Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Im/Perfect Schemas That We Are

In thinking about this critical blog post, and in working with my scholarly colleagues, Megan Keaton and Megan Roche, I couldn't help but be aware of a particular kind of tension. If I heard, that is truly heard what was being said – the current running underneath the words – it seems as though our group was wrestling for something closer to omniscience than situated knowledge. What I mean by this is simply that there was an expressed desire, even a felt need, to know in advance everything that should be known about the subject matter at hand. Stronger still, this desire or felt need presented itself as a kind of effervescence, repeatedly bubbling up to the surface in multiple expressions. At one point, Megan Roche went as far as to say that she somehow wished that we could take all of the information, without being exposed to any particular origin or starting point, and load into ourselves as one might load information into a computer. It certainly draws to mind images of Neo in The Matrix. The idea behind Megan’s desire, of course, was that by experiencing the material in this way, we might finally be able to avoid issues of hierarchy or prizing one position over another. In my own way, I admit that I am both understanding of this ethos, while horrified by it at the same time. So, rather than this being a very simple schematizing of the subject matter, and a useful way to synthesize a semester’s worth of questioning, it struck me as a particularly potent example of what young postmodern students wrestle with on a daily basis. It is my desire, then, to attend to that tension or conflict for a moment. After I have said a word about that, I will move on to our process of schematizing.

It should be noted from the start that everything that I'm about to say is meant as a compliment. Normally, when someone leads with a statement like that, you can just about expect something other than a compliment; but, I truly do see our struggle with "an origin" to be emblematic of self-reflexivity and a desire to be inclusive and more charitable in our scholarship. Meanwhile, it is also a result of cultivating a critical eye towards the summarily, the perfunctory, the uncomplicated beginning.

In the midst of working on this project with the Megans, I sometimes found myself temporarily checking out of the conversation in order to note what it was that I felt was being worked out between and among us. It was interesting for me, at the outset, to work in this group for a number of reasons. The first, and maybe most important and also most arbitrary, is that I simply don't have the opportunity to do much group work anymore. Anytime you work in a group, there's a particular kind of dynamic that develops between members. Sometimes this dynamic allows for what I might call a drawing–fourth of certain kinds of thoughts and expressions that might not have otherwise risen to the surface. This dynamic was definitely a play in our group, that is, at least for me. I approached this project in the same manner that I approach almost every other assignment: read the instructions, review the relevant material, think and take notes, and write my way into or out of a particular thesis. I want to acknowledge, then, what I perceive to be an intellectual gift given to me by this exploration. Both Megans brought with them so many questions that proceeded "the questions" of this schema. In differing ways, both Megan's stated that they were more interested in how we might start but not start. That is, they both wanted to complicate the issue of starting somewhere in particular. It was a push-pull kind of endeavor. It was an acknowledgment that if we start with Aristotle, it meant we weren't starting with Mao, Haraway or Hawhee etc. This I could readily understand and anticipated. What I could not have anticipated was the suggestion that if we, ourselves, were more like "the cloud" that housed knowledge in disembodied space, we might contend with the material more comprehensively. That is to say, our own biases, partial readings, misunderstandings, and proclivities might finally be prevented from impacting the project. Understood in this light, it would seem to suggest that the failure of invention is not so much a lack of critical desire to engage the material with integrity, but, in fact, a de facto failure of the human being. As I understood it at the time, what we wanted was something for which there was no need for partiality, because it was always-already-whole. I certainly think this is an interesting thread, which is why wanted to highlight it for a moment, before moving on.

One of the things that I have been thinking about all semester long, especially after reading Ong and Kuhn, is that you never know at the current moment what will turn out to be important knowledge for the future. That is, as we attempt to trace dominant discourse, dominant ideologies, and even prevailing issues in the news, we don't know that historicizing them will turn out to give future generations any insight into the past. In other words, collective, social, and institutional memory seem insufficient. There seems to be important gaps in the literature, in the experiments, in the archives, in the textbooks and in us, as embodied houses of knowledge. Most of what we know, or think that we know, as Burke said, has come to us in the form of signs and symbols – approximations of the real. As Bandura and other social psychologists and anthropologists have noted, learning, sharing, and transmitting knowledge was of utmost cultural and evolutionary importance. It was also, in their opinion, something that was slow to progress and rife with difficulties. Ong notes this precarity and suggests that certain types of technologies, such as movable type, relieve some of the constraints on memory and allow us to focus on content. Extrapolating upon his thought, it is not difficult to understand how and why students like us might have an easier time negotiating the concept of a non-originary origin. After all, the information that we are actively schematizing, has already been produced and stored for us. We no longer have the burden of housing the knowledge in ourselves and have largely automated that process. Philosophers of mind, like Chalmers, even argue that we have begun to see the computer or handheld device as an extension of our own consciousness.

One thing that I want to be careful of in my work, especially in thinking about the past, is how I attempt to echo the voice of those who have gone before me. What often looks to us as uncomplicated, unproblematic, and contestable very well could have seemed different at the time. Here, I am referring to the dual processes of historicizing and critiquing. Views that seem to us now as far removed, quaint, and even quite naïve were the projections of people living without the unbelievable resources we have available to us now. Basically, what I'm trying to wrap my head around is the very different (or in my mind what I perceive to be a very different) call to remember and critique what has been re-membered, re-produced. When knowledge was so incredibly fragile and subject to disappear at the slightest sign of famine or pestilence or sword, the exigency facing those peoples, our forebears, was entirely different. The poly-vocal, the polysemous, and the non-locatable beginning or looped-network-of-networks that we discussed in our group is as much about the here-and-now as it is about meta-scholarship. This is, perhaps, one reason why kairos still carries so much currency.

