Selections from Antidosis, On the Sublime, Against the Sophists, Dao De Jing

I pulled quotes from our readings this week that seemed to illustrate mastery of language aesthetics in terms of text construction and reception.


  • emphasis: language/speech as mastery of insight/knowledge – but what does this illuminate about how philosophy and language function? as distinct from rhetoric? sophistry?
  • antidosis: an exchange
  • “we are in no respect superior to other living creatures…there is no institution devised by man which the power of speech has not helped us to establish”
  • of geometry, astronomy, and studies of that sort: most men see nothing but empty talk as it has no useful application either to private or public affairs—these studies can be of no benefit after they have been mastered unless they are how one makes their living. study, knowledge, as mastered skills.
  • “it is not in the nature of man to attain a science by the possession of which we can know positively what we should do or what we should say, in the next resort I hold that man to be wise who is able by his powers of conjecture to arrive generally at the best course, and I hold that man to be a philosopher who occupies himself with the studies from which he will most quickly gain that kind of insight”
  • men who have been gifted with eloquence by nature are governed what they say by chance, while those who have gained this power by the study of philosophy/exercise by reason never speak without weighing their words

Longinus On the Sublime

  • emphasis: illuminates aesthetic appeal in the construction/delivery of literary texts (distinct from speech?) for a more nuanced look at their affects on audience. what function would this text serve? was it instructional?
  • treatsie on aesthetics in literature
  • sublime: authors have moral excellence in their writing that arouses emotion in audience: “a certain loftiness and excellence of language…which takes the reader out of himself”
  • words as “truly noble and sublime which always please and please all readers. For when the same book always produces the same impression on all who read it, whatever be the difference in their pursuits, their manner of life, their aspirations, their ages, or their language, such a harmony of opposite gives authority to their favourable verdict”
  • sublimity is a faculty natural, but is worthwhile to train up souls to sublimity
  • encourages “copying from fair forms or statuses or works of skilled labour”
  • oratorical image: digression of energy and reality in adding passion to the practical, argumentative parts of oration
  • five sources of sublimity: great thoughts, strong emotions, certain figures of thought and speech, noble diction, dignified word arrangement
  • “in art we admire exactness, in the works of nature magnificence; and it is from nature that man derives the faculty of speech. Whereas, then, in statuary we look for close resemblance to humanity, in literature we require something which transcends humanity”

Isocrates Against the Sophists

  • emphasis: distinguishing philosophy from sophistry on the premise of oratory instruction – why this distinction with philosophy instead of rhetoric?
  • “they promise they will make their disciples such orators, that they shall omit nothing in the nature of things; 10 nay, that they will teach them eloquence, like grammar; not considering the nature of each, but thinking, that, on account of the excellence of their promises, they will be admired, and the study of eloquence seem of higher value; not knowing, that arts render not those famous who insolently boast of them, but those who can find out and express whatever is in them” –  philosophy could effect this. Isocrates contrasts the teachings of sophistry with philosophy.
  • “But let no one think, that I imagine justice can be taught; for I do not think there is any such art which can teach those who are not disposed by nature, either temperance or justice; tho’ I think the study of popular eloquence helps both to acquire and practice it.”

Dao De Jing

  • emphasis: some elements of mastery as a points of comparison. The impulse is to compare it to the other texts (Western) to look at similarities/differences in how mastery of language is discussed and the structure of the text’s language. A focus on the dao as essence or virtue seems comparable to treaties on rhetoric as justice, though built on different premises.
  • Attributes of the Dao
    • (Those who) possessed in highest degree the attributes (of the Dao) did not (seek) to show them, and therefore they possessed them (in fullest measure). (Those who) possessed in a lower degree those attributes (sought how) not to lose them, and therefore they did not possess them (in fullest measure).
    • (Those who) possessed in the highest degree those attributes did nothing (with a purpose), and had no need to do anything. (Those who) possessed them in a lower degree were (always) doing, and had need to be so doing.
    • (Those who) possessed the highest benevolence were (always seeking) to carry it out, and had no need to be doing so. (Those who) possessed the highest righteousness were (always seeking) to carry it out, and had need to be so doing.
    • (Those who) possessed the highest (sense of) propriety were (always seeking) to show it, and when men did not respond to it, they bared the arm and marched up to them.
  • All in the world know the beauty of the beautiful, and in doing this they have (the idea of) what ugliness is; they all know the skill of the skilful, and in doing this they have (the idea of) what the want of skill is. So it is that existence and non-existence give birth the one to (the idea of) the other; that difficulty and ease produce the one (the idea of) the other; that length and shortness fashion out the one the figure of the other; that (the ideas of) height and lowness arise from the contrast of the one with the other; that the musical notes and tones become harmonious through the relation of one with another; and that being before and behind give the idea of one following another. Therefore the sage manages affairs without doing anything, and conveys his instructions without the use of speech. All things spring up, and there is not one which declines to show itself; they grow, and there is no claim made for their ownership; they go through their processes, and there is no expectation (of a reward for the results). The work is accomplished, and there is no resting in it (as an achievement). The work is done, but how no one can see; ‘Tis this that makes the power not cease to be.
  • Dexterity in using the Dao
    • The skilful traveller leaves no traces of his wheels or footsteps; the skilful speaker says nothing that can be found fault with or blamed; the skilful reckoner uses no tallies; the skilful closer needs no bolts or bars, while to open what he has shut will be impossible; the skilful binder uses no strings or knots, while to unloose what he has bound will be impossible. In the same way the sage is always skilful at saving men, and so he does not cast away any man; he is always skilful at saving things, and so he does not cast away anything. This is called ‘Hiding the light of his procedure.’
    • Therefore the man of skill is a master (to be looked up to) by him who has not the skill; and he who has not the skill is the helper of (the reputation of) him who has the skill. If the one did not honour his master, and the other did not rejoice in his helper, an (observer), though intelligent, might greatly err about them. This is called ‘The utmost degree of mystery.’

