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Ambient Rhetoric

The Attunements of Rhetorical Being

Thomas Rickert

Publication Year: 2013

In Ambient Rhetoric, Thomas Rickert seeks to dissolve the boundaries of the rhetorical tradition and its basic dichotomy of subject and object. With the advent of new technologies, new media, and the dispersion of human agency through external information sources, rhetoric can no longer remain tied to the autonomy of human will and cognition as the sole determinants in the discursive act. Rickert develops the concept of ambience in order to engage all of the elements that comprise the ecologies in which we exist. Culling from Martin Heidegger’s hermeneutical phenomenology in Being and Time, Rickert finds the basis for ambience in Heidegger’s assertion that humans do not exist in a vacuum; there is a constant and fluid relation to the material, informational, and emotional spaces in which they dwell. Hence, humans are not the exclusive actors in the rhetorical equation; agency can be found in innumerable things, objects, and spaces. As Rickert asserts, it is only after we become attuned to these influences that rhetoric can make a first step toward sufficiency. Rickert also recalls the foundational Greek philosophical concepts of kairos (time), chōra (space/place), and periechon (surroundings) and cites their repurposing by modern and postmodern thinkers as “informational scaffolding” for how we reason, feel, and act. He discusses contemporary theory in cognitive science, rhetoric, and object-oriented philosophy to expand his argument for the essentiality of ambience to the field of rhetoric. Rickert then examines works of ambient music that incorporate natural and artificial sound, spaces, and technologies, finding them to be exemplary of a more fully resonant and experiential media. In his preface, Rickert compares ambience to the fermenting of wine—how it’s distinctive flavor can be traced to innumerable factors, including sun, soil, water, region, and grape variety. The environment and company with whom it’s consumed further enhance the taste experience. And so it should be with rhetoric—to be considered among all of its influences. As Rickert demonstrates, the larger world that we inhabit (and that inhabits us) must be fully embraced if we are to advance as beings and rhetors within it.

Published by: University of Pittsburgh Press

Series: Pittsburgh Series in Composition, Literacy, and Culture

Front Cover

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pp. 1-4


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pp. 5-7


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pp. 8-9

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pp. ix-xix

Those who drink and read about wine frequently deploy a somewhat odd term: terroir. In an enological context, this French term refers to the vineyards from a particular region. It comes from terre, which viticulturists use to mean the land where the grapes were grown. The entire specific region is understood to possess a uniform soil type and ...

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pp. xxi-xxix

A book on ambience will have much to acknowledge—people, events, places, music, moods, and more. First and foremost, I am grateful to a number of friends and colleagues who at various key times provided invaluable help. Diane Davis, Daniel Smith, and Nathaniel Rivers gave me very generous readings of chapters; their insights and acumen helped make the book ...


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pp. xxiii-xxiv

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Introduction: Circumnavigation World/Listening/Dwelling

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pp. 1-37

As we move into the second millennium, we enter a time when new and often digital technologies are increasingly enmeshed with our everyday environment. Computer and telecommunications technologies are not only converging but also permeating the carpentry of the ...

Part 1: Diffractions of Ambience

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Chapter 1. Toward the Chora: Kristeva, Derrida, and Ulmer on Emplaced Invention

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pp. 41-73

Our understanding of what it means to inhabit and interact in spatial environments is changing. Holding on to a conception of ourselves as subjects who know, do, and make against a neutral, objective background is growing increasingly difficult. Fields as diverse as ...

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Chapter 2. Invention in the Wild: On Locating Kairos in Space-Time

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pp. 74-98

Kairos is an ancient Greek concept most frequently understood in rhetorical theory as referring to a timely or appropriate moment for rhetorical action. It was common to rhetorical practice during the classical age and after but began waning in line with the general fading of rhetoric after the Enlightenment. The result was the neglect of kairos, a notion ill-suited for more “rational,” “enlightened” epistemic groundings. With the ...

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Chapter 3. Ambient Work: Networks and Complexity in an Ambient Age

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pp. 99-129

Who or what writes when something is written? In the opening to chapter 7 of The Moment of Complexity: Emerging Network Culture, Mark C. Taylor writes, “I, Mark C. Taylor, am not writing this book” (196). This seems counterintuitive. I have the book; his name is listed as the author’s; some agent with the designation “Mark C. Taylor” at some time put words to page or screen. Is this not an author? Yes and no, we might ...

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Chapter 4. Music@Microsoft.Windows: Composing Ambience

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pp. 130-155

.Why does Microsoft Windows play music on startup?
As is well known, all Windows versions except for 3.1 have a brief (four- to six-second) piece of music indicating that Windows is booted and ready for use. Each version has unique music, though as I will show, Windows 95’s startup music, written by Brian Eno, and Windows Vista’s music, written by Robert Fripp, share musical motifs. Nor is the music of ...

Part 2. Dwelling with Ambience

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Chapter 5. Rhetoric, Language, Attunement: Burke and Heidegger

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pp. 159-190

I have been arguing that rhetoric must be understood as enmeshed with  and within its surroundings, which amounts to saying that rhetoric is ontological, being emergent from and wedded to the world, to the world’s being. Affect, or persuadability, already inheres, both materially and meaningfully, and is therefore prior to rhetoric. It is the condition of possibility for rhetoric’s emergence. And while world, as I have been using ...

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Chapter 6. The Rhetorical Thing: Objective, Subjective, Ambient

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pp. 191-219

Rhetoric has always dealt with things, which is to say that rhetoric has not ignored the material realm. The field’s historically predominant focus on rhetor, audience, and language may obscure this point, but contemporary rhetorical theory in particular attends to materiality. For instance, the field has firmly incorporated Marx’s notion of dialectical materialism and its attendant critique of ideology. In addition, substantial ...

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Chapter 7. Ambient Dwelling: Heidegger, Latour, and the Fourfold Thing

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pp. 220-245

In the previous chapters I have laid out some key theoretical underpinnings for conceiving rhetoric as ambient. I have argued that the subject/object dichotomy remains problematic for rhetorical theory, that the world is involved in human activity not as setting but as participant, that Heidegger’s theory of language prepares us for such a rapprochement with the material world, and that rhetoric stands to gain in retheorizing ...

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Chapter 8. Attuning to Sufficiency: A Preparatory Study in Learning How to Dwell

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pp. 246-269

In the previous chapter I argued that dwelling is a way of life conditioned by things of the world. It is distinguished by a practical attunement of caretaking. The life we pursue makes the thing to be not a mundane object over which we exercise control or mastery, whose fate we unreflectively dispense, but rather a vibrant, meaningful, and integral actant fitting into the world. I continue those concerns in this chapter through two extended ...

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Conclusion: Movement, Heidegger’s Silence, Disclosure

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pp. 271-285

I began this book discussing terroir, a French term describing not simply ground or soil but the close-knit relation among grapevines, the earth, and cultivation techniques that imparts a unique quality to a wine (as the French have it, le goût du terroir, the taste of place). I even sketched, in germinal form, how terroir gathers the fourfold (earth, sky, divinities, and mortals) and stays them in the wine. Terroir remains an excellent ...


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pp. 287-311

Works Cited

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pp. 313-325


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pp. 327-334

Back Cover

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p. 362-362

E-ISBN-13: 9780822978695
E-ISBN-10: 0822978695
Print-ISBN-13: 9780822962403
Print-ISBN-10: 0822962403

Page Count: 320
Illustrations: 8 b&w photos
Publication Year: 2013

Series Title: Pittsburgh Series in Composition, Literacy, and Culture