An Associative Ecology of Posthuman Agh. (Hawk)

Hawk, Byron. A Counter-History of Composition: Toward Methodologies of Complexity. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2007. Print.

Wherein I use the word “aegis.” Get ready for long, winding sentences and some drafty writing:

“A more complex view of writing and rhetoric seen from this expanded perspective on vitalism would equally set aside the arguments that result from the opposition between expressivism and social-epistemic rhetoric and attempt to see writing processes as appropriately complex; the binaries teachable or unteachable, rhetorical or poetic, social or personal all reduce the complexity of writing. A new paradigm built around complexity could produce a post-dialectical understanding of contemporary pedagogies of invention for the emerging scene produced by digital technology” (7)

The trajectory of my readings recently make pretty explicit the tormented relationship college composition and rhetoric has with expressivist theory and pedagogy. In The Resistant Writer, Paine explicitly calls for a reunification of sorts between social-epistemic (nee Berlin) and expressivist writing pedagogy in the classroom. In A Counter-History of Composition: Toward Methodologies of Complexity, Hawk is doing something similar under the aegis of vitalism–trying to get the “good” parts of historical invention pedagogies (Hawk’s taxonomy for vitalism reaches back to Plato and forward to Deleuze and Guattarri) dissociated from expressivism (the whipping-boy of the last decades of the 20th century, especially under the social/critical regime) and into something we can use in a theoretically/politically responsible way (nee Fulkerson’s taxonomy article; use what you want to use, just make sure you ask students to do what you’re going to look for). Hawk claims not to be simply resuscitating a term from older taxonomies and just going for a version of expressionism that doesn’t bear the weight of that term for disciplinarity’s sake–one could argue this case, but that may not be fruitful. Resuscitation or not, I think his program (based heavily in Kameen and Ulmer) is valid, if done through some overwrought rhetorical moves. We’ve lost a lot in our social-rhetorical dismissal of expressivism–for invention especially (as Hawk argues), in turning to rigid heuristics rather than attending to the emergent ecology of our individual classrooms. The text is rich with its problematization of critical pedagogy (something I wish critical pedagogy would be better at doing for itself in fruitful ways):

“One thing liberatory pedagogy tends to sidestep is the fact that students can and do see teachers as embodying the power of law, no matter how much the teacher may genuinely want to help them. Help can be patronizing when distributed downward from a point of authority.” (211)

The meat of this text is Hawk’s argument for how Young and Berlin got vitalism wrong in their chopups of composition history and theory, and a reclaiming of vitalism as a meaningful nonromantic position for invention. Part of this is out of goals of disciplinarity (Young needing a researchable invention) and part of this is political (Berlin espousing a political subjectivity for wider change). Hawk’s new taxonomy (opposition vitalism, investigative vitalism, and complex vitalism) is intended to open theoretical conversation, to “provide a conceptual starting place outside the old typology that allows the more multidisciplinary and eclectic directions the field is taking to be connected to the emerging practices that do not fit within the old borders” (93). Especially (vaguely described) practices related to changing techno/rhetorical landscape that old typologies couldn’t forsee.

“A whole new technological apparatus means that teachers cannot assume students are simply walking into classes as passive consumers of dominant texts.” (208). That being said, we can’t assume that just because they’re on facebook, they’re media producers–or even better, that they’re not passive consumers of facebook (or other social media) as a dominant text framework/bubble. Facebook is a powerful agent in its own right, and dominates many of the ‘texts’ our students may create. (Not that facebook is the be-all and end-all, but it’s certainly come to take a large share of our media consumption landscape.)

A lot of concepts for Hawk’s vitalist or digital or emergent rhetoric, like dissoi logie (or “the logic of the and”) (180-181) and the “paratactic aggregate” (adding new perspectives and thus pushing thinking forward) (111) are familiar threads on this blog. The good old believing game, Listening Rhetoric (a major part of Hawk’s method relies on silenece and listening). The notion is that the kind of invention going on out of this text works by addition and juxtaposition, it’s generative and comes out of spaces where silence is allowed to occur until something emerges; the teacher helps direct and connect and model listening and inventing. (Though the specifics of this are vague in Hawk’s text).

Here’s something I’m tormented about. The practical side of me *hates* it when an author appeals to design-it-yourself as a pedagogical takeaway for the text. You make me read through all this dense theory, and your basic answer is “teachers should do stuff that works for them and their students.” Well, gee. Thanks.

However, that’s not really quite the case with this text–Hawk does point in a few ways, at least in terms of general perspectives and examples of the *kind* of thing he’s writing about. Since this book is largely about how heuristics and taxonomies only reify and create the need for resistant taxonomies, only producing oppression and resistance, it makes sense that there wouldn’t be much of a set heuristic for producing a complex vitalist pedagogy. So, i’m of two minds on this. Still, the goal of emergence, of not preconstructing students and creating an ecology of the classroom is all good stuff. Hawk describes and assesses Ulmer on how technotexts work by an ecological vitalist method, and this material is helpful when thinking about what sorts of things to do or point toward in classrooms. (mystory, decomposiotion, chora, punctum). He works heavily from Sirc as well. For Hawk, the teacher is “theorist-practitioner”, a lofty and also weighty ideal. Listening and letting kairos take over are the most important actions of the teacher here.

“Rather than promising our students some instrumental value in taking our curriculum, which may or may not actually turn out to have that value for them, it may be better to seduce them into studying rhetoric even if they do not know why it is seductive. It may be better to let them follow that desire to create whatever composition or constellation that they desire, let them determine what use-value the curriculum may ultimately have for them in their particular contexts. It may be better to create a pedagogical context in which they can build their own desiring-machines. In a simple sense, we would be avoiding the banking model for something akin to Friere’s problem-posing pedagogy minus the problem-solution logic. Here is a set of texts, theories, arguments, ideas, technologies, contexts, desires, forces, subjectivites: what can the student make of them? What can the body do?” (219).

This is definitely a good text, though people who identify more with ‘the trenches’ (as I tend to a lot of the time) will be frustrated at many points. It takes a lot of the reader’s knowledge as assumed–something refreshing and at the same time making the text hard to just hop right into. Not so much technology-focused as dripping with technotheory and the problem of keeping techne from simple instrumentalism and pedagogy from oversubjective and mind-focused expressivism.

“This notion of techne pushes the discussion away from a humanist conception of the subject that is caught in a subject/object dilemma–do humans control technology or does technology control humans? The human and the technological are no longer seen in opposition but as operation in complex ecologies.” (169).

Invention comes out of ecology, includes bodies, texts, theories, arguments, ideas, technologies, contexts, desires, forces, subjectivites. It’s open to change, not impressing a system (heuristic) to enforce change of a certain kind.

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