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Tristan Garcia, Form and Object: A Treaty of Things, trans. Jon
Cogburn and Mark Allan Ohm. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press,
2014. ISBN 978 0748681495 (hbk), 978 0748681501 (pbk)

Tristan Garcias Soseinsfrage


Form and Object: A Treaty of Things, a fairly systematic treaty, which according
to Graham Harman (2012) already started when Garcia was teenager,
underlies this ambitious metaphysical project. The young metaphysician
unfolds his theory systematically and concisely like his medieval precursors,
except there is no place for God in this system. At most, one can admit that
God is something. God can be more than something, and then it departs
from the formal to the objective. But when God becomes an object, it is
already limited and hence contradicts what God is. Form and object are
the two key concepts that also act as two conceptual tools to separate
different realities, as well as logical operators to navigate among things.
Form for Garcia doesnt designate geographical forms, but rather formal
relations. Form thus has no relation to object (p. 147). However, to really
understand the significance of this work, it is necessary to read the authors
publications after the appearance of this book in 2011 in France. I refer
here to two sources, one is a seminar that Garcia gave at the cole Normal
Suprieure in 2012, and the other is his epilogue to the recent book of the
philosopher Mehdi Belhaj Kacem, Algbre de la Tragdie (see Garcia, 2014).
The author presents his critique in the first sentence of Form and Object:
our time is perhaps the time of an epidemic of things a kind of thingly
contamination of the present (p. 1). This critique is clearer in his 2012
talk, in which this ouvrage is presented as an attempt to lead us out of the
20th-century philosophical paradigm, namely thingification. Garcia (2012)
has five streams of philosophy in mind: (1) the dialectical tradition that
fights against the reification of things; (2) the phenomenological tradition
that wants to understand things from the given; (3) the analytical tradition on
the sense and reference of things; (4) the BergsonianWhiteheadian school
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1 5 DOI 10.1177/1470412916630704

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on the intensity of thinking and affect of things; and (5) the pragmatism that
prioritises effects and consequences of things. For Garcia, these five schools
belong to modernity and dominate the 20th century.
In the epilogue to Kacems book, we find an enemy in what he calls ontological
liberalism. The problem of liberalism presents itself as a contradiction. On
the one hand, liberalism wants to liberate things from any rule that limits
them; on the other hand, the liberalism that we have seen in the 20th
century is either liberal or neoliberal, and always tends to set up rules that
allow certain beings to be more liberal than the other. The contradiction
of liberalism has to be overcome, not through the development of critique,
but with a new metaphysical foundation that brings it to an end. Here is
the question posed by Garcia (2014: 287): instead of opposing a critical
thinking with strong ontological constraints against the liberal ontology, is
it possible to oppose a thinking with an ontological constraint weaker than
the liberal ontology?

Construction of a flat world of things


To distinguish between the formal and the objective, readers must firstly
distinguish ontology from metaphysics, as Garcia reminded us that this has
been always confusing, since ontology is the minuscule foundation on which
a metaphysics can be developed. For example: water for Thales, boundless
for Anaximander, air for Anaximenes, idea for Plato, hylomorphism for
the Aristotelian tradition, etc. Readers who expect a grand philosophical
narrative will definitely be disappointed. The ontology of Garcia is certainly
the poorest one I have ever encountered it is a flat world. The task for him
is to show that there is something in the flat world: (1) something cannot be
no-matter-what; (2) no-matter-what can be something; and (3) something is
not reducible to something else. Paraphrasing ric Chevillard (2007: 17) one
of Garcias favourite writers:
something is inside and outside, something in the profoundness and on
the surface, something without other horizon than something, something
in the something in the something in the something, something stitched
of something, stuffed of something, son something, father something,
something as only something and not something else.
How different is Garcias project from the thingification that he aims to
lead us out of? We can only speculate on the nuances between things that
are becoming more and more present and intrusive and the weakest being
(the something) that Garcia described. Instead of retreating to things that are
real, and theorising their autonomy, Garcia empties things in the way that
everything including matter, form, essence, nothing becomes something.
Instead of affirming the mysterious thing-in-itself, Garcia turns it into an
opening to the world outside the thing. It is clear that Garcia was inspired
by Alexius Meinongs theory of objects. Meinong, the brilliant logician from

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the Brentano school, distinguishes Sosein from Sein (Meinong, 1904). A


squared circle or a unicorn is something that exists, though it may not be
demonstrated as a real being. A squared circle is a Sosein but not a Sein.
Hence there is no Seinsfrage for Garcia, but rather a Soseinsfrage. The world
of Sosein is not the world of Dasein or of Seiende but opens a new inquiry
into the entanglement of intentional inexistence. A squared triangle is equal
to a flower, a flower is equal to its petals. But a squared triangle cannot be
reduced to a flower, nor can a flower be reduced to its petals.
To be something is not to be something else. Everything is in the world, when
the world is comprehended as an object, nothing is in it. Everything that
is comprehended also comprehends something else. They are not just real
things, but also things that are real. There is a chance to be something, and
not being no-matter-what, but in order to be something else, a thing cannot
be what it was. Ontological liberalism has no claim and no place confronting
the poorest and weakest ontology of no-matter-what, something, nothing,
in between. Since, on the one hand, the world of Garcia is totally flat and
everything is equal, on the other hand, it is so weak that it cannot even
serve liberalism; instead it presents itself as an acceleration of abstraction
that turns itself against the hesitation of liberalisms. To be sure, one can
also ask whether the project itself doesnt belong to ontological liberalism?
Maybe it does, but it would be one that leads ontological liberalism to
negate itself; maybe one could think of the metaphysics of Tristan Garcia as
the apocalypse of liberalism.

Reconfiguration of the accumulation of objects


The movement shifts from the comprehending to the comprehended, one
thing to another, from the formal to the objective; it couples and accumulates
into the universe. Hence, when one wants to be present, one cannot be
absent, one cannot hide since hiding breaks the unequal reciprocal relation
of comprehending and being comprehended. Hiding is a refusal of being
comprehended. In the project of Graham Harman, objects have the tour de
force to withdraw or to hide; in the flat world of Garcia, there is always the
fairness deprived of all desire and power, or there is always an opportunity
cost to pay: If one acquires the rights of all humans, then one must lose
in particularity what one gains in universality (p. 157). It does not mean
that there is no co-existence, but rather different realities of existence, or
if we follow Gaston Bachelard, the co-existence has different orders of
magnitude. These orders may exclude each other, but they co-exist. Light
can be observed in terms of wave and particles, but it cannot appear as
wave and particles at the same time.
When does something cease to be a thing but an object? And when does the
world cease to be the world in which things are in it? This is the question of
objective determination. For example, when the form of a thing has taken
another form that poses limits to it, then it becomes an object (p. 146). When
one listens to the sound of a falling stone, there is a certain form present to

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us, but when we quantify the form, for example through temporal division,
it is no longer a thing but an object:
By fixing the limits to this matter and form, by thinking that a thing
is composed of atoms, for example, and that a thing has a geometric
form, one substitutes a certain limit (a geometric, spatial pattern) in
place of the form (the world). And we pass from the formal to the
objective. (p. 138)
The flat world is not one deprived of possibility, but rather serves the
possibility of its manifestation. We see a division that Garcia has set up,
which presents some oppositions to his metaphysical projects. Things
are formal, the world is flat; objects are hierarchical, and the universe is
accumulative. In the flat world of things, there is an absolute equality (but
not equivalence). Hence we can understand that the formal is dedicated to
the world of things, the objective to the universe of objects. The formal is
the possibility for objective, but also what is beyond the objective, like the
universe that gives life but is also able to take it away. It is clearer when
Garcia writes beneath the smallest and beyond the biggest, it is not an
objective problem, but a problem of things and world, and therefore of
formal knowledge (p. 163). But the formal world is neither an energetic
world nor a world of intensity, which individuates itself when certain
thresholds are reached. The formal world is one that has a lack of intensity
and force. They are, because they are something.
In the second part of the book, the author engages with concepts of other
thinkers such as Mausss gift economy, Marxs class, McTaggarts eternal
time, Benoists Bolzano, etc. However, these seem to be rather quick
descriptions of vast categories such as culture, economy, technics, human,
while it remains to be explained why these categories but not others are
chosen to demonstrate his metaphysics. The author wanted to demonstrate
the construction of these concepts and hence to draw our attention back to
the flat world, and to what he calls de-determination (Garcia, 2014: 288). Let
us take an example of the chapter Economy of Objects, in which Garcia went
back to the utilitarian tradition of Jeremy Bentham, John Stuart Mill and the
anti-utilitarian tradition of Mauss, George Bataille, etc. This reflection can be
understood as the authors intention to connect his philosophy with current
discourse. However, although these names serve as short-cuts to certain
questions, these concepts prevent the author from further developing his
own original ideas.
In the epilogue to Kacems book, Garcia re-defines a critical task for
metaphysics in contrast to critique, in the sense of political economy and
the Frankfurt School. He distinguishes the task of critique as deceleration,
from his own approach which functions as acceleration by abstraction
(Garcia, 2014: 282285). The link between this acceleration by abstraction
still needs to be distinguished from the accelerationism which has gained
popularity since 2013. In the conceptualisation of Garcia, the metaphysical

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intervention aims to lead to a de-determination, and to reposition the


conceptual and political developments. But after all, besides the haunting
effect of the flat world and the spectres of the weakest beings, does one
have too much hope for metaphysics? Garcia was probably aware of this
question, as already indicated at the beginning of the book, and in the end
one has to appreciate his novelty and courage, since this is only the very
beginning of his career.
References
Chevillard (2007) Oreille Rouge. Paris: ditions de Minuit.
Garcia T (2011) Forme et objet: Un trait des choses. Paris: PUF.
Garcia T (2012) lments pour une prsentation de forme et objet: Un trait des
choses. Paper given at Sminaire interne CIEPFC, 20 January.
Garcia T (2014) Critique et prmission. In: Kacem MB (ed.) Algbre de la Tragdie.
Paris: ditions Lo Scheer, 247306.
Gilson E (2008) Ltre et lExistence. Paris: Virin.
Harman G (2012) Object-oriented France: The philosophy of Tristan Garcia.
Continent 2(1): 621.
Meinong A (1904) ber Gegenstandstheorie. Available at: www.gleichsatz.de/bu-t/gene/meinong/standtheorie1.html (accessed 31 January 2015).

Yuk Hui
Institut fr Kultur und sthetik Digitaler Medien,
Leuphana University Lneburg, Germany
[email: yuk.hui@leuphana.de]