Our reinvention of the course material and how one theorist might relate to another was thoroughly kairotic and very much in the spirit of Bhaktin. In other words, we took a very dialogic stance to the process, letting ideas and connections emerge in the moment. By entering a dialogue with one another, and in situating this schema as a dialogue, linear constraints were removed from the process. In this way, we could constantly build on and away from one another's ideas in real time. This is quite a different mental task from comparing and contrasting Aristotle with other theorists. Rather than a pre-existing syllabus or a given origin leading us into discussion, that dynamic group process referred to above served as the facilitator of knowledge creation. In fact, I would like to go even further and say that dialogue itself stood in place of linearity. Sometimes when we think of dialogue, we think of it in these very structured pairings like we read/see in books or watch on TV. So, ours was not the kind of dialogue that can be found in a work of Socrates, where Plato says one thing and Gorgias another; it was messier than that; productive, but not tidy. Inventing in the moment or in real time, rather than the linear flow of writing a response and sharing it with the group so that they could respond in written fashion, dialogue allowed us the opportunity to critique, clarify, object, support, echo, or equivocate in each other's presence. In this sense, it was deeply humanizing. Faces and body language mediate communication in ways that are quite profound and often initiate an affective or visceral response. In other words, the creative process was spurred along by attuning ourselves to the group. I'm not suggesting that the only way to participate in democratic scholarship is to sit around dialoguing, but I am suggesting that is a profitable way to share and learn – both about the material and one another. I didn't just get a sense of what either Megan thought about Erasmus, I got a sense of how they were in the process of thinking. Meaning, in some small way I could see how they connected dots; how tired or energetic they were; whether they liked a theorist or no; whether they were having to contend with the rabid ringing, chirping or whistling of a cellphone or Facebook message. For me, I learned as much about the material as I did my two group members. In that way, I feel that my life has been enriched and my view on the material challenged.

I've gone on long enough and yet haven't come close to saying much of what I wish I could communicate. Sigh. Such is life. I do want to end by saying that during this semester, stronger than any time I can remember, I sense the return of the Baconian understanding of the encyclopedic knowledge of human being. That is, in the yearnings expressed by our group, I could hear echoes of Bacon in this quest for omniscience – that gift God gave to prelapsarian Adam and Eve. The knowledge of the world and the things in it that allowed Adam to perfectly name every creature according to its kind. That gift of knowledge that was surrendered in the fall and has been sought ever sense. I want to push against that. I want to push against the idea of perfect knowledge or perfected knowledge, especially as it relates to anything produced by humans or machines for that matter. I can think of few things more undemocratic, more limiting than this idea of perfected knowledge – closed to future negotiations. Haraway’s corrective attempts to put us on better grounding by admitting explicitly that all knowledge is partial, situated, and necessarily incomplete. This allows us to enter into the dialogue, rather than being closed off from it by perfection. Part of what made this class and this assignment challenging and fulfilling is this very real sense that invention is a creative act, even when drawing resources from loci or topoi. We each encounter the material on our own terms, in our own reading spaces, in our own bodies, and in the midst of so many unvoiced and unconscious challenges. What we think about can never entirely be disentangled from our experiential world. What I think about a given theorist at this point in time, with the present exigencies that attend my daily life, will necessarily color how her ideas are received. For now, I am greatly contented by this idea. It is imperfect. I may need to be corrected, but that just insurers that I always need community as a corrective. If it were the case that we could know everything in advance, that omniscience was our daily bread, what we would gain in perfect objectivity (whatever that means) would be at the expense of subjectivity and the beauty of our own imperfect inventive processes.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Thoughts on End-of-Semester Schema-Making

One of the challenges of creating a three-territory (that is, three circled boundaries, each representing a different method of rhetorical composition), color-coded Venn diagram like the one we made about locations of power in rhetorical theory is the fact that the process of designating which theorist goes in what (generalized) space is reductive, as Sarah has said in her post. Each theorist's ideas are nuanced, complicated, and riddled with subtleties and ideological nooks and crannies that you can't fully address when you're creating a schema like this. We had to keep reminding ourselves that we were focusing on the primary (not every) source of agency that each theorist seemed to identify. This, I feel, was our greatest hurdle.

That being said, I feel like the Venn diagram was an effective way to (re)arrange and visually organize the theorists we read the semester. The dual-layer aspect of the diagram allowed us to (loosely) examine rhetoric as product (the circles of the diagram) as well as rhetoric as process generated by creative forces and factors (the color-coding system) simultaneously.

The process of actually creating the diagram was helpful to me. After assembling the initial three fields (without mentioning the entertaining spatial brouhaha Sarah and I subjected ourselves to originally while trying to create a six-circle Venn diagram) and arranging them into proportional spaces in PowerPoint, we put each theorists' last name into a text box. Upon seeing all of the names on that page, here at the end of our journey as a class together, I realized just how much information we have taken in the semester. I was shocked. We went down the line, from Bitzer to Miller, sorting each theorist and then color-coding. We have looked at so many theories… so many ideas- I was sort of blown away when I saw them all compressed into one space.

Creating a schema at the end of a semester filled with complex theories (that usually build off one another) was a great idea. I definitely feel more prepared for the final now, and our diagram is only responsible for a little bit of that feeling of preparedness. What I mean is that I feel like all of our schemas put together would make an excellent review tool. There is a brilliant mix of innovative rendering and intelligent connection-making. I appreciate and take also away from each of the schemas. When we were charged with the task of organizing the same material, and organization of information entails certain levels of processing and interpretation, and the more we process and interpret this information (communally), the better we'll actually know the concepts (individually) (especially since we've now been forced to arrange the ideas in a spatial way... there's research out there that suggests visualized information is difficult to forget, so I imagine we'll have a hard time forgetting the content and organization of these schemas).

