Cathexis, a wonderful term for mental energy or libidinal force or drive, is what is quintessential for Freud’s understanding of life or at least animal life in the world. It is the internal charge arising from the (nucleus of the unconscious). What we have illustrated at the beginning of this essay is that the drive is not a drive for ‘nothing in particular’; until it is branched by repression into life and death drive. At any rate, it is this drive that animates life. Yet, the drive-in-itself remains concealed forever. We can only make sense of the drive through how we engage with situations -external danger, culture, etc.

What this also means is that whether we want it or not, everyone exists in a particular way, everyone does things in a particular way, without necessarily intending all the time -unintending all the time. We can perhaps refer to this as un-intention -being animated by something unknowable and perhaps without reason. One of the questions that arises with this formulation is, what about free will? What about intention in an action? What about “I want to do this”? We will get back to this question at the end of this part. Let us first do a comparative understanding of style. This comparison is partly triggered to see if we can speak about repetition -or propensity- not only as the function of the drive, not only as a function of symbol, not only humans, animals and living things, but something that is innate to all things? How does a rock roll down the hill, every time? How does a river flood? How do planets and moons revolve? More importantly if all repetition is pre-determined, is there any space for intentions?

In Guerrilla Metaphysics (Harman, 2005) Graham Harman elaborates on the idea of style from Maurice Merleau-Ponty. Harman says style for Merleau-Ponty is not the visible properties or contours of things, but it is a reality that is invisible and animates all things. In that sense, we can say that a style, like cathexis, is always invisible and it becomes evident only in the object’s “behavior or way of dealing with situations, just as in the case of humans.”[1] However, unlike cathexis which has its origins in the unconscious, style is not the question of where but a question of what. “We can say of any object that it is not a bundle of specific qualities, nor a bare unitary substratum, but rather a style.”[2] Every object is already a style. As Harman puts it, we can sense a peculiar style of music, or a peculiar style of painting even if the said music or painting is not necessarily part of the oeuvre of the artist. For instance, if we simply copy Alt-J methods, equipment, sound samples, music arrangements and so on, we should be able to get an Alt-J style song. And yet, that almost never happens. 

Timothy Morton has further developed the idea of style in his book Realist Magic…. (Morton, 2012). Here, Morton takes a study of Aristotle’s Rhetoric to demonstrate his argument for style. As Morton notes, according to Aristotle, there are three important things in rhetoric: 1) Discovery (inventio), 2) Logic (ordo or dispositio), and 3) Style (elocutio). Morton argues that “Logic was once considered as first and second parts of rhetoric: discovery and arrangement, what you are going to say and how you are going to argue it through.”[3] Somewhere during the early Renaissance logic was separated from rhetoric. Not only that, logic itself would be split into science and logic. “At one stroke, rhetoric was restricted to mere style (Latin, elocutio); science as a separate discipline was born; and so was aesthetics.”[4] In short there was a severing that took place between style and substance. Morton suggests that OOO makes room for all the three parts of rhetoric to come together once again. To illustrate this point I will quote Morton in his own voice: “Working backwards, the sensual object persists (memoria), it displays a unique “style” (elocutio), it organizes its notes and parts (dispositio and ordo), and it contains what Harman calls a “molten core” that withdraws from all contact (inventio). The plastic cup does this to the pencil. The garden does this to the house. The plastic cup even does it to itself. The parts of the cup “deliver” the whole in a more or less distorted way, accounting for various aspects of its history and presenting the cup with a certain style, articulated according to certain formal arrangements— and finally, these qualities themselves are uncannily unavailable for present- at-hand inspection.”[5]

Seen this way, style, seems like an unintentional act, something that is innate -very similar to cathexis -way we walk, how we speak, how the oil paint spreads, how a brick lays, a timber behaves, a bird pecks, and so on. Not only humans but even non-human entities must have this concealed and hidden “molten core” which only hints its existence through “delivery”. After all, “a style is never visibly present, but enters the world like a concealed emperor and dominates certain regions of our perception.”[6]

Yet, in another sense, as Graham Harman noted in his lecture at the Annual ETHU Seminar 2020-2021, the question of style is also about how things are rendered in new relationships[7]. For example, when I am perceiving a tree, this perception takes place in the interior of a third new object that is composed of me and the tree. That third object can be described as a style. It creates a new world; it creates a tree-style that guides me to approach the tree in different ways.The tree-style dominates certain regions of my perception for that moment -without me necessarily being conscious about it. Something similar happens in a daydream or when a new idea emerges. 

