Friday, September 21, 2007

Decoding is the disruption of these social codes

The Alethetics of Rhetoric Posted by larvalsubjects under Antagonism , Assemblages , Communication , Deleuze , Heidegger , Politics , Rhetoric , Systems , Uncategorized September 21, 2007
The more the vector nature of my body is enacted, the less my body as meat appears. We experience this, for instance, in moments where we are entirely involved in what we are doing, such as when we are at the top of our game when running or involved in a sporting event or when writing. Duchamp captured this well with his famous painting “Nude Descending a Staircase”:

The body descending a staircase disappears as meat, is concealed as meat, and instead reveals or discloses itself as pure vector in motion. It is only when my vectors fail, when I break my leg while running, when I’m seen (Sartre and the look) that my body is disclosed as meat, as a foreign substance at odds with me that isn’t entirely under my control.
The case is similar with the medical body. When I grasp another person in sexual embrace, I simultaneously encounter them as meat and as vector while simultaneously encountering myself as meat and vector. Yet in the case of the medical gaze, the body is disclosed as meat; or better yet, as machine. The surgeon operating on a body does not encounter that body as person, but rather as a machine. Here the body is disclosed as being closer to a car engine, than as an other. Consequently, the body as other, the other’s body, is concealed in medical practice. It could be said, in this regard, that the first body of medical practice is the body of the autopsy.

A central element of the Heideggerian discovery (pardon the pun) was thus the discovery that beings disclose themselves under various modalities, and that in disclosing themselves they also conceal something at one and the same time. Thus, for example, if I encounter a hammer as a hammer, its material and geometric properties such as wood, iron, its shape, etc are simultaneously concealed. In encountering the hammer as a hammer, it is disclosed in its “handiness”. All of its properties come to refer to this handiness. Its spatial properties are disclosed in terms of its fitness for the job at hand. Its mass is disclosed only in terms of the job at hand, i.e., is it too heavy or light for the job? In order to encounter the hammer as a material object the handiness of the hammer needs to be made to disappear so that it might appear as a brute object composed simply of physical properties such as those described by the chemist and the physicist. That is, the hammer needs to appear under a new modality of being similar to the modality under which a rock discloses itself to the geologist.
Petraeus or Betray Us

To capture the alethics of rhetoric, we might make reference to the controversy surrounding the recent ad in The New York Times. For those outside the United States, is a progressive organization that has sought to promote democratic causes. In particular, they have been vocal and powerful opponents of the war in Iraq. Last week, MoveOn took out a full page ad in The New York times questioning General Petraeus’ testimony before the Senate. This ad immediately generated outrage among conservatives who have claimed that MoveOn was disrespecting the troops. The outraged immediately demanded that Democratic presidential candidates denounce the ad, and indeed, there was even a vote on the Senate floor today that would formally denounce the ad. 22 Democrats voted in favor of this motion.
Without Exception
One of the key consequences of Deleuze and Guattari’s ontology of immanence is that beings, without exception, are relational. As Deleuze and Guattari put it in A Thousand Plateaus when describing the game of Go,
Let us take a limited example and compare the war machine and the State apparatus in the context of the theory of games. let us take chess and Go, from the standpoint of the game pieces, the relations between the pieces and the space involved. Chess is a game of State, or of the court: the emperor of China played it. Chess pieces are coded; they have an internal nature and intrinsic properties from which their movements, situations, and confrontations derive. They have qualities; a knight remains a knight, a pawn a pawn, a bishop a bishop. Each is like a subject of the statement endowed with a relative power, and these relative powers combine in a subject of enunciation, that is, the chess player or the game’s form of interiority. Go pieces, in contrast, are pellets, disks, simple arithmetic units, and have only an anonymous, collective, or third-person function: ‘It’ makes a move. ‘It’ could be a man, a woman, a louse, an elephant. Go pieces are elements of a nonsubjectified machine assemblage with no intrinsic properties, only situational ones. Thus the relations are very different in the two cases. Within their milieu of interiority, chess pieces entertain biunivocal relations with one another, and with the adversary’s pieces: their functioning is structural. On the other hand, a Go piece has only a milieu of exteriority, or extrinsic relations with nebulas or constellations as bordering, encircling, shattering. All by itself, a Go piece can destroy an entire constellation synchronically; a chess piece cannot (or can do so diachronically only. (A Thousand Plateaus, 352)

