Casey Boyle’s Posthuman Practice

Boyle, Casey. “Writing and Rhetoric and/as Posthuman Practice.” College English, vol. 78, is, 6, July 2016.

This article offers a connected definition of posthumanism and writing as practice in an earlier condensed version of his recently published book Rhetoric as Posthuman Practice. Boyle’s extended critique of reflection as a counterpoint to what he calls posthuman practice resists the human-centered practices of metacognition and reflection. He defines practice in terms of “seriality” and emphasizes the “repetitive production of difference” inherent in the practice of practice (547). Boyle composes the article in this way, in short staccato bursts that gathers various source material without reflecting on itself. He both defines and demonstrates this serial practice as “the adoption of a style of engagement, an ethic in developing capacities for becoming affected by others as much as affecting others” (548). From a rhetorical point of view, this engagement challenges traditional models of rhetoric that privilege human agency, human discourse, and human responses. The final section, “Practice Makes Persuasion,” contains a compelling explanation of how to understand “writing ethics as a continuous cultivation of habits” (549). In continuing to cultivate habits rather than solidifying them, Boyle makes the case that writing pedagogy should develop “an ethic for composing habits, dispositions, and orientations at least as much as the ability to consciously reflect on and account for causes and effects” (549). Boyle’s resistance to reflection and metacognition does not dismiss them. He seeks to reframe them within a posthuman practice that exercises “the humble, open-ended claim that we do not yet know what a (writing) body can do; after which, we attempt to find out, repeatedly” (552).

Several components of this article are key in developing a Posthumanist Pedagogy. First, Boyle works against the distance that reflection creates between the writer and the material. He situates his posthuman practice within a rhetorical ecology that includes a plethora of theorists, rhetoricians, and compositionists. Of note is the section drawing on Robert Yagelski’s Writing as a Way of Being and his attention to Peter Sloterdijk’s You Must Change Your Life. Yagelski’s formulation of writing as an ontological act prefaces the distinction Sloterdijk makes between the archivist and the letter writer. The singular letter writer, or the epistle as a product of that writer, reveals a consolidated whole—a subject that is distinct and in control of their world. This letter writer does not necessarily engage in an ontological act. They write the world from the standpoint of the duality of being rather than the unity. I disagree a bit here as I see life writing as an ontological act that engages multiple agencies and ecologies. But I also think the emphasis on the archivist (or in pohupraxis terms the curator) concerns invention, collection, and becoming in ways that the letter writer does not. Finally, the tenets of posthuman practice also transfer to posthumanist pedagogy. Boyle positions the “chief tenet for a posthuman practice” as “any individual (be it human or nonhuman) is not an essential subject or object compelled to adapt to external factors, but that individuals emerge from and with and as practice” (541). Under this definition, the instructor in a course emerges from, with, and as practice alongside the students. Posthumanist Pedagogy reframes the instructor from the letter writer to the curator (a point SShelton so eloquently makes in her diss).

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