Paul Kameen, University of Pittsburgh
(Published: January 30, 2012)
I wrote this essay in 1986-87, as the opening frame for it makes apparent. It was designed as the first installment on the book-length project I was eager to pursue. I wanted to write a book that would theorize new ways of thinking about method, meditation, and metaphor (the other term in the book’s working title) and then to translate that initiative into more practical pedagogical terms. I circulated this chapter to a number of publishers, and it was not well received. Subsequently, I was also unable to find a journal willing to publish it. And, really, who can blame them? It was way too long (about 60 pages in its original version) and kind of odd. What, one might fairly have asked back then, does "time" really have to do with theories or pedagogies of composition? So I reluctantly set the project aside, assuming it was, at worst, deeply flawed or, at best, just too eccentric to be perceived as relevant to ongoing disciplinary discussions.
It was a series of serendipitous encounters and exchanges that brought the essay to the attention of Byron Hawk, who has graciously made its publication possible in this issue of Enculturation. I revised it initially for submission, mostly by reducing significantly the length and specificity of part III, which was, originally, a close reading of several competing textbooks from the early 1980s. I found most of that material, now, to be quite dated and, ultimately, more of a distraction from than an aid to my main argument. So there is now a much more schematic feel to that section, which I hope is not a deterrent to my making my main point. And I revised it again, more lightly, in response to very supportive advice from the journal’s reviewers.
This essay finds itself now in the context of a discussion of "neo-expressivism," which is a very amicable setting for its underlying ambition. My project when I wrote the essay was not, though, to recuperate a traditional "expressivist" pedagogy to compete with the more positivistic approaches common back then. Part of what I wanted to do was simply to help reclaim Samuel Taylor Coleridge from the disciplinary dustbin, where he was dispatched most often as a vile "vitalist" or an irrational "romantic" or the proponent of a magical sort of unteachable "genius." And part of what I wanted to do was, and continues even now to be, to get us thinking much more carefully about matters of method when we teach, when we write, and when we read. For me, this is inevitably a very personal kind of intellectual work, it impinges directly on issues related to identity (and, yes, self), and it is always ongoing. Neither the field of composition studies nor English Studies generally was receptive to a discussion of these matters, at least on those terms, back in the mid-80s.
We are now, and I am both happy and surprised to find myself an integral part of that discussion—happy because it is, finally, a very intelligent discussion, deeply informed by careful reading of both scholarly sources and student writing; surprised because it seems that my work, which is actually a very small part of all this, is finding a larger, or least more receptive, audience than it did back in the 80s, when I had a very difficult time finding any outlets for it, let alone finding a place in the major disciplinary venues. I see this essay, in its current and fortuitous reincarnation, as both a companion piece to several essays I actually did publish back in the mid-80s—on Coleridge, on metaphor, and on disciplinary history in composition, all in places that would be hard, if not impossible, to track down these days—and a pre-cursor to my book, Writing/Teaching, which has, by contrast, been extremely well-received in the profession at large. I am very grateful to Byron Hawk and to Enculturation for helping me bring this work to a public fruition so long after it was written.
The 1986 College Composition and Communication (CCC) Call for Program Proposals concludes with the following observations about the "power of language," and more particularly of those who teach writing and reading, to "make the impossible possible":
Let 1986 be the year when we embrace enthusiastically the "language of hypothesis" as defined by George Kelly—"a human device for anticipating events—an instrument for probing the future and, at the same time, maintaining composure in the face of on-rushing events." As the twentieth century winds its way toward eternity, the English profession must take its place at the helm of change and help chart the course of events in and out of the academic world.
The general sentiments here—on behalf of the power that language, and the institutional apparatus by which it is brought functionally into play, wields in shaping historical time--are familiar ones. Though education and discourse, especially written discourse, clearly serve at least some archival function in regard to the past, to tradition, and to what has already been achieved and codified in our canons of texts, they are more often in our era defended, justified, even glamorized, in just such terms as the above passage employs. The very word "education" is in fact rooted in the metaphor of leading-out-of, which lends credence to the sort of forward-moving, future-shaping ambitions that this argument chooses to accentuate. And since, as the document proclaims earlier, "education occurs through perpetual intellectual movement," the essence of which is "the power of language," then "the fate of the world" might legitimately be claimed to rest ultimately on language and, more immediately, on those who teach it.
One could cavil with the enthymemic structure of this argument, but I am more interested in approaching the text as emblematic of a particular, and a common, way of imagining the vectors that constitute the relationship of power between language—and its ministerial representatives in the academy—and time. There are, in that regard, several ways that the text can be glossed, or glossed over. One can, for example, simply assent to its imperatives, forgiving the obvious excesses of this particular presentation as customary to, perhaps even required by, the rhetorical context—the sort that generally calls for a morale-boosting, hyperbolic style. Or, comparably, one can simply dismiss it as the sort of high-sounding palliative that pedagogues have always resorted to from the sophists to ourselves when the need to justify their enterprise becomes, for any combination of intellectual, cultural, social, or economic reasons, most pressing. English teachers, because their mission is often perceived to be marginal in politico-economic terms, are especially vulnerable to such needs. Or one can look at the text itself, try to figure out what it is trying to say, to imply, what sort of further questioning and inquiry its "face values" might both presuppose and call for. It is this latter tack that I would like to take here as a way of opening up, of entering into along a specific tangent, a wider discussion of the question that most interests me: What is in fact the relationship of control between discourse and time, between, more specifically, rhetoric (with its attendant pedagogies) and the future.
What strikes me first and most problematically about the above version of the-future-in-our-hands argument is the issue of deciding just what one is to do in one's "hands" with a future that is simultaneously defined in terms of "events" that are both open, and therefore subject to, our anticipations, our probings, whose course in fact we have the power to "help chart," and that are, at the same time, "on-rushing," in some manner of pre-formation, toward us, threatening whatever composure we might be able to muster in response to their intrinsic power to shape and control us. There is then a dilemma at the center of even this confident argument on behalf of the power of language to control the future. For we have, on the one hand, history, in the guise of the twentieth century, winding its way diligently toward "eternity" and, on the other hand, the future, in the guise of "on-rushing events," seeking in its own right to assert its expressions into the stream of time—from the opposite direction and toward potentially contrary ends. And we, with language as our primary "device," our "instrument," seem to be caught in the middle, at the "helm of change" perhaps, but much less likely to be charting the course of all manner of things in and out of the academic world than to be seeking to navigate some sort of safe passage through the turbulent waters that constitute the point of confluence for these two contrary forces.
As George Kelly implies, our proper station in such a situation might well be to sustain a sort of self-reflexive, paradoxical tension between probing and probity, composing and composure, assertion and receptivity. And such a balance of power between stasis and flux would inscribe the measure of our control over the passage of time, via what Kelly elsewhere calls "constructs," which are both stable archives by which the future can be organized and flexible respondents to the unexpected. These constructs, then, which are reminiscent of Dewey's pragmatism, provide one way of imagining the relationship between language, upon which they are dependent, and time, the passage of which they orchestrate. What attracts me here though is not the resolution Kelly proposes but the problem that precipitated his invention in the first place. And that is that there are two primary ways of imagining the flow of time into and through discourse: from the past into the future and vice-versa.
We have available to us all sorts of pedagogies for transacting one or the other of these contrary operations. I propose in what follows here to observe, from the promontory that the dilemma itself provides, these two alternative ways of construing the passage of time into and through language, and then to suggest some of the ways in which these contrary systems for composing temporality inform the pedagogies we deploy, often unreflectively, on their behalf. I begin and end with close readings of passages from Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s "Essays on Method," from The Friend, using these to instigate a conversation among a variety of other theorists—St. Augustine, Martin Heidegger, and Francis Bacon primarily—who have had things to say about temporality and discourse. My ambition is not to somehow recuperate a version of Romanticism, expressivism, or vitalism (the current bogeyman for some rhetoricians) capable of countering current, more positivistic, trends. I simply believe that Coleridge deserves a more nuanced and attentive reading than we are currently giving him; and this essay attempts to do a part of that work.
