Rickert, Thomas. “In the House of Doing:  Rhetoric and the Kairos of Ambience.” JAC 24 (2004): 901-927.

Executive Summary:

Rickert begins this article by discussing how Foucault and Barthes both challenged the existence of the autonomous author.  From the author, he moves on to writing.  Like the author, writing is spectral in the sense that it embodies the thoughts, writing, images, events, feelings of others as it comes from the author.  In other words, writing is haunted by the streams of discourse from time immemorial.  Rickert then connects this idea of writing with Heidegger’s statement that “Language is the house of Being.”  So, writing and being are, to a great extent, an interplay of language whose origin is everywhere and nowhere – both are representative of multiplicities or “overconnection.”

Because being and writing embody these multiplicities, Rickert makes the argument that they are representative of the emerging network culture.  In this world, no connection in web of language can be said to be primary because information proliferates ad infinitum (or at least infinity to human capability).  For Rickert, relying on Taylor, this interplay of infinite discourses, sounds and images is known as the “moment of complexity” (902).  So, the writer writing is, in essence, caught continously in this sea of complexity, dissolving notions of autonomy, boundary, and perhaps agency.

To complicate traditional notions of networks, Rickert advocates a consideration of the “ambient.”  Again taking up Heidegger, who claims that language is ambient (and that language constitutes being), Rickert proceeds to demonstrate how ambience, kairos and complexity complicate and extend the metaphor of network to describe contemporary culture.  In so doing, the ambient logic Rickert develops further collapses “the autonomous, willing subject” (904).

In describing how ambience works, Rickert first takes up Brian Eno and music.  In Eno’s compositions, he used not only the tools of the studio, but also the natural aural sounds of multiple different environments to create his compositions.  In so doing, Eno participated in the “moment of complexity” where the ambient environment and the music co-evolve to create new, more intricate interrelations.

For ambience to work in such expansive ways, a consideration of the Greek concept of kairos is useful.  As Rickert notes, “to understand ambience is the particularity of a situation, which is to say, its timliness.  Things take place, but only insofar as they take part in the unique specificity of their time.  Ambience, in other words, is inseparable from a consideration of kairos” (911). To summarize, Rickert makes the claim that the kairotic moment is one where the participant is both inventing and invented, writing and written, constituting and constituted by the ambient environment.  When this occurs (because it is always occurring), language (as constitutive in the Heideggerian sense) and kairos (in the doing and being done upon sense by the situation) blend into one another, creating creation.

To return to writing, Rickert uses complexity theories notion of “tipping point” (or the point where all strands of thinking, experience, idea become too much to handle) as the moment when writing “emerges.”  This logic of complexity explains that “all strands combine, and recombine, continuously adapting and re-adapting to each other. . . and a new (albeit temporary) level of order emerges” (914).

As Rickert recalls, this moment of complexity is also the ambient moment.  For the writer, it’s the moment that dictates what is written next.  The ambient moment takes into account what is written before, and that what was written before was a response to the aggregated accumulation of events, sensations, thoughts, affects, texts, EXPERIENCES in total that the writer remains mostly unaware of but which shape her thoughts and writing.  In other words, the writer emerges from the ambient environment, she does not act.  She willingly is willed into the kairotic emergent. . . and that’s how stuff happens. 🙂

Major Influences:

Heidegger.  On the Way to Language and Poetry, Language Thought

Mark Taylor.  The Moment of Complexity:  Emerging Network Culture

Hawhee, Debra.  “Kairotic Encounters.”  Perspectives on Rhetorical Invention.  Ed. Janet M. Atwill and Janice M. Lauer.  Knoxville: U of Tennesee P, 2001.  16-35.***

Brooke, Collin Gifford.  “Forgetting to be (Post)Human:  Media and Memory in a Kairotic Age.” JAC 20 (2000): 775-795.***

Miller, Bernard. “Heidegger and the Gorgian Kairos.” Visions of Rhetoric. Ed. Charles Kneupper. Arlington: Rhetoric Society of America, 1987. 169-184.***

Barthes.  “The Death of an Author.”  Image, Music, Text.

Foucault.  “What is an Author?”  Language-Counter-Memory, Practice.

***  =  2nd generation pieces

Major Questions:

1.  Voices from the past and present inform our ideas of writing, “but to what extent is the overall environment present in such work?  What would come to constitute the logic of composing in network culture if we push against the metaphors of connection to, first, metaphors of environment, place, surroundings, and second, metaphors of meshing, osmosis, blending?” (903)

2.  How is subjectivity worked out in networked culture?

3.  How does agency work in networked culture?

4.  How do environments or ambience determine experience?


1.  Rickert seems to be working with the “create a method from an existing concept” method for this piece.  Working with Heidegger (language is being), Taylor (complexity theory and network theory), and multiple conceptions of kairos, Rickert blends to create a new ontology.

Useful Quotes:

“Thus Eno is simultaneously composer and audience, active agent and passive recipient; the music is a series of bits that take on more complexity in interaction with each other and the environment, and it thereby emerges as something strikingly different from what is suggested in most compositional theories, like input/output or social constructivist models.  Not even dialectical models are adequate, as they cannot ultimately account for the radical discontinuity between each emergent order and the power of small changes to produce disproportionately large-scale effects” (907).

“The full implication of network culture is that individuals, society, and environment can no longer be clearly separated.  The explosive proliferation of connection accelerates change, moving things toward points far from equilibrium and near chaos, the tipping point where change happens.  Such change transforms the world and the categories that emerge to make sense of it.  Insofar as we come to be what we are within language, this amounts to a transformation in the human and its relation to the world” (915).

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