HEURETICS: The Rhetoric of Invention

CYBER-HISTORY: Applied Heuretics; Section 2, Part 3

Towards a rhetoric of invention: The CATTt Generator

Ramus’ dialectic is strictly hermeneutic: it treats the interpretation of, or the finding of meaning in, extant materials through selective rearrangement of their parts to construct a new discursive document. This method uses extant works to produce new theories, concepts, and arguments closely aligned to and achieving value from their precedents. If there is a new problem that will require a new way of working to find an adequate solution, we need to invent this new way; we need to invent a new method. Heuretics, the logic of invention, will need to provide us with a way to invent new methods to supplement the tools of hermeneutics. The relevant question that guides heuretics is not the same as that which guides hermeneutics and criticism: ‘What might be the meaning of an existing work?’; the question guiding heuretics is: ‘Based on a given theory, how might another text be composed?’ (Ulmer 1994, 4-5)

Hermeneutic logic must come after the heuretic moment of invention, for its goal is to see what has been made, and it treats the making process itself as something other, as coming from some other logic or discourse (Ulmer 2004, 33). To better understand the process of method invention upon which his heuretics is based, Gregory Ulmer examined the Western tradition of the treatise on method, from Plato’s Phaedrus, through Descartes and up to the avant-gardes of the early twentieth century, to find common operations or elements; this collection forms what Ulmer calls the CATTt Generator (Ulmer 2004, 292). The components of the CATTt Generator are:

  • [C]ontrast: a known discourse, field or method and a desired divergence from it. The inventor must begin by moving away from an undesirable example whose features provide an inventory of components made valuable through determining their exterior. (Ulmer 1994, 8)

  • [A]nalogy: a discourse or method from some other field that offers a model for a successful way of working. (ibid)

  • [T]heory: a rigorously developed methodology from the creator’s working discipline used primarily to offer weight and substance to the new creation. ‘[T]he theorist generates a new theory based on the authority of another theory whose argument is accepted as a literal rather than a figurative analogy. The new theory will include in one register a literal repetition of a prior theory’ (ibid, 9).

  • [T]arget: the intended audience. The inventor must have an intended area of application that the new method will address, frequently identifiable in terms of the needs of an institution that desired the new method. (ibid)

  • [t]ale/[t]ail: a final presentation format. The tale/tail is there to remind the inventor ‘that the invention, the new method, must itself be represented in some form or genre.’ (ibid)

André Breton’s 1924 Surrealist Manifesto serves Ulmer as a relay: an example of how to appropriate a theory for the design of a method. The manifesto format—understood as a combination of narrative and argumentative essay formats—is taken as belonging to the tradition of the discourse on method (ibid, 4-8). Ulmer’s proposal is to invent an electronic writing in the same way that Breton invented surrealism or Plato invented dialectic. To quickly illustrate how to identify the CATTt components in a treatise on method, Ulmer identifies Breton’s components as: contrast—realist/naturalist literature; analogy—dreaming, scientific experimentation; theory—Freud; target—family and entertainment institutions contacted via changes in artistic practice; tale/tail—manifesto (ibid, 10-15).

Using the CATTt Generator for analysis in this way underscores the fact that it is a simulation of the conditions of invention and not the conditions themselves (ibid, 5-7). The conditions of invention, or what actually happens in the human brain to produce some new socio-cultural material, are as yet unknown. The five CATTt components act as a simulator of the inventive act, mapping invention onto an experimental structure. The CATTt Generator allows an invention rooted in a particular historical and cultural moment, such as surrealism or modernism, to be simulated in a new method experiment (ibid, 5-6).

The wide image and the popcycle

While the CATTt Generator can be used to simulate the conditions of invention for a particular method, heuretics as the logic of invention can also push beyond the limits of the specific milieu at the site of invention to focus on the inventor as a key agent in the inventive process. Simulating the inventor’s agency provides the specific premises for the invention, ‘the setting that has gone without saying but that has provided the logic of all [the] work,’ or the grounding presuppositions that gauge the value of the method experiment (ibid, 49). These premises can be understood as the inventor’s predilections, made apparent through the identifiable repetition of elements.

