Controversial things, or the dual sense of ‘saklighet’

A quick comment on the translation of the term ‘nysaklig’ into ‘new-thingly’

It seems to me that ‘thingly’ loses one aspect of the dual nature in ‘saklig’. A ‘sak’ can actually refer to two things: First, a thing or an object in the most concrete way; crystals, ants, computers, gay bath houses or supernovas; the second aspect of the word ‘sak’ is more relational and refers to an affair or a controversy, the fact that something matters and have become important or crucial in some sense to certain actors; a quarrel between friends, a scholarly disagreement or the scandals of classical politics. ‘Sak’ can even refer to a cause, as in fighting for a cause etc.

I’m not sure that Rasmus Fleischer intended this, but then again that’s not the point.

What I like about the second aspect, which seems to me to have been lost in the translation, is that it places relationality by way of controversy, confrontation and affairs at the center of how to study objects. This does not mean that objects are merely reduced to their relations, that relationality “undermines” the independent being of things, as Graham Harman likes to say it. Rather, it brings forth the idea that to know, study or encounter a thing (a parrot, boulder or para-military group) is always in some way dramatic, or at least political (in the cosmopolitical sense of Isabelle Stengers, whom I haven’t read, but at least in the way Latour has made sense of it [pdf]).

In danish, this aspect becomes even more clear, as the corresponding word ‘sag’ specifically is used to refer to law suits or other legal disputes between parties. Also, the news media are especially obsessed about ‘sager’, ie. affairs, that are scandalous or revealing.

Curiously, ‘saklig’ (or in danish, ‘saglig’) also refers to a manner of discussing focused on facts – for some people this even implies so called “neutrality”, but I guess that sense comes from the party of dusty scientism. In a broader sense ‘saklig’ refers to an attitude of being to-the-point. But most interestingly, ‘saklig’ is usually used synonymously with being objective, which should be understood very literally in the OOOsense: oriented towards the objective, ie. the involved objects and what concerns them. Similarly, ‘saklig’ is also usually used synonymously with the expression ‘matter-of-fact’ (which is similar with to-the-point, but at least makes a for me still unclear reference to Latour in the article ‘Why has critique run out of steam? From matter-of-fact to matter-of-concern’)

This should be enough to give an idea of some of the richness that the term ‘saklig’ could reveal. To sum up the dual sense of the term that I have outlined above: ‘saklig’ implies both an object-orientation, but also an orientation towards confrontation, dispute and drama. If anyone was ever uncertain of the political implications of OOO and might have thought that it implied static or reactionary conservatism, where the subterranean qualities of object are always preserved and all the shallow entanglements and collisions between them are merely fleeting changes in a hard-as-diamond state-of-things, then the scandinavian expression might evoke a quite different idea of the object-orientation, of sakligheten.

To make a closing association (and I’m aware that this post has been almost entirely associating), we might consult Karen Barad and her agential realism in Meeting the Universe Halfway. Barad is certainly a philosopher of the speculative sort – in one occurence calling for a “weird materialism” – by audaciously launching her grand metaphysics by merging the micro-physics of Michel Foucault with the quantum physics of Niels Bohr. There are important differences between her and OOO though, and I feel that the concepts of apparatus, entanglements, intra-action and especially the Bohrian term phenomena bring up crucial problems (Instead of objects, at least in the non-entangled sense, Barad argues that ‘phenomena’ should be the real objective referents; a term that could also fruitfully be named situation). Nonetheless – or maybe exactly for that reason – Barad can help us grasp the dual sense of ‘saklighet’ in her discussion of “onto-epistemology”. The argument is fairly simple, because of an elegant wordplay, that she borrows from Judith Butler. Barad’s metaphysics can be summed up in a sentence: the universe comes to matter. Every thing comes to matter in two ways: comes to matter as in materialize; comes to matter as in having meaning, or making sense. It is in this way that epistemology always has ontological consequences (and vice versa). Every process of mattering (e.g. an experiment on the behavior of light) involves what Barad calls an ‘agential cut’ in the object (e.g. light), that makes certain aspects of the object come to matter (e.g. its particle-quality) and certain others not come to matter (e.g. its wave-quality). Agential cuts make certain things appear and other certain things disappear. It’s in this way that the ontoepistemological process in a profound way always implies ethics: in an almost literal sense to ‘take sides’ when making agential cuts, in a particular controversy between objects (where the ethical actor in question naturally becomes one of these objects).

