Chapter I
Prelude:

A Conversation about Conversation1

We are painters on a glass canvas, visible to our subject and our peers.

    --Thomas T. Barker

    I believe the question you posed in the EnText call for papers is "why aren't we talking: across hallways, departments, disciplines, across divisions of race, gender, sexual orientation, age, culture, and identity." My answer to you is succinct: because we can't. We can't, or don't, because we're suffering from the postmodern condition. Post post-structuralism, our culture has moved increasingly towards one of two poles: either a nihilistic pole around which rally those who believe that values, ethics, and morals are matters of personal taste and opinion, that words can't really mean anything at all (so why bother talking), or a fundamentalist, totalitarian pole around which dance those who deny the validity of any value orientation other than their own.2 I think that in the academy, the former holds sway over the latter.

    I'm excited, though, by the potential of electronic communication to allow us to move beyond or between these poles and begin really talking again. I think cyberspace is the ethical forum of our time. Granted, it's still a postmodern forum. After all, the ethic is merely an illusion.

    Do you think we should talk more -- both about cyberspace as well as the question posed by your call for papers?

    Yes, I think we should talk about the EnText question and about technology. Talk, conversations -- these are what I like about school. And what began to drive me crazy as I approached th[is] grand project ... was the imperative to endure isolation and alienation. It seems as if we in the academy give great lip service to ideas about the social construction of reality and then insist that students engage asocially in their studies. Writing about the social construction of reality is okay, but just don't go on about actually constructing a socially meaningful network or society. I think it's a shame we don't do more towards fostering social networks, conversations, and working together.

    This is interesting to me, particularly in relation to e-mail since it is such a (perhaps deceptively) non-threatening form of writing; I marveled at the extent to which the fear of writing is somehow mitigated by the electronic medium. I supposed, finally, it's not really writing any more than a conversation about personal topics over a cup of coffee (or over a clothesline) is really analysis.

    Again, we're talking about the role of illusion in electronic conversation. You say that it's not "really writing" and although I might disagree, let's at least say that there's the illusion that it's really writing. It's the same thing I was talking about when I said that the medium creates the "illusion" of ethics and ethical space. I recently read an essay that explained how the psychotherapy environment creates a "moral space" in which one cultivates ways of seeing, meeting, and respecting "the being of each unique other, in treating his or her subjectivity as of equal value with one's own." To me, this is the environment, the illusion, of cyberspace. The machine creates for us (the illusion of) moral space where we offer to one another "free attention" or what this writer called the skill "of being able to be close to another with a kind of caring objectivity, in which those distortions of understanding, critical judgments, projections and distractions that so often get in the way of real meeting are minimized."3 Cyberspace, in functioning in just this way, is the postmodern site for ethical meeting and democratic discourse.

    When I said that electronic conversation was not real writing, I think what I was trying to say was that it would not be real for academic establishmentarians (which I consider myself not to be). For me, talking over a cup of coffee or over a clothesline is exactly what I mean by the social construction of reality. And this is exactly what our academic training would have us devalue. I take the `construction' part of `social construction' seriously, being an avowed constructivist. All this means is that dichotomies are out; reality/illusion, inside/outside, etc. are all problematized in a constructivist orientation in the sense that there is recognition that we ourselves have constructed the dichotomies. Sort of like this: we humans invent writing, and then writing invents us, changes us and so forth. Everything is interactive and co-creative; creating the world is not something we do by ourselves, nor is the world something we `find' already created -- it is something that is constructed in between, in constant interactivity. So in a way constructivism implies indeterminism and also implies that everything is real (real meaning constructed). My question might be under what conditions do constructions get named illusions?

    I now recall how odd an experience it is to sit in a class with people from many different academic disciplines. We all use jargon that sounds alike, but it has different meanings depending upon your area of scholarship. It may pose a problem for us since you're speaking School of Education jargon and I'm speaking English Rhetoric and Composition jargon. It's hard for me to understand, for example, how one can be a constructivist and an indeterminist at the same time. Normally, I think of the two as mutually exclusive. But, I see what you're saying; if we're being constructive in terms of mutually engaging in meaning-making, indeterminism might follow. Maybe then, I'm a constructivist-indeterminist, too. I just don't want to follow indeterminacy to an extreme, to the point where we can't engage in conversation, in meaning-making at all, the point that there is no point after all because nothing can mean anything. Why bother?

    And about illusion -- don't get me wrong; I'm not glorifying illusion vs. reality. Cyberspace is real, in the sense that it exists independently of anything we may think about it. What I'm saying is that what happens in cyberspace is illusion. Just think about how easy it is to construct an ethos. And it's not just the absence of corporeality. Although I may be fat/skinny, black/white, male/female, old/young, abled/disabled and you wouldn't know it if I didn't tell you, ethos involves much more. I may choose to construct an ethos that leads you to believe that I'm a very reasonable, listening, caring, considerate, turn-taking person, when really I'm an over-bearing jerk (just for argument's sake, of course). Because the illusion of free attention is so high, you buy it; you want to buy it, so you do. We extend ourselves in willing openness to do democratic kinds of things, to carry on a conversation, but what we see when we read the text on the screen is really our own desire for a perfect interlocutor. We seduce ourselves, so to speak. Electronic conversation, especially e-mail, one-on-one, provides a mirror surface for us so that what we see is our own self/desire.4

    Rhetorically speaking, you are seduced by the medium. You think we are having a conversation. This conversation feels really great because there's the illusion that I'm waiting right here on the other side of the screen, hanging on every word. I'm attentive. I don't interrupt you. Is this conversation to you because it's conversation in reality, or is it conversation because conversation is what you desire?

    From the constructivist perspective, we'd have to be doing the conversation on a mutual basis. We'd have to be socially constructing meaning. But I wonder if we really are. Is it mutual? Perhaps we are each constructing in isolation. I am constructing you. You are constructing me. I, your ideal interlocutor, am your creation, so not Other. Illusion! This is an illusion of conversation. We are disembodied voices!

    But great things can happen here, despite the illusion. It has potential for democratic praxis and consensual discourse. That's why I want to go on-line with my composition classes.

    We are disembodied only if we construct ourselves with dichotomies. Rather than illusion, let's talk about illusionists, the magic show kind. The key to illusionism is for the illusionist to get the audience to buy into a dichotomy; a situation is framed such that there are only two interpretative choices. Once this is done, all the illusionist has to do is make sure that whatever needs to be hidden (the interpretation which would reveal the actual circumstances) falls somewhere outside of the dichotomous frame because if it does it will automatically be invisible.

