Alex Reid on Object-Oriented Rhetoric
by Adam Robbert
A fine paper HERE. I haven’t got much to say in response at the moment other than there is quite a bit of thinking going on below that lines up quite nicely with what I call a knowledge ecology; that is an ecology of signs or symbols — cosmograms most generally — that have their own agency alongside of other material objects like cell phones and earthworms. It’s very interesting to me how object-oriented philosophies are simultaneously ecological, rhetorical, and aesthetic. And I mean this in a very broad, cosmological way. Here is my favorite excerpt:
As we know, the question of origins is sticky business. Anthropologists discuss what they term “behavioral modernity,” which is to say when humans started behaving like us, including adopting symbolic behaviors. Traditionally, behavioral modernity was believed to have appeared around 50,000 years ago. Today there is less certainty, and in any case, there is a clear record of human expression that predates homo sapien. Perhaps, as an aside, we might recognize this insistence on symbolic behavior as the defining characteristic that separates humans from other hominids as a distinctly correlationist conceit. Though establishing the dawn of symbolic behavior may prove elusive, it does seem reasonable to assert that expression precedes language, so is it then reasonable to consider whether such pre-symbolic expressions operated rhetorically? As Meillassoux confronts in his meditation on ancestral knowledge, such questions are not easily answered. These pre-symbolic expressions are not like the various wordless exclamations of modern humans, which certainly fit into a symbolic context. In the correlationist frame, even the infant’s cry is symbolic inasmuch as it is for us, the symbol-using parents. Ultimately however, this is not about imaging a rhetoric without symbolic action but rather recasting symbols as objects among other objects in a flat ontology where the rock, the word “rock,” the sound rock, rock music, the Rock, Plymouth Rock, and the Pink Panther are all real and rhetorical, with or without us to view them symbolically. The point is to recognize that objects need not be symbolic or in relation to us in order to operate rhetorically. What is at stake here is a symbol-independent expressive force whose effects cannot be articulated wholly in terms of physics, chemistry or other related fields. Instead it is a minimal rhetorical ontological capacity that allows objects to enter into rhetorical relations and is not solely available to humans.