Object Relations; Part 1

Our lives are inundated by a growing presence of things. How we manage and relate to these objects, these piles and piles of things, and better understand their complex realities is of serious importance…

Object Relations

Ned Dodington, 05.11.15

Figuratively speaking, every animal subject attacks its objects in a pincer movement.

-Jakob Von Uexkull, 1933

Our lives are inundated by a growing presence of things. The accumulation of carbon in our atmosphere being perhaps the most pressing thing of all, but the general accouterment of modern life including cars, tablets, watches, screens, drones, military devices, household appliances, buildings and their related cities are each daily accumulating in our pockets, on our bodies, in our homes and certainly on our planet. All of these things are of course, objects.

How we manage and relate to these objects, these piles and piles of things, and better understand their complex realities is of serious importance and of obvious interest to many. It is not so surprising then at this critical point in human history that the attention of thinkers, doers and dreamers is turned towards understanding our life with objects. The current vein of thinking in this regard is the growing and promising field of Object Oriented Ontology (OOO). While most known to those in academic philosophy, the implications and lessons of OOO are valuable to a wide range of other thinkers and doers, and relevant to this discussion about architects.

Object Oriented Ontology has a great value to the practice of architecture, however – not as previous discussions have identified. It’s value is not as a guide for form-making, nor metaphor for design nor even as a new language for aesthetic discourse. It’s greatest value lies in reconceptualizing how we as designers and producers of things choose to value the context in which they are placed and in which we operate.

Others have explained the intricacies of OOO and interviewed the key thinkers in the field. Rather than to re-work those discussion or critique their work, a broader perspective through the works of several other thinkers, Jakob von Uexkull, Esther Pasztory and Tim Morton, can further our understanding of this new object-centric world. Each of these voices, writing at different times and from unique perspectives, illustrate the complex relationships that surround objects and their unique properties to transcend categories, worlds and linguistic boundaries. All of them ask us to refocus our thinking about objects in today’s world, and in fact demonstrate that contrary to some claims, a theory about objects can be very beneficial to architects and designers.

Writing almost a century ago the bio-semiotician Jakob von Uexkull discussed the many multivaried properties of objects that current thinkers in the emerging field of Object Oriented Ontology are once again bringing to light. Strolling through an imagined forest clearing Uexkull paints us a picture of a rich and teeming ecosystem. But, contrary to our perceptions, it is not just one single environment populated with many beings but many discrete inner-worlds, umwelten. Each umwelt is created by a the individual organism and each exists within it’s own life-world. Uexkull describes it as if there is metaphysical soap bubble drawn around each organism.Within each soap bubble are all of the things, objects, sensations and other organisms that are present to the specific being of that umwelt, nothing more, nothing less. Your umwelt is different from mine and very different from that of another species.

to be continued…




Books Cited:

Von Uexkull, Jakob. Trans. Joseph D. O’Neil. A Foray into the world of Animals and Humans with a Theory of Meaning, Minneapolis : University of Minnesota Press, 2010.

Morton, Timothy. Hyperobjects; Philosophy and Ecology After the End of the World.Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2013.

Pasztory,  Esther. Thinking with Things. Texas: University of Texas Press, 2005.

Benjamin, Walter.  “One-way street.” Trans. Edmund Jephcott. Selected Writings , Vol. 1, 487. Original in Benjamin, Walter “Einbahnstrasse”, Gesammelte Schriften, Vol. 4:1.

Heidegger, Martin. Trans. Joan Stambaugh. Being and Time. New York: State University of New York Press 1996. Originally published by Max Niemeyer Verlag, Tubingen, 1935.

[1] Uexkull 51.

[2] Uexkull 129.

[3] Uexkull 50.

[4] My intention here is not to critique central themes of OOO but to draw a link between the Heideggerian roots of OOO and Uexkull.

[5] Heidegger and Uexkull were certainly aware each other’s work and shared a common acquaintance in the poet Rilke. Heidegger was often known to cite the work of Uexkull’s and it is no coincidence that both thinker share some ideas [Winthrop-Young in Uexkull, 230].


[6] Heidegger, 69-79

[7] ibid.

[8] There is, therefore, a primal score for the fly just as there is one for the spider. And now I can assert that the primal score of the fly (which on can also designate its primal image) affects the primal score of the spider in such a way that the web spun by the latter can be called “fly-like.”

[9] Pasztory 10-11.

[10] Morton 19.

[11] Morton 21.

[12] Morton 125.

[13] Benjamin 68.

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