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)

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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.

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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.

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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”

The Craftsman

Tomorrow we are discussing the first chapter “The Troubled Craftsman” in Richard Sennett’s The Craftsman (which I will facilitate discussion on – a thumb in the crease of this post to return with a more holistic focus).

In this moment though, I am struck by the book’s prologue. For one, just having finished Aristotle yesterday, I am seeing his influence come through in the making of things for the good as a cultural matter in conducting a particular way of life (8) – connections! And while we have yet to read Bruno Latour, knowing that we will be reading pieces of Pandora’s Hope (which I have not read), and having a personal interest in Latour, I am captivated by drawing connections between Sennett’s use of Pandora, “Pandora’s Casket”, and Latour’s Pandora’s Hope in what I have read on it in his piece “An Attempt at Writing a Composition Manifesto”. Sennett writes

“If in this way culture’s time is short, in another way it is long. Because cloth, pots, tools, and machines are solid objects, we can return to them again and again in time; we can linger as we cannot in the flow of discussion. Nor does material culture follow the rhythms of biological life. Objects do not inevitably decay from within like a human body. The histories of things follow a different course, in which metamorphosis and adaptation play a stronger role across human generations…Material culture provides in sum a picture of what human beings are capable of making…Nature might be a better guide, if we understand our own labors as part of its being.” (15)

With Aristotle’s definition of nature still fresh in mind, I’m wondering what Sennett is eliciting with nature and if it is functioning as something to push against man|technological makings?

This makes me think of Latour’s compositionism as a way of envisioning progress not as forward looking, progressing in creating new materials (ideas and things), but at what is made – composed and decomposed. He explains

“compositionism takes up the task of searching for universality but without believing that this universality is already there, waiting to be unveiled and discovered. It is thus as far from relativism (in the papal sense of the word) as it is from universalism (in the modernist meaning of the world — more of this later). From universalism it takes up the task of building a common world; from relativism, the certainty that this common world has to be built from utterly heterogeneous parts that will never make a whole, but at best a fragile, revisable and diverse composite material.”

and a more explicit Pandora connection

“The thirst for the Common World is what there is of communism in compositionism, with this small but crucial difference that it has to be slowly composed instead of being taken for granted and imposed on all. Everything happens as if the human race was on the move again, expelled from one utopia, that of economics, and in search of another, that of ecology. Two different interpretations of one precious little root, eikos, the first being a dystopia and the second a promise that as yet no one knows how to fulfill. How can a livable and breathable “home” be built for those errant masses? That is the only question worth raising in this Compositionist Manifesto. If there is no durable room for us on Pandora, how will we find a sustainable home on Gaia?”

In what ways are Sennett and Latour invoking Pandora, materials, making|composing, and nature for what we craft? Is Aristotle’s “good” as a function of our making still pertinent? Or is there something more sinister, a loss of connectivity between head and hand, at (mass) play?

compositionism composite

From Alex Reid’s post the object industry:

That is why, in my view, the long-term goal of an object-oriented approach is to develop a better theory of agency: better in the sense that it more accurately describes the roles of objects-in-relation that compose agentic capacities as real and better in the sense that it results in tactics and strategies that expand our capacities. Again, I’m not in the world-saving division of the humanities. However, I do have an objective of expanding our students’ capacities as writers. For me, this begins with describing the roles objects play in compositional networks.

and earlier:

Instead, what I see in an object-oriented approach is an effort to retheorize agency that doesn’t begin with the premise that agency is a special quality of humans, something that emerges at the top of an asymmetrical ontology but rather articulates agency as an emergent capacity along a flat ontology. Are the agentic capacities of humans unique? Yes, but that might be said of all objects.

A (small) composite consideration to use. The rhetorical relation among objects. That is some thing.