Archive for March, 2008

Nealon at the Alter of the Foucaultian Legacy

Posted in Deleuze, DR, Marx, Nealon on March 31, 2008 by untimelymediations

I must admit, that initially I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from Nealon’s text. Though I am slightly familiar with Nealon’s reputation, and I have faith in Pruchnic’s reading selections, I was concerned that Nealon might, quite simply, fail to go “beyond Foucault.” I think this was a reasonable assumption, on my behalf, considering the rather devastating use of Foucault in contemporary “scholarly contexts,” and the rather ambitious theoretical plan of work that Nealon sets forth in his introduction. Fortunately, my fears were soon assuaged, for Nealon, himself, criticizes the very texts that I initially feared he might emulate.

First, concerning the content, the repertoire of examples from which Nealon draws is quite provocative. In many ways, I find that the title is indicative of another move that Nealon prompts. Although Nealon is successful in his attempt to bring Foucault into more contemporary contexts, where vastly different situations have emerged since the time of his death, I feel that Nealon’s method of discourse encourages another significant move or shift. In the course of his work, Nealon takes Foucault beyond what might be considered the limiting confines of the academic or scholarly spheres. It seems that the examples Nealon draws on are more accessible than those invoked by others. It is this very Chuck Klosterman – esque, pop cultural awareness that becomes so entirely provocative in the course of Nealon’s work. Here, if one is to assume that this method of discourse is intentional, it is interesting to consider what the import of such a method might be? Or, perhaps, what is the inherent “cost” of speaking in this manner; of addressing such an important issue in this capacity? These questions stem from my understanding of a very purposeful decision on Nealon’s behalf. To go beyond Foucault, means not only to go beyond the limitations imposed by death, but to go beyond the very method of discussing Foucault that is so entirely prevalent in current academic discourse. This entails not only a different understanding of Foucault, but a different means of discussing that very understanding. And, it seems that here I might insist that this is the very means by which Nealon goes beyond simply revising a tradition of short sighted discourse.

On another note, it seems that Nealon’s recovery of Foucault, is driven by the same word-centered progression that Deleuze and Guattari pursue in A Thousand Plateaus. Here, I take the same interpretative strategy that I use to approach Barthes, Deleuze, and Guattari. I introduce this interpretative method in an attempt to outline an effective means of approaching the major issues that Nealon addresses.

As a point of departure, I begin with the terms “intensity” and “subjectivity.” For Nealon, much of Foucault’s significance in contemporary contexts stems from his theories on intensity. This is the term that links his middle career to his later work; the concept that allows Nealon to bridge the theoretical gap that many academics continue to reinstate. Instead of relegating Foucault’s theoretical dispositions to some rather inadequate model of linearity, Nealon’s argument evidences the importance of a more Deleuzian conception of progression. Instead of (mis)understanding Foucault’s theories of the varying systems or regimes of power as being segmented, separable, or defined by temporal limitations, Nealon argues the importance of a more integrated understanding. The power shift from the body to the soul, and from the soul to the action (tortured -> reformed -> docile bodies), must be understood, as Nealon suggests, in terms of overlap or bleeding. This, of course, is a matter of the increasing intensity of power (32). And, it seems reasonable to assert that Nealon takes this emphasis on intensity one step further. For Nealon, not only is it fruitful to consider intensity in Foucault’s work, but it seems important to consider history as a whole in terms of intensities. History, in Nealon’s terms, can only be read as slow accumulations as opposed to the predominant discourse of radical shifts (38-39). This is an issue of thresholds, phase transitions, or tipping points:

With the rise of governmentality in the historical linkage between discipline and biopower, Foucaultian “intensification” becomes both the useful tool and the desired end of power relations (53)

Second, the other term that seems of extreme pertinence to Nealon’s discussion is subjectivity or the subjective. Nealon spends a good portion of his text refuting the more general assumption that Foucault is focusing on subjectivity as a means of liberation in his later work. Here, Nealon is quick to suggest that not only is this not really what Foucault is addressing, but that, the subjective is really the worst way to approach the questions that Foucault introduces or propels. For Nealon, Massumi and others that approach affective subjective experience, fail to consider that this is really the least effective or productive way of approaching the question of intensity; they fail to consider the implications of such an individualized perspective. As Nealon outlines earlier in his text, Foucault’s theories are predicated on more complicated relationships; relationships which negate theories of individual significance.

