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Absentology and Epistemology

We bring you another project presented at the conference the Sociology of tomorrow at the Department of Sociology at Masaryk University in Brno. The student conference took place on 4th and 5th of March. This year we had a pleasure to welcome international guests dealing with the topic "Central Europe, the world and the sociological imagination". Absentology is a scientific conception proposed by Márk Horváth and Ádám Lovász, scholars from the Eötvös Loránd University of Budapest.

Absentology is an ontological and social-scientific epistemological mode, dedicated to the analysis of absence. Existence itself is, in the view of absentology, fundamentally ungrounded, empty, devoid of substance and, in the final instance, lacking in meaning. Rather than attempting to hide the absence of an essential reality lying somewhere beyond the world of relations, absentology is an invitation to think about the ungroundedness of existents without reservation. As a result of its directionality, absentology is drawn by manifestations of absence wherever they may be encountered. Whether it be an abandoned ruin, a parasite burrowing into the flesh of an unwitting host, or a mystic enclosed within the flesh, absentology attempts to grasp the nothingness underlying each and every relational phenomenon. According to the absentological viewpoint, there is nothing outside/beyond/below/above relations. In the world, all there are are relations, enchained within an immense, infinite regress, opening and closing upon one another. Therefore, absentology, through its acceptance and utilization of a flat ontology, privileges the world of relations, while maintaining the ultimate ontological ungroundedness of these very relations. Absentology is, by consequence of its nonattachment to phenomena, a form of social inquiry fundamentally alien from each and every social form, without having any illusions about the possibility of an escape from the realm of relationality.

If radical critique is to recapture a primordial depth, it must come to understand manifestations of paradox. Strictly speaking, to become haunted is to achieve adequation with what lies outside of interpretation and interpenetration. As Giorgio Agamben would have it, „the tiny displacement does not refer to the state of things, but to their sense and their limits.”[1] Critical thinking therefore must reach the limit, and not merely satisfy itself with a mere reformism that would content itself with an autistic playing around with signs and signifiers. History and historical linguistics are coming apart, undoing themselves in a global meltdown that threatens to forever evacuate the process of interpretation, at least in this particular terrestrial context. The classic relationship between capital and the site of exploitation has exploded into a spectacular dissociation, an immense, even cosmic evaporation of social history. Now more than ever, radical action is required, one that is unafraid to reassociate itself with the notion of „community”, albeit an „inoperative”, self-evacuating one.[2] A recent study has uncovered a „gamma-ray excess” emanating from the Center of the Milky Way, a sign, astrophysicists believe, of dense dark matter pertaining in the core of our galaxy.[3] Flat ontology and flattened social theory must account of such discoveries, any and all scientific studies that seek to uncover the haunting, eerie nature of materiality. From an absentological perspective, it is of interest that the gamma rays are thought to result from „annihilations” of dark matter.[4] Quite often, on a sociological and physical level, phenomena are, in themselves, closed to detection and interpretation. It is merely through their negations that we are able to gain an indirect awareness of their presence.

Observing „gamma-ray excesses” and their analogies in the social world, the absentologist achieves communion with vacuity, participation in immersive non-involvement. Dark matter annihilation bears within itself the promise of infinitely multiplied operativity. No negation is complete, there is always already a remainder that has never been eradicated and shall never be, always a trace, a smidge, a remnant that refuses to disappear. Indeed, the remainder is refusal itself, the inert materiality that refuses to involve itself in interpretation. This inertness of materiality stands only in relation to our own discourse, our own hermeneutics. Stubbornly indifference and active involvement are no less relational than any other ontological terms, and as such, are not mutually exclusionary. An object may be intensely involved on other levels of reality, and yet remain indifferent to our own presence or our linguistic operations. In Graham Harman’s terminology, „the physical is neither the bodily nor the material. Instead, it refers to that dimension of a thing’s reality that is unrelated to the fact of its being thought or perceived.”[5] Therefore, the physical could be interpreted as being synonymous with objecthood. Objectivity may be etheral or densely material; one could even posit a „new materialism” that remains open to the possibility of haunted, spectral materialities, ghosts and specters that, in spite of their etheral nature, are manifestly independent of human presence. The physical would be an internal dimensionality, according to the definition given above, an internality dissociated from the Outside. But what lies inside of a redolent flower, a lotus flower hiding light among its petals? Would we find an abundance of colors, or something else entirely? It is of significance that in Harman’s ontology, similary to contemporary physical explorations of dark matter, objects impact their surroundings through their emanations, which can in their own right be interpreted as separate objecthoods, newer layers of materiality. For example, Harman writes of causality that it is composed of distince „moments” even in the case of what seems to constitute, initially, a unitary object, for „each moment inflicts itself upon its surroundings in distinctly different ways.”[6] The „tree-weight” tends to compress soil underneath itself, whereas „tree color” „bombards the universe” with distinct, separated wavelengths of light.[7] By way of comparison, annihilations of dark matter are thought to „produce potentially observable fluxes of energetic particles, including gamma rays, cosmic rays, and neutrinos.”[8] Similarly, haunted and haunting social absence tend to produce different layers of density, codes and symbols that attempt, always unsuccessfully, to reconstruct authentic representations and reconstructions of these abated presences.

