Tuesday, November 22, 2011

3 Possible Kinds of OOR

Over at Tim Richardson’s blog objet(a)uthenticity, the question is raised as to whether an object can be designed to be authentic. For Tim, authenticity requires a certain amount of distance between the “mythical” real object and the object that is claiming to be authentic in regards to this real object. For example, Tim relays his experience with the word authentic when:
During one of the [last democratic presidential primary] debates, when the field was still large, one pundit commented that the choice of a nominee would come down to which candidate seemed most authentic to the voter. At that exact moment, I reached for a bag of tortilla chips that was emblazoned with the slogan “Authentic Mexican Taste” and, with that coincidence, realized the problem. “Authentic Mexican Taste” only makes sense outside of (a mythic) Mexico. (Of course, you can see that referenced in the proposal, but this distance may be very much like the distance insisted on by medieval courtly love narratives, too).
Authenticity, according to Tim, requires that there be an ideal object or place that exists apart from the “authentic” object. Authentic Mexican chips can only be authentic to a Mexico that exists outside of the chips themselves. In the end, though, Tim questions the relationship between the “mythical” object of origin and that object claiming to be authentic as being similar to the an object’s substance and its properties. He asks, “But I’m wondering if this idea of difference between the design of a device (even the body) and its potential properties isn’t something like the distance or gap I described far above as a hallmark of the authentic?” (emphasis added)

Now hopefully Tim will build on this question (and I look forward to reading his next post), but it got me thinking about my own project and a note I drew up some time ago about Aristotle’s three kinds of rhetoric.

For Aristotle, there existed three kinds or species of rhetoric: deliberative (argues that we should take a certain action or that a certain action should not be taken), forensic ( or judicial rhetoric, accuses or defends someone according to some event), and epideictic (offers praise of blame determining if someone is honorable or shameful). But, as Eugene Garver points out in his essay “Aristotle on the Kinds of Rhetoric,” these three kinds at times seem trivial since “[e]ven in Aristotle’s time, most rhetorical speeches did not fall under one of the three kinds of rhetoric. Today, the proportion of rhetoric that is deliberative, judicial, or epideictic is even smaller” (17). Now ultimately for Garver, Aristotle’s three kinds of rhetoric act as guides that “tell us what rhetoric should and can be” by “show[ing] us rhetoric’s possibilities” (18). And while I don’t disagree with Garver’s point one hundred percent, I would argue that in order to develop a true faculty to discover all available means of persuasion, we also need to take into account the temporal dimension of deliberative, forensic, and epideictic rhetoric.

For Aristotle these three kinds of rhetoric were also tied to respective times. As he states in Book I chapter 3 of his Rhetoric:
Further, to each of these a special time is appropriate: to the deliberative the future, for the speaker, whether he exhorts or dissuades, always advises about things to come; to the forensic the past, for it is always in reference to things done that one party accuses and the other defends; to the epideictic most appropriately the present, for it is the existing condition of things that all those who praise or blame have in view. It is not uncommon, however, for epideictic speakers to avail themselves of other times, of the past by way of recalling it, or of the future by way of anticipating it. (135b12-20)
So we can see that apart from purpose, there is also a temporal distance between each of these types of rhetoric. Therefore, any interaction, if it is dependent upon a certain amount of opportunity or kairos is subject to a temporal characteristic as much as a motivating one. In other words, it makes sense (especially if we agree with Garver that Aristotle’s three kinds of rhetoric are often irrelevant to the extent that rarely do rhetorical acts fall under one of these categories) that we can reduce rhetoric to a temporal structure. So that if we were to develop any new categories, they would not have to accommodate or acquiesce to the purpose of Aristotle’s kinds, but simply the temporal format of future, past, and present.

And it is with this temporal understanding of rhetoric that I wish to put forth my own three kinds of object-oriented rhetoric: architectural, practical, and aesthetic. With architectural rhetoric, the focus is on the object’s future design, for the object stands as something to be improved upon, developed, and planned for, whether that object exists or not. Architectural rhetoric relies on the future much like deliberative rhetoric does, by attempting to determine future models and manifestations. Practical rhetoric focuses solely on use, for objects in use are either in reference to objects that have worked before or to the withdrawn substance of the broken tool. Therefore, practical rhetoric relies on the past in order for objects to be put to use, constantly oscillating between tool and broken tool, real and sensual. Finally, aesthetic rhetoric focuses on objects as they appear or present themselves to us and to other objects, for it is in the object’s existence as something pleasing or perturbing that creates networks of relations. However, like epideictic rhetoric, it is not uncommon for aesthetic rhetoric “to avail themselves of other times,” of the past by way of recalling an object’s use, or of the future by way of anticipating the potential of new local manifestations.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Hacking and Allusion

Over at Tim Richardson’s new blog Objet(a)uthenticity, he questions the idea of authenticity as it relates to both the prosthetic and the hack. He posits that like rhetoric, as dunamis, hacking seems to be a way of getting the object to reveal itself while a prosthetic is merely a replacement part:
What seems to differentiate the hack from the prosthetic (that talk I linked to last note) is that the latter is a replacement in kind, a surrogate that may or may not live up to the standards or utility of the original (and may or may not appear authentic). The hack, though, is all about new functionality. So it might be that all hacks are prosthetic (though maybe they address a lack, not a loss?) but not all prosthetics are hacks?
I’m going to get back to this in just a bit, but I want to bring up something that’s always bothered me about Harman’s OOO—allusion. 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)
Therefore, even when the object seems to offer us a glimpse into its withdrawn nature, these are just allusions to the real object that lies beneath. Now I used to think that this “allusion” (whether on our part or the object’s) was just a weasel word—a way to get around not having to talk about a seemingly important point. But what Tim’s post seems to get at is that perhaps a better way of understanding the relationship between the real object and the sensual one, or when the hammer breaks, is by way of hacking. Hacking allows users to get at parts of their objects that were meant to remain hidden, tucked away in code or purposefully disabled. What the hacker does, then, is never a physical modification but an action that allows the excess or withdrawn “reality” of the object to come forth. A recent example is when iOS hackers found that there was a panorama setting in iOS 5.0 that wasn’t turned on by Apple. Hacking, therefore, is a sort of non-linguistic way of alluding to a real object. And humans aren't the only objects that hack. For example, HIV works by hacking a host cell to replicate its RNA strand. HIV, in its hacking, makes the allusion to the host cell's hidden functionality extremely clear. Hacking in this sense is a faculty for observing all of the available means of perturbation. And as Tim reminds us, rhetoric (and maybe more specifically for us, OOR), too, is a faculty for discovering an object’s hidden functionality or local manifestations.