The Grammar of the Common-tude

Posted in Uncategorized on April 19, 2011 by iamgreatness

In addition to Commonwealth this week, I also read Grammar of the Multitude as I remembered a lot of similar concepts, etc., being discussed in that text from when we read it in Writing Machines all those years ago, and also to give myself a more borad understanding of the common and the multitude. As I read through these texts, at first I was plagued by the question of how do I separate the discussion(s) of the multitude and the common (for my purposes in thinking through this project) from the seemingly essential discussion(s) of capital and labor and production. However, halfway through Grammar it dawned on me that perhaps it would be better to think, instead, about my project in terms of capital and labor and production. Not necessarily as a project in economics now instead of the original rhetorical basis, but (and thinking of this specifically in terms of Virno’s discussion of the common topics/general intelligence, Hardt & Negri’s discussion of the common/bio-political labor, and Levy’s discussion of collective intelligence) perhaps this is what is different and really needs to be engaged with between the common topics of Aristotelian rhetoric and today’s common–this being the transition between rhetoric as political (persuasion/getting things done in the polis) and economic (a means of bio-political production in the economy of the network)–while still retaining the primary focus of rhetoric as use of language in communication.

So I found myself asking these questions and thinking abo all of our previous discussion in terms of updating the rhetoric for today and networked society in general. So we have a situation of collective intelligence where Levy imagines a relative utopia in which knowledge is created and distributed collectively across the networks and this works to unseat the dominance of the circulation of capital, yet this manifested in the networks serving as a means through which capital could circulate more freely and constant attempts to monetize the Internet–utopia banished. But the collectivity of the intelligence and knowledge created still exists. Next we turn to Virno and the need for the multitude to turn back to the common places/general intelligence because the special places no longer serve to orient the multitude in the disorientation caused by the post-Fordist economy. These common place for the contemporary multitude also point toward the World-Wide Web (43). Finally, we have the traditional means of capitalist production being replaced by bio-political production (ideas, knowledge, ways of life) that refuse to fit into the systems of quantification necessary for capital to appropriate and monetize them (Hardt & Negri).

Basically the question is thus: if we can look at the Internet as some type of material instantiation/ideological construct of the contemporary common, a digital agora for the multitude, in terms of the way we communicate (use rhetoric) in this medium, is it more economic than political (or at least as much economic as political)? Instead of communicating to “get things done” in the polis, are we really trading in the products of bio-political labor–exchanging ideas, knowledge, forms of life? And perhaps this is what is missing in turning to Aristotle’s Rhetoric as such–an emphasis on the means of persuasion and the turn to the common places to make this task (and thus participation in the polis) easier, when the focus now is more on exchange and the value (politically, ethically, economically) thereof?

Collective Collections

Posted in Uncategorized on April 5, 2011 by iamgreatness

Okay, to begin with Electric Rhetoric … um … what can I say except that it is an excellent illustration of what not to do. I appreciate the attempt to reread rhetorical history and revitalize previously forgotten figures (such as Diotima and Aspasia) and engage with the racial and gender issues present in ancient rhetoric, but I consistently found this engagement to be unsupported and without reason. For example, I still am not sure why we need to look to Diotima to understand electric rhetoric, nor am I sure even who Aspasia is. I am also in disagreement with Welch’s read of Isocrates and why his writing are more “oral/aural” than someone like Plato, when Isocrates was not an orator and Plato’s writings are actually in the form of dialogues. Confusion aside, I think Welch’s attempt to redefine rhetoric for the digital age is incredibly reductive and falls into the Ulmerian trap of trying to separate this “next” rhetoric out as something altogether new rather than looking at it as a continuum.  It also relies too heavily on critique for the sake of critique (e.g. all of her stabs at the literary canons). There is a passage in her last chapter that I will quote here at length to illustrate the dangers of this type of critique and then draw a line of connection to Levy’s text. This passage is in reference to a photo program installed on the IBM Laptop 755 CE and its scrolling gallery of stock images:

The photographs in this gallery include a close-up of raspberries, farm buildings, a head-and-shoulders photograph of a Black girl who look at the camera, baseball hats, a lighthouse, a head-and-shoulders shot of two parrots, a long shot of whitewater rafters (seven White people), a long-shot photograph of a mountain capped with snow, and a long-shot photograph of a seashore. The gallery sequence runs raspberries, farm buildings, Black girl, baseball hats, lighthouse, parrots, Whit rafters on whitewater, mountain scenery, seashore. The racism of this pictorial juxtaposition, aside from being breathtaking in its insensitivity, communicates volumes about the automatic responses of some anonymous software designers who equate Black girls with beautiful, exotic animals (exoticism) and who present a photograph of a child in a semi-erotic pose as if it were a phenomenon of physis (nature) and not of nomos, a convention of law or more. (202)

What Welch seems to be doing here is using a “revitalized” electric rhetoric to expose the objectification of the Other because of the juxtaposition possible in a digital medium–drawing what seems to be to me a completely off-base and unfair conclusion about how the software designers equate a Black girl with parrots and mountain tops. It seems much more reasonable to look at how this ability to juxtapose creates something new (such as what Rice suggests in Rhetoric of Cool) rather than something that instantiates the previous patterns of objectification. This connects with a concept I found particularly interesting in Collective Intelligence: the cosmopedia.

The new organization of knowledge in this fourth space [is] the cosmopedia. It is based largely on the possibilities made accessible to us through computer technology for the representation and dynamic management of knowledge … Because instead of a one-dimensional text or even a hypertext network, we now have a dynamic and interactive multidimensional representational space. Instead of the conjunction of image and text, characteristic of the encyclopedia, the cosmopedia combines a large number of different types of expression: static images, video, sound, interactive simulation, interactive maps, expert systems, dynamic ideographs, virtual reality, artificial life, etc. … Once they plunge into the cosmopedia, space reorganizes around them, depending on their history, their interests, their questions, their previous utterances. They are surrounded by everything that concerns them, which arranges itself within their reach. (216; 219)

This to me, seems like a much more reasonable and productive way to look at the abundance (and the possible juxtapositions of) information that the digital age (and the Internet) make possible–dynamic and interactive (constructive) rather than unwittingly racist and sexist (destructive). We can connect and create through our collective intelligence and the abundance of information provided.

In terms of a future project, with what we have been discussing thus far, I think that Levy’s (and Authier’s) conception of the cosmopedia might offer some insight into a revamping of Aristotle for the digital age. Welch talks a lot about the common topics, which seem to fall short of describing the way rhetoric functions today because it relies on a seemingly impossible standardization of information and excludes the concept of the collectivity of intelligence. Ulmer attempts to redefine this as chora, but runs into a problem where we can’t really define chora and thus can only talk about what it is not rather than what it is. Cosmopedia, I think, gets at the same idea, but in a more definable way. we place things (ideas, thoughts, information, etc.) into the networks of collective intelligence, where those things are circulated and juxtaposed, rather than placing them in specific locations (topoi) for later retrieval. Might the cosmopedia be a new lens through which to view rhetoric in a digital age rather than continuing to rely on topoi?



Posted in Uncategorized on March 23, 2011 by iamgreatness

What I found most interesting in Donald’s text, aside from the interesting theory of the development of language in and of itself, is his idea of the External Memory Field (EXMF) and External Symbolic Storage (ESS). These concepts mirror Stiegler’s discussion(s) of tertiary memory and proletarianization (did he cite Donald? I don’t remember him doing so), and his connection of these things to Greek culture, I think, lend credibility to the ideas we have been discussing in terms of relating current network culture to ancient Greek culture, and the necessary updates, etc. Donald’s almost oracle-like prescience in his discussion of the EXMF and the ESS within computer networks in 1991 is astounding, thinking about the Internet as it is now as the ultimate ESS. Equally as fascinating is his discussion of the importance of Greek culture in the third transition (from the development of the Greek alphabet to the codification of the ESS in the written word in the Trivium) and how that has not only changed the way our brains work in terms of the development of language, but also set the stage for pedagogy for the next two millenia.

This raises the question of change, then, as well as a possible further effect. Donald touches on the power of networks and their importance in the development of the ESS from the perspective of 1991, at the very beginning of Internet culture, but couldn’t foresee how the over the next two decades (god, 1991 was two decades ago). My question is this: In Donald’s theory of the development of human language (and the brain), certain events, such as the invention of the alphabet are crucial turning points in how language developed as well as how people think (with the exteriorization of language into written language governed by the rules of rhetoric and grammar) … is it possible, then, that the explosion of the Internet and the resulting changes in culture signals another one of these irreversible, crucial turning points? Are we at a fourth transition in human thought and brain development? If we look at the effect the Internet has had on culture writ large, could we compare it to the massive changes that occurred when the alphabet and writing took over in Greece? (Think about Socrates’ distrust with this newfangled technology.) Kittler would say that this began with the gramophone, film, and typewriter, but it could be argued that these developments were akin to the Phoenician alphabet–that is setting the stage for the development of the explosive nature of the Greek alphabet.