Material (In)Stability

Reading selections from Jesper Juul’s Half-Real: Video Games between Real Rules and Fictional Worlds as entre into digital games provided a space to explore the incomplete stability of fictional worlds, which Juul posits as perhaps the strongest innovation of the video game (the emphasis on game fiction as ambiguous, optional, uncontrollable, and unpredictable while still functioning within game rules/bounds of time and space 162—while the worlds of video games are ontologically unstable, the rules of the game are very stable). Juul states that all fictional worlds are incomplete, but that when information about a fictional world is not specified, we fill in the blanks using our understanding of the actual world (123). These fictional worlds are projected through a variety of means but are imagined by the player; some of these fictional worlds are optimal to compose in part by the player, while others may be contradictory or even incoherent (121). Fictional worlds borrow from the concept of possible worlds from analytical philosophy that worlds can be understood as abstract collections of states of affairs distinct from statements describing those states. Explained more specifically from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

Anne is working at her desk. While she is directly aware only of her immediate situation — her being seated in front of her computer, the music playing in the background, the sound of her husband’s voice on the phone in the next room, and so on — she is quite certain that this situation is only part of a series of increasingly more inclusive, albeit less immediate, situations: the situation in her house as a whole, the one in her neighborhood, the city she lives in, the state, the North American continent, the Earth, the solar system, the galaxy, and so on. On the face of it, anyway, it seems quite reasonable to believe that this series has a limit, that is, that there is a maximally inclusive situation encompassing all others: things, as a whole or, more succinctly, the actual world.

Things, as a whole, needn’t have been just as they are, things might have been different in countless ways, both trivial and profound. Choice is as significant as nonchoice in affecting the fictional world, the environs, of game play. I found myself wondering how the type of game may be impacted differently by non/choice in affordances and limitations to the goal of play (not throwing a turtle shell in a Mario Kart race has a different effect than not collecting an artifact in an action rpg). It is my understanding (perhaps incorrectly) that rules in video games are invisible to Juul, and I wonder about the relationship between the rules, actual world understanding, and the instability of the fictional world in terms of material design of game and game play. This struck a pause in reading when Juul states that video games are immaterial. I wondered how video games and digital games (which I feel the need now to distinguish between) might make the fictional world and its affects and the player’s ability to affect more material—how the concept of possible rules might be explored more visibly in meaningful game play. I’m not sure of how this is possible, but I wonder about the expansion/extension of game play to include player input/actual world more explicitly through collaboratively develop fictional worlds, script/code, senses, haptics, sound, and the addition of information from outside of the material design of the game in ways that the game can accomodate as productive instability.

Engaging Vibrant Matter

A first pass through Jane Bennett’s Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things as I search for resonance with techne and understanding the history of materialism. Reading her account of vibrant materiality from a history of vitalism, I am curious for depper accounts of instrumentality, mechanism and mechanist, and mode(i)fication to get at the interaction of materials.

A (more or less direct) quote from her keynote “Artistry and Agency in a World of Vibrant Matter” her uncanny task:

see what happens to our writing, our bodies, our research designs, our consumption practices, our sympathies. If this call from things is taken seriously, taken that is, as more than a figure of speech, a projections of voice onto some inanimate stuff, more than an instance of the pathetic fallacy. What if some things in an undetermined way can hail us and offer a glimpse through a window that opens of lively bodies that are unparsed into subjects or objects? Now at best this window has a rickety sash that may slam close at any moment…I tried to narrate what I saw, enunciate this thing power and try to translate the nonlinguistic transmissions…Word workers can try to do that. They do that best when they can stay true to things in the best way if one approaches language as rhetoric sort of as word sounds that tune the body and render it more susceptible to the frequencies of the material agencies inside and around us. So the goal: to use words to make whatever communication already at work between vibrant bodies more audible, more detectable, more sensible.

Jane Bennett calls for “maybe a less verbose practice to acknowledge and translate the call of things, addressing the arts. I am curious how craft, or something like [rhetorical] carpentry (Ian Bogost; developed by Nathaniel Rivers and Jim Brown) might lend a hand in the translation of things—focusing on the space between human and nonhuman.

A selection of quotes and concepts from each chapter:

The Force of Things

  • distinguishing between objects and things: objects are the way things appear to a subject with a name, identity, gestalt and stereotypical template while things signal the moment the object becomes an other, as something uncanny (quoting W.J.T. Mitchell)
  • “I will try impossibly, to name the moment of independence (from subjectivity) possessed by things, a moment that must be there, since things do in fact affect other bodies, enhancing or weakening their power” (3)
  • from Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology of Perception “an immanent or incipient significance in the living body which extends…to the whole sensible world; our gaze, prompted by the experiences of our own body, will discover in all other objects the miracle of perception” (50
  • matter’s inherent creativity (7)
  • from Bruno Latour an actant is neither a subject nor an object by an intervener (9)
  • direct sensuous apprehension (13)
  • nonidentity from Adorno as a presence that acts upon us: we knowers are haunted by a painful nagging feeling that something’s being left put
  • negative dialectics: pedagogy inside materialism to become more cognizant that conceptualization automatically obscures
    • technique: imaginatively re-create what has been obscured
    • technique: to admit a playful element into one’s thinking and be willing to play the fool
    • technique: aesthetic attention to object’s qualitative moments

The Agency of Assemblages

  • clinamen: an actant never acts alone; its efficacy or agency always depends on the collaboration, cooperation, or interactive interference of many bodies or forces (21)
  • mode: form alliances and enter assemblages it is to mode(i)fy and be modified by others (22)
  • Bruno Latour “That which acts through me is also surprised by what I do, by the chance to mutate, to change, to bifurcate” (27)
  • “There was never a time when human agency was anything other than an interfolding network of humanity and nonhumanity; today this mingling has become harder to ignore” (31)
  • agency: efficacy, trajectory, causality
  • efficacy points to the creativity of agency, to a capacity to make something new appear or occur
  • agency is also bound with the idea of trajectory, a directionality or movement away from somewhere even if the toward which it moves is obscure or even absent
  • causality chain of simply bodies acting as the sole impetus
  • from Deleuze “adsorption” gathering of elements in a way that both form as a coalition and yet preserves something of the agential impetus of each element (35)
  • human intentionality can emerge as agentic only by way of distribution; the productive power that has engendered an effect will turn out to be a confederacy and the human actant within it will themselves turn out to be confederations of tools, microbes, minerals, sounds, and other foreign materialities (36)

