Archive for the Stengers Category

Posted in Foucault, KL, Parrhesia, sophists, Stengers, truth, Zizek on April 15, 2008 by untimelymediations

“Because of its absolute immanence to the symbolic, the Real cannot be positively signified; it can only be shown, in a negative gesture, as the inherent failure of symbolization: ‘if what we are talking about are the limits of a signifying system, it is clear that those limits cannot themselves be signified, but have to show themselves as the interruption or breakdown of the process of signification. […] the real as impossible can be shown (rendered) only as the failure of the process which, precisely, aims at signifying it…” (217).

So, this is where we end up this semester—that the Real is actually not really real.  I guess we were bound to get here, and it seems like the perfect circle back to the Sophists. At a basic level, Sophists are tricksters—they can fool their paying audiences into believing that something that is neither Real nor real. Even though Zizek never makes the connection to Sophistry, (probably because he doesn’t have the balls to…) we do see him make the turn to ethics, rather than the truth.  (Question: is Real the same as truth?)  If Zizek says that the Real can only be shown negatively (within, for example, physical, representational after-effects of loss), then is the ethical the positive gesture (the immediate experience)?

Zizek is concerned with representational effects: what happens to me can be caused by something not actually there, but I can actually feel its a/effects here.  I would go to Zizek’s example of online pornography and orgasm, but since I talk about that in my paper, I’d like to talk about belief instead.  When he defines belief as “the shadowy domain between outright falsity and positive truth,” I immediately think of Stengers’ distinction between “cause and reason” (108, 45).  As a researcher, I find myself wanting to know cause and reason, as well as the truth and the false.  But according to Zizek, if truth and reason occur in a delayed realization, then is the opposite of the Foucaudian notion of parrhesiates in which the truth/Real lies in the immediacy of the telling.

Okay, so I realize that I am making interchanging the words truth and Real, and I’m not sure if that’s the right move to make.  Zizek distinguishes between “objective reality” and “subjective reality” in the following:

The true point of idealism is not the solipsistic one (‘there is not objective reality, merely our subjective representations of it’); idealism claims, on the contrary that the In-itself of ‘objective reality’ is definitely to be distinguished from mere subjective representations – its point is only that it is the synthetic act of the transcendental subject which transforms the multitude of representations into ‘objective reality.’ In short, idealism’s point is not there is no In-itself, but that the ‘objective’ In-itself, in its very opposition to subjective representations, is posited by the subject” (215).

I’m not sure that the above passage explains this distinction, but maybe it helps to think about the divide between the two types of reality if we’re looking to define the Real and truth.  What I think Zizek is saying is that ‘objective reality’ is more (R?)real—its experience is in itself, and that’s where the truth lies.  (This could be where we could employ Foucault’s parrhesiates since the truth lies in the telling, In-itself.)  Comparatively, ‘subjectively reality’ might be the telling that happens after an event—one’s vain survival so that s/he can “tell” her/his story.  The subjective reality of this last situation R/real, but is instead a subjective truth (?).

Hmph.  The more I try to differentiate between truth and real, the more confused I become.  Maybe there isn’t much difference between them.  Or, maybe I’m missing it completely.  Anyway, I would like to talk about how, or if, the truth and R/real are different.

Invention and Invention Rhetoric

Posted in Deleuze, DR, Invention Rhetoric, sophists, Stengers on February 19, 2008 by untimelymediations

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”?

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.

Invention of Invention

Posted in Ambiguity, KL, Science, sophists, Stengers, Why/how on February 18, 2008 by untimelymediations

(Side note: I agree with Mike’s concern last week about feeling like I need a bit more background for this text.  I had a difficult time grounding it in any sense.  Maybe it’s just me – and I’m not trying to make excuses for my superficial post – but I just feel like I’m scratching the surface with Stengers, and I’m missing something really important.  Are there some specific texts that overview Science and Rhetoric?  I would be interested to read something that would help me ‘get’ this.)

This week’s reading was a bit complicated and confusing for me, so I had to read it through the lens of my favorite, confusing-as-hell addiction: Lost.  Like fans of any given television show, I obsess—completely. I should add that this obsession is not limited merely to ‘water-cooler discussions,’ but I have downloaded the Lost podcasts, read the message boards, and have even read the articles (not surprisingly, there are many scholarly ones out there).  We rabid fans are in search of two things – the why and the how (w/h) of the plot. Before Stengers, these are two qualities for which I did not realize I was searching.  In most other shows, we get the w/h.  We know why Jack Bauer is getting his ass kicked for his country.  We know how and why Dexter Morgan is killing his victims.  But on the island, no one knows either, and we are left to fend for ourselves in weekly battle of he-said/she-said.  And this is why I believe Stengers is so applicable to Lost: as shown in every episode, each character is inventing her/his own, new truth by fictionalizing the self and denying who s/he was before the plane crash.

For Stengers, truth and fiction are inseparable, and ultimately these modes invent

“an antidote to the belief that makes us so formidable, the belief that defines truth and fiction in terms of an opposition, in terms of the power that makes the first destroy the second, a belief older than the invention of the modern sciences, but whose invention constituted a ‘recommencement’” (164-5).

Inventions and interest are two crucial terms for Stengers, and she maintains throughout her text that truths are initially invented fictions.  On the island, and arguably for the Sophists as well, one cannot distinguish between what is real (truth) and simply what is flattery (fiction).  They are not in opposition, but instead become so blurred that they are essentially both creations of each other.  The characters on Lost exemplify this creation, as no one truly knows who the other survivors were before the crash.  All we see are the new identities as created through necessity.  Truth and fiction are therefore inventions in which individual interest is taken. Science, as “performed” in labs, is thus the result of an individual’s interest in “making” an idea come true.  People, then, are more ‘interested’ in interest as opposed to truth since the former is what actually unifies:

“It is precisely because interest, as opposed to ‘truth,’ does not claim the power to create unanimity, but lends itself to proliferation and association with other disparate interests, that it can bring together authors for whom the event poses the problem of history” (Stengers 96).

Finally, Stengers claims that there cannot be “a single historical process that is applicable to the history of philosophy, art, and science, for each of these enterprises is defined by a specific relationship with its own past” (41). Therefore, in terms of truth and fiction, we cannot separate them as they develop, nor with Lost can we watch the show without knowing each of the characters’ pre-island pasts.