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5 thoughts on “Controversial things, or the dual sense of ‘saklighet’

  1. For Latour at least, the dual meaning of thing has always been present. Thing as related to the nordic word “Ting” (do you have that in Danish or is it Norweigian/Islandic). The dual character of “thing” is mapped in Latour to matter-of-fact and matter-of-concern (or, for that matter “A parliament of things”). The difference can be the consensus orientation of a parliament (ting) and the conflict orientation of a legal matter (sak)

    Saklig in the sense of objective as you write is a strange one. First of all it means objective as opposed to subjective (opinions, partial views on the matter). Whereas for OOO, the object is not defined as opposed to a subject. In every relation an entity is both subject (with a partial sense of the world) and object at the same time.

    Regarding what Karen Barad says in comparisson to #ooo, I think its compatible with what Levi Bryant writes in Democracy of Objects. When Barad says “Reality is composed not of things-in-themselves or things-behind-phenomena but of things-in-phenomena”, it reminds a lot of what he writes in this section:;view=fulltext#7.5

    (…a critique of thinking that the real is BEHIND the phenomena)

  2. @monki: Thanks for your clarifications! Do mean that Latour keeps the dual aspect? It has been while since I read that article, but I had the idea, that he wanted to move away from matters-of-fact and into matters-of-concern. Maybe I’m mixing things up.

    And yes, you’re right about the scandinavian meaning of ‘Ting’, I never thought about that. Actually the parliament in denmark is called ‘Folketinget’ (Folke, “people’s” + ting “parliament”).

    I’ll read up on Levi Bryant’s take on Barad. In fact I wasn’t sure how much reception Barad had gotten in OOO-circles. I think the meeting of the two could definately produce interesting diffraction patterns!

    Speaking of Barad and OOO, Tim Morton from ecology w/o nature refered me to a recent article by Barad called “Treating Objects like Women”, but have only been able to find the title as blogposts on Morton’s own blog.
    EDIT: Morton meant an essay by himself with that title, so we can look forward to that instead (since it’s coming)

  3. Ok, my last comment was lost so here I go again.

    Latours project in general, so far, has been to show the matter-of-concern side of science, the life and blood of everyday disputes and negotiations between humans and non-humans that eventually produce what we think of as matter-of-facts. By this he wants to show that facts are not discovered, like some already written notes in nature, but constructed; in laboratories and experiments and in reports and conferences. He is not against matter-of-facts per se. Life would be unbearable if we didn’t just accept some things as fact. Matter-of-facts are blackboxes with input and output, but with their inner mechanisms hidden. We have *delegated* our concern to these blackboxes. Though they can always be opened up again with the controversies within them exposed and Latours political point is that this needs to happen more when it comes to science and technology which mostly is introduced into politics as matter-of-facts. Although looking at politics today, when global warming and internet infrastructure are some of the major political issues,this seems to be the norm.

    I think Barad is one of these people that does not directly conform to the international #ooo standards, but is seen as a friendly spirit and co-traveller. Just as with Delanda, Latour and Stengers. I’m sure she is liked but the object-oriented philosophers would probably like to ooo-ify her thinking a bit.

    Regarding subject/object. Maybe we should talk about SOBJECTS instead :) What then is “saklighet”/objectivity? Maybe unintuitively to un-generalize perceptions. Being subjective in this everyday sense is about believing that ones perceptions are universally valid while being “saklig” is about regognizing the precise and limited conditions under which a given perception is produced.

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