Edible Matter

  • mechanical operations

A Life of Metal

  • uncanny nontime exiting between the various moments of biographical or morphological time (53)
  • matter movement, matter energy, matter in variation that enters assemblages and leaves them (54)
  • hylomorphic model: passive unorganized or raw matter can be given organic form only by the agency of something that is not itself material; any formative power must be external to a brute, mechanical matter”
  • this is ignorant of what woodworkers and metallurgists know that there “exist variable intensive effects and incipient qualities of matter that external forms can only bring out and facilitate”; “instead if a formative power detachable from matter, artisans (and mechanics, cooks, builders, cleaners, and anyone else intimate with things) encounter a creative materiality with incipient tendencies and propensities” ((56)
  • the aim is to articulate the elusive idea of a materiality that is itself heterogeneous, itself a differential of intensities, itself a life (57)
  • from a history of metallography is that it was the human metalworkers’ intense intimacy with their material that enabled them, rather than (the less hands on) scientists, to be the ones to first discover the polycrystalline structure of nonorganic matter. The desire of the craftsperson to see what a metal can do, rather than the desire of a scientist to know what a metal is, enabled the former to discern a life in metal, and thus, eventually, collaborate more productively with it. (60)

Neither Vitalism nor Mechanism

  • matter is a tendency toward spatialization (77)
  • this distortion is necessary and useful because humans must regard the world instrumentally if they are to survive in it: there is an inevitable propensity of our mind to view the world as if it consisted not of an ever-changing flow of time but a calculable set of things (we necessarily turn a spatializing tendency into a world of fixed entities) (77)
  • a simple model of harmony (from Driesch) “internal alteration within parts as they develop, as well as changes in the relationship between parts” (80)

Stem Cells and the Culture of Life

  • culture of life (a natural order of rank)
  • life is radically different from matter; human life is qualitatively different from all other life; human uniqueness expresses divine intention; the world id a divinely created order and that order has the shape of a fixed hierarchy

Political Ecologies

  • intelligent improvisations (96)
  • “In a vital materialism, an anthropomorphic element in perception can uncover a whole world of resonances and resemblances—sound and sights that echo and bounce far more that would be possible were the universe to have a hierarchical structure (99)
  • In Art as Experience (Dewey) comes close to saying that even human initiatives are not exclusively human; he flirts with a posthuman conception of action when he notes the porosity of the border between the human body and its out-side (102)
  • the concept of the actant (Latour) pries space between the idea of an action and the idea of human intentionality; rejects nature and culture categories in favor of collective of human and nonhuman elements; action not an enactment of choices but as the v=call and response between propositions (a lending weight, an incentive toward, a pressure along one trajectory) (103)
  • effect (Ranciere )act disrupts as a way to radically change what people can see by repartitioning the sensible, overthrowing the regime o the perceptible (107)
  • a vital materialist theory of democracy seeks to transform the divide between speaking subjects and mute objects into a set of differential tendencies and variable capacities (108)

Vitality and Self-Interest

  • Materiality is a rubric that tends to horizontalize the relations between humans, biota, and abiota. It draws human attention sideways, away from an ontologically ranked Great Chain of Being and toward greater appreciation of the complex entanglement of humans and nonhumans (112)
  • inflection of matters as: “vibrant, vital, energetic, lively, quivering, vibratory, evanescent, and effluescent
  • vital materiality better captures an “alien” quality of our own flesh, and in so doing, reminds humans of they very radical character of the (fractious) kinship between the human and the nonhuman”(112)
  • “In a world of vibrant matter, it is thus not enough to say that we are ’embodied’. We are, rather, an array  of bodies, many different kinds f them nested set of microbiomes” (113)
  • sense of nature as creativity like ancient Greek phusis and Latin natura: to puff, blow or swell up, conveying a sense of germination or sprouting up, bringing forth, opening out, or hatching. Speak as of a process of morphing, of formation and deformation…of becoming otherwise of things in motion as hey enter into strange conjunctions with on another (118)
  • closing creed: I believe that encounters with lively matter can chasten my fantasies of human mastery, highlight the common materiality of all that is, expose a wider distribution of agency, and reshape the self and its interests (122)

Survey of the Sophists: Gorgias, Dissoi Logoi, Phaedrus

In reading for class this week, I wanted to focus my attention on how each of the pieces talked about rhetoric in terms of defining, illustrating, and exercising. This is the first time I have read about/from the sophists, and I was curious about seeking textual indication that would better illustrate this seeming divide.

Plato’s Gorgias 

  • Socrates makes to Gorgias a distinction between exhibition and answering through speech
  • Socrates tells Gorgias to respond in a shorter method; what/why would a shorter or longer method be used? is this distinctive of sophistry and rhetoric in terms of style of delivery?
  • Socrates asks “with what is rhetoric concerned?”, to which Gorgias replies “discourse”
  • Gorgias calls rhetoric art —”Rhetoric is my art”, to which Socrates questions “Then I am to call you a rhetorician?”
  • Socrates asks”To what class of things do the words which rhetoric uses relate?”, to which Gorgias replies “To the greatest, Socrates, and the best of human things”
  • Gorgias views rhetoric as the artificer of persuasion, “persuasion is the chief end of rhetoric”
  • Socrates makes a point to ask Gorgias to distinguish the distinction/complication made between having learned and having believed
  • Gorgias views rhetoric as competitive art and that it should be used like any other competitive art; power and nature of the art of rhetoric is to speak persuasively to the multitude on any subject
  • Socrates states that Gorgias gains the ears of the multitude by persuasion, not instruction
  • Socrates defines rhetoric not as an art, but an experience. He states that it has been made into an art. 
  • I’m still sifting through this distinction Socrates makes for Gorgias about cookery and medicine:
    • “And now I will endeavour to explain to you more clearly what I mean: The soul and body being two, have two arts corresponding to them: there is the art of politics attending on the soul; and another art attending on the body, of which I know no single name, but which may be described as having two divisions, one of them gymnastic, and the other medicine.”
  • He lays out the following:
    • astiring : gymnastic :: cookery : medicine; or rather,
    • astiring : gymnastic :: sophistry : legislation; and
    • as cookery : medicine :: rhetoric : justice

And this, I say, is the natural difference between the rhetorician and the sophist, but by reason of their near connection, they are apt to be jumbled up together; neither do they know what to make of themselves, nor do other men know what to make of them. For if the body presided over itself, and were not under the guidance of the soul, and the soul did not discern and discriminate between cookery and medicine, but the body was made the judge of them, and the rule of judgment was the bodily delight which was given by them, then the word of Anaxagoras, that word with which you, friend Polus, are so well acquainted, would prevail far and wide: “Chaos” would come again, and cookery, health, and medicine would mingle in an indiscriminate mass. And now I have told you my notion of rhetoric, which is, in relation to the soul, what cookery is to the body.

  • discussion of justice and injustice, good and evil—good as just, evil as unjust
  • does this exchange bring to light, as it seems to, differences in instructional method between the sophists and the rhetoricians? how does method affect outcome? affect purpose (when they are dealing with the same citizen population and spaces for speech)?

Gorgias’ Encomium of Helen

  • introduction highlights Gorgias’ style as “overly antithetical and symmetrical in structure and overly alliterative and assonant in sound”; rhetoric described as providing a magical experience akin to poetry performance, which warrants attention to manipulative effects
  • knowledge is provisional based on shared experiences that rely on shared deception effected by knowledge; denies existence of transcendent essences of situation
  • rhetoric must appeal to the whole person
  • goal: wishes to “free the accused of blame, and having proved the truth, to free her from their ignorance”
  • setting forth the causes by which Helen was taken to Troy
    • predetermined by the god’s; blame is on Fate and on a god
    • raped by violence; the undertaker did the dread deeds so he is to be hated and she pitied
    • persuaded by speech and deceived her heart, “Speech is a powerful lord, which by means of the finest and most invisible body effects the divinest works”; speech constrained the soul and the persuader does the wrong and the persuaded is wrongly charged
    • persuaded by speech but was unfortunate as fear/grief lead to the lost presence of mind; sight was delighted to love and desire—an affliction
  • ends: “I have by means of speech removed disgrace from a woman”
  • how would a rhetorician account for the situation of Helen’s journey to Troy differently?

Dissoi Logoi 

  • structured in terms of five sets of opposing arguments: good|bad; seemly|shameful; just|unjust; truth|falsehood; untitled: sane|demented and wise|ignorant
  • final three sections investigate: whether wisdom and moral excellence can be taught; whether political offices should be assigned; and what qualities a rhetorician should have and how his memory should be trained
  • theme: what good government is and how discourse can maintain it
  • advocates a situational ethics—qualities exist independent of the situation
  • emphasizes individual’s perspective as determining the value of an object, experience, or act
  • how does this compare/contrast with Aristotle’s points in On Rhetoric?
  • at its core, what is distinctly characteristic of the sophists in this text?

Hamlet on the Holodeck: Interactors of Digital Materiality

Janet Murray’s Hamlet on the Holodeck (which is nearing its 20th anniversary since publication—I wonder if it might be revisited through digital sensory extensions? Did anyone else sigh small sadness over the URL to the book’s resource page being a nonspace? Imagine this with a digital compendium!) has left me with much to think about as one of the first digital explorations we are venturing into as I carry forward my interest in possibility spaces, agency and materiality. Digital materiality—tactile and sensory interaction with digital materials—is something I’m captivated by in my own work/thinking. It is this interest in exploring sense and digital sensorium (extensions, amplifiers, interactions) that left me thinking about the video game the main character Theodore plays in Her while reading.

The game is of interest to me in its balanced blurring of boundary between Theodore’s apartment/life and the game—the game interacts with his actions (embodied/his body is read as the control) and speech in real time and is responsive (scripted, but still receptive), but it does not slip into a virtual reality (perhaps its more of a hybrid reality than a hyper reality). Thinking about this game while I read, I found an interview from The Creators Project with the designers of the two video games featured in the film; I’m drawn to the work of David O’Reilly, the creator of the alien child game featured in the clip above. It’s interesting to read about the creation process of the games themselves and fitting them into a reality that is removed from our current capability, but that does not seem too far removed in terms of completely foreign technology or environments.

To me, this game, as well as this narrative of this game within the film, represents some of Murray’s concepts of immersion, the liminal, and agency. Theodore is immersed through sensory interaction with the game medium and narrative/character, and this is broken and added to through interaction with his OS Samantha (something to explore as far as elements not part of the game/play but that are bounded within the player’s reality and environment). His game is mediated and mediates his external reality of his life and the internal reality of the game, allowing for interaction through the medium. His actions and inaction affect the game play and seemingly the narrative and character. But this is a fictional game on a fictional system/technology in a fictional future. I wonder, though, within our current technological affordances in the digital, how this medium interaction can be explored through games. I’m extremely curious if/what digital games treat the technology less as conduit and more as extension of self/senses and what the player can do within them—as a material component acting, interacting, and reacting. Murray’s articulation of agency/actor/player as interactor, I think, illuminates a space to explore digital materiality:

The interactor is not the author of the digital narrative, although the interactor can experience one of the most exciting aspects of artistic creation—the thrill of exerting power over enticing and plastic materials. This is not authorship but agency (153)

I’m not sure how this advances/adds to my seeming obsession with material possibilities in games, but through Murray’s interactor, I feel as if there is an ability to get a firmer grip.

The Presence of the Rhetorical Body

In our conversations about historiographical work that reimagines rhetoric’s history, I found Debra Hawhee’s article to be a well crafted model of what such work can look like. The subject matter alone diverges from the (re)tellings of history and makes visible/audible perspectives overlooked or unheard—not just because it is a different perspective, but it is an embodiment of rhetoric in figures (physical bodies and semiotic ideas) otherwise excluded. Debra Hawhee’s “Bodily Pedagogies: Rhetoric, Athletics, and the Sophists’ Three Rs” serves as a model that explores ancient rhetoric in a connection not typically discussed in contemporary pedagogy—the masculine and agonistic roots of performing rhetoric in Greek culture. Hawhee traces sophistic activity to the gymnasia and palaestrae (private space for boys to learn wrestling and sporting activities) where rhetorical training and athletic training were bound together—a developing of habit production rooted in movement and rhythm.

