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  • Heuretics: The Logic of Invention
  • Tom Conley
Heuretics: The Logic of Invention, by Gregory L. Ulmer; xiv & 267 pp. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994, $40.00 cloth, $13.95 paper.

Heuretics designates areas of logic devoted to discovery and invention. This book sets out to reconfigure the metaphors that have dominated investigation since the advent of print-culture and the Columbian voyages. Adventure, quest, risk, discovery: Francis Bacon’s analogy of scientific research to oceanic travel established the stereotypes that Ulmer strives to dismantle. In 1962 Claude Lévi-Strauss noted in The Raw and the Cooked that in our time: “It is no longer a question of sailing toward other lands: only the voyage is real, not the earth, and the routes have been replaced by the rules of navigation.” With the advent of hypermedia, creation becomes an art of selection and combination. Truth gives way to discovery. Creation is likened to a programmed mélange of material ordered by negotiation, intuition, and strategy.

Ulmer performs his proof—and proves his performance—by constructing a virtual staging of a multilayered commemoration he fashions from cinema, architecture, Jacques Derrida’s oeuvre, American history, and autobiography. The result is a collage of signifiers that apposes literary theory, memory-arts, Gary Cooper’s persona in Beau Geste (dir. William Wellman, 1939), Columbian voyages, Platonic dialogues, and a canon of postmodern writings. Ulmer divides the book into four parts, the first of which crafts the overall method from Cartesian reason and Surrealist practices of juxtaposition and automatism. Part two offers a dynamic definition of choreography, the study of local, inherited, and originary areas in which subjectivity is born. In part three Ulmer [End Page 147] sets forth textual rehearsals, based on Lee Strasner’s Method (via Stanislavsky), that mobilize the space and time of his chosen materials. Part four, “Yellowstone Desert,” bring together the strands of the narrative embroidery into a gag-joke (a “puncept” on Custer and custard) that explodes in the author’s face.

A good deal of the work turns on Ulmer’s treatment of chora. Exploiting its signifying potential (chora, corps, choral, chorus, coral) he discovers that the myth of the world’s creation recounted in the Timaeus begins when the demiurge makes an X from two strands of plasma. The chi is folded as colures of a sphere that becomes the globe. Nonetheless the presence of the self as an unknown (x) is inferred (in I, or ich). Ulmer shows that “in subordinating mystery to memory, and arguments to paradigms,” choreography will “engage the users’ premises in the process of learning, opening a mutually transforming circuit between judgment and theory, and hence affect not only (. . .) institutional practices (. . .) but human subjectivation as well” (p. 202). Patterned constructions replace the creation and resolution of enigmas. Hypermedia becomes the technology of new creation, while choreography comprises “the institutional practice for augmenting the intuitions of inference, for writing with the logic of the unconscious” (p. 224).

Heuretics extends the field of play staked out in Ulmer’s Teletheory. Here is offered a scheme for creating multileveled texts that are both creative and critical and infinitely generative, and that invite readers to connect electronic media to the unconscious. Most readers will not fail to appreciate the wit of the exposition and the clarity of the creative method. Others will pause over some of its assumptions. Certain critical paradigms, such as the antithetical ontologies of Lacan and Derrida, appear easily reconciled. The unnameable traumas of history (genocide) and psychogenesis (the birth and growth of subjectivity) are glossed with an effortless art of citation (pp. 114, 233). The unconscious is assimilated into an easily “accessed” logic, the latter effortlessly “logging in” to the former. The redesign of the Columbian quincentenary indirectly ratifies some of the modes of control that flexible capitalism seeks to impose upon the unconscious. These four points require greater space of exchange in the rich and problematic dialogue that informs Ulmer’s stunning performance of theory.

Tom Conley
University of Minnesota

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pp. 147-148
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