Archive for the MM Category

fistful of zizek

Posted in Cost, Deleuze, Foucault, Galloway, MM, Nealon, resistance, theory, Zizek on April 13, 2008 by untimelymediations

I think Žižek presents the most compelling argument thus far for how resistance might be practiced under the regimes of protocol, the control society, and biopower. While Žižek doesn’t offer this theory in terms Galloway, Deleuze, or Foucault and Nealon employ, I think the relationship between Žižek’s work and that of the other theorists I’ve mentioned is fairly clear.

Žižek argues that subversion must take the form of the “empty gesture,” the gesture that is offered only in the expectation that it will be refused. For Žižek, subverting the fantasy of the false choice becomes a real act of subversion and resistance. As he writes, “the truly subversive thing is not to disregard the explicit letter of the Law on behalf of the underlying fantasies, but to stick to this letter against the fantasy which sustains it” (29). That is, to resist means not to avoid the (illusion) of choice in the empty gesture, but to take it at face value; not to deny choice (or argue that it is being denied) but to revel in choice, to exploit the opportunity (falsely) offered as a genuine moment of agency and autonomy. “In other words,” writes Žižek, “the act of taking the empty gesture (the offer to be rejected) literally—to treat the forced choice as a true choice—is, perhaps, one of the ways to put into practice what Lacan calls ‘traversing the fantasy’: in accomplishing this act, the subject suspends the phantasmic frame of unwritten rules which tell him how to choose freely—no wonder the consequences of this act are so catastrophic”. The fantasy of the empty gesture is not the fantasy of having one’s way—if only I could accept the offer!—but rather that of the offer qua offer: it is understood, expected that the offer will be rejected—because that is what one does. One does not say “yes” to the empty gesture without, as Žižek demonstrates, provoking catastrophe.

I think this is a promising mode of resistance. In some ways, it echoes the work done by groups like the Yes Men. The name here is intriguing: rather than resisting through negation (“No!”), the Yes Men have used satire and irony to show up the hypocrisy of governments and NGOs alike. However, their actions are not done through protesting as such, but through infiltrating these bodies and using their own logic against them. In the link above, for example, a Yes Men operative proposes to the WTO that private ownership of labor—i.e., slavery—would benefit African nations in the same way that private ownership and industrialization has already benefited them. Plainly, the plan is abhorrent, but what is abhorrent about it is not the implication of slavery qua slavery, but that the promotion of slavery is made according to the rules of free-market capitalism; the argument of an enslaved workforce is derived from the same logic that urges private investment in African industry and resources. In Žižek’s terms, the Yes Men are “sticking to the letter” of the Law, but the Law in this case is flawed; the forced choice here—privatization of all parts of production, including labor—is made under the empty gesture that no body or organization would accept this choice because it is (ostensibly) so plainly a violation of human/humane ethics and international standards.

What complicates this as a form of resistance, to my eyes, is that it requires an audience or observer who is capable of recognizing the logic of the satire and irony. That is, it demands an audience who is engaged enough with the issues at hand and the modes of resistance being deployed to see these acts as resistance and not simply just a “prank” or, worse yet, as a viable proposal for resolving economic crises in sub-Saharan Africa. I’m not saying that people are dumb, though I have serious questions about whether such acts could work on a large enough scale to be politically productive when many people might not recognize them as being political acts of resistance. Rather, I am more concerned about the second consequence, that tactics like those of the Yes Men will be taken at face value and that, for example, privatized labor will be enacted by overeager capitalism. In this case, Žižek’s qualms about the ethics of such forms of resistance are of utmost importance. The question that needs to be asked, then, is not just one of how to resist power and capital, but rather how can we use the empty gesture effectively—without allowing for the empty gesture to be taken at face value in ways that would be counterproductive to progressive causes?

On one hand, it is tempting to say that no organization, body, or company would be so daft as to accept such a proposal as privatized labor. But . . . it is not a contention I have much faith in. I think it is far more likely that without making plain the emptiness of such empty gestures such proposals as privatized labor could become a reality. What, then, is the cost of such an outcome? If it ultimately leads to greater outcry, resistance, and protest to such practices, can we accept a few thousand (or million) people being enslaved? Or is the cost in human dignity too great?

porn, property, punditry

Posted in Galloway, html, hypertext, MM, signification, Tech, theory on April 7, 2008 by untimelymediations

Does anyone else have a hard time reading protocological without misreading it as proctological?  I know some people think we academics have our heads up our asses, but that’s not quite the same thing.

 

Moving on.

 

I’d like to trouble some of Galloway’s claims about DNS.  Galloway argues that DNS is “the most heroic of human projects; it is the actual construction of a single, exhaustive index for all things.  It is the encyclopedia of mankind, a map that has a one-to-one relationship with its territory” (50).    DNS, Galloway claims, compels order in place of arbitrariness:  “DNS is like many other protocols in that, in its mad dash toward universality, it produces sameness or consistency where originally there existed arbitrariness”.

 

In fact, DNS does the opposite, I think: it encourages the proliferation of meaning and the destabilization of signification through its use of top-level domains (see p. 49).  A single signifier can be used across different top-level domains, thus severing the (already tenuous link) between the signifier and signified.  Consider, for example, the signifier “White House.”  As a domain name, it connects to at least three differing sites depending with which top-level domain it is associated:

 

  • www.whitehouse.com: infamously, this site was once a pornographic website, but it has since served both a forum for political discussion and as the online presence of a real estate developer’s firm.
  • www.whitehouse.org: this site parodies the current presidential administration and its policies.
  • www.whitehouse.gov: this is the official website of the office of the United States presidency and the executive agencies it oversees.