Since athletic training and competition were already deeply politicized in Athenian culture (Kyle; Kurke),what better art to link to, strategically and methodologically, than the practices in the gymnasium, the place where the political, ethical body emerges? (145)

Screen Shot 2014-09-29 at 10.41.21 PM

Rhythm produces distinctive movements within a generalized direction; it combines fixity with variability (148). This wrestling treatise illustrates the three Rs of sophistic pedagogy: rhythm, repetition, and response. Hawhee meticulously uncovers the words used to describe attention, engagement, study, intensity, pacing and exertion in discipling the body and dispositions. Practice is not only transformative in developing, learning, but the body is envisioned as mind extension: fitness encompasses both (to counter: an opposing move weak:lacking strength claims).

Estenim actio quasi sermo corporis, by action the body talks (156)

Repetition in sophistic-style rhetorical training is always bound up with responsiveness within particular contexts; rhetoric is an awareness of time and place to continually repeat, transform, and respond. Instead of focusing on material (subject matter), the sophists focused on materiality of learning—the corporeal acquisition of rhetorical movements through rhythm, repetition, and response.

Aside from being struck by Hawhee’s careful illumination down to the word level in seeing differently a historical account of rhetoric, I was captivated by the connection in reading the chapter of Lakoff and Johnson’s Metaphors We Live By on “argument is war” (at least in a western context). Lakoff and Johnson trace through different expressions such as “your claims are indefensible” and “he attacked every weak point in my argument” to not only talk about arguments, but to win and lose arguments—performance in language is associated with physical performance. Although there is no physical battle, there is a verbal battle, and the structure of an argument—attack, defense, counter-attack—demonstrates this. It is in this sense that the “argument is war” structures the actions we perform in arguing. The argument is war metaphor seems very much rooted in this western model of rhythm, repetition, and response in shaping verbal/physical performance (I wonder how far the metaphor can be traced back…). I’m left wondering what other metaphors, histories, figures, have been bodied and disembodied and their implications on our ways of knowing.

The Grasshopper: Possibility and Potentiality

I don’t wish to belabor a point (or rather, a nebulous idea that is pointed), but in reading Bernard Suits’ The Grasshopper, I kept thinking about what I was unable to say in my post last week on PolyFauna, ambience and ambiguity in play. To return to ambience as a means of foregrounding, Thomas Rickert uses Brian Eno to describe it as “the decision to stop seeing yourself as the centre of the world, to see yourself as part of the greater flow of things, as having limited options and responsibility to your actions” (Eno qtd. in “Circumnavigation”,  Ambient Rhetoric). In trying to postulate ambience as matter in ambiguity and play, I was drawn to Suits’ discussion of the concepts of open and closed games; he describes open games as “a system of reciprocally enabling moves whose purpose  is the continued operation of the system” (124), in contrast to closed games which have inherent goals whose achievement ends the game (122). I found myself questioning how we define goals; this found resonance in Thomas Hurka’s introduction to the text when he is describing Aristotle’s energeiai and kinesis. To Aristotle, energeiai has no external goal, but has an internal goal to itself, while kinesis folds in the ends as part of its action. Hurka posits game play as countering Aristotle’s argument that states “Where there are ends apart from the actions [the defining characteristic of a kinesis], it is the nature of the products to be better than the activities” based on properties internal to the activity of game play. I found myself wondering if goals, rules, and actions weren’t so bounded, how Suits’ lusory attitude (one of his element of game play in addition to ends, means, and rules) might influence how open and closed are imagined and how play itself is imagined in ambiguous games/play.

I return to PolyFauna as a possible example of ambiguous play/game with Suits in mind. But instead of treating it as an object of curiosity alone, I tried to treat it as more of a game; I searched for reviews of its game play and uncovered the following video, which describes itself as a walkthrough of the game:

I found it curious that the video would state such a claim, as my understanding of a walkthrough is a text (written or visual/aural) that demonstrates game play not just as suggestive strategy based on rules, but as experiential demonstration. The rules for PolyFauna are as follows:

Your screen is the window into an evolving world.
Move around to look around.
You can follow the red dot.
You can wear headphones.

I’m left questioning ambiguity more in terms of attitude and as existing in the experiential, as something in means/actions instead of ends/achievement of outcome. In the experiential of open versus closed, I return to the use of Aristotle’s dichotomy of kinesis and energeiai as potentiality; the concept of potentiality to Aristotle is any possibility that a thing can have as contrasting to actuality which he describes as motion, change, or activity that fulfills possibility. How does game play change is it is thought of as potentiality versus possibility?


Rough Cuts: Post-Techne and Posthuman Material

Hawk, Byron. “Vitalism, Animality, and the Material Grounds of Rhetoric.” Communication Matters: Materialist Approaches to Media, Mobility and Networks. Eds. Jeremy Packer and Stephen Wiley. NY: Routledge, 2011. 196-207.

“If ceaselessly redefining life goes hand in hand with rhetoric and politics, I would redefine life not as animal, human, or bare, but emergent—the complex production and circulation of in/corporeal assemblages through which refrains emerge and life communicates with itself” (206).

Expanding Kennedy’s vitalist turn (humanist) through the works of Agamben (antihumanist), Deleuze and Guttari (posthumanist)

  • humanism: privileges human thought and embodiment over other aspects of the world and builds rhetoric on models of representation and persuasion that uphold these distinctions
  • antihumanism: privileges apparatuses that dominate humans and sees rhetoric as a corrupting force
  • posthumanism: privileges assemblages that are multiple, open, and always in the process of transformation

Humanism: The Anthropological Machine

  • ancients produce the human through humanization of the animal
  • moderns produce the human by animalizing the human
  • humans can see their limited environments via the critical distance that language provides

AntiHumanism: Apparatuses

  • there is not inherently or distinctly human life, only living beings and the apparatuses that captivate them
  • with no existing human subject, apparatuses have to create a subject that corresponds to the functioning of their networks
  • language a manipulative force within media apparatuses or increases the distance of language from the system, leaving rhetoric to retreat into an outside

Posthumanism: Refrain

  • a refrain is any recurring pattern of sounds, positions, actions, or qualities that simultaneously marks a territory center from its outside, internally organizes the assemblage, and opens it to other functions and assemblages
  • assemblages (from Deleuze and Guatarri) are part of a constant process beyond a deterministic notion of system of apparatus with three types of movement
  • one that demarcates an assemblage in relation of the chaotic world around it
  • one that organizes the internal assemblage once is is distinguished from its milieu
  • one that opens the assemblage back to the outside world in order to make new connections with it
  • posthuman: capacities of humans as would be conceived of any animals but always within the context of specific assemblages and processes of re/territorialization
  • rhetoric in materialist flow acknowledges in/corporeal aspects of rhetoric’s role in emergence

Hawk, Byron. “Toward a Post-Techne Or, Inventing Pedagogies for Professional Writing.” Technical Communication Quarterly. 13(4) 371-392.

Technique is both a rational, conscious capacity to produce and an intuitive, unconscious ability to make, both of which are fundamental to technê. This dual conception of technique moves technê away from a reductive, generic, a-contextual conception of the technical toward a sense that technique operates through human bodies in relation to all other bodies (animate and inanimate) in larger, more complex contexts (372)

pushes the discussion away from a humanist conception of the subject that is caught in a subject/object dilemma (i.e., do humans control technology or does technology control humans?) toward one that is posthuman

[complex] systems evolve toward an open future marked by contingency and unpredictability (quoting N. Katherine Hayles 373)

Heidegger as proto-posthumanist

classical rhetorical theory tends to uphold the concept of the human subject in control of the technological object. Heidegger’s view of technê, on the other hand, redefines the human relationship with technology as one that can no longer be reduced to deliberate human intervention or to a narrow view of human control over the contextual situations—especially human control via technology or technique (374)

instrumental conception/implementation of technology is also a way of revealing that allows us to see one truth about the world; that is, by pushing us to see the world’s limits, technology forces us to see ourselves in an ecological relationship with itself, nature, and language (375)

Rickert’s integration of ambient rhetoric/logic with network logic through Heidegger

posthuman subject based on relationality in terms of complexity theory and emergence and links it to the concept of ambience (378)

“This view sees cognition, thinking, and invention as being beyond the autonomous, conscious, willing subject. A writer is not merely in a situation but is a part of it and is constituted by it. A human body, a text, or an act is the product not simply of foregrounded thought but of complex developments in the ambient environment”

method: post-technê would follow Heidegger in viewing technique as a way of revealing constellations or ecological realities within these situations

Technique as post-technê, then, should set up constellations of relations that allow its users to see something as something else—that is, to see in a new way through those constellations of relations (379)

Heidegger’s recognition that something can arise spontaneously from itself and its situation is a key to moving beyond instrumentality and humanism with regard to invention (380)

Aristotelian theory argues that everything has four causes:

  • material cause—what the thing is made of
  • efficient cause—the agent, beginning, or source that brings the thing into existence
  • formal cause—the thing’s abstract structure or design
  • final cause—the thing’s purpose or aim

Pedagogical Techniques

Janet Atwill

Atwill argues that Aristotle’s notion of productive knowledge has been lost because rhetoric (and consequently technê) has been cast in terms of theoretical (subjective) and/or practical (objective) knowledge.

transferable strategy for her notion of power and subjectivity:

one: discern a point of indeterminacy in the situation

two: overreach a boundary that the situation places on you

three: intervene in the systems of classification and standards of value set up within and by the situation

productive knowledge has three primary characteristics:

1. it is never static

2. it resists identification with a normative subject

3. it is not a subjectivity or virtue but a capacity or power to transgress existing boundaries

Cynthia Haynes

The goal for Haynes’s technique is not intervention as much as invention through the human body’s situatedness in a context that draws on the power of a particular constellation. Like Hayles’s discussion of navigation, Haynes utilizes human codevelopment with technique (technology) and physical context as a distributed cognitive environment.

Atwill’s heuristic emphasizes the subject’s power external to the situation that prompts the action—that is, the intervention. Haynes’s technique seems to rely more on situating a body in a never-static context that prompts the enaction, the opening up of that constellation’s possibilities.

Haynes’s is closer to utilizing all three criteria I’m using to characterize post-technê: placing a body within a situation, utilizing the power of that situation, and enacting ambient elements of that situation in the service of invention

Post-technê, as it has developed through this article, is the use of techniques for situating bodies within ecological contexts in ways that reveal models for enacting that open up the potential for invention, especially the invention of new techniques.

A post-technê that is more attuned to kairos, emergence, and ambience starts with the structure of particular constellations and the invention of techniques for and out of those specific occasions (384)

This constellation amounts to continual, situated invention—that is, remaking techniques for every new situation.

Screen Shot 2014-09-26 at 7.19.25 AM

question: making computer interfaces from posthuman perspectives

Hawk, Byron and Andrew Mara. “Posthuman Rhetorics and Technical Communication.” Technical Communication Quarterly. (19)1 1-10. 

We have always been posthuman—humans have lived in, beside, and as hosts of systems (from N. Katherine Hayles)

traditional humanistic tools/hueristics for anticipating system behaviors and complications (audience analysis and peer review) become overwhelmed when trying to account for “the tendential forces if nonhuman actors and activities” (Mara and Hawk 2).

Posthumanism is a general category for theories and methodologies that situate acts and texts in the complex interplays among human intentions, organizational discourses, biological trajectories, and technological possibilities. These approaches counter theories that see human action and production from either the perspective of individual intention or the dominance of larger human discourses and mechanical structures (Hawk and Mara 3)

Why pro/tech writing is good to explore:

As organizations become more complex, technologies more pervasive, and rhetorical intent more diverse, it is no longer tenable to divide the world into human choice and techno- logical or environmental determinism. Professional and technical communication is a field that is perfectly situated to address these concerns. Because it is already predisposed to see the writer in larger organizational contexts, the moment is right to explore technical communication’s connections to posthumanism, which works to understand and map these complex rhetorical situations in their broader contexts

The prevalence of increasingly seam- less human-machine-network environments calls for broader and more rigorous investigation of technical writing’s connections to the automated and globalized workplace and the multiple systems that users and producers inhabit

Spinuzzi’s model of distributed cognition:

Weaving is based on humanisms such as Marxism and activity theory that see communities built by artisans. Workers might weave nets, fish, build boats, and cook, all to support the community. But the larger these networks get, the more fragile they become. Splicing, on the other hand, is based on the posthumanism of Latour. In contemporary society, communities give way to net- works in which technicians splice together electronic devices to build new alliances.

