Okay… my fellow students… I’m telling you now that there is no way you can know what you need to know before you need to know it. In a meeting with Fearless Leader One, talking about how I have the seeds of three different chapters in my first chapter draft, they drop the name of Thomas Rickert, as though I’ve read Rickert, which I haven’t. Like, we’re talking introduction material—Why Berthoff now?—and they’re like… When we’re turning to Rickert and conversations about object oriented ontology…as though this theory and perspective is new… we are missing a gem from our own theorist/practitioner, AEB, whose praxis accounts for much of what Rickert argues is a “new rhetoric” (well, new as of 2003). So I’m reading Ambient Rhetoric and smacking my palm against my forehead. There is Montessori. There is Berthoff. There. And there. How had I not known about this book? I’ve read Latour. I’ve read Thinking with Bruno Latour in Rhetoric and Composition, and Rickert has a chapter in that interesting volume (“The Whole of the Moon: Latour, Context, and the Problem of Holism”). And yet… I didn’t make the connections. Until now. Now watch me read the preface and intro of Ambient Rhetoric and Berthoffize it…
Rickert opens with some thinking about (“thinking with”) the term “terroir” as it shapes wine culture. He writes, “
…holistic terroir…conveys the materiality of the sky that nourished and the ground that grew the grapes…Terroir imparts not only specific flavors but a sense of the connectedness rooted in a wine’s place and time of origin…Place comes to bear up and impart meaning through practices and discourses that conjoin all the disparate but interconnected viticultural and enological elements: earth, sun, vine, and weather; cultivating and harvesting the grapes, fermenting the juice, blending, aging, and distributing the wine; discussing the vintage; and ultimately drinking the wine, with all the sensory subtleties and conviviality doing so brings. Indeed, the strong social and ritualistic aspects of wine invoke even divinities… (x).
I want to be clear: Rickert does something AEB does not do. Rickert’s “ambient rhetoric” argues that material environment acts rhetorically, and thus we need an expanded notion of what rhetoric is. In this volume he dissolves the subject/object divide by giving agency—the ability to shape outcomes—to things and their relations in space. He’s speaking to a traditional conception of rhetoric “taken as discursive, intentional art“ and extending it as one that “can and indeed must be grounded in the material relations from which it springs, not simply as the situation giving it its shape and exigence, but as part of what we mean by rhetoric” (x).
He goes on. “Rhetoric in this sense is ambient. It surrounds; it is of the earth, both in the most mundane of senses and in the Heideggerian idiom, as that which withdraws from meaning and relationality…Rhetoric impacts the senses, circulates in waves of affect, and communes to join and disjoin people. It gathers and is gathered by things not as a denial of the social but as an essential complement to it” (x). ***Or “constituent” of it? A Peircean triadicity suggests this enfolding of the social, only on the level of the sign, which requires a person (animal symbolicum), particularly in terms of pedagogy.
“Rhetoric may give priority to the expressly salient, but the salient must take part in and emerge from the ambient.” **This reminds me of “chaos”… I imagine Rickert’s description of outer life, and the subject as equal part of a rhetorical environment, as a dimension akin to the inner life of the mind AEB taps in her terms “chaos” and “allatonceness.” But his term “salient” is foggy. Does he mean… noticeable? recognizable? meaningful? impactful? Seems to me cognition—human re-cognition—on some level, is a constituent of the term “salient”…. OED’s record of “salient” is interesting: http://www.oed.com.ezproxy.gsu.edu/view/Entry/170002?redirectedFrom=salient#eid
“We can think this in terms of Richard Lanahm’s notion of rhetoric as the economics of attention, provided we expand the concept of attention beyond that which is limited to the subjective, intentional, or merely cognitive;…” **What the heck? I can imagine an “attention” conceived of outside of Mind? The way material things/aspects “attend” to each other in the surround. Okay. fine. “…attention would thereby come to include the materiality of our ambient environs, our affective comportments, the impact of that which escapes conscious notice, and the stumbling block presented by the finitude of knowledge when facing the plentitude of the world and its objects” (x, xi). ***This is where Rickert’s intention, his focus and exigency diverge from my own, and from Berthoff’s (and from pedagogy?); as a teacher, Berthoff’s interest is in students, people (mind with a small “m”?)
“Attention attends to the salient, but the bringing forth of salience is itself a complex activity that has ambient dimensions” (xi). ***THIS IS FORM FINDING FORM. In a MIND. THIS IS ANN E. BERTHOFF… So now I’m wondering about Rickert’s theory of language. What is it? I mean, even if his subject isn’t contained to signification and symbol, his thinking about his subject—and his writing about his subject—is.
“This poses a problem, as I will show, when the salient is taken for all that there is or all that matters. It poses a problem precisely because it excludes from discussion how the ambient dimensions of a rhetorical situation constitute the ways things emerge and show up for us in the first place” (xi)… In a MIND. This is AEB. This is form finding form. This is not new.
Rickert doesn’t seem to have noticed triadicity or have been particularly impressed with it. “Discourses and images mediate and thereby shape our experience of something…I will be arguing against this understanding of the mediation of experience. But it is important to point out that rhetoric obviously has much stake in this debate, and we might recognize how it plays out today as the opposition between forms of realism and of idealism, or between representational theories of language and social constructionist ones…” (xi). ***So in some way, Rickert posits his “understanding”…one that “attends to materiality”… as breaking up the false dichotomy between “representational theories of language and social constructionist ones”? Dyadic = representational? The triad does this, to some extent.