Saturday, June 9, 2007

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 psychology 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 dangerous" 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 meta-hodos (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.

Bookmark and Share Posted by at June 9, 2007 9:06 PM to Dissertation