Monday, April 9, 2012

Kenneth Burke and Object-Oriented Rhetoric

Continuing to chew on an object-oriented rhetoric, I had this lovely run-in with Kenneth Burke this morning (from A Rhetoric of Motives):
Here are ambiguities of substance. In being identified with B, A is "substantially one" with a person other than himself. Yet at the same time he remains unique, an individual locus of motives. Thus he is both joined and separate, at once a distinct substance and consubstantial with another.
As we think of the place in rhetoric in object-oriented ontology, speculative realism, and new materialism (Barnett's discussion of metaphor, Brown's use of decorum, Bogost's procedural rhetoric, Reid's force and relation), I'd like to also ponder identification/consubstantiality as useful terms here. Particularly, they are potentially helpful in negotiating the relation/withdrawal tension (or, as I feel it, the Latour/Harman tension). UPDATE #1: In the comments to the post linked here Reid's force and relation, the connection to Burke gets made as well. "Read the comments," I remind myself. UPDATE #2: This connection I made this morning was also made by Nathan Gale (about a year ago).

Reading the above passage, I immediately thought of Harman's Guerrilla Metaphysics and that book's chief task of describing how objects relate.
Object-oriented philosophy has a single basic tenet: the withdrawal of objects from all perceptual and causal relations. This immediately implies a single basic problem: how do relations occur?
This is rather ambiguous, and Harman's task in the book is account for relations.
It needs to be shown how relations and events are possible despite the existence of vacuum-sealed objects or tool-beings.
Burke is at work with the same ambiguity.
The thing's identity would here be its uniqueness as an entity in itself and by itself, a demarcated unit having its own particular structure.
And here:
A is not identical with his colleague, B. But insofar as their interests are joined, A is identified with B. Or he may identify himself with B even when their interests are not joined, if he assumes that they are, or is persuaded to believe so.
For Burke, identification has a pragmatic value: rhetoric is the use of language (Burke isn't not wholesale amenable to an object-oriented rhetoric) to induce cooperation. Identification, as rhetoric, is necessary and made possible by division. We are only ever able to do anything together (produce effects) by virtue of those moments we identify or become consubstantial with one another, remaining, as we are, "demarcated units." What's useful here is how, I think or hope, such a connection between Burke and Harman is mutually beneficial. Identification describes (accounts for) the activity of bringing into relation discrete, demarcated, vacuum-sealed things. The need to cooperatively produce effects or to be affected compels us toward relations. Harman's object-oriented philosophy calls our attention to identification as fundamental to all relations and not just human relations.

I am obviously in the early going here, but I thought it worth noting. What's to gained, the question we are fruitfully asked in many places on digital digs, by describing nonhuman as well as human relations in terms of identification and consubstantiality? Is rhetoric a way to think about how objects relate or could rhetoric also be the plasma in which relations are possible? As objects divide (Burke) and withdrawal (Harman) from one another do they create the possibility and the need for rhetoric?
Identification is affirmed with earnestness precisely because there is division. Identification: is compensatory to division. If men were not apart from one another, there would be no need for the rhetorician to proclaim their unity.

1 comment: