Below is a copy of a CCCC’s panel proposal by David Grant, Brooke Rollins, Nathaniel Rivers, and myself. I share this here specifically for my upcoming New Media Production seminar, to show them how digital pedagogy can be developed and framed for a conference proposal. Disclosure: I am speaker four, and my presentation has already been accepted in article form by Enculturation. The seminar will be doing the assignment generated from Kalman’s work and approach.
We are all pleased to be a part of the program!
Our emphasis was to stress the
Composing Speculations / Speculative Rhetorics
Keywords: speculative, invention, nonhuman, gambling, deliberation
The word “speculation” is cognate with words such as spy and scope. Its etymology resonates with meanings of mirrors, light, and silver. Its grammatical mood is the subjunctive and it deals with the unreal. Recently, it has been used as a rhetorical mode in speculative realism and it now frames other discourses in fiction, economics, and music. These uses point to distance, removal, and probability but also to hope, fortune, and foresight. Such resonances entail risks and suggest rewards among competing courses of action.
This panel frames the relevance of this term to rhetorical and composition theory. Each speaker articulates a different sense of the speculative and explores its potential impact on deliberation, agency, invention, and/or pedagogy. Speaker One theorizes the speculative in terms of distributing economic risk and probability, speaker two in terms of risk and gambling, speaker three use the speculative to rethink deliberation, while speaker four frames the speculative in terms of vitalism and the chora. Given the speculative turn in philosophy, attention to serendipity, and their impacts on rhetorical theory, this panel addresses contingency in rhetorical invention and demonstrates how the speculative and contingent are informed by rhetorical practices.
Speaker One: Speculative Economies
Scholars of literacy such as Deborah Brandt (2002) have argued that the ability to read and write is an often unacknowledged economic good. However, this ability is always interwoven with social and technological orders whose current rapid pace of change carries a great deal of uncertainty about literacy’s value. As an economic good, then, literacy skills may have a certain shelf life as new technologies disrupt the old. Indeed, literacy may be thought of as a speculative endeavor. The Canadian Scholarship Trust’s “Careers 2030,” a speculative endeavor about careers that will appear by 2030, is just one response to this dynamic. This dynamic poses similar problems for composition teachers and scholars who must decide what to teach or study and how to do so based upon some speculation of future conditions, be that for their students or for themselves. That is, these moments of literacy entail risks, perhaps greater risk now than at other times in recent history.
Economists, such as Louis Bachelard (1900), John Maynard Keynes and Sir John Richard Hicks (1930), and Holbrook Working (1953) focused on speculation as means to manage economic risk in an uncertain world. Because economic speculation already assumes a market, its connection to risk is understood as distributed. The aggregate distributes the risk and works distributively to understand that risk via speculation. While “literacy” and its practices cannot be valued in any standardized fashion, economic discussions about managing risk have resonance with contemporary scholarship in writing studies. Ecological (Cooper 1986, Dobrin and Weisser 2002) or ambient (Rickert 2013) frameworks are inherently confronted with risks since interlocutors may not be sufficiently “attuned” to each other. Understanding speculation as a distributed endeavor that can help manage such risks sheds further light on ecological and ambient rhetorics, their complexity, and their connections to speculative realist philosophies.
Speaker Two: Speculative Agency: Rhetorical Practice as Action Gambling
Drawing on recent clinical studies on compulsive gamblers and gambling pathology, Speaker 2 argues that the arts of rhetoric and writing involve an essential gamble in which the identity of the speaker or writer is put at risk through a disruptive encounter with the future. Persuasive texts, that is, are defined in part by how they affect audience members, and so writers and speakers are tasked from the very beginning with making their best guesses about the future reception of their rhetorical work. No matter how strategic, reasoned, or carefully crafted, rhetorical acts are speculative in so far as persuasive texts are defined from the start by the fact that they must be given over to their unknowable futures.
Because of the speculative element of rhetorical practice, composition and rhetoric needs a framework to account for the surprisingly high-risk nature of rhetorical activity. To meet this need, Speaker 2 theorizes persuasive speaking and writing as forms of “action gambling,” a category of addiction used to characterize gamblers who experience a loss of self-control even as they deploy highly calculated gaming systems or strategies that demonstrate their knowledge and acumen. Unlike “escape gamblers,” who exhibit dissociative behavior and prefer games of pure chance that require little active involvement and no independent strategy (typically slot machines), “action gamblers” gravitate towards games of chance that require a strong element of skill. Arguing that rhetorical acts are gambles in the sense that deliberative rationality is infiltrated by chance and unpredictability, Speaker 2 suggests that “action gambling” provides a fitting framework for refiguring rhetorical agency as speculative identity.
Speaker Three: Speculative Deliberation: Deciding with Science Fiction
Speculative science fiction films such as Minority Report, Moon, and Her are compositions posing problems that are deliberated upon both inside and outside of the film. Such films explore the complex relationship between technology and concerns over justice, personhood, and consciousness. As a particular kind of science fiction, such speculative compositions increase the inventive potential of deliberative. To decide in the present, we must be able to imagine possible futures, and imagining possible futures is the implicit (and at times explicit) task of science fiction. In charting the unknown, in going where we have not gone before, science fiction does important, rhetorical work.
In arguing for deliberation as a necessarily speculative practice, Speaker 3 treats Spike Jonze’s Her as a speculative performance of a certain set of risks concerning the human/nonhuman divide. Understanding deliberation as a speculative practice allows us to see speculative (science) fictions as deliberative compositions. A key question in science fiction specifically and in our culture at large, concerns the human relationship with the nonhuman. We are concerned about the shapes of these relationships as well as the possibilities of these relationships as such. Buried within these concerns is a more general anxiety about the very boundaries between the human and the nonhuman. Such boundary making activities are inherently rhetorical, involving as they do choices about what to include and what to leave out.
Speaker Four: Speculative Invention: Maira Kalman’s “Empty Brain” and the Chora
Speaker Four places Maira Kalman in conversation with contemporary scholarship concerning the chora to articulate a vitalist, speculative form of invention. Kalman repeatedly linked her creative process to specific locales and idiosyncratic experiences, highlighting the significance and unpredictability of serendipity. Thus, her methods coincide with a group of scholars, including Gregory Ulmer, Thomas Rickert, Sarah Arroyo, Byron Hawk, Jody Shipka, and Jeff Rice, all of whom advocate for forms of invention opposed to the static, topical heuristics that dominate rhetoric’s history.
While these forms of invention can be incredibly productive, they offer no guarantees. Invention, seen through Kalman’s notion of the serendipitous, is always a risky business.
To be comfortable with speculative invention is to accept that invention must always be materially situated in rhetorical situations, and that rhetorical situations must be treated in terms of Heraclitus’s shifting river: the idiosyncratic elements of every rhetorical situation call for us to invent new methods of invention. Invention cannot be willed or controlled, and thus should not be framed in terms of pre-existing heuristics. Maira Kalman’s aesthetic process, ground in what she calls “walking with an open brain,” offers a viable perspective for reframing invention as a speculative risk.