Ulmer, Gregory L. Heuretics : The Logic of Invention. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994. Print


  • U. notes that Heuretics is an ongoing (at this time 2 decades long) project of “applying to academic discourse the lessons arising out of a matrix crossing French postructuralist theory, avant-garde experiments, and electronic media” in the context of education (xi).  He’s theorized/practiced this work as a means to do cultural studies research in electronic/digital media environments.
  • U. claims that Heuretics is a work that explores the technology of hypermedia inside the context of a history of method – an experimental, avant-garde mode of research and experimentation appropriate to the humanities.  Heuretics themselves are a generative productivity or a method centrally concerned not with interpretation but with generation – invention.  U. likes this work to that of the avant-garde artist – “The vangaurdist does not analyze existing art but composes alternatives to it (or uses it as a step toward achieving alternatives” (xii).
  • U. imagines that the work of composition will shift using Heuretics so students don’t rely on somehow self-generating theories (of unexplained origin) to do “critical” writing and will instead compose “original poetics” or theory that can be tested against the work students and faculty encounter in their classrooms.

Part I: How to Make a Theory of Method

Chapter One:  Grammatology

  • U. claims that theory operates in two ways in the humanities:  critical interpretation (hermeneutics) and artistic experiment (heuretics) (3).  Heuretics is different from hermeneutics because the guiding question is not “What might be the meaning of an existing work?” but “Based on a given theory, how might another text be composed?” (5).
  • As a generative method, heuretics not only operates at the level of creation but it also traces the dissemination of “cultural invention” as it circulates through any culture (4).  This means that “invention spreads by emulation” and can be traced in order to serve as generative for future creation.
  • Any discourse on method abides by a particular set of common elements.  U. describes these using the acronym CATTt:  C (contrast – opposition, inversion, differentiation), A (analogy – figuration, displacement), T (theory – repetition, literalization), T (target – application, purpose), and t (tale – secondary elaboration, representability).  To understand this process, U. uses Phaedrus to describe the elements of CATTt in Platonic method:
    • Contrast – P. demonstrates an undesirable example (Lysias’s speech).  Stopping here would mean performing the hermeneutical move of critiquing without generating.
    • Analogy – To invent the dialectic, P. uses an analogy between the proper rhetoric and medicine.
    • Theory – U. notes that each theory generated is based on the “authority of another theory whose argument is accepted as literal” rather than figurative.  The new theory uses this previous theory and modifies it due to interactions with the rest of CATTt.
    • Target – This is the thing to be modified or the institution to be reconsidered.  In Phaedrus this institution is education.
    • Tale – this reminds the theorist that any new theory must be represented in a new form or a new genre.  This is the dramatization of the theory of knowledge “appropriate for the human subject envisioned by the Theory” (7-9).  In the case of Phaedrus the tale is the telling of Phaedrus itself – it is a showing as well as a telling.

Chapter Two: Hypermedia

  • U. points to writing as prosthetic early on in Chapter Two:  “Writing as technology is a memory machine, with each apparatus finding different means to collect, store, and retrieve information outside of any one individual mind” (16).
  • U. “targets” hypermedia in his methodology because he sees the interface and HCI as sites wherein writing as memory holds potential possibilities that utilize “picto-ideo-phonographic writing” or multimodal writing.
  • Apparatus – “an interactive matrix of technology, institutional practices, and ideological subject formation” (17).
  • U. considers the apparatus of hypermedia because it is more than a medium – it is a way of writing on the screen that is institutionally initiated/delimited/limited, tool-based, and, in part, creates the subjects that interact/engage with it.
  • U. notes that hypermedia actually embodies and makes real (and natural) a lot of the maxims developed by French poststructuralist theories of text: death of the author, decentering of authority, etc.
  • U. notes that the modern age was established on a revival in the theoretical curiosity embodied in the exploratory metaphor of Christopher Columbus’ voyage into the unknown (24).
  • Chorography – this is the name of U.’s theory.  Chorography is a theory that attempts to explain what geographies, locales, or spaces construct particular human subjectivities (25-6).  But, as U. notes, chorography is impossible because it always gives rise to “differends” or incommensurabilities created through different “genres of discourse” (25).[1. I’m having trouble here – any help?  I think Part II is a deeper exploration of this term.]
  • On the interface:  U. notes that “interface” and “rhetoric” are more or less synonymous in that the interface operates as the point of contact for participation in the multimodal computer environment (28).  But the interface can’t be considered using the metaphor of the book or rolodex; rather, the interface is the window through which the “sea of information” is navigated toward “new discoveries” on the order of the Columbus narrative (30).  This means that the heuretic method of electracy isn’t a Ulyssian homecoming narrative but an exercise in holding together what doesn’t “fit.”  Yet, U. claims that he will deconstruct the frontier metaphor by remaking it into “chora” (31).