With this in mind, looking at Aristotle’s Rhetoric as the codification of the rules of discourse and language in this new paradigm, if we are at the cusp of a new paradigm (transition), which would necessitate new rules, what do these rules look like? Based on our earlier discussions, I think this could be approached in either the more pedagogical sense (how do we teach this) or from the perspective of the common/commons (as in the Internet as a manifestation of the commons and how do we react/function within this new set of rules).

Isocrates and the History of Emotions

Posted in Uncategorized on March 8, 2011 by iamgreatness

Perhaps a bit difficult to really relate these two texts this week as they seem to be relatively opposed in terms of the “conservative” Isocrates matched up with a re-reading that establishes a heavy line of emotion in the work of Aristotle. So I think a discussion of each in turn, with perhaps a smattering of juxtaposition, would be more in order. For Isocrates, I was struck by two things: 1.) his use of philosophia in a much more political/civic sense than Plato, and the complexity of argument/prose that comes from his focus on the written word rather than oration. As far as our possible project discussion goes, I think that Isocrates might play an interesting foil against which to juxtapose Aristotle’s Rhetoric for a rereading. For as much as the Rhetoric is studied and as much as we claim to follow and Aristotelian model (and of course, we *do* in many ways), a lot of what we teach in a composition course strikes me as pretty Isocratean. This sort of pragmatic approach to create change specifically in a civic/political environment, and in the emphasis on the written word intended for circulation rather than the preparation for speaking seems to be more in line with a class like 1020. So maybe the secret history is really a history of subversive Isocratean though than Aristotelian. So maybe the argument is that we’re missing some of the depth and detail of what Aristotle’s Rhetoric has to offer by reducing rhetoric specifically applying the available means of persuasion to a written argument (Thinking specifically in terms of something like Gross’ project to reincorporate what’s in Book II as far as emotions, etc., are concerned). In other words, what is left out (perhaps) of our use of the Rhetoric becomes something more Isocratean than Aristotelian.

Which gets us to Gross, who I will treat in terms of methodology (which is why we read him, I think?). Aside from not finding his argument very compelling, I do think that his approach to rereading the history of emotion can be a fruitful one to perhaps incorporate as a methodology. His focus on very specific texts in very specific time periods allowed to cover a lot of ground without too many, seemingly, major gaps, but the use of literature to read against in the fourth chapter (and a relatively obscure piece of literature I am guessing) seemed to weaken his argument a bit in terms of having to dig a little too deep, perhaps, to find the secret history he’s looking for. I think that if looking at an undiscussed or hidden thread of thought in the history of some discipline, it would be better to stick to more texts that are of a more common use in that discipline–admittedly, I am not necessarily as well read as I could and/or should be, but I have not come across a lot of reference to Hobbes, Hume, and Fielding in most rhetorical theory. It seems to me that if a rewriting of a history is the goal, then more “high profile” texts should perhaps be incorporated as well as some of the more obscure. However, I do think the focus on specific texts in specific time periods is an interesting approach to a historiographical project.

Becoming Beside Our Disorientations

Posted in Uncategorized on February 22, 2011 by iamgreatness

This week’s post is in direct response to our conversation of last week regarding the possibilities of future projects, etc., in terms of a rewriting of Aristotle to account for the way we react to things in a more technological age. we’ve discussed Stiegler’s project in relative depth in past meetings when we discussed A New Critique…, and Disorientation didn’t necessarily cause a drastic change in my perception of the project overall. However, what I found interesting was a further discussion of tertiary memory outside of A New Critique‘s political/economic focus (proletarianization) and within Husserlian phenomenology. I found this perspective very interesting in thinking through our discussion of a need to revamp and update the “Rhetoric.” In a quick glance through Aristotle before writing this post, a distinct focus on primary and secondary memory (in terms of initial experience of phenomena and the subsequent memorization), but there is also a strong reliance on the tertiary (technologically exteriorized) memory in the topoi and types of argument (enthymeme, example, etc.)–in the formulae for arrangement of arguments that Aristotle puts forward–thus providing evidence for my earlier claim of the Rhetoric being an initial technologizing of the “art.” However, with networked technologies and the ever-present access to the Internet, the idea of topics and types of argument are expanded exponentially and it is seemingly harder to think through fitting the sheer magnitude of what is available into specific categories (not too get too Ulmerian, but more chora and less topoi?).

There is also a distinct sense of a logical progression of one step to the next (sort of “if/then” statements), that is attached to, as Rotman argues, the linearity perpetuated by the alphabet. And this linear system of progression does seem lacking in our contemporary experience of multiple-windowed, multi-tasked, data-clouded milieu. If, again as Rotman argues, we are indeed realizing ourselves as more parallel and less linear, thus initiating a break away from the alphabetic regime and into something different, the Aristotelian model of “if an appropriate enthymeme cannot be found, then move to an appropriate example” is in need of a little more “parallel-ness” itself (a para-rhetoric?).

Not to be too technologically determinant about it (or to cry foul and damn technology as we discussed last week), there is something to be said for the sheer magnitude of the Internet and the way we access it as having an impact on how we interact, access information, communicate, and think of ourselves as beings. If the linearity of the alphabet had the power to (perhaps hyperbolically) make monotheism possible (although I do find Rotman’s argument compelling), then the magnitude of the cloud and its ever-present accessibility (and its function as a repository for tertiary memory) has got to have some power to change our current paradigm–something that the relatively cut and dry system of the Rhetoric can’t necessarily account for, although it does still provide a solid foundation for us to rethink what would be a more sensible current structure (or lack thereof).

If we, as beings, have a finite capability for retention and therefore must rely on (and always already have relied on) external, technological sources for memory, and if we do not function in the linear fashion that the alphabet prescribes, then the current linear/systematic approach to rhetoric that Aristotle puts forward in in need of a revamp as well.

Homo Dialecticus

Posted in Uncategorized on February 7, 2011 by iamgreatness

After reading through Aristotle’s Rhetoric, reading Burke (not ever having read Burke) lends interesting insight into the development of rhetoric as it is more commonly used today, i.e. the myriad “rhetorics of …” Whereas Aristotle looked to the categorization of the means of persuasion (in terms of audience, enthymeme, example, etc.), I can see in Burke’s text the opening up of these strictures and positing rhetoric in a much broader sense. It is no longer the “either this or that” relationship found in Aristotle (where there are clearly very right and/or wrong ways to conduct a speech, for example the use of example only if a proper enthymematic argument can’t be found) but rather a more open relationship between things that allows for mystery (“magic”) and that which lies outside of the linguistic. I find his discussion of rhetoric as identification to be particularly interesting as it, again, widens the scope of what rhetoric is and/or can do. Rather than rhetoric simply being the art of determining all available methods of persuasion in oratory or speech writing, or as the “good man speaking well” in terms of eloquence, rhetoric can be internally derived as well as externally imposed (e.g. Burke’s discussion of bureaucracy/heirarchy or psychological malingering), again separating “New” rhetoric from classical rhetoric:

“Classical rhetoric stresses the element of explicit design in rhetorical enterprise. But one can systematically extend the range of rhetoric, if on studies the persuasiveness of false or inadequate terms which may not be directly imposed upon us from without by some skillful speaker, but which we impose upon ourselves, in varying degrees of deliberateness and unawareness, through motives indeterminately self-protective and/or suicidal” (35).

Thus, rhetoric can be internal/external, applied to things other than the strictly linguistic, and can be either used in a creative capacity (rhetorica utens) or as a means of study (rhetorica docens)–reminiscent, as well, of more recent arguments (Mailloux/Davis/Muckelbauer) of rhetoric as necessarily hermeneutic. This opening up of rhetoric as the bridging of divides between people (and, arguably, things) by means of identification, according to Burke, also collapses the thesis/antithesis relationship of rhetoric and dialectic (as we discussed in terms of Plato/Socrates) exposing the rhetorical nature of dialectic:

“The dialectical method would also be rhetorical in this sense. But we may note its use of other rhetorical elements likewise: First, there is the rhetoric of the dramatic agon, the clash of the partisan rivals, each of whom seeks to overthrow the others; next, there is the rhetorical appeal of the dialectical resolution, the formal satisfaction that comes of transcending such conflicts by systematic means; and finally, there is the rhetoric of enargeia, as the New Vision” (207).

