DissertationDescription by ashrafp


									                         Jeff Pruchnic: Dissertation Description
            The Transhuman Condition: Rhetoric and Ethics in the Cybernetic Age

Value of Research:   Scientific theories and discourses have long been invoked as a “limit case” for
                     rhetorical analysis that protects distinctions between reality and representation
                     or truth and persuasion. By attending to the roles rhetoric plays in the
                     development of science and technology, rhetoric of science scholarship does not
                     so much seek to disrupt these boundaries as to highlight the complex
                     interrelationships between modes of persuasion and technoscientific
                     epistemologies. In practice, rhetorical accounts of technoscience provide
                     methods for analyzing contemporary realms of knowledge production (how
                     innovation and invention take place in technoscientific work) and strategies to
                     intervene in the political and ethical controversies emerging around current
                     science and technology. This perspective as well as the interdisciplinary reach
                     and broad range of subjects engaged by my research (new media technologies,
                     artificial intelligence, legal discourse, neurological and pharmacological sciences)
                     have prepared me to teach both highly specialized courses and more general
                     classes in rhetoric, composition, critical and cultural theory, and technical

Argument of          Emergent technoscientific reconsiderations of human bodies and categories
Dissertation:        of human agency have challenged traditionally humanist conceptions of ethics
                     and epistemology as well as more contemporary postmodern and
                     poststructuralist critical and cultural theory. My study provides an analysis of
                     this rhetorical ecology and argues for a transhuman rhetoric that productively
                     deploys new capacities for persuasion, interaction, and conditioning made
                     possible by contemporary science and technology. This principle is then applied
                     to a variety of phenomena currently at the center of debates over human
                     subjectivity, humanist politics, and praxis within the humanities: new media
                     technologies, rhetorical theory and criticism, composition pedagogy, public
                     policy development, and legal discourse.

Contribution of      Rhetorics of science and technology typically focus on the emergence and
Dissertation:        circulation of technoscientific knowledge and practice. By combining this
                     approach with broader concerns about contemporary subjectivity and ethics, I
                     am able to
                      expand the role of rhetorical theory and praxis to encompass affective and
                         non-discursive phenomena, such as human interactions with contemporary
                         technology and the use and effects of psychopharmaceuticals;
                      illustrate how “networked” perspectives of human and mechanical agency
                         and cognition are altering the contemporary roles of human identity,
                         responsibility, and accountability.

Relevance to         My current research on the networked relationships between technoscience,
Future Research:     rhetoric, and ethics has provided me with a large amount of new material and a
                     range of publication options. Future projects include an analysis of court cases
                     contesting the validity of scientific claims and a genealogy of cybernetics and
                     early neuroscience based on planned archival research.
                              Jeff Pruchnic / Dissertation Description / 2

                                    Chapter Summaries

Chapter 1   Toward a Grammar of Transhumanism; or, Why the Future Needs Us
            Organized around a series of theses that are invoked and supported throughout the
            dissertation, this chapter analyzes the rhetorical dilemma at the center of endeavors to
            think in a non-humanist and non-anthropocentric manner: the seemingly paradoxical
            attempt to conceive of an ecology in which human conception will itself have
            undergone radical changes. The chapter narrates the emergence of populist and
            academic movements writing under the banner of trans- or posthumanism as they
            develop in the wake of mid-century cybernetic sciences and then contextualizes them in
            reference to broader movements in rhetoric and contemporary critical and cultural
            theory. Writing partially in response to Sun Microsystems founder Bill Joy’s influential
            essay “Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us” — an argument for the affirmation of
            traditional liberal humanist values as a defense against a coming age of massively
            destructive technologies and scientific practices — I argue for a transhuman rhetoric
            that productively deploys new capacities for persuasion, interaction, and conditioning
            made possible by contemporary science and technology.

Chapter 2   On Seeing Differently: Cybernetic Knowledge Production and the Blind Spots of
            New Media Theory
            This chapter analyzes methods of knowledge production and critical practice developed
            by the cybernetics movement in reference to contemporary methods of critically
            engaging contemporary technologies of electronic mediation. It begins with a critical
            reading of the Turing Test, Alan Turing’s influential 1950 thought experiment that
            assays whether a human participant could guess the identity of an artificially intelligent
            computer solely through textual interaction. Turing’s test and subsequent responses to it
            in media theory and science studies create the framework for critical engagements with a
            variety of technologies and arguments that traffic in material and analogical practices of
            vision: the “black box” method that served as a crucial conceptual device for first-wave
            cyberneticists; biologist Jerome Y. Lettvin's canonical investigations into the
            physiological components of animal vision; virtual reality role-playing games; and Steve
            Mann's EyeTap technologies, wearable computing devices that alternately diminish and
            augment a user’s vision. I argue for a set of critical and pedagogical practices focused on
            our ability to manipulate our and others’ affective and cognitive responses to visual and
            electronically mediated material rather than our abilities to interpret or critique them.

Chapter 3   Neurorhetorics: Articulating Life during the Great Anti-Depression
            In this chapter I examine the interrelated development of scientific research in artificial
            intelligence and neuropharmacology in reference to the contemporary use of
            antidepressants and related ethical and political controversies. Parallels and intersections
            in the genealogies of AI and neuropharmacology resulted in the production of
            numerous “neurorhetorics,” techniques of persuasion and transformation inspired by
            research into neural nets and the establishment of the network as a conceptual
            paradigm. I argue for a conception of “cybernetic subjectivity” integral for the early
            formulation of this research and necessary for our contemporary ability to respond
            productively to the use of neuropharmaceuticals such as antidepressants.
                              Jeff Pruchnic / Dissertation Description / 3

Chapter 4   Rhetoric, Cybernetics, and the Work of the Body in Burke’s Body of Work
            The next two chapters examine explicit engagements between rhetoric, cybernetic
            science, and transhuman thinking, beginning with the co-terminus development of
            Kenneth Burke’s early rhetorical theory and the first-wave cybernetic research to which
            Burke was often implicitly and explicitly responding. Burke’s (primarily negative)
            responses to cybernetic research are pivotal to understanding his early attempts to
            construct a rhetorical subject embracing affective and nonrepresentational vectors. The
            chapter argues that the recuperation of this often neglected aspect of Burke’s canon is
            salutary for intervening in contemporary rhetorical scholarship on subjectivity and
            similarly instructive for approaches to affective experience and new media technologies
            developing in contemporary cultural and critical theory.

Chapter 5   Coldness and Criticism: The Ethics and Aesthetics of Pedagogy
            This chapter develops the conclusions of the last chapter in reference to current
            pedagogies for writing and critical thinking. I take the contemporary “conservative
            backlash” against Liberal Arts instruction (and composition classes in particular) as a
            point of departure for forwarding a pedagogical program based on an “aesthetic” rather
            than “critical” view of pedagogy. This perspective, developed around the ethical works
            of Hannah Arendt and the lessons learned from contemporary open-source software
            production and open-author writing systems, contains both a theoretical framework and
            discrete strategies for teaching in the contemporary writing classroom.

Chapter 6   Hacking the Self: Burroughs, Deleuze, and the Limits of Control
            The next two chapters expand the itinerary of the study to broader political, cultural,
            and ethical domains. “Hacking the Self” stages an intervention in the emergent concept
            of “control” or “cybernetic” societies, a critical mapping of contemporary economies of
            social control first formerly introduced through theorist Gilles Deleuze's last published
            works. Although Deleuze is explicitly working from Michel Foucault's studies of
            disciplinary power, his use of control society as a periodizing concept is very similar to
            canonical cyberneticist Norbert Wiener's predictions of the future of social control, and
            he credits American author Williams S. Burroughs for first anticipating the emergence
            of control societies. In this chapter, I first trace the connections between cybernetic
            theorizing and Deleuze's philosophical writings before arguing for an alternative
            concept of control societies drawn from Burroughs’ work. The chapter concludes with a
            proposal for fomenting political activity without recourse to traditional tropes of
            critique and protest.

Chapter 7   “My Hands”: Capacitation, Culpability, and Transhuman Ethics
            This concluding chapter surveys the grounds for an ethics of transhumanism and its
            possible pragmatic application in jurisprudence. After foregrounding the exigence for
            such an investigation through the close reading of recent court cases dealing with the
            altered states of human capacitation and culpability augured by contemporary
            technoscience, it turns to the figure of the sleepwalker and the problems it has posed
            for three interpretive domains: medicine, literature, and the law. Court cases involving
            sleepwalkers that have committed violent crimes are then deployed as a historical
            antecedent and contemporary test case for transhuman ethics.

To top