    For the audience, the key to not being tricked is not to see the sleight of hand, but rather to not buy into the dichotomous framing. By the time the sleight of hand comes around the trick has already been done in effect, going through the motions is all that remains. In this way Descartes can be seen as a great illusionist: he frames situations dichotomously, and then strange things start to happen: bodies disappear; people even begin to report feeling disembodied. In other words, I would say you have been tricked. Seduced! There is no illusion here or anywhere else; there are only constructions, dichotomous or otherwise, that we either buy into or not. Once we buy in, the show begins and we take the ride, trick or treat, ready or not. I tend to think the postmodern is grounded in science, which is unfortunately usually left out of the discussion. Humanists and such, coming from time-worn constructs, tend to produce and reproduce Cartesian illusionistics, and hence we get these funny effects.

    I'd like to remind you that science is, after all, grounded in the humanities, historically speaking. Obviously, one has to keep grounding one's ground. Since I got my undergraduate degree in biology, I guess you could say that I'm personally grounded in science. Sure, it made its contributions to postmodernism, but it wasn't the sole contributor. I think of Saussure who did his part vis--vis linguistics.5 Then the army of French theorists.6

    Yes, I agree that I myself am seduced by the illusionist's trick. I participate willingly and actively. When I read a text like Baudrillard's it is in many ways a mirror game. But isn't that what reader-response theory is all about? Inserting ourselves into the gaps in the text that fall outside of the literal frame? And post structuralism, there are nothing but gaps.

    You're right about having to continually ground your grounding. Thinking about it again, I would say that I have found the language that science has recently generated to be more usefully descriptive of postmodernism, more helpful in terms of making a home in it, than the language generated by humanities theorists has been. Probably just a bias, but I seem to be able to do more with scientific concepts, maybe in part because the rhetorical posture seems stilted to me. The other thing I would say is that science seems also to possess the mantle of truth, and that may also be why I associate it with grounding. Notions such as "nothing but gaps," endless deferral of meaning, etc., make me feel dizzy. In contrast, substituting scientific pattern for nothing but gaps makes me feel better. I guess I just need handles, particularly if a hand-hold is all that's available to me in my epistemological environment.

    That brings me back to conversation again. Why do we spend so much time developing academic languages that hardly anyone can understand? It seems that the answer I usually get is "that's what academics do." Another answer suggests itself to me though -- arcane languages are useful for things like job protection, making emperors' clothes, etc.7

    I just read an essay in Faigley's new book in which a student writer talks about letter writing. I immediately made her comments analogous to electronic conversation, since electronic conversation is a peculiar blend of epistolary and conversational styles. Anyway, this student had been away from home for a while and communicated with family and friends a great deal through the exchange of letters. When she comes back home again, she compares communicating by letter with communicating face to face. She notes "letters were unselfconscious and utterly honest, for the time and space lag between the letters made intimacy easier. . . . [Now that I can talk to friends and family face-to-face] the barriers are back up. We're careful again, wary of the reckless revelations we once shared. The physical distances between us are less now; cautiously, we distance ourselves in spirit."8 Just like this student who has noticed that letter writing casts a distance in time and space that paradoxically decreases spiritual distance, I have noticed that the electronic medium creates a similar chronotopic situation. Perhaps this enables us to overcome our postmodern spiritual distance?9 Although we are separated by space and time in reality, we have the illusion of closeness, spiritual intimacy? And interestingly, Faigley notes that, in the essay itself, the student writer creates the illusion of a unified and knowing self. Seems like there's illusion-casting on many levels. I'm thinking out loud. Am I making sense?

    Yes, you're making fantastic sense. It's just that darned word "illusion." Try this rewrite: the writer creates a unified and knowing self. Deleting "the illusion of" solves a host of modernist problems. First, it does not specify the number of selves which might otherwise be created. Second, it acknowledges the power of language; worlds, not illusionary worlds, are created. My quibble is that "the illusion of" as a locution is a machine for reinscribing modernism, including modernism's unified and knowing self.

    But the observations about letters and intimacy, in relation to e-conversation and postmodern spiritual distance is beginning to make sense to me. I can see that e-conversation is linked to a particular construction of intimacy -- what I would call the romantic-pornographic construction. Playing into the visibility/voyeurism in the lighted screen which can function as a kind of one-way mirror, seeing oneself all lit up so to speak, but somehow this is for the Other who is absent but being written to. And I may want to say "fantasy" or "masturbatory fantasy" but not "illusion."

    When I am the constructed self, or cyborg, Bob + automobile, I am a decidedly different person (the modernist locution). I tend to sing more, feel more powerful rushes of anger at small perturbances, etc. Seeing writing as a technology, when I am the cyborg Bob + pen and paper I am again a different construction, and so on. So yes, I can now see that the cyborg now sitting here, Bob + e-conversation, is a particular configuration, but not an illusory one. A particularly complex cyborg construction, I admit.

    There may be good reasons for the apparent intimacy-through-distance and technological mediations. By "good," I mean evolutionary. Devising such tools may be the only way our species might continue to proliferate under advanced industrial conditions if, for example, AIDS is an indicator of our future under conditions of corporeal, unmediated-by-technology intimacy. So I think we should dump all "illusion" language -- we have work to do, construction work, blue-collar stuff, no illusion twaddle. Constructing ourselves as cyborgs may be a possible future.

    I've begun to wonder whether or not we're trying to ex-terminate one another. I think we think the same things, but that we speak from different positions in language. Perhaps it will dome down to only this: I have a very sardonic world view -- that is, I'm a cynic with a sense of humor. Perhaps you are much more a positivist than I am. Our basic world views are so deeply psychologically and experientially constructed that they cannot be undone. For me, the idea of illusion is quite comfortable. It can work well within my theoretical understanding of the world. And, to boot, when things go awry, I'm not as crushed as I might have been had I let myself believe in concrete creations. I'm working against seduction in a way.

    But you'll have to explain more about the romantic-pornographic construction of intimacy in e-conversation. I think I understand romanticism quite well, the individual creating his own meaning, the self as knowing subject. But how do you mean "pornographic"? Baudrillard say that the pornographic is the hyper-real, the obscenity of something seen up close, so close that there is no longer any distance between the subject and the object.10

    Is e-conversation romantic-pornographic then by virtue of the fact/illusion that we create closeness and intimacy where there is nothing but time and distance?

    How redemptive or evolutionary is this new technology? You brought up the issue of AIDS. Is the implication that we can now do away with corporeal sex and have cyborg (virtual) sex instead? Perhaps redemptive for the individual, but just how far will humanity evolve with disembodied reproduction?11 Won't we suffer a fate similar to that of the Shakers? Our supply of converts to celibacy isn't inexhaustible.

    Positivism? It is in the grain of my (gendered) flesh. Your raising the issue of attitude, the process of arriving at personal meaning is important -- not so much what is thought, but how. This must surely be argument's, reason's shadow, the idea that if we could just get our story straight, get it right, everything would be fine. Radical indeterminacy, it has been determined, is the correct answer! This is how spiraled and vortexed the problem of knowledge is (as something to be solved and done with). Caught in this language net, looking for a way out, does seem to ensure the net's closure. Answers and ex-terminations dovetail; but if we frame this as a problem, as the modern problem, arguing about it and so forth, then I think you get reinscription.

    The rhetorical form or discursive practice we call argument is gendered male. I've just read Carol Gilligan who cites studies of gendered game-playing in which male gaming features argument as much as the game itself, and in which female gaming is usually called "game over" if argument develops. As male, I sometimes feel totally out of water. I'm no essentialist, but I do think it's more than coincidence that feminism and postmodernism sort of go together; at least it seems to me that postmodernism as potentially more than reinscription of modernism is tied to feminism. Is there a way to exchange words in some frame other than argument?

    My desire to cleanse the language net of illusion talk is not something which I can cleanse myself of. What are my options? To speak with a measure of irony? The fascination with sex and porno on the part of academics seems curious and self-deceptive but also it does seem that the modern-to-postmodern move is a sex change. The popularity of male-to-female sex changes is somehow a cultural phenomenon to reckon with. Experience like one of those reputed chemical washes that occur in utero is translated into cultural terms. Some few take it very literally and in so doing become emblems -- of disfigurement and a whole host of other things.

    So illusion bashing is one thing; bashing illusion bashing is another. The kinds of change that might make conversation of a different sort possible are what? Dewey would say that nothing but doing will do, and I guess I agree with that. It is one of the many reasons I am heartened and excited by our work. There is the option of saying "how about instead of arguing, I tell you how it is for me, and you tell me how it is for you."

    Before I listened to you, I had a quite passive acceptance of the givenness of the screen I now sit before; I thought of it as a typewriter and had no other thoughts about typewriters. I have now entered into different terms, which in their analytic character are, I would say, positivistic. It is possible to say in my framework that the unified self which is created is an illusion; there is no reason for insisting that we have limits on what we can create. But then illusion is a creation; how do we know one when we see one? We have named a certain sort of thing illusion; how did we do that? Creation is also a creation; how did we do that? Finally, we did it like the old Taoist masters said, "along the river" (or together in e-conversation). The real mystery is that we seem to need to continue trying to figure things out!

    About pornography, I was mainly thinking about pornography in terms of the play of visibility/invisibility, of one-way mirrors. I like Baudrillard's comments on pornography, the too-muchness of it all close-up. And yet, I would still want to say that invisibility is just as important as hyper-visibility. The electronic screen is lit up just like the one-way mirror in a peep-show; behind it is a person acting out the "too much" which is necessary to bridge the mediation of the one-way screen and balance the "not enough" on the other side such that a masturbatory "just right" can occur. Perhaps we're just prematurely ejaculating the future of the current Little Bo-Peep illusion of e-conversation, pointing towards the eventuality of, as you say, virtual sex.

    But this is to be seduced into thinking that things have destinies apart from us. This may be why the cyborg figure may be strangely redemptive; it is a representation of a person in a machine more than it is a representation of a machine in a person. If we are forced to see ourselves as part of the machinery in an industrialized destiny, this might be a sign of hope, a novel sign in a culture used to regarding the horror of machines invading us.

    About argument -- game vs. game over, masculine vs. feminine playing styles -- I think Gilligan is concerned about just that: argument as style. Masculine style deliberation is argument; that includes being loud, shaking your fists, interrupting, name-calling, and a whole host of aggressive features to which the feminine style responds by saying "game over." Silence.

    But argument, as deliberation in general, as rhetoric, I would say is feminine. After all, Rhetorica is a goddess, not a god. It's the use of language to the ends of seduction.12 And rhetoric can either seduce using truth or by using illusion, by simulating or by dissimulating, evil or good. In any case, it's feminine. So, as far as postmodernism relates to simulation and seduction, the I agree that it's related to the feminine. But remember, I said there were two poles to postmodernism; the totalitarian pole I regard as masculine; and in very strange ways feminine, seductive openness, can itself become a totalitarian position, always resisting closure.

    I too am excited about the work we're doing, but I don't get the sense that we're arguing, at least not in the masculine sense. I think we're socially constructing meaning, which may or may not require narrative strategies. I have no objection to narrative. As I said, this is how it is for me: I'm the cynic with a sense of humor; you're the positivist (in the grain of your gendered flesh). If nothing else we can balance one another.

    I like Baudrillard's slant on pornography. From the perspective of the object, pornography is hyper-visible, hyperreal, and obscene. I have not before given much consideration to the invisible subject. But I think the moment that invisibility becomes part of the object game, what you have is a move toward seduction, not pornography. Seduction requires the secret, the dissimulation that pretends that something is not what it really is -- or conversely, the simulation that pretends that something is what it really is not. So while you suggest that we may be prematurely ejaculating the future of the current Little Bo-Peep illusion of e-conversation, pointing towards the eventuality of virtual sex, I see any interpretation of e-conversation as pornography permanently precluding ejaculation because the Other is absent.

    I don't want to theorize and retheorize pornography, though. One always ends up talking in sexual terms. But I am more in agreement with Baudrillard -- there's no element of invisibility in pornography, hence no seduction. What I do want to hold on to is the theory of seduction itself.

    By the way, perhaps we should talk in concrete terms about collaborating our teaching this fall. I think we could use the medium to put social construction of meaning into pedagogical practice. What do you think?

    Getting down to concrete talk about a collaborative course may be a matter of comparing visions. To some extent I have a greater need to focus on education. Somewhere in a muddle of reader reception, complexity, and the democratic theories is where I am situated. I'm also interested in visions of education's future. I have had the idea of collecting articles about bio-tech, AIDS, Prozac, etc., as runes to sift through to conjure up futures. How do you see the disembodied exchange as pedagogy? That is the part I'm not sure of, except again, this idea that the electronic teacher is already in existence; distance learning is likely to become more common in the future. Do you mainly see it as producing a different discourse of school? Or do you see a possibility for other sorts of things as well? Do you see academia as a disembodied space in any case?

    I know that you have to focus on education in your class; I have to focus on rhetoric in mine. The nice thing about rhetoric, though, is that anything can serve as content. I'm interested in working on values deliberation, ethics, morals, etc. This feeds back to the EnText call for papers and my concern about the impossibility of conversation in postmodern times. It's not that I think people don't have ideas, or ethical/moral orientations, or opinions. I just don't think they express them. The lid's on the pressure cooker, screwed-down tightly over anything that might be a question of values. The thing I find hopeful about an interdisciplinary course is that our classes can engage in disembodied conversation with one another. They'll never have to see one another, and they'll know that. Perhaps the medium will create a moral space in which free expression can take place.

    What could our students learn from one another? Yours may learn from mine better deliberative skills and mine could learn from yours a deeper understanding of the institution of education. Certainly, they'll all learn something about the real world through their interaction with one another.


