Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Future of Invention --response 1

John Muckelbauer's book (2008) is a challenging and enriching text for any scholars interested in invention and postmodern thought. As someone caught in modernist thinking, this book has been fairly mind-blowing for me. In the next few blog posts, I plan to offer some responses to the text that will help me understand the text better.

What is gratifying, even welcoming, about Muckelbauer's book actually is his fundamental thesis. So much of deconstructionism, post-process theory, and other postmodernist views seem off-putting because in putting forth their propositions and philosophical perspective they destroy, undercut, denigrate, and even ridicule the "foundationalist" thinking they are "rising" above. At least, these are the kinds of emotions I have felt in the presence of postmodern thinking--I am a dull, ill-witted idiot to still think this way (or not to understand what they are saying). But Muckelbauer's book begins offering a different form of invention and responding to the "problem of change." What he notices in BOTH foundationalism and antifoundationalism (modernist and postmodernist thinking and scholarship) is a common pattern of invention:

"foundationalism and antifoundationalism ... actually share a common 'foundational' commitment to a dialectical image of change and to the movement of negation that engineers it. ... difference and novelty only emerges by somehow overcoming or negating particular others." (x)

What he identifies as common within all this scholarship is the firmly entrenched binary of "the same" and "the different" and that both groups operate on the same style of dialectical change: "a style of engagement in which negation is the generative principle of transformation" (4).  Here in a nutshell is the scholarly movement of "making knowledge" with a dissertation (or other scholarship). You start with a problem or a gap, and to answer/solve that problem or fill in that gap you have to show how something is wrong or misunderstood. You have to define your "problem" to initiate your inquiry which by definition sets the scholarly operation of novelty (of generating knowledge) as an operation of overcoming and negating what has come before.

Instead, Muckelbauer offers a style of invention that is "not simply different from"(12) this movement of invention via negation which he calls an affirmative style of invention. Here is where he gets fairly frustratingly postmodern himself by claiming that this affirmative style of invention can't be explained representationally (i.e. defined) but he suggests it might be "demonstrated performatively" (xi). I reveal my own tension with understanding Muckelbauer by seeking to present some representational understanding of what he means in this blog (when I suppose I should be following his affirmative style of engagement). As he says at the end of the introduction, "[the] content of the propositions that I was reading ... may be of less importance than the 'how' of the movement through those propositions" (xii). He is after provoking with his book a style of engagement that challenges the traditional scholarly endeavor which is built on novelty through negation.The affirmative style of change, as he says, is not different from "the appropriative movement of dialectical negation"(30)--we can't seem to transcend this repetitious movement of dialectic--but is about what he terms a style, and inclination, a modulation of this repetition. He notices within the "appropriative repetition of humanism" a logic of identity that enables appropriation (a sort of colonialism within the dialectical movement) that he says has at its core "the extraction of constants" (35).  However, affirmative invention has a different "rhythm": "On the other hand, within any given encounter, an inclination toward intensive, singular rhythms functions through the extraction of variation" (35). Here I have done things he probably would disapprove of as I have tried to define this affirmative sense of change and clarify how it is different in my efforts to appropriate his ideas and label the constants in his discussion. Oh, the postmodern trap.

Yet I think his ideas are very important. I'm going to follow a train of connections that is helping me understand Muckelbauer's different style of engagement with change (novelty, invention). His chapter 2 focuses on why he engages with rhetoric in his book, and in this discussion he charts the rise of rhetoric and postmodernism and their connections. He cites Stanley Fish's statement: "another word for anti-foundationalism is rhetoric" (25). So perhaps different styles of rhetoric may parallel Muckelbauer's different styles of engagement with the repetitious movement of dialectic. He has noticed a single style that seems to dominate, and he is saying another style (that is not just different) exists. This reminds me of Wayne Booth's discussion within The Rhetoric of Rhetoric of different kinds of rhetoric. He talks about "Win-Rhetoric" which is about "the intent to win at all cost" and then "Bargain-Rhetoric" which is likewise a form of "win-win" rhetoric (43-45). Both seem to operate via forms of negation. But he presents another approach to rhetoric that he calls "Listening Rhetoric" where "I am not just seeking the truth; I want to pursue the truth behind our differences" (46). For me, I see something of a parallel between Muckelbauer's affirmative style of invention and Booth's style of listening rhetoric. Both are responsive to the "other" and embrace difference and variation to provide insight (i.e. novelty, discover, invention).

More to come...

1 comment:

Rich said...

So, what is invention? Is it more a matter of selection? In the information age, or interaction age, is invention a matter of grabbing attention and putting things together? Is the future of invention attention?