Vitanza, Victor J. “Three Countertheses: Critical In(ter)vention into Composition Theories and Pedagogies”

  • begins by noting that “perverse comedy” is an act of ironic critical in(ter)vention that can establish the (postmodern) conditions for composition that so far the field has not allowed (139-40).
  • argues that this “perverse comedy” approach to composition leaves behind hypotactic thinking and hierarchy, instead searching out paratactically for ways to connect any point to any other given point (think D&G here).
  • notes that composition has refused to engage this kind of work because it would inevitably cause a “legitimation crisis” for the discipline. It causes this by placing in doubt the goals of exposition (perspecuity) and argumentation (consensus-building), as well as the general idea of teaching anyone to write.
  • He three countertheses that V. argues for are responses to the strong will of composition, speaking back to: 1) the will to systematize (the) language (of composing); 2) the will to be its author(ity); and 3) the will to teach it to students (140). V. claims that these goals are insidious and invidious and informed by a set of assumptions that value the homogenization of heterogeneity in the name of mass society (141). V. also notes that the three countertheses are conceptually related to Gorgias’ work in “On Existence”: 1) nothing exists; 2) if it does exist, it cannot be known; and 3) it if can be known, it cannot be communicated.
  • Working from “French Feudian-Lacanian psychoanalysis-cum-Deleuzian-Guattarian postpsychoanalysis” to offer an alternative to the capitalist-democratic-socialist answer to the question, “Why write?”.
  • relies heavily on Berlin to argue that “Teaching students how to write is also teaching them a view of (economic) reality and an ‘identity’ for themselves that is to be attempted, though never realized, in ‘sameness’” (142). Yet, B. never goes far enough, for Vitanza, because he still plays by the rules of reason to disassemble reason.
  • argues against the “foundational” and “antifoundational” approaches to the field and its epistemology, denying the capitalist-democratic model of composition as well as the socialist-consensus model of composition (or composition’s goals, anyway). Foundationalists=CT rhetoric, expressionists and cognitivists (look inward). Antifoundationalists are the social-epistemic of Berlin, Bizzell et al.) (look outward). According to V., the antifoundationalists suffer from “theory hope” but is the dominant group in the 90s.
  • Counterthesis 1: Can knowledge be grounded in a universal or rhetorically in consensus? Relying on Habermas, V. notes that his “universal pragmatics” if founded on a universal of communication. Relying on Lyotard, the universal is impossible because of the death of Grand Narratives; also, consensus isn’t what’s important . . . we should be paying attention to dissension though paralogy (146). This paralogic view resists the homogeniety of the Many inherent in Mass society. So, no, knowledge can’t be grounded here but erupts rhizomatically through multiplicity.
  • Takeaway from counterthesis 1: there can be no foundational principle of knowledge on which composition can act/build. Further, argumentation, which relies on a series of legitimation principles that are in question, is questionable. So is consensus and topoi as they have a way of only fostering the dominant discourse (151).
  • Counterthesis 2: Who speaks when something is spoken (A question of Authorship)? Related to the second Gorgian proposition that “if anything exists, it cannot be known.” If we approach language as a “speaking game” (the third of Lyotard’s pragmatics), we turn away from mastery of language and knowledge (or totality). Instead, V. argues that the speaker-writer is in a position of nonauthority; “for the speaker (of the traditional communications triangle) can only be a speaker now by virtue of having been, more so, a listener (decoder, reader). But this explanation via the communications triangle is misleading, for in Lyotard’s conception, the speaker is only a listener but not a listener” in the traditional sense (154) . . . they are the demon or the “prosopopoeia of noise” of the third speaker (155).
  • notes that the putative dialectic of the Platonic dialogues is actually didactic.
  • So, importance to composition: 1) the speaker speaks founds a humanist philosophy and educational system but the subject is itself “hailed” into existence by a capitalist system and articulation of the subject (think Bartholomae’s “Inventing the University”); 2) the speaker speaks in “relation” to others reifies the social bond notion of composition wherein writing is conceived as a social act of collaboration. This is a position of “Romantic socialism” that functions as counterpart to the “Romantic idealism” of the first position. 3) V.’s position, vis-à-vis Lyotard, is one of paralogizing the university and the conventional communication triangle to be the speaker-as-listener to the noise.
  • Counterthesis 3: Theory, as a game of knowledge, cannot help because it resists fully theorization/totality. In this way, “what is known cannot be communicated.” This means we should “declare a moratorium on attempting to turn theory into praxis/pedagogy” (160). This means that theory doesn’t always exist as a function of pedagogy . . . and shouldn’t. Instead, theory is against totality, functioning as the “game of avant-garde theory-art” as a means of resistance (160).
  • hopes for a pedagogy that escapes the pedagogical imperative (i.e., all theory must be practicable), instead arguing that he desires a pedagogy of desire . . . a pedagogy that does away with pedagogy altogether (161).
  • Paralogy is the “paramethod of constructing little narratives” (164).
  • According to V., he wants to unlink pedagogy from the “game of knowledge” and instead link it to the “game of art” (165). He wants to “proceed without foundations and without criteria (the first counterthesis) and without knowing as a subject (the second) and without conventional theory and pedagogy (the third) (165).

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