object-oriented rhetoric

objects, agency, freedom

One potential point of difference among OOO folks might be how to handle the question of freedom, if such a thing exists. Robert Jackson has a good post on the matter here. He also references Graham and Levi. Undoubtedly, questions of agency and freedom are of great interest to humanists. We've been stripping away commonplace notions of freewill for centuries and then seeking out clever ways to reassert a subjective capacity to make and act upon choices.

First a little term definition here. Objects… well in some respect how one understands objects will inform one's understanding of the other two. My take is closer to DeLanda and Levi than it is to Graham. By which I mean that I have articulated objects with some concepts of virtuality and topology. But let me return to that in a moment. Agency needs to be defined as distinct from freedom. As I've argued here in the past, I view agency as a product of relations. One only has a capacity to act in relation to an other. What I can do with the contents of my jumble drawer is different from what MacGyver can do. The agency of those objects unfolds in their relation to me, as mine unfolds in relation to them. If we think abou these things in relation to the virtual, as objects become exposed to one another, they take on particular appearances. Here I am thinking about this in terms of Graham's sensual objects. The objects always withdraw from one another, but what withdraws is not party to agency. 

Freedom is another matter. Freedom stems from the notion that even though one undertakes a particular action in a particular event, one could have done something different. Of course one commonly feels the experience of freedom, right? When you read a menu, it feels like you can choose anything listed, even though you end up ordering only certain things. Philosophically I believe what is required is a working theory that accounts for this experience as something other than as an illusion. There is some kind of mechanism at work there that we are trying to account for when we talk about free will. Without the exercise of that mechanism, I'm not sure you could survive for very long. Whether that mechanism is a necessary adaptation, an accident of evolution, or divinely-gifted (or cursed), it exists and needs to be described. And in good object-oriented fashion, I don't believe it is a human-only trait. I'm not sure this mechanism is installed in every object, but it is certainly possible to investigate its operation in other objects.

In the end, agency and freedom are not incompatible with a deterministic universe. In fact, what would be the value of freedom if one was not able to take actions with determinable results.What would freedom mean if actions weren't predictable on some level? There's a difference between a deterministic universe and a pre-deterministic one. Perhaps freedom might be construed as the mechanisms of agency within an object: the relations that operate within an assemblage. Even as a particular action comes into realization, one can experience the potential for other possibilites. Perhaps there is no way to know how real those other possibilities are. Those possibilities do exist though, at least as sensual objects. I.e., we can sense them. We continue to have relations with those thoughts (e.g. regrets). We create strategies and tactics.

If relations create agency, they also create obligations and ethics. These notions are worthless without some theory of freedom. We must have a theory of freedom that allows objects to undertake ethical actions.  Perhaps this is the greatest thing that an object-oriented rhetoric can provide. If classical rhetoric, arguably, provided a way from citizens to participate in a democracy, and modern rhetoric articulated relations that underwrote science, markets, and the state, then an object-oriented rhetoric will need to offer a space for the networked relations of the future and the ethical imperatives of sustainability.