Incorporeal transformation is an intergral part of assemblage theory, specifically Deleuze and Guattari’s collective assemblages of enunciation. In A Thousand Plateaus “Postulates of Linguistics,” incorporeal transformation is an important concept. As the title of the plateau would suggest, the focus here is clearly on language and signs. Probably the typical example of incorporeal transformation is when a defendant is proclaimed guilty at a trial. So the first impluse is to think about incorporeal transformation in terms of Searle or Austin in terms of illocutionary acts. In ATP, Deleuze and Guattari take up the illocutionary. Here’s an extended quote:
The theory of the performative sphere, and the broader sphere of the illocutionary, has had three important and immediate consequences: (1) It has made it impossible to conceive of language as a code, since a code is the condition of possibility for all explanation. It has also made it impossible to conceive of speech as the communication of information: to order, question, promise, or affirm is not to inform someone about a command, doubt, engagement, or assertion but to effectuate these specific, immanent, and necessarily implicit acts. (2) It has made it impossible to define semantics, syntactics, or even phonematics as scientific zones of language independent of pragmatics. Pragmatics ceases to be a “trash heap,” pragmatic determinations cease to be subject to the alternative: fall outside language, or answer to explicit conditions that syntacticize and semanticize pragmatic determinations. Instead, pragmatics becomes the presupposition behind all of the other dimensions and insinuates itself into everything. (3) It makes it impossible to maintain the distinction between language and speech because speech can no longer be defined simply as the extrinsic and individual use of a primary signification, or the variable application of a preexisting syntax. Quite the opposite, the meaning and syntax of language can no longer be defined independently of the speech acts they presuppose. (77-8)Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus
And then a few lines later, “And the illocutionary is in turn explained by collective assemblages of enunciation.” In short, language does something other than code. Is language a code? Can it be translated (into digital signals for example)? Apparently so. However, we cannot equate language with code, nor rhetoric with either language or code. The collective assemblage of enunciation address the force of order-words and incorporeal transformations. This is not simply a matter of context, as in recognizing that saying “I do” in a marriage ceremony is different from saying it elsewhere. It’s the recognition that language, as a kind of collective assemblage of enunciation, has an immanent capacity for incorporeal transformations that can be realized in particular relations.
Let’s set aside language and think instead about “expression:” bird songs, human music, territorial pissings, gestures, facial expressions, cries, howls, etc. Collective assemblages of enunciation are illocutionary; they do rather than communicate. Unlike language, they are not capable of translation, though certainly language is capable of translating them. As assemblages they have capacities. As such, depending on the relations with other assemblages that develop, those capacities may or may not emerge and incorporeal transformations may or may not transpire. The important point is that collective assemblages of enunciation are not simply code/representation nor are they only natural or only social. They are Latourian quasi-objects. As humans we are exposed to any number of incorporeal transformations. Think of how we are affected by body gestures, both conscious and unconscious, or tone of voice. Think of the illocutionary force of images or advertisements. We can explain these as “natural” reactions, though they are also certainly intertwined with social forces.
From this perspective, an object-oriented rhetoric begins with the illocutionary expressions of collective assemblages of enunciation. The capacity to be affected by incorporeal transformations is the foundation of rhetorical relations: relations that are not solely the intermingling of bodies, the machinic exchange of forces. In earlier posts, I’ve thought about rhetorical relations as those productive of thought/agency. I want to stick with that, as I think ultimately, the task of object-oriented rhetoric will be to expand thought, agency, and rhetoric to fill this space of incorporeal transformations, though right now they probably do not. Maybe this will be a matter of a reciprocal relationship, the capacity for agency and to affect others reciprocally includes the capacity to be affected and have agency overwritten.