Muckelbauer – The Future of Invention

Chapter One – “The Problem of Change”

  • Muckelbauer situates his book around one premise: the supposedly distinct scholarly approaches of humanism/postmodernism, foundationalism/anti-foundationalism, universalism/relativism have all hinge on a dialectical notion of change.  This means that if change is dialectical, every “new” reading academics perform is merely a negation of an existing reading. . . not an addition/accretion.  This other form of change is called “affirmative” and is post-dialectical / non-negational.  To get at this sense of change, Muckelbauer turns to rhetoric and rhetorical invention.
  • M. claims that this non-dialectical sense of change forces us to rethink the way we go about answering theoretical questions in the first place; as such, it completely reconfigures the way we do inquiry.  In other words, it can’t be explained because it can’t be represented (representation requires negation); rather, it can only be performed.
  • M. claims that “imprecision may be perfectly precise for designating something other than a representation of for indicating the affirmative sense of ‘that which is under way’ (xii).  This is the method of representing non-dialectical processes constantly changing (they are kairotic right?).
  • What is dialectical change?  “a style of engagement in which negation is the generative principle of transformation” (4).  According to M., the problem with binaries isn’t that they are abstract opposite terms; rather, the problem is the movement of negation through which such oppositions are generated and maintained (5).  For M., the possibility of responding differently in any particular encounter is key – he wants to imagine/create the possibility of responding without dialectical negation.
  • Some key terms that demonstrate binaristic thinking:

o    Advocacy – this is the dialectical process of privileging one position over another (usually the privileging of tradition over its underprivileged break with tradition).  This is the emphasis on tradition/hegemony/conservative response.

o    Critique – the is the dialectical process of privileging the position of underdog over the hegemonic/conservative.  This is counter-hegemonic and seeks to redress injustices.  While this is more in line with rhet/comp politics, it still depends on negation to function (as M. claims, “the difference offered by such oppositional postmodernism only functions through the repetition of the very dialectical structure it is attempting to overcome” (8).

o    Synthesis – this position attempts to synthesize the opposition/binary between critique-advocacy.  This position has been articulated many ways (networks, hybridity, intersubjectivity, structuration, etc.); yet, the problem here is that synthesis already assumes two separate poles – the dialectic structures the synthesis.

  • All of these articulations of change reveal the same thing: they are actually the same (in that they are structured by the same).  This articulation is provided by H/N in their work that critiques the position of the Left because its function is predicated on the dialectic (which reinforces the polarizations that exist) and therefore offers no change, only complicity.
  • To escape dialectic, M. claims that “in any particular encounter, everything depends on one’s orientation within repetition: an orientation toward negation itself or an orientation toward the singular rhythms within negation” (13).
  • Why is rhetoric up to the task that M. has outlined?  1) because rhetoric is concerned with persuasion, questions of force (rather than meaning) are at the fore – rhetoric is the process of investigating the “asignifying” aspects of language. . . therefore rhetoric (like the singular rhythms within negation) isn’t ever completely separate from signification; however, it isn’t the same either; 2) rhetorical invention has demonstrated the oscillation between “the different” and “the new” in non-binaristic ways . . . in other words, it isn’t merely the “old” or the “new” – it isn’t creation or discovery, but something in between (think the Lauer-Berthoff debates).

Chapter Two:  Why Rhetoric?  Which Rhetoric?

  • In this chapter, M. aims to “pay particular attention to the ways in which rhetorical invention connects to a whole series of so-called postmodern questions that traverse humanistic inquiry:  questions about the contingency of truth and knowledge, questions about the implications of different models of subjectivity, and questions about ethics.
  • Managerial rhetoric: rhetoric that sets out to prove/advocate for an already decided upon proposition – rhetoric is merely ornamental and not constitutive.
  • M. draws a distinction between rhetoric and communication by noting that rhetoric, while concerned with meaning, is also concerned with shaping the transmission of meaning (signified content) in a particular way by giving it rhetorical force; communication, on the same hand, seeks to merely transmit meaning (window-pane theory of language).  (17)  This means that to reproduce a proposition rhetorically, “one need not reproduce a particular content or a particular meaning so much as provide a certain array of responses and effects” (19)
  • Because of the desire to invoke rhetorical force, rhetoric is contingent: it is particular to specific situations and specific audiences.  Yet, despite the contingency of rhetoric, managerial rhetoric sees the “discovery” of the proposition itself as a priori and therefore non-rhetorical (it isn’t hard to see the problem with this position).
  • In opposition to managerial rhetoric you have the “generative theory of rhetoric” advocated by the folks who worked through the “Nature of Rhetorical Invention” seminar (Young – a point that Hawk returns to as well).  This theory understood the formation of the proposition as contingent (in addition to the rhetoric used to move it to an audience).  (21)
  • M. finds it important to note that despite the existence of the “generative” theory of rhetoric, the notion of difference still operates to make doxa less valuable than episteme.  Yet, because the episteme also becomes contingent, rhetoric becomes the structuring collection of concepts through which anything is created/invented.  In other words, rhetoric becomes difficult to differentiate from invention and invention becomes difficult to differentiate from the massive intellectual project of rethinking the basic principles and conceptions of truth, knowledge, and inquiry in the West.  (25)
  • M. notes that the intellectual community has been quick to dispense with objectivity in the interest of contingency; however, to understand the subject as part of that contingency has been far more difficult to swallow (think subject-affect rather than subject). (26)  There is a thorough-going critique of the relationship between subjectivity and humanism on 27-9.  Here M. traces out how postmodernist conceptions of invention have often merely reproduced the humanist perspective.  In other words, through a humanist desire for difference, contingent, rhetorical practices have transformed the “unknown” into “knowledge.”  What is to be argued about here isn’t so much the propositional content (because it is all contingent) as much as the rhetorical and ethical movement (what subjectivity does with encounters with others.  Said differently, the humanist subject attempts to master – through the dialectic movement of negation and appropriation – the other in the interest of seeing itself (30).  As a rejection, postmodern theory has celebrated a world structured by difference and otherness rather than self, agency, and identity. . . but this is just another iteration of the humanist move.  So, in summa, the problem with both humanist and postmodern critiques is that both offer themselves as a position in relation to another – they are subject to the logic of identity in a way that reproduces the same dialectical structures. What they offer is different notions of subjectivity; however, what they do with that subjectivity is the same.
  • But all is not lost!  M. claims that though there are countless repetitions, they all aren’t the same.  Instead of extensive individuals M. posits the intensive singular(ity).  As M. claims, “the difference between the dialectical movement of negation and the affirmative movement of invention might best be rendered as a kind of inclination within any given, actual encounter” (35).  So, what does this mean?  Basically, it is M.’s embrace of the subject-affect as opposed to subjectivity.  M. notes that “one cannot orient toward singular rhythms without engaging in the dialectics of identification and appropriation.  And one cannot orient toward identification without becoming immersed in singular, intensive rhythms” (36); in other words, subjectivity is structured by affect and affect is structured by endless subjectivities. . . is Giddens’ theory of structuration a response to this?

Chapter 3: How to Extract Singular Rhythms – Affirmative Reading and Writing

  • In this chapter M. attempts to sketch out a method (No, not method, method is proposition)  – an affirmative tactic of reading and writing.  To do so he looks to Nietzsche, Deleuze, and Derrida not so much for what they said but how they said it.
  • Turning to Derrida’s critique of Saussure’s semiotics, M. is interested in “what it does” moreso than “what it says.”  In other words, writing can “teach” or provide an orientation or inclination, a style of engagement (42).  What is difficult about this section is that the identification of singular rhythms never actually occurs . . . because that would be contradictory (content, identity, position are all static things inside the dialectic).  To solve this problem, M. offers five rules:

o    Principle of generosity – choosing not to prove arguments wrong, but to instead “render versions of them that have already responded to predictable critiques” (Pender).  In other words, he attempts to read affirmatively, extending claims that he sees as fundamentally wrong.

o    Avoiding orienting toward intentions – He isn’t concerned with getting it “right” or getting his sources “right”; rather, he hopes to read in a way that “actualize the singular rhythms of experiementation that circulate through a sound historical appropriation” (45) or to read in order to see what claims can do.

o    Principle of selective reading – he reads selectively because he understands that all sources are far too complicated stylistically for adequate representation.  This means that extractions are conducted merely to assist in resolving the conjuncture of problems in which M. is entrenched at the moement. . . irrespective of providing an “adequate” representation of that work (46).

o    Principle of connectivity – this means reading works not representationally but relaytionally (intentional misspelling).  In other words, writing may not be representational but might actually be about relaying ideas and information across subject-affects.

o    Principle of nonrecognition – he doesn’t excessively quote materials in the hopes that they will be heard instead of being understood.  In other words, “this unrecognized responsiveness might be the most coherent expression in this work of the dynamics of immanently extracting singular rhythms that I discuss more overtly throughout” (47).  Said differently again, the principle of nonrecognition is concerned with what texts can do rather than getting them right and understood.