    [Between this message and the next, Bob and I ran into one another by chance at the library. Heretofore, our conversation had been completely electronic, disembodied. The experience of meeting face to face was disconcerting and occasioned further reflection on the nature of electronic conversation.]


    Wow! What did you think about the experience of running into one another today? I feel scattered in the flesh. Dis-associated.

    Re-iteration: the text creates a unified self! Scattered in the flesh is sure to follow. Feedback loop: the real becomes pornographic; it becomes the "too much" itself. At least that's how it felt to me to see you in the flesh. It makes me think about what it would be like to see my father who died when I was eight years old. I have had so much time to construct him and reconstruct him that it would be very much too much to actually encounter him.

    Just what to make of it I haven't the murkiest. The temptation of the flesh becomes the temptation of the text instead. I'll try this for now: since most corporeal events, particularly like ours, are about chit-chat, our e-conversation has revealed the masked nature of social intercourse.

    So, is it safe to assume that you see some kind of illusion powerfully at play here in cyberspace? Confronted by absence, you are constructing a me; I am constructing a you? This constructing process is then amplified or intensified by the medium. And you also construct an amplified you to interact with the amplified me (are you beginning to see this as sliding towards the point where the Other disappears? Mirror mirror!). I think this is what the medium, in its passive glory, aggressively invites.

    Here, the disembodied exchange lets us splay ourselves open so that we can show to each other only what we want to; we can also see in others only what we want to see. But then, we have to re-husk the flesh for the corporeal event. The gaze plays a major role in the way we react to one another, disembodied vs. embodied.

    Yes, no denying that something goes on here. Are all of our attempts to explain it, to get a handle on it, just part of a modernist/patriarchal imperative to deny the mystery and power of experience? Or maybe a creature thing -- needing to establish equilibration after disequilibrating circumstances render the familiar interpretive means inoperative? Perhaps an attitude of "basking" (just being) would be far more fruitful that one of interpretation.

    This feeds back to your earlier comments about argument and attitude -- transformation needs to reach the basking level. And this is much more difficult than just banning argument.

    As a writer, this must be more familiar to you. For me, this e-conversation, Bob-cyborg's penchant for creating characters more believable than any characters that exist in the flesh is something which has only given me an inkling of what the place of fiction might be like. Our experiences are "just like fiction," labyrinthine. And what is the point of a labyrinth? It must be about getting into the details, not about getting out, not about seeing it all at once (pornography's counter figure).

    So, something's going on here, but are we then proposing to enter into our interdisciplinary course knowing there are risks without necessarily knowing what those risks are? I know, I know . . . bask.

    Yes Bob, I propose that we jump right into those risky waters in the company of our students even though there's no way to assess the risk before doing so. I guess we can only keep in mind, before we jump, that they are indeed risky. If cyberspace is a space of simulation, it defies rational analysis, it is beyond the true and false. We'd be wasting our time to do more than bask.

    But you asked if all our attempts to interpret might not be part of a modernist/patriarchal imperative to deny the mystery and power of experience, or maybe a creature thing, to establish equilibration after disequilibrating circumstances. Can we answer that "yes" to both? Actually, what's the difference between the two choices other than the modernist/patriarchal being wants to deny being a creature? The mystery and power of experience is always decentering and we humans just can't abide that. There are those who believe that there is no experience outside of language at all -- I've been through this issue in several seminar classes. I believe (and it can be no more than belief) that there is experience outside of language and that the purpose of language is to communicate the experience -- to circumscribe rather than to describe. Must this mean I'm a mystic?

    Mystical experiences, or at least experiences which fit my image of what such an experience would be, have landed somewhat outside of my range. Maybe they land when I'm sleeping. And since I gather that mysticism is, or is not, mainly on the basis of testimonials (belief), I suppose I could still qualify as a mystic. I don't know how to try mysticism, but I do have some angst about not having these experiences of knowing or what have you.

    The closest thing I've had to an otherworldly or qualitatively different sort of thing was once after reading Jung talk about mysticism in a way that was connected somehow to organic evolution. I remember this feeling of being embodied, of the intense physicality of history and all such things. This was not an insensate kind of experience, obviously. It was a kind of terror, maybe akin to our thankfully much milder, though still striking, e-conversation. I suppose that since disequilibration is a relative thing, if we experience corporeality as disequilibrating it means that we are used to spending time incorporeally. The amplification of e-conversation only makes the general and pervasive muting of corporeality so obvious that it becomes shocking.

    Other than that, I have always had two bones to pick with those that maintain an "it's all in the language" position. One is that it seems so entirely self-serving for such an idea to be so prized in academia where we live lives in language. It kind of states the obvious to say that in academia there is no experience outside of language. It's as if the notion of sociology of language has fallen into the blind spot, the aporia of academia in order to preserve the higher truth of jobs and cultural preservation. The other bone is the one which has to do with figuring out what is happening exactly with children who are pre-language. I suppose they are doing body language; but once you grant that language is more than just these words, you open onto a different world.

    "Oh Lord, show me things as they truly are." That is the mystic's plea. In a way it expresses the desire of my life. School, work, friends, play, religion . . . I look to all insofar as they will show me things as they truly are. While I do believe that there is experience outside of language (otherwise language serves no purpose), I will concede that there is no knowledge outside of language -- at least in terms of how we normally think of knowledge as something formal, inscribed, a kind of artifact that we can pass around to one another. The mystic's plea is one for seeing or feeling, an immersion in experience beyond language. I look to language to guide me to experience.

    Perhaps this is a kind thrill-seeking behavior; I don't know. Baudrillard, for example, has observed that our culture is moving from a competitive/expressive orientation to one of vertiginous risk. The only passion we have anymore is a passion for intensification, an escalation of the stakes, a passion for ecstasy.13 Escalation, ecstasy, and vertigo are all elements that play powerful roles in electronic addiction. Especially for people like me who are suckers for mental risk and vertigo. I'm beginning to feel like I'm caught in the gravitational field of a black hole: on the one hand loathing postmodern nihilism, longing for reasoned romanticism (whatever that may be), and on the other, disappearing into the vertiginous ecstasy of the realer-than-real. I'm lost.

    The trajectory of our conversation seems to be moving towards the bottom. Bottoming-out in the language of addiction. The point in an addict's trajectory when even she cannot deny that there is something wrong and that she should seek help. And the concept of recovery does carry with it those associations with conformity, of making people who will henceforth be able to fit in, though (getting to things as they truly are) the choice between fitting in and feeling awful most of the time is a choice I gather an addicted person at some point is willing to make.

    This is what sometimes concerns me about theorizing: as it truly is, vertigo is not fun. As it truly is, psychotic states are not fun; depression is not fun; being ex-terminated is not fun. So I would say that for people who are addicted to thought, especially for postmodernists, recovery might just be "getting to things as they truly are." Bottoming out might be getting to the point where you discover you can no longer talk to colleagues or friends, the point at which one mentally says "that hurts."