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Schematization of Power: An Inscription

Perhaps I should begin this post by attempting to explain a little more fully why we chose to schematize our syllabus as we did. Through analyzing locations of power, we hoped that we would be able to group our readings together in fresh and productive ways. Where power is located (or where power should be located) seemed to be a highly contentious topic that also allowed for a great deal of nuance, because of the many locations and combinations possible. Additionally, through splitting our major locations of power into the textual and extra-textual, we were able to see if there were correlations between, for example, emphasizing argumentation and placing power in both the rhetor and the audience. This combination makes sense - if both the rhetor and the audience have agency in a rhetorical situation, then argumentation would be key - the rhetor must be able to construct a good argument, and the audience should be able to follow and consider an argument in order to be persuaded. Some of the authors that we believe place agency in both the rhetor and the audience also emphasize the importance of style and commonplaces, but they all share in common an understanding of rhetoric that makes argumentation an essential component of persuasion.

Some other correlations that I have noticed in our schema:
  • All of the authors placed in the center of our schema, where the three circles (argumentation, style, commonplaces) overlap, include the rhetor (or place primary emphasis on the rhetor) as a key location of power in rhetoric. Perhaps this has something to do with the educational bent that many of the authors have? Is it possible to teach someone the arts of persuasion without also believing that they can potentially have the power to persuade?   
  • All of the authors that are only in the argumentation section are male, whereas all of the authors that are in both the argumentation and the style section are female. Are these groupings indicative of a gender(ed) preference for particular means of persuasion?
  • All of the authors that are in our "uncertain" category at least include, if not primarily emphasize, the non-human (by non-human, we mean anything that could be considered as existing apart from either the rhetor or the audience, i.e. history, culture, ambiance, space, etc.). Perhaps part of the reason why they are in our uncertain category is that when you begin to locate rhetorical power outside of the rhetor or the audience, it can lead to a turning away from the traditional textual features of rhetoric (commonplaces, argumentation, style) and towards something else.
Some of the value of our "uncertain" category I think derives from this indication of the existence of the potential for "something else" to be out there. Our schema is reductive, but it is also expansive. I think these two qualities are inseparable from the act of schematizing or categorizing. Creating schemas obscures some significant differences between various items that are grouped together, and seems to delimit what is possible by the act of naming what exists. But it is also expansive, because it enables a new vision that sees new connections and possibilities that were not easily seen without the power of organized information. The trouble with schemas is that sometimes the reductive nature of their construction is obscured and the schema is not seen as one situated method of understanding a select group of information, but rather as a depiction of reality. Creating "uncertain" categories reinforces the idea that this is a limited way of understanding, and that (in our case) there might be other textual features than these three, or that perhaps the power of rhetoric isn't located in textual features at all.

In the fervor of creating our schema, I think we got away from the idea of reorganizing our texts into a new syllabus; I wouldn't necessarily organize a syllabus around locations of power, but it is something that I might ask students to analyze or be sensitive to. In a reverse application of Berlin's analysis of Therborn's definition of ideology ("Rhetoric and Ideology in the Writing Class" 479), I think that attending to where power is located for particular authors helps me see what they view as possible or impossible, which is intimately connected to what they think is good, or how they define what exists. Being able to discern these aspects of an author's writing allows me to take on a different type of critical awareness, enabling me to understand and to accept or reject their ideas (or parts of their ideas) from a more informed perspective.     

Traveling Rhetoric Through Chaotic Transit

     The experience of schematizing Rhetorical Theory and Practice brought an ambiance of power, control, discovery, and invention. The creative sovereignty afforded to the hands of the schematizer imposed a drunken ecstasy on the physical space on which we composed for with each swift line of the pen we, in essence, made a connection. I say made with every weight afforded to it possible insofar as we were physically drawing, creating, and making a connection from one concept, author, theory, to another concept, author, and/or theory. By setting each author/concept free from the chains of chronology, we the schematizers, claimed the power to portray an image of connections made organically from our own positions and perspectives.
     From the origin point of our course we began on the ground, so to speak, with metaconcepts and theories. Even the decision to lay a starting point was a complex one insofar as that act alone meant we were choosing an origin. The tension I felt engrained in my rhetorical soul with this issue of establishing an origin lies in theories of invention that I have found myself recently. I found an explicit description of this theory in Barbara Biesecker's of Historicity, Rhetoric: The Archive as Scene of Invention and in Deborah Hawhee's Perspectives on Rhetorical Invention. In her article, Biesecker names the Archive as a scene of "double invention,"(124) and challenges our ideas of the archive as a "literal substitute for the reality of the past"(125). These concepts struck a cord for me this semester in particular due to my immense immersion in archival work. This has been my first experience in the Archive, literally and digitally, and I have certainly found my own frustrations. I find that I leave with more questions than I went in with because it is as if we expect the archive to be the living memory of those past in through which we can access that person long after their death. However, this is not the case. The Archive is pieces, details, and elements of a person or place, not the person or place in literal reproduction and herein lies the issue of the gaps. What do we do with the gaps in information? When years are missing from the archive, how do we reduce our uncertainty as a researcher and inquirer? It is a gift to experience the past in this way, yes it is not a complete past, a whole past, not a literal reproduction of that person's life and memory. The archivist must make choices, categorize, and contextualize the artifacts, documents, and elements at his or her disposal to create the ambiance; he must invent the archive. In this invention however, the archivist is finding and discovering that which already exists as well as creating something out of it.
     This concept of invention as both a creative process and and a means of discovery is referred to by Deborah Hawhee as "invention in the middle" (17). Hawhee establishes this idea through the Greek language middle voice. This tense lies outside of what we know in the English language as the active and passive voice. If a verb is in the middle, it is translated as being done both by and to someone, for example if I see in the middle voice, I am both seeing and being seen. For invention to lie in the middle it becomes a process in which we both create and are being created by knowledge. Herein lies the perspective by which I see and understand Rhetoric. As I come to know Rhetoric as a theory, practice, concept, essence, and lifestyle I am constantly simultaneously discovering and creating what Rhetoric is. These ideas have no beginning and no end, there is no time which I first began to know Rhetoric for Rhetoric has always been a part of me.
    Oftentimes in creating our schema of Rhetorical Theory and Practice by means of our semester's readings we returned to the desire to come upon a means of knowing all things at once, therefore eliminating the anxiety of an origin point. For as we know and come to know we are always building upon that which we previously knew. In this idea we found tensions because it eliminated the ability to know something independently of influences. After some reflection however, I found this to be a beautiful anxiety. In this way we discover, learn, craft, and create knowledge in our own unique minds and souls at the mercy of the influence of destiny. Knowledge is not independent of influences and we cannot divorce what we already know from what we come to know, but in that way we travel in chaotic transit through the realm of discovery, learning and growing as we live and breathe. In the end our schema looked like chaos, but what a glorious chaos it was, no beginning, no end, no higher nor lower, no point of wonder not point of anxiety, simply an ambiance of Rhetoric seen through the eyes of three scholars, three students, three thinkers, three wonderers trying to make sense of this world all the while it makes sense of us.

