A Disclosure

One of Heidegger’s central contributions to philosophy was his concept of truth as aletheia. Ordinarily truth is understood as a correspondence between a proposition and a state-of-affairs. For instance, the proposition “the sun is shining” is true if, in fact, the sun is shining. A key feature of this conception of truth is that the state-of-affairs to which the proposition refers is transcendent to the proposition, independent of the proposition, and exists in its own right regardless of whether or not the proposition is enunciated. The proposition in no way effects the thing itself. Another theory of truth treats truth as coherence. A proposition here is true if it coheres with a body or web of propositions as in the case, perhaps, of Hegel’s system.

For Heidegger, by contrast, truth is aletheia or the disclosedness or revealing of being. Lest I earn the condemnation of the Heideggarians, I will say upfront that I will not here do Heidegger’s conception of truth as aletheia justice, nor is it my intention to give a careful analysis of his claims. Rather, I wish to indicate how it might be of use in thinking certain rhetorical phenomena.

To claim that truth is aletheia or disclosedness is to claim that an entity must first disclose or reveal itself as a particular sort of entity prior any statements we might make about it. Perhaps this idea can best be elucidated by way of the human body. In encountering the body as a seat of action, an object of medical intervention, a sexual object, and so on, is the body disclosed or revealed in the same way? In living my body, there’s a way in which its physicality, its nature as a volume, flesh, a surface, disappears. Far from being an object like other objects in the world, there’s an invisibility about my lived body, a specific bodily intentionality, such that it is not my body that is the focus of engagement, but rather the destinations towards which I move and the objects with which I am engaged. My hand is not this geometry of flesh, bone, and sinew, but rather is a grasping that is entirely exhausted in this act of typing or this grasping of my coffee cup. To say that my lived body is “exhausted” in this act of typing or in taking hold of the coffee cup and drinking is not to say that it is fatigued, but rather that it disappears in these acts by virtue of the very activity of revealing the world that it is engaged in. It is the coffee cup that is disclosed, the words on the screen, the destination towards which I am moving, not the lived body itself. As such, the lived body is more a collection of vectors, trajectories, directions, illuminating the world independent of it, rather than a geometrical shape and configuration of flesh, bone, and sinew.

Read on

Indeed, this can be seen with great clarity in the case of very young children, prior to the mirror stage. Often, as the child is learning how to crawl, it will attempt to enter spaces too small for its body to pass. In frustration the child will bang its head against the narrow opening, unable to get through, and more importantly, unable to understand why it cannot get through. This is because the young infant does not yet have a physical body, but only vectors of movement. It will only acquire a body gradually through encountering the many resistances of the world, the various breakdowns of the body, but also the gaze of others. When Deleuze and Guattari speak of the “facialization” of the body, of parts of the body, part of what they’re referring to is the way in which the body as a surface is constituted in the gaze of others. That is, the body only discloses itself as a surface, a volume, the flesh in and through experiences of fatigue, sickness, the gaze, and resistance that gradually generate a sort of mental map of the body as a surface in contrast to the body as a set of vectors. The more the vectors of my body break down, the more my body as a surface, as brute meat, begins to reveal itself. Thus there is a coefficient of revealing and concealing, an alethetics, of the body. 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 MoveOn.org ad in The New York Times. For those outside the United States, MoveOn.org 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. Burke writes, “The Rhetoric deals with the possibilities of classification in its partisan aspects; it considers the ways in which individuals are at odds with one another, or become identified with groups more or less at odds with one another” (Rhetoric of Motives, 22). There can be
rhetorics that strive for deterritorialization and decoding, so as to create division within a group or seduce members of a group out of that group. Thus, for instance, when MoveOn.org takes out the add that says General Petraeus or Betray Us?, not only are they attempting to deterritorialize Petraeus from his ethos, from the territory of his respectability, but also they are attempting to reterritorialize viewers of this ad on the territory of the anti-war movement. There is an attempted decoding of Petraeus’ identity in popular imagination, and a reterritorialization and recoding of that identity on the territory of betrayal. This kind of rhetoric attempts to produce a new group or enlarge an existing group (anti-war folk), seducing folk over into the code of the anti-war side and undermining the codes supporting the pro-war side.