Take for example, Nealon’s emphasis on the power that is incurred by dispersement. Power, as is associated with the individual sovereign is quite weak, whereas that which is more dispersed or more ubiquitious becomes more powerful. Dispersement, then, is an intensifying process.

Or, one should consider Nealon’s emphasis on the premise that punishment rarely targets the individual. Instead, punishment operates in direct relationship to the virtual field surrounding the individual (36). Punishment, in effect, is only effectual when it moves beyond the individual. Although the individual might be considered a starting point, there must be something more.

Here, I return to Foucault’s insistence on “channels” for further clarification. It is not the individual institution that is most powerful, but the channels that guide us as “living” bodies (Discipline and Punish). Most specifically, as Nealon argues, Biopower is applied not to man as body, but man as living being (45).

Finally, I really enjoy Nealon’s suggestion that some theoretical alignment exists between Foucault and Marx. Here, though this argument is present throughout much of the first half of the book I reference Nealon’s discussion of wealth, commodity, and profit. Again, it is Nealon’s very ability to draw on contemporary examples that benefits his argument. Here, Nealon notes that it is no longer a shift from wealth to commodity to profit, but rather a more direct relationship between wealth and profit. The fourth and most intense wave is that of finance. The problem is no longer that we are all made into consumers, but that we are all made into producers (67).

For now, that is enough. Rest assured, I will be returning to Nealon soon.

I leave you with a complimentary picture of Foucault…who says I can’t compete in this picture game?

foucault is a pimp
Myspace Glitter Graphics

win, truth, or draw

Posted in Foucault, MM, Nealon, Parrhesia, truth on March 31, 2008 by untimelymediations

Since Plato and the sophists, as we’ve seen, one question that has been problematic either in terms of rhetorical practice or within social bodies as a whole is the nature of truth.  Plato (via Socrates) argued for an absolute truth immanent to material bodies, while (some have argued) the sophists taught that truth was contingent, situated, and subjective—this, as we’ve seen, has been the party line of such texts as the Dissoi Logoi which is either a) a training text for arguing both sides of a given argument, or b) a tract on the unstable and unknowable nature of “truth.”  In Foucault’s own Fearless Speech, we’ve seen how to speak truth—to power, to friends, to one’s self, and the risks that come from acts of parrhesia; these practices stand in contrast to Detienne’s Masters of Truth, the kings, poets, and prophets who presumably spoke with the revealed truths of the gods.

 

In Nealon’s reading of Foucault, however, we are offered another form of truth-practice.  For Nealon, Foucault’s work destabilizes the category of truth as the ground or foundation of interaction between subjects or subjects and power; rather, truth is the product of “a hazardous and discontinuous series of practices, a series of interactions with something or someone else” (20).  It is not that “truth” disappears from these exchanges, Nealon notes, but that “‘saying the truth’ is only possible (or not) as the outcome of a process, rather as the subtending ground of that process”.  In Nealon’s use, these exchanges, interactions, and encounters become a high-stakes gamble where the prize is the right to speak “truth:” “speaking the truth is the stake and outcome of a series of practices and statements, rather than the secret to be revealed (or not) by them”.

 

On one hand, Nealon’s description here of truth seemingly echoes the lessons of social constructionism: what counts as real and valid is contested and struggled for through a variety of discursive practices.  However, I think Nealon’s/Foucault’s picture is richer in that it seems to work on both the macro and micro levels, while I often feel that there’s some impersonal power called Discourse  imposing norms and reality/ies on us in other constructionist theories.  Here, though, truth or reality or whatever you wish to call it becomes not what we’re subject to and by, but rather the very term/s by which we enact agency.  It is not that we are assigned subject positions by Discourse  but that we win (or lose) our agency and subjectivity by how we fare in the truth-contests we engage in with other subjects and with power.

 This does not preclude the chance, however, that the game is rigged or that, nor that these interactions are any less fraught with competing claims for truth simply because we recognize the contest.  But how to change the game or makes these interactions less anxious is beyond me.  At least in this post.

Australopithecus Afarens-who?

Posted in 746, DR, stiegler on March 24, 2008 by untimelymediations

Well, for your reading pleasure (possibly plezure?), I post a second time this week.  Unfortunately, I haven’t quite finished the text.  Despite this impediment, I am quite satisfied with the progress that has been made thus far. 

First, it seems necessary to consider the rather insightful comment I received in relationship to my first post this week (Thanks Jeff for the clarification).  I guess, in many ways, I was a little misguided concerning Stiegler’s conception of control and the issue of control as it relates to technocracy and invention.  Perhaps, I still am.  Considering that I initially missed the mark, I post again, in part, to revise certain grievous errors.  If technocracy, or the power of the state in relationship to technical systems, is enforced or bolstered by means of invention, as is diametrically opposed to the model as I original understood it, this raises several concerns.  First, I still question whether technocracy is a force that one must work against.  If invention is to be applauded, as I suppose it is in certain contexts, does this not suggest that the technocracy, as it is fueled by invention or spontaneity, must also be supported?  Second, if the technocracy is problematic, what is the most effective means of combating such a system?  Is there a means of responding to this issue, if it is considered as such?  Though, I must mention in brief, that this becomes even more complicated in light of the third issue I address.  I guess, the problem that I run into is in many ways the same problem that one experiences concerning capitalism.  Quite simply, there seems to be very little means of deviating effectively.  Though, I must admit, this seems quite a different scenario, I still can not help considering it in regard to Jeff’s use of Foucault and Deleuze as an explanatory system.  Perhaps, as Jeff has suggested before, the best way of considering this entire scenario, is similar to the way that one might best consider Capitalism.  If it is ineffective to respond typically, then why not consider using such a system for its inherent benefits.  Again, as we discussed in relationship to the Sophists, we might draw on something similar to a certain selfishness to forward selfless agendas.  I’m not quite sure how this would pan out in relationship to invention and the technocracy.

Second, I turn to a latter portion of the text in order to propose some possible parallels to Leroi-Gourhan.  I think a point of similarity between the two, even though I haven’t yet read Gourhan, is the issue of exteriorization.  From what I understood of the discussion last week, Gourhan proposes that in many ways our evolution has halted, or has slowed down.  In effect, we have exteriorized our very human capacity for development or progress.  We exteriorize it in the form of the technical progress that we have made.  This holds especially true in relationship to human memory (and, as is perhaps suggested later, the memory of the animal as well).  In the section entitled “Skeleton, Equipment, and the Brain,” it seems that both Gourhan and Stiegler’s texts converge on this matter.  Stiegler is quick to reference a similar dependence on the exteriorized body; the technical extension of the body:

With the advent of exteriorization, the body of the living individual is no longer a body: it can only function with its tools.  An understanding of the archaic anthropological system will only become possible with the simultaneous examination of the skeleton, the central nervous system, and equipment (148)

Directly aftertwards, Stiegler suggests that this set of hypotheses retraces the possibility of passage between three stages of archaic humanity.  Both the argument and the framework of the argument are provocative revisions.  Stiegler effectively provides a revision of the very history of the body.  In his consideration of the anthropology of human development, Stiegler inserts the technical system.  He places the human on a type of continuum where the technical becomes extremely relevant, in effect, proposing a revision of human developmental understanding.  As is noted in the following, the technical is intimately connected to the very biology of the human, and thus, is necessary to a newly invisioned anthropology; a techno-logy

As Stiegler’s argument continues, it takes on new significance.  Although earlier I stated that Stiegler references a certain dependence on the exteriorized body, it seems that the term dependence needs to be considered more carefully.  What Stiegler is proposing is an infinite dependence on the technical, specifically “technical consciousness,” as a means of overcoming the very limitations of the biological.  Basically, Stiegler equates “technical consciousness” with anticipation.  It is anticipation which is the deciding factor in human evolution: “Anticipation means the realization of a possibility that is not determined by a biological program” (151).  Yet, despite the technical as a means of development, Stiegler still maintains that the technical must be considered under a zoological framework, for the technical is still determined by, “the neurophysiological chracteristics of the individual.”

Third, this brings us to Stiegler’s argument, as he references Leroi-Gourhan, against the common theoretical disposition to provide a means of differentiating between man and animal.  Perhaps, in a way, this brings us back to the numerous distinctions that we discussed previously this semester, such as the theory that our ability to decide whether we are man or animal is the very means of differentiating humans from animals.  In what appears to be another congruency between the two texts, Stiegler suggests that the dynamism of technical objects is collapsed onto the cortex.  Thus, the distinction between man and animal becomes a little more grey (grey matter that is).  Yet, at the same time, this seems kind of contradictory.  What does it mean to develop outside of the limitations of the biological, if these developments, in the form of the technical, are still intimately tied to certain biological capacities, such as consciousness as defined by the cortext?

All together, the techno-logical, as opposed to the anthropological, is concerned with what unites humans and the technical systems that they are surrounded with.  Though I don’t claim to have a very good understanding of Heidegger, the issue of the “supreme danger” of technology comes to mind.  For Heidegger, the danger that exists in relationship to the technical is not the technical itself, but the means by which the human interacts with the technical.  The greatest danger for Heidegger is that technology becoms determinant of truth, as opposed to humans becoming cognizant of concealed truth.  If I understand this correctly, it seems that Stiegler and Heidegger are divergent on this point.  For Stiegler it seems that the technical frees us from the bounds of the biological, whereas for Heidegger it seems that the technical imprisons the body as a resource; as a form of human stockpile (Matrix what?).

For now, though, I can’t wait until we have the technological capability of inseminating robots.  I can only imagine the sexual positions that will have to be added to the lexicon.  This would be an opportune time to reconsider Stiegler’s text.  Perhaps, though, something similar is already happening with artificial insemination.

Time Management

Posted in Deleuze, Exteriorization, Foucault, Hardt, KL, Leroi-Gourhan, Memory, stiegler, Tech on March 24, 2008 by untimelymediations

I want to start off this post with a couple small comments on my post from last week.  Yes, I’m using some of my space here, not because I felt a bit narcissistic leaving a comment for myself, but for the obvious intersections of the two texts. Stiegler states that, “Leroi-Gourhan shows how all the elements quite anciently come into play for the emergence of a general system of a certain function that remains unique: the human, that is, technology ‘exuded’ by the skeleton” (145).   Is Stiegler saying that humans are the only species to exude the body through technology?  Short answer: yes.  Long answer: Gesture and Speech.  Anyway, I particularly enjoy imagery of the latter part of that sentence, and I wanted to quote it.  “Exuding” is a fascinating term, one that I’ve never actually used in my academic writing, but that I now find rather important to my larger project.

Another point Stiegler makes is that, “With the advent of exteriorization, the body of the living individual is no longer only a body; it can only function with its tools” (148, emphases mine). My personal project on externalized memory relies on this argument exactly, precisely because our personal memory is now a tool.  Recollection, then, only becomes possible by returning to externalized places; a brain is not just a brain, but rather functions only by relying upon these tools.   Here again, we are exuding the skeleton.

Now, onto this week’s post.  I attended the Michael Hardt seminar this afternoon, during which one of the participants mentioned the increased speed at which our economy functions.  We then had a discussion on immaterial labor’s inability to be contained within work time—that creativity cannot be forced, that it just ‘comes’ to someone (as an example, Hardt referred to the Google and Microsoft’s campuses).  However, I am concerned that there is an economical contradiction—if the speed at which one produces immaterial labor (ideas, creativity) is central to the production of capital, how are, say, the Google and Microsoft campuses effective?  Even if one never leaves one of these places, the individual who is constantly ‘at work’ (physically at their place of employment) does not become faster at producing ideas—they are simply more available.

I then began to think how this idea of work time/non-work time and speed/efficiency could be connected to Stiegler.  Hardt quickly recapped some Deleuze and Foucault by stating that they note a shift from a disciplinary society (Foucault) into a control society (Deleuze).  For Foucault, this disciplinary society is more of an archipelago – one is jumping from one sense of discipline to another.  When leaves one island, one is no longer under its disciplinary powers, but is now disciplined by the new island.  That being said, one never escapes any disciplinary powers, since they are simply replaced by another form of discipline.  Therefore, I believe Jeff answered my earlier questioning of the efficaciousness of work campuses by stating the following:

Rather, “control” here names a purely instrumental or “conceptual” (rather than particular or practical) force that forms the conditions of possibility for systematic integration of moments of spontaneity or difference; i.e., the “control” of “technosociety” is not a series of structures that rigidly dictate what may take place, but rather a force field that actively and flexibly responds to these outbreaks in a way that continues the maintenance (and evolution) of the present system. Thus, in a sense then, the system “itself” is premised on spontaneity and invention as its driving force, rather than being “vulnerable” to such instances as acts or forces of resistance.