    Body talk is, I suppose, my version of mysticism. The problem with education, which aspires to get at things as they truly are, is that the body is constantly under surveillance and assault ranging from the imperative to "sit still" to the more sophisticated panopticon. Recovery in higher education may mean turning the institution into a kind of health farm where people can learn to bask. After all, people often say that higher education at its best is an attempt to undo the damage done in lower education. If you're really a cynic, though, you see that higher education really doesn't heal much of anything because it still insists on excluding mysticism through unabated language addiction. The mystical body can't be recognized in academic culture because that culture has been defined historically and formed an identity in relation to the denial of that body.

    I'm going to send you a copy of the generic, departmental syllabus for the class I teach, one that is supposed to serve as a guideline. Being a radical democrat, I myself regard syllabi as acts of hostility, a poison in the form of a cordial, the swallowing of which by students serves as proof that authoritarianism has been internalized and rendered acceptable. The best experience I've had of teaching ELC381 -- the Institution of Education -- was when students never saw the syllabus or any form thereof, and wherein I began class by taking a vote on means of governance. I can say that a qualitatively different kind of order emerged.

    As we embark on a collaborative teaching experience, I'm not sure what it is I want to preserve from my prior experience. Maybe it parallels the notion of getting to things as they truly are. While I realize that the idea of democracy is riddled with contradictions when it's done in school, it is nonetheless an idea that people understand and which seems capable of producing difference. So even though the idea of empowering students through democracy is somewhat shopworn, it still seems to engage. And conversation is a huge issue for me; I am for the most part convinced that conversation/negotiation skills are the skills of the future that go along with thinking on your feet and managing messes. So the elements I include in my definition of democracy, the ideas I want to preserve, would be conversation, negotiation, participation, and as much empowerment as possible. In a way, this is my syllabus.

    In regards to addiction, or cyber-addiction, I don't think I'll be sleeping in the gutter anytime soon, or losing my job, or getting arrested for driving under the influence of cyberspace. Still, I may be addicted to thought. Yes, it could lead to depression and feeling awful; but it could also lead to ecstasy and feeling terrific. Vertigo may be experienced differently for positivists and sardonic romanticists, no? I like thinking/theorizing because it makes me feel intellectually alive; but I do need to have theory connect to practice.

    I think my feelings about the academic institution and its possibilities don't square with yours once we get down to the practical level of conducting a class. I no longer assume ideal students who can handle a truly democratic class without having it turn into a non-class. I have more non-negotiables.

    Perhaps my last message was more about the shadow side of my addiction because, like you, there are some parts of addiction I enjoy too. This may speak to the inherent postmodernism of this medium; I think what happens is that a keyword, like "seduction," gets established and, in holographic fashion, a whole world is constructed in our conversation. The another keyword or phrase, like "things as they truly are," is introduced and, once again, that bit contains all the information necessary to construct another whole world. It strains my positivism to make each world coherent with the next. In the world of seduction, I would only ask you what text you constructed from my text. In the world of "things as they truly are," I might try to construct my own meaning more clearly.

    I suggest that we exit the world of seduction as well as the world of "things as they truly are." In either case, we could enter into a very postmodern exchange, interpreting each other's interpretations to infinity and never getting to anything more than vertigo.

    Leaving these worlds is okay by me, too. Is this the meaning of postmodernism after all: consciously making one's bed and then sleeping in it? I am still intrigued by introducing the concept of holography into our conversation. Since it doesn't take much in the way of material to invent whole worlds, people ought to be careful about the materials they select (academic valuation). Why education? Are we in education in the business of supplying really good building materials and/or perspectival differences through social interactions? We play on two things: the plain fun of meaning-making and the desire for unity -- chaos and control. Consciousness is suspended now between a desire for determinacy and a desire for indeterminacy. Which fits at the pole of meaning-making and which at the pole of unity?

    My first response would be to say that determination (self) and unity are somehow paradoxically dependent. Maybe we bask best in the tension between the two.

    Why education, you ask? Do we have anything more authoritative than our own personal narratives to answer that? Life can be whole without education, of course -- edenically, innocently -- but education can make it more whole. For example, I could appreciate the beauty of flowers even if I didn't know anything about botany and plant physiology, but now I can appreciate with an added dimension, knowing for example that there's a very specific relationship between the anatomy of the fig and the one species of wasp that pollinates it.

    Why education? When I read Lyotard's work, his narratives of the grand narratives, I found myself drawn to Hegel -- more evidence that I'm not a postmodernist. Lyotard says:

    Research and the spread of learning are not justified by invoking a principle of usefulness. . . . The humanist principle that humanity rises up in dignity and freedom through knowledge is left by the wayside. German idealism has recourse to a metaprinciple that simultaneously grounds the development of learning, of society, and of the State in the realization of the "life" of a Subject, called . . . "Life of the spirit" by Hegel. In this perspective, knowledge first finds legitimacy within itself, and it is knowledge that is entitled to say what the State and what Society are. But it can only play this role by changing levels, by ceasing to be simply the positive knowledge of its referent (nature, society, the State, etc.), becoming in addition to that the knowledge of the knowledge of the referent -- that is, by becoming speculative. In the names "Life" and "Spirit" knowledge names itself.14
    Is this perhaps the view that the universe rises to self-contemplation?

    To me, the idea that knowledge does not have to refer to usefulness (idealism) is much the same as saying that the distinction between knowledge and the world is an indebted distinction (postmodernism). The distinction for me is that a true idealist would be positivistic about the idea that knowledge is knit into the world while a true postmodernist would attempt to be in a state of indeterminate basking about the idea. There is also compatibility in that adapting an idealist stance may be an important strategy or tactic in a postmodern framework; the key question is "what does the world look like and how is it experienced for the better if we take an idealist stance?" I have never had the impression that postmodernism is nihilistic, but that it leaves us at the doorstep of speculative/aesthetic/moral philosophy. If we participate in the invention and creation of the world, what kind of world is it that we would like to create? This is for me the connection with democratic deliberation as a quintessential postmodern imperative.15 Postmodernism opens the door to ethical deliberation, but we have to walk through it, enact it in our daily lives and not just in hypothetical situations like abortion and capital punishment, but in lived ones like grading practices and attendance policies.

    Sometimes I feel like I must be crazy because I can't find a position, a label, with which I am comfortable for once and for all. I often liken myself to a diner in a Chinese restaurant: I'd like one from column A and one from column B. For a positivist, knowledge is knit into the world; for a postmodernist, there's a state of indeterminacy in regards to knowledge. Are the two mutually exclusive? If one thinks they're not, does this amount to admitting that one is a mystic?