Justifications and Realizations: Invention-in-the-Middle and Space

Our schema came about through conversation; in fact, the schema is literally a “map” of our conversation and the connections we drew throughout the conversation. I took notes during our conversation, marking down the ideas, authors and connections we discussed. Then, I transplanted the rough map into a series of boxes and lines in a Word document. Next, I sent the schema to Megan and Kyle so they could make any changes they saw fit. What follows in this critical post is (1) an explanation of conversation, (2) a justification for the decisions I made when visually representing our conversation, and (3) a discussion of how this Exploratory helped me understand Hawhee’s invention-in-the-middle and Vasaly’s use of space.

The Conversation

When Kyle, Megan and I met, we had no idea how we wanted to represent the course’s content. We all agreed that the most important part of this schema (at least for us) was avoiding an origin. This was important to us for several reasons. First, Megan is concerned about the fact that Aristotle is often considered the origin for most Rhetoric courses, if not for rhetoric more generally. Second, Megan and I both experienced annoyance at the fact that we spent almost not time in class discussing the dates and historical chronology of the readings. We acknowledged, though, that working without historical chronology allowed us to arrange the authors, their concepts and the connections between them in ways that were not historical. In other words, working outside of historical chronology allowed us to view rhetoric in different ways. Third, very quickly after we started discussing how to complete the schema, Kyle asked how we would design the course if we were teaching it; we then all struggled with the idea that we had to start somewhere, which would necessarily affect how the students understood the course and understood rhetoric. The starting point would also affect the kinds of connections that could be made. As Megan said, the ideal would be to drop the knowledge of all of the readings into one’s mind simultaneously. This would allow connections to be made more kairotically as opposed to being made between the authors read before a particular point in time and the authors read after a that point in time. Much of our conversation, then, centered around Hawhee’s invention-in-the-middle (with an emphasis on kairos), Mucklebauer’s problem of reading (that previous readings will affect later ones), and Haraway’s situated knowledges and Burke’s terministic screens (as we can only work from the readings we have been given). As we approached new concepts, we made more connections and were able to draw on different course readings.

The Schema

Each box in the schema represents one idea brought up during our conversation. Originally, I wanted to design the schema without boxes; I felt that boxes created separation between ideas, as opposed to the connections we wanted to emphasize. The boxes created boundary lines rather than fluidity between ideas and authors. However, without boxes, it was much more difficult to see where lines were connecting and more difficult to read each idea. In the end, I decided that clarity was more important than a lack of boundary lines.

The only overarching chronology represented in our schema is the chronology of our conversation. The chronology can be more or less understood if one looks at boxes in the schema as a circle. I decided the conversation should be represented in a circle for two reasons: First, the continuous line of a circle enabled the viewer to understand the development of our conversation. I wanted the viewer to be able to follow our conversation because we had chosen to allow the schema to develop organically from our conversation; thereby, showing the chronology of our conversation seemed important. Second, a circle has no beginning or ending point, which goes back to our concern about not showing an origin. I did struggle with where to put the box that represents where our conversation started, namely the box that reads, “Biesecker: There is no ordinary point.” I chose to put this toward the top left because that is my readers would likely to start reading. Again, if they started at the beginning of the conversation, they would be able to follow the conversation’s development. At the same time, I wanted complicate the notion of origin point, so I moved the first box down and put another in the very top left. While this other box was still toward the beginning of our conversation, it was not the very beginning of it; therefore, most readers would likely enter the schema at a point that did not represent the start of our ideas.

Finally, I had to decide what to do with the lines. At first, I had thought about moving the boxes around so the lines could all be straight. Once I reflected on our schema, though, I choose to let the boxes stay where they were and draw lines around them. This decision represents the fact that we might read and/or discuss concepts and authors in a particular order, but our connections between things might not be clean, obvious or direct.


This Exploratory helped me understand Hawhee’s invention-in-the-middle. Last week, I asked if invention-in-the-middle was a both/and (both a process of discovery and a process of creation) or a point that was both of them but also not both of them. Dr. Graban answered in way that suggested that invention-in-the-middle was both of the two definitions I gave, which confused me even more. I left class feeling as if I still did not know the answer. This schema, though, was truly invention-in-the-middle in that we created and discovered connections and neither created nor discovered connections. At many points, we created connections as one idea seemed to generate others. At other times, we discovered connections as we looked through the syllabus and decided where certain authors could connect with others we had already discussed.

