Tuesday, November 24, 2009


In a couple of recent posts Levi has developed his notion that objects relate to each other via translation. This means for onticology that no two objects directly encounter each other, but that instead objects - and specifically 2 or more objects - inter-act through the process of interpretation of differences.

In answer to a couple of questions of mine, Levi states:

If it helps to visualize what is going on here, just think in terms of black boxes: actant1 (input) —-> actant2 (black box) —-> product (output). That’s all there is to it. Think about your phone. You have an input (electrical pulses), a black box (the phone itself), and the product (the sounds that come out of the receiver).

Therefore translation takes an actant (or object), interprets it, adds something new to it, and as a result produces something new. Another great example of this would be the process of photosynthesis. As Levi lays out in an older post:

Think about photosynthesis. Here we have photons of sunlight, the leaf and its photosynthetic cells, and the sugar produces. The leaf “translates” the photons of sunlight and produces something new: the complex sugars. There is no resemblance or identity between the photons of light and these complex sugars. Rather that sunlight becomes something new in passing through the medium of the photosynthetic cells.

So far I completely understand and agree with Levi's use of translation (I guess this is also Latour's, as well). But where I struggle, especially after Levi was kind enough to explain this concept even further, is: what exactly happens during translation? What is translation? And why do some things get translated and others do not?

Translation is more than a simple replication. Translation always involves a certain degree of interpretation in which what is inputted is always changed or transformed - from photons of light to complex sugars. Objects translate each other, they change each other without encountering each other directly, which means that objects first and foremost recognize each other.

For leafs to translate photons of light into complex sugars, they must recognize the photons of light as photons of light. Just like we have to recognize the word unheimlich as German in order to translate it, objects must recognize other objects in order to translate them. In other words, the leaf doesn't attempt to translate any and all objects into complex sugars, but to some degree sees (not literally) the photons of light as being translatable. But even this recognition adds confusion, as we can now say that objects predict, expect, or anticipate other objects - they recognize potential.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Allusion and Influence: How to Say and Do Something Without Having to Say or Do It

In Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics Kant argues that:

On the contrary, I say that as objects of our senses existing outside us are given, but we know nothing of what they may be in themselves, knowing only their appearances, i.e., the representations which they cause in us by affecting our senses. Consequently, I grant by all means that there are bodies without us, that is, things in themselves, we yet know by the representations which their influence on our sensibility procures us, and which we call bodies. This word merely means the appearance of the thing, which is the unknown to us but is not therefore less real. Can this be termed idealism? It is the very contrary. (298 - pg.33).

In Prince of Networks Harman states:

When the hammer surprises us with its breakdown, the exact character of this surprise can admittedly be described by various predicates. But note that ‘surprise’ is only the phenomenal result of the previously concealed hammer. The veiled, underground hammer cannot be identified with the surprises it generates, since these merely allude to its existence. (Allusion and allure are legitimate forms of knowledge, but irreducible to specific predicates.) (225)

And in a recent blog post he gives us another statement on allusion:

The point is that you don’t just have the options of saying something or not saying it. There is also a way of saying something without saying it: we allude to it. The same is true of thinking: it is quite easy to think of something without thinking it in the full-blown sense: “The tree that exists outside thought” is such a case. Here, I allude to the tree. As Levi wonderfully put it earlier this fall, my inability to “know” the tree in the full sense is turned from an obstacle to realism and metaphysics into the very condition of it.

For Kenneth Burke in Grammar of Motives, on the crossing over the gap between the phenomenal and noumenal realms:

The thinkable but unknowable noumenal realm, then, was taken [by Kant] as the ground of the phenomenal realm. But we slid over a Grammatical embarrassment. If the phenomenal is the realm of relationships, and the noumenal is the realm of the things-in-themselves (i.e., without relationships), just how could there be a bond between the two realms? … Kant compromised a weasel word, saying that the noumenal “influences” the phenomenal. (198).

My question is, then, what's the point for rhetoric? Isn't allusion just another "weasel word"? If we can't ever know objects by way of language and objects never fully let themselves appear in the first place, what's left? To speculate? On what? To allude to or speak of influences? What for?

Or does this involve the rhetorician becoming a constant mediator? A babbling machine that is always alluding, explicating surprises, and arousing influences? The rhetorician, instead, becomes a stepping stone in the walkway between the thing-in-itself and the language we use to describe it. It seems to me that to practice rhetoric in an object-oriented philosophy is less about persuasion of action, than it is about persuasion of language. To say something without saying it means that we must spend even more time focused in on the words we use, the examples we give, and perhaps objects we choose to discuss - in effect, to bring poetry back into the equation.