Invention and Invention Rhetoric

I guess I’ll go with chapter seven.  I choose this particular section of the book for several reasons.  First, I am interested in Stengers’ discussion of the contrast between invention and the rhetoric of invention.  Second, I find Latour’s example to be of particular interest in relationship to the arguments that Stengers proposes, though I feel that this example might actually be counterintuitive.  Finally, it seems that, “The Politics of Networks” explicitly references Deleuze and Guattari, and might provide some fruitful parallels to previous discussions of Sophistry.

Stengers begins this chapter with a rather disinteresting discussion of the difference between theory and experimental statement.  Essentially, she uses this distinction as a means of addressing power in relationship to theory.  Quite simply, as Stengers argues, theory affirms a social power:  “No theory is imposed without social, economic, or political power being in play, somewhere.  But the fact that it is at play is not enough to disqualify the theory” (112).  Furthermore, Stengers provides that differentiating between experimental statement and theory is not really an issue of administering justice, but, instead, contrasting the two provides us the opportunity to consider scientific strategy.  Although I believe that this argument is placed here kind of awkwardly, I feel as though it relates pretty well to that which is suggested in the third section, “The Politics of Networks.”  Most specifically, as previously suggested, the third section invokes questions of motive and strategy, questions that provoke thought of the Sophists.

After differentiating between theory and experimental statement, Stengers introduces the issue of invention rhetoric.  For Stengers, there exists a dramatic contrast between the effects of experimental practice and the “mobilizing” rhetoric that takes hold of these effects.  She suggests that whereas inventions introduce a variety of choices, rhetoric, on the other hand, celebrates reduction (115).  The rhetoric of invention provides that the invention introduced has the power to lead “diversity” back to the same. 

It translates a staging that makes the invented-explained diversity the guarantor of the general reducibility of a phenomenal field to be investigated—a mobilizing staging that identifies both the conquering army and the landscape defined as available to its conquest (115)

Here, Stengers seems to be implying, however implicitly, that this form of rhetoric is a disadvantageous seduction.  In fact, she discusses laughter as a means of resisting this rhetoric.  The question, of course, becomes: Why must one resist this rhetoric?  It seems that other portions of this chapter, namely, the section entitled “The Patron’s Job” address this more completely, though in a similarly frustrating manner.  At this point, though, it seems safe to say that Stengers believes invention rhetoric to be dangerous.  She speaks of the competition between local and global domination, and the quelling of rebel scientist factions, though in friendlier terms (118).

Next, Stengers introduces an example seemingly in an attempt to illustrate some of the points that she addresses previously.  The example she draws upon is Bruno Latour’s work concerning the life of the “patron.”  The patron is a director of a laboratory that has just discovered a hormone secreted by the brain.  The director/patron is essentially responsible for promoting the discovery in order to obtain funding.  Here, Stengers addresses the means by which the industry limits scientific research.  She suggests that the industry could impose limitations if this ominous entity found out about the research (119).  In addition, Stengers uses this section as a means of addressing the ways in which research and the rhetoric of invention impacts society through the addition of university courses, the proliferation of magazine and journal articles, etc.  Third, in a similar vein, Stengers suggests that the patron has to make the world interested in the research: “The patron is constrained to be interested in the world, to transform it so that this world will make his molecule exist” (120). The continual overtone is that while doing this, that which has been evaluated is degraded or transformed, embellished, etc.   Quite simply, as Stengers surmises, science becomes propaganda. 

Finally, in the third section, “the Politics of Networks” Stengers makes some interesting notes concerning power.  For Stengers, the question of rhetoric and invention, and the relationship of invention and rhetoric to the rest of society comes down to Power (note the capital “P”) 

Power, when it grows a capital letter, transforms the rhizome into a tree: each branch is “explained” by its relation to another branch, one closer to the trunk, and indeed to the roots, that is, to the site—occupied by a “logic” if not by actors—from which all the rest can be denounced as puppets, acted on beyond their intentions and their plans (123)

Evidently, as mentioned previously, this passage references Deleuze and Guattari quite specifically.  Here, the rhizome, and discussion of the tree as power system, is provided as a reference to A Thousand Plateaus.  Though this is not noted explicitly (at least I am not seeing any citation), Stengers references both authors earlier in this chapter.  In any event, Stengers seems to be suggesting the means by which the current system of invention, rhetoric included, allows for the marginalization of certain sects.  Referencing an earlier portion of this chapter, this would be where the global dominates the local, or where the scientist’s ability to resist injunctions or pressures is disabled.  By invoking the work of Deleuze and Guattari is Stengers calling for a multiplicity of invention? 

Puppet strings, as rhizome or multiplicity, are tied not to the supposed will of an artist or puppeteer but to a multiplicity of nerve fibers, which form another puppet in other dimensions connected to the first…There are no points or positions in a rhizome, such as those found in a structure, tree, or root.  There are only lines (A Thousand Plateaus 8 )

Perhaps, though, as it seems that she may be suggesting in other parts, Stengers is calling for more of a community in relationship to the revelation and processing of invention.  Here, it seems important to return to Deleuze and Guattari as they discuss the rhizome and the relationship of the speaker to the listener:

A rhizome ceaselessly establishes connections between semiotic chains, organizations of power, and circumstances relative to the arts, sciences (my emphasis), and social struggles…There is no ideal speaker-listener, any more than there is a homogenous linguistic community (A Thousand Plateaus 7)

Perhaps, a community would resolve the power conflicts inherent to science, invention, and invention rhetoric. 

Though this is of interest, I find that this section also provides fruitful grounds for consideration of the Sophists.  It seems to me, at least, that the rhetoric of invention, though Stengers seems to criticize it, could present parallels to our discussion of selfish-selflessness (I hope I got that right.  I always get the two confused.  In any event, you know what I mean to say).  If we can understand the Sophists, in some respects, to be achieving beneficial aims by what might appear to be selfish tactics, then perhaps invention rhetoric is similar.  Though this form of rhetoric may appear to be selfishly motivated, it garners the scientists the ability to fund the research, to maintain salaries, and to further study that might otherwise be disregarded.  Who cares if the scientist embellishes the discovery, if it is only in an effort to further benefit research and community welfare?  Though Stengers seems to be opposed to this form of rhetoric, she has to admit that many scientists act in the greater good; that they are hoping to find a cure, solution, etc.  Following in line with Pruchnic’s discussion of AIDs phones or Extreme Home Make over, how then, should this be shunned?  Is not this the most advantageous means of turning “industry” or “capitalism” on its head?  Is not this the preferred rhetorical strategy, despite the inherent “deceipt”?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: