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”

Today’s Task, Nov 14, 2015

Identify and build the coincidence between an anti-fascist response to the Paris attacks and solidarity with black struggles against the American university.

On the one hand: the Paris attacks are obviously the work of a fascist ideology. Identifying it as fascism usefully illustrates the inadequacy of national responses, as they share the common cause of ethnic chauvinism. Digging deeper, it also reveals the hidden aporia of humanism, which harbors the liberal fascism of recognizing only those who believe in the project of univeralism as part of the universal.
Continue reading “Today’s Task, Nov 14, 2015”

In Defense of Cruelty

NightOfTheHunterIncluded below is part of the Hostis Journal presentation that we gave at the Seattle Anarchist Bookfair last weekend. Expect audio of that talk to made available soon.

“The Night of the Hunter” (1955) fits the bloody mold of a southern gothic family drama in which an eccentric cheat exploits a small West Virginia community stricken by the Great Depression. Self-anointed Reverend Harry Powell is a serial killer that goes town-to-town ‘doing God’s work.’ The film tells the story of Powell’s ill-fated attempt to insinuate himself into the family of an ex-cellmate to find the hidden loot from a bank robbery. On the one hand, Powell’s fiery public sermons win him the respect of the townsfolk, who are eager to be assured that they are on the righteous path. While on the other, young, fatherless John is an unrelenting critic of authority.

Continue reading “In Defense of Cruelty”

The Black Radical Tradition

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To understand blackness, one can begin with the context set by The Black Radical Tradition. Scholars have argued that enslaved African peoples have transferred and edited “historical, cultural, and moral materials” as an ongoing shared resource (Interview). Cedric Robinson argues in Black Marxism for the self-conscious development of those materials into a political project that he calls “The Black Radical Tradition.” Familiar Marxists fill the ranks of the Tradition, namely WEB DuBois, CLR James, and (more recently) Angela Davis. Generalizing the problematic out from individual thinkers, we can think the Lukacsian spirit of the challenge posed by the project of The Black Radical Tradition: how can blackness overcome the self-aware fact of shared condition to become a self-aware political force? Or in the elegant Marxian terms: the transition from a class-in-itself to a class-for-itself (commonly derived from The Poverty of Philosophy). Continue reading “The Black Radical Tradition”

Militancy, Antagonism, and Power: Rethinking Intellectual Labor, Relocating the University

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Here is the expanded version of a co-written talk presented at the 2015 MLA Subconference. Thanks to the organizers, my wonderful co-panelists, and the incredibly vibrant follow-up conversation.

“What was once the factory is now the university.” This is the premise the opens the Edu-factory Collective’s Towards a Global Autonomous University–it is also the premise upon which the collective was formed. Co-founded by Gigi Roggero, the collective’s work functions as a road-block to the demands of academic labor. It critiques the foundations upon which academic labor is organized and opposes the hierarchy that commands academic publication. The collective’s conceptual work, forefronted by Roggero’s thought in particular, explains the importance of these interventions.

The number of ways in which in the university is now the factory are perhaps too many to list: increased demand for productivity, an increase in working hours without an increase in pay, the rapid proliferation of contingent positions, and the production of a highly skilled but also an under/unemployed population of workers are perhaps the most recognizable in this list. These and more are addressed in Towards a Global Autonomous University, but they are also enduring sites of struggle. Especially in the US, academics have yet to recognize and mobilize against these issues en masse. Continue reading “Militancy, Antagonism, and Power: Rethinking Intellectual Labor, Relocating the University”

An end to post-politics! “Yes” to controversy!

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re: “The MLA in the World: How Should the MLA Engage With Controversial Issues?”

The Modern Language Association cannot shy away from controversy, it can only legislate away politics.

In January, the MLA will consider how to “deal with controversial issues.” That such a discussion is even taking place is an effect of post-politics – the fantasy that public institutions can rise ‘above the fray’ to maintain a universal consensus.

Sidelining ‘controversy’ is part of the post-political agenda. It draws a public/private distinction through a limited vision of professional life. Public culture is reduced to career advancement, while issues of social inequality are considered matters of private concern. Continue reading “An end to post-politics! “Yes” to controversy!”

New Publications, Presentations, Articles, and Research

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Sorry for not using this venue lately for my ongoing research. Will probably return to using it in the new year. For now, here is completed, ongoing, and future work. (Also, most of my free time has been soaked up by the search for a permanent job.)

Publication Schedule:
1) Hostis: A Journal of Incivility. Printing has already started. Expect copies to be available within a couple weeks via our distributor.
2) Escape. Book proposal nearly finished. Solicit publishers within next three months. Manuscript for submission: 67,500 words.
3) Dark Deleuze. In preparation. Final manuscript to be 15,000-25,000 words.

Presentation Schedule:
1) Chicago, “Feminist Mappings of the City,” November 2014, (passed).
2) Vancouver, “Militancy, Antagonism, and Power: Rethinking Intellectual Labor, Relocating the University,” January 2015.
3) Walla Walla, “Direct Action Training,” February 2015.
4) Spokane, “‘Money is Just Paper but it Affects People Like Poetry’: Capitalism and Public Address,” February 2015
5) Pittsburgh, “Weather Station,” April 2015.
6) Riverside, “#GHE20G0TH1K: Afropessimism as Aesthetic Blackness,” June 2015.

Upcoming Article Topics:
1) Feminism and the Metropolis
2) Wages for Housework, Wages for Facebook: Antagonism at the Point of Circulation
3) The State, Concept not Object: Abstraction, Cinema, Empire
4) (In preparation) Insinuation as Communication
5) (In preparation) Irregular Media: Digital Resistance after Guerrilla Warfare
6) (In preparation) What Does Capitalism Sound Like?

Ongoing Research Areas:
1) The Non-Representational Turn: Anti-connectionism, Insufficiency, Opacity
2) The Inhumanities: Anonymity, Code, Subjectivity
3) Negative Feminism: Gender, Hatred, and Pop Culture