Meander Here

2010 Addendum.  Meander Here.

The potential for some good interlinear comments about debate is immense on the “Putting the Kritik in Debate” web site.  Big kudos to Odekirk for putting this together and posting a series of high quality debate videos.  His “Take Up..” plea should be taken up in earnest and on all levels.  Izak’s explanation of the kritik’s sporadic relationship to truth and its esotericism is also extremely insightful, especially when combined with Pointer’s pragmatism and sense of strategy.  Both of these scholars and their posts urge a greater attention to detail, a return to the lost art of debating the text, and deepening the conviction to work hard.  Care about debate if you debate.

So maybe thinking about debate as a four-part articulation of “machinic rhetoric” (coming out of an earlier Rhizomes article) is not as helpful as it seemed a few years ago.  The vocabulary still lends a hand to discussions about capitalism and our ethical stance to larger institutions, but it doesn’t provide a place to stand and occupy a position.

Debating is about arguing and advocating—competitive deliberation.  So even if the debate apparatus is machinic AND organic (which it tends to be), where do we stand and turn?  Standing on an organic machine or a machinic organism is not an image worth forcing.  We need a sense of place that is about the place itself, the “where.”  And, in debate, there is a second “where”—the place gestured to in the debate topic, sometimes explicitly as in this year’s high school topic.  What are these places mentioned in the topic?  Where are they?  Is it a form of policing these places to describe their stability and contribution to a “scenario” without offering something about the history, the people, the geography, the culture, the aspirations, and the contradictions there?  Can we educate ourselves about these places in some different ways?

If “place” is a crucial concept—a key trope for debate—and we are talking about the place of debate, the place of the debate, and the places being debated about, then what’s next?  How do we talk about “place” and debate about other “places” in specific ways?  Is speaking for others akin to describing certain places in certain ways?

Debate needs oil to keep the machine going but debate can expose fissures in the fossil fuel economy to help lead the way to viable transitions.  The balance of all of this matters to the places we inhabit.  This place will see more on place soon.


3 Responses to “Meander Here”

  1. kevin kuswa Says:

    Deleuze, Machinic Rhetoric and the Debate Machine
    by Kevin D. Kuswa

    Repost of 2008 Edebate Thread

    Forward: See 2010 Addendum

    What if debate is machinic and can be expressed as a “machine”? Add Massey’s calls to re-open the debate about debate and start with three positions from Greene’s (1998) outline of another materialist rhetoric: 1. The position that representation is an obstacle miring the tug-of-war between the logic of influence and constitutive rhetoric. Greene (p38) contends: “The question that haunts rhetorical materialism is how to account for the representational politics of rhetorical practices.” 2. The position that we should focus less on how rhetoric represents and more on how it arranges the terrain of a governing apparatus. Rhetoric is crucial to the organization of a governing apparatus: “(T)he ability to make visible a population in order that it might calibrate its own behavior is dependent on how rhetoric contributes to panopticism as a technology of power” (p31). The distribution of individuals along a norm proceeds through degrees of regulation enacted by a materialist rhetoric.

    And, 3. The position that the “hermeneutics of suspicion” (p38) can be replaced with “a form of cartography that does not reduce the materiality of rhetorical practices” to representational politics or interests that possess or do not possess power. The gesture to geography stresses not only the governing of populations (Bennet, 1990; Foucault, 1991), but also the territories occupied within, between and beyond governmentality. “One does not represent, one engenders and traverses” (Deleuze & Guattari, 1987, p364). Greene (1998, p27) challenges and extends this position by suggesting “that the idea of a governing institution allows the critic to map the effectivity of rhetorical practices in terms of their contribution to the act of government.” Following Foucault and Deleuze from Althusser, though, Greene broadens the notion of governmentality to emphasize its connections to cartography and a materialist rhetoric “that marks how governing institutions represent, mobilize and regulate a population in order to judge their way of life” (p27). New matrices must map what such a rhetorical method is about. From Greene, elements contributing to the functioning of a governing apparatus include discourses, populations, institutions, and technologies. While comprehensive, the movement and the territory of these four elements require foregrounding in order to position a governing apparatus as one machine among many. It is the way elements (such as those of a governing apparatus) come together as a machinic assemblage that motivates a turn to machinic rhetoric.