At the moment it would appear that the conservatives have won the battle of rhetoric in this particular instance. The aim of the MoveOn ad was to deterritorialize Petraeus by undermining his credibility, thereby effecting a decoding of his report as credible. Moreover, the aim was to decode Petraeus identity as having the welfare of the troops in mind, and a recoding of his identity on the territory of the administration as someone who has neither regard for the troops, the American people, nor the suffering Iraqis. However, in an act that can only be described as “rhetorical judo”, the conservatives shifted the territory of discussion, turning discussion into a discussion about the Democratic presidential candidates and whether or not they support the troops, rather than the issues of the accuracy of the report, relief for the troops, and ending the war.

One of the central aims of any military engagement is to define where the battle is fought (the territory on which war is waged). The case is similar in rhetoric. An effective rhetorical exchange lies in defining the topic of debate, the territory of debate, so as to put ones opponent at a disadvantage. It is in this connection that we can speak of an “alethetics of rhetoric”. The effectiveness of the conservative rhetorical judo lies in a bait and switch that redefined the territory, deterritorializing the initial aim of the ad and reterritorializing it on another terrain where the ad becomes coded as being against the troops. A revealing here takes place, while the original issues of the accuracy of the report, troop relief, etc., becomes concealed. The success of this conservative gesture lies not in its accuracy or honesty or sophistication, but in the way it has led to a media blackout and forced democrats to respond. On the one hand, all the television news stations are now busily discussing whether or not the ad disrespects the troops and whether democrats support the ads, pushing discussion of any other issues into the background. Even the President made a statement about the ad today, generating yet more reporting. On the other hand, the democrats have now had to respond on this territory, rather than on other issues, putting them at a disadvantage. In this connection, it is especially odd that the 22 democratic senators voted in favor of the resolution to denounce the ad. At any rate, the general maxim here is “when confronted by an unpleasant argument, make the discussion about the person/people making the argument”. This often occurs in religious discussions as well, where the discussion inevitably shifts from the issues being discussed and the arguments being made, to a discussion about the persons making the arguments, the rhetorical style being used, etc. In this way, the original territory of the discussion is concealed and the religious territory is protected from insurrection.

Later Burke quotes Aristotle as saying “it is not difficult to praise Athenians among the Athenians” (55). This, I think, would be a different kind of rhetoric. When Lacanians talk about the “real”, one of the things they have in mind are the antagonisms that plague all social relationships. Our in-group relations are always fraught with conflict and this is one of the major reasons we create enemies-of-the-group or phantasms like terrorists, pedophiles, witches, and demons that threaten the group. Rather than focusing on real entities, it is here, instead, a question of looking at the structuring role these phantasms serve… Of why they become central points of anxiety and worry for a particular group of people at a particular point in time. Why, for instance, are Americans not obsessed with corporations that arguably do them far more harm either through shady financial dealings, various environmental disasters (polluting, etc), and layoffs? Why is it the terrorist and the child molester that captivate the minds of Americans, filling them with dark fears, rather than the CEO? Through the production of these figures or codes, we can deterritorialize aggressions that would be directed at people in our own group and reterritorialize it on some real or fictive entity (I think there’s always a lot of fiction at work in how we talk about these entities) so as to direct that aggression elsewhere and maintain the group. Here the Enemy functions as a sort of safety-valve for a group.

This other kind of rhetoric would not be about deterritorialization or reterritorialization, but rather about maintaining and sustaining territory. You praise the Athenians to the Athenians to ensure that the Athenians will remain Athenians. There’s a whole theory of affect in relation to coding that needs to be developed here; a theory that would focus on how certain affects are produced and reproduced to maintain the autopoietic re-production of group identities and the conditions of reproduction. Lucretius argues that properties like names, justice, nationality, etc., are not intrinsic properties of objects like solidity is a property of lead itself, but are rather accidental features attributed to objects that can be taken away without the object ceasing to be. Clearly this diverges from the relational position of Deleuze and Guattari, but it does have some merit in thinking about the nature of assemblages. Being-an-Athenian is something that has to be made and perpetually remade, as there’s nothing intrinsic about human bodies that entails they must remain Athenians. Praising the Athenians would thus be a way of maintaining a particular order of identifications (a set of codes) in much the same way we maintain our lawns.

In each of these rhetorical maneuvers there’s a disclosure that takes place and a simultaneous concealing of other discourse possibilities. One of the aims of the rhetorician should be the archeology of these silences, as Dan Price argues in Without a Woman To Read, that would allow for the production of other possibilities and be generative of deterritorializations. The peril to perpetually be avoided, however, is that of rhetorical judo that uses these deterritorializations as the very substance of reterritorializations and capture.

About these ads