Coleridge closes his "Essays on Method" with what seems at first to be a curious, even surprising, observation about the purpose and motive for the preceding meditations:
From the indemonstrable flows the sap, that circulates through every branch and spray of demonstration. To this principle we referred the choice of the final object, the control over time—or, to comprize all in one, the METHOD of the will. From this we started (or rather seemed to start; for it still moved before us, as an invisible guardian and guide), and it is this whose re-appearance announces the conclusion of our circuit, and welcomes us at our goal. (523)
Time has, of course, been a significant occasional theme in these essays, particularly the first. But the "final object?" Nowhere, prior to this last paragraph, is there any statement to that effect, nor are there any overt indicators to suggest that time is pre-eminent to his argument. These are, after all, essays on method. Even more puzzling, particularly given the free-playing conception of method that Coleridge both defines and enacts here, is the expression "control over." In what sense is this to be taken, especially since the object of that control has remained "invisible" between its first appearance—what seems at the outset of the first essay more a helpful analogy than the designated "starting post" for the circuit of Coleridge's thinking—and its "re- appearance" here as the star of the show? It is almost as if Coleridge, in order to avoid addressing the subject "too familiarly and knowingly," chooses not "to utter a word about it," is perhaps himself not even fully aware of its consequence until it happens forward to announce both its undercover mission as "guardian and guide" for his inquiry and, simultaneously, to close the circuit of thinking that happened to open around it in the first essay. Clearly, if we are to take Coleridge seriously, he has come to see time not only as a thematic frame for his meditations on method, but also, and more significantly, as the very ground within which his reflections on the subject are rooted, out of which they emerge, back to which, at the final juncture, they return. Time, in effect, does not simply begin and end his argument as an object for inquiry; it sustains and informs his manner of thinking, "controls," through its ubiquitous, and therefore necessarily "invisible," presence, as subject, the very character and pace of the rhetoric he deploys. One is tempted, then, to ask, what is in fact the proffered relationship between rhetoric and time in these essays? And, more generally, to wonder whether there is always and inescapably just such a fundamental, mutually constitutive, relationship between discourse and temporality.
Let me defer, for a moment, the former question and look at the latter, which must seem, at its surface at least, to be less than problematical. Of course there is, and must be, such a relationship. At the very least all discourse takes up time in the literal sense, can exist and function only through some mode of temporal presentation. Oral discourse comprises, and is measured for meaning by, the duration and concatenation of the sounds that inscribe its contours through time. And likewise for written discourse, the left-to-right (or vice-versa) unfolding of meaning, the pace of which is both governed and engendered by patterns of duration that constitute the ways in which time is ensconced, both into and by the enactment of thinking. Words, phrases, clauses, sentences, paragraphs—each a name for, a manner of construing, a means of shaping, the temporal measure at which meaning is disclosed, the tempo at which apertures are opened and closed to draw patterns of significance from the unmeasured background of silence and noise.
Poets have, of course, been pre-occupied from the outset with this intimacy between language and time, with, that is, the measurements of their discourse. Meter, rhythm, rhyme, alliteration, assonance—all means by which, through resonant recurrence, meaning is shaped to its sonorous movement through time. These more formalistic features of poetic discourse can, of course, be imagined as extrinsic to the language through which they are enacted; and to the extent that that occurs, time becomes, at once, not only more visible, more di-visible, but also less consequential, less meaningful, to acts of invention and interpretation. More recent poets, perhaps in part because of such reductive conceptions of the role of measurement in both critical and creative practice, perhaps in part because of their vocational responsibilities to both reflect and facilitate the radical reconceptions of the contours of time that have recently been undertaken in our culture, have, by abandoning the categorical rigors of classical formalism, restored the intimacy between language and time to its status as a negotiable, but inescapable, condition of poetic discourse. T.S. Eliot, W.C. Williams, Wallace Stevens, Charles Olson, Robert Bly, et al.—all have sought, either directly through the theme of time or indirectly through a preoccupation with rhythm or the image, to define, to explore, the junctures at which language takes up time and vice-versa.
Rhetoricians, on the other hand, seem almost from the outset to have remained estranged from this question, this problem, generally satisfied, as Aristotle is, to treat time as a possible subject or context or instrument for, rather than as a condition of, the production and appropriation of discourse. But if, as our commonplaces suggest, language and time are fundamentally co-terminal, must not all texts, the "non-poetic" as well as the "poetic," exist and function only to the extent that they shape, manage, and "control" the passages of meaning into and through time? Once again, the question, in its present form, seems to be merely rhetorical. Of course they must. Few would dispute it. But what difference does it make how, or even whether, we think about this almost tautological relationship between language and time? A great deal of difference indeed. At least Augustine and Coleridge think so, which is fairly good authority to go on. Both of them—and others as well, to whom I will refer as the essay proceeds—by refusing to take for granted, to mention "more familiarly and knowingly" than they feel they can or should, what seems to be the very ground for the possibility of discourse, risk exploring the range of options we have for enacting meaning through time. And both of them seem to be asking the same question: By what means can we gain a vantage on, a measure of control over, not only the kind of time that our discourse takes up, both in its making and its reception, but also, and more crucially, the implications and consequences of making a choice in the first place. The question is no longer merely "rhetorical," and it is problematical; for it has a bearing not only on how we ourselves might choose to write and read and think, but also on how we choose—whether it is by an informed reflection and selection, or simply by concession to the fiat of cultural or professional convention—to teach those activities to our students. It is this more functional version of the question that I will take as the "guardian and guide" for the essay, seeking to explore some of the ways in which we might claim a measure of "control" over time in the strategies we employ to teach our students how to read and write in the composition classroom, a place where time is very seldom "taken up" except in the most reductive senses of that expression.
Let me return now to the question I earlier deferred, i.e., the specific terms through which Coleridge unites discourse and time. Coleridge opens the first of his "Essays on Method"—which is where time comes into it all, at this other end of his circuit of thinking—with a fairly straightforward question:
What is that which first strikes us, and strikes us at once, in a man of education? [as opposed to what he later calls “an ignorant man”] And which, among educated men, so instantly distinguishes the man of superior mind that (as we observed with eminent propriety of the late Edmund Burke) "we cannot stand under the same arch-way during a shower of rain, without finding him out?" (448)
His answer is equally straightforward;
It is the unpremeditated and evidently habitual arrangement of his words, grounded on the habit of foreseeing, in each integral part, or (more plainly) in every sentence, the whole that he then intends to communicate. However irregular and desultory his talk, there is method in the fragments. (449)
The distinction here between premeditation, which is not characteristic of methodized thinking, and foresight, which is, is especially puzzling—and ultimately pivotal to Coleridge's argument. In what respects can one foresee what one is saying without pre-meditating it? This conundrum requires a gradual unraveling. But it does, indirectly, introduce the problem of time. The word meditation, for example, finds its origin in the same Indo-European roots as the word measure. To pre-meditate would, at the next level, then, be to pre-measure—decidedly not a quality of methodized discourse, which finds its measures as it moves through time. It is perhaps not coincidental that the word "see" shares the same Indo-European root with the word say. Thus, one might say that Coleridge's version of methodized discourse is grounded as well in the concept of fore-saying. In effect, each clause, each sentence, foresees, foresays, the whole that is to be communicated. How this is possible is another matter altogether. But it is a place to start, this notion that discourse, if it is to remain in control of its own temporal identity, cannot be pre-measured by external formats; it must be attentive to that which it is always in the process of fore-saying, fore-seeing, or, to use another Coleridgean term, fore-thinking. It must, in short, via self-reflexivity, follow the measures of meaning time allows it to disclose.
