After the New Materialisms: Emerging Theories of Meaning and Mattering

Overview Schedule Texts

Workshop Leaders: Diane Davis and Thomas Rickert

The relationship between the meaningful and the material is typically figured as an opposition: meaning/matter. Over the last several decades, contemporary rhetorical theory has tended to privilege the former, contending that the symbolic constitutes or (at the very least) structures the material for the purposes of human comprehension. Recent schools of thought have sought to flip this privilege (back) from the symbolic to the material, from the epistemological to the ontological, from human subjects to a diverse range of nonhuman objects or actants: from the suffocating immanence of a discursive “inside” to the unmediated truth of the “great outdoors,” as Quintin Meillassoux puts it.

And/but these still problematic provocations have also prompted a growing number of thinkers to deconstruct (once again) the dichotomy itself. Mining largely untapped resources from our rhetorical-philosophical legacy, they aim to expose an always prior entanglement from which both “meaning” and “matter” must be extracted. Rhetoric, from this perspective, does not mediate, represent, or constitute a preexisting reality for human consciousness; instead rhetoric, which was never simply human, names the emergent and always relational force that grants singular being, each time.

Organization: To explore the scholarly and ethico-political implications of this radicalization of rhetoric—rhetoric as a quasi-ontological force—workshop participants will discuss a handful ofprimary texts with distinct approaches to the entanglement of meaning and matter. We will then break into workgroups where each participant will develop or workshop a scholarly project or draft the basic elements for a course syllabus. On the last half-day, participants will share their work with the larger group and jam together about future paths for this work within rhetorical studies. Throughout the workshop, we will collaboratively produce a bibliography of shared resources.

Preparation. A Dropbox folder of texts to be discussed will be shared well in advance of the workshop. The tentative list of readings includes selections by Martin Heidegger, Jacques Derrida, Jean-Luc Nancy, Vickie Kirby, Francesco Vitale, Karen Barad, Jane Bennett, Gary Tomlinson, and Lambros Malafouris.