The campuses work because they are created for spontaneity.  If one doesn’t physically ever leave work – which presumably one never has to on those campuses – then these companies are responding perfectly to the resistance of individuals who wish to separate immaterial labor’s work-time from their non-work time.  Speed, here, is not the issue, but rather the availability for spontaneity becomes the motive.  (And I guess I really didn’t talk about Stiegler all that much, but I couldn’t help but make connections to this afternoon’s seminar.)

technic: all writing

Posted in MM, pedagogy, sophists, stiegler, Tech, theory on March 24, 2008 by untimelymediations

I’m troubled by a distinction that Steigler makes between technology and technoscience, and I can’t figure out why.  Steigler offers us the following definition of technology:

Technology is therefore the discourse describing and explaining the evolution of specialized procedures and techniques, arts and trades—either the discourse of certain types of procedures and techniques, or that of the totality of techniques inasmuch as they form a system: technology is in this case the discourse of the evolution of that system. (94)

On one hand, I find this definition compelling, as it broadens the definition of technology quite considerably—at the very least, beyond the lazy definition we often settle for, the one that’s come to mean something like “a thing with wires and cables and buttons and crap—maybe with a screen or display of some kind.”  What Steigler’s expanded understanding technology calls attention to is the way all techniques/technics are part of a historical evolution—I’m careful here not to say “progress,” with its implied teleologies—an evolution of which the current digital phase is but the most visible manifestation in our time.

           

Thinking technics in this way open up opportunities, then, to make “technology” (in Steigler’s sense) more rhetorically productive: what are the technics available to us, and how do different technics and technologies yield different rhetorical potentials?  As Rice is fond of pointing out, assumptions that books, print, pencils and chalkboards—among all other non-digital or non-electronic writing tools—are not technological are short-sighted  and ahistorical; Steigler offers a way around this by reincorporating past technics into the discourse of technological evolution.

           

However, on the other hand, Steigler also offers a technoscience “in which technics and science become inseparable, in which rationality is confined to usefulness”.  For Steigler, this represents a conflict of purposes, “an inversion, even a perversion, of the initial epistemological model of philosophy by which theory, the essence of science, is defined by its independence from useful finalities, that is, anthropocentric ones” (my emphasis); thus, in technoscience technics and science collide precisely where they might collude: in furthering human aims.  Rather, Steigler identifies this as an epistemic conflict between two differing ideologies of the purpose of knowledge: technics are about using knowledge, making it materially productive, while science (as Steigler explains) is posited on the notion of knowledge qua knowledge—not applied, concretized, or materialized.

           

Steigler continues from here to ask whether “technology, which for a long time has been synonymous with progress, is no longer necessarily perceived as such, or rather, if it is no longer obvious that progress is tantamount to benefit for the human race” (95).  If the answer is negative—that technology is no longer associated with human progress, a position Steigler gives some weight to—then “technics would be an end unto itself”.

           

I think Steigler leaves this as something of a troubled proposition, and it is one to which I don’t have a reply.  What I would like to do, however, is to point to a couple of questions that Steigler here raises for our work in this study:

  • While it hasn’t been a main focal point of our discussion thus far, I think Steigler points to an epistemic crisis in composition work.  On one hand, while we do conduct research—i.e., we generate knowledge—compositionists do so with an eye on “useful finality:” how to use our research to help improve student writing and our own pedagogy.  If we accept this characterization, however, we implicitly set up a contrast between theory (“the essence of science”) and composition work as technics/technoscience (“an inversion, even a perversion . . . of philosophy”).  So, my question here might be this: Is Steigler’s distinction here useful for describing what composition studies does and what its role is in the university?  What are the stakes—disciplinarily or otherwise—of accepting or rejecting either of these descriptions?  Can composition come to terms with itself as being fundamentally a study of technology in Steigler’s strong sense, and how can our pedagogical aims be developed to fit such a sense of the field?
  • On a less fraught note, and really just to highlight a minor detail, the opposition between means and ends here is one that we seem to have been skirting all semester, but that is now coming into sharper focus.  This distinction might even be key to explaining the anti-Sophistic positions from way back in January.  Socrates’s and Plato’s big complaint about sophistry might be precisely that it is all about ends—and not philosophy’s end of ethical and moral perfection; rather, sophistry taught how to make language and knowledge useful, to serve (again) Steigler’s “useful finalities” in whatever way possible.  On one hand, this does seem to maintain the distinction Steigler describes: sophistry serves materially useful, if anthropocentric, ends, while Platonic philosophy asserts that the value of knowledge is precisely immaterial—that matter, in fact, stands in the way of true knowledge—and that its only end is its own fulfillment.  But doesn’t knowledge always serve someone’s ends?  That is, even if philosophy is knowledge divested from the civic and material realms, it still serves the end of moral perfection—that is, it is still implicated in the technologic sphere.  To what extent can theories of social constructivism point to ways that philosophy is technological—and thus perhaps destabilize the opposition Steigler establishes between techne and science?

