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Invention and (Post/Anti/Trans/Non)Humanism

Workshop Leaders:

John Muckelbauer, University of South Carolina
Kendall Phillips, Syracuse University

It has become a commonplace in contemporary treatments of invention to critique the humanist orientation often associated with the concept.  According to this line of thinking, traditional conceptions of invention tend to privilege things such as individual agency, human consciousness, and rationality.  Of course, the last couple decades have witnessed multiple attempts to problematize, deconstruct, and critique such privilege, both in rhetorical studies and in the humanities more broadly.  The impetus behind such “critiques” often remains obscure, so we will begin our inquiry with the straightforward question: what’s wrong with a humanist concept of invention? And, why have so many recent scholars committed to critiquing it? 

One particularly interesting difficulty for these “critical” discourses is that they have to negotiate a pretty complex relationship with their object.  For instance, while these discourses might want to problematize the role of “rationality” or “method” in the context of invention, they are not directed at championing simple irrationality or randomness. That is, even as they call for a critique of certain principles traditionally connected to invention, they must continue to rely on some form of those principles.  We suspect, then, that the question of how to adequately respond to humanism is inseparable from the question of what rhetorical invention (can) look like today.

This workshop will attempt to analyze these complex negotiations; participants can expect to develop a sense both of the contemporary theoretical treatments of invention and the problem of responding to/critiquing its humanist associations. Some of the general questions we will consider include: is a post/anti/trans/non human concept of invention even imaginable or desirable? What is (and could be) invention’s relationship to time – to novelty and tradition?  We will offer a group of short readings from Foucault, Derrida, and others, but will encourage participants to assist us in generating a more expansive list of works to engage, including participants’ own invention-related projects.

Direct questions to John Muckelbauer, MUCKELBA@mailbox.sc.edu.


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