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.