Lauer, "Heuristics and Composition"

Lauer, Janice. "Heuristics and Composition." CCC 21.5 (1970): 396-404.

Lauer formulates a centrifugal gesture, urging compositionists to turn to
and other fields presently discussing invention in such a way
that would aid in "the creation of a potent contemporary rhetoric" (397).
At just four pages with an eight-page bibliography, this article is odd for its
brevity. Lauer says that the "lost art of invention"–which she
defines as "the art of discovering ‘what to say,’ of making original judgments
on experience, of discovering means of communicating this unique insight with a
particular voice to a particular ear, of deciding between nonsynonymous
utterances" (396)–might be renewed under extradisciplinary influences.

To discuss heuristics, Lauer invokes Polya, a mathematician who, in 1957,
wrote a history in which he described "heuristic reasoning" as "reasoning
not regarded as final and strict, but as provisional and plausible only,
whose purpose is to discover the solution of the present problem" (396).
Heuristics, in this sense, are "rules of discovery and invention" (396) that
guide the "experience of creativity." Those in rhetoric and composition working
on theories of invention would, Lauer contends, find her collection of resources
from psychology to be of tremendous significance as they work through matters of
heuristics and problem solving.

"Heuristics and Composition" touched off an argument between Lauer
and Ann Berthoff who answered the essay (and bibliography) with a
follow-up article in CCC 22.3 (1971) called "The Problem of Problem
Solving," in which she calls Lauer’s approach to heuristics "politically
" and "philosophically shallow" (239). The two also engaged
in a dialogue over these ideas in a response and counterstatement in 1972.

If this is the inroads of heuristics to rhetoric and composition, it is a
rutty path, indeed. Heuristics crawls onto the scene slowly and
controversially, filling a gap left by a lack of work on invention. But
psychology’s variations on heuristic (via problem solving), according to
Berthoff, neglect philosophical self-awareness, knowledge about knowledge (and
our roles in its making), and risk promoting the reductive march of education as
preparation for life in a technological society (a condition which Berthoff
parallels with corporatization and bureaucratization).

There is a sense in which heuristics, though contested, overlaps with a more
general class of methods, of what Polya calls ars inveniendi
or arts of discovery (ars inveniendi as brought up by Lauer implies a
correspondence to the pursuit of a dogmatic truth, despite the note about
heuristics as "provisional and plausible"). I bring up method because it
might work to call heuristics that layer of method which is
paradoxically replicable (follow these guides again and again) but not
over-determined by any strict teleology, outcome, or yield. I mean that the
(sequenced, ordered paths) is, in some ways, an ars inveniendi;
it makes sense, then, to regard heuristics as methods and methods as heuristic,
allowing, of course, room for the meanings of these terms to play to different
extremes (extremes of aleatory and algorithm, maybe). Heuristics
can introduce energy–provide a pulsatile lift–but they might also name a
juncture where methods for writing (i.e., processes) suffer under the
sleeper-hold of rigidity.