OOO holds that relations are not necessarily reciprocal. For instance, my being in a city may or may not have any impact on city but the city might most certainly have an impact on me, my behavior, and so on. Consequently, not all my thoughts capture my attention, neither is my mind in control of thoughts.  Just like Freud notes in Thoughts from the Times of War and Death, civilization (culture) establishes itself by repression of the drive, of instincts. The style of the emergent object of any relationship -civilization, society, culture, neighborhood, home, family, friendships, animosities, etc. render its constituent parts, retroactively, in a different style -for the moment of that relationship, at least. 

So far all we have said is that everything is always happening in the background, unconsciously. The drive is in the background, the things I rely on are in the background, the civilization, the world, is in the background and I find myself living most of the time unconscious of either the energies from within my mental space or the energies exerted by any of my relationships in the world. If we are always unintending, where is the room for intentions? For free will? Are all things simply automatons? As the stern music teacher tells his overtly energetic student in Whiplash “I ask why you stop playing and your version of an answer was to turn into a wind-up monkey.” Are all things wind-up monkeys? 

What we learn from the discussion of style about the question of intention and free will is that, for humans and animals to have intentionality the presence and perception of other objects (human or non-human) is essential. Which means intentionality proper is always acting within a new relational object, a compound object. As Merleau-Ponty puts it “…it is by plunging into the present and into the world, by resolutely taking up what I am by chance, by willing what I will, and by doing what I do, that I can go farther. …We need not worry that our choices or our actions restrain our freedom, since choice and action alone can free us from our anchors.” This means, free-will demands an ever more entangling, a deep plunge into the world -a world of things. This also means that freewill always needs choice. And as we understand, there can be no choice without no object. A choice is always a choice between this or that -a simultaneous moment of severing and entanglement. 

This allows us to make sense of moments of concrete intentions (like a strong impulse to paint on a canvas, to write this essay for this seminar, an idea for a kind of space of a building that I cannot shake away, a kind of workspace I need to perform my work, etc.); this also allows us to carry on, or be traumatized, with several other censored drives without possibly being able to put a finger on them, or even knowing that such a thing might possibly at play in our psyche (involuntary actions like scratching my head, putting my hand under my chin, walking on the street, traumatized by a heart-break, loss of a dear one, etc.). 

Imagine you are a fresher to architecture studies, and this is your first day. So far you have lived your lives in a certain manner, and you have a way of doing things already which may or may not be similar to other students in your studio, or even your professors. You are expected to undertake several courses which will teach you how to draw like architects, think like architects, be like architects, technicalities of buildings, be an apprentice for a short while with an architect, and so on. You undergo a training for five years and magically, you are an architect now! You are doing many things that you did not do five years ago. Yet, you still do many of the architectural things the best way you can -some draw better than others, some make better models. Some have better ideas, some are great managers, etc. Then there are day-to-day activities that you carry on innately, no architectural training is necessary for that. However, often you end up making changes to life, because you are part of a new professional training. This experience is located within the emergent object of you and architecture. you and architecture are nudging, negotiating with one another within this relationship. As much as architecture shapes your life, you also have the capacity to shape architecture -although this effect need not always be reciprocal. This is not just a question of professional and formal training. Several of the great figures of Modern architecture were autodidacts. So were many, who we today consider today as architects, prior to Enlightenment period. This is even true in philosophy. When Graham Harman makes a compelling case to fellow philosophers to consider Bruno Latour as philosopher, and amongst the most important ones of our time; or when he makes a case for Marshal Mcluhan to be considered as a philosopher for our times, he is more than aware that disciplinary boundaries do not necessarily stop any person outside the discipline of philosophy to do philosophy or to philosophically engage with the world around us. 


[1] Harman, Graham. Guerrilla Metaphysics: Phenomenology and the Carpentry of Things. United States: Open Court, 2011.  

[2] Morton, Timothy. Realist Magic: Objects, Ontology, Causality. United Kingdom: Open Humanities Press, 2013.

[3] ibid, pg 78

[4] ibid, pg 78

[5] ibid, pg 86

[6] Graham Harman, Guerrilla Metaphysics: Phenomenology and the Carpentry of Things (Open Court, 2011). 

[7] Objects, Technology, Existence: Engaging with Graham Harman’s OOO – Annual ETHU Seminar 2020-2021.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xhRknAKRNsQ. See 3:36.38 to 3:28:53. Accessed 3rd July 2021. 

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