Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Urbanized and Object-Oriented Rhetoric, Part Two

This isn't so much a part two, as it is a revisiting of yesterday's post on the documentary Urbanized. Not too long after I clicked "Publish Post" (lying awake in bed, in fact), I began to have some regrets. In particular, my own conclusion now gives me pause:
Bad design is design that mistakes itself as purely human. If we ignore the missing masses as "we" plan, they will come back to haunt us precisely where we live.
See the trap? I have just argued, from an object-oriented perspective, that objects, or in this case the materiality of a city cannot be reduced (see Latour) to the intentionality of the designer: there is always excess. My argument makes sense, given my use of Latour. That said, how sound or practical or ontologically possible is my advice to account for missing, nonhuman, masses?

I'll here go to Graham Harman:
Behind every apparently simple object is an infinite legion of further objects that "crush, depress, break, and enthrall one another." (Tool-Being 296)
In other words, we cannot stop them from haunting us. We cannot possibly know everything about every thing and thus include any and every thing that bears upon city life. By requiring designers to ac/count for nonhumans, do I implicitly argue that every nonhuman can be fully counted? (For more on the tension between Latour and Harman, see Harman's Prince of Networks as well as The Prince and the Wolf.)

So let's try this: the best a designer or a city planner (you know, rhetors) could do is to leave room for accidents. Make a city that will bend rather than break. Perhaps that is the way of describing the limits of, in the case of Urbanized, Modernist city planning. It's not simply that they failed to account for the nonhuman (for such an accounting is fully impossible), but that such Modernism left no wiggle room for crushing, depressing, breaking and enthralling objects.

And, to make OOO more explicitly into an OOR, the designers' and planners' techne needs to leave room for tuche, which is bound to happen. Thinking more about what OOR might do, what its William Jamesian cash value is, this might be a line of thought worth pursuing (having just recently read Kelly Pender's Techne and re-read Ballif's "Writing the Third-Sophistic"). That is, in terms of an object-oriented rhetorical production/invention/action, can we think in terms of both techne and tuche? Within our plans and actions there is the irreducible materiality of the nonhuman (the object, the thing--boy I need to tighten up that terminology).

Anyway, there's my part two, my revisiting, my apology. I'll sleep better tonight for sure.


  1. "we cannot stop them from haunting us." Yes. Awesome. Agreed. My undergrad class were discussing Burke the other day; one student realized that Burke wasn't attempting to "solve" the problems inherent in language and symbol as much as he was getting us to "cope" with them--to be cognizant of them. In your terms, we might say that cities have to be designed as processes in motion, ready for change, rather than in terms of permanent (Ideal) structures.

    "Thinking more about what OOR might do, what its William Jamesian cash value is, this might be a line of thought worth pursuing." Yes. This is my opposition to Harman (well one of them; the other is his dismissal of politics and power and his framing of rhetoric as merely enthymematic): Harman doesn't ever explain, beyond re-invigorating philosophy from its decent into postmodern madness, OOO does. I think he eventually will, but right now he is severely blinded by the philosophic screen.

    Good stuff.

  2. Thanks Wrangler. When I write, "to make OOO more explicitly into an OOR," I really want to say that for OOO to have any future it will need to be an OOR.