Rhetoric and Composition. Rhetorical Listening. Music and Sound Studies. Quantum Mechanics. Space and Place. Critical-Democratic Pedagogy. Continental Philosophy. Poetry and Poetics. Geographical Writing Studies. Literature and Environment. American Literature since 1900.
Einstein said that celestial bodies are "non-rigid bodies of reference." I argue that human beings are much the same, not only metaphorically, but materially as well. Consequently, it is the work of rhetoric and composition to listen and attend to the forces and entanglements that shape our frames of reference, which in turn shape the social and material force of writing and rhetoric. Otherwise, we risk a rhetoric that tends toward the production of what Plutarch dubbed simply "the chatterbox": the one who, though always ready to speak, is scarcely able to listen. For, as Epictetus adds, we have two ears and one mouth for a reason. It is thus the writer and rhetorician best able to listen to, and take account of, the multitude of material-discursive variables that affects the construction of our communities, selves, and conversations who engages in a responsible rhetorical practice.
My book project, Quantum Rhetoric: The Entanglement of Matter and Meaning, based on my dissertation, grounds my pedagogy, service, and research in such a direction. Quantum rhetoric deepens our view into the human by expanding our embodied relations to the nonhuman—to artifacts, places, and ecologies. The effects of such relations revise notions of agency, free will, action, and citizenship, effects that bear on our capacity to deliberate—to reason together responsibly. Quantum rhetoric reaches back 2,500 years to the elder Sophists, especially Protagoras (pictured here), and to Democritus and other atomists, to stress the material situatedness of human communication—the domain of rhetoric. Unlike other traditions in metaphysics and analytical philosophy that see the human as largely unaffected by its body and environments, quantum rhetoric renews the view that humans are, like celestial bodies, non-rigid bodies of reference. We are moved and affected by places, bodies, and minds in motion, and by conditions in flux.
Quantum Rhetoric empirically grounds and deepens rhetoric’s atomistic roots by engaging quantum mechanics. Working with a quantum physicist from Claremont Graduate University, and with advanced texts such as David Bohm’s Quantum Theory, Georg Joos’ Theoretical Physics, and Niels Bohr’s Atomic Physics and Human Knowledge, I map humanity’s fundamental atomicity, and thus its affectability—its responsiveness to the world. “Quantum rhetoric,” therefore, is the necessary entanglement of physics and rhetoric, the material and symbolic, and matter and meaning, which more fully discloses the human condition as contingent, complex, and diverse in body and mind.
Whereas Aristotle roots rhetoric in persuasion, quantum rhetoric recovers Heidegger’s 1924 definition of rhetoric as “the art of listening” to persuade us (citizens, teachers, students) to listen to the forces that animate our convictions prior to staking claims. For it is in un-grounding our convictions, I argue, that we can critically re-ground them, and thus deliberate more responsibly, until shifting conditions demand still further revisions. Quantum rhetoric bears on pressing political issues: on our capacities to listen, speak, argue, create change, and to act effectively and virtuously—the most ancient of rhetorical concerns. As such, quantum rhetoric generates and substantiates practices I foster in students while uniting the sciences and humanities in the process.
Earlier work, a book chapter on Henry David Thoreau, William Howitt, and the environmental imagination, grounds my approach to science as a phenomenological relationship with our senses and the material world. Moreover, a version of my dissertation chapter on quantum rhetoric, pedagogy, and place-based education illustrates an enactment of the above work in the classroom, which was published in Composition Forum.
Two articles on academic subjects written for a public audience, photo-linked here, demonstrate my commitment to communicating academic work in ways that will be understandable and significant to the public at large, since too often such work takes place in academic silos behind disciplinary walls. Especially with a subject like rhetoric, which was always publicly and politically oriented, it is my conviction that the public should be engaged in forums exampled here, such that an informed, participatory democracy grounded in rhetorical listening and responsibility is made possible and sustainable.
Here, one will get a sense of a different lineage in the rhetorical tradition that is grounded, for instance, as much in effective listening and questioning as in effective speaking. While Aristotle, like Plato before him, defined rhetoric essentially as a persuasive art, the rhetoric before and behind Aristotle and Plato also attends to questioning one's assumptions, confronting uncomfortable tensions, and engaging in controversial and consequential dialogues, all of which make genuine political and other change possible. That is to say, the rhetoric I propose is attuned to the possibilities of realizing radical transformation, whether political, ideological, philosophical, or personal.
In addition to academic and public-facing work, I also keep a Substack profile that began as a way for me to stay in touch with students. Here, I would share rough ideas and emergent thoughts on texts, popular topics, and various disciplines. This grew from a private profile for former students only into a public profile that serves a similar function, and which provides an informal, creative space to experiment with language free of risk. Consequently, a variety of the ideas explored here become the basis for both the aforementioned academic and public-facing work.