Meanwhile, I view the idea of creating a schema from our conversation as neither discovery nor creation. It wasn’t until I had already written down a few ideas and lines that I realized I was starting to map the conversation. Both discovery and creative invention feel originary to me; one makes the decision or finds an idea and proceeds in that direction. I don’t feel like the idea of our schema was discovery or creation because we did not realize the development of the schema until after it had already started.


This Exploratory also helped me think more about Vasaly and how rhetors use space and ambience as part of their arguments. Because schemes are visual, they inevitably occupy space (on a page) in particular ways and, as Dr. Graban emphasized in class, point to particular ideas while ignoring and closing off others. Vasaly makes the same points about the space of speeches. In her first example, she explains how Manlius was not convicted when his listeners were able to see the Capitol (and were, thereby, reminded of his valiant deeds), but was found guilty when the trial was later held in a location that hid the Capitol (section 16). The location of the second trial called forth associations specific to that spot but closed off the associations of Manlius saving Jupiter. Vasaly is suggesting, then, that when physical spaces can call forth particular associations, they also close off others, just like our schemas. Furthermore, the specific placement of the boxes in our schema affects how one understands each individual box (as the previous boxes affect the reading of the next box) and how one understands the schema as a whole. This suggests that the objects and organization of a space (in addition to the space itself) can have an affect on one’s argument and audience. When I had first read Vasaly, I had applied her arguments to only the outside of buildings and monuments. This Exploratory helped me extend Vasaly’s ideas beyond the outside of spaces to the inside of the spaces, which also allowed me to consider more spaces than only buildings and monuments.

Two Random Musings

As I have been writing this post, I have been realizing an assumption under which we worked while designing this schema. Namely, we assumed that origins should be avoided. We saw that once we have an origin, a path develops and one cannot (we assumed) remove the knowledge of this path to experience a different path anew. We were treating this idea as objectively bad. Granted, most of this aversion probably sprang from the assignment. We were trying to see anew a series of readings we had already experienced in particular ways.

I wonder to what extend an origin depicts a path. Because previous readings affect later ones, the origin obviously closes other entry points and the connections that may develop from those other entry points. Is this closing off the reason we are so concerned about origin?

The Schema, The Cyborg, and The Logic of the Reach

Jason, Ashley, and I constructed our schema with an eye to merging our early readings, later readings, and class discussion.  A few weeks ago in class – perhaps at the beginning of our finals strand – Dr. Graban made the comment that it was almost like she had grafted the final strand’s readings on to the course.  That phrase – grafted on – stuck with me, so when Ashley suggested that we use the human body as a visual metaphor for our schema, the concept of the cyborg just made sense.  One of the most engaging things about the cyborg is the idea of the organic and inorganic hybrid, that both elements are essential to the cyborg body but do not seem to be entirely synthesized.  If I understand the concept of the cyborg correctly, neither the organic nor the inorganic elements can be removed from the hybrid body, but both remain at least partially distinct from the other.  It seemed that our readings had a similar relationship.

From the beginning, then, the schema was designed to emphasize the relationship between later groups of readings (those in the final strand) and the earlier ones.  We were, in a sense, grafting the later readings on to the earlier and drawing attention to them.  The significant difficulty with this grafting process was not necessarily choosing the visual metaphor, creating the overarching questions, or categorizing the readings (although those things were by no means easy), but putting each element together in order to emphasize the hybrid nature of the course.  In particular, mapping the questions on to the parts of the body presented a challenge because we were concerned about what those placements might imply.  Some of them, for example the placement of feminism in the eyes because of the texts’ emphasis on perspective, made sense, but others were less obvious. In aligning a question with a specific body part, what might we be saying about that question’s relationship to the body?  What, based on the body’s symbolism for other theories, might we be inadvertently implying?  In the end, we used the hands to represent questions about the functions of rhetoric – “What are the roles of rhetor and audience?” and “What is the province of rhetoric?” – because the hands seemed best fitted to denote action or invention and because the two questions seemed to complement each other.  Or, at least, the texts within those two categories seemed to cover similar, though not identical, ground.    The legs came to represent questions of language and the relationship between style and content for much the same reason.  The two questions seemed related both the each other and to what we came to view as the foundational question:  “How do we define rhetoric?” 

The image of the digitized Vitruvian man - as much as the placement of the questions – allowed us to make the claim that the final strand, along with our class discussions, allowed the class to cyborg the rhetorical tradition.  Because the image of the Vitruvian mans is so well known, the alterations to it were obvious.  Thus, the altered portions of the image could represent and call attention to the questions addressed in our final strand.  The fact that the Vitruvian man is meant to represent the ideal human proportions further allowed us – as many of the authors in the final strand, particularly Vasaly, Miller, Stroud, and Haraway, tried to do – to problematize the rhetorical tradition and to call attention to the more diverse perspectives added in the final strand.  I do not want to imply here that the rhetorical tradition presented in the first two strands is in some way negative, just that it has an uneasy and in some ways problematic relationship with the texts in the final strand.

In terms of specifically schematizing Baudrillard, Vasaly, and Miller, it is interesting that they are categorized in various places throughout the schema.  Vasaly and Miller were placed with the earlier texts because, although they were concerned with other issues, they questions at the core of their texts were concerned with foundational issues about rhetoric. Baudrillard, because of his focus on the ecstasy of communication and the way that the individual becomes almost hypermediated, was categorized as a text dealing with the digital.  This is not, of course, a perfect fit, but the placement does fit in terms of the metaphor of the cyborg.  In describing the way that the individual comes to be hypermediated and informed by the screen, the image, and the hyper-real, Baudrillard identifies something similar to the inorganic becoming mixed up with the more organic self.  Baudrillard may, in a sense, be discussing how the self becomes a kind of hybrid or cyborg. 

