So, if our future is really just repetition with a difference, if it will be formed by a similar quantity though different quality of the repressed, if there is little to gained by rigging the system of representations — a game that may seem “just” yet only represses the unjust — then in which direction lies hope for that future? Or has neoliberalism won and it really is a matter of raw power, the power of simulacra and their distribution? As Plato has Socrates lead Polus in the Gorgias, “[i]f a man acts with some purpose, he does not will the act, but the purpose of the act.” It is the purpose and not the will itself is the chief aim and we might read Plato claiming for philosophy that definition of rhetoric called the strong defense, then even the powerful is rhetorically constructed and therefore rhetorically bound and able to be persuaded through (strong) rhetorical action. In a more Deleuzian key, even the tyrant’s desire can be redirected through deterritortializations and reterritorializations.
Now, in what manner might we see (theorein) this process? Can we re-vise our thinking along new lines that allow us to move beyond the exercise of raw power, that raw power of representations in a media saturated world? Certainly, critical literacy has attempted to blunt the use of such power. The problem is that it devolves into more of the same and has led us, in a continual escalation or critical arms race, into debates over what grounds are legitimate or not. In other words, even the very terms of critical literacy are simply more fodder for debate: it becomes turtles all the way down with each turtle open to political exercises of power.
But what if we switch from concern about representation as the ground to the ground itself? What if we looked not to the heavens, but to our own feet as many are doing with new materialisms? What if ontology was the basis for thinking about communication and composition and rhetoric? Here we find that things like “attention” are networked systems of concern (Rivers 2016), that rhetoric is an ambient capability (Rickert 2012), and that our representations have missed so much by relying on a kind of common sense sovereignty of things, a sovereignty that is still stuck in an Enlightenment European point of view. (Let’s be clear here that calls for rhetorical sovereignty (Lyons 2000) are simply calls for justice, for the legal-power status to choose in one’s own manner, even if that is contrary to a European Enlightenment POV. So, Lyons’ call is not wrong or subject to any critique here. Rather, I affirm that native americans deserve rhetorical sovereignty since even their ontology and social arrangements/ networks differ from anything new materialisms might be working toward today. There is much more on this in Christa Olson’s Constitutive Visions (2013) and in Diane Davis’ work looking toward rhetoricity without sovereignty).
What if we were never really sovereign? The working out of interdependence in varying fields certainly points us in something like this direction. Rather than sovereign entities or subjects working with objects of representation, we might think beyond this dichotomy to focus instead on the interrelations continually occurring between them. This is what I mean by being/taken. We are subjects or objects only insofar as we exist already interrelated to other subjects and objects. There is no sovereignty in the sense formulated by Europeans like Descartes or Kant. Rather, we are composed. We can only exist by sharing ourselves, our very being, with some other thing. Part of us is already taken away in order for us to be. We are never whole or totally ourselves.
Deleuze says as much with his call to create “vacuoles of non-communication, circuit-breakers so we can elude control.” Like a Body without Organs, such vacuoles are always already present, though not always realized (created). They lie in virtual potential and it is the work of artists and philosophers to realize them in creation.
That someone always takes us is not just an epistemological issue on what we mean or how we come to mean something. Being/taken is, as Rivers (2016) suggests with his rearticulation of attention as an object which is itself formed and not simply a commodity, one’s existence within a network of relations: the image from a series of selfies, the social stigma of wearing a hijab in post-Trump election America, indigenous resistance against a pipeline, confusion over what Black Lives Matter really stands for. All of these instances open onto being as part of something more than a subject’s individual sovereign choice. They are instead networks in which being is taken up, part of the subject is abducted into the network.
Coming at it this way scrambles identity politics. One’s identity can result in being taken up into racist networks, abducted against its will. It isn’t that there is a sovereign will or soul to which we must appeal and which might be granted some rational choice to determine its networks and how it gets abducted. If we take an object like racism as composed by a network, it is not invalidated as a concept. What matters is not the object “racism” taking up the subject “person of color.” Rather, both are composed by networks of individuation and historical development. Once can, indeed should, recognize systems of power like overt or systematic racism. Their existence is not in question, nor is the existence of people or animals or bridges or any other thing. What is in question is the rhetorical solution of negation. Rather than entrust some mediating entity to police which systems abduct justly and which systems do so unjustly, as if the systems and people comprising them were a priori (and the police were not wrong), being/taken looks to see the ways in which one’s being is the result of networked systems and interactions: as a result of what the Lakota call mitakuye oyasin, all my relations. Some of these relations will be hurtful or cause for grief. Some will be more affirmative and cause for celebration and thanks. Yet there’s relations are ours and outside agents or mediators like the agencies of federalism can only play a partial role in mediating our role within them. They cannot, in turn, abduct injustice wholly if only for the fact that abduction is never whole to being with, but distributed across a network.
The question isn’t, then, of the withdrawal of objects or how to forge an ethics on incompleteness and mystery, or how to know just enough to handle the mysteries as a matter of politics. Rather, the question is one of how to think of ethics and politics in a universe where everything affects everything else, which is to say affect is a product of foldings, prehendings, and assemblages. We are all “being taken” rather than standing as absolute and solitary individual subjects for ourselves or objects for others. We are grasped by innumerable actants and agentive forces, a mass of barely noticed, sometimes sensible, sometimes insensible tentacular relations.
But let’s not move too fast. Let’s dwell a moment on Plato’s philosophy and rhetoric. It is, after all a two-way street where a version of rhetoric’s strong defense is claimed by Plato as philosophy but also where ontological investigations are claimed by rhetoricians as rhetorical