All in all, what I found most compelling about Burke’s argument is the expansion of rhetoric to include certain things under the heading of rhetoric that “would not have been traditionally labeled ‘rhetoric'”(43) and to move past the idea of rhetoric as merely “persuasion” as such and instead the means with which different classes (hierarchies, etc.) or people/things can communicate, thus moving them to act through identifying with each other. This, to me, adds interesting dimensions to Aristotle, because although the classification of the means of persuasion is important, it leaves out the element of relationship between communicators and communicative symbols that Burke’s identification adds.

Rhetorical Demands and Proletarianization

Posted in Uncategorized on January 31, 2011 by iamgreatness

Many of my thoughts about both Stiegler and Aristotle are inevitably filtered through the texts we have been reading in Marback’s 8007 this semester, which have lent some clarity to other lines of inquiry I have been pursuing over the last semester (primarily in a conference paper written for JB’s theory class last semester). In brief, I have been looking at (of course) kairos in terms of technology in regard to an overheard conversation in a coffee shop. Long story short, it was apparent the effect that the technologies used during the communicative exchange were as essential to the exchange as were the two people involved. This got me thinking about how technology (and especially networked technology) has as much or more (and this is where Marback’s class comes in) *agency* (we will bracket this for later discussion, but used now for lack of a better term) as the embodied agents. Of course, then, what struck me about Stiegler was the concept of proletarianization via the externalization of knowledge, embodied or mental, and his reference to Plato’s concern for the technology of writing as the first step in this process: “We discover that the Platonic question of hypomnesis constitutes the first version of a thinking of proletarianization , insofar as it is true that the proletariat are those economic actors who are without knowledge because they are without memory: their memory has passed into the machine that reproduces gestures that the proletariat no longer needs to know — they must simply serve the reproductive machine and thus, once again, they become serfs” (Stiegler 35).

This focus on tertiary retention — the memory/knowledge given over to the machine — was very apparent in the overheard conversation (in fact conversation stopped when the network became inaccessible), and it seems that no matter how much agency we think we have as rhetors, the technologies we use have as much or more, especially now that we are always jacked into the network (not to get too Johnny Mnemonic about it). This giving over of oneself to the machine echoes past claims of exteriorization (such as McLuhan’s extensions of man — becoming sexual organs for technology — and Bellar’s attention economy — becoming producers even in our “free” time). However this idea is manifested, it seems unavoidable that we give something of ourselves to technology (or technology takes something from us) and we are therefore beholden to technology. A sort of distributed cognition where we share our ability to do things and to communicate with others (we could perhaps call this agency) with our technologies — think how lost we are without our cell phones or our Internet connections, which are now one in the same.

In Stiegler’s view this loss of savoir-faire and savoir-vivre has an economic impact, contributing to the rampant consumerism that in turn leads to an economy with an incredibly short attention span and falls into risky short-term speculations. In terms of rhetorical agency, however, we do not either a.) function as independent, rational agents in control of ourselves, or b.) function as “zombies” in the thrall of some particular ideology, but rather, at least in part, as caught up in a feedback loop with technology that influences our agency, that we exert an influence on, that in turn exerts an influence on us, and so on. I think this transfer of (power? agency? control?) is important to think through as we become more and more dependent on networks and networked technologies.

Aristotle’s Rhetoric in this sense (in terms of Stiegler) can be read as an initial technologizing of the “art” of rhetoric and thus of speech itself. His taxonomic approach to the types of persuasion, proofs, examples, enthymemes, audience members, emotions, etc. (“there are five different types of …”) is a systematization of the “art”, thus really creating a technology that anyone can pick up and use to effect. He does give lip service to style, sure, but even this is systematized — e.g., certain types of meter are okay to use, but other types are too poetic; certain types of words are okay in certain cases, etc. So from the very beginning, rhetoric is set forth as a technology for developing effective, persuasive oration, and mankind therefore externalized one more piece of knowledge — beginning with writing/memory and then to rhetoric/speech — again creating a feedback loop in which we turn to rhetoric to develop a speech, which dictates how we begin, which turns us back to the technology, which dictates how we proceed, and on and on.


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