    The problem with postmodernism, as I see it, is that while it indeed does take us to the door of speculative/aesthetic/moral philosophy, it abandons us there. Postmodern discourse bars entry, even conditional entry. In this way I can't see democratic deliberation as its quintessential imperative. Postmodernism quintessentially forecloses the possibility of deliberation. This includes real-life practices like grading and attendance policies as well as those things you call hypothetical like abortion and capital punishment (which I might point out are not in the least bit hypothetical to some folks).

    I think you're right about having to avow mysticism if the aim is to avoid positivism(s). The state of basking in indeterminacy = the state of mysticism. A reformulation might be two kinds of positivism -- (1) knowledge is knit into the world; I'm certain of it, and (2) knowledge is separate from the world; I'm certain of it -- and one form of mysticism, the position from which to decide amongst various positivisms does not exist, therefore the positivist consciousness needs to be called into question and kept there.

    One of the connections I make with democracy is the open avowal of indeterminacy. I think it has taken this long, 200 years or more, for the rest of our ideological formations to catch up to democracy. With the advent of chaos science, religious activism, and academic challenges to static conceptions of knowledge, the moment seems propitious for dusting off the democratic idea. It's a truly radical concept, obviously not as it is practiced as a system of representation, but as a system that claims no transcendent signifier. It is profoundly social, admitting in fact only a concept of sharing and social intelligence. It openly acknowledges the reality that really tough deliberations such as those on abortion and capital punishment will never be positivistically settled. Its purest form is native American council: people gather, listen, talk; nothing is decided, but something is done because in the world things have to be done. There is no claim that the right thing has been done.

    The reason postmodernism would appear as barring entry to moral deliberation is that what we mean by deliberation is a process by which we get to something like a right answer. It's true that postmodernism abandons us if we want an ideology that will reinstate a positivism. If we want de-liberation, postmodernism can only go so far, being about liberation or about play. The strange thing is that play is feared as irresponsible, but it is nothing of the sort.

    Postmodernism as abandonment works in the sense of abandonment by the Father(s). But this is not the Fathers that are abandoning us; it is us abandoning the Fathers. The question "whose postmodernism connotes abandonment" gets the answer "patriarchal postmodernism." Among the patriarchs are many academics and religious figures. Science has invited postmodernism in a long time ago, at least as far back as Heisenberg. Academics and religion, perhaps because they share so much history in the textual prerogative and anti-mystical reason for being, seem bound and determined to bar the door.

    You know, the experience of writing a [book] is emotionally as well as intellectually taxing for me because I feel that I must take a position. I must be willing to accept a label and refute all others. This doesn't settle well with my person, the person it seems I really am. I have a tremendous aesthetic appreciation for so many things: living, breathing, being in the sun, walking in the woods, digging in the dirt, reading a text, watching a movie, talking with students and colleagues. I even appreciate the not so positive things like addiction, suffering, and dying. I appreciate experience, and everything is an experience. A text is a big part because through a text I can experience thoughts I might not have discovered on my own; I can live other experiences, live vicariously. So, I tend to always find something good/useful in texts, including theory texts. I want to be a positivist about conflicting positions, if you will. Maybe an analogy: think of all the "stuff" of life as legos in a box. I dump out these legos and build a lego-ladder to get me from one place to another. Then, I take down the legos and start again. No matter what shaped ladder I build, I can always get from one place to another. Well, legos are language (words), and the way we choose to assemble our legos varies. You maintain that issues, because of indeterminacy, cannot be settled once and for all. Can we agree at least, since we work with words in straining for consensus, to think of this project in temporal terms? While we cannot settle issues diachronically, we can settle them synchronically?

    I just don't see the postmodern project as one that helps the democratic, consensual process. Post-structuralism and some feminist thought are helpful insofar as they call our attention to alternative ways of doing things; they at least show us that differences exist and that we might just as well build lego ladders with spiraled shapes as with strict linear shapes. But, with postmodernism, the language games are so pervasive that they bar us from making the transition from considering alternatives to praxis. We can't make even synchronic decisions. It's the very act of discussion or conversation that's barred.

    It's not a matter, for postmodernists, of having been abandoned by the Father, but of postmodernism abandoning the Mother in a race for the psycho-anthropological transgression of patricide -- killing the father in order to become him. If we build our ladder with psycho-anthropological legos, I would have to say that the phallus, as transcendental signifier, is very much alive and well, and will continue to thrive as long as there are human beings. If we metaphorize the phallus, interpret it as the power to make meaning, "penis envy" is a condition suffered universally . Postmodernism is just the same struggle for the same signifier, but in the absence of civilizing rules; rules have been abandoned and the barbarians are at the gate. I'm reminded of wolf packs and the social order, the play-fighting and posturing in lieu of real fighting hat determines a synchronic pecking order (I say synchronic because the order is subject to challenge). Postmodernism is like a wolf clan that's suddenly abandoned the rules; play fighting becomes real fighting, a bloody warfare that no individual survives unless he runs away, at which point there's no "social" at all. Again, to answer the Entext question, we aren't talking because we can't. To risk talking is to risk ex-termination.

    Postmodern wolves? I like the image. My thoughts are filled with nuance, though. There's something I would want to develop around the issue of procedural rules vs. prescriptive rules. Game rules provide consensus on procedures but do not prescribe consensus on outcome. Play which is held in place and regulated by prescription may degenerate into serious and bloody fighting in the absence of any developed sense of process or procedure (such as democratic rules provide). Our risk in America is not that of being thrown to the wolves of postmodernism because we do have some support for democratic procedural rules, but in not being willing to take risks of further procedural empowerment. Our problem is that the lack of continued expansion of democratic play has resulted in a kind of corporatized, clean, desert-stormy, but nonetheless serious and bloody fighting that's become an accepted part of the landscape. In other words, I would want to check out with you whether your description of struggling for the signifier in the absence of civilizing rules again assumes that the car of civilization and the ethics and prescriptive rules it supposes can be put before the horse of democratic procedural rules already in place in America and the ethics of dialogue that it supposes. Hasn't postmodernism enabled a semiotics of war? Strong democracy needs open conversation, and my assessment is that postmodernism has opened conversation, including this one, onto areas formerly closed for lack of tools.

    I like the idea of defining boundaries, though, I wouldn't want to march blindly along with postmodernists who want to kill the Father only in order to become him. This would be a mistake. This is where I would say that we could register our indebtedness to them for opening conversations, and then begin to follow these conversations into other areas (like feminism) where rules give way to relationships and where the talk is not so invested in the winning of games.

    Lately I've been trying to understand what's referred to as neo-pragmatism, trying to give it a place in our conversation. I've pretty much always thought of myself as pragmatic, insofar as that means something like practical. But, I don't think that's quite capturing pragmatism as a philosophical position. People like Richard Rorty and Stanley Fish have valuable insights, especially in terms of socially constructed meaning, on consensus, but I have some fundamental misgivings. There seems to be in neo-pragmatism a deep underlying metaphysical lack, a nothing at the center of this philosophy that implies the impossibility of either goodness or of evil.