That claim is, of course, still a reach but, as I have some to see over the course of a semester that included multiple schemas (in this class and in others), schemas sometimes operate on “the logic of the reach,” as no metaphor is going to perfectly encapsulate everything.  I do not make that statement as a cop-out, but as a way of saying that, in creating a schema, we are forced to make decisions about the document’s logic.  Some things get left out or deemphasized when that logic is imposed.  For example, when we created the six questions/categories that were mapped on to the cyborg body, we chose ideas that stood out to us as being particularly important to the course or that we had returned  to multiple times in our discussions.  As such, there are ideas that we discussed that did not make it on to the schema itself.  For example, one of our questions deals with the relationship between rhetoric and feminism.  We might have been better off to articulate that question as the relationship between rhetoric and the other.  Abe and Erin used this verbiage in their schema, and I wish we had thought of it for ours, as “the other” could potentially allow us to schematize for both gender and culture.  Even still, this impulse to revise once again illustrates just how much the schema focused on the readings from the latter half of the semester.  Compared to the whole, we had very few readings that focused on feminism or the digital, and yet, on the schema, these categories hold equal weight with categories we discussed across longer periods of time and in more texts.

Problematic, or Problematized?

How to sum up an entire semester’s worth of reading in a single schema, followed by a single blog post? Going into the schema project, Jennifer, Ashley, and myself were well aware of the fact that any attempt to graft our readings onto a single visual theme would fall short in any number of ways, but inevitably decided to take the obviously problematic approach of using the body. In many ways, this problematizing was in intentional, as we wanted to represent the move towards the modern and digital in our readings through the cyborg, as Haraway’s piece represented a clear turning point for our readings and a push towards a cyborged rhetorical theory course. It was by working through these obvious problems in mapping some of the major questions we’ve tackled in rhetorical theory onto a human body that I was more clearly able to understand the theorists and texts we’ve read.

The first, most obvious issues came in the actual biology of the Vitruvian Man we selected to build our theory on, and the obvious complication of idealized bodies and gender that come from this representation. Convenient as it is to place the foundations of rhetoric at the feet for the sake of visual and thematic simplicity, this also provides a clear challenge to the disabled communities and privileges the “ideal” body by default. Similarly, one noteworthy change from even the “real” Vitruvian Man is the minor censorship you’ll notice in the, shall we say, “private” area. Thus, mapping our theory readings onto this body inherently privileges masculinity and presents an (unintentional) absence of female representation (not for lack of trying, I’ll add). Then, of course, there’s the obvious contention with this being a model by DaVinci for the proportions and architecture of the human body, privileging the strong, sculpted body, leaving folks like myself out out in the process, and anyone without the ideal size and proportions to their arms, legs, muscles, and build. Some obvious cases of resonance emerge in spite of the dissonance, however, such as the actual cyborging of the body, showing a human body using technology without it necessarily being attached to their body. Similarly, building on Haraway’s metaphor of perspective and sight, the question of “What is the Relationship Between Rhetoric and Feminism?” finds  suitable resting place on the eyes of the Vitruvian Man.

Bringing things to the “modern day” of our course, however, I see some unintentional parallels to Susan Miller’s work coming out in our schema that bear exploration. My reading of Miller’s work strongly suggested that our trust in the rhetorical canon is built up culturally, and as a result of being the looming culmination of centuries of writing on rhetoric, argument, and philosophy, we take it at face value as valid and more-or-less complete. Like our cyborg, however, we see how quickly these connections can break apart. The shortcomings of our cyborg, in fact, provide helpful commentary on our Millerian trust in the rhetorical canon. First and foremost, more representation here as male as opposed to female references a very real deficiency in the rhetorical canon, one represented almost exclusively as male. Our earlier readings of Asphasia make clear that women held, or could have held, crucial roles in the development of rhetorical theory and argument, yet receive almost no attention at large. Similarly, the othering of Olbrechts-Tytecha is obvious in every time the work is attributed to Perelman alone in casual discussion of the piece… maybe because of that long, tricky-to-say name being the second, or perhaps more accurately because her role in the development of The New Rhetoric was never given its proper due. This extends further into readings like Trihn and Anzaldua, both showing the power and pain of being “othered,” and yet, the rhetorical tradition as represented in our cyborg does precisely that.

Thus, I would like to submit that our problematically designed cyborg actually provides a meaningful reflection on a larger view of the rhetorical canon; a body of texts that historically privileges based on gender, ethnicity, location, social strata, and much more. While we have developed a trust in the canon over time, our recent readings served (for me at least) as a reminder not to inherently trust the content and structure of the canons of rhetoric. Our panhistoric vision of the course has allowed for breaks from the “tradition” of rhetoric in many ways and allowed for deviations from the canon with texts like Asphasia’s and earlier attempts to cyborg the course and content found in our third exploratory. Nonetheless, the canon of rhetoric as a biased, detached, problematic, and reclusive entity is well-expressed through our visual theme. This was not intentional, to be certain, as it was designed as an easy way to see and understand the concepts of our course by mapping them onto parts of the body that allow for the audience to quickly and easily disseminate the ideas and content. However, the entire process of assembling and mapping our questions made clear to us that there are some very real problems with mapping the content of our course onto the human body, perhaps the largest of which is how to represent rhetoric in human form, especially as a series of texts produced by human hands.

