A Counter-History of Composition: Toward Methodologies of Complexity
by Byron Hawk
U of Pittsburgh P, 2007, ISBN-10: 0-8229-5973-1

Reviewed by Wesley Venus, University of Georgia



1. Most notably, perhaps, is Victor Vitanza, who argues in "Three Countertheses" for a moratorium on the application of theory to pedagogy. He favors instead a subversive approach to disciplinarity similar to what Hawk is proposing here. [Back]
2. See Deleuze and Guattari's various derivatives of the "territorialization" concept for a fuller context of this metaphor. [Back]
3. "Once a way of thinking becomes so ingrained that no one bothers to question it, the most effective way to make it show up is to attempt the opposite argument that no one would even consider investigating" (p. 10). [Back]
4. "This [Formalist] conception of thinking creates a rigid split between mind and world and fosters a very formulaic metaphor for the writing process: writing is the application of mental constructs that mirror the world" (p. 93). [Back]
5. Coleridge's notion divides the human thinking apparatus into three principle parts: primary imagination, secondary imagination, and fancy. Guided by Kameen, Hawk navigates the specifics and operations of these parts in fascinating detail through his third chapter, but the general connection made between Coleridge’s mind-complex and thinking-method supposes a body intensely engaged with its environment. Briefly, the primary imagination perceives and contemplates the subject’s relationship to the world; the secondary imagination responds to the primary imagination’s ponderings by creating unifications, metaphors, and commonplaces from them; and the fancy serves in some ways as a counterpoint to secondary imagination, “reiterating” the commonplaces and metaphors developed there, moving the subject no closer to any kind of new understanding, but grounding the subject in what is already known. “Method,” then, is to Coleridge’s way of thinking the movement induced by the interaction of all three elements, though Hawk notes that this phenomenon is not teleological: “progressive,” but with “no ascent to absolute knowledge” (p. 100).[Back]
6. When a causal, dialectical method is theorized, though content is open-ended, its operations function in anticipation of some kind of absolute. This is because a method originates from something outside of the rhetorical context about which its theorists were absolutely certain. The kind of method Coleridge describes has no such pretense, and in the era of multidisciplinarity and postmodernity, his theory of human imagination does not seem so far-flung. Hawk proposes that when thinking of the primary imagination as correspondent to the dialectical, subject-world dichotomy to which writers have grown accustomed, the generative qualities of the secondary imagination become more apparent (p. 100). Pushing past the notion that beyond the dialectical perception of subjectivity lies an unknowable and ungovernable world of mystical genius uncovers a linguistic resource that is open-ended and inexhaustible.[Back]
7. "The problem with excluding this [the Coleridgean] larger role of imagination is that it reduces thinking to generic inventional strategies that are then plugged into a linear and acontextual model of the compositing process" (p. 102). [Back]
8. For Coleridge, the mind conceives of the absolute through intuition. As Hawk explains it, however, the mind consciously perceives the truth about a matter, it perceives that truth intuitively prior to his or her conscious understanding of it. If there is some truth about “justice” or a “natural law,” for instance, the mind anticipates it before it recognizes it as a generalized rule. So, when that truth is finally received, the mind is receptive of it intuitively. The mind predisposes itself to understanding a thing as truth through the work of the secondary imagination. This process does not stop there, however, since the presumption of objective truth about “reality” would be required of a method that did not take into account the improvisational operations of a mind in an ever-changing relationship with the world around it. [Back]
9. Hawk explains his purposes with respect to his larger goals, especially regarding Kameen's work: "In order to ground my discussion of [Kameen's] arguments..., I want to begin with a close look at Coleridge's theory of imagination not only because it is where Berlin puts much of his emphasis when he reads Coleridge's dialectics across the idea of polarity but also because it allows for a greater distinction between Berlin's and Kameen's readings. Berlin's emphasis on the subject draws him more toward primary imagination and its relationship to dialectics. Kameen's emphasis on invention draws him more toward the secondary imagination and its dialectical relationship to the world. These two aims create two different readings of Coleridge and two different theoretical trajectories" (pp. 96-97). [Back]
10. "The sequential addition of new perspectives moves thinking forward and ensures that one methodology never assumes a hierarchical and exclusionary position" (p. 111). [Back]
11. "Instinct is a feeling of life for life that drives practical relations to the world; intelligence is the conscious faculty for manufacturing objects in the world; intuition is the becoming of the former into the latter" (p. 114). [Back]
12. While Coleridge’s notions about human cognition sound very different from those of the present, it is really the sentiment that makes him so compelling. What he calls intuition translates easily into postmodern subjectivities. Hawk borrows Coleridge’s language quite a bit in this regard, and nowhere can a clearer connection be found than in his definition of method, which he offers up as the landing-point of his third chapter: “Method…is not the form of, or for, thoughts; it is the texture of thinking” (p. 120). [Back]
13. While many dismiss vitalism as being devoid of technê because of its rational irreducibility, he explains, Aristotle’s belief was that all arts are generative, evolving constantly of themselves. The notion is no less complicated than Coleridge’s theory of human imagination, but Hawk’s description is a full one, and it focuses on the idea that, when it comes to metaphysics at least, rational reducibility should not necessarily be taken as a universal descriptor for craft. Where Coleridge’s theory is to the contemporary mind cumbersome and seemingly reductive, entelechy is an elegant and deceptively simple notion that each changing thing has the potential to become any number of other things, provided that the contingencies are met to guarantee such an outcome. Any object or activity carries with it the potential for any (and every) plausible outcome, and its actuality is a measure of its motion toward a given end. Nature plays a critical role in this concept as well, Hawk notes, in that the interaction between humankind and nature has historically provided the materials and the structural conditions for innumerable advances in craft and technology, for which reason he turns to the “ecological situation” (p. 126), out of which potentiality is enacted as actuality. One can easily see the applicability of ecology to the rhetorical situation, especially where kairos is considered. If the focus turns to what rhetorical means are available, it seems that the “right or opportune moment” can present itself. Further, it would require of a willingness to explore what can work rather than simplify and systematize to suit a generic and an acontextual moment. [Back]
14. Oppositional vitalism is most consistent with Coleridge’s because, as its name implies, its mechanics are best understood where one considers that material action (mechanics, often) gets taken for cause when it is best understood as an effect of something immaterial (vitalistic), though the mechanical metaphor is often the one used. Investigative vitalism can most easily be understood through a Nietzschean lens and the will to power: power is in this context, Hawk argues, “a creative impetus that vitalizes all social power, both domineering as well as resistant,” and life is given meaning by it (p. 147). [Back]
15. "This posthumanist model sees humans as functioning parts of life, and any theory of action or change must take this longer, more complex situatedness into account" (p. 158). [Back]
16. "Expression from this perspective can be only the expression of a world, of an entire system, of life, not just one element or function within it" (p. 158). [Back]
17. "Rather than pure chance or chaos, kairos is complex and requires the rhetor's ability to participate in the co-adaptive development of a situation by infusing discourse into it" (p. 184). [Back]
18. "Seizing the moment means being able to anticipate it, unconsciously as well as consciously, not just reacting to it but adapting to it, with it, and often quickly. Humans may never be able to completely predict or control complex behavior, only recognizing elements of it in retrospect, but being able to recognize more of it as it is developing and to understand how we might co-adapt along with it will become a vital rhetorical skill" (p. 185). [Back]
19. "Rather than promising our students some instrumental value in taking our curriculum, which may not actually turn out to have any value for them,...It may be better to follow that desire to create whatever composition or constellation that they desire, let them determine what use-value the curriculum may ultimately have for them in their particular contexts" (p. 218). [Back]