Strange Matter, Strange Objects: An Ontological Reorientation of the Philosophical Concept of Wonder
Description: Wonder has had a rich and diverse history in the western philosophical tradition. Both Plato and Aristotle claim that philosophy begins in wonder, while Descartes marks it as the first of the passions and Heidegger uses it as a signpost for a new trajectory of philosophy away from idealism and nihilism. Despite such a rich history, wonder is almost always thought to be exhausted by the acquisition of knowledge. That is, wonder is thought of almost exclusively in epistemological terms and is discarded as soon as knowledge has been achieved. In this dissertation, I argue for an ontological reorientation of wonder that values wonder beyond its epistemic uses. To do this, I read the phenomenological and ontological work of Maurice Merleau-Ponty through recent developments in object-oriented ontology and new materialism. Much of Merleau-Ponty's work is directed toward dissolving the distinction between subject and object. His insights regarding the mutual constitution of the world lead to the possibility of an operative wonder that occurs between subject and object. Both object-oriented ontology and new materialism radicalize these insights by articulating them in terms of a vibrant or quasi-agential material world. Objects and assemblages of objects are capable of performing the becoming of the world that includes human activity, but is not reduced to it. As such, the world is capable of both self-organization and practice. Ultimately I use the philosophy-physics of Karen Barad to argue that operative wonder acts like a kind of superposition of relations between objects, and thereby accounts for a concept of wonder that is both ontologically significant and acutely generative.
Date: May 2016
Creator: Onishi, Brian Hisao