Monday, March 31, 2014

Rhizo-Rhetoric and the Problems of Unity and Multiplicity #rhizo14

Let's assume, then, that writing a work of some kind—I'll stop short of calling it a book—about Rhizo14 calls for a different kind of rhetoric, a rhizo-rhetoric. What would such a rhizo-rhetoric look like? That's a great question for me, and I'm hoping that the Rhizo14 community will help articulate some answers to the question, but I still want to create some pockets of resonance and sound some musical riffs that may echo for us as we work through this composition.

I want to explore deeper the problem of unity and multiplicity that I touched on in my last post. Traditional rhetoric assumes a single individual as the center of the rhetorical act: the creator of new knowledge and the effective communicator of that knowledge, both mediated through the skillful use of language to create, capture, and communicate knowledge. I want to suggest that the study of and creation of new knowledge about an entity such as Rhizo14 demands a rhizomatic view of the individual scholar and knowledge as multiplicities and not individual, unitary individuals. I think I can find support for this in Deleuze and Guattari's A Thousand Plateaus (1988), Michel Serres' book Genesis (1995), and Byron Hawk's A Counter-History of Composition: Toward Methodologies of Complexity (2007). I'll be pulling ideas from all of these thinkers, and while I'll try to distinguish one from the others, it might get messy. Multiplicity always resists such reductionism.

Multiplicity is the third of six "approximate characteristics of the rhizome" (7) listed by D&G. As I understand it, multiplicity has profound implications for rhetoric: for its concepts of author, knowledge, content, document format, and readers, but I'm focusing on the author here. What does multiplicity mean for the Rhizo14 ethnography? First, it means that we are neither individuals nor a collective, as both imply a unity of either the one or the many, a single person or a single group designated by names and counted by numbers—for instance: Clarissa or the twelve-member Rhizo14 ethnography group (I've no idea how many are in the group, but that number isn't accidental). As Serres says in Genesis, we want unified concepts, either the individual or the herd that we can name and count, and we don't like multiplicities. We are confused and find mysterious those things that we can designate only with indefinite articles: some fog or grass, some love or hate. Those things are hard to think with and too often relegated to poetics and ignored by rhetorics and logics. We want a definite list of names for authorship of our document. We want to know who is inside and who outside, who are the authors and who are the readers. We want to attribute and quote, designate and footnote. We want to place blame and give praise. We don't want some people who wrote some stuff about some of the things that happened sometime somewhere:
anyone lived in a pretty how town
(with up so floating many bells down)
Rather, we want only (Please note the diminutive only here. It is important.) specific people, preferably experts, who analyze the event, reduce it to its essential, salient facts and narrative thereby creating specific, usable knowledge and then arrange the dissected carcass of Rhizo14 in a clean, well-lighted document that interested readers can follow, thus transferring knowledge from the authors to the readers. I point out the diminutive only because I am not saying that I do not want this kind of writing. To say this would be to trash much of the scientific literature of the past three millennia, and that would be a travesty. I do want this kind of writing, but I also want more. The trouble is that traditional rhetoric gives me ONLY the above kind of writing. I want that kind and more. I want to expand my rhetorical reality. I want to expand beyond the single author, whether individual or group, analyzing a single event to compose a single document for a single audience.

I want an indeterminate authorship, a multiplicity, many unnamed, so that we can speak explicitly only of some of the writers of the Rhizo14 ethnography. I want to invite all to participate in the writing of this document, in the continued writing of this document, to invite marginalia, edits, amendments, disagreements, links, comments, new chapters, images, poems, stories, dreams, games, jokes, and more. Wikipedia has proven to my satisfaction that this kind of authorship can produce profound documents. We can choose to make authors anonymous or we can have a place to list all names, even of those who only read. I'm not sure that it matters. As D&G say: "To reach, not the point where one no longer says I, but the point where it is no longer of any importance whether one says I. We are no longer ourselves. Each will know his own. We have been aided, inspired, multiplied."

We must get away from a rhetoric that posits the analytical processes of the individual, discrete mind as the source of knowledge-making and language as the only platform for knowledge-making and expression. Rhizo-rhetoric demands more: We cannot reduce knowledge-making to a function of the single, rational mind. As Frank D'Angelo notes in his A Theory of Rhetoric (1975), rhetoric must include "the imagination, creativity, free association, fantasy, play, dreams, the unconscious, nonintellectual sensing, the stream-of-consciousness, and the self. … This new emphasis on writing which is relatively free of control and direction may be termed the new romanticism. It holds that not all our mental processes are rational" (159). D'Angelo gets it right, in so far as he can take it, but he is still positing a single, unitary consciousness. D&G and Serres are suggesting that we must expand our view of knowledge beyond any unit to include the multiple. Both the individual and its herd are multiplicities that extend beyond the limits of the sometimes useful fiction of the single unit.

I do not want to rid us of the useful fiction of the individual or group author. I just don't want to limit us to that unit. I want to explore the rhizomatic author, the multiplicity. And I want this because I don't think any single author can capture the rhizomatic nature of Rhizo14 or produce a document that invites readers to participate in and understand Rhizo14. I'm looking for a multiplicity, a cacophony of voices, a gaggle of purposes, a flock of tones, a clutch of points of view.

I fear that many will think I am eliminating the individual, either as single unit or group unit, and melding the individual into the amorphous whole, but I reject this either/or thinking. A multiplicity is something else, a third thing that includes both the single unit and the group unit and all the other stuff that is left out of those two reductions. A multiplicity includes all the in-between stuff, the nameless and uncountable stuff, and I want a rhetoric that helps me include that. I'm sure I cannot do it by myself. But—and here's a good point—I do have to do what I can do by myself. What does this mean?

I've illustrated this concept before, but it is worth repeating here. A multiplicity does not mean that I do not have the ability to emerge as an individual with describable characteristics that can be distinguished from other individuals. Rather, it means that I have the potential to emerge as a wide range of individuals depending upon my interactions with different contexts. Let's see how this works: consider the period, the bit of punctuation, at the end of this sentence. <— there it is. And if we pull this period out of its context to define it, to reduce it to its essential meaning: "the point or character (.) used to mark the end of a declarative sentence, indicate an abbreviation, etc.; full stop", then we reduce the period to almost meaningless. It becomes a silly, little dot. Here it is:


All by itself, the period is useless and meaningless, as all of us are, but as a part of a multiplicity such as this blog post, the period takes on real power, real agency, BUT only so long as it remains itself, only so long as it maintains its internal integrity, what we conventionally call its individuality, and allows other marks to remain themselves. The period cannot sag into a comma, nor can it lift itself up into an i. It must remain a . It must do period-things amongst the behaviors of the other grammatical and graphical marks. And all those other marks must do what they do. We writers in a multiplicity, then, must do what we do. We must know and maintain our integrity, and we must allow others to know and maintain their integrity. At its heart, then, a multiplicity is founded on an ethical stance: we must be true to ourselves, and we must make room for others to be true to themselves and then we must cultivate those connections that encourage the greatest growth for all of us.

I'm looking for a rhetoric that allows for this kind of authorship, among other things. I'm looking for a rhizo-rhetoric. Okay, that's enough. I'm traveling this week, and I've run out of time before I ever got to what I wanted to say about Byron Hawk's book. Next time.

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