A while back Jim Brown mentioned to me that there would be an object-oriented rhetoric panel at this year’s Rhetoric Society of America conference. Jim attended RSA but wasn’t able to make the panel; still, he’s managed to dig up the papers and he wrote up a summary over on the RSA’s Blogora. I’m not yet sure what object-oriented rhetoric might entail, and I’ll have to dig into the excerpts Jim posted a bit more before I can draw conclusions.

But I really want to talk about another, related matter today. In his post on the RSA panel, Brown also mentioned an earlier post on the RSA blog about OOO, which I’d missed somehow. As Jim notes, there was a great deal of skepticism leveled at our projects in the comments, most acridly dismissive. One commenter (who goes by the handle “slewfoot,” not sure what his or her real identity is) later wonders why we’re not just reading Adorno’s “Subject and Object” essay, since apparently he’s figured it all out.

This misses the point, of course, because Adorno in general and that essay in particular are still deeply committed to the human-world correlate. And as Graham and Levi and I have said time and time again, objections that amount to accusations of reinventing the wheel or not having read the right author in the right way are really just parries that avoid engaging with new material.

In this case they’re also largely misunderstandings of our positions, born from an admitted failure even to listen to the recordings of the OOO papers, let alone reading any of Graham’s books or Levi’s blog, let alone other writings by me or Shaviro or even Jane Bennett.

In fact, what’s most bizarre about the discussion on the RSA blog are the misunderstandings, for example, thinking that OOP is a broad category and OOO is “the Georgia Tech version,” or pointing out that Heidegger is the best place to start considering objects, a fact that anyone who bothered to read even a page of Graham’s work would know strongly influences all three of us.

There’s also a good deal of fear, fear that the big, mean technical institute is out to devour rhetoric and philosophy without paying it the proper respect. There are two instances of this I’d like to share.

First, in comments on the original RSA post, slewfoot argues that OOO entails “the self-celebratory idea that computer engineering/software studies would like to breathe new life into philosophy.” This is a very simple but mean-spirited misunderstanding stemming from the fact that “object-oriented” is a term from computer programming, which OOO has borrowed and repurposed. In no way does it amount to computer scientists applying engineering concepts willy-nilly to philosophy. It’s a simple misunderstanding, but it’s also one that implicitly argues that rhetoricians and philosophers have nothing to learn from engineers, a telling fact indeed, and one I’ve tried to prove wrong in all of my books.

The second is even more telling. The same commenter calls out an excerpt from the introduction at the OOO event, probably something I said:

“…I don’t know that this sort of conflation of a new philosophy that’s engaged not only with the humanities and the social sciences but also with science and engineering, I don’t know that that could happen anywhere other than a technical institute like this one. So, maybe that’s an interesting signal for the future, that the future of philosophy is in some way in the hands of institutions like this one, rather than the traditional university.”

I stand by this claim, and I stand by it because the technical institute is an organization that looks both inside and outside of human experience. You’d expect that rhetoricians would understand the value of making not only a philosophical but also a rhetorical shift: to underscore the fact that the humanities have totally failed to acknowledge or account for the whole rest of the world apart from the affliction of identity politics and the pedantry of composition pedagogy.

It’s easy to get angry, and clearly I’ve fallen prey to what amounts to ignorant internet trolls who won’t even post under their real names (Jim Brown, to his credit, is much more openly curious, not to mention forthright about all this). But it’s also true that I really do want to be able to speak to rhetoricians, both about OOO and about procedural rhetoric, and Jim’s post reminds me that there is still much to be done to make the principles of OOO generally available, comprehensible, and subject to potential adoption.

published June 11, 2010