• Contemporary Rhetorical Theory and Practice

    205 001 | CCN: 25846

    On the Materiality of Human Thinking

    Instructor: David Bates

    Location: Internet/Online

    Date / Time: Tu 11:00am - 1:59pm

    4 Units

    For decades, the locus of leading-edge rhetorical theory was “textuality.” For many scholars in a wide array of fields, post-structuralism put rhetoric at the center of textual production and the interpretation of texts — however broadly that category could be understood. Today, it is hardly an overstatement to say that many theoretical debates in the humanities center on materiality, whether in the form of embodiment, objecthood, material culture, or media technologies.

    This seminar will focus on how, beginning in the 1990s, the interrogation of key rhetorical concerns moved to address what we might call the materiality of cognition (which does not mean the material conditions of thought, i.e. ideology). This will prepare the way for a disciplined critique of some contemporary trends that arise in different fields of inquiry.

    We will begin with Alan Turing’s iconic 1950 essay “Computing machinery and intelligence,” which opened up a new question concerning language, persuasion, and the “human,” and then read André Leroi-Gourhan’s Gesture and Speech (1964), a text that not only revisits Rousseau’s account of the origin of the human but was also taken up by Derrida in his early work — which we will also briefly explore. The rest of the seminar will be an opportunity to concentrate on three key theoretical developments that emerged from post-structuralism, but also move beyond it in important ways. First, we will study Bernard Stiegler’s rethinking of Derrida, Leroi-Gourhan, and phenomenology through the question of technology, and how that led to his ongoing critique of digital infrastructures. Second, we will work through Catherine Malabou’s radical juxtaposition of psychoanalysis and neuroscience in her writings on “plasticity.” Third, we will engage with what might be called recent “diffractive” epistemologies/ontologies inspired by new concepts in physics, most notably in the work of Karen Barad and Vicki Kirby.

    Depending on student interest, we could conclude with an examination of another topic in this orbit of ideas — speculative realism, for example, or the problem of “alien” (inhuman) reason in contemporary AI technologies.

    Possible texts:

    Bernard Stiegler
    Technics and Time, 3 vols. (1994-2001)
    Symbolic Misery (2004)
    Selected essays

    Catherine Malabou
    The Future of Hegel (1996)
    The New Wounded (2007)
    Ontology of the Accident (2009)
    Before Tomorrow (2014)

    Karen Barad
    Meeting the World Half-way: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning (2007)
    “Nature’s queer performativity” (2012)

    Vicki Kirby
    Quantum Anthropologies (2011)