The left hand of all creation: how to repurpose whole worlds

“The world is an asymmetrical place full of asymmetrical beings.” – Frank Close

In the following series of interrelated posts, I sketch out in preliminary fashion the theoretical framework of an ontological program of strong redescription. Redescription refers to one mode of interacting with, repurposing, and using the various objects that constitute our world. One of my principal claims is that redescribing something (and anything at all, really, can qualify as an “object” in my sense, be it cabbages and kings, or “numbers and duties, possibilities and finger snaps, aesthetic experience and death”) changes what that something is, because it changes what that something can do, or can be used to do. In this regard, contrast strong redescription with weak redescription, which would be simply calling an object by a different name. As a kind of pragmatist, heavily influenced by the perhaps unlikely duo of Paul Feyerabend and Charles Sanders Peirce, I think our theoretical descriptions function like tools that help or hinder us in navigating our environment. As such, I place tremendous value on experimental and speculative engines, so to speak – that is to say, the broadly Bayesian logic of inquiry that cannot stop generating and revising affects, concepts, hypotheses, programs, questions, and regimes of description and redescription, all intended to emphasize and reprogram the exigencies at hand. On the other hand, as a staunch naturalist or realist, I think we live in object worlds that exceed, inform (or make possible), and even undermine such regimes. Accordingly, what follows is an attempt to characterize – to redescribe, you could say – both the autonomy of objects (and object worlds) and our disturbingly ineluctable intimacy with them. This Janus-faced ontology allows the repurposing of whole worlds. It opens up the prospect of an experimentalist ontology (or a pragmatism about everything), to be viewed as a practice for worldmaking.

This is an index and glossary for the series of interrelated posts linked below:

  1. The sinister pathway of the object
  2. Freeing up the objects for use
  3. Excursus on creative destruction (Spielrein, Schumpeter, Boyd, Land)
  4. An informal algorithm for repurposing worlds
  5. Postface on chirality


agency: The capacity to produce effects (in the most general sense).
activity: The production of effects (in the most general sense).
autonomy: Irreducibility (which does not imply inexplicability).
causal strangeways: See “On Causal Strangeways.”
chirality: The property that describes non-superimposable mirror images; handedness.
descriptive apparatus: A semiotic complex; the contingent and historical penumbra of signs that attends or contributes to an object.
dexterity: Exogenous direction or manipulation of objects.
object: An intersection, or a nexus, of various ontological strands. Note: Think of an object like a knot consisting of various strands complicated or entangled in a certain way. An object world is a set of differentiable objects that “hang together.”
object use: Coordination with objects or object worlds in order to produce intended or patterned effects. Navigation of object worlds; negotiation with objects.
progeny: The objects or object worlds that occur in the wake of other objects or object worlds. Note: Crucial here is (1) the temporal order (progeny come after; they succeed their predecessors) and (2) a nondeterministic processual linkage (progeny uptake elements or resources from their predecessors in novel ways).
prospectus: The apparent function, limitations, or purpose of an object; the range of what an object can do.
redescription: Altering the descriptive apparatus in order to change the prospectus of an object; a preliminary step to repurposing an object.
repurposing: Altering what an object is by changing what it does; may require preliminary steps of redescription.
sinister pathway: The inherent, specific tendencies of objects; their agency and autonomy.
standard assumption: A background assumption (or set of assumptions) that exists relatively commonly, which both constrains and purports to legitimate the descriptive apparatus to which it belongs. For example: “objects do not act; only subjects act” or “the future will resemble the past.”
workspace: The domain of possible activity each subject occupies.

Excursus 0: Lebbeus Woods

The header image is a digital composite, elements of which I’ve repurposed from the speculative architect Lebbeus Woods’ “Wall Games.” See also his “Knot Theory: An Architecture of Problems” for one of my major inspirations or resources.