One way to understand the OOO project is to say that other entities are more Dasein-like than we might have expected. They too disclose each other’s possibilities, even when Dasein isn’t there to intermediate the encounter. The notion that objects “withdraw” would then be parallel to Dasein’s Being-toward-death, its ownmost, non-relational (individuating) possibility of Being.
Unfortunately, this is the point where a major confusion seems to enter the picture. Heidegger’s “individuation” of Dasein through its authentic comportment of anticipatory resoluteness isn’t a “withdrawal” of Dasein into some inner kernel of Being. Anxiety, for instance, does not reveal to us the unmediated self, but reveals precisely the structure of “Being-in-the-world,” shorn of all concrete content. Dasein’s authentic individuation is not a state in which Dasein can “dwell,” but simply takes Dasein back to its readiness for relation so that it can enter into the possibilities and relations of its world in a new way. Indeed, there is no possibility of separating the withdrawal from the reentry — Heidegger is at pains to emphasize that Dasein never gets to pause, that it “has to be its own being.”
The trick here is that Dasein’s “ownmost possibility” is precisely the possibility of its own impossibility. Once that possibility is actualized, once Dasein has really and truly “withdrawn” from its relations — then there is no more Dasein. This is the foundation of Dasein’s special relationship to possibility (as opposed to the greater emphasis on actuality in non-Dasein entities, at least non-living ones): it has a possibility that, as Dasein’s, can only ever be a possibility. In fact, I read Heidegger’s discussion of Being-toward-Death not as an ethical handbook, but as an attempt to get at the problem of possibility as such, totally apart from any possible actualization.
If we’re to maintain the parallel with Dasein, then we have to say that objects do “withdraw” — but this can only mean that objects can be destroyed. Once an object has been so thoroughly changed that it bears no intelligible relationship with the things that previously defined it as that object, it no longer is that object. Individuation, non-relationality, withdrawal — these are not words for persistence, but for vulnerability and finitude. Further continuing the parallel: finitude implies thrownness, implies that the object has at some point come into being, in a way that can’t be explained in terms of that object’s own being. But again, this cannot mean that objects are brute facts existing apart from any relationships. It means instead that objects are created by their relationships and are vulnerable to being destroyed by the withdrawal of those relationships.
The object’s Being would then have a broadly “Dasein-ly” shape, with the key difference being the relative priority of possibility and actuality — possibility is primary for Dasein (due to Dasein’s unique relationship to its death), whereas actuality is primary for non-living entities. Indeed, the language of “withdrawal” often seems to substitute for the language of possibility, as when we’re told that there’s no possibility of change if objects don’t “withdraw.” Yet we don’t need to posit some substantive kernel “behind” the object in order to have possibilities that are not currently actualized.
My stapler sits inert on my desk, for instance, but at a moment’s notice I could hurl it across the room. That “is” a possibility of the stapler’s existence (one that may well destroy it!), but it’s not as though it comes from some ontological reservoir of stapler-hood. It’s a possibility that emerges in relationship with my unique properties of having a bad temper and expressing it immaturely. If that’s too “correlationist,” we could also imagine a scenario where my stapler is left on the edge of a cliff, is blown by the wind, and winds up starting an avalanche. Again, it makes no sense to think of the stapler’s possibility of starting an avalanche as coming from “within” the stapler’s reservoir of withdrawn being.
Hence I propose that OOO makes a wrong turn in its initially interesting extension of Heidegger’s system to explore the being of non-living entities, and this causes it to adopt a fundamentally anti-Heidggerian position that is incurious about the origin (thrownness) or destruction (Being-toward-”death” of the object) of the objects of its investigation — that is, that fails to understand the being of objects within the horizon of time. Their anxiety to avoid Heidegger’s “correlationism” leads them to skip past the “things themselves” (actual objects in their relationships to each other and to Dasein’s world) to a timeless metaphysical entity to which we can never have access. And here there’s a grain of truth to their position: we really can’t have access to the substance “behind” the object because there is no such substance. There are only the relationships that bring the object into being, determine its possibilities, and eventually withdraw from the object. The withdrawn object doesn’t exist, because once the object has withdrawn from its relationships, it is no more.