Cognisphere digital rhetoric Posthumanism Rhetoric/Composition

The apprehensive economics of rhetoric

I just finished reading Agamben's essay "What is an apparatus?" (AMZ). It raises some interesting connections for rhetoric that I had certainly not thought of before, at least not in this way. The essay begins as an exploration of Foucault's use of the term apparatus, or more precisely, dispositif in French. Agamben notes this word translates as apparatus in English. In the original Italian of his essay it is dispositivo. These words have a visible etymological relation to a Latin word familiar to rhetoricans: dispositio, which (for non-rhetoricians) is the word Classical Roman rhetors used for what we now term "arrangement" in the writing process.

Back to that in a moment, but let me take a brief foray into the weirdness of translation. Google translates dispositif as "device" but also translates appareil as device. Elsewhere appareil is translated as apparatus, and is the word in French that gets translated in A Thousand Plateaus as apparatus, as in "apparatus of capture," which is a phrase that comes up in Agamben's essay, though he doesn't make the connection to Deleuze and Guattari.

But that's not all. Dispositio is the Latin translation of the Greek oikonomia, as in economics. Agamben enters this conversation from several angles, starting with Focuault, circling back through Hyppolite (one of Foucault's mentors) to Hegel and back through Heidegger. He also notes the Church's use of oikonomia in the 6th century to explain the operation of the Trinity. As Agamben explains the Church's reasoning, "Just as a good father can entrust his son the execution of certain functions and duties without in doing so losing his power and unity, so God entrusts to Christ the 'economy,' the administration and government of human history." However, as Agamben continues, "as often happens, the fracture that the theologians sought to avoid by removing it from the plane of God's being, reappeared in the form of a caesura that separated Him in being and action, ontology and practice. Action (economy, but also politics) has no foundation in being: this is the schizophrenia that the theological doctrine of oikonomia left as its legacy to Western culture."

Without summarizing all of Agamben, he comes to this observation: "we than have two great classes: living beings (or substances) and apparatuses. And between these two, as a third class, subjects. I call a subject that which results from the relation, and, so to speak, from the relentless fight between living beings and apparatuses." At the same time, Agamben also notes that the apparatus is necessary to becoming human as it allows for the separation of being and action (as we see in theology). As he points out, language is the perhaps the most ancient of apparatuses, and provides us with consciousness as we know it, the ability to experience Being and the Open (in Heideggerean terms), and all the struggles of subjectification that have exponentially proliferated through the expansion of technology in the contemporary age.h?

We recognize that writing is an apparatus (or constellation of apparatuses if you prefer) and that writing pedagogies tend to gravitate toward teaching students to occupy particular subjective positions in relation to the writing apparatus. For Agamben, this seems especially wrong-headed, who argues that "if a certain process of subjectification corresponds to every apparatus, then it is impossible for the subject of an apparatus to use it 'in the right way.'" That is to say that students (who as students are obviously already captured subjects of an institutional apparatus) are in turn captured as "composition students" then they have already been subjectified by the writing apparatus. In this scheme, pedagogy becomes an economics of apprehension in which we seek to manage/apprehend the subjectification of students in relation to writing, and this is the case whether we are talking about current-traditional "correctness," expressiveness, critical awareness, or political empowerment/liberation.

Dispositio operates iteratively with/as inventio in the composition of thought as thoughts emerge to be apprehended in the conscious, as language or symbolic action/behavior, within that apparatus of capture. It is no more at matter of escaping the apparatus (b/c we only exist as conscious beings through our relation to the apparatus) than it is the appropriate use/management of the apparatus (which is ultimately only the management of the subject). The management of the apparatus, the economics of apprehension, as Agamben notes, was once the province of the divine (of Christ in Christian theology). Then perhaps it was secured by the State. Now, who knows? Perhaps one imagines there is still some unifying force in transnational capitalism or some such, perhaps the "will to technology." Or maybe we are adrift in a schizophrenia of desubjectification, attached to a proliferation of apparatuses. This would seem to be Agamben's take.

Well this post has certainly gone on long enough. I'm going to have to think about these things some more.