Much of the history of philosophy can be read as an attempt to formulate an exception that would function as a ground or foundation halting the endless productivity of the relationality of being. Thus, the Platonic forms possess the quality of “vertical being”, standing outside the world of appearances, thereby remaining uncontaminated by the changes wrought in the being of a being by entering into a new relation with another being. Similar claims could be made regarding Descartes’ cogito and the transcendence of his God, that halts the infinite regress of grounding. If someone asks Descartes why 2 + 2 = 4 and the person persists after he gives a long mathematical explanation, Descartes can end this line of questioning by simply saying “because God willed it”.
For Deleuze and Guattari, by contrast, all beings are dynamically relational, such that their being changes when entering into new assemblages with other beings. Predicates are not intrinsic properties of beings, but are products of the relations they enter into, in much the same way that a dish can be completely transformed by simply adding an additional ingredient. When Deleuze and Guattari thus speak of deterritorialization, reterritorialization, decoding, and coding, what they are describing is shifting relations in assemblages and between assemblages that lead to transformations in the entities belonging to these assemblages and to assemblages themselves.
To deterritorialize is to take something from its native territory and situate it elsewhere. They give the example of a club. A club is a deterritorialized branch. As a branch it functions to gather sunlight to produce nutrients. When it is deterritorialized and made a club, it is reterritorialized in the human hand as a weapon. Coding refers to categories by which things are sorted and organized. For instance, I am coded as a professor. This code includes certain legal rights, as well as social duties, responsibilities, prohibitions, etc.
Decoding isn’t the activity of breaking a code to find its secret meaning as in semiotics, Freudian psychoanalysis, etc. Rather, decoding is the disruption of these social codes, the activity of taking them apart. A number of comedies are about deterritorialization and decoding. In Mr. Mom the father is laid off and his wife has to go to work for his family. He is deterritorialized from the milieu of fatherhood and reterritorialized in the milieu of the mother. There’s a scrambling of codes that takes place, as well as a general decoding (perhaps) of traditional roles generating something new. The humor lies in the reterritorialization and the way his reterritorialization in the code and territory of “mother” generates a scrambling of codes. There’s a sort of “echo-effect” between the previous code and the new emerging code that produces the humor. The two codes are superimposed over one another like two faces superimposed over one another in a photograph, creating a resonance that produces a humorous discordance. Michael Keaton’s character drives into the school parking lot from the wrong direction, displaying his ignorance of the “motherly” codes, while nonetheless having been situated within that code. We know the codes for our society pertaining to fatherhood and motherhood, such that when an entity is placed in the wrong categories, wackiness ensues.
I think there’s thus a sort of four-pointed schema at work here. We can imagine a square with lines crossing from point to point and meeting in the middle, it would look like this (click to enlarge):

Reterritorialization connects to coding and deterritorialization connects to decoding. For every deterritorialization we have a co-efficient of decoding… A breaking down of established codes. For every reterritorialization there is a process of coding (this isn’t entirely accurate for D&G as coding there pertains specifically to social systems and power). Deleuze and Guattari argue that all deterritorialization is accompanied by reterritorialization such that there isn’t an ultimate deterritorialization without the thing landing back somewhere. The trap that must be avoided lies in believing that deterritorialization and decoding are inherently emancipatory. Deterritorialization and decoding describe certain operations of transformation and change. In order to think about emancipatory transformations, we would have to map this territorial square onto the semiotic of reactive and active forces, affirmation and negation, that Deleuze develops in Nietzsche & Philosophy producing a three dimensional cube with a variety of different possible relations, that would look something like this (click to enlarge):

This diagram is quite complex and I wont provide a commentary here. However, those who have argued that for Deleuze the “political solution” (already a bad way of speaking anyway, given the local nature of assemblages and their relationality) is deterritorialization are grossly misrepresenting his position. Deterritorialization is tremendously important and it is clear that any emancipatory prospect with respect to a specific assemblage will involve deterritorialization and decoding, but this is only a necessary condition not the entire story. I wonder if this might not be a useful way of talking about rhetoric. 1:46 PM

No comments:

Post a Comment