Friday, March 26, 2010

In Response to a Response

I want to first thank Levi (before I get into my argument) because over the past couple of years I've really had a blast participating in these blog discussions - and he has been right there with all sorts of encouragement. Sometimes I can be snide, trite, and even downright rude (but which of us can't, right?), so I appreciate the patience he and everyone else in the OOO world has given to this lowly rhetorician.

But onto my post.

In his response to Tim and to my problem with the TV show Life After People, Levi over at Larval Subjects remarked:

I think narrative is a way in which these things take place, but is not the way. This is what I referred to in a prior post (over at Philosophy in a Time of Error, I think) as an occupational hazard. The rhetorician spends his or her time analyzing narratives and thus naturally sees narratives and signifiers in everything.

And then a little later:

The whole thing that set off my original post was Nate’s rather snide remark that all the object-oriented ontologist can say is “objects act”. Hell no. We’re interested in how objects act and celebrate those modes of analysis that show how objects act and what differences they contribute.

I've made bold this last sentence because it draws out a larger question. What, if we are not creating narratives, does Levi mean when he makes this last statement? A narrative is story set up in an sometimes enlightening but often constructive format. It can take shape in variety of forms (novels, short stories, poems, TV shows, movies, anecdotes, even grocery lists, etc, etc.). The first order observation that Levi fails to see when watching Life After People is that he is watching a narrative – I am in no way adding this narrative, as Levi claimed, since as a TV show Life After People is automatically a structured way of relaying a story – and if the title and the obvious fact that it is a TV show want to be ignored, one can always point out the second glaring reason – Life After People has a NARRATOR. The show, the story of a world without people still needs to be narrated, significance needs to be given to the objects of this specific (and post-human) world. BUT, this significance is not placed onto the show by an outside viewer as a first-order observation. No. It is inherent in the show itself, which brings me back to the original problem I had with it. When stripped of all of its narrative aspects, what are we left with? I would argue, that what we are left with is something far more boring than the job of a rhetorician.

My second problem is that I've never said that narrative is the only way objects interact (I refuse to say translate here because translation implies some sort of narrative work). But at the same time, when Levi in one of his comments suggests that what makes OOO interesting is that it doesn't rely on 1990's narrativity studies, I find myself saying “Yeah, go for it!” I'm just trying to understand how OOO is going to address these problems. You aren't taking away my toys, as much as you are ignoring the fact that there are toys to begin with. So far, I'm unconvinced. From a rhetorical (and when did we start lapsing into a Platonic notion of rhetoric as sophistry or fancy language?) standpoint if we only talk about the object we are the observer. If we talk from the object's point of view, we run the risk of giving the object qualities it does not locally manifest. So it seems that we are to always talk about the object-with-other-objects without forgetting that we are ultimately the ones performing the narrative.

*Note: While I was writing this post, Levi posted the following:

If onticology has something to offer at the level of object-oriented practice and epistemology, I think it is the hypothesis that objects act or are encountered in their doing. “objects act?” I'm confused. Just kidding.