Non-constitutive Rhetoric: Or the Banality of Control

I prepared this paper for the forthcoming National Communication Association conference for a panel on affect. As with a much academic writing, I followed fairly strict disciplinary constraints; in this case, I am bridging rhetorical theory and advances in affect studies from other fields. The argument is not terribly original, though I make a few important distinctions that weed out inadequate interpretations of affect and establish the political stakes of affect theory (from a Marxist perspective). I will cut out roughly 3/4 of the material (to about 1200 words) to reduce it to a 10 minute talk.

My purpose today is to update the rhetorical studies theory of subjectivity. I argue that ‘affect theory’ should replace the older psychoanalytic model of interpellation. To concretize my argument, I analyze banal rhetoric; namely, the cybernetic subjectivity produced by “stock listings, currencies, corporate accounting, national budgets, computer languages, mathematics, scientific functions, [and] equations” (Lazzarato, Signs and Machines, 80).

Before I dive in, let provide you with a short preview of my argument. I begin by considering an essential axiom of critical rhetoric theory: “rhetoric produces subjectivity.” The prevailing theory is that subjectivity is an ideological effect of an implied audience (Charland, “Québécois”; Delgado, “Chicano Movement”). The most popular explanatory mechanism is interpellation, which draws on Jacques Lacan’s psychoanalytic theory of symbolic mediation (Althusser, “ISA,” 162). I argue that this model is no longer appropriate, for as Eugene Holland argues, “what Althusser actually describes is not the ideological constitution of the Subject, but only of the citizen” (“Schizoanalytic Critique”). The consequence of my argument is that rhetoricians explaining subjectivity through interpellation limited their focus to the State and relations of obedience/disobedience.

Second, I explain how banal rhetoric reveals modes of subjectivity beyond the citizen-subject. My claim is that rhetorical power now “speaks, communicates, and acts ‘assisted’ by all kinds of mechanical, thermodynamic, cybernetic, and computer machines” (Lazzarato, Signs and Machines, 29). I analyze “the language of infrastructures” to show how rhetoric solicits subjectivity without constituting a people or even addressing a subject (Pasolini, Heretical Empiricism, 63; Lazzarato, Signs and Machines, 61). As such, I do not celebrate affects as a challenge to abusive power; rather, I follow in the footsteps of Frédéric Lordon, who argues in Willing Slaves of Capital that joyous affects are the very means of our contemporary exploitation.

Lastly, I suggest two consequences from studying banal rhetoric: one, artifact selection need not be tied to rhetoric that hails “the people,” invokes an identity, or provides a symbolic program of action (McGee, “The People”; Charland, “Peuple Québécois”; Delgado, “Chicano Movement”); and two, the political search for rhetorical resistance need not emerge from distinct counter-publics or out-law discourses (Warner, Publics and Counter-Publics; Sloop and Ono, “Out-Law Discourse”).

Briefly restating my roadmap: I begin by discussing interpellation, continue with a discussion of affect, and end with the consequence an affect theory of subjectivity for future scholarship. Continue reading “Non-constitutive Rhetoric: Or the Banality of Control”


Three New Publications

Krzysztof Kieslowski: I’m So-So…(1998) dir. Krzysztof Wierzbicki

Three new publications:
> “Philosophy, Science, and Virtual Communism,” Angelaki 20(4): Link, Liberated
> “The State, Concept not Object: Abstraction, Empire, Cinema, ” parallax 21(4): Link, Liberated
> “Confronting Connectivity: Feminist Challenges to the Metropolis,” Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies 12(5): Link (live Nov 19), Liberated.

Connectivity as Inclusive Disjunction

cloudAbstractly, connectivity operates through inclusive disjunction, a process that puts otherwise foreign elements into communication with one another through an encounter that does not require those pieces to operate through a shared logic.[i] Rather than in-folding some common term, such as the introjection of an imperial dictate, The Metropolis unfolds. It exposes interiors through a mutual opening up (to name a few: the privatization of economic risk through increased debt obligation, the removal of tariffs that protect national industries, or the exemption of citizenship rights against government assassination).[ii] In this sense, those who condemn capitalism as a homogenizing force are incorrect – inclusion can spread through divergence. The Metropolis retains differential relations of parts by selecting “a particular zone that varies with each” that will make possible its integration of the “sum of infinitely tiny things.”[iii] Furthermore, by being more than inclusion based on a common term (the law, a nation, a people), disjunction is pure relation, a movement of “reciprocal asymmetric implication,” that expresses only difference itself (and not imposing equivalence, resolving into a general category, or synthesizing into a superior identity).[iv] The Metropolis hence shares Deleuze’s “most profound insight” that “difference is just as much communication, contagion of heterogeneities,” which means, “to connect is always to communicate on either side of a distance, by the very heterogeneity of terms.”[v] The effect of this contagion does not result in a unity, combination, or fusion; inclusive disjunction maintains a “politeness” – “an art of distances.”[vi]

Continue reading “Connectivity as Inclusive Disjunction”

Confronting Connectivity

The future is ‘connectivity,’ or so say today’s tech execs. “Soon everyone on Earth will be connected,” they declare, followed by worn promises of increased productivity, health, education, and happiness.[i] On its face, they are simply echoing the old trope of the level playing field repeated by empire builders from Niccolò Machiavelli to Thomas Friedman. What then is new? How connectivity forges horizontal connections between the virtual and physical worlds. As a consequence, the digital logic of combinatorial difference is now used as a tool of governance to “intensify, accelerate, and exacerbate phenomena in the world so that a difference in degree will become a difference in kind.”[ii] In sum, connectivity is the new techno-utopian business strategy that braids the physical with the virtual to create a socio-political empire of difference.

