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  • Rhetoric as Posthuman Practice by Casey Boyle
  • Nadya Pittendrigh
Casey Boyle. Rhetoric as Posthuman Practice. Columbus: Ohio State UP, 2018. 218 pp.

In Rhetoric as a Posthuman Practice, Casey Boyle takes issue with humanist habits of mind, and he thinks rhetoric itself offers a cure. In affirming both Gilbert Simondon's techno-aesthetics and Plato's Gorgias as important antecedents to the posthuman project, the book suggests that if human exceptionalism and Cartesian dualism are to be resisted, that clash will take place on the field of rhetoric itself.

The book takes shape around a series of poetically linked terms which suggest overlap and difference at the same time: featuring the term practice centrally in the analysis also places the exercise, or repetition, at its center, which in turn makes information and transduction foundational terms for rhetoric in the posthuman register. Harnessing the poetry in "information," the argument explores what it might mean to treat physical form as co-equal to meaning. As Boyle argues, "The idea that the skills master the practitioner [End Page 587] as much as the practitioner masters skills turns notions of humanist mastery inside out, away from its instrumental sense and toward something more akin to affects sharing rhythms" (29). Instead of transcendence and reflection as instrumental and highly valued terms in the humanist tradition, valued in the name of increased consciousness and mastery, the book offers an alternative posthuman lineage in the terms practice, exercise, amplification, transduction, capacity, direction, and ecological relation. According to Boyle, this lineage offers the resources needed for countering what he calls humanism's "stubborn self-regard."

Part of what is at stake in this posthuman challenge to humanist accounts is ethics, with which Boyle says rhetoric has always been centrally concerned in an aesthetic and pragmatic register. Boyle asserts, rhetoric invents conditions and is therefore involved in ontology, which makes the invention of ethical conditions a core concern. Even though Plato's Gorgias seems to attack rhetoric for its lack of an ethical core, Boyle suggests that the text simultaneously affirms rhetoric's ambient, non-linear, ecological amplifications: according to Boyle, the text of Gorgias itself demonstrates his point that bodies differ in practice, which supports the sense that the whole ecological milieu counts as part of the conditions for invention, not just the logos, not just the dialectic, not just the successful, linear transmission of an intended meaning. According to such a view, rhetoric becomes "a public ethic of energy and electrons" not reducible to "a human's conscious awareness of its activities" (7).

To a limited extent, Boyle himself explores what difference these posthuman rhetorical practices might make in practice. Above all, the project can rearrange humanist hierarchies, which rely on judgements of what counts as human, and establishes hierarchies of mastery and efficacy within the domain of the human. The futurity involved here calls for new discursive practices, new ethical practices, new ways of "living less catastrophically." As Boyle sees it, this futurity is "thoroughly pedagogical," which guides the book's first chapter, which is largely devoted to challenging the domination of meta-cognition within writing instruction.

Against the hegemony of critical reflection and metacognition which provide the structuring purpose of writing instruction, Boyle calls for posthhuman methods and heuristics for writing instruction (41). Whereas metacognition "relies on the separation between thought and action, knower and known" (37) Marilyn Cooper argues that writing and rhetorical study should instead become less "a matter of autonomously intended action on the world" and more like "monitoring, nudging, adapting, adjusting—in short, responding to the world" (qtd in Boyle 41). Yet, even as he calls for such heuristics, it is hard to picture what they would look like.

Though Boyle himself frames his project as pre-eminently posthuman, I am tempted to say that it is more importantly post-rational, or post-understanding. At stake at the center of the project is a resistance to the pedagogical assumption that in order to do something one needs to know what [End Page 588] one is doing. For a persuasive speech to be successful, the listeners need to understand it; in order to accomplish X, conscious understanding is necessarily step...


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pp. 587-589
Launched on MUSE
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