In short, our mapping and development of rhetorical theory in our schema is at once problematic, and meant to problematize. There are clear shortcomings in the mapping, however, these shortcomings even serve as commitment to the theme and illustrative, as the idealized white male representation we inevitably used represents the very flaws of the rhetorical canon itself. Our course has allowed for problematizing the canon through its approach, but as seen in Miller’s work, the canon itself is clearly still holding strong as a relatively static body of texts, almost begrudgingly including the “other,” but never fully incorporating them as a body that remains largely idealized and male. As an embodiment of these shortcomings, our schema could be seen simply as problematic or in tacit endorsement of these elements of the rhetorical tradition, however, its continued design was made with these problems in mind and inevitably embraced in the design itself to reflect the problems in the rhetorical canon at large. In this way, the schema helped us not only to situate the readings based on core questions/concepts, but also to provide some larger meta-commentary on the rhetorical canon at large and illustrate some of the ways our course way able to deviate from this and problematize it,

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Re-Visioning the Unified Subject; Or, _We_ Have Never Been Whole

Abe and I approached our schema in a way that I now see as limiting. We started by building an outline of our readings for the semester and summarizing each reading so that we could identify patterns across the texts. This process ultimately led us to form the five questions that we presented on our schema and to organize relevant texts beneath those questions. What now seems to me to have limited what we might have been able to do is the fact that we started with the texts preceding this week's reading. In other words, we revisited the older texts before reading and discussing Baudrillard, Vasaly, and Miller. Because of this, I think that we missed the opportunity to make sense of Baudrillard, Vasaly, and Miller on their own terms and to use those texts to make sense of the previous texts.

So, as I began thinking about how to approach this critical blog post, I found myself needing to review this week's texts, and I started with Baudrillard. As I reread his text and my initial notes on it, I began to notice ways in which his text pushes against (or is pushed against by) Haraway's "situated knowledges." Because I feel as though our schema did not force me to reconsider earlier texts in light of the new ones, I'll focus the remainder of this entry on putting Baudrillard in conversation with Haraway (with a little Clay Shirky thrown in as a challenge to Baudrillard's claims).

Baudrillard's "The Ecstasy of Communication" traces a paradigm shift that has occurred since the publication of System of Objects. Whereas the mid-to-late 20th century saw an intense interest in psychoanalytic theory, the spectacle, the Other, difference, etc., we've now moved to a stage when concepts, such as subject/object, public/private, and so on, are no longer relevant. Lacan gave us the mirror stage and objet petite a, but now "there is a nonreflecting surface, an immanent surface where operations unfold--the smooth operational surface of communication" (Baudrillard 127). Further, we no longer have "a scene where the dramatic interiority of the subject, engaged with its object as with its image, is played out" (128). In other words, psychoanalytic understanding of subject formation, object relations, and social interaction is played out: we need a new model for understanding society and the real.

Baudrillard's answer is the network: he writes that "we are the terminal of multiple networks," a repositioning that displaces our bodily movement (and, therefore, knowledge) (128). Because our "bodily movements and efforts" have become "electric or electronic commands" (128), "the real itself appears as a large, useless body" (129). Baudrillard concludes by returning to the end of identification as conceived by 20th century theorists: "it [our proximity to all things] is the end of interiority and intimacy, the overexposure and transparence of the world who transverses him [sic.] without obstacle. He can no longer produce the limits of his own being, can no longer play nor stage himself, can no longer produce himself as mirror" (132).

Because there was a time when I felt great fondness for Baudrillard's work, I wanted to be on board with his discussion, but I felt myself resisting what he wrote. I kept thinking, what does this mean for "situated knowledges"? for "bodily knowledge" (though Bourdieu clearly falls into that mid-to-late 20th c category that Baudrillard is disavowing)? And then I realized that the sort of subject-death that Baudrillard seems to be lamenting, or at least avowing, is accounted for in Haraway; she even calls for it as a way of making knowledge objectively rather than universally. Haraway writes, "The split and contradictory self is the one who can interrogate positionings and be accountable, the one who can construct and join rational conversations and fantastic imaginings that change history. Splitting, not being, is the privileged image for feminist epistemologies of scientific knowledge" (193). Her emphasis here on splitting, rather than unification (which is what I take her to mean by "being"), shows that a heterogenous subject (is that even the right word? cyborg, perhaps?) is capable of inquiries that the unified subject is not. In regard to the unified subject, she explains, "Only those occupying the positions of the dominators are self-identical, unmarked, disembodied, unmediated, transcendent, born again...knowledge from the point of view of the unmarked is truly fantastic, distorted, and so irrational. The only position from which objectivity could not possibly be practised and honoured is the standpoint of the master, the Man, the One God, whose Eye produces, appropriates, and orders all difference" (193).* When I read this description, I can't help but think that it's an apt way of responding to Baudrillard. In that he sees the death of the unified subject as the cause for a (negative) shift in human communication and knowledge-making practices, he seems to be taking up the self-identical subject positioning that Haraway describes: What Baudrillard views as schizophrenia, Haraway sees as productive for knowledge-making practices.

I both am and am not persuaded by my own argument. On the one hand, I do think that viewing Baudrillard's text through this Haraway passage reveals something very problematic in his argument, but on the other, I'm not ready to say that Baudrillard definitely views our present schizophrenic condition, as he calls it, negatively. Though I do not see his discussing this positioning as a way of making (or not making) knowledge, I do see his claim that "we can no longer produce our own boundaries" as having implications for knowledge-making practices--and perhaps similar implications to Haraway's notion, in that she pushes us to reimagine the "limits" of the body and technological appendages.

But, to take this in a slightly different direction, I do see Baudrillard critiquing our activities when he writes, "What can be said about the immense amounts of free time we are left with, a dimension henceforth useless in its unfolding, as soon as the instantaneity of communication has miniaturized our exchanges into a succession of instants?" (129). My response to this question draws from Clay Shirky's notion of "cognitive surplus." According to Shirky, major changes in working and living patterns that occurred after WWII left people with more free time than they had previously enjoyed. For many years, this free time was spent in front of the television (which seems connected to Baudrillard's argument), but now social networking and other technological innovations have provided us with the means to do more than passively consume media. Inherent in Shirky's argument is the idea that "people want to do something to make the world a better place" (17), and this is where I'm no longer on board. Though I don't necessarily agree with Shirky's theory of why people are actively participating in cultural, social, and political processes in greater numbers, I do agree that cognitive surplus enables some people to actively initiate and contribute to cultural and political changes. In this way, I think that we could respond to Baudrillard by saying that people are doing all kinds of things with the immense amounts of free time we are left with. Perhaps, though, the proliferation of social networking and the actions it enables were unimaginable when Baudrillard was writing. Perhaps he was describing the passive consumption of media. Either way, Haraway recuperates the split subject/cyborg, envisioning her knowledge-making capabilities in a way that strikes me as far less utopic than Shirky's vision.

*As an aside, Baudrillard's use of the masculine pronoun also leads me to believe that Haraway's critique is applicable to him--insofar as the masculine seems to be equated with the universal.

Cyborging the Rhetorical Tradition: Just One of Many Justifications

Most of my research and interest in the second half of this class has been dedicated to theories around and in the body, space, and the digital/technological. For my critical thinking project, I'd already begun to theorize about the body as text and text as body in digital spaces. It was no jump for me at all to begin seeing the class is a body of texts that have grown, bled, healed, changed, and experimented for these past thirteen weeks. I suggested to both Jason and Jennifer that we map these texts on the human body in order to make a connection: these texts define how, who, what, when, and where we listen, do, say things with our bodies. Not to mention, tons of things have happened to my body while reading these texts. My emotions, my body, my mind, my eyes and fingers all have a relationship with each one of these texts. I also cannot pretend that this idea of body as schema didn't stem from our recent readings of Donna Haraway's "Situated Knowledges."

I think we saw the texts taking up a very big split between the earlier part of the semester and these last few weeks. The texts seemed so disparate. Jennifer and I kept talking about how they were "tacked on" or just simply "attached" to the end of a set of texts. That's when it hit me: I offered that we were "cyborging the rhetorical tradition," and Jason and Jennifer ran with it.

Vitruvian Man
Jason came up with the idea of a cyborg'd version of the Vitruvian Man by Leonardo Divinci. We intentionally wanted to find an image where the Vitruvian Man and his background sustained some sort of texture that resembled parchment to stand in visually, along with the symbolic nature of the image itself, for what we saw as the traditional texts.

The Cyborg'd Vitruvian Man we used for our schema
We wanted the image to look older while putting a modern twist on it. This might be making a comment about how we saw rhetorical studies and theory--that it is, despite its continual practice, an antiquated practice and kind of thought. This, however, was not the intent. We simply wanted to portray the message that we saw the course as altering a traditional set of texts and bringing them into the future. We thought the body would work well because we saw the texts as "connected [yet] fractured," operating intimately in order to create a larger being. We saw the body as a tool, as a metaphor for the course.

The Original Vitruvian Man

Jason, Jennifer, and I wanted to make sure that our audience new that we didn't see the rhetorical tradition as a singular unit, but more so composed of multiple rhetorical traditions. This is why we created a way to look at the course readings in a way that we could see the old with the new, the conservative with the radical, and the inclusive with the exclusive. So, we toyed around with the questions and how we wanted to place the questions, mapping them and the authors and their texts onto the human body. These questions include:
  • How do we define rhetoric?
  • What is the province of rhetoric?
  • What is the relationship between style and content?
  • What is the role of rhetor and audience?
  • How does digital technology shape rhetoric?
  • What is the relationship between rhetoric and feminism?
  • How does language create meaning?
The problem with graphing these questions to particular places on the body is that our placement could be sending a message about where we think these things are located literally in the body. For example, "How does language create meaning?" could have different meanings if we placed this on the mouth versus in the brain. What (I think) we ended up doing was seeing the feet as foundational texts and built up, theorizing about which question was closely related to conversations of definitions of rhetoric or even what sorts of ideas were more central to the common questions throughout the course.

Placing This Week's Authors

Due to the way that we split up the work, each of us took one author to place within our schema. I was given Vasaly's "Ambiance, Rhetoric, and the Meaning of Things." I placed Vasaly under the "roles of rhetor and audience" question because I saw her creating an argument about using place and space as a means of argumentation and persuasion. Not only is the rhetor supposed to evoke these preexisting knowledges I'll say, which I realize maybe isn't the right term, but the audience is also supposed to fill spaces with their experiences and their understanding of place. (Here, I also recognize that I'm using space and place interchangeably. That's because of the context I'm using them for: physical places. I see all places as spaces, but not all spaces as places.) In that way, I see Vasaly doing something similar to when Stroud talks about targeting shared audience/cultural experiences and building on that in order to create meaning. However, instead of through cultural understandings and stories, Vasaly talks about this happens through spaces.

Other Thoughts:

Megan Roche and I were talking the other day about her research for the critical thinking project, and she made a very good point. The rhetorical traditions might not have even been the traditions. There were other examples of texts that talked about rhetoric and rhetorical strategies all the while never calling it rhetoric. This reminds me of a Barthean thought: the multiple "origins" of rhetorical traditions had to come from somewhere. They couldn't have been created of themselves. This would mean that other theorists before them--before Aristotle, before Quintilian and Erasmus--talked about rhetoric and maybe just didn't have a name for it.