Style is in the traditional canon of rhetoric and means the manipulation of language for rhetorical effect. Historically, eras that emphasized style in rhetoric also tended to regard rhetoric as of secondary importance in public discourse, as the window dressing for logic and more substantive modes of invention. When we think of style more broadly as the use of gesture, clothing, decoration, objects, grooming—in short, of style in the more colloquial sense of “he’s got style”—then we see a wider and more important role for style as a major form of rhetoric. Today, the need of global capitalism to sustain artificially high levels of consumption is largely achieved through a rhetoric of style. The public must be persuaded to churn its clothing, decoration, grooming styles, and so forth constantly to keep consumption up, and the most effective way to achieve that end is through creating in people a preoccupation with style. Once that happens, then style becomes the major way in which we think about presenting ourselves to others. Style becomes the way in which people say who they are, who they want to be, and who they feel opposed to. Style becomes a major expression of political commitment. In short, style has become a major if not the major rhetorical system at work in the world today. We understand what others mean, and we influence others, through style much more than we do through carefully planned discursive discourses, argument, and expository presentations. Because global capitalism is the engine behind this preoccupation with style, style is a system of communication likely to increase in dominance and importance.
The Rhetoric of Style
Alain Badiou’s New Constructivism and Universalism
French philosopher Alain Badiou (b. 1937) is one of the more important European thinkers to emerge after May 1968. His work may be read as a response to the structuralism, post-structuralism, existentialism, and postmodern thought characteristic of post-World War II French theory. Through the use of set theory, he argues that our understanding of reality is largely determined by major, world shifting events in politics, mathematics/science, aesthetics/poetry, and love. A Maoist, he maintains that true changes in human reality require decisive interventions that create a new sense of temporality, subjectivity, and order. Events radically change the order of an existing world and create new worlds. For example, the Russian or French revolutions brought an end to absolutist monarchies and the rule that were specific to them. A new order and form of political power were introduced by the ascendant regimes. The sense of who and what human beings living under such regimes were changed from that of subject to citizen. The idea of subjects being absolutely ruled and determined by divine monarchs only responsible to God and themselves would no longer be possible as a legitimate form of political rule. The contents and relations constitutive of a world come to be structured by the event, though the worlds regimented by an event are never identical to the event itself. The event always lies outside, though it conditions, the sets of relations and contents that express it. His work is often read in conjunction with and in opposition to the philosopher Jacques Rancière. Both thinkers form part of what is seen as the new constructivism and universalism.
Affect in Critical Studies
Brian L. Ott
Affect has historically been conceptualized in one of two dominant ways. The first perspective, which has its roots in psychology and neuroscience, tends to view affect as an elemental state. This tradition is reflected in Silvan S. Tomkins’s theory of primary affects and Antonio Damasio’s theory of basic emotions. Recent extensions of this tradition include the work of Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Lisa Cartwright, and Teresa Brennan. The second perspective, which is typically associated with developments in philosophy and the humanities, treats affect as an intensive force. This tradition, whose most famous proponent is Gilles Deleuze, is evident in Brian Massumi’s theory of autonomous affect and Nigel Thrift’s non-representational theory. Recent extensions of this tradition tend to emphasize the importance of materiality, or what Jane Bennett has called “thing-power.” A number of scholars working in communication and cultural studies have created a third, hybrid tradition that attempts to bridge or mediate the two dominant historical accounts. This third perspective includes Lawrence Grossberg’s notion of affective investments, Christian Lundberg’s Lacanian-inspired view of affect, Sara Ahmed’s work on the sociality of emotion, and Gernot Böhme’s theory of atmospheres.