In any case, it is methodical discourse that distinguishes the educated man; and the "science of method" must therefore be the most appropriate subject of these essays. In the process of inscribing this subject, Coleridge introduces the concept of time:
Of one, by whom it is eminently possessed, we say proverbially, he is like clock-work. The resemblance extends beyond the point of regularity, and yet falls short of the truth. Both do, indeed, at once divide and announce the silent and otherwise indistinguishable lapse of time. But the man of methodical industry and honourable pursuits, does more: he realizes its ideal divisions, and gives a character and individuality to its moments. If the idle are described as killing time, he may be justly said to call it into life and moral being, while he makes it the distinct object not only of the consciousness, but of the conscience. . . . Of the good and faithful servant, whose energies, thus directed, are thus methodized, it is less truly affirmed, that He lives in time, than that Time lives in him. His days, months, years, as the stops and punctual marks in the records of duties performed, will survive the wreck of worlds, and remain extant when time itself shall be no more. (449-50)
There are several telling moments in this passage. Coleridge distinguishes, for example, between industry and idleness as they relate to the constitution of time. The former is the means by which time is, on the one hand, redeemed from the lock-step regularity of clock-work, and, on the other hand, served, called into life and moral being. The latter, which appears to gain mastery over time by killing it, is in fact utterly subjugated to its external measures. The methodical mind "controls" time by allowing it to live "in him." The idle mind, by seeking to kill rather than serve time, is in the end controlled by it, must live "in time." There are, in addition, the references, in tandem, to consciousness and conscience, suggesting the degree to which time is, for the methodical mind, not simply an extrinsic framework for quantitative measure, but is intimately attendant upon the realms of both perception and values. It is, in short, a qualitative aspect of knowing, thinking, speaking, writing, etc. And finally there are the rhetorical tropes of the final sentence—the stops, the punctual marks, the records—in contrapuntal relationship to the explicitly temporal concepts days, months, years. The very passage of time—once it is restored to its status as "the distinct object" of both consciousness and conscience—becomes in effect a rhetorical phenomenon. And, by implication, one could argue (though Coleridge does not do so explicitly here) that the way one composes language—talks and writes, habitually arranges one's words—inevitably enacts one's chosen manner of composing time.
There are, in Coleridge's system, two primary options: methodized discourse of which one might say that "time lives in it;" or unmethodized discourse of which one might say that "it lives in time." This may seem like a subtle distinction, but its consequences are significant; for it provides us with a way of thinking, and talking, about the fundamental differences between those modes of discourse that derive from, depend on, pre-constituted, "pre-meditated," patterns for dividing and announcing their "silent and otherwise indistinguishable" lapses of time, and those that "realize" their own movements and divisions, define their own measures, thereby giving "character and individuality" to their constitutive "moments," that, in short, create the arena within which time can take on a life of its own.
Coleridge is, I think unduly harsh and narrow in both his definition and his judgment of the former, including under its aegis only the most rudimentary forms of narrative and quasi-logical discourse, diagnosing them as symptoms of ignorance and a lack of cultivation:
Listen . . . to an ignorant man, . . . whether he be describing or relating. We immediately perceive, that his memory alone is called into action; and that the objects and events recur in the narration in the same order, and with the same accompaniments, however accidental or impertinent, as they had first occurred to the narrator. The necessity of taking breath, the efforts of recollection, and the abrupt rectification of its failures, produce all his pauses; and with the exception of the "and then," the "and there," and the still less significant, "and so," they constitute likewise all his connections. (449)
The reference to a dependence on "memory alone"—and a strict adherence to the pre-figured shape of the remembered objects and events—suggest the degree to which time has been exiled from such acts of composition. All the speaker needs to do (or is capable of doing, depending on one's point of view) is divide and announce the lapses of time with extrinsic indicators, which create only the barest illusion that the discourse "lives in time." As Coleridge goes on to say, by way of contrasting this manner of speaking with its contrary:
Hence the nearer the things and incidents in time and place, the more distant, disjointed, and impertinent to each other, and to any common purpose, will they appear in his narration: and this from the want of a staple, or starting-post, in the narrator himself, from the absence of the leading Thought, which, borrowing a phrase from the nomenclature of legislation, we may not inaptly call the INITIATIVE. On the contrary, where the habit of Method is present and effective, things the most remote and diverse in time, place, and outward circumstance, are brought into mental contiguity and succession, the more striking as the less expected. (454-55)
It is precisely because unmethodized discourse is captivated by the pre-figured temporal structures of memory—that is by mnemonic contiguity and sequence—that its rigorously lockstep habits of development have such a disjointed impertinence about them. Methodical thinking on the other hand is, again paradoxically, made dynamic by its rootedness, its "staple or starting-post," those metaphors for what, in material terms, function both as the beginning and the end-point of the "circuit." The metaphor of initiative is also richly suggestive of this constitutive, this legislative, capacity of methodized thinking, calling forth the image of a citizenry authorized to originate or retract "laws." It is via this latter mode of thinking, of the production of discourse, that method calls time to live in it, that, in effect, negotiates its own passages, its own divisions, its own moments. And it is thus that, via these choices concerning the relationship between discourse and time, two contrary rhetorics emerge to compete with one another, not only as manners of speaking but also as ways of thinking, habits of mind. And each of these two depends on a different conception of the impetus of time in the discursive context. By way of illustrating this difference, let me circle back to Augustine, who, as my opening epigraph indicates, approaches the question more directly.
Augustine is clearly frustrated and puzzled by the problem of time, the manner in which, in his effort to define the presentness of human experience, everything seems to dwindle to the momentary next-to-nothingness that constitutes immediacy:
If any portion of time be conceived, which cannot now be divided into the minutest particle of moments, this only is that which may be called present. Which, however, flies so rapidly from future to past, that it cannot be extended by any delay. For if it be extended, it is divided into the past and future; but the present hath no space. (192)
In effect, Augustine is saying, the present exists only as the joint at which whatever is coming can pass, the juncture at which whatever is "not yet" becomes what is "not now"; it is, in short, merely the moving focus of future turning into past. The problem then becomes redeeming that which is "not," which is nothing—the future and the past—into the realm of things that "are." Augustine accomplishes this by, in effect, renegotiating his definitions of the three realms of time
But what now is manifest and clear is, that neither are there future nor past things. Nor is it fitly said, "There are three times, past, present and future;" but perchance it might be fitly said, "There are three times; a present of things past, a present of things present, and a present of things future." For these three do somehow exist in the soul, and otherwise I see them not: present of things past, memory; present of things present, sight; present of things future, expectation. (195)
In the most reductive terms, the arena for mental exploration can be divided into its three principles: the present of things past, the superintendent of which is memory, which is constituted by "not the things themselves, which have passed, but the words which . . . they have formed in the mind . . . in their passage" (194); the present of things future, which is brought into being through expectation—what Augustine (fore-casting Coleridge) names elsewhere as "forethinking," "foretelling," "foreperceiving" or "foresignifying," which are themselves, though less directly, constituted by words, the linguistic instruments by which fore-conception provides the context for what is "expected" to be called into "consideration" in order that it might be "remembered." The present is in fact defined as this mode of "consideration . . . through which that which was future, may be carried over so that it may become past" (201). The present is also then radically mediated by its relationship to past and future, memory and expectation, and thereby by the language through which these are constituted. One cannot choose "timelessness" either as a state of experience or as a mode of discourse; what one can do is choose the direction in which time will move through the rhetoric of one's discourse—either out of the past, through the present, and into the future, or from the future, through the present, and into the past. And the choice one makes will have a profound impact on what one is likely to say or see, on how one is likely to say or see it.
One can, I think, begin to see a rough comparison to Coleridge's distinction between his two modes of thinking--the non-methodical, which derives almost exclusively from a direct report of that which is remembered, which mimics through its rhetoric the designs that things in passing have traced in the mind, which struggles to restore to presence, out of the past, that which can be deployed to shape the future (time in effect, is compelled to move from past to future, the "not now" to the "not yet"); and the methodized, which is defined in terms of fore-thought, which seeks to enter onto the path that provides access to and for the future, which allows what is coming forth to present itself to the mind, to move from there into the memory of things known (time, in effect, is allowed to move from future to past, the "not yet" to the "not now"). Both Augustine and Coleridge come down heartily on the side of the latter mode of thinking, of the production and reception of discourse. But it is, for the moment at least, the choice that I want to explore, the presentation of alternatives, the option that both were faced with: the manner and means by which time is provided its direction of flow through thinking. And it remains to be seen how these two schemata for orchestrating the momentum of time can be translated into epistemic, and ultimately rhetorical, terms.
