Rickert, Thomas. Ambient Rhetoric: The Attunements of Rhetorical Being. University of Pittsburgh Press, 2013.
Deep Ecology by Daniel Mirante. I used the image for both the Ecology notes and the Ambient Rhetoric notes because the interconnectivity of all things seems vital to both.
Thomas Rickert’s Ambient Rhetoric: The Attunements of Rhetorical Being is a significant reenvisioning of the landscape of rhetorical theory that attempts to uncover and recover aspects of rhetorical theory (particularly nonhuman aspects) that have been marginalized. Rickert’s critique of the arbitrary dichotomy of human/environment, human/objects, subject/object, reminded me of reminded me of the idea that I heard so often in my religious upbringing that one should be in the world but not of the world. Rickert counters this kind of dichomotmous thin king when he says that “we do not have a body; we are bodily. We do not have a world; we are worldly” (10). Writing a frakentheory that combines concepts from a number of disciplines, including music, computing, media studies, philosophy, science, and AI, Rickert argues that the environment (not simply the rhetorical situation) must be attuned to. (I use attuned because attunement because it is a key idea in Rickert’s text, and when I started to type “attened to” I realized why it is such a key idea. If we simply attend to the ambient environment of rhetoric, we may just give it a cursory glance, but if what we are doing is attuning to the ambient environment within which rhetoric exists, then we begin to understand how rhetoric is a manifestation of our being in the world.) By attuning to the ambient environment, we begin to understand that agency does not belong only to humans. Indeed, rhetoric is not only practiced by humans. Rickert asserts that the world is not simply a world of involvements, but that the world is itself involved in involvements (162). He proposes a new definition of rhetoric: “rhetoric is a responsive way of revealing the world for others, responding to and put forth through affective, symbolic, and material means, so as to (at least potentially) reattune or otherwise transform how others inhabit the world to an extent that calls for some action (which can include, of course, steadfastness, refusal, or even apathy)” (162). So rather than simply persuading others, Rickert suggests that the use of rhetoric reveals our being in the world and asks us to do something in response to our being in the world. Concepts that have been ignored, such as the chora, which shows “how ideas and world come together a grace us with a powerfully destabilizing concept that unseats the dichotomy between nature and artifice,” (56), and the role of place in kairos, are vital to an understanding of rhetoric as ambient.
As I was reading Rickert, most of my line of thinking about how Rockert’s theory was directly related to either LLLI or to my research into feminist understandings of breastfeeding and the lactating body, so my questions and quote responses will draw connections between those issues and Rickert’s theory.
What does an understanding of rhetoric as ambient suggest about place in rhetorics focused on breastfeeding? What implications does it have for breastfeeding scholarship?
As I was reading Rickert’s discussion of kairos and the problem posed by the traditional rhetorical understanding of kairos, that it is concerned with time and decorum, rather than place, it occurred to me that I have seen this attention to time/decorum and place in discussions of the role of the lactation room in a university. Rickert says, “I am trying to embed kairos more concretely in place, to see what happens when we attend to kairos’s material emplacement and unfolding and not just timeliness or decorum. I argue that without a more materialist understanding of emplacement, kairos is an empty concept” (76). In “legally Public but Privately Practiced: Segregating the Lactating Body,” by LM Rose, explores the way in which the location of the lactation room on the campus of Ohio University frames the lactating body as other. I would argue that the action of the university of establishing a lactation room was as rhetorical as it was practical (if not more so). Rose’ article explores the othering that results from placing the only single occupant lactation room on the university campus in a remote area far away from faculty offices. Of course, one could argue that the establishment of a lactation room at all is a positive sign of the normalization of breastfeeding, but is it enough that it exists? What about where it exists within the context? Who has access to it? Certainly the decision to establish a lactation room was timely and considered to be appropriate, but it seems likely that those involved in the establishment of the room did not consider the implications of the location of the room. The establishment of the room itself seem progressive and a woman and mother-centered act, but when we examine the place of the room, we see that it plays a large role in the queering of the breastfeeding body. (See the above video for example of lactation rooms being placed in remote locations on campuses.) I can’t at this moment think of a more effective example of the role that place plays in rhetoric. Depending on the place of the act of breastfeeding, it may be considered a purely nurturing act, or it may be considered an act of defiance (such as at a nurse-in).
