In his latest book, Heuretics, Gregory Ulmer explores the “figure of exploration” as a model for knowledge, (discovery as invention or invention as discovery), continuing the project he initiated with Applied Grammatology of reading deconstructive as well as psychoanalytic theories for an idiosyncratic practice. “Heuretics” (invention) is a term that Ulmer sometimes uses in opposition to hermeneutics. Ulmer has more of a sense of play than most theorists (this sense leads him to coin terms like “puncept” a combination of concept and pun or “popcycle” in referring to mass media): his method in Heuretics is his madness. Not only does he explicitly deform Cartesian method by proposing a series of contradictions to Descartes’ line of reasoning (this anti-method, Ulmer calls CATTt, of which we will see more later), he also reads with great care Jacques Derrida’s collaboration with Peter Eisenman on the design of a folie at the Parc de la Villette architectural project. Ulmer is careful to underscore the many meanings of the term folie and plays upon its relationship to the English terms of madness and folly (which lead him to Ziegfield, Folies Bergères, the nineteenth century’s fondness for living tableaux, vaudeville and burlesque entertainment).
Ulmer follows the logic of madness or at least the logic of linguistic madness as it is manifested in puns, in linguistic resemblances that trace out for him a line of new reasoning. This anti-method that is derived from continental theory keeps taking him back home, to Miles City, Montana, and the quincentenary of Columbus’ discovery of “America.” Ulmer calls his anti-method CATTt, a self-contradicting postmodern (and therefore, he suggests, impossible) method that is [End Page 415] generated out of the following acronym and is related to manifestos written by different avant-gardes of the twentieth century.
Where does following this tale of this CATTt lead Ulmer? To a hypothetical tableau vivant remake of the 1939 film Beau Geste, which would take place at the centenary celebration of the founding of Ulmer’s hometown, Miles City, Montana. Ulmer jests and jests in serious, for he has been playing the fool of and for deconstruction, the beau geste of his work has always had to do with the folly that he allows himself to enact through writing and reading poststructuralist theory. Shakespeare put some of his best lines in the mouths of his fools: Ulmer’s jests demand a kind of Shakespearean attention. He is playing, but how can we be sure that this play is not serious?
The claims that he makes for his anti-method are related to his understanding of hypertext and hypermedia. One of the most powerful points that Ulmer makes in Heuretics has to do with his analysis of the relationship between the ways in which deconstruction overturns a traditional understanding of the book and writing and the ways in which hypermedia are also engaged in a radical transformation of the book medium. Ulmer cites the case of the French Protestant Peter Ramus who re-invented the rules of page layout and was decapitated and defenestrated during the Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in Paris. Tampering with the book is akin to tampering with logic, and he or she who does it inspires enormous hostility. According to Ulmer, “hypermedia is the technological aspect of an electronic apparatus (referring to an interactive matrix of technology, institutional practices, and ideological subject formation).” Hypermedia allows writing on the screen to take place in tandem with “pictures, words and sound (picto-ideo-phonographic) writing.” The contradictions of writing what is still recognizably a book and a not very well designed one at that are obvious. (Johns Hopkins University Press has been distinguished in fact by its stubborn refusal to follow the graphic innovations taking place at other university presses in the publication and packaging of theory books.) Ulmer’s Heuretics is still a book: his description of his remake [End Page 416] of Beau Geste is still descriptive rather than inscriptive. The contradiction between the form and content of this book...