My first step in this direction is to find a way of re-naming them in more recognizably contemporary terms; and for that I turn to Martin Heidegger who, in his "Memorial Address," seems to me to be talking about the same contrary ways of thinking (and using language) that have troubled both Augustine and Coleridge. Heidegger's argument is much more overtly political than those of his predecessors, directed as it is by a critique of technology and the mode of thinking that, absent its contrary, leaves man in a subservient relationship to his productions, dooms him to a very specific kind of "thoughtlessness." As Heidegger explains:
[M]an today is in flight from thinking. This flight-from-thought is the ground of thoughtlessness. But part of this flight is that man will neither see nor admit it. Man today will even flatly deny it. He will assert the opposite. He will say--and quite rightly--that there were at no time such far-reaching plans, so many inquiries in so many areas, research carried on as passionately as today. Of course. And this display of ingenuity and deliberation has its own great usefulness. Such thought remains indispensable. But—it also remains true that it is thinking of a special kind. (45-6)
This mode of thinking, which Heidegger believes has come to define the "relation of man to the world and his place in it," is in fact merely a product of recent history, having been "developed in the seventeenth century first and only in Europe" (50). He calls it calculative thinking:
Its peculiarity consists in the fact that whenever we plan, research, organize, we always reckon with conditions that are given. We take them into account with the calculated intention of their serving specific purposes. Thus we can count on definite results. . . . Calculative thinking computes. It computes ever new, ever more promising and at the same time more economical possibilities. Calculative thinking races from one prospect to the next. Calculative thinking never stops, never collects itself. Calculative thinking is not meditative thinking, not thinking which contemplates the meaning which reigns in everything that is. (46)
There are, then, two kinds of thinking, each justified and needed in its own way: calculative thinking and meditative thinking. One can begin to see again the contours of the distinction that Coleridge has made in terms of method and that Augustine has made in terms of time. Calculative thinking is un-methodized, it is the present of things past, for it always grounds itself in "conditions that are given," things past, in order to serve "purposes," achieve "results" that are mapped into the future. The movement of time is clear: it is past to future, the not-now to the not-yet.
Meditative thinking on the other hand, though it may appear to be "worthless for dealing with current business," of little help in "carrying out practical affairs" (46), is not only the essential contrary to calculative thinking, it is the very means by which man can reflect on, re-assert his control over, the products, including certain kinds of discourse, of his object-relation to nature and the "world."
Meditative thinking, in the sense that Heidegger is using it here, is not to be mistaken for some sort of arcane capacity of mind reserved for the gifted few, just as Coleridge's version of methodical thinking is not, despite the way it is often read, an expression of innate "genius." Heidegger in fact takes pains here and elsewhere to emphasize the degree to which meditation is quite an ordinary and normal mode of thinking, in need now of special emphasis and defense only because, in his view, we seem to be on the verge of a time when calculative thinking will "come to be accepted and practiced as the only way of thinking," a time when man's capacity to reflect, to contemplate, to meditate, to think, will become necrotic from disuse, a dishonored anachronism, unapprenticed and unpracticed. As he explains:
And you may say, finally, that mere meditative thinking, persevering meditation, is "above" the reach of ordinary understanding. In this excuse only this much is true, meditative thinking does not just happen by itself any more than does calculative thinking. At times it requires a greater effort. It demands more practice. It is in need of even more delicate care than any other genuine craft. But it must also be able to bide its time, to await as does the farmer, whether the seed come up and ripen. (46-7)
The metaphors of this final sentence are reminiscent, again, of Coleridge, suggesting not only what might be called in Romantic jargon the "organic" character of meditative thinking, but more importantly, its rootedness, what Heidegger calls the autochthony of self-reflective habits of mind. He goes on to characterize these habits in more specific terms:
It is enough if we dwell on what lies close and meditate on what is closest; upon that which concerns us, each one of us, here and now; here, on this patch of home ground; now, in the present hour of history. (47)
Heidegger characterizes this present-ness of the initiative for meditative thinking in terms of "comportment," a concept which recalls in many respects Augustine's mode of "consideration." This comportment has two facets. On the one hand it "expresses 'yes' and at the same time 'no,'" a paradox that Heidegger calls "releasement toward things" (54). This capacity for both reservation and composure is related to the capacity to "stand at once within the realm of that which hides itself from us, and hides itself just in approaching us" (55). Heidegger calls this latter facet of the proper comportment of the meditative bearing "openness to the mystery." The doubleness of the yes and the no, the hiding and the approaching, suggests the fundamentally dialogical quality of meditative thinking—in specific contrast with the generally linear, mono-logical features of calculative thinking. As Heidegger explains earlier in the essay:
Meditative thinking demands of us not to cling one-sidely to a single idea, nor to run down a one-track course of ideas. Meditative thinking demands of us that we engage ourselves with what at first sight does not go together at all. (53)
Meditative thinking, in contrast with calculation, is intrinsically self-reflexive, always circling back on itself, a way of making meaning out of, by looking and re-looking, engaging and re-engaging ourselves with, what at first sight does not seem to go together at all. It is never, in that respect, single, one-sided, one-track, never, in short, governed by preformulated, or, to use Coleridge's expression in this now richer environment of associations, premediated, formats of measurement. These latter, in the most general sense, simply re-instate the past-to-future paradigm that both Coleridge and Augustine found so confounding to exploration. Meditative thinking, on the other hand, as is evident in the various metaphors Heidegger employs to locate it—releasement, openness, and, in particular, approaching—indicates a movement out-of- the-future-toward, the future becoming present, the present of things future.
None of this is to suggest, even in the extremity of Heidegger's argument, that meditative thinking should supplant calculative thinking as the only, or even the primary, currency for our universe of discourse. Quite the contrary. These modes of thinking are, paradoxically, both incommensurable and mutually dependent. It is possible to argue, though Heidegger does not here, that calculative instruments are in fact reified versions of meditative enterprises—that they accomplish their "purposes" and achieve their efficiencies precisely because they have been "pre-meditated." And, conversely, meditative practices urge themselves toward codification in calculative formats. One cannot, in short, have one without the other. Heidegger's explanation and defense of meditation is, as I have indicated, motivated by his irritation with the fact that we seem now, and for some time, to have attached such an inordinate privilege to calculation that we risk losing not so much just another powerful means of thinking and coming-to-know, but the very contrary upon which calculation depends for its efficacy—i.e., the means by which the knowing mind can stand in a critical, self-reflexive, relationship to the knowledge, to the "products," that its calculative mechanisms legitimately engender. To lose this capacity is, in Heidegger's view, to become enslaved to our productions, and our habitual modes of production, to be, in effect, controlled by, rather than in control of them, to live in and through them rather than to provide the occasion for them to live in and through us. And the same can be said, in the more general context of my argument here, about the relationship between discourse and time.
The distinction, and the ultimate sense of competition, between these two modes of thinking—the calculative and meditative—and their contrary conceptions of the relationship between discourse and time, is, it seems to me, endemic to Western theories of discourse. One can see traces of it in Socrates' arguments with Gorgias and Protagoras. Even Socrates’ abhorrence of scribal literacy, as he elaborates it for Phaedrus, contains elements of the same conflict, particularly in terms of his conception of the relationship of discourse—oral vs. written—to memory. Aristotle approaches and divides the problem differently, choosing to dissociate, if only by the fiat of separate texts, poetics from rhetoric. In effect, Aristotle compartmentalizes discourse into two distinct types, the former inclined toward modes of invention, the latter inclined toward modes of interpretation, the latter devolving its authority for artifice from figural language, the former subordinating figures to "authoritative" language. Though the terms of differentiation between these two modes of discourse, and their attendant habits of mind, have varied quite a bit in the interim, the structural roles assigned to each party in the debate have remained essentially constant.