Brooke’s extensive technological contexts deictic systems:

function as actors to collate data in ways that enable human communication and choice. Without the capability to constantly update mass amounts of information that these technologies provide many of the corresponding human acts would not be possible

Posthuman Models

Foucault: He argues that it is not possible to map all relations into a totalizing picture or theory; instead, he emphasizes diagramming the local points of contact through which power passes in order to contextualize rhetorical action in that specific configuration.

Latour: Actor-network theory ascribes agency to non-human actors that contribute to the development of scientific thought. Latour is interested in examining how scientific discoveries are not just the product of a single scientist’s mind or intentions but they emerge from the larger, more complex associations of material, social, and human capacities.

Haraway: She complicates the boundaries between human/animal, human/machine, and physical/nonphysical with the image of the cyborg as a new map for social and bodily reality…acknowledging connections across these binaries

Hayles: characterized posthumanism as locating thought and action in the complexity of distributed cognitive environments…Agency emerges from “the distributed cognitive system as a whole, in which ‘thinking’ is done by both human and nonhuman actors”

Rough Cuts: Techne from Neoclassicism to Postmodernism

Pender, Kelly. Techne: From Neoclassicism to Postmodernism: Understanding Writing as a Useful, Teachable Art. Parlor Press 2011.

  • relationship between techne and the development of rhetoric and composition as an academic discipline in the mid-twentieth century the influence of postmodern theory on that development what we don’t often teach/don’t teach under the rubric of “writing” in contemporary comp courses (3)
  • defending techne as a way to understand and teach writing
  • from Greek tekhne – no approximate in English, so likened to art, skill, and craft – but none of these embrace the whole complex structure, so when we use any of these, it is only a part
  • art-fine art
  • craft-more utilitarian
  • created confusion in the circulation of art in the rhetoric community
  • what connects techne to art, skill, or craft?
  • all a process of making – producing
  • poeisis – the act of bringing something into being; techne is a form of poeisis that follows a course of reasoning (one that can be studied, systematized and taught), has its origin in a maker (work toward something knowable), is concerned with things that can either be or not be (to locate in a world of contingent), and locates its end outside of the process of making in the use of the thing made (in a category of activities that are meant to accomplish something in the world) (5)
  • the base techne served in establishing research and legitimacy to the growing field of rhetoric and composition – a sturdy but narrow foundation (6-7)
  • composite definitions of techne:
  • techne as a “how-to” guide or handbook: absence of theoretical discussion is primary deficiency; serves as a technique to be applied or examples to be mimicked – not addressing what causes rhetorical success and failure (17)
  • techne as a rational ability to effect a useful result – a state of capacity to make; end of techne is instrumentally valuable in the use made of its product (21)
  • techne as a means of inventing new social possibilities – capacity to challenge status quo “mark the shifting and contestable borders of what is possible” (qtd. Atwill 27). makes techne situational (agile practitioners in situation, bodily implications less strict)
  • techne as a means of producing resources –  production never ends; every product becomes means for another round of production (31); risk of mere instrumentality (utility and usefulness become standards of judgment) – technology driven (making things with tools in opposition with the natural)
  • techne as a non-instrumental mode of bringing-forth – bringing forth of something from concealment to unconcealment; doesn’t fall on opposite end of the spectrum as fine art (35)
  • techne’s prominent and problematic features: its association with instrumentality and its emphasis on teachability – “And what happened once they began pointing out how theories of writing that privilege it teachable dimensions, which is to say its rational dimensions, often ignore its non-rational, material dimensions? (10)
  • “After all, if I want to establish techne’s value as theory and pedagogy of writing, then I need to demonstrate that it is not the semantic equivalent of an inkblot” rhetoric rorschach test (14)
  • definitions of techne exist on two continua: epistemological – definitions of techne establish different criteria for what kinds of knowledge can count as technical knowledge and axiological – the end of a particular techne always resides in the use of its products, not in the activity of producing them (15)
  • techne as a decontextualizing form of knowledge (20)
  • techne | knack (22-24)
  • “the artist’s ability to make universal judgments that allows her to take a specific situation into account” (25)
  • results as valuable as products (stable materials) or conditions (unstable materials)
  • taking the situation into account requires the ability to modify one’s plans for achieving a part. end, but also the ability to redefine that ed as the situation dictates (26)
  • maker | user exchange (bottom of 27)
  • new social possibilities from an exchange of power or of cultural critique (27)
  • techne as delusion or deception
  • subversion
  • experiential knowledge in terms of street smarts (not embodied knowledge) – lived experience that allows you to get around in the world how it circulates, what we value, economy of knowledge
  • techne as dangerous to social order (28, Greeks)
  • dolie techne “trap art” (28)
  • embodied knowledge to respond to kairos (29) –  ability to recoginize oprtune moment ingrained in being and body
  • techne creates opportunities for cultural critique by making tacit social practices explicit (qtd. Atwill and Lauer 30)
  • “when a boundary between insider and outsider is marked-when agents who have not been socialized into the practices of certain rhetorical situations must learn by art what those who have been in those situations have done by habit” (qtd. Atwill 30)
  • only when practices are made explicit to teachable strategies can values, subjectivities, and ideologies that operate within them can be examined/critiqued and then revised or replaced to better (30) – otherwise conditions continue to appear natural “immutable structures of reality and truth” instead of particular constructions (31)
  • frankfurt school: issues of reproducibility
  • “man the user” (33): solution to problem by shifting attention from utility to user (but problem: maker is lost; gets swept up in capitalism) – at industrial scale
  • techne ussually pitted against nature/ntural world
  • telos: predetermined end (other three cause: material, efficient, and formal)
  • coresponsibility of four causes ditinguishes techne from instrumentality
  • post-techne (Hawk): writers are embedded elements of complex situations who work through the power of embeddeness to work with nature (not independently working on it) (37)

 From Derek’s blog on Bogost’s “Carpentry” and our reading discussion series:

“[W]hy do you write instead of doing something else, like filmmaking or macrame or sumi-e or welding or papercraft or gardening?” In this context (and in this contrastive framing), writing is something of an attention or activity hog. It gets overplayed in the liberal arts; it gets over-valued in exceedingly strict economies for tenure and promotion. According to the chapter, these are cause for concern because 1) “academics aren’t even good writers” (89), and 2) writing, “because it is only one form of being” (90) is too monolithic a way of relating to the world. I generally agree with Bogost’s argument that scholarly activity should be (carefully!) opened up to include other kinds of making, but I’m less convinced that the widespread privileging of writing is the culprit here. It’s fine to say that academics aren’t good writers (though I’m reminded that we should never talk about writing as poor or problematic without looking at a specific text/unit in hand), but why would they be any better at “filmmaking or macrame or sumi-e or welding or papercraft or gardening” or coding APIs? So while I’m interested in the call for an expansion of what can be considered scholarly activity, it remains unclear to me why writing should be at odds or brushed aside with that expansion. Instead of “Why do you write instead of doing something else?”, I would rather consider “How is your writing and making and doing entangled?

