Nothing exists

Perhaps unadvisedly, I would like to clarify a point on the Hägglund/OOO discussion. Tim Morton quotes a commenter who supposedly disagrees with me but seems to me to be saying almost literally the same thing as me:

The point isn’t that time is broken into little bits; it’s that no instant is ever really present. All presence is an effect of a trace structure.

Tim then proceeds to draw bizarre conclusions:

This is great news for God. Time doesn’t exist at all, since there are no present moments that really succeed one another. Or it exists so flimsily that entities can pretty much do without it. This is about as effective against God as a wet wash cloth! In fact—all of us are outside time as a naive succession of instants. It’s also disastrous for Hägglund’s ethics of “survival.” Nothing survives without present instants. We’re all screwed/eternal!

Here’s the thing, though — if the standard for existence is self-identity, then for Hägglund, nothing exists. Neither time nor other entities “exist” in the sense of being self-identical. Time internally displaces all other entities, but time itself is also non-identical. It’s non-identity all the way down. There are no self-identical instants of time, there are no self-identical “objects,” there is literally nothing that fits the standard of “existence as self-identity.”

Other entities thus don’t have any advantage over time, and certainly not the ability to manipulate it as they please. Why this ontology (because that’s what it is: an ontology, an explanation of the way things are) undercuts the notion of survival or what any of it has to do with the plausibility of atheism — well, I have no idea, honestly.

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12 Responses to “Nothing exists”

  1. Adam Kotsko Says:

    To seed the comments somewhat, this notion that nothing is self-identical is basically the ontological expansion of the famous quote, “there is nothing outside the text” — there is nothing that escapes the trace structure, no exceptional instance that grounds everything else through its self-identity. And given that God, in the traditional proofs, so often serves to cut off infinite regress by positing an exceptional instance (“everything is caused by something else, so there must be an uncaused cause,” for instance), this ontology is indeed a radically atheistic one.

  2. Craig Says:

    There seems to be no substantial difference between Adam’s position and the cited comment. Morton’s conclusion is puzzling: it has no basis in anything other than his own assertions and has no discernable relation to either anything Adam has said or anything contained in the cited comment. The ethics of grounding a position in an uncited comment is dubious at best and, more likely, sock puppetry.

  3. BB Says:

    The idea that “there are only differences with no positive terms” (including time, or moments of time) seems as important to Derrida’s thought as “there is only a space of difference, and thus no conscious unity, at the center of any subjectivity” is to Lacan.

  4. Михаил Емельянов Says:

    Perhaps it was all a kind of intentional farce aimed at teaching you an object lesson that the critiques of OOO are incoherent and shallow, a kind of tongue-in-cheek dramatization aimed at some higher-level point or something…

  5. Adam Kotsko Says:

    In retrospect, it was weird for me to do this post when I’d just asked Tim to leave. It really is about the philosophical point, though, so let’s keep the aspersions on Tim to an absolute minimum.

  6. Bryan Says:

    I really like this idea, and especially BB’s phrasing — “there are only differences with no positive terms”–Saussure, correct? In any case, I wonder to what extent this ontological principle of non-identity (and hence of ontological nothingness) could then be imported from Derrida/post-structuralism back into structuralism, so for example with respect to Lacan’s reading of Saussure in terms of the incommensurability of signifier and signified, or alternatively of the sensible and supersensible realms, if one likes. The process of abstraction produces the set of differential terms which are each themselves non-self-identical.

    I wonder then, I remember there being a post a while ago about Kantian and Hegelian readings of Derrida. It seems like there would be some compatibility here between Hegel and Derrida with respect to the “trace structure,” but ontological nothingness seems like one step farther than where Hegel is (ontological negativity, but not pure difference/non-identity).

  7. Tim Morton Says:

    This kind of gets to my notion of “mesh,” in which there are no positive terms (good point up there). But eventually out of this mesh emerge Derrida’s arrivants, which I call strange strangers. Here’s my second go at a response:

    http://ecologywithoutnature.blogspot.com/2011/02/nothing-exists-like-that.html

  8. Михаил Емельянов Says:

    I’ve read both posts that Morton links to and I have to say it must not be my day today – I couldn’t understand anything. I don’t mean it as a critique, just sharing. For example, how can there be a situation in which there are no positive terms (“only difference”)? Are there only negative terms then? But if all terms are negative, then there are no negative terms at all, no? If there are only differences, then there are no identities, therefore there are no differences either. If everything is black, then nothing is black – if there are no positive terms, there are no negative terms. So either I’m really missing something here (which is very likely) or this is what I call “bullshit”…

  9. Kenneth Says:

    Do not mock Tim. Don’t underestimate him: he was Derrida’s buddy back in the days, don’t forget! And after he died, he’s been morning the loss until a new rising star emerged: Graham Harman. Tim knows a revolutionary thinker that will change forever the history of philosophy when he sees one!

    The term ‘differance’ eventually made it in the French dictionary: it’s only a matter of time before the OED will include ‘withdrawn object’ and ‘hyperobject’ my friends. Just wait and see: you should back the right horse. As Tim does.

  10. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    If I was an OOO guy I would have to wonder why so many people get upset about OOOOOOOO, but I’m not so I can’t make them bend the ray of reflection on their own self-presentation. What surprises me a lot of time, though, is the amount of time people give to just going after those aspects they really find annoying. I looked at Harman’s work, didn’t find it that convincing or interesting for the stuff I’m interested in and then moved on. Can’t you find something you are interested in to waste your time on? I really, really would prefer AUFS not take on the same creepy status as the OOO/Anti-OOO discussions.

  11. Adam Kotsko Says:

    I have to say that neither of Tim’s responses make sense to me, either. I take him at his word that all this is making him think, and so perhaps his excitement in processing these ideas is making him skip some steps in his responses. In any case, they have all seemed to be based in some strong and yet unstated presuppositions about what reality must be like, and I still have no idea how my position is supposed to be different from the commenter quoted above.

    I’m glad to have provided inspiration for Tim, but given that this is apparently just going to turn into an OOO-bashing thread (as evidenced by attempted comments that didn’t make it out of moderation), I’m going to take Anthony’s hint and move on.


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