Saturday, July 31, 2010

Rhetorical Scene and Onticology

Over at Larvalsubjects Levi has posted a couple of responses to my initial thoughts on what an OOR pentad might look like with regards to his Onticology. The large point of contention, however, seems to be based around a remark I made about an object’s environment. I stated that an object exists “in” an environment. Yet, as Levi points out, this is not the case for Onticology, and is a mistake I fully take credit for making. Instead, following the thoughts of Niklas Luhmann, every object creates its environment. In other words, as Levi states in his blog, “the environment is not something that is already there” – that is, before the object.

And to this I readily agree. However, the point I was trying to make is that in the distinction, drawn by each object, between system and environment, a series of constraints also follows, much like those of a rhetorical scene. Every scene contains elements proper to the act of translation – that is, the environment created by the object does not “control” the object’s translation but it definitely has an influence on it. And this “influence” is exactly what is meant by the constraints of the object’s environment. As Levi states in Democracy:
When Luhmann observes that objects cannot be controlled or dominated his point is not that objects are completely free sovereigns capable of creating whatever reality they might like, but rather that any event that perturbs them will be “interpreted” in terms of the systems own organization. As a consequence, objects cannot be steered from the outside. However, the events that do or do not take place in the environment of an object and to which the object is open nonetheless play a tremendously significant role in the local manifestations of which the object is capable. […] Those other objects in the environment of the object define a regime of attraction with respect to the object, creating regularities in the local manifestation of the object and producing constraints on what local manifestations are possible. (224)
For Levi, then, we can think of these interactive networks of other objects as regimes of attraction or as Tim Morton has called them, meshes. Therefore, depending upon the objects (since each object creates its environment) being examined, the regimes of attraction (and thus constraints) can include “physical, biological, semiotic, social, and technological components” (225).

So it is in this way that I understand the scene of every act of translation – built around the self-constructed regimes of attraction of other objects. So, although an object does not exist “in” an environment, nor is the object ever controlled by these regimes of attractions, these environments created by the object limit the possibilities of local manifestations.

And it is in this way that I see the limiting aspect of an object’s created environment as akin to Burke’s notion of scene. For as he states early on in Grammar, “From the motivational point of view, there is implicit in the qualities of the scene the quality of the action that is to take place within it. This would be another way of saying that the act will be consistent with the scene” (6-7). In other words, there never exists an act that is inconsistent with its environment or regimes of attractions. Nor would we ever be able to deduce the act of translation from either the object/system or the environment alone. Instead, if we think of every object as an agent, then surely Burke is correct in stating that the distinction between scene and act gets muddled if we take both (actors and scene) as having agency. To this he remarks, “For the characters, by being in interaction, could be treated as scenic conditions or ‘environment,’ of one another; and any act could be treated as part of the context that modifies (hence, to a degree motivates) the subsequent acts” (7). Like Onticology, then, the rhetorical scene should be read as not having control, but having influence over the agents involved and vice versa.

Yet, by creating its environment, or making the distinction between system and environment, the object always limits itself in regards to is possible acts of translation. But this limitation can be lifted by the object, as well. For again, not only is the object never static but neither is the scene. Or, as Levi puts it:
While the regimes of attraction we [sic] find ourselves enmeshed in might constrain us in a number of ways, through our movement and action we have the ability to act on these regimes of attraction, construct our environments, and therefore modify the circumstances in which we find ourselves. We are not simply acted upon by regimes of attraction, but act on them as well. Given the unpredictable nature of other actors, however, the question revolves around which form of action might be most conducive to enhancing our existence. (227)
Therefore, it is only if we allow the merger between agents and scenes that we might begin to work through an object-oriented rhetoric. Only if we understand scenes as full of agents, may we begin to move from an anthropocentric rhetoric to a rhetoric of the real, where every tree, every blade of grass, or every computer screen has as much agency as the rhetor.