In his article, ‘Darwin’s ‘Tree of Nature’ and Other Images of Wide Scope,’ Howard Gruber presents a detailed examination of Darwin’s use of repeating images in On the Origin of Species using the notebooks from the preceding journey aboard the H. M. S. Beagle and subsequent drafts, articles and essays (Gruber 1978). An ‘Image of Wide Scope’ is, according to Gruber, ‘[a]n image . . . [that] functions as a schema capable of assimilating to itself a wide range of perceptions, actions, ideas. This width depends in part on the metaphoric structure peculiar to the given image, in part on the intensity of the emotion which has been invested in it, that is, its value to the person’ (ibid, 135). Gruber goes on to hypothesize that a scientist may have a set of several operative ‘Wide Images’ utilized to guide research imperatives and problem-solving endeavors throughout the course of their career (ibid, 138). Science historian Gerald Holton searched through notes and biographical material on Einstein and other contemporary scientists working in the fields of study involved in the minting of Relativity Theory (Holton 1973). Holton asks what it was that made it possible for a young Einstein to put mathematical, electrical and physical problems, theories, and experimental evidence together in such a way to successfully solve extremely difficult problems afflicting many areas of advanced research. In Holton’s findings, the ‘Images of Wide Scope’ later identified by Gruber appear as ‘themata’ playing a dominant role in the initiation and acceptance of certain individual scientific insights (ibid, 11). When Albert was four or five years old, he received the gift of a magnetic pocket compass. At the time, he was fascinated by the observation that no matter which way he turned, the little needle in the compass always pointed in the same direction. There was then no scientific explanation for why the needle in a magnetic compass always pointed north. In his own autobiography written when he was 67, he wrote: ‘I can still remember—or at least I believe I can remember—that this experience made a deep and lasting impression on me. Something deeply hidden had to be behind things’ (ibid, 359).

[For an extended discussion of Images of Wide Scope in the work of Darwin and Einstein, see THEORIA: TRAVEL AS PARAPHOR; Part 3 - Discourses and Wide Images]

From the Image of Wide Scope to the composition of a mystory

Einstein’s compass became a guiding, recurrent image that influenced him in pursuing the fore-front of contemporary physics and mathematics. That light might be related to electromagnetism, and electromagnetism was related to the hidden force guiding the compass’s needle-point toward north was enough to feed Einstein’s curiosity, for the seed of fascination had been sewn in his childhood, in his attraction to a phenomenon that at the time of his entering the Polytechnicum in Zurich had not been completely worked out. It is apparent from the early age that Albert’s fascination with the compass began that Images of Wide Scope are not confined to discipline or profession-oriented problem solving and inventive reasoning.

The recognition of systemic image content in the work of Darwin and Einstein uncovers an opportunity to explore a conceptual structure that links and explains the workings of Wide Images at the scale of an individual’s entire life: from early childhood, through grammar school, secondary education and throughout a chosen career discipline. While hermeneutics works remarkably well in describing or prescribing how to construct new theories out of existing data using a logical/dialectical method, heuretics is a logic that describes how one might construct new methods out of existing theories. Gregory Ulmer has developed heuretics as a supplement for hermeneutics to provide a rigorous framework with which to utilize digital media for practical applications, specifically in dealing with existing aporiae. Just as the classical essay was a genre only possible in written media, digital media indicates opportunities for new genres, waiting for a Montaigne or Descartes to experiment and set its precedents. Ulmer has been developing such a genre, called ‘mystory’. as part of heuretics applied to new media pedagogy.

Wide Images, the repeating images found in the memories of a mystory creator, can be used to construct communicative forms when given a proper structure that conveys their meaning. The production of a mystory using Images of Wide Scope would yield an answer to the wonderfully poetic question that Gruber uses to close his examination of Darwin’s ‘tree of nature’:

But perhaps we have merely not yet lived in a world where thinking men and women really stop to listen to each other or to take long and loving looks at each others’ images. Is this impossible? (Gruber 1978)

Using heuretics, such communication is possible. Exploring the logic of invention means taking consideration of, or long and loving looks at, the contents of one’s affective images to determine their use in the production of value and direction for an individual’s inquiries.