Chapter 4: Imitation and Invention

  • M. notes that most accounts of imitation link its demise to the institutional emergence of romantic subjectivity: an ethos that emphasizes creativity, originality and genius (52).  The 3-part composition of ancient imitation: 1) imitation of an ideal world by the actual world (philosophy); 2) imitation of the actual world by a poet or actor (literature); and 3) imitation of a renowned orator or teacher by a student (rhetoric).
  • This chapter is concerned with the active dimension of an imitative encounter that occurs in the space between a model and a copy in the imitation process.  This problematizes the strict division of imitation between the model and the copy.  For more on the three models of imitation in this chapter, see my other blog post on Muckelbauer’s article “Imitation and Invention in Antiquity.”
  • M. notes that the third rhythm of imitation forces the very nature of the model to change (in the model-copy relationship) – with inspiration the “model becomes responsiveness itself” (73) because in this process the model enables the imitator to also inspire in turn.  In other words, in the act of copying the model the imitator becomes something other than oneself – inspired and operating not as the subject or object (think Ion and Homer) but , rather, a singular “affirmative rhythm of transformation.” (75)
  • This third notion of imitation – the inspirational – is important to rhetorical education because, as Quintilian notes, “the ideal student will learn through imitation not only style or an ethical rule; he will acquire the capacity to respond itself.  In effect, he will learn to imitate responsiveness itself; actual situations will serve as the source of his inspiration” (76).

Chapter 5: Itineration – What is a Sophist?

  • In this chapter M. walks with Plato in considering the question, “What is a Sophist?”  He does so in order to demonstrate another form of affirmative invention – a sophistic mode that (following D&G) he calles “itineration.”  There are resonances here with nomadology – or immanent, immersive movement rather than mapped movements of reproduction.  M. hopes to demonstrate how this inventive strategy “does not have a predetermined goal, but does not proceed blindly” (80).
  • M. attempts to ignore what Plato said and how he said it to instead articulate a third approach to this text: doing what Plato did in order to uncovering some hidden/obscured relations between the philosopher and the Sophist.
  • M. ends by noting that the act of becoming-sophist by cultivating the differential encounter with reality is what it truly means to “hunt the sophist” (98).  In other words, M. performs his hunt for the sophist and in so doing disrupts one of Platonism’s most fundamental ideas: the existence of a known identity.

Chapter 6: Situatedness and Singularity

  • This chapter is an argument against the teaching of situated audience in rhetorical/composition pedagogy.  Instead, M. advocates for kairotic instruction, or teaching an attention to situatedness that allows for a flexibility in audience-speaker relations.  This raises a serious question for rhetoric/composition: if pedagogy is confined to classrooms, can it (rhet/comp) claim to teach people how to respond in other institutional contexts? (100)
  • If this is the case, then rhetorical instruction should? Teach a set of general practices that are potentially flexible and more or less effective in most situations (101).
  • The problem of audience: can we ever really know the audience?  Does audience analysis turn into stereotyping?  What constitutes a “specific” audience as opposed to a general one?  Aren’t “specific audiences” also generalized (104)?  Or, is this merely a problem of scales of generality and specificity?  If that is the case, does the text call the scale of audience into being?  Are audiences of a text actually audiences at all or are they – according to Ong/Ede&Lunsford written into being by the text (Barthes idea too – a result of temporal distance between when a text is written and when it is read . . . but this too assigns far too much power to the writer-as-author-as-genius right?).  So, the dialectic at work here is audience invoked vs. audience analyzed (subject vs. object again).  One alternative is to think about audience in situatedness – analyzing audience becomes an analysis of the numerous forces that produce a particular social situation through which the writing arises from the author (embedded in the same social situation).
  • As an alternative to the synonymity between specificity and situatedness M. offers they are actually different terms.  In fact, M. argues that specificity and generality are basically relative equivalents (or equivalents because of scales).  As such, he argues for singular situatedness as the way that difference happens within areas of intelligibility (and can be considered for composition).
  • Kairos offers the alternative to generality/specificity by offering the “singularity of actual situatedness” (115) or the qualitative character of time (as opposed to chronos or the temporal character of time).  Kairos – as the materialist concept of eternity – constitutes reality in very broad terms.
  • After tracing kairos M. asks a very, very important question, “Even if kairos provides an adequate description of how actual situatedness happens (and its intimate connection to invention), can it be taught?” (120)  M. argues that instead o teaching analytical methods or flexible writing heuristics, a kairotic pedagogy might instead advocate the development of a wide-ranging series of practices that allows students to respond to situatedness itself.  This isn’t relativism and isn’t expressivism as a knowledge of situatedness doesn’t push back toward the solitary subject creating from the self, nor does it accept that all knowledge production is the same (because situations are different, right?).

