I have been giving a lot of thought to Levi Bryant's recent post on writing and incorporeal machines. Obviously (at least from my perspective), understanding symbolic action's (e.g. writing) ontology is central to my work, and I have been trying to work through the implications of the Deleuzian notion of incorporeal transformation (and the broader, non-symbolic concept of expression) as it may (or may not) relate to an object-oriented rhetoric.
Here is a key point for me in Levi's post:
There are two considerations that lead me to resist the move of reducing incorporeal machines to corporeal machines: Iterability and identity. Unlike corporeal machines that are singular and always exist at a particular time and place (while also having a duration), incorporeal machines have the curious feature of being iterable, while remaining identical. As an incorporeal machine, a novel, scientific theory, mathematical equation, grammatical rule, recipe, political ideology, perhaps genetic codes, etc., can exist in countless corporeal machines (books, newspapers, magazines, symphony performances, brains, computer data banks, conversations, etc.), while nonetheless remaining that incorporeal machine. Every copy or iteration of Shakespeare’s Hamlet in the paper of a book or in a computer program is still Hamlet, just as every execution of the operation of the Pythagorean theorem is still the Pythagorean theorem, and every performance of Beethoven’s Ninth is Beethoven’s Ninth.
So here Levi is explaining why he believes incorporeality is necessary. I'd like to expand on this and make some modifications. First, I'd like to differentiate between copies and iterations. If I copy a poem or Hamlet is Levi's example, then that's one kind of relation. That is, the 30 copies of a particular book I order for a course are each withdrawn objects from one another but bear a relation to one another that is strengthened by their position within a network. An industrial printing system operates to maintain similarities among these objects as they are produced. Are there differences? Yes, of course, but the deployment of the books within a system of reading makes these differences unimportant for us. In a slightly different example, the student who buys a copy of my book versus one who finds a free pdf somewhere is reading the same text. However readers may have different experience due to the affordances of different media, and from a legal-copyright perspective these things are quite different. Nevertheless we can see the impact of some shift from copy to iteration here. In my final example, if you read through various introductions to OOO in books, blogs, articles, and published talks, you will find a great deal of surface variety and yet all make reference to Harman. We might consider some more or less accurate or more or less helpful/clear. To me this last example is significantly different as we are no longer talking about copies/iterations of a text but of the ideas that exist in some relation to that text.
Now a slight detour. For Deleuze and Guattari I don't believe there are any "incorporeal machines." They do speak of incorporeal transformations that are the product of collective assemblages of enunciation. In the plateau on linguistics they write a great deal about incorporeal transformations, but they are clearly indicating that such transformations are specifically the product of symoblic action. E.g., when one turns 18 (in the US) one is transformed into an adult: that's an incorporeal transformation. When one is pronouced married or guilty in a courtroom that's an incorporeal transformation. It doesn't have to be strictly a legal matter though. For Deleuze and Guattari "there is no individual enunciation" (ATP 79). Though from an OOO perspective, each book, each word in a book, each letter is a withdrawn object, there is also another object in which those objects participate (partially always, without exhausting themselves). We can call that object a "language," which makes it possible for me to write and read. How does this work? For D&G, "Rather than common sense, a faculty for the centralization of information, we must define an abominable faculty consisting in emitting, receiving, and transmitting order-words" (76). What D&G say here is key for what Levi is investigating. They note that language's power lies in it's capacity for transmission and even translation. They use the example of bees. A bee who has discovered a food location can communicate that location to a second bee, but the second bee cannot pass along the information. This is not language for D&G. Anyway, I could go on for a while on this, but I think that's sufficient for now.
Returning to Levi's investigation now. In D&G terms, I think one might say that language has a special power to transmit order-words through incorporeal transformations: that would be what is happening in Levi's examples. However I think it is important to note that it is the transformations, not the machines, that are incorporeal. The collective assemblages of enunciation are not themselves incorporeal. So what one might see in language is a particular kind of relationality, and I am interested in considering what the ontological basis for that relational capacity might be. D&G make clear they do not believe it is metaphor or metonymy, so that is perhaps a difference (one of many) from Harman or Morton. That is, language is not in a metaphorical relation to its supposed referent. Instead language is always indirect discourse. Language withdraws from other objects in the world and withdraws from our "direct discourse," our intersections with language through speaking/writing. Language though, relates to itself. Again, there's more to go through here (a book's worth, I hope).
I do think though that there are interesting implications for an object-oriented literary criticism in this line of investigation that would suggest a method clearly different from the cultural-sociological methods that presume first that language is communicational. What is it about Hamlet or any literary object that allows it to be transmitted from saying to saying? Is it strictly the technosocial apparatus I described above or is there a deeper ontological explanation, an indirect discourse, a collective assemblage of enuciation enacting incorporeal transformations? If such an indirect discourse exists, can one find an ontological basis for it that creates the capacity for language to do what it does? Then finally, how might one investigate "literariness" as an aesthetic-stylistic intervention/investigation into that capacity?