object-oriented rhetoric

Neil Young, the sensuous object

Here is a clip of Jimmy Fallon as Neil Young covering the song "Don't be Tardy for the Party," originally performed by Kim Zolciak from Bravo's reality show "Real Housewives of Atlanta." Fallon takes on the role of Neil Young often on his late night show to cover/parody various songs and even the Internet meme "double rainbow."

So, yes, the video is funny, but it's a kind of in-joke. You have to know the song, the reality show, and, of course, Neil Young. And it's hard to step outside of that context if you have it. The original song is pop candy, a superficial celebration of hedonism.As light and unreflective as could be. Here, though, the sensuous apparition of Neil Young becomes a powerful machine of affectivity. As much as it is funny, I can't help hearing some of the genuine affect of Young come through. The song turns sad and conveys the nihilistic exhaustion that comes across in so many of Young's songs.

As light-hearted as this whole business is, I think it's a genuine opportunity to think through the rhetoricity of objects. In Guerilla Metaphysics, Harman writes:

In the sensual sphere, there is a difference between the banana as a single intentional object and the banana as a set of sensuous qualities. But there is also a lower floor of being, where we find a difference between the real banana as a single private reality, and that same real banana considered as a multitude of real attributes, quite apart from any relation that other entities may have with it.

The banana's sensuous qualities include the slipperiness of the peel and the opportunity for slapstick. Neil Young's vocal, musical, and personal style combine in such a singular way that they are also ripe for comic appropriation. And like the banana, Neil Young has a "single private reality," withdrawn and inaccessible, even to Young as a conscious subject. The rhetorical composition of Fallon's video requires exposure to Young, and while clearly Fallon does not have access to Young's withdrawn nature either, we are exposed to affectivity in a way that moves beyond parody. I would suggest that this version of the song has a sadness to it that circumvents its operation as imitation or parody. In fact, if one were capable of encountering the performance without the context of parody that it would be quite clearly a sad song.

In other words, the composition is not simply exposed to Young as a kind of imitable cultural icon but also to the objectivity of his timbre, as Morton puts it so nicely in his UCLA talk. This is what we can see in an object-oriented rhetoric.  In the act of composition, we are not simply exposed to arguments, meanings, or ideologies. We are exposed to objects, perhaps not their inner core, but to some exteriorization of the object. Affects are passed along; forces are exchanged. Something is delivered here, rhetorically speaking. And then below, inaccessible, we have that virtual machine of invention, ripping sensuous objects from the assemblage of other objects that form a composition, pulsing out mixtures of arranged structures and stylistic affects, and burning these into memory for future exposure and delivery.

And thus we encounter these odd moments, perhaps like Barthes' punctum, in the midst of parody, where we might be struck by something very different that reminds us that objects are deeper and more distant than they appear.

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