  • Is this where Hawk’s post-techne (post-humanism) comes into vision – the entanglement? Hawk isn’t OOO (is he?), so what does it mean for invention to view people at he level of other materials for techne?
  • what is available as material?
  • that the materials may lead to invention (working in an opposite direction to a traditional approach of writing in which writer defines and responds to situation systematically/accordingly)
  • closing down vs. opening up
  • sophistry (122)
  • narrow view of techne reduces it to teachability too narrowly and ignores some of its most important defining features – dependence on time, circumstance, experience, the contingencies of human interaction, and the situational potential of rhetorical ecologies (123)
  • offical aritsotle: meand and ends are distinct, and its the end that’s valuable – not the means
  • “The official version of techne we are left with then is one in which the artist devises, initiates, and controls the changes that will turn the presumably inert materials into a predictable final product”
  • product of art happen in their own accord (130) – collapses divide between art and nature
  • activity a strategic detour (131) – diminishes impact on the process of making (131)
  • does techne not work because of its history? what would be the consequence of reterming? same impact as techne? – Pender is defending the term: instrumentality and teachability it posesses
  • closing down vs. opening up (140)
  • teaching writing as writing (140) as a techne, which is a form of poesis – productive knowledge that engages its user in the process of making
  • “writing both locates us on the threshold between the known and unknown and intensifies our experience of being here” (141)
  • creative writing, invention as “archeological topos” – a course in metawriting
  • “Historically, we have valued techne because it focuses our attention to external goals; or to put it more precisely, we have valued techne because it allows us to align writing with particular external goals” – techne as a bringing forth allows students to write as writing to achieve an external goal
  • a focus on external goals overlooks the thingness of writing

Rough Cut: Arts, Crafts, Gifts, Knacks

Young, Richard. “Arts, Crafts, Gifts, Knacks: Some Disharmonies in the New Rhetoric”. Visible Language (14)4 341-350.

  • “new rhetoricians” divided over rhetorical art as a vitalist theory of art and composing: a technical theory (theories and pedagogical successes of both groups suggest in some sense that both are right in their approach)
  • glamour and grammar were originally the same word – combining the magical and rationalistic aspects of speech (341)
  • qtd. John Genung (The Practical Elements of Rhetoric, 1892) wrote that it concerns itself with the entire process of making literature, in being/embodying, but that in practical application, creatives acts must be excluded – particularly those of the composing process
  • practical = can be taught
  • which turns into the conventions and mechanics of discourse
  • creative = cannot be taught, of a person (342)
  • for Genung, “rhetoric was a body of information about the forms and norms of competent prose and their uses in the later stages of the composing process – the rhetoric of the finished word” (342)
  • longstanding argument = dynamic of conceptualizing vs. creative discovery
  • “traditional rhetoric” skill in expressing preconceived arguments or points of view
  • “new rhetoric” exploration of ideas: the process of composition is discovery
  • new rhetoric is not homogeneous however…almost as divided as new and traditional rhetoric
  • “new romanticism” (Frank D’Angelo): vitalist philosophy with modern psychology blended approach that stresses the composing process should be relatively free of deliberate control (primacy of imagination) – how is mystery taught?
  • art contrasts with craft: art is magic/mystery (cannot be taught) while craft is skill (can be taught)
  • “the teaching of writing as writing is the teaching of writing as art” (qting. William Coles 343)
  • art cannot be taught: when writing is not taught as art, it is being taught as something else — we must make possible what is impossible to do
  • change the role of the teacher (344): designer of occasions that stimulate the creative process
  • The “new classicists” considered the “art” of teaching writing a little differently.  Young claims that they see art as “the knowledge necessary for producing preconceived results by conscious directed action” (344).  In this sense, the new classicists see the teaching of writing as a “knack” or a habit acquired through repeated practice and experience.
  • art contrasts with craft and knack
  • art: knowledge to produce preconceived results by conscious action
  • craft: experiential
  • knack: habit through repeated experience
  • but knacks can turn into arts when they are isolated and generalized as successful
  • “technical theory of art” – art as grammar (R.G. Collingwood, 1958)
  • new classists teach “heuristics” – strategies for effective guessing (345), not rule governed procedures
  • “heuristic”: series of questions or operations whose results are provisional; not wholly conscisous or mechanical; intuition, relevant knowledge, and skill are necessary
  • each situation isn’t unique, but a kind of situation encountered before
  • some phases can be carried out deliberately and rationally
  • nice distinction between heuristic and rule governed in application/execution (345)
  • “If the creative process has generic features, if some of its phases can be consciously directed, and if heuristic procedures can be developed as aids, then it can be taught. Or to be more precise, certain aspects of the creative process can be taught…” (345-6)
  • tagmemic rhetoric informs rhetoric as heuristic application of principles characteristic of tagmemic linguistics (12 principles) – recognizing, knowing features, understanding variance (346)
  • “we do tricks in order to know” (William Stafford, 1962) – coaxing intuitions of reasonable solutions (347)
  • “But I am concerned here not only with what we do when engaged in intellectual exploration, I am also concerned with what we can do to increase our control over the activity, to make it more effective than it might otherwise be” (347)
  • danger of technical theory of art is the over-rationalization of the composing process (348); heuristics can become rule-goverened procedures by ignoring our non-rational powers
  • balancing reason and imagination: “both-and” or “either-or”