Graham Harman’s Object Orientated Ontology (OOO or triple O) provides geographers with new ways to think through the relationship between space and time and what these terms mean. Harman discusses space and time in the majority of his main works, including Tool Being (2002) and Guerrilla Metaphysics (2005). An essay in Towards Speculative Realism (2010) entitled ‘Space, time and essence’ provides a useful condensed overview of his thinking on the topic.
How does Harman’s account contribute to geographers understanding of space-time? According to Merriman (2011) space and time are generally understood as the basis through which all geographical analysis is undertaken.
“If there is a foundational and ontological proposition on which many contemporary Anglophone human geographers appear to agree, it is that we should seek to study how social and cultural phenomena unfold in both space and time, with the processual enactments of events co-producing multiple, open space-times or time-spaces”.
How space and time are theorized, has of course been subject to much debate. Merriman points to four main perspectives that have dominated these debates; those of spatial science, time geography, nonrepresentational theory and the Neo-Marxist politics of space-time. While there are many complex differences between these perspectives it would be possible to argue that all four share two major points of conjecture; namely that space and time are understood either as a container for entities to exist within or the outcome of the relationship between these entities themselves.
Graham Harman’s position could be understood as occupying somewhat of a middle ground between these two. For Harman “space and time emerge from the structure of objects themselves” (2010 p146), but at the same time are not purely relational. In Harman’s ontology time is not an external flow or force that operates outside particular objects, but instead emerges from an objects relationship with other objects. As Harman puts it: “instead of one universal time, pushing everything forward with monotonous grinding clockwork, we find there are countless times, one for every object…Time is the strife between an object and its accidents or contiguous relations” (2007 p250).
What humans experience as the ‘flow’ of time is actually the accidental qualities of that object changing.
“There would be no sense of time if we could not experience streets or plastic bottles under subtly shifting conditions from one instant to the next. The feeling that time is flowing along is in fact a sense of the swirling play of accidents on the surface of slightly deeper intentional objects” (2008 p217).
In this case, time emerges or ‘emanates’ from the play of qualities between sensual objects rather than a flowing movement of some transcendental force. In my reading, one consequence of Harman’s ontology is that time is no longer seen as a flow whose force or direction cannot be changed. Harman argues that when understood as the outcome of relation between qualities, time itself is fundamentally reversible, while space is irreversible. From this perspective: “the mere flow of time changes nothing, and what we are measuring when we measure progression are changes in the actual regime of objects, also known as changes in space” (ibid p252).
As such, space is irreversible because any change in an objects relationship with other objects fundamentally alters how these objects are distributed. Moving an object back again does not result in space being the ‘same’ as before because the qualities of the thing itself have changed through its movement.