In contemporary rhetorical theory, the gauntlet for calculative thinking has been taken up by the more positivistic process-based approaches. Its contrary, meditative thinking, though less visible, rides still under the banner of method, as Coleridge deployed it on behalf of his agenda. It is obvious, of course, even at the etymological level, that both of these concepts are necessarily temporal in their function as metaphors for composing. The term "process" takes its origin in simple Latin roots meaning to go forward; and this sense of the systematic, usually progressive, advance of thinking in time is re-enacted throughout the lexicon of process-based theories of composition. "Method" derives from Greek roots meaning, literally, along the way or path, suggesting a more desultory, ambulatory, character to the movement of thinking through time (or vice-versa) and this less regimental sense of passage is likewise re-enacted in the lexicon of method-based approaches to the teaching of writing. On the most schematic level, one might translate this distinction into the primary figures that sustain each system. Process-based theories are generally governed by the figure of the line; method-based theories by the figure of the circle.
In the case of linear modes of discourse, temporality is both explicit and pre-eminent, is, in effect, in control of the rhetoric through which such discourse is deployed. To the degree that the oppression of the line can be circumvented, it is by "recursion." One can, in effect, exit at any moment the stage or place one happens to be working and move to any other stage or place, either forward or backward along the line, to perform operations that cannot be effected in one's current place. In circular modes of discourse, temporality is implicit and responsive, is, in effect, in service of the rhetoric through which such discourse is enacted. To the degree that the redundancy of the circle can be attenuated, it is by "reflexivity," the capacity, or more appropriately, given the imperatives of such systems, the necessity, to stand in a chronic self-conscious and self-critical relationship to the activity of production. In Coleridge's terms, the former lives in time; the latter allows time to live in it.
Such planar figures are, ultimately, inadequate measures for complex systems. But it is in consonance with these primal tropes that our more elaborate models of the relationship between thinking and language have evolved. When, for example, the figure of the line is fully articulated, it generates a hierarchical system; the figure of circle, on the other hand, provides the structural motif for a dialectical system. These two configurations represent incommensurable and co-equal structures for keeping the books on the relationship between thinking and language, discourse and time.
The most positivistic of the process-based rhetorics are quite unabashed in their preference for hierarchy as the fundamental epistemic paradigm. In "The Architecture of Complexity," one of the ur-texts for these rhetorics, Herbert Simon makes the following observations about the structure of complex systems, distinguishing in the process between two different modes of hierarchical organization:
By a hierarchic system, or hierarchy, I mean a system that is composed of interrelated subsystems, each of the latter being, in turn, hierarchic in structure until we reach some lowest level of elementary subsystem. In most systems in nature, it is somewhat arbitrary as to where we leave off the partitioning and what subsystems we take as elementary. . . . Etymologically, the word "hierarchy" has had a narrower meaning than I am giving it here. The term has generally been used to refer to a complex system in which each of the subsystems is subordinated by an authority relation to the system it belongs to. More exactly, in a hierarchic formal organization, each system consists of a "boss" and a set of subordinate subsystems. Each of the subsystems has a "boss" who is the immediate subordinate of the boss of the system. We shall want to consider systems in which the relations among subsystems are more complex than in the formal organizational hierarchy just described. . . . We shall want to include systems in which there is no relation of subordination among subsystems. (In fact, even in human organizations, the formal hierarchy exists only on paper; the real flesh-and-blood organization has many interpart relations other than the lines of formal authority.) . . . For lack of a better term, I shall use "hierarchy" in the broader sense introduced in the previous paragraphs, to refer to all complex systems analyzable into successive sets of subsystems, and speak of "formal hierarchy" when I want to refer to the more specialized concept. (87-88)
While in Simon's terms hierarchy seems to offer a possible, albeit common and useful, habitat for organizing complex systems, some of the "new" rhetorics tend to appropriate it as the innate structure of both "reality" and human knowing, as, for example, in this excerpt:
Any unit of experience can be seen as a complex system composed of interrelated parts, or subsystems, each of which is in turn composed of still smaller systems, and so on until some elementary subsystem is reached. Furthermore, the unit is itself a part of a larger system. Thus Maxim 2: Units of experience are hierarchically structured systems. (Young, Rhetoric, 29)
One can see here in the slippage from "can be seen" to "are" a transition from possibility to necessity, from epistemology to ontology. And again, in the following reading of another passage from Simon:
Although Simon is not directly concerned with rhetoric, he does discuss problem-solving, social systems, and symbolic systems, all of which are relevant to invention. But of special importance here is the following statement: 'If there are important systems in the world that are complex without being hierarchic, they may to a considerable extent escape our observation and our understanding. Analysis of their behavior would involve such detailed knowledge and calculation of the interactions of their elementary parts that it would be beyond our capacities of memory or computation.' (477) That is, although it is impossible to prove that all complex systems are hierarchically structured, human beings appear to be incapable of understanding any other kind of system. The concept of hierarchy thus must be regarded as fundamental to any inquiry procedure. (Young, Teaching 32-3)
Simon hedges his bet, claiming only that non-hierarchical systems "may to a considerable extent escape our observation and understanding"; process rhetorics tend generally to argue, as in this instance, that we "appear to be incapable of understanding any other kind of system." Once the metaphor of hierarchy is thus institutionalized at the center of one's rhetoric, it generates a host of quite familiar attendant patterns for systematizing the relationship between thought and language, the former invariably defined, if only in functional terms, as distinct from and precedent to the latter. This division is, of course, inevitable given the imperatives of the root metaphor; for there are certain structural properties by which hierarchies are distinguished from other models of interpretation. And one of the most fundamental is their need to assign relative privilege—by dint of size (the bigger and the smaller), or status (the more and the less important) or time (the before and the afterward)—among the perceived array of inter-related "subsystems." It is in fact only by such partitions and sequential arrangements that hierarchies can be said to exist and function at all.
One can see traces of this "architecture" in almost any version of process-based rhetoric that depends on cognitive psychology or artificial intelligence for its theoretical base, particularly in the taxonomies of stages, phases, steps, or units into which the activity of composing is segmented. In the most "formal" terms, to abide by Simon's distinction, one begins, for example, with "thought," chooses the most appropriate "mode" for its organization, and then dresses up that format with the language (defined as "style") that most suits its proportions. If need be, one makes a few corrections (revisions) and adds a few adornments (metaphors) and the project is completed. In "general" terms, which are more appropriate to these rhetorics, one might, for example, engage in what is called "pre-writing," or "planning," and then move through a series of exploratory operations, like the nine-block tagmemic grid (invention), and then "generate" the text itself. Once again, this final surface can be polished by any number of strategies for recursive revision. In either case, and despite the oft-mentioned claims to the contrary, language is systematically subordinated to something that precedes it, remains servile in its capacities and functions.
The inclination of both formal and general hierarchical systems to reify the procedural patterns for the production of discourse suggests the other primary, and perhaps more significant, feature of such models: i.e., their tendency to propose repeatable, site-independent strategies to facilitate composing. These "heuristic" devices are designed and proffered to be applicable per se to any subject, situation, topic or problem and are, in short, transferable intact from one "place" to another. In temporal terms, they can be imagined as artifacts of the past that, by their deployment in the present to new situations, pre-constitute the sort of future that will be allowed expression. Thus we arrive at one of the more compelling ironies of these process-based systems for composing; for in the process of asserting control over the temporal contours of invention—the means by which one is supposed to come-into the new and unexpected—time seems finally to be entirely pre-dictable, atrophied in the very structures that are being deployed to unseat the intolerable inertia of the "product." Such rhetorics, in fact, seem to advance little beyond their formalistic antecedents in allowing time to live a life of its own. The "future" seems destined to abide by the maps of the past according to the constraints of given pre-ordinates. In effect, the on-rush of time is rebuffed through the stasis of form.
One can see an additional expression of this tendency toward reification in the conception of "memory" that is so crucial to these rhetorics. Memory is, of course, at least in the most ordinary sense of the word, a creature of the past, some sort of archive for cataloging "information" or "experience" or "knowledge" that has already transpired or been acquired. The manner and means by which this archive will underwrite the activity of composing depends on how one defines the arrangement of that material in its reservoir. Many process-based rhetorics rely on fairly traditional cognitive-associationist models of memory, modernized by analogy with computer technology. The computer, or more generally "artificial intelligence," has, it seems, had a peculiar reverse-analogical effect upon our ways of construing the processes that govern thinking and the production of discourse. It is beyond the scope of this essay to delineate the genealogy of that transliteration from technology to rhetoric. I want merely to observe that most computerized systems for storing and retrieving information are binary, relying on dual choices at every point, between, for example, zero and one, yes and no, on and off, each of which remains always and only what it is, or what more accurately it has been programmed to be.
Any version of human knowing grounding itself in such an analogy will inevitably function in terms of mutually exclusive diads—opposition, polarities, binary pairs, discrete alternatives occupying each its own separate "location" with its own separate "content" performing its own separate "function." The conceptual underpinnings of such a system will tend then to be static, fixed, repeatable. Thus, in the new rhetorics, as in their formalistic predecessors, we have the customary oppositions, though the terms may vary, between authoritative and figurative language, between form and content, between reader and writer, between invention and interpretation. Diadic systems, whether they be ancient or modern, simply cannot offer any additional play to the mechanism that engenders and fosters reification: the hierarchy. One need not, of course, presume that human knowing is always and only hierarchical in its capacities and expressions. Even Simon leaves open the possibility, though a small and perhaps trivial one, for an alternative. And, to be sure, both ancient and modern critical theory provides a legitimate and powerful alternative in the form of dialogical or dialectical systems.
Whereas hierarchical systems are inevitably afflicted by the stasis of diads, dialectical systems, in a progressive play off the primary figure of the circle, depend on triads. In that manner, they can overcome the inertia of polarization and reification. To the degree then that composing progresses through time, and it certainly must, it is by constant circulation, by sustaining a chronic interplay, even interchange between and among the contraries that happen to constitute the conceptual field within which the game must take place.
The triad takes us the first, and most important, step along the way from the line to the circle: by introducing the concept of mediation to the relationship between, in C.S. Pierce’s terms, the "symbol" and the "referent." Mimetic or representational systems posit a direct, albeit arbitrarily assigned, axis between, as Aristotle puts it, "words" and "things," the latter of which is always antecedent to and uncontaminated by the former. In effect, for Aristotle, and for all subsequent binary systems for imagining this relationship, A (word) = B (thing), and the line between them originates with the latter and terminates at the former, allowing the symbol to stand in for, independently and univocally, its corresponding referent. Each of these units of relation might then be arranged, as in the prior example of the analog computer, as a separate datum in non-interactive tandem with its opposite. As one moves forward in such a system, it is by a series of choices between mutually exclusive alternatives, between, in the simplest terms, a plus and a minus, a zero and a one, a yes and a no. And, consequently, at the exercise of each choice, each option, one must delete from the subsequent process, must in effect forget, all operations supervised by the excluded term. By disrupting the "equality" of the original relationship between A and B, triadic systems invert the functional flow of that scheme. Triadicity begins with the assumption that the path of transit from A to B, or vice versa, can never be negotiated directly, that, in effect, one "can't get there from here"—except of course by passing through the mediate realm of the reference.
Temporal progression in a system governed by the linearity of representation will generally proceed by a sort of incremental sequence from level to level, stage to stage, each one a hierarchical descendent of the one that preceded it. There is a sort of lockstep rigor to such a progress, such a "process," starting, as in all modes of calculation, "with conditions that are given," and formulating a "future" at their behest. Such systems, of course, have little difficulty grounding their "symbols" in essentially non-linguistic notions of "fact," or "information," or, most generally, a "reality" that supercedes the lexicon deployed to encode it. Triadic systems can stand on no such positive grounds. Each triad, in effect, generates another and another, ad infinitem. The progress of the figure through time can, in fact, only proceed by acknowledging that the elaboration of meaning is, by definition, a genuine act of invention, of coming-into (the word's etymological heritage) rather than moving-out-of, of revealing rather than positing, and that it is always and essentially a linguistic enterprise, the reference becoming symbol at the crucial apex of the mediated relation between word and thing. Thinking becomes then less like the descent of a ball through a pachinko machine and more like the "self-unraveling" of Coleridge's ambiguous "clue" (511).
On a broader rhetorical scale, and in a different guise, the triad serves also as the underwritten figure for most of our models of the dialectic. In one way or another, the dialectic involves the mutual interaction, in cooperative conflict, between contraries, producing, in the process, a third party—one which cannot be anticipated a priori—which then generates a contrary, etc. One has, in effect, by saying "yes and at the same time no" at every point, inverted the flow of most typical binary systems. The progress begins with the end of a string and proceeds backward to include everything that preceded it; or perhaps, more accurately, to trace out and embrace everything that is embedded in, embodied by, the opposition that originates at the starting post. In Augustinean terms, one might be said at each point to be standing in the present of things future rather than, as is characteristic of binary systems, the present of things past. One need only now to round off the corners of these progressive triads to arrive at the circulating spiral as a suitable figure for human thinking, and to return, ultimately, by that route, to the argument that Coleridge enacts in his "Essays on Method."
Where I begin is all one to me
Wherever I begin I will return again
What is most monstrous is sequence. When we are there why do we withdraw only in order to return? Is there nothing good enough to transfix us? . . . The monstrous reader who goes on from one word to the next. The monstrous writer who places one word after another.
— E. L. Doctorow
We can see once again in these passages the two contrary ways of imagining the activity of returning that I have elaborated already in several guises. In the latter instance, Daniel Lewin, the compulsively analytic protagonist of Doctorow's Book of Daniel, laments the seemingly pointless, yet unremitting, regimen of historical time and the discourse we deploy to record and arrange it. For Daniel there seem to be only two alternatives for accommodating the passage of time. On the one hand, he can simply yield to the metronomic, and ultimately monotonous, sequence of "events" that constitute its "progress," relying on language to superimpose the illusion or order, connection, causality—the means by which a past is rationalized and upon which a future can be predicated, independent in either case of something he might call "meaning," which was itself dispatched from the scene, for him at least, at the moment his parents were executed. Or he can look for something that is "good enough" to stop the flux altogether, to still the passages of change in a seemingly timeless stasis. In either case the threat of sequence is equally "monstrous," demanding on the one hand that he jump blindly from one discrete point to another, traversing an agenda of observations or experiences that, like the narratives of Coleridge's unmethodical speaker, hang together only because an array of extrinsic indicators are superimposed to mask their impertinences; or allowing, on the other hand, a momentary withdrawal, a fixation, at one particular moment, which one can either hold in place or repeat over and over, stopping in effect the forward momentum of time by eliminating any possibility for, in Coleridge's terms, "progressive transition," for meaning-making, as certainly would be the case if one tried to read or write one separate word at a time, an approach devoid of any method at all.
Time, in short, becomes a purely quantitative measure by means of which the obsessive recurrences of thinking can be redeemed to stillness in the atemporal realm of forms, transfixed, closed, complete, finished. Ironically, in the very process of fixing time in the stasis of such forms, discourse must strive to preserve the illusion of progress, of flux, largely through the narrative habits that are implicit to such "sequences": the if-then of deductive logic, the this-then or-that of expository patterns, the A-to-B format of heuristic paradigms. Time becomes, in effect, a sequence of timeless moments, of stages, steps, rigorous in their procession, slotted in their forms. The monstrosity of sequence is thereby domesticated.
But there is, of course, as Parmenides suggests, another way of imagining the seemingly iterative transit of discursive thinking, a legitimate alternative to Daniel's notions of sequence as either chronic repetition or immutable stasis. Such a mode of thinking depends for its efficacy on the assumption that human experience is primarily and inevitably a creature of both language and time, of time-in-language; that the welter and flux of time is a sequence of meanings chronically in the process of being made, successions of interpretations and re-interpretations; that any subject can be read and re-read and re-read, providing each time the occasions for new meanings to evanesce. Such a progress can never be exited except by arbitrary choice; it reaches closure rather than arriving at a conclusion; and it can be re-opened at any time, with anyone, for any reason. Time, in short, becomes a qualitative measure for meaning-making, both informing and yielding itself to the complementary measures of discourse. Ironically, it is the illusion of stasis or stillness that such thinking most often emulates in its immediate rhetoric—the self-questionings, the circlings-back, the eddyings, the recurrences and refrains and repetitions, which are most obviously deployed in poetic compositions, though they have their counterparts in rhetoric as well.
All of which brings me back now, along a different tangent, to the issue I deferred and then treated only briefly earlier in my argument—the manner in which Coleridge's "Essays on Method" depict through their very enactment the concept of method which is their apparent theme. I have already indicated the most outward circle inscribing his thinking: the trope of time itself, from which he "withdraws," or which, perhaps, withdraws itself, almost immediately after its first mention in Essay I, masking from both author and reader the degree to which it has already seized a considerable measure of "control" over his forthcoming agenda, biding its time, his time, our time, hovering guardedly, guidingly, over the ensuing argument, which, as it reaches toward closure, provides the proper forum for the trope to resurface, to reveal what it has concealed, to announce, in its transfigured form, the conclusion of the circuit.
The contours of this final horizon are prefigured in many ways by almost all aspects of the argument that is therein circumscribed. Let me begin with the definition of method itself:
METHOD, therefore, becomes natural to the mind which has been accustomed to contemplate not things only, or for their own sake alone, but likewise and chiefly the relations of things, either their relations to each other, or to the observer, or to the state and apprehension of the hearers. To enumerate and analyze these relations, with the conditions under which alone they are discoverable, is to teach the science of Method. (451)
One might note here the echo--in terms of the contrast between the contemplation of things "for their own sake alone" and their "relations," both intrinsic and extrinsic--of the distinction I drew earlier between diadic and triadic conceptions of thinking, the former grounded in the assumption that "things" are both separable and discrete entities open to singular inspection, the latter requiring that "things" assume their identities, take on their meanings, only via their mutual relations. Method then must not be grounded in the various components, pieces, parts, that can be assembled into a finished "text," nor, equally, in the set of directions by which they are to be arranged in conjunction with one another, but in the texture of meanings that "parts" make, through their reflexive relations, at their junctures, as they emerge to constitute a whole. The question then seems not so much to be what method is, but how it is enacted.
Coleridge begins his answer with an etymological foray: "Method," he observes, "implies a progressive transition, and it is the meaning of the word in the original language. The Greek methodos is literally a way or path of transit. . . . The term, Method, cannot therefore, otherwise than by abuse, be applied to a mere dead arrangement, containing in itself no principle of progression" (457). The fact that Coleridge employs the term progression in concert with transition, the movement from one "place" to another, rather than in its static form, as a manner of focusing on successive topoi, as discrete entities, differentiates his sense of this term from the notion of progress implied by the metaphors of hierarchy. It is the joints, and not the nodes in isolation from each other, that matter, the former constituting the latter and, of course, vice-versa. Coleridge, in short, wants to explore the temporal movement of thinking, rather than the forms of practical utility of thoughts.
Thus, as Coleridge makes clear in his discussion of Plato, whom he felt was a master of the "art of method":
The purpose of the writer is not so much to establish any particular truth, as to remove the obstacles, the continuance of which is preclusive of all truth; . . . not [so much] to assist in storing the passive mind with the various sorts of knowledge most in request, as if the human soul were a mere repository or banqueting-room, but to place it in such relations of circumstance as should gradually excite the germinal power that craves no knowledge but what it can take up into itself, what it can appropriate, and reproduce in fruits of its own. (472-73)
One can see here allusions to Socrates' argument, for the benefit of Phaedrus, on behalf of the germinal power of dialogical thinking, which becomes for Coleridge the means by which any radical form/content distinction is subverted. It is at this juncture that Coleridge sees what for him becomes the peculiar affinity between the intellectual projects of Plato and Bacon, who function as his primary sources in these essays:
They both saw that there could be no hope of any fruitful and secure method, while forms, merely subjective, were presumed as the true and proper moulds of objective truth. (490)
And, with this as their common ground:
The difference, or rather distinction between Plato and Lord Bacon is simply this: that philosophy being necessarily bi-polar, Plato treats principally of the truth, as it manifests itself at the ideal pole, as the science of intellect (i.e., de mundo intelligibili); while Bacon confines himself, for the most part, to the same truth, as it is manifested at the other, or material pole, as the science of nature (i.e., de mundo sensibili). It is as necessary, therefore, that Plato should direct his inquiries chiefly to those objective truths that exist in and for the intellect alone, the images and representatives of which we construct for ourselves by figure, number, and word; as that Lord Bacon should attach his main concern to the truths which have their signatures in nature, and which (as he himself plainly and often asserts) may indeed be revealed to us through and with, but never by the senses, or the faculty of sense. (492)
These may not represent the most customary readings of Plato and Bacon, who are not always seen as so companionable. But Coleridge's insight, which he develops in great detail both in the text of the essays and in numerous, often long, footnotes, serves as the fulcrum against which he can elaborate his own innovations in the science of method. The key word here is, I think, innovations. For Coleridge, for better or worse, is not in these essays, nor in any of his work for that matter, a mere replicator or explicator of his sources. He puts his derivative material to use, to a use, in the service of a project that is neither Plato's nor Bacon's but his own. It is precisely at those junctures in his argument where his "outside" sources are being deployed that Coleridge's mind-at-work, his method, is, I believe, most visible. I would like then to close my argument by looking not so much at Coleridge the writer as Coleridge the reader, specifically his "reading" of Bacon, who serves such a crucial role in these essays. I choose that focus, at least in part, because Coleridge has achieved such a curious sort of notoriety as a reader, being depicted, on the one hand, as a sort of voracious sponge, capable of bringing together, perhaps without even his own awareness, digested material from an unusually disparate array of sources, items that in Heidegger's terms would appear at first not to go together at all, and making an "organic" whole of them; and, on the other hand, as, at best, a careless borrower, at worst a blatant plagiarist. The former of these is, I think, closer to a fair assessment, more in keeping with the imperatives of methodical thinking that Coleridge is, in these essays for example, both defining and following; but it too underestimates, mostly by trying to excuse or justify in non-methodical terms, the degree to which Coleridge, or any methodical thinker for that matter, cannot always bridle himself to the traditional conventions of scholarship and annotation. For Coleridge is being driven not by his infatuation with Plato or Bacon, but by a project of his own, in the simplest etymological sense of that word: his thinking is thrusting forward, absorbing, appropriating to its own purposes whatever can be called into its service. This is nowhere more evident than in his reading, his appropriation, more accurately perhaps his transformation, of the material he draws from Bacon's De Augmentis. To illustrate this, let me look here again, not only at what Coleridge takes from Bacon, but also at how he alters Bacon to serve the thrust of his own project. As Coleridge explains:
In the first instance, Lord Bacon equally with ourselves, demands what we have ventured to call the intellectual or mental initiative, as the motive and guide of every philosophical experiment; some well-grounded purpose, some distinct Impression of the probable results, some self-consistent anticipation as the ground of the "prudens quaestio" (the forethoughtful query), which he affirms to be the prior half of the knowledge sought, dimidium scientiae. With him, therefore, as with us, an idea is an experiment proposed, an experiment is an idea realized. (488-89)
This passage bears some unpacking, suggesting as it does so much of what Coleridge believes about the instrumentality of methodical inquiry, and indicating, likewise, not only his immediate debt to, but his sometimes peculiar re-appropriations of, Bacon. The term "initiative" does in fact come from Bacon, as the contrary to what he calls "doctrinal" or "magistral" conceptions of method:
Let the first difference of Method then be this: It is either Magistral or Initiative. Observe however that in using the word "initiative," I do not mean that the business of the latter is to transmit the beginnings only of sciences, or the former to transmit the entire doctrine. On the contrary I call that doctrine initiative (borrowing the term from the sacred ceremonies) which discloses and lays bare the very mysteries of the sciences. The magistral method teaches; the initiative intimates. The magistral requires that what is told should be believed; the initiative that it should be examined. The one transmits knowledge to the crowd of learners; the other to the sons, as it were, of science. The end of the one is the use of knowledges, as they now are; of the other the continuation and further progression of them. (449)
This sounds in most respects pretty much like what Coleridge seems to mean by the same term. But there are telling and significant differences that need to be accounted for. Bacon, for example, claims to be "borrowing the term from sacred ceremonies," while Coleridge earlier indicates that his "initiative" is borrowed from "the nomenclature of legislation." For Bacon, the initiative method "discloses and lays bare" the "mysteries of the sciences," and it might legitimately deploy toward that end a decidedly elitist, "more secret," presentation, the intention of which is "by obscurity of delivery to exclude the vulgar (that is the profane vulgar) from the secrets of knowledges, and to admit those only who have either received the interpretations of the enigmas through the hands of the teachers, or have wits of such sharpness and discernment as can pierce the veil" (450). The legislative imperatives of Coleridge's initiative suggest no such secrecy, no such veil-piercing. By accruing political rather than religious connotations to his term, Coleridge goes a long way toward subverting the elitist aspect of Bacon's project. Initiative is simply "the motive and the guide for every philosophical experiment," functioning not really to lay bare a mystery but to both originate and to lead-out-of, language that reflects the more populist ambitions associated with legislative initiative. There is then no indication that Coleridge's method is designed to separate the "vulgar" from the elect, though the vulgar ("ignorant") mind can surely be distinguished by its inaptness at methodical discourse.
