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”


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