Constructing a mystory using the popcycle

A mystory is a collection of elements gathered to represent the creator’s comprehension of a discourse (Ulmer 2004, 106). Mystory is constructed through systemic examination of memories, searching for elements that repeat at moments of change or uncertainty, and during breakthroughs. In his research on Einstein’s life, Holton found that the compass repeatedly appeared in the scientist’s explanations of his motivation for certain lines of inquiry (Holton 1973), and this repetition is the evidence of the width of this image across the inventor’s discourses. Here discourses are defined as all language or meaning-producing activities, monitored by administrative entities (Ulmer 2003, 24-25).

The elements of the mystory are images that attain ‘width’ through their recurrence across different dominant discourses of life such as family, community, literacy, entertainment, church, street, and career. These discourses are an interrelated set of institutions which together define our identity, a set known as the ‘popcycle’ (ibid). The repetition of Wide Images—highly affective, striking images or memories from one’s life—indicates the repetition of learning in the multiple discourses of the popcycle at different times in an individual’s life: the family discourse begins at home as an infant; community (history) begins at the age of four or five in elementary education, which is simultaneous with the formal entrance into literacy; street discourse begins sometime in adolescence, when an individual develops a social circle of friends and activities separate from their family or household practices; and career or professional discourse begins with secondary education at early adulthood (ibid). When an individual engages the task of learning the idiosyncrasies of a new discourse they will take pertinent information from the previous iterations of successful learning they have already completed. Einstein’s compass continued to re-emerge as he entered his career discourse in beginning his formal studies of physics because it had a profound affect on him as a child, motivating his fascination with the natural world as he was learning his family discourse (ibid, 27).

Identifying Wide Images in someone’s work and biographical material yields clues about how that individual learned new material and solved the problems related to working with the unknown toward a future goal. (It is important to realize that the individual studied could very easily be oneself, and Ulmer’s pedagogical development of the mystory genre focuses the effort of image identification on the composer.) The general project of searching for Images of Wide Scope to produce a mystory begins with the composition of a set of Wide Images that are particularly operative in the studied individual’s cognitive processes: Wide Images found to repeat in investigations of how the individual entered into relation with each discourse of the popcycle. This Wide Image set is known as the ‘widesite’ (ibid, 19). This set or site is itself the playground of the imagination, full of favorite props for inventive activities.

The widesite of images that repeat across discourses forms a field condition, a space or premises (Ulmer 1994, 48). The construction of a widesite, or the mapping of premises, simulates the subject’s predilections. Usually the premises are the widesite of the prospective inventor, simulated as an aid in creating methods to solve problems by helping to identify areas of interest and the adoption of previous successful practices: your widesite will help you to identify problems and practices to which you should apply your efforts. But, the same tools used to map one’s own widesite can also be used analytically to simulate someone else’s widesite; biographical information here becomes creative/inventive material explaining how someone worked to create something. Through this symmetry of conceptual tools across problem-solving and historical analysis, Ulmer’s heuretics serves as a suitable foundation for cyber-history.

< Section 2, Part 2

The Seven Days of Rhetoric


Peter Ramus' Dialectic

Section 3 >

Heuretics & Cyber-history

In the Design Studio


  • Gruber, Howard. 1978. "Darwin’s ‘Tree of Nature’ and Other Images of Wide Scope." In On Aesthetics in Science. Ed. J. Wechsler. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

  • Holton, Gerald. 1973. Thematic Origins of Scientific Thought: Kepler to Einstein. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

  • Ulmer, G. 1994. Heuretics: The Logic of Invention. Johns Hopkins University Press: Baltimore.

  • Ulmer, G. 2003. Internet Invention: From Literacy to Electracy. Pearson Education, Inc: New York.

  • Ulmer, G. 2004. Teletheory. Atropos Press: New York.

#catttgenerator #heuretics #darwin #wideimages #einstein #mystory #widesite

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