Archive for the pedagogy Category

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?
Advertisements

What happens when I get writer’s block:

Posted in Berlin, Derrida, Foucault, paideia, pedagogy, social-epistemic, White Mythology on February 11, 2008 by untimelymediations

An odd week’s readings these.  Foucault’s work on parrhesia seems to have some obvious ties to earlier things we’ve read, especially Detienne’s history of aletheia and the masters of truth, and to the various critiques of sophistry that condemn them for an apparent equivocation that denies truth.  In this emphasis on truth, then, Derrida’s work makes a certain amount of sense, if we understand his question in “White Mythology” to be one that interrogates metaphor’s relationship to truth: does it represent “true” meaning or displaced meaning?  What is its relationship to metaphysical truth?  How is any metaphysics dependent on  the slippage between “metaphorical” meaning and “true” meaning (what I understand Derrida to imply by “the metaphor of metaphor”)?

 

These are all good questions, but I’m not sure I want to take them up today.  I want instead to raise some questions about how parrhesia and the parrhesiastes might work or fail to work in contemporary discourse.

 

It seems plain that any parrhesia we might recognize would, like parrhesia’s use in Orestes, be a somewhat tempered one.  This use of parrhesia, Foucault argues, is tempered by the demands of qualification, of personal worth:

There is a discrepancy between an egalitarian system which enables everyone to use parrhesia, and the necessity of choosing among the citizenry those who are able (because of their social or personal qualities) to use parrhesia in such a way that it truly [Is this a Foucaultian pun?—MM] benefits the city.  (72)

 

In the early polis, as Foucault demonstrates, all citizens were assumed to possess the qualities necessary to serve as parrhesiastes.  Foucault’s earlier summary of parrhesia implies no sense of qualification or certification necessary to speak the truth; rather, “the speaker uses his freedom and chooses frankness instead of persuasion, truth instead of falsehood or silence, the risk of death instead of life and security, criticism instead of flattery, and moral duty instead of self-interest and moral apathy” (20).  But by the time of Orestes, during an era of political turmoil in Athens, parrhesia has become a more rarified skill:

The parrhesiastes’ relation to truth can no longer simply be established by pure frankness or sheer courage, for the relation now requires education or, more generally, some sort of personal training.  But the precise sort of personal training or education needed is also an issue (and is contemporaneous with the problem of sophistry).  (73)

 

So: some questions.

 

1) What is the role of the parrhesiates today?  While Foucault goes to some effort to suggest that parrhesia is most typically a technology of the subject in its post-Platonic guise, I wonder if there is a role for a public parrhesiastes today.  This question is, in part, occasioned by watching far too much primary-election coverage lately.  Much has been made of several candidates use of the “outsider” trope to win voter identification: Obama, Romney, Huckabee, Edwards, and even McCain (in his “maverick” mode) have sought to convince voters that they can stand apart from typical Washington politics and get things done.  On one hand, it’s easy to dismiss this as political pandering and an empty rhetorical gesture.  I wonder, though, if this is the only public role the parrhesiastes serves today—a rhetorical trope, the “outsider” politician.  Or, rather, would we have to look slightly outside the realm of professional politics (and in that I include the pundits and analysts) and look to someone like Cindy Sheehan, or even the “Don’t Tase me, bro!” guy?  Someone who is disinvested from the process but wants those involved to do the right thing?

 2) What is our role as educators in crafting parrhesiastes?  Last week, I tried to draw some comparisons between Isocrates’s notion of paideia and James Berlin’s social-epistemic rhetoric.  While both of these would seem to be valuable here—Isocrates for his insistence on civic participation, Berlin for offering a way to understand truth is established through language use—neither quite seems to offer the model of parrhesiastes described by Foucault: Isocrates (whether her admits it or not) is still devoted to the use of rhetoric (which Foucault says is not true of the parrhesiastes), while Berlin offers s-e rhetoric as an inventive and analytic tool without insisting on involvement in practical politics.  So, what models are open to us if we want to see ourselves as helping craft the next generation of truth-sayers?Still the creepiest Derrida I’ve found:

 And, not technically a picture of Foucault, but the creepiest image that came up when I image-searched him on Google: