object-oriented rhetoric

real objects, change, and rhetorical persuasion

Perhaps some of you OOO folks out there can help me think through this question. In OOO we are familiar with the concept of redundant causation which indicates that an object can change its parts without becoming a different object. For example, my department can change faculty and students over time but still remain the same English department. One can go through "life-changing" events like falling in love and finding religion but still be the same real object, still be the same person. On the other hand, if I take a hammer and smash a plate into pieces or, as we see in one of Harman's go-to examples, a flame consumes a piece of cotton: a real object is transformed. I eat an apple and then the apple is no longer an apple. It is transformed into part-objects, and then some of those part-objects become part of me. I am less certain about what OOO would make what Deleuze terms "incorporeal transformations," as when a defendant is found guilty in a courtroom. However I suspect that even the shift from citizen to prisoner does not move beyond the realm of redundant causation. And clearly the legal system thinks so, otherwise one would be jailing a different person from the one who committed the crime. So that leaves one potential area for change, the sublime, Tim Morton's strange stranger. Sublime encounters change us, but they do not transform us in a way that we become different real objects.

Or at least that would be my understanding of how the OOO system works. It is one of the clear differences between OOO and more process-oriented philosophies of becoming where the object is always in flux and even the accidental qualities of an event constitute real changes. Very rarely will words directly transform a real object. One may be so shocked or angered by a word as to drop dead suddenly… I guess. In an indirect way, someone may direct a firing squad: ready, aim, fire. In short, words, like other objects, have the capacity to transform other real objects through vicarious causation. This leaves a fair amount of open territory as there are many changes that we would consider absolutely crucial, perhaps almost everything we care about, that would not constitute a change to real objects: education, for example. Right now, much effort is being spent on the presidential election, but none of that rhetorical persuasion will actually change the real objects/citizens who will vote. When we look at climate change we can see here the transformation of real objects (e.g. power grids) but equally important may be shifting existing objects within the network into different relations (e.g. human attitudes and practices). 

In The Quadruple Object Harman indicates that each time an object enters into relation with another object, a new object is formed. Here is an extended passage:

If certain components are arranged in as such a manner as to give rise to a thing that exceeds them, in such a way that it can withstand certain changes in these components, then they have entered a genuine relation with each other as real objects rather than merely stroking one another's sensual facades. It should now be clear that insofar as we somehow connect with a real object outside us, giving rise to perceptions of sensual trees, mailboxes, or blackbirds, we have somehow linked with that object to form a new real object. While it is true that perceptions are transient, no purely physical, and also made up of rather heterogeneous pieces, these points disqualify them as objects only for those who accept needless traditional views of what an object is. For in fact, my perception of a tree does meet the criteria for an object.

It is this formation of relations, and hence new objects, that interests me, and I believe indicates a role for rhetoric. In Guerrilla Metaphysics Harman gives some attention to the concept of allure, which is the mechanism by which real objects interact with sensual ones. As he writes, "allure is a special and intermittent experience in which the intimate bond between a thing's unity and its plurality of notes somehow partially disintegrates." Allure clearly has rhetorical features, as Harman discusess different types of allure such as humor and charm. Still allure does not arise in every encounter between objects. What does occur, however, is the emergence of a new object, however transient. So, to use Harman's example, my perception of a tree creates a new object, but when I stop looking at the tree, the object ceases to exist. 

Rhetoric then might be the means by which new relations are attracted and sustained, or more accurately, one of the means. For example, the relationship that makes a student part of class or invests a reader in a book is obviously rhetorical. How about these?

  • a dog and its territory
  • a troop of baboons
  • mould on bread
  • a search algorithm and a web page
  • a rainstorm and a riverbed

I'm not really sure that the answer is. In part I want to answer by asking what happens if we do think of these things as rhetorical?

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