An Early Post: Questions, Considerations, Etc.

Posted in stiegler on March 20, 2008 by untimelymediations

Considering that I failed to post on last week’s assigned reading, and the numerous difficulties posed by Stiegler’s text, it seems entirely necessary that I post at least twice this week.  Hence, as a rather early prequal, I will attempt to work through the various issues that Stiegler’s text addresses in relationship to technocracy, technostructure, and technoscience.

For the purposes of this post, I break Stiegler’s argument, as I have interpreted it, into two digestible categories:

First, it seems that from very early on in the text, Stiegler is attempting to address the means by which the economic and social are tied to the technical system.  Although this seems quite a basic point, it begins to extend to the various ways in which the technostructure or the technocracy (presumably, the state system surrounding technical innovation), intervenes on the part of technical development.  This, though, becomes more complicated in consideration of the second point.

Second, and perhaps of more interest, is Stiegler’s recurring attempts to free the technical from the cultural, the ethnic, or the regional.  Here, it seems that Stiegler is both interested and invested in revising theories which attempt to substantiate a  supreme cultural or individual force.  These theories posit that a culture or individual are responsible for technical development or innovation.  The roots of this argument can be found in the preliminary discussion of the logic of invention.  Stiegler posits that when considering technical systems one should approach developments from the perspective of the “logic of invention” as opposed to the “logic of the inventor” (33).  For Stiegler, it is not as though the logic of the inventor is nonexistant.  Rather, he suggests that the forces that provide impetus are much too diffused for a particular locality or person to be considered.  This, of course, leads him to the premise of a universal technoscience; a technoscience which is inextricably bound to the social and economic. 

Though I think there is room for reading this part of the text otherwise, an issue I will discuss further, I find Stiegler’s argument to be quite a provocative revision of predominant mainstream attitudes concerning technical innovation.  It seems, as I reexamine parts of Stiegler’s text that there exists room for critique, contradiction, and, perhaps, misunderstanding.  First, it should be noted, that I do not think Stiegler is really trying to discredit the contributions of various individuals.  Instead, it seems that while he acknowledges certain individual advances, he is attempting to move beyond the limitations of individual or culture centered theory.  Here, Stiegler is addressing the means by which the economic or the social, an element that might generally be overlooked, advances or inhibits development:

Thus, the practice of preserving outlived techniques for economic reasons is commonplace–and only one example of the problem of adequacy between the evolutional tendencies of Technics and economic-political constraints (32)

Here, not only is Stiegler calling the economic, the political, and the social into consideration, he is positing a universal evolutional tendency; he is both suggesting that all are inextricably bound, and considering each movement as one greater relationship of evolution.  Furthermore, by positing that these are inextricably related, he is calling into question the issue of control.  Here, Stiegler posits a universal instead of a culturally or individually specific in order to question issues of technical control quite differently, for it can be seen that the issue of control differs from individual contexts to contexts of more complicated social, economic, and technical relationship. 

At a rhythm of constant innovation, unknown factors are no longer possible; the mvoement must be controlled at the risk of collapsing the global coherence whereby the systems operate complementarily: at stake is the organization of the future, that is, of time (42 – emphasis mine)

Though I believe I understand the global versus the individual, and the call for control, I am still curious as to the reasons that might necessitate the need for control.  First, who would be responsible?  If the system is as convoluted and complicated as Stiegler defines it, then would it not be almost impossible to exert any means of control on a basic individual or state level.  Though one state or technocracy might intervene, wouldn’t this be a rather insignificant measure in consideration of the global schema?  Second, why is control necessary?  Admittedly, I have much more reading and re-reading to to, but I am stil confused concerning the primary issue of time, and the necessity for control.  Though Stiegler’s argument seems to be predicated against spontaneity, as he asserts the influence of various mechanisms, I can not help feeling that an element of spontaneity, which seems a necessity of invention, might still resist control. 

Radial Raheem

Posted in Aristophanes, hypertext, Jaeger, Leroi-Gourhan, MM, paideia, Plato, rhetoric, Tech on March 17, 2008 by untimelymediations

Couldn’t decide what picture to use, so you get both.  First, invertebrate porn:

Starfish porn!

Second, Radial Raheem:

Radial Raheem

Yes, I know it’s “Radio Raheem,” but give a guy break, eh?  Onto the post:

I’m stealing a page from Lacey’s playbook and offering two minicomments rather than a single sustained response. I’m also using the “research fatigue” card since I spent my break getting little sleep and typing up 80 pages of notes and 10 pages of introduction for the M.A. only to find that, in fact, I didn’t really have any idea what I wanted to write about. This isn’t an excuse, per se, so much as a warning for possible incoherence in what follows.

I) Intellectuals vs. Technicians.

We’ve spilled a lot of ink . . . pixels . . .whatever . . . this semester trying to pin down what constitutes “sophistic rhetoric” and how critics have reacted to, adapted, co-opted, condemned, or otherwise responded to its promises of threats (depending, of course, on who we’re reading). Of course, the only we keep coming back to as the source of all this angst is Plato, who condemns sophistry on a number of counts. At times, it’s been easy to demonize Plato for just “not getting it,” and for insisting on an idealized ontology that appears to have little guidance for how to actually conduct one’s self and manage social problems.

However, I think Leroi-Gourhan helps to counteract this urge to demonization. As ALe-G writes, “in all historical periods and in all nations, even when their activities are closely integrated in the religious system, artisans were relegated to the back of the stage” (172). ALe-G argues that this is a typically “human” move, to denigrate those that work at the material level while valorizing those whose social function is dependent on intellectual or knowledge work. “Society’s discrimination in favor if the ‘intellectual’ as against the ‘technician,’ which still persists today,” ALe-G explains, “reflects an anthropoid scale of values on which technical activity comes lower down than language, and working with the most tangible elements of reality lower down than working with symbols”.

Yet much of what we’ve seen and read about sophistic Greece would seem to challenge ALe-G’s comments here. While they seem an apt description of Plato (whose Ideal Forms removed the intellect further still from the body), the notion of Jaeger’s paideia—the shaping of the Greek culture as reflected in the training of the Greek citizen—seems entirely bound up with rhetoric and rhetorical training. Is ALe-G off his chump here? Or does the age of the sophists represent an anomaly? Perhaps the artisan-intellectual shift is more periodic than constant: if we take Aristophanes’s The Clouds to be a reactionary response to sophistry, perhaps we can then see Isocrates’s work as a shift back to rhetoric-friendly times?

II) Radial vs. Linear Thought

I’m intrigued by ALe-G’s comments about the radial trajectory of archaic thought. As ALe-G describes it, “the thinking of pre-alphabetic antiquity was radial, like the body of the sea urchin or the starfish” (211). Radial thought provokes him to cosmological metaphor: “It was a time when the vault of heaven and the earth were joined together within a network of unlimited connections, a golden age of pre-scientific knowledge to which our memory still seems to hark back nostalgically today”.

It’s not difficult to prompt the comparison between the “network of unlimited connection” that ALe-G writes of and the networked Web we know and love today. What might be valuable to think through, though, is the way ALe-G ties the archaic network to “pre-scientific” thought. If scientific thought is thought dependent on the scientific method (as I understand it to be here), then we might point to a certain linear teleology implied in the method: whatever the result, the scientific method is still designed to move from hypothesis to conclusion. Perhaps this also implies a linear mode of expression as well? On the other hand, science also invites reiteration as means of testing one’s conclusions; in this sense, science is less bound to linearity than it is to recursive thought.

I’m not exactly sure I have a point to make here, but I’ve always found the contrast between radial and linear textuality interesting, so I want to make something of this passage but I’m not clear what. Maybe there’s something to be said for the body as a cue for material, radial textuality; ALe-G seems to be suggesting that as intellectual came to be more and more divested from material experience, writing, contemporaneously, became more and more linear. So what might a bodily-derived writing experience be like had it evolved without science’s linearizing influence? Might we point to something like Rotman’s gesturo-haptic writing?