Writing beyond the art /chance binary: The ongoing debate about techne in rhetoric and composition

Kelly Elizabeth Pender, Purdue University


This study takes up the 2500 year-old question, "is rhetoric an art?" claiming that even in the light of postmodern theory and the sometimes-radical ways it has changed our understanding of language, we should still understand rhetoric as an art. This argument is a response to a body of scholarship (written between the late 1980s and early 2000s) that in various ways argues that writing should not be considered an art since art, understood by its critics as a method of control (and thus as a means of objectification), is complicit with humanistic theories of language and subjectivity and as such is incompatible with basic elements of postmodern theory and inadequate to the ethical/political problems of our late-postmodern world. While this study denies neither techne's association with control nor those aspects of postmodern theory that problematize the role of control, and objectification in humanistic theories of language and subjectivity, it does argue that the effort to disqualify techne as a way of understanding writing on these grounds is based in part on an over-simplification of the concept of techne, an over-simplification of the postmodern critique of humanism, and an over-simplification of the nature of writing. Chapter three takes up the first of these over-simplifications, arguing that if we move beyond the techne/tuche antithesis, we find a conception of techne that attributes agency to the materials of making, that requires a certain kind of passivity on the part of the maker, and that acknowledges both the instrumental and intrinsic value of making. Chapter four addresses the second and third over-simplifications at work in the critique of techne, relying primarily on the work of Maurice Blanchot and Georges Bataille to demonstrate that due to the contradictory nature and power of language, writers cannot give up control in writing, and that when they try to, they further entrench themselves within the humanistic theories of language and subjectivity that so much postmodern theory has sought to dismantle. Chapter five then moves from a defense of techne to an argument for why it remains a suitable and valuable way of understanding writing in late postmodernism.




Blakesley, Purdue University.

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