digital rhetoric Rhetoric/Composition

flat ontology and the virtual-actual circuit

I’ve been thinking some more about Scot’s question regarding the relation of Deleuze to object-oriented philosophy. Now I certainly do not want to come off as an expert, let alone confuse anyone into thinking that I number among these speculative realists. However I am interested in their work. I am coming to their work through Deleuze. When they make connections with Latour or De Landa, I am seeing those as connections to Deleuze as well. I also think that when one looks at Deleuze it is difficult to say his argument is ______.. In some sense the proliferation of concepts makes this impossible. Perhaps he was trying to avoid getting the “rhizome” or whatever pinned to his chest the way Derrida got pinned to deconstruction. One last caveat, my reading of Deleuze is surely influenced by Massumi, not only as translator of ATP but also because I read his User’s Guide quite early on in my encounter with Deleuze.

As I see it, it is over the issue of actual and virtual that object-oriented philosophers seem to have considerable problems. (There may be other issues, but this is the one I’m dealing with here.)

In Intensive Science and Virtual Philosophy DeLanda writes, “In a flat ontology of individuals, like the one I have tried to develop here, there is no room for reified totalities. In particular, there is no room for entities like ‘society’ or ‘culture’ in general. Institutional organizations, urban centres or nation states are, in this ontology, not abstract totalities but concrete social individuals, with the same ontological status as individual human beings but operating at larger spatio-temporal scales.” In this sense, this would seem to connect well with Deleuze, though DeLanda does note in some places Deleuze uses a different language. I’m not sure whether to characterize this as departure, critique, or clarification of Deleuze, and I’m not sure what’s a stake in those differences either.

With the virtual and actual we get something a little different. For Deleuze, the virtual is the plane of consistency or immanence while the actual is the plane of organization. Here’s a little chunk from A Thousand Plateaus:

The plane of consistency is the body without organs. Pure relations of speed and slowness between particles imply movements of deterritorialization, just as pure affects imply an enterprise of desubjectification. Moreover, the plane of consistency does not preexist the movements of deterritorialization that unravel it, the lines of flight that draw it and cause it to rise to the surface, the becomings that
compose it. The plane of organization is constantly working away at the plane of consistency, always trying to plug the lines of flight, stop or interrupt the movements of deterritorialization, weigh them down, restratify them, reconstitute forms and subjects in a dimension of depth. Conversely, the plane of consistency is constantly extricating itself from the plane of
organization, causing particles to spin off the strata, scrambling forms by dint of speed or slowness, breaking down functions by means of assemblages or microassemblages. But once again, so much caution is needed to prevent the plane of consistency from becoming a pure plane of abolition or death, to prevent the involution from turning into a regression to the undifferentiated. Is it not necessary to retain a minimum of strata, a minimum of forms and functions, a minimal subject from which to extract materials, affects, and assemblages? (270)

It is perhaps these relations that object-oriented philosophy objects to, and which might contradict the idea of a “flat ontology.” In OOP, as I see it, there is a greater emphasis on the objects themselves and less importance placed on relations. The virtual is a mapping of relations, the immanent space populated by objects. DeLanda explores Deleuze’s motivations for articulating the virtual as an effort to avoid essentialism and typological thinking. These questions still seem to be at stake in OOP if they want to eschew the virtual. That is, how does one want to define the “object”? Is it objects all the way down?

Deleuze was perhaps more interested in the process/construction of objects than OOP seems to be. This was something noted over at Struggles with Philosophy as well. In any case, given the rhetoricians interest in “composition” (and “process” for that matter), I have found the virtual-actual circuit to be an integral part of this whole business (which is why it was a central element of my book).