object-oriented rhetoric

some questions about incorporeal transformation

I think we are on firm ground when speaking of incorporeal transformation and any kind of language or symbolic behavior. When the newspapers speak events into being or when a defendant is declared guilty or really any symbolic act where one accepts identification is an incorporeal transformation. However, these acts cannot occur in language alone, they require a larger assemblage: the defendant's guilt is only meaningful in a legal sense with a courtroom and a penal system. Elsewhere perhaps a different transformation might occur, or maybe no transformation occurs.

How about transformations in the relations between humans and animals? Is a pet or domesticated animal that responds to commands experiencing an incorporeal transformation? How much (or what kind) of cognition or agency is needed? How about between humans and other objects? If a geologic formation is identified as a natural resource is that an incorporeal transformation? (e.g. there's gold in them there hills!). I would suggest that these are all incorporeal transformations. And I should note that they are reciprocal: the animal becomes the pet; the human becomes the pet owner. The hills become a gold mine; the humans become miners.

So what happens when we take humans out of the equation? If one animal identifies another as a prey or predator, is that an incorporeal transformation? When a bird's song identifies a territory and another bird recognizes the song? When animals identify a mate? To what extent would we say that those things we typically term "instinctual" are the result of collective assemblages of enunciation rather than strictly machinic assemblages (the interminglings of bodies)? Or do we want to question this distinction? In some respects, I would want to keep these distinctions provisional, and yet I think there is a useful difference to maintain between the exchange of forces we see in the realm of physics and the exchange of forces in these examples above.

The really hazy area is conceiving of incorporeal transformations in relations among objects where it is very difficult to imagine any kind of cognition, any kind of relations that are not machinic. The easiest potential examples are among computers in a network. When one computer addresses another, certain functions/capacities are enabled. Maybe that's an incorporeal transformation. When my phone finds a network? hmmm… Obviously that's a machinic operation, but incorporeal transformation require machinic components. But can the lamp enact an incorporeal transformation on the nightstand? Or is its capacity for collective assemblages of enunciation only realized in its exposure to other objects (like people)?

I think it would reasonable to argue that operations like atoms bonding to form molecules or objects falling under the effect of gravity are not incorporeal transformations. But then one wonders about the strange realm of indeterminacy that lies at the subatomic level. Incorporeal transformation is not about will or agency. They are instead about the capacity to effect and be affected by certain kinds of forces that are not strictly machinic. Should such forces be deemed rhetorical? Or are rhetorical forces only one kind of incorporeal transformation? One thing we might say about incorporeal transformations is that they are not determinate in the way machinic relations can be. That is, I can declare there is gold in those hills, but that does not have a determinate impact on the hills. Many other things have to happen along the way.

Clearly this is the case with our standard, language-based concepts of incorporeal transformation. They don't always work the way we'd expect. As in Austin's example of an illocutionary act, I can ask "Do you have the salt?" at the dinner table with the expectation of someone passing the salt, but it may not happen. Not only may someone refuse the command; someone could simply not recognize the command. It's a different kind of force from the one that reaches over and grabs the salt shaker. Of course that force can also fail (maybe the salt shaker slips from our hands). 

In any case, I am still thinking about how far one extends incorporeal transformation beyond language and thus where rhetoric might go.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.