Recently, I have come to realize that part of what I want to articulate through philosophy is a certain interrogative dimension to the relationship between things. In doing a quick search on what an “interrogative ontology” might mean, it came as no surprise that the two sources which reference the subject were from philosophers whose work is in close orbit to my own. The first comes from the essay on Deleuze and Merleau-Ponty “Questioning to the Nth Power: Interrogative Ontology in Merleau-Ponty and Delueze” (here) and the second comes from a book on (again) Merleau-Ponty and Whitehead entitled Nature and Logos: A Whiteheadian Key to Merleau-Ponty’s Fundamental Thought, though the phrase in this context is in reference to Heidegger whom is credited as being the “initiator of interrogative ontology and of a radical reform of Western thought” (p. 71, here).
Interrogatives interest me insofar as they pose a question, lead elsewhere, and draw us forward. Moreover, they always draw us toward something, or rather, point out that we are already heading towards something. Perhaps this is also why I have been so taken by Alphonso Lingis as of late, this is very much what he argues in The Imperative. Lingis (and the phenomenological tradition before him), help us to take note that we never begin paying attention, we are already attending; we never begin to listen, we are already listening; we never begin to think, we are already thinking. It is this intersensorial plane within which we are always-already in that makes an interrogative ontology so appealing.
For Lingis, the imperative refers to the simple fact that we are already drawn into the world; already our senses are fixed upon its moving colors, drifting scents, and exploding sounds. In this way, the interrogative dimension is always at work. Every sensation and every thing exists both as itself and as a question; not a question waiting to be answered, or one that implies a solution hiding under the murky thicket of sensory life, but rather an open-ended question that draws one deeper into the recoiling depths of awareness. These depths seem to continually draw forth yet greater depth, filled with new dimensions of dark unpredictability.
In this sense the interrogative ontology is also a metaphysics of alterity. Here the exciting news is that alterity is not, in its first cosmic iterations, a strictly human, political concept. It is rather human beings whom recover the concept of alterity, drawing it from a deeper ontological well, and apply it to human ethics and politics. Alterity is often described as a synonym for “other,” “otherness,” “that which is other from identity.” What Levinas recovers in Totality and Infinity, is that the total always comes after the infinite; that infinity is a receding non-totalizable cascade, to be otherwise is to not be infinity. Levinas points to a cosmological mystery reckoned from the depths of being, rather than an invention at the level of human politics and awareness.
Thus the interrogative ontology and the metaphysics of alterity pose important cosmopolitical questions. Graham Harman, to his credit, has given us (or perhaps I should speak in the singular, has given me) some profound tools to think these questions. It is fair to say that Harman has provided just such an interrogative ontology that a metaphysics of alterity requires. Cosmopolitics then becomes a question of being attentive to all of the many-faced things coming forth, acting, and perishing in the cosmos. As my good friend Sam Mickey reminded me recently, Donna Haraway gives perhaps the best definition of cosmopolitics we could hope for. Cosmopolitics, Haraway says, is about “learning to play with strangers.”