object-oriented rhetoric

Assembling books (and triangles)

With A Thousand Plateaus,Deleuze and Guattari announce "There is no longer a tripartite division between a field of reality (the world) and a field of representation (the book) and a field of subjectivity (the author)” (23). Of course, in rhetorical instruction, we are familiar with a different tripartite division: the “rhetorical triangle.” A Google search (or the typical college writing handbook) will reveal that the triangle refers to Aristotle’s three modes of appeal: logos, pathos, and ethos. However, Aristotle never wrote of rhetoric in terms of triangles. Instead, the rhetorical triangle is first drawn by James Kinneavy in 1969, though he certainly acknowledges Aristotle, among others, for his conception. In “The Basic Aims of Discourse,” Kinneavy’s triangle is “composed of an encoder (writer or speaker), a decoder (reader or listener), a signal (the linguistic product), and a reality (that part of the universe to which the linguistic product refers” (301). Kinneavy’s terminology suggests the cybernetic, scientific basis of his approach: “an attempt to formulate the nature of information, as such, must operate in a discourse vacuum which momentarily abstracts from the fact that information can be used in propaganda or be a component of a literary discourse” (297). Later textbook versions of the rhetorical triangle would replace them with author (encoder), audience (decoder), and subject (reality). Sometimes subject is replaced with “purpose.” Furthermore, these terms are them overlaid with Aristotle’s appeals creating encoder/author/ethos, decoder/audience/pathos, reality/subject (or purpose)/logos.  This remapping is only partly reflective of Kinneavy’s triangle. Kinneavy notes that certain rhetorical practices do emphasize certain elements of the triangle, so, for example, practices that focus on the decoder are primarily persuasive. These persuasive practices include advertising, which might principally appeal to pathos, but also political speeches and legal oratory, which one at least hopes are not solely emotional appeals. Nevertheless, this overlapping does reinforce a central modern theme; reality is a realm of fact and logic, separable from human, subjective questions of ethics and affect.

Latour observes a related triangle when he writes “'if you are not talking about things-in-themselves or about humans-among-themselves, then you must be talking just about discourse, representation, language, texts, rhetorics.' This is the third misunderstanding” (We Have Never Been Modern, 5). That is, Latour’s moderns divide the world into three parts: the natural, scientific world of nonhuman objects; the social world of humans; and the epistemological world of signs. The rhetorical triangle captures this, with the signal mediating between reality and the human encoders and decoders. As Latour continues, “the only way to escape from the parallel traps of naturalization and sociologization consists in granting language its autonomy” (64). However that is not sufficient in itself if language then remains a fully separate realm. Though the rhetorical triangle points to humans and nonhumans, it is only ever about signs: the author as a function of the text, the audience as addressed by the text, and the world as represented in the text.  Assemblages, however, are “quasi-objects” (to use Latour’s term), which “are much more social, much more fabricated, much more collective than the 'hard' parts of nature, but they are in no way the arbitrary receptacles of a full-fledged society” (55). They are part-natural, part-social, and part-discursive, belying these distinctions that form the modern world (and the book). Latour’s quasi-objects, like Deleuze and Guattari’s rhizome, require a different conception of assemblage and arrangement. The arrangement of the text cannot simply be a matter of heading and sub-headings, of sentences and paragraphs. Instead, the text’s assembly includes both human and nonhuman, as when the instruction manual mediates between a person and his mobile phone. No one imagines such mediations are transparent. We have all read enough instruction manuals to know they are anything but transparent! On the other hand, the manual is not in a distinct and distant realm unapproachable by either phone or human either.  This is the principle shift for rhetoric suggested by the rhizomatic arrangement of the assemblage, an ontological shift out of the purely symbolic realm of discourse and into the hybridized, ontological space of the quasi-object.



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