    So, then, why machinic rhetoric? Why not stay within another materialist rhetoric and maps of a governing apparatus? The answer is that a machinic rhetoric can considers the range and reach of debate. A machinic rhetoric follows debate as a momentary gathering of diverse elements (a plane of consistency) on a plane of organization. A regime of signs joins these two planes by allowing for the temporary stabilization of similar elements into a configuration. In turn the configuration organizes surrounding elements. Hypothetically, if we were without regimes of signs (Deleuze & Guattari, 1987), an unorganized plane of consistency would mark debate as more abstract (the matters or functions of debating content and expression). An inconsistent plane of organization would mark debate as more concrete (the substances or forms of debate content and expression). These phrases and their distinctions are less important than the argument that a given machine sways between its abstract pole and its concrete pole by being articulated by a regime of signs.

    Such rhetoricity is a chorographic and machinic approach that focuses on how a specific configuration or regime of signs participates in the emergence and aftermath of a machine. How is rhetoric tied to a machine’s residence and its residue? The machine is not a floating ideal waiting to be applied in a given setting. The machine occupies a position or environment—a place for maneuverability—and that position is not discrete prior to the arrival of the machine. The machine’s place is not a container or a background or even a frame. The machine and its place are involved in mutual immanence–a symbiosis of cause and effect. The setting does not constitute the machine and the machine does not constitute the setting–these interactions are occurring simultaneously. Machinic rhetoric claims the advantages of not abandoning the constitutive turn (an answer to the logics of influence), not abandoning the critical turn (a theory of power as relational, productive, and capable of being exercised), and not abandoning the “focus on rhetoric as a technology of deliberation that allows a series of institutions to make judgments about the welfare of a population” (Greene, 1998, p38). Those advantages are starting points for a cartographic rhetoric of machines, machinery, and their machinations. Machines and their expressions of form and content add a number of contours to the rhetorical road-map. Even the verb “machinate” (to design) blends chorography as practice, signaling a design, an invention, or even a plot.

    A machine marks a particular function–a function designed to exercise a certain energy, but also an applied force or organization that has no predetermined effect. A machine forms and connects itself so as to alter and transmit the magnitude and direction of an act. Whether a machine is a body, an organization, a squad(ron), a computer, an automobile, or even a lever, these things are all generative, transformational, diagrammatic, and machinic. How does rhetoric machine or machinate? How do machines participate in rhetorical effectivity? Rhetoric is not simply imported from outside the workings of the machine. Just as rhetoric has material effects, machines have rhetorical edges.

    Machinic rhetoric contends that a specific form of expression (rhetorical effect) appeals to several combined regimes of signs. A unitary regime of signs (even though such a regime would never stand alone) has four traits: generative, transformational, diagrammatic, and machinic–all four of which add explanatory value to the notion of a machinic rhetoric. The generative trait emerges from other regimes of signs, the transformational trait translates diverse regimes of signs into each other, the diagrammatic trait maps the unformed matters and functions of a regime of signs, and the machinic trait programs the regime of signs into concrete or tangible forms. Here is where it is instructive to contrast machinic rhetoric with an approach that would merely throw together an understanding of Deleuze and Guattari with a standard theory of rhetoric as a process of persuasion (Cook etc.).

    Bradford Vivian, in a foil called “The Threshold of the Self,” provides a compelling map of the subject in Western thought, setting up a critique of the autonomous subject through the deployment of Foucault’s arguments against a self-enclosed agency premised on Cartesian formulations: “the thinking subject seeks only to apprehend and confirm its identity, thus rendering it immune to the difference at play outside of itself” (Vivian, 2000, p305). Adding some of the theoretical contributions of Deleuze and Guattari, Vivian continues to attack the Cartesian subject with the notion of “becoming.” Becoming, for Vivian, is the master trope arising out of the writings of Deleuze and Guattari that explains the complex process of self formation and the occupation of a multiplicity of subject positions. Similar to the critique of the subject and freedom offered by critical and constitutive rhetoricians, Vivian (2000, p307) sets up a split between the transcendental subject and the continuously emerging self: “In opposition to the stasis of the Cartesian subject as a seat of knowledge, we must assert the movement—the process—of becoming and the encounter with difference it creates.” From the move that the self is always in flux, Vivian goes into the idea of the “fold.” “Folding” and “doubling” are two phrases that Deleuze (1988) takes on to describe Foucault’s theory of subjectivity. The motion of thought creates a fold between different exteriors, carving out an interior defined by a number of exterior borders. Instead of separating the thinking subject from the object of thought, the fold posits that the motion of thought is actually a “doubling in” or a “doubling over” of a particular arrangement outside of the thought but now simultaneous with the thought.