As Antoine Picon writes, we are now capable of observing „crystallizations and microfissures” in the fabric of materiality; therefore, it is imperative, he argues, social theory must integrate the possibility of there being „entire worlds that reveal themselves to us in the folds of matter.”[9] Instead of letting the microscale escape from our grasp, we as social theorists and social scientists must get a firm grasp of both the macro-and microscalar. It is among the dense interstices that dark matter annihilation ensues; through detecting the „gamma rays” of this annihilation, we can find helpful markers of social absences. Gastón Gordillo, for example, has found such signs literally buried in rubble, in the form of slain Indians. Through their absence, their very removal from the scene of an artificially „purified” social landscape, the Indians effectuate an eerie, uncanny return.[10] As Gordillo argues, the postcolonial subject, in the case of south Argentina, returns through it’s own annihilation. Removed from view, these finite minorities nevertheless cannot be fully effaced by the colonialist. The fact of their saturating Argentina’s landscape attests to the impotence of colonial purification efforts. Dark matter annihilation attests, in hindsight, not to its removal from the cosmos, but its own spectral presence. Absentological epistemology would be knowledge attained through the circumstance of negation, ontological foreclosure. According to the current working hypothesis of astrophysicists, dark matter in itself is all but undetectable; merely after it is annihilated, after it has been foreclosed, may dark matter become open to discovery. There emerges from this erasure a dark light, a light that is provided without limitation (hence the term „gamma-ray excess”). The gamma-rays emanate from the „Galactic Center”[11]; their excess is provided, by a moment of ontological exclusion, a givenness that bleeds into measuring instruments upon our planet, a rock that is relatively nearby this central point. From within the redolent flower itself, there flow colors and scents, and a light that shines in secret communion with immediacy.

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[1] Agamben, Giorgio (1993) The Coming Community (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press), 54

[2] Nancy, Jean-Luc (1991) The Inoperative Community (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press)

[3] Daylan, Tansu, et al. (2014) „The characterization of the gamma-ray signal from the central Milky Way: a compelling case for annihilating dark matter.“ arXiv preprint arXiv:1402.6703., 17

[4] ibid

[5] Harman, Graham (2002) Tool-Being. Heidegger and the Metaphysics of Objects (Chicago and La Salle: Open Court), 245

[6] Harman 2002: 246

[7] ibid

[8] Daylan et. al. 2014: 1

[9] Picon, Antoine (2000) „Anxious landscapes: From the ruin to rust.“ Grey Room 01, 64-83, 80

[10] Gordillo, Gastón (2014) Rubble. The Afterlife of Destruction (London and Durham: Duke University Press) 229-253

[11] Daylan et. al. 2014: 2




-Agamben, Giorgio (1993) The Coming Community (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press)

-Daylan, Tansu, et al. (2014) „The characterization of the gamma-ray signal from the central Milky Way: a compelling case for annihilating dark matter.“ arXiv preprint arXiv:1402.6703

-Gordillo, Gastón (2014) Rubble. The Afterlife of Destruction (London and Durham: Duke University Press

-Harman, Graham (2002) Tool-Being. Heidegger and the Metaphysics of Objects (Chicago and La Salle: Open Court)

-Nancy, Jean-Luc (1991) The Inoperative Community (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press)

-Picon, Antoine (2000) „Anxious landscapes: From the ruin to rust.“ Grey Room 01, 64-83


Márk Horváth – Ádám Lovász, Eötvös Loránd University of Budapest



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