 

Thus, where “White House” might be an otherwise moderately stable signifier, its incorporation into DNS destabilizes its meaning and proliferates signification across domains.  Indexicality is therefore not the measure of DNS but its antithesis; the “sign” represented by a domain name and its corresponding website is sundered into a bewildering multiplicity of signifieds tied to a single signifier.  This is complicated further still in the case of whitehouse.com, whose content has changed over the years as different owners have possessed the domain.  The signified itself—i.e., the website content—becomes an unstable site of unpredictable and indeterminate value.  Will it be punditry, property, or porn today?  Who can say?

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.

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?

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?

king’s lead hat

Posted in Deleuze, MM, Socrates, sophists on February 25, 2008 by untimelymediations

One reason why I’m having trouble making sense of The Logic of Sense has to do with the fact that Deleuze doesn’t seem to be following one argument through this text; rather, each successive chapter seems to build on the logic of the prior chapter in a way that recalls the denotative series that Deleuze writes about in the Fifth Series: “In short, given a proposition which denotes a state of affairs, one may always take its sense as that which another proposition denotes” (29). I’m not sure that recognizing this has helped me make better sense of the text, but I did want to note that I see the structure at work all the same.

That said, I want to devote some energy to trying to make sense of Deleuze by situating him into some of our other readings, in particular, I want to try and see where Deleuze might work as a way to think through Plato’s and Socrates’s relationship to the sophists.

Plainly, Deleuze has some reservations about Platonism, esp. its emphasis on ideal forms and the forms’ relationship to truth; at one point, he offers a critique of “depressive Platonism: the Good is reached only as the object of a reminiscence, uncovered as essentially veiled; the One gives only what it does not have, since it is superior to what it gives, withdrawn into its height” (191). What I find interesting, though, is his response to these misgivings; rather than an outright dismissal of Platonism, Deleuze can be seen to work toward a conflation of Platonic, pre-Soractic, and Stoic philosophy. For Deleuze, this work takes the effect of drawing attention away from the Platonic fixation on height and depth and instead insisting on the transcendental surface; depth becomes of interest primarily “by means of its power to organize surfaces and to envelop itself within surfaces” (124). While it might be easy to dismiss this as a philosophical response to the reality of biological development (in which membranes are formed outside and then folded inside the increasingly complex organism), Deleuze insists on the contiguous relationship between physical and metaphysical surfaces: “And, to the physics of surfaces a metaphysical surface necessarily corresponds. Metaphysical surface (transcendental field) is the name that will be given to the frontier established, on the one hand, between bodies taken together as a whole and inside the limits which envelop them, and on the other, propositions in general” (125). Deleuze flattens to a single surface the Platonic cosmogony of bodies and forms; in Deleuze, bodies are not imperfect realizations of an abstract Idea(l) but are rather the actualizations of their own potential forms as events and singularities.

For me, then, this leaves Deleuze in the space of recuperating Isocrates’s philosophy-rhetoric. Deleuze notes that “the pre-Socratic philosopher does not leave the cave; on the contrary, he thinks that we are not involved enough or sufficiently engulfed therein” (128). In other words, we need to be more involved with the shadows and surfaces that flit before us in the cave; if we are to make them productive and useful for the definition of our own characters, Deleuze seems to suggest, we must ignore the Platonic voice at the mouth of the cave, calling us outward. We must instead recognize our own shadow-surface and make what we can of that.

invention of wha?

Posted in MM, rhetoric, Science, Stengers on February 18, 2008 by untimelymediations

I have not been quiet about my own frustration with Stengers, so I see no need to rehearse those complaints here.  I do cite them, however, as a pre-emptive rationale for the stunning lack of insight in what follows.

The only strategy that made this book work for me (on an admittedly narrow level) was to think of this as an exercise for my planned “Dictionaries” syllabus.  As such, the task was something like this: “Read a text outside your discipline or normal area of research.  Find three words that are pertinent to your discipline and then respond to how they’re used in this text.”  So, at the very least, I might make some pedagogical project out of an otherwise aggressively difficult text.

Here’s at least one of the words, with some superficial commentary appended to it:

“Invention.”  It is hard not to notice Stengers’ interest in invention (the title is a dead clue), so I traced this word with some interest.  For Stengers, invention repeats in multiple levels: as the establishment of truth as a scientific ideal (30), the situating of the scientist as the unassailable speaker of reason  (22), science’s own terms of intelligibility (23), and, later in the text, the invention of experimental apparatuses that make science “work.”

So, what does a rhetorician learn from this?  First: Invention is more than just the words and phrases put to page.  Rather, we can think invention in a broader scope; rather than insisting for the kairotic moment to insist upon the time and need for speech, we might look to Stenger’s work and see that–as science invented its own terms of efficacy–we might do so to for rhetorical action (a lesson also learned from the situationists).  Second: invention is a pedagogical practice; as we invent, so do we also show others the constraints of allowable invention.   And. . .that’s all I’ve got so far.  I’m hoping to return to this post in future after we’ve talked through this text.  It’s kicking my butt.