    The process of folding is an explanation for how the Self and the Other—the interior and the exterior—relate to one another. A lot of the explanation for “folding” and fragmented subjectivity is repetitive with all the arguments made about the constitution and generation of particular subjects, places, and motions. Vivian (2000, p311) contends, for instance, that there are many ways to “know one’s self in the context of one’s encounters with the outside” and that self-reflection and self-awareness are simply “efforts by which one comes to…create a folding in that multiplicity.” What is intriguing in Vivian’s work is his turn to rhetoric to explain the connection between the self and becoming, a turn that would seem to align his method with machinic rhetoric. Some of the questions being asked are certainly on target: “What role might rhetoric play in this re-imagining of subjectivity?….What conditions and forces enable the ongoing production of the self?” (Vivian, 2000, p304). These questions may be overly concerned with the production of subjectivity (as opposed to the production of places, motions, etc.), but they definitely pursue a fruitful angle—the same angle pursued by many using constitutive rhetoric and interpellation.

    Unlike most rhetoricians, however, Vivian is borrowing heavily from Deleuze and Guattari, so it may be the case that the complex interplay of machinic rhetoric will emerge from those questions surrounding subjectivity, rhetoric, and becoming. It is through the process of answering those questions, though, particularly when Vivian (2000, p311) equates the folding of the exterior and the interior to rhetoric, that a number of problems arise. The major problem, simply, is that Vivian tries to answer all of his provocative questions with an underdeveloped theory of rhetoric as a process of “self-persuasion.” It is not necessarily that Vivian (2000, p314) makes rhetoric central to the production of various subject positions (“During its passage, the rhetorical self draws upon the materials of different subject positions to produce its ongoing aesthetic becoming”); rather, it is most disconcerting that Vivian opts out of an articulation between rhetoric and a machinic manifestation of competing and aligning regimes of signs. Instead of working through rhetoric as the movement of regimes of signs and what that means for machines and their effects, Vivian equates rhetoric with persuasion. Vivian’s only attempt to defend his conception of persuasion against the claim that it assumes a preconstructed audience and speaker is to add self-persuasion to his theory.

    Self-persuasion, as explained by Vivian, is the attempt to persuade one’s self to adopt a contingent version of a particular subject position at a given time. Vivian admits that persuasion is always implicated in power relations and the production of knowledge, but he ultimately ignores the fact that power relations and the processes of becoming may make persuasion a less than helpful term. Critical and constitutive rhetoric have shown persuasion to be problematic because of its assumptions that a speaker could decide how to persuade an audience and that an audience could choose whether or not to accept the speaker’s message. How does Vivian avoid these assumptions? Would not the notion of self-persuasion simply replicate the flaws of a persuasion model in terms of subjectivity? Especially when Vivian defines persuasion as a selection of one of many lifestyles, he ushers in all of the critiques of autonomy and stasis he is trying to avoid by turning to Deleuze and Guattari. Vivian is in danger of closing down all the territory he opens up through an expression of becomings, foldings, and the historical contingency of the subject.

    Fortunately, machinic rhetoric is motivated by a refusal to reduce the process and the movement of machines and regimes of signs to persuasion. Rhetoric, most importantly, must revolve around the oscillation of more than just subjects or subjectivities, more than just the selection of an aesthetically persuasive life style, and more than just the “rhetorical composition of one’s self” (Vivian, 2000, p314). Instead of relying on persuasion, the interactions of the four traits of a regime of signs (generative, transformative, diagrammatic, and machinic) offer a better way to address Vivian’s questions about the role of rhetoric. Machinic rhetoric is not a mix of rhizomes and audiences, nor is machinic rhetoric a combination of the notion of “becoming-minor” with the notion of “self-persuasion” (Vivian, 2000, p317). Without traversing the terrain of constitutive, critical, and materialist rhetoric; the trappings of a theory of rhetoric centered on persuasion threaten to overcode the unique contributions of a regimes of signs and their machines. By “overcode,” a certain understanding of the subject (in this case a rhetorical understanding that rests on the process of persuasion) codes or interprets the machine according to the ways the machine relates to subjectivity and fails to map the machine as generative in ways that are discursive and non-discursive. Vivian exemplifies this problem in his piece by importing a theory of rhetoric-as-persuasion into a project attempting to decenter the autonomous subject. Machinic rhetoric dodges the problems confronting Vivian’s conception of rhetoric by mapping a specific machine through regimes of signs that are composed of, and constitute, more than a multiplicity of subject positions. Not only does rhetoric operate through a number of overlapping movements, rhetoric produces particular subjects, places, motions, and additional machines.