    Sartre talks about consciousness as a lack in the center of being, making a case that when philosophers talk about metaphysics, they are in effect talking about consciousness, which is always a lack. Metaphysicians in this way protest too much, get too excited because they are trying to fill the lack that will never be filled, trying to solve the riddle of consciousness which must remain a riddle if it is to remain consciousness. In order for anything to change, everything must change. We need new notions of validity, certainty, etc., if we are to entertain new notions such as neo-pragmatism.

    It seems like whatever we do, we have to deal with metaphysical questions. It would be great if foundationalism/antifoundationalism was pragmatically irrelevant, but it's not. At some point we have to consider whether or not people are innately good. Can we rely on goodness?

    I can see the argument for consciousness as lack, especially from the perspective of humanity being a part of the universe rising to self-contemplation. That lack is desire, desire for truth, self-knowledge, always beyond reach of our poorly evolved brain capacities and the fragmented consciousness of the universe in all its beings.

    I think it's a worthy venture to reflect on the nature of desire, lack, seduction, and the state of our poorly evolved being in relationship to the big questions such as the nature of good and evil or the meaning of life. Why is there something instead of nothing. Language may be like the convict's spoon, and we are all convicts trying to dig mile long tunnels to freedom through solid rock. Our tools, our spoons, are woefully inadequate to the task. In many ways, ways related to pragmatism and democracy, our struggling separate selves must connect in collective consciousness and effort to pursue the ever elusive, shape-shifting answer. We must de-liberate.

    I am suddenly reminded of Rainer Rilke's "A Tale of Death and a Strange Postscript Thereto" in which a grave-digger tells the following story to the narrator:

    "You know . . . in olden times people prayed like this --" and I spread my arms out wide, involuntarily feeling my breast expand at the gesture. "In those days God would cast himself into all these human abysses, full of despair and darkness, and only reluctantly did he return into his heavens, which, unnoticed he drew down ever closer over the earth. But a new faith began. As it could not make men understand wherein its new God differed from their old one (for as soon as they began to praise him, men promptly recognized the one old God here too), the promulgator of the new commandment changed the manner of praying. He taught the folding of hands and declared: `See, thus does our God wish to be implored, so he must be another God from the one whom heretofore you have thought to receive in your arms.' The people say this, and the gesture of open arms became a despicable and dreadful one, and later it was fastened to the cross that all might see in it a symbol of agony and death.

    Now when God next looked down upon the earth, he was frightened. Besides the many folded hands, many Gothic cathedrals had been built, and so the hands and the roofs, alike steep and sharp, stretched pointing towards him like the weapons of an enemy. With God there is a different bravery. He turned back into his heavens, and when he saw that the steeples and the new prayers were growing in pursuit of him, he departed out of his domain at the other side and thus eluded the chase. He was himself astonished to find, out beyond his radiant home, a growing darkness that received him silently, and with a curious feeling he went on and on in this dusk that reminded him of the hearts of men. Then for the first time it occurred to him that the heads of men are lucid, but their hearts full of a similar darkness; and a longing came over him to dwell in the hearts of men and no longer to move through the clear, cold wakefulness of their thinking. Well, God has continued on his way. Ever denser grows the darkness around him, and the night through which he presses on has something of the fragrant warmth of fecund clods of earth. And in a little while the roots will reach out towards him with the old beautiful gesture of wide prayer. There is nothing wiser than the circle. The God who has fled form us out of the heavens, out of the earth will he come to us again. And, who knows, perhaps you yourself will some day dig free the door. . . ."16

    Rilke's wonderful story dovetails with the notion that he God-human cyborg may be the best model available to us. What it seems most postmodernists have yet to realize is that God has indeed come around again, this time as an option on the postmodern menu. Where there is no ground, anything is possible, and the criteria for action (the unavoidable selecting-out) become profoundly moral/aesthetic. Truth's loss in status brings other concerns into greater prominence.

    In terms of education, this means that if the truth question is over, then we can stop trying to dig with inadequate tools. Those tools -- intense cognitive apparati that nonetheless work about as well as a spoon -- are part and parcel of what is questioned in the post-truth era. If the project changes, so must the tools. If anything changes, everything changes.

    So in school, we have learned, as your metaphor suggests, to be inmates. We are the proverbial spoon-fed who get so big in management training school (a.k.a. Ph.D.) that we grab the spoon and begin tunneling for all we're worth. Not only benighted, but impertinent, we unshackle ourselves and commence digging while the merely benighted await the return of the philosopher-king like good students (but not like management-caliber students). Eventually we return, having learned yet another lesson, never minding that maybe we got thrown into the wrong metaphor.

    This is exactly the reason that we need to repeat as our mantra "tell me something I don't already know" when contemplating what we do pedagogically. People, by the time we get them, know the spoon game. It is a fun and good game, but nobody teaches anyone anything about basking, for example; and basking may be a much more important survival skill in the post-truth era than spooning. This is why, if we take education as our subject matter in our interdisciplinary course, we can also get to things like God's return and the variety of proper greetings, etc. We will be operating in the post-postmodern.

    There's one drawback to our musings about spoons -- if we don't have to do the spoon game anymore, if what we need is basking instead . . . you and I are unemployed! There's no longer a need for neo-pragmatism, democracy, postmodernism, modernism, romanticism, or anything else. We can all just open up our arms and receive the Answer, which is, of course, that we all need one another to be One, to be coherent.

    Wait a minute; certainly you have heard of contemplative literature. I'm talking about expanding the reading list and/or gradually substituting one kind of reading for another. We can still sell ourselves (thank God for that) with postmodernism, neo-pragmatism, modernism, romanticism, etc., then make a move on the inside to bring in the concept of basking. At the other end of the historical tin can and string sits Galileo, similarly contemplating unemployment (or worse . . . but not really worse since unemployment in our society does equal death, just a slower kind of death) for making moves that would shake the academy as it was then known. It's a fluid medium. We live in Galileo's utopia, except that the reign of truth has recently been seen to have run its course.

    I think a usable metaphor for getting out of the holes we get into is "coming out." You seem to have this sense, that if you scratch the surface just a bit, you might find that many others are waiting for a sign that it's all right to come out, too. Sighs of relief are heard.

    So, first we have to sell ourselves, make changes from the inside. I just hope that instead of staying in the hole, or coming out, we don't just spoon ourselves a bigger hole. To revise the metaphor just a bit -- we settle back in self-congratulation to lick the spoon that stirred the pot.


.