Chapter Three – Experiment

  • U. begins this chapter by asking two questions:  1) What will research be like in an electronic apparatus?; and 2) Is it possible to imagine learning and invention that are not cast in the metaphor of a frontier explored by adventurers? (32).
  • U. contends that “choral work” and the electronic apparatus of hypermedia is decentering institutional and individual behaviors in a way that makes the metaphors of frontier and adventure no longer hold (33).  To realize this, U. recommends considering the place of research – the “place” and “genre” in rhetorical terms – in topos.  As such, U. will replace each instance of topos with chora for every time topos is found in the trivium (rhetoric, logic [dialectic], and grammar).  So, because hypermedia refigures the way information is typically provided in print (hierarchical, outlined, and indexed), the “logic” of hypermedia is the network or web of associations.  The study of chora is the study of the history or place in relation to memory.
  • U. seems to claim that chora as space in hypermedia environments functions much the same way as patterning out of databases . . . it is an ordering of elements out of chaos; however, it isn’t somehow “found” or “discovered”; rather, information is ordered in hypermedia by being “evoked” and “enacted” through connectionism or linking (36).
  • U. seems to be pointing toward the posthuman subjectivity later described by Hayles et al. when discussing the chorographer’s relationship to language and discourse (and its effects on the formation of her subjectivity):  “In the same way that the practice of reading privately and silently contributed to the formation of ‘self,’ so too will performing hyperrhetoric contribute to a new subjectivation in the electronic apparatus )in which one will have to find a new term of self-reference” that is neither clan-based (orality) or me-based (literacy) (38).
  • The user of hypermedia actually “constructs” their information-rich digital environment by choosing which path or line of reasoning to follow; as such, the chorographer writes the paradigms of contours of the argument; however, they don’t write the arguments themselves.  This is another aspect of the generative nature of the chorographer – they set up the conditions for possibility and then reconsider what content lies within those conditions.

Part II:  Chorography

  • U. acknowledges that each instance of using chorography as method is unique; as such, there is no way to say what chorography is; rather, U. can only demonstrate what chorography is like for him (45).  In the examples that follow, U. notes that this is his chorography . . . to make it your own (as a reader) you need to substitute your “own materials.”
  • Why is invention the chorographic space?  “. . . by a strange kind of magic, it appears when you reach the goal that it has been there all along waiting to be discovered [navigation of an electronic media environment].  The act of invention creates the field within which the thought already exists” (48).   This invention of a “field” or imaginary space and time is the process of composing  a “diegesis” that operates as the “place of invention.”  Yet, this place of invention isn’t akin to the topoi (pre-established points of invention that were the tried and true bread and butter of the classical rhetoricians toolbox; rather, these chora or places where “genesis” takes place.
  • This “genesis” is a core premise (double-meaning of argumentative claim and dwelling place) for chorography:  don’t choose between the different meanings of key terms, but compose using all meanings (write the paradigm) (48).  In other words, the entire act of chorography is a method of producing the chora of the premises of my argument – “the diegesis within which I have been thinking, presuming, the setting that has gone without saying but that has provided the logic of all my work” (49).
  • In this chapter we get U.’s treatment of Derrida’s treatment of Plato’s Timaeus as a means to get at exactly what U. means when he says chora.  In Timaeus Timaeus recounts how the world is created of three kinds of natures: 1) the uncreated, indestructible kind of being (the eternal Ideas; 2) the sensible copies of the eternal (the objects of opinion and sense – things); and 3) space – the “home of all created things” (62-3).  This space that operates as the home of all created things is chora and Socrates anthropomorphically occupies this position in the dialogue (remarkable considering his usual role as interlocutor par excellance).  [2. There seem to be a lot of convergences of chora with the Virtual (Deleuze & Guattari) or plasma (Latour) or the space of emergence.  Resonances?]
  • U. claims that chora evokes a kind of writing that is non-representational and operates at a different mode of value (65).  But “What would a writing be that produces understanding without representation?”  To answer that question, U. claims, “It [writing] must be in the order neither of the sensible nor the intelligible but in the order of making, of generating.  And it must be transferable, exchangeable, without generalization, conducted from one particular to another” (66).  It could also mean learning to write with patterns “that function more like music than like concepts” (91).
  • Chora is another iteration of differance (73).  Instead of relying on conceptual thinking (something akin to the Platonic Forms), chorography instead provides a coherence to the happening in any space by constantly de/referring to the spaces that remain unarticulated (and hence unrealized?) (74-5).
  • Working through Derrida, U. notes that the mistake of modernism was the claim of universal cultural identity (or universal anything) for a localized, contextual, and contingent practice.  As D. notes, “No cultural identity ever presents itself as the opaque body of an untranslatable idiom but always, on the contrary, as the irreplaceable inscription of the universal in the singular, the unique witnessing of human essence and of what is proper to mankind” (82).  This is most obvious in the U.S. Declaration of Independence – a document that guarantees itself by its own signature.
  • The significance of this consideration of universal claims and contextual resonances:  all chora (the field, place, diegesis) are inflected by the cultural identities and ideological commitments of the inventor; however, those ideologies and identities aren’t universal or general (84).
  • While analytics makes a big deal about being able to delineate “being” it cannot verify being because being is experienced in the act of becoming (93).
  • U. claims that considering “The Method” as developed by Stanislavski is a valuable analogy for chorography because it pushes the individual to merge their personal culture (history, affiliation, affinity, etc.) with the external content (in this case a screenplay) in order to bring affective memory into play (memory that relies on an actors’ own experiences, cultural backgrounds, and memories in order to make the act of acting possible) (116).  U. claims that the work of the chorographer is to read disciplinary texts in much the same way a Method actor reads a (screen)play: bring those unspoken logics forward and read affectively (118) in order to discover that unacknowledged space of generative creation (chora).
  • A key idea at the end of this chapter:  “The lesson is:  for a database (no matter how extensive) to become a place of invention, it must be formatted by means of the Method” (129).