    A regime of signs is generative in the sense that it emerges from other regimes, mixing itself in substantive ways. The debate machine, arguably, emerges out of the layer of human language, the agora of oratory, the interplay between politics and the political, the practice of critical rational-debate (Habermas, STPS), the academic discipline of communication, the emergence of competition among educational institutions, etc. Being generative “shows how the various abstract regimes form concrete mixed semiotics, with what variants, how they combine, and which one is predominant” (Deleuze and Guattari, 1987, p139). Even though stasis and stagnation are distinct from becoming, the imagination of stasis in an abstract regime of signs is part of the generative process. Imagining the stasis of the figure of the orator, the frontier of human language, the repetition and folding of communication, or the abyss of silence between humans and animals, may allow a temporary intersection to create the arrival of the debate machine, an intersection that would have been lost without the isolation of concrete events in an abstract way. Similar to invention, the generative trait allows an abstraction (or isolation) of the concrete–how physicality and substance are formed from matter. Even though the regime of signs is concretely mixed, the semiotic elements (debate jargon, argumentation and clash, the notion of debate “theory”) are distinct from the material elements (the campus, the van, the hotel, the podium). A meeting occurs here, tracing an intersection between expression and content—between rhetoric and machine.

    Secondly, a regime of signs is transformational. The high school novice transforms into the CSIS intern. The class schedule that says “forensics” transforms into the capacity to make the sounds of words at a hyper-rapid pace. The surge of the internet transforms into real time research and the unrelenting sacrifice to the divinities of information (Baudrillard, 1997) . The transformational trait suggests that diverse regimes can be merged into one another, either through an alignment of similar characters (the administrator and the case-hit author) or through an alignment of similar elements (urban policy and topicality). Putting math equations into a musical scale may approach this effect. As these regimes merge into each other they also transform into new adjacent and overlapping regimes. The distinctions between forms of content and forms of expression are less clear here, for the abstract is concretized in the process of fusion and mutation. Content can still be abstracted, but only from outside the transformative moment in an artificial (sociological) mode. Irony in a physics textbook or the atomic weight of iron in literary criticism may approach the constant clash and re-generation of regimes of signs. The NDT/CEDA debater as a link between the law and credentialism, the debate workshop as a link between training opportunities and capitalism, and the writing of blocks as a link between industrial manufacturing and scholarship all also point to a constant clash of regimes of signs within the debate machine. As opposed to the tracing inherent in the generative trait, transforming is more about mapping. Drawing territories and charting borders are marks of translation and transformation. The “particle-sign” surfaces as a trope of the transformation, “explaining how one abstract machine can be translated and transformed into another” (Deleuze and Guattari, 1987, p145). The hired gun, the bus driver, and the speaker point all serve as particle-signs in the debate machine’s shifting regime of signs. Following the first two traits, a given regime of signs generates itself in a concrete mixture and transforms itself through contact with other regimes.

    Thirdly, a regime of signs is diagrammatic. Through the diagram, content (materiality) can no longer separate itself from expression (rhetoric), for both content and expression are unformed traits. In other words, content exists as matter–a matter that has not yet formed substance. During the arrival of the debate machine, the content would be the diverse interests and forces in support of a single topic, a two-person switch sides format, a separation of the win/loss from the points awarded to speakers, as well as the faculty resources and national organizing that would go into the construction of a national debate association. In contrast to content or matter, expression exists as a function that has not yet formed itself semiotically. The production of evidence and the training of speakers combined with academic competition are the expressions of the debate machine. This process of diagramming consists in extracting “particles-signs” from regimes of signs, removing any formalized status from the particles-signs so that they are “unformed traits capable of combining with one another” (Deleuze & Guattari, 1987, p145). In a way, the diagrammatic trait occupies a position opposed to the generative trait. In the generative mode, abstractions are the consequence of a concrete combination of forms.