Google’s connectivity thesis is a sign that power is logistical – its authority resides in roads, cellphone towers, and data centers, which are overseen by legislators who keep the flows moving. Continue reading “Confronting Connectivity”

Defining the Virtual Concept: An Idea that “Does Not Refer to the Lived”

state-conceptThis is an excerpt from my forthcoming essay in parallax that provides a Deleuzian theory of the State by way of cinema, cultural studies, and rhetorical theory.

Defining the state as a virtual concept requires an explanation of the virtual in Deleuze’s work. Deleuze does not mean simulated, as in ‘virtual reality’, in fact: ‘the virtual is opposed not to the real but to the actual’.[1] The virtual and the actual together make up two mutually-exclusive sides of the real.[2] The actual is a given states of affairs that is populated by bodies. The virtual is a ‘pure past’ of incorporeal events and singularities that have never been present, which have ‘the capacity to bring about x, without (in being actualized) ever coming to coincide or identify itself with x, or to be depleted and exhausted in x’ while ‘without being or resembling an actual x’.[3] In this sense, the virtual includes all potential worlds, everything that inhabits them, all of their really-existing potentials, and their every potential to differ that coexists with he actual.[4] To illustrate the complex character of the virtual, Deleuze is fond of quoting Jorge Luis Borges, whose ‘The Garden of Forking Paths’ includes a fictional book of Chinese philosophy that creates an opening ‘to various future times, but not to all’. [5] ‘In all fiction, when a man is faced with alternatives he chooses one at the expense of others’, he writes, ‘in the almost unfathomable Ts’ui Pên, he chooses – simultaneously – all of them’ and thus ‘creates various futures, various times which start others that will in their turn branch out and bifurcate in other times’.[6] In fiction, the book is able to depict the virtual as ‘an infinite series of times, in a dizzily growing, ever spreading network of diverging, converging and parallel times’ that creates a ‘web of time’ – ‘the strands of which approach another, bifurcate, intersect, or ignore each other through the centuries’ and thus ‘embraces every possibility’.[7] Continue reading “Defining the Virtual Concept: An Idea that “Does Not Refer to the Lived””

Deleuze’s Transcendental Empiricism: “There is no ontology of Deleuze”

cosmic-decayThis is an excerpt from my forthcoming essay in parallax that provides a Deleuzian theory of the State by way of cinema, cultural studies, and rhetorical theory.

At stake for me is a method that proceeds by way of the “powers of the false” outlined in Deleuze’s Cinema 2. I find Deleuze’s transcendental empiricism to be fundamentally methodological, as it offers an analytic for distinguishing between those who use Deleuzian concepts (which must ‘maintain consistency’ even in transportation) and those who simply appropriate insights of his thought (e.g. the target of the essays, the sociologists of the Governmentality School, who are effectively postpositivists).

My defense of the false is methodological. Methodologically, I disagree with those scholars within Governmentality Studies who argue for a shallow definition of the state, which they justify through ‘brute’ empiricism. For these scholars, governmentality is strictly ‘an empirical mapping of governmental rationalities and techniques’ to ‘turn away from grand theory, the state, globalization, reflexive individualization, and the like’.[1] The type of empiricism they invoke is associated with social scientific research methods that use sample surveys, number crunching, and the statistical subject. Even as they are critical of the governmental techniques that result from similar methods, Governmentality Studies participates in a larger disciplinary project within sociology that relies on a particular configuration of realism, empiricism, and scientificity.[2]

Deleuze himself uses a reworked version of philosophical empiricism whereby ‘empiricism is a philosophy of the imagination and not a philosophy of the senses’.[3] Demonstrating the importance of the imagination, Deleuze readily draws on the literary works of Anglo-American writers to demonstrate the principles of his empiricism.[4] In his strictly philosophical work, it appears as the paradoxical formulation of a ‘transcendental empiricism’ as a philosophical alternative to Kant’s transcendental idealism, in which Deleuze separates the transcendental field from its empirical givenness to bypass the personal, individuated world of the subject.[5] Continue reading “Deleuze’s Transcendental Empiricism: “There is no ontology of Deleuze””

Dark Deleuze

dark 2
This is the opening to Dark Deleuze: The Power of the Outside. I am fortunate enough to be hosted by the University of Washington Department of Urban Planning and Design to finish the project during Summer 2015. Expect portions of the draft to be posted as I complete the project in the few coming weeks. Those of you near Seattle are invited to a brief presentation based on this work at the end of the month.

Summarizing his deeply idiosyncratic work, French philosopher Gilles Deleuze describes writing about others as “a sort of buggery” or “immaculate conception” that is the result of “taking an author from behind and giving him a child.”[1] Deleuze is still quick to distinguish his project from outright falsification. He strictly limits himself to what the author actually says; he attends to a thinker’s “shifting, slipping, dislocations, and hidden emissions” to give them “a child that would be [their] own offspring, yet monstrous.”[2] More than 30 years after making these remarks, Deleuze now has plenty of little monsters of his own – rootless rhi-zombies, dizzying metaphysicians, skittish geo-naturalists, enchanted transcendentalists, passionate affectivists… My aim is to give him another child that shares his last name: “Dark Deleuze.” Continue reading “Dark Deleuze”