Works Cited

Baudrillard, Jean. "Fatal Strategies." Jean Baudrillard:
Selected Writings. Ed. Mark Poster. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1988. 185-206.
---------- Seduction. Trans. Brian Singer. New York:
St. Martin's Press, 1979.
---------- Transparency of Evil: Essays on Extreme Phenomena.
Trans. James Benedict. New York: Verso, 1993.
Bukatman, Scott. Terminal Identity: The Virtual Subject
in Postmodern Science Fiction. Durham: Duke University Press, 1993.
Colapietro, Vincent M. "The Vanishing Subject of Contemporary
Discourse." The Journal of Philosophy. 11 (1990): 644-655.
Faigley, Lester. Fragments of Rationality: Postmodernity
and the Subject of Composition, 1992.
Haraway, Donna. "A Manifesto for Cyborgs: Science, Technology,
and Socialist Feminism in the 1980s." Feminism/Postmodernism. Ed. Linda J. Nicholson. New York: Routledge, 1990. 190-233.
Jameson, Fredric. "Postmodernism or the Cultural Logic
of Capitalism," New Left Review. 146 (1984): 53-92.
Kim, Kyung Hi. "Democratic Ethics, Politics, and Education:
Aristotle Revisited." Thresholds in Education. February/May, 1993: 14-18.
Kitwood, Tom. "Psychotherapy, Postmodernism, and
Morality." Journal of Moral Education. 19 (1993): 255-75.
Lyotard, Jean-Francois. The Post-Modern Condition: a
Report on Knowledge. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984.
Rilke, Rainer Marie. Stories of God. Trans.
M.D. Herter. New York: Norton, 1963.
Saussure, Ferdinand de. Course in General Linguistics.
Ed. Charles Bally and Albert Sechehaye. Trans. Wade Baskin. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1959.
Swales, John. Genre Analysis: English in Academic and
Research Settings. New York: W.W. Norton, 1984.
.

Notes

1 Scott Bukatman in Terminal Identity suggests that, in science fiction films, special effects are the technological products of what the narrative attempts to explain (14). It is thus, as a special effect, that this Prelude is offered -- it is the subject of itself, the object that its self attempts to textually externalize and explain through the narrative unfolding of this [text.] The conversation, which originally took place during the months of May-July 1994, is taken from the record of electronic mail exchanges between Bob King and myself initially prompted by a call for papers issued by EnText for which Bob is co-editor, but eventually leading by twist and turn to an extended research collaboration. As presented here, my part of the dialogue appears in bold; Bob's appears in plain text (colored if your browser supports color in the <FONT> tag).
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2 According to Kim, the pressures brought to bear by these two extreme positions on civic discourse and social praxis endanger the democratic way of life (14).
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3 These quotes are taken from Tom Kitwood's essay "Psychotherapy, Postmodernism, and Morality," in which he reiterates the relationship between postmodernism and the deterioration of moral praxis. Reacting to the contemporary inclination to an anything-goes philosophy, he asks whether or not there is "some position that recognizes the postmodern predicament, and yet which still holds firm in some way to that respect for persons which seems to be the bedrock of morality." The two key concepts he draws from the practice of psychotherapy are those of free attention and moral space, both of which foster open communication between engaged parties by creating an ethos of 1) "complete particularism," in which each person is recognized as a unique individual rather than a sterotypical representative of something else, 2) "aprescriptive[ness]" in which no individual is subjected to an imperative "ought" and, 3) "non-propositional[ity]" where the quality of experience is unique to the occasion (4-6). It is the illusion of a similar ethos, the illusion of free attention and moral space which I believe cyberspace creates so dramatically.
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4 Jean Baudrillard's work in both Seduction and The Transparency of Evil contributes to an understanding of rhetorical relationships in cyberspace. "Telecomputer man," he claims, "offers himself the spectacle of his own brai n, his own intelligence, at work. Similarly through [electronic conversation], he can offer himself the spectacle of his own phantasies, of a strictly virtual pleasure. He exorcizes both intelligence and pleasure at the interface with the machine. The Other, the interlocutor, is never really involved: the screen works much like a mirror, for the screen itself as locus of the interface is the prime concern. An interactive screen transforms the process of relating into a process of commutation between O ne and the Same. The secret of the interface is that the Other here is virtually the Same" (Transparency 94). Electronic conversation, in providing such a surface or interface, intensifies discoursal intimacy because the distance between self and Other, rhetor and interlocutor, seems so close. It's not merely that the rhetor simulates or dissimulates her ethos, but that the interlocutor desires the ethos he creates from the text on the screen. "To seduce is to die as reality and reconstitute oneself a s illusion," Baudrillard says. "It is to be taken in by one's own illusion and move in an enchanted world. . . . And it is potentially a source of fabulous strength. For if production can only produce objects or real signs, and thereby obtain some power ; seduction, by producing only illusions, obtains all powers, including the power to return production and reality to the fundamental illusion" (Seduction 69-70).
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5 By claiming that "the bond between the signifier and the signified is arbitrary" (67), Saussure inserts uncertainty into language itself.
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6 While the French theorists such as Derrida, Lacan, Foucault, and Lyotard have their differences, they can be, according to Vincent Colapietro, justifiably regarded as representing a monolithic position opposed "to the priv eleged status accorded the Cartesian cogito . . . and, in addition, in their debt to Ferdinand de Saussure's conception of language as a system of differences" (647).
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7 This same position is supported (though less cynically) by John Swales, who in Genre Analysis points out that the language, or specific lexis, of discourse communities such as those of the academic disciplines is centrifugal rather than centripetal -- they tend to be exclusionary.
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8 Quoted in Lester Faigley's Fragments of Rationality: Postmodernity and the Subject of Composition, 122-25.
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9 Jameson suggests that in postmodern society there has been a spatial disruption leading to "the disability of moving outside the ever-shifting subject position to achieve a positional stance from which to critique, as obje ct, the culture in which we are immersed "(87).
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10 Baudrillard defines pornography as a seeing "from up close what one has never seen before. . . . It is all too true, too near to be true. And it is this that is fascinating, this excess of reality, this hyperreality of t hings. The only phantasy in pornography, if there is one is thus not a phantasy of sex, but of the real, and its absorption into something other than the real, the hyperreal (Seduction, 28-29).
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11 An interesting cyborg mediation between sexual corporeality and virtuality is offered by Donna Haraway in "A Manifesto for Cyborgs." Biotechnology, the cyborg marriage of life and machine, she argues, not only produces a robotic labor force, but also genetic engineering and reproductive technologies that literally make reproduction without sex a reality.
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12 This is precisely the point Socrates makes in Gorgias. Rhetoric, although neutral, can be used to simulate truth.
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13 In "Fatal Strategies," Baudrillard asserts the "our whole culture is in the process of shifting from games of competition and expression to games of risk and vertigo" (187).
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14 In The Post-Modern Condition: a Report on Knowledge, 34-35.
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15 Plato engages in this kind of constructivism in various dialogues. After pushing an argument to logical extremes, he concludes that while it is logical to look at he world in a particular way (therefore the world must be this particular way), it is so beautiful from this perspective that we ought to behave as if it were the case even if it may not be.
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16 From Rilke's Stories of God.
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