine experience itself as being prior to subjects and objects.

Thanks again to phenomenology, we can imagine such a subjectless and objectless field of experience. Maurice Merleau-­Ponty has shown that, in our usual, everyday experience, our vision is oriented by the objects and the world that surrounds them. The thing seen presents pro les that motivate the viewer’s synthetic activity, and the profiles appear against the background of a world that already makes sense. However, like Deleuze and Guattari, Merleau­-Ponty also asks us to reverse this common under­standing of experience. He asks us, for example, to think of night­ time experience, experience during a very dark night. In such an experience, we lose the orientation of the object and the world as its background. In fact, the night envelops me, it penetrates me through all of my senses, it suffocates my memories, and it all but effaces my personal identity” (Merleau­-Ponty 2012, 296). Merleau­-Ponty himself compares the experience of the night to mystical experience, which implies that, when we follow the reversal of normal experience, we find ourselves in an unusual experience. Being in an almost mad experience is not something we should fear: only in such experience are we jarred out of our common sense opinions and beliefs. It opens our minds to other ideas and thought. Only through such a nearly mad experience are we able to enter into immanence. Only through such an experience are we able to engage in immanent critique. As Merleau­-Ponty might have said, we enter into immanence only by trying to depersonalize experience. The required depersonalization explains why the idea of immanence is so difficult for us to understand.