The primary instrument by which Coleridge's method is to be enacted is what he calls the "prudens queastio" or, in his translation, the "forethoughtful query." Once again, the transformation performed by Coleridge's translation is indicative. While "prudens" does in fact trace its origins to the metaphor of looking forward (pro-vident), of foreseeing, the rendering "forethoughtful" strips it almost utterly of its original theological significances, proffering to the "question" a strictly human function. Bacon does, of course, attribute an important role to the question as an instrument of method: "For we can," he asserts, "command our questions, though we cannot command the nature of things" (427). But in the light of Bacon's project—"to make the mind of man by help of art a match for the nature of things" (412)—this is merely to say that the question is more accurately a reflection of the limitations of mind in that "match," than the very origin and path of its power, which is, it seems to me, the role that questioning (by contrast with, for example, asserting, positing, declaring) serves for Coleridge's project and his method. In other words, Coleridge’s conception of method has a much more explicit temporal aspect—in its mode of fore-casting thinking through time—than Bacon’s does.
Coleridge's allusion, at the conclusion of the passage in question, to the intimate relationship between ideation and experimentation is also both derivative from and a variation on a similar connection in Bacon's work. Since method, for Bacon, is enacted in the delivery of discourse—the manner and means by which knowledge is transmitted—it must require an affiliate mode of invention. Invention, as it applies most generally to the "arts and sciences," is, like method, divided into "two parts":
This Art of Indication (for so I call it) has two parts. For the indication either proceeds from one experiment to another; or else from experiments to axioms; which axioms themselves suggest new experiments. The one of these I will term Learned Experience, the other Interpretation of Nature, or the New Organon. But the former (as I have hinted elsewhere) must hardly be esteemed an art or a part of philosophy, but rather a kind of sagacity; whence likewise (borrowing the name from the fable) I sometimes call it the Hunt of Pan. Nevertheless as a man may proceed on his path in three ways: he may grope his way for himself in the dark; he may be led by the hand of another, without himself seeing anything; or lastly, he may get a light, and so direct his steps; in like manner when a man tries all kinds of experiments without order or method, this is but groping in the dark; but when he uses some direction and order in experimenting, it is as if he were led by the hand; and this is what I mean by Learned Experience. For the light itself, which was the third way, is to be sought from the Interpretation of Nature, or the New Organon. . . . But knowledge that is delivered to others as a thread to be spun on ought to be insinuated (if it were possible) in the same method wherein it was originally invented. And this indeed is possible in knowledge gained by induction; but in this same anticipated and premature knowledge (which is in use) a man cannot easily say how he came to the knowledge which he has obtained. Yet certainly it is possible for a man in a greater or less degree to revisit his own knowledge, and trace over again the footsteps both of his cognition and consent; and by that means to transplant it into another mind just as it grew in his own. (413)
One can see in the former of these, which Bacon disavows as entirely "deficient," though it becomes the subject for the remainder of his chapter, the same structure of futile repetition that afflicted Daniel's "monstrous" sequences, a kind of never ending, never progressing regimen that engenders, perhaps, "facts" and "knowledge" of a certain sort, but nothing whole, nothing new, nothing "true." While there is chronic repetition, there is no movement through time. It is, of course, the latter sort of invention, or "art of indication," that Bacon prefers, reserving his elaboration of its methods for his later (and in this regard finally, I think, disappointing) work, The Novum Organon. And it is this latter "art" that, in my view, Coleridge comes closer to capturing in his rendition of the reflexive relationship between "experiments" and, not "axioms," but "ideas." Once again, the shift is more than a simple matter of word choice, leading us back again to the peculiarities of Coleridge's project, which is not so much to render Bacon and Plato as alternative methodists, but to bring their apparently contrary projects into legitimate "relation." The result is, I believe, an innovation in the science of method, synthesizing dialectically the momentum of Bacon's ambition, in one direction, to interpret the natural world, i.e., to expound the relationship between mind and "things," and Plato's in the other, to interpret the ideal world, i.e., to expound the relationship between mind and its own productions. Both "worlds" become in Coleridge's system "texts" that are available to the methodical interpreter, and while both, the material as well as the ideal, take their origins in what Coleridge calls the mental initiative, they remain equally companionable and, in fact, interdependent, via his conception of the relationship between what he calls "idea" and "law":
In other words, Idea and Law are the Subjective and Objective Poles of the same Magnet—i.e. of the same living and energizing Reason. What is an Idea in the Subject, i.e. in the Mind, is a Law in the Object, i.e. in Nature. (fn., 497)
In instrumental terms, what these two great, but contrary ambitions share in common is the privilege, the authority, of the question, the prudens queastio, the forethoughtful query, the question that pre-figures the time it will take to respond to its promise and its imperative. That is clearly the case with Plato's Socrates, who prefers always, if he can have it, the status of questioner rather than answerer. Such a stance is simply intrinsic to his method. And for Bacon, as well, at least to the extent I have indicated. One need not read Coleridge, or, for that matter, Heidegger or Augustine, very long to recognize the same preference, a preference that is no mere rhetorical ploy to introduce, or wrap around, a pre-constituted answer. It is the question, properly formulated, reflected upon, unraveled, that constitutes not only the prior half of the knowledge sought, but the very means by which any knowledge at all can be provided its portal of entry, slow-moving or on-rushing, into the open field of the moving present. And it is via the "science of method" that this bearing-toward-time of language is properly marshaled.
Augustine. The Confessions. Basic Writings of Saint Augustine. Ed. Whitney J. Oates. New York: Random House, 1948. Print.
Bacon, Francis. Of the Dignity and Advancement of Learning. The Works of Francis Bacon. Vol. IV. Eds. James Spedding, Robert Leslie Ellis, and Douglas Denon Heath. London: Longman and Co., 1860. Print.
Coleridge, Samuel Taylor. The Friend. The Collected Works. Ed. Barbara E. Rooke. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1969. Print.
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---. "Invention: A Topographical Survey." Teaching Composition: 10 Bibliographical Essays. Ed. Gary Tate. Fort Worth, Texas: Texas Christian University Press, 1976. Print.