Towards a Natural History of Objects.

Updated: Jun 27, 2021

The insistence on an ontology of objects is often considered a corrective to an overemphasis on subjectivity, at least since Descartes. Attempts at reconciliation seek a synthesis that would alleviate the divide between subject and object yet maintain the bias that the object is the artificial product of a subject belonging to a natural order to which it can return. A view that denies objects any existence prior to their generation by humans. The proclivity to instrumentalize can be described as the ability to confer neutrality unto an entity in order to absorb it into the self-same parameters of an identity, even when construed as complementary. It is consequently believed that combatting objectivization is the royal path to an individuation emancipated from its backdrop of slavery. But it is a guilty conscience that considers slavery to be an objectification when it is in fact a depletion of all the vital characteristics of the object. The remedy to the barbarity of treating each other as objects is alas not found in the subjectivity that constituted the dominion from which it wishes to extirpate itself. Subjectivity is founded on an appropriation that reverses its point of origin. In a situationist context, Guy Deborg says that in an inverted world, truth is an exponent of the false. It is in that sense that the ontological table is reversed and the subject assumes priority which if put in environmental terms constitutes a land grab in the guise of Rousseau’s first person who proclaimed the ownership of a patch of land and insisted on it until others believed it. Subjectivity thus makes itself a direct model of emulation in response to its surrogacy, making objects the product of human development, alternatively used to eulogize its achievements and pejoratively in distinction to natural phenomena to signify subjugation. But what hides behind the evidence and reliable stability of a beating heart is the ticking of a time bomb.

Just as Tolstoy exposes Napoleon’s fallacy, in that for all his conquering bravura, he was but a small instrument in a machinery that completely transcends him or conversely, like Russian officials displaying the overconfidence that made them state Chernobyl was safe as a samovar before it exploded (Niall Ferguson, Doom, 2021), the objects that buffer intersubjective relationships deflate the primacy of the identitary subject, exposing its foundation is not self-made and mercenaries to a cause that is not theirs, fall like an army of detonating dominoes.

Far from sharing the common background of human subjectivity, objects have contexts of their own, a backdrop that may hark back to Aristotelian substance without the human hierarchy. There is no contradiction in mineral objects coming in contact with animal objects in amalgams that include the human among their heterogenous ingredients. Tools and consumer goods, segments of tailor-made behavior or value-shifting suspensions of utilitarian norms, parts within parts in a compost whose whole can only generate more parts.

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