    The need for more universal and efficient means of education produced the debate machine. In the diagrammatic mode, by contrast, concrete combinations are the results of an abstract machine. The debate machine diagrams the figure of the drop-out as the heroic performer, the space of white (male) privilege as the normalized voice, and the regulation of the process by administrators and officials as circulation. The diagram, then, points to the general elements or principles in the regime of signs, carrying the regime to its highest level of abstraction. Of course the height of abstraction is also when the abstract becomes real because content and expression are one. Even though the diagram acts to isolate a particular regime of signs by differentiating matter from function, the matter and function cannot float away from one another–they are bound and thus real. The matter/function of an abstract machine describes the diagrammatic trait of a regime of signs because, in sum, the diagram removes the regime of signs from its territory and conceives of an abstract machine; debate without a campus, education without a topic, clash without a judge.

    So we have traces, maps, and diagrams–the generative involves tracing, the transformational involves mapping, and the diagrammatic involves abstracting (diagramming). The fourth trait of a regime of signs, the machinic component, involves programming. The debate machine programs subjects to perform the role of the critiquer, the 1AR, the scout, the judge, the coach, the timer, the 1NC; the debate machine programs colleges and universities to attach resources to academic programs that serve the needs of students outside the classroom, and the debate machine programs the academy to both value and limit the field and production of debate. The regime of signs “programs” in a pragmatic sense–writing a theater program or programming a computer. Being machinic “shows how abstract machines are effectuated in concrete assemblages” (Deleuze & Guattari, 1987, p146). These concrete assemblages, such as Greene’s governing apparatus (1998), give form to expression and provide content with substance. The expression of an urban debate league takes the form of educational opportunity. The content of efficiency and management becomes the substance of word economy and the line-by-line. As rhizomes, the machinic assemblages of regimes of signs are the front lines–these lines are territorialized or lodged within a particular content. Completing the circle, the machinic trait allows a unity to form that is capable of generating another regime of signs. The temporarily unified debate machine creates a teaching machine and an associated regime of signs constituting an extension of pedagogy.

    These regimes of signs are assumed to produce certain effects. Indeed, a machinic rhetoric argues that we must engage in the relationships between a machinic assemblage and regimes of signs. Deleuze & Guattari (1987, p148) expound:

    In short, there are no syntactically, semantically, or logically definable propositions that transcend or loom above statements….Regimes of signs are not based on language, and language alone does not constitute an abstract machine, whether structural or generative. The opposite is the case. It is language that is based on regimes of signs, and regimes of signs on abstract machines, diagrammatic functions, and machinic assemblages that go beyond any system of semiology, linguistics, or logic. There is no universal propositional logic, nor is there any grammaticality in itself, any more than there is signifier for itself. ‘Behind’ statements and semiotizations there are only machines, assemblages, and movements of deterritorialization that cut across the stratification of the various systems and elude both the coordinates of language and of existence.

    Within this frame, machinic rhetoric is machinic in that it looks at how a machine solidifies out of regimes of signs. In a strange turn of phrase, machinic rhetoric is also rhetorical in that every abstract machine diagrams a rhetorical function and a rhetorical matter. In short, rhetoric constitutes machines (regimes of signs are machinic) and machines constitute rhetoric (machines diagram regimes of signs). Or, rhetoric forms a concrete machine (this post), and a machinic assemblage expresses a rhetoric (critical pedagogy). Again, “only one side of the assemblage has to do with enunciation or formalized expression; on its other side, inseparable form the first, it formalizes contents, it is a machinic assemblage or an assemblage of bodies” (Deleuze & Guattari, 1987, p140). These considerations are significant, yet these traits are the same ones that were all but lost by Vivian’s conception of rhetoric as simply persuasion. In the instance of the debate machine, rhetoric helps to explain the ways in which debate contributes to (articulates) particular subjects, places, and modes of circulation.

  2. kevin kuswa Says:

    Deleuze, Gilles & Guattari, Felix (1987). A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism & Schizophrenia. Trans. B. Massumi, Minneapolis: U. of Minnesota Press.

    Greene, Ronald Walter (1998a). “Another Materialist Rhetoric,” Critical Studies in Mass Communication 15, 21-41.

    Greene, Ronald Walter (1998b). “The Aesthetic Turn and the Rhetorical Perspective on Argumentation,” Argumentation and Advocacy 35, Summer: 19-29.

    Vivian, Bradford (2000). “The Threshold of the Self.” Philosophy and Rhetoric 33, 4: 303-318.

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