Hawk – Reassembling Postprocess: Toward a Posthuman Theory of Public Rhetoric

Hawk, Byron.  “Reassembling Postprocess: Toward a Posthuman Theory of Public Rhetoric.” in Beyond Postprocess.  eds. Sidney Dobrin, J.A. Rice, Michael Vastola.  Logan: Utah State UP. 2011.

  • H. starts by noting that Kent’s articulation of the main assumptions behind postprocess are: 1) writing is public dialectical exchange by audience & writer); 2) writing is interpretive (meaning-making is imprecise and requires hermeneutics/guesses); and 3) writing is situated (writings are rhetorical/contextual)(75).  H. then goes on to note that while these assumptions do break with process theories of composition, they are still bound in humanist hermeneutics and social construction.
  • H. proposes a new epistemology (of sorts) for these three notions: 1) Latourian notion of public moves the concept beyond humans; 2) Deleuzian ontology of assemblage might ground the notion that writing is situated; and 3) a Heideggerian model of interpretation might move beyond hermeneutic guessing toward material embodiment (75).  Relying on these three, H. aims to build a new postprocess theory rooted in posthuman theories of network-human iterative constitution.
  • Reviewing Kent, H. notes that postprocesses emphasis on hermeneutic guessing as the core component of the rhetorical situation is at least a little anthropocentric and certainly imprecise.  Kent argues that the hermeneutic guesswork that occurs in any dialectical interaction among interlocutor is imperfect – speakers aren’t directly connected to one another’s discourse communities and are also disconnected from the world.  To make sense of all this, Hawk relies on Yarbrough’s critique of Kent, noting that “If his guessing game is the primary mode of language use, then teachers are left discussing their guesses that have worked in past situations and proposing those as possible strategies for students to employ in similar situations – ultimately, a generalized heuristic in the tradition of Young, Lauer, and Berlin” (77).
  • H. moves from situated to interpretive to public in his rearticulation of Kent’s principles.  He chooses this order because, “Bodies occupy material situations that are in constant motion, interpret those flows through bodily knowledge and expression as much as language, and contribute to those assemblages by participating in their public gathering” (77).  Hawk’s approach isn’t based on conscious debate about effective guesses but rather acknowledges that embodied imbrication within complex worlds and objects produce moments of composition.
  • H. notes that Kent’s theory of situated ness occurs last in the postprocess: writers interpret audiences and then launch their best hermeneutic result for the situation.  To problematize this, H. relies on D&G’s theory of assemblage[1. “emergent situatedness that includes humans and nonhumans, material functions of language, and complex movements of territorialization, deterritorialization, and reterritorialization”], highlighting the role of technologies as actors and the problematic nature of teleological dialectical logic.  H. also notes that D&G’s emphasis on assemblages of enunciation[2. Linguistic signs incorporated into broader assemblages.] highlight the material consequences (and predecessesions) of discursive regimes[3. Hawk gives the example of D&G’s exploration of the word “guilty” and the ways that being enunciated as guilty rearticulate’s the body itself in the broader assemblage of institutions, laws, and actors.].
  • H. notes that refrains – or the recurring patterns that mark territorial centers from the outside, internally organize assemblages from the inside, or open assemblages to other functions and assemblages are – are integral in shifting an understanding of writing as emergent – or constructive of the situations in which it finds itself – rather than static or linear (speaks to a particular predetermined situation).  For H., D&G provide a notion of situatedness that is more complex than traditional accounts of the rhetorical triangle (author, language, audience), bringing objects, nonhuman actors, and discursivity to bear on the production of writing.
  • H. relies on Heidegger’s “embodied model of interpretation” to richen the hermeneutic moment that Kent proposes.  Heidegger notes that tools are always experienced in their environments – they’re experienced on the level of “specific manipulability” but also as a component in an environments “manifold assignments” (83).  So, tools have a particular material structure but their potentials are realized only in complex situations/environments that hold innumerable possibilities.  To understand situatedness, then, means taking on a new notion of interpretation that is embodied and attuned to the complexity of tool-being.
  • Hawk notes that expanded interpretation that moves beyond language, belief, and intent, and accounts for the material assemblages relies on what Heidegger called “fore-having, fore-sight, and fore-conception.”   Fore-having: the totality of equipment that exists before interpretation and recedes from our conscious but creates the possibility for interpretation in the first place.  Fore-sight: The preestablished point of view or future purpose that isolates what is to be interpreted and cuts the important portions out of fore-having for rendering that interpretation.  Fore-conception: the imposition of preestablished concepts on our interpretation – the way we understand something by grasping it in advance.  H. argues that all of these are important in moving interpretation away from singular emphasis on fore-conception (popular opinion) or the excise of fore-having (scientific experimentation).  We need all taken together to move away from retrospective views of fore-having to enacted situations that are coproduced in the totalities that make up worlds.  So, in short, Heidegger’s expanded articulation of how interpretation occurs corresponds to D&G’s expanded notion of situatedness/context.
  • H. notes that Kent’s notion of publics is still rooted in the human world – the public of the agora.  Articulating a posthuman notion of public means turning to Latour & Weibel’s notion of multiple voices, connections, and bodies in “From Realpolitik to Dingpolitik or How to Make Things Public.”  In that article, L&W argue that the realpolitik (read: public) is a “positive, materialist, no nonsense, interest only, matter of fact way of dealing with naked power relations”.  It is subject/human centered and anthropocentric.  L&W argue that an object-oriented notion of public and democracy would do much toward codisclosing a world or making it truly public.
  • H. notes that L&W consider rhetoric as “how to represent one and two through what medium” (86).  This means that rhetoric is the new eloquence that moves away from an objectivist politics based on realism and instead pose a materialist/realist politics based on gatherings of actors from across the spectrum of human-nonhuman real-nonreal entities.  This means that each thing or ding gathers together different assemblages with different interests and concerns and produces different conditions for emergence.  This also means that all spaces are spaces of the public – not just enlightenment halls or courts but the embodies spaces where assemblages rub up against one another.
  • Summing up, H. notes that, “The origin of rhetoric in Kent’s model is the human rhetor and language – his public is the assembly of human bodies, the traditional body politik.  But a Dingpolitik is grounded in gathering and movements of assemblages and enacted through the manifold assignments of the objects gathered and the human, interpretive involvement in this disclosing of a world – the expression of voices, differences, and complexities clearly emerge through the agency of both human and nonhuman actors” (89).  This isn’t a public rhetoric that devises policy or solutions but assembles the conditions for the emergence of solutions.
  • Summing up, Hawk offers this rearticulation of Kent:

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