Part III: Rehearsal

  • Relying on Kristeva’s theory of chora, U. considers how affective memory works (136).
  • U. states that “In chorography, I do not choose among possibilities but enter them into the paradigm of the diegesis, creating a network in which to catch an invention” (138).
  • U. recounts the family sand and gravel plant as a primary example of chora as it is a place of technological practices, institutional/ideological commitments, and discourses (sounds a lot more like apparatus from Chapter Two) (139).
  • A great exposition of chorography as method:

  • U. notes that the value of hypermedia is its ability to move away from analysis toward intuition.  As U. argues, “The multichanneled interactivity of hypermedia provides for the first time a machine whose operations match the variable sensorial encoding that is the basis for intuition, a technology in which cross-modality may be simulated and manipulated for the writing of an insight, including the interaction of verbal and non-verbal materials and the guidance of analysis by intuition, which constitute creative or inventive thinking” (140-1).
  • Judgment is the feeling of being “right” provisioned through acts of intuition (intuition made possible through the multimodal nature of hypermedia) (143).
  • U. notes that the work of chorography reveals or provides access to the machine of judgment making. . . the Method of intuition that reveals why particular things feel “right” or “wrong” and allows the writer to make those feelings available for other readers (145).
  • The abyssal structure or mise en abyme of choral work allows the writer to show what cannot be stated in propositions (148).
  • In this section U. considers how the process of cultural invention – or “the invention of culture itself and the role of cultural resources in individual thought” is chorographic (it considers the entire scene and your own makeup of it?) in that is holistic and doesn’t divide the question out into analogics or figurative thinking (162).
  • The process of invention could be called “deconstruction” . . . for while chora are spaces that are infinitely in regress, without explanation on universal levels they also must emerge from the “old metaphors” that already circulate in any situation (they can’t arise from nothing!) (164).
  • We get a recap of Kristeva’s contribution to understanding the unconscious in poetic discourse:  “Her insight is that inventive writing (creative writing) is the result of an interference between two different orders of signification – the semiotic (refers to the drives f the primary processes, the rhythms of the body in its gestural and vocal materiality) and the symbolic (the languages or discourses of social institutions, whose constraints, imposed on the body, ‘arrange’ the semiotic) (175).  Kristeva uses chora to explain the unconscious as a space where discourse isn’t produced but is already ordered by the symbolic arrangement of the semiotic (176).
  • U. begins by finally discussing hyperrhetoric in more detail.  He notes that writing in an electronic apparatus will rely far more heavily on memory than argument or narrative (b/c argument and narrative are actually different iterations or patterns of memory) (189).
  • U. turns to the ancient art of mnemonics – a way to travel or navigate an information landscape by tethering ideas to geographical walks/images – as an important way to think about Method for the electronic apparatus.
  • Key quote:


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