Chapter Seven: Topoi – Replacing Aristotle

  • In this chapter M. takes up the issue of the topoi to demonstrate that even though he is arguing for a new approach to invention that is affirmative, this isn’t new; rather, it is found in different ways of reading the content that is already there.
  • The first thing that is certain about topoi: we don’t know exactly what they are (124).  The 3 main characteristics of the common form of scholarly engagement: 1) the role of understanding is crucial (again, the dialectic); 2) there is a gap in much ancient writings on the topoi (because a lack of understanding exists that must be addressed); and 3) the gap serves a generative or inventive function: it must be overcome by explaining the omission or finding coherence through multiple gaps (126).
  • As an alternative, M. offers an understanding of topical invention as complete: this would diminish the importance of getting the “gap right” and focus instead on drawing connections out from the gap.  They might be inhabited in much the same way as the hunter inhabits the forest, opportunistic for passing game but not deadest on a 12 point buck (think Carolyn Miller’s article here) (127).  In this way, the topos functions as a generative space – a place that demarcates bodies as bodies, but only because it itself is immanent and responsive to those bodies (133).  In other words, the topoi become haunts of immanent responsiveness and situatedness.
  • M. closes the chapter by highlighting how the desire to understand the gaps that surround the topoi is fundamentally at odds with the nature of the topoi themselves: situated and immanent responsiveness.  So, the discovery and production of gaps is actually assumes the insertion of a category into topos so that the external imposes a structure on the immanent (140).

Chapter Eight: The Future of Invention – Doxa and ‘the Common’

  • The future of invention has historically (Platonically) been forced to confront its own relationship to the old, established and traditional way of being – this assumes a revolutionary break from the past to be something different in the future (144).  This means that tradition isn’t exactly the same as the past but is rather a way of describing the decorum or propriety of the past.  But complete breaks can’t be how things function, otherwise they would be unintelligible.  So, innovation and difference must alter tradition in order to function. . . but in so doing must compromise itself (so it isn’t incomprehensible) . . . and tradition requires innovation to continue to exist itself as well (whoa, where’d the binary go?).
  • M. notes, “The point I want to emphasize here, though, is that tradition itself, as the ordering of the past and the demand for its repetition, is far more supple than its monolithic characterization tends to imply.  In fact, it would seem that tradition not only solicits innovation, but demands it.  That is, innovation may very well be nothing more than a mechanism through which tradition transmits itself” (148).
  • So, M. complicates the relationship/dialectic between doxa and episteme in this last chapter by highlighting that – even for Socrates – the belief in episteme was rooted in doxa (I mean you must believe there is true knowledge, right?!?).  Therefore, doxa is the “singular rhythm” that encompasses the dialectic between knowledge and belief – it is the movement through which the binary is constituted.
  • Doxa further operates as a paradox in that it is conceived of as both the “steadfast qualities of tradition” (belief operates as uninvestigated acceptance) and the “capricious ones of innovation” (belief, once tied down, becomes the stuff of innovation/knowledge) (155).  **Wanna know why? Because there only IS**
  • What of opinions, individuals, and collectives?  “In fact, doxa or at least this dimension of it, seems to consist of nothing other than the attempt to increase its own territory through identification, the effort to appropriate not only the individual subject, but also the generic subject, and perhaps even the movement of generality as reason itself.  As a result, the basic issue raised by this movement of doxa concerns the ways in which subjects relate to various forms of collectivity (whether the individual subject, the group, or the subject in general).  Within this movement, doxa’s stalwart character results from the fact that it seems to relate to these collectivities only through the movement of identification” (157).
  • Yet, when reversed, this process structures subjective experience in a way that is/was (for Plato) bad because it cannot be possessed by the individual subject.  The dialectic produced by pushing these two accounts of experience against each other points to the possibility that doxa is something beyond the movement of identification between collectives (subject, collective, individual) and actually the effect of a singular and affirmative movement – the “movement of the common” or immanence (159).  The common – the plane of immanence – structures our ability to have “I” and “we” – it is the space wherein difference and plurality constitute the common.
  • REREAD PGS 160-166.
  • “To be inclined toward the common dimension of the future refers to an orientation toward emergence itself, including the emergence of the past.  Such an inclination points to a resonance with the unprecedented arrival of tradition as well as the unprecedented emergence of secondary innovation.  In this case, the common hints at a future – a future of invention – that is both unrecognizable and nevertheless only actualized through the recognition” (165).


1.     I’m only early on here, but does the rejection of the dialectic toward affect/addition/non-negation turn into a dialectic in the process of rejection?  In other words, can you escape the dialectic by posing a dialectic between dialectic and non-dialectic?  This is a question that comes up in Hawk’s Counter History as well. M. confronts this question on 11 and answers with “the major project of this book is to respond to this little question” (12).

2.     How does rule 3 – the “principle of selective reading” – affect the process of historiography?

Useful Quotes:

1.     “knowledge itself only emerges within a particular context and through the situated movement of actual power dynamics” (21).

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