object-oriented rhetoric

object-oriented rhetoric's style

Ok, I think I've caused myself enough trouble with digital humanities talk for a little while, so I'm going to turn to a different issue. A good part of my recent scholarly work has been focussing on the connections between OOO and rhetoric, and right now I'm thinking about the question of style. In some ways style is the canon most visible in OOO. I think it connects with the way Harman discusses metaphor and also his brief discussion of rhetoric in Prince of Networks. Morton also raises style, particularly ekphrasis, in his forthcoming article for Qui Parle.

Not surprisingly, I come at object-oriented rhetoric in a Deleuze –> DeLanda —> OOO fashion, with Latour and Massumi roving about. So here are some points I draw together. I'm just going to outline them here, so see if you can follow the abbreviated thread.

  1. In A Thousand Plateaus, Deleuze and Guattari discuss style as a collective assemblage of enunciation. 
  2. Collective assemblages of enunciation then fit into their larger diagram of assemblages on a line that extends from materiality to expression, with enunciation tied to expression, along with incorporeal transformations. It is important to note here that when we are discussing "expression," we do not mean language or code.
  3. DeLanda adopts this model for his assemblage theory. So we have one line from material to expression and a second line from territorialization to deterriotorialization. Then DeLanda adds a third line of coding to decoding.

image from So style becomes an expressive feature of assemblages. The connection to incorporeal transformation is relevant here as well, as this links style to quasi-causal multiplicities, that is to virtual mechanisms that participate in a non-deterministic way in the becoming of assemblages. Massumi actually has a great bit on style in Parables for the Virtual where he talks about soccer. Basically if you think about a soccer match as an assemblage, you can imagine it having a kind of steady state organized by the two poles (the goals) at either end, plus the boundaries of the pitch, which together organize the general distribution of the players and the ball. Add in though, that singular player with the unique playing style. The expression of that style can, in a moment, disrupt the steady state of the game and create a moment of high intensity.

So what do we want to say about style then? Perhaps it is the quasi-causal expression to which objects are exposed in their relation to one another. The interesting thing about a quasi-causal expression is that it would preserve the OOO principle that objects do not actually touch. Instead, one gets a kind of ekphratic, autopoietic translation as one might see in Harman's sensual objects. That is, in the encounter with an object's style, one is exposed to affective/expressive intensities. These are quasi-causal; they aren't like one billiard ball striking another. The outcome of the exposure is not determined. As Morton points out in the article mentioned above: "The ekphrastic object makes us see ourselves as objects traversed–translated by others. Longinian ekphrasis is not about the reaction of the (human) subject, but about rhetorical modes as affective-contemplative techniques for summoning the alien." I read this as suggesting that style describes at least one of the ways in which objects encounter one another and hence become open to the possibility of becoming/mutation in quasi-causal, non-deterministic ways. 

From a rhetorican's perspective, it is important to remember that "style" is both a characteristic of an object AND a process or practice by which those characteristics are composed. The former is easier to address in OOO terms than the latter. Regarding the latter, from a Deleuzian perspective, if style is a collective assemblage of enunciation then one answer is to say that style is composed of other assemblages. I.e. the stylistic characteristics of any assemblage have their own material, expressive, territorializing, and deterritorializing components. Perhaps even their own coding and decoding components. I'm not sure if that's a helpful answer, but its something to consider. 

It might be more helpful to say that style is both a characteristic of an object and the experience of an object by another, where those two parts are articulated to one another as a relation. From the perspective of a composer, of course, one tries to anticipate the audience's experience/relation with the object one is composing. But ultimately, one cannot shape those processes directly. However, one can participate in the composition of the object's characteristics. In doing so, one might seek to map the network relations that articulate the particular compositional assemblage at work. Just as the great soccer player or guitarist experiements with his/her assemblage to develop a style, any rhetorical style emerges from an iterative process of repetition plus difference. This is the quasi-causal element. Of course now I am verging into the invention of style, which leads to another canon and some future post.

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