All Objects Are Deviant

Timothy Morton, ‘All Objects Are Deviant: Feminism and Ecological Intimacy’, pp.65-79, in: Behar, K. (Ed.), 2016. Object-oriented feminism. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis.


Object-oriented ontology (OOO) subverts the metaphysics of presence by arguing that all beings withdraw, that is, they are incapable of being (fully) accessed by another entity: my idea of this glass is not the glass, the parts of the glass are not the glass, and so on.

Withdrawal rather underscores the unspeakable suchness of a thing. Withdrawal is a paradoxical term, since it might be better to imagine what it consists in as an intimacy or proximity that makes a thing impossible to access because it is too close.


What this chapter outlines, then, is a strange new form of essentialism, which perhaps we could call weird essentialism.

This is known as the Sorites paradox, the paradox of the heap: how many grains of sand are there in a heap of sand? How many cloud puffs are there in a cloud?

A thing is a set of other things that do not sum to it. These other things include its various parts and the way it appears. There is an intrinsic and irreducible gap within a thing between what it is and how it appears, a gap I call the Rift.

I cannot point to the Rift because a thing does not sum to its uses, or history, or relations, or pieces. A thing is an irreducible unicity. This means that I have to accept that things can be themselves and not-quite-themselves at the very same time, because the appearance of a thing just is not the thing.


It is not correct to say that reality is outside the cave, waiting for me up there, waiting for me to see correctly. Reality is literally all over me—in the sweat from the fire’s heat, in the dancing shadows. Reality is already here. Plato seems to want us to struggle away from this reality to see the truth that must reside somewhere outside it. But what is more interesting is that there is a kind of “beyond” within things, not outside them—I feel my way along, totally shrink-wrapped in reality, unable to get a firm purchase outside it from which to see perfectly. This groping, grasping, han- dling, and turning is more like what OOO means when it thinks about how entities are.

It is not some fantasized immediacy of touch, as opposed to seeing, that intrigues me about Plato’s kinesthetic imagery. It is rather the total opposite. What intrigues me is that when I handle a thing, when I walk along a corridor, when I turn my head, when I walk upward toward the light, I do not exhaust the corridor or my neck bones or the upwardly sloping passage. When I handle a thing, I can never see it all at once.


My grasping or apprehension of the thing never gives me the thing itself.

[Refs Kant’s transcendental object]


To put it in Heideggerian terms, what happens in the cave is a play of nothingness. Of nihilation. The shadows both are and are not translations of other entities, projections of puppets and fire. To be immersed in them is to experience a never-ending play of illusion.


Within the cave, the essence of things is weirdly hidden inside them—the shadows distort the puppets, but not completely. There are puppets and there are shadows. Outside the cave, however, there is a clear bright line between truth and falsity.


What suggests itself here is a return to the kind of essentialism advocated by 1970s feminism, but with a weird twist: weird essentialism. In this weird essentialism there are real things, but they are not subject to the metaphysics of presence. It is this weird essentialism that provides a fourth position on the logic square of common arguments about existence these days.

1. Essentialism + metaphysics of presence
2. Nonessentialism + metaphysics of presence (relationism, process)
3. Nonessentialism – metaphysics of presence (deconstruction)
4. Essentialism – metaphysics of presence (OOO)


All objects are deviant insofar as they exist in difference from themselves. This is because they are riven from within between what they are and how they appear. To say this is to continue the thought of Irigaray, for whom at least one entity, known as woman, falls outside the logical Law of Noncontradiction, insofar as female physicality cannot be thought either as one or as two but as a weird touching between one and two, a loop-like self-touching denigrated as narcissism.


[Ref Kant’s grounding of Hume]


[Ref Lacan’s petit-a]


There is no reason why $ needs to be a human. It could be a camera, a photon, or a line of code. Quantum-scale phenomena show decisively how things quite happily get caught in Roadrunner all the time—they do it without humans, in vacuums close to absolute zero, conditions that would be violated if I were able to peer in. They happen in physically isolated systems. Yet they happen, I claim, because things are just like that in general. A cask of wine talks about a key and a leather strap. But what it says is not the key and the leather strap. This means you can have debates about whether your wine is iron-y or leathery. The trees talk about the wind. But the sound of the wind in the trees is not the wind. And so on.


An object is deviation—objects in general turn, not just the human (Heidegger’s kehre). Not simply from our (human) idea of it, but from other entities’ models, conceptions, plans, frameworks. And not sim- ply from other objects, but from itself.

Movement is part of being a thing, period, such that a thing deviates from itself, just to exist. Preventing a thing from deviating is called destroying it.

Thus Irigaray’s theory of woman as self-touching loop is in fact a theory of everything. A loop is a looping, or a circle is a circling, just as nothingness is nothing-ing or as Heidegger puts it, nihilation. Circles are not all that holistic. They are lines that constantly deviate from themselves.


We need to explore the term veer, from which we obtain the term perversion. Fascinatingly, we get the term environment from the same root. The environment is a veering insofar as it circles in the deviant sense just outlined, all around us and within us.

The marvelous thing about veer is that it is disturbingly poised between activity and passivity—and here I beg your indulgence, as we are all inclined toward the Law of the Excluded Middle, which is a consequence of the Law of Noncontradiction.

When a ship veers, is it turning by itself or following the current—or is that whole way of questioning not relevant? There is a deep poetic truth in Lucretius’s account of how things got started—with a veer, an inclination (clina-men). Perhaps veer is a better term for that than the popular swerve, because that verb implies something from which I am swerving. But veering may not imply a simple state from which I deviate. It disturbingly or wonderfully suggests that I will not find a simple, undeviant state.

Free will is overrated. What is now required is a mutual veering (attunement). This mutual veering takes the form of Roadrunner— it is irreducibly perverse.

And isn’t it thus necessary to think how things, and how think- ing, can be ambiguous and contradictory, without being wrong? And isn’t this what Irigaray says about the fluid being she calls woman?  Thinking is a form of deviance. Insofar as thinking is deviance, it is environmental.