Quote Response: “Particularly illustrative of such embedding is the mother-child relationship. Choric interaction is the cradle of their relationship, since symbolic communication must grow out of this more originary, presymbolic bond” (57).
As I read about chora and the way in which it transfoems our understanding of beginnings and creation, particularly when I read this quote, I started to think about what it means to have this kind of presymbolic relationship. The mother’s voice and touch create a ambient environment that provides a nurturing, safe comforting space for the baby. Real comfort is being provided, and real needs are being met; at the same time, the baby is coming to associate mother, her voice and touch with safety and comfort. This relationship is a begging, a “a matrix of all becoming” (55), as it is within this environment that the begins to safely learning and associate things with each other.
When I read this passage, I immediately thought of a quote by a child psychologist that is included in the 5th, 6th, and 7th chapters of LLLI’s bible, The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding:
It has been determined that children who do not have the benefit of a single, sustained contact with a loving mother or mother-figure for at least the first three years of their lives, will—depending upon the degree of deprivation—manifest a diminished capacity to love others, impaired intellectual powers, and an ability to control their impulses, particularly in the area of aggression. (179)
This quote suggests that without the ambient environment provided by a mother’s touch and voice, the child never integrates successfully in environment. The presymbolic bond was not as firmly established as it might have been, and therefore the baby is never as successful at creating a symbolic understanding of the worlds as she or he might have been.
Quote Response: “The thing matters to rhetoric insofar as rhetoric not only attends to things but now acknowledges that things are part of rhetoric’s condition of possibility” (208).
Once again I see breastfeeding and the rhetoric that surrounds it as a perfect opportunity to discuss the Rickert’s theory. This time, I felt that the discussion of materiality provides an excellent way to explore the way in which things (the bottle and the breast pump) have had an absolutely vital role in the rhetoric of breastfeeding, while their role in creating is always fully acknowledged. The quote above makes it clear that things play a significant role in making rhetoric possible, and this is certainly the case for LLLI’s rhetoric surrounding breastfeeding and the attachment parenting. In fact, we could argue that technological innovations (formula, the bottle, the pump), necessitated LLLI’s argument, since these innovations made it possible for non-mothers to feed an infant. (Certainly manual expression and wet nurses also made this possible, but it became incredibly easy with these innovations.) LLLI was formed at a time (1956) when formula was preferable to breast milk because it was believed that formula could improve upon breast milk, and the scientist studying breast milk were often applying what they learned about breast milk to the improvement of formula. The properties and value of breast milk was being examined in a disembodied way. They were effectively divorcing the ambient environment of infant feeding from the act of feeding, and it was in part this loss of the non-food properties of the breastfeeding relationship that caused the seven founders of LLLI to come together to share their experiences and understandings of breastfeeding.
The core philosophy LLLI is contained within ten statements that emphasize the benefits of breastfeeding:
Mothering through breastfeeding is the most natural and effective way of understanding and satisfying the needs of the baby.
Mother and baby need to be together early and often to establish a satisfying relationship and an adequate milk supply.
In the early years the baby has an intense need to be with his mother which is as basic as his need for food.
Breast milk is the superior infant food.
For the healthy, full-term baby, breast milk is the only food necessary until the baby shows signs of needing solids, about the middle of the first year after birth.
Ideally the breastfeeding relationship will continue until the baby outgrows the need.
Alert and active participation by the mother in childbirth is a help in getting breastfeeding off to a good start.
Breastfeeding is enhanced and the nursing couple sustained by the loving support, help, and companionship of the baby’s father. A father’s unique relationship with his baby is an important element in the child’s development from early infancy.
Good nutrition means eating a well-balanced and varied diet of foods in as close to their natural state as possible.
From infancy on, children need loving guidance which reflects acceptance of their capabilities and sensitivity to their feelings.
Several of these statements reflect the idea that breastfeeding is relational, that it is an ambient environment in which the mother nurtures the child.
Innovations in objects related to infant feeding (bottles, breast pumps, and formula) as well as innovations in food storage made it possible to view infant feeding as purely nutritive rather than also nurturing. Much of LLLI’s rhetoric centers around countering the affordances that infant-feeding related objects provide. LLLI’s rhetoric is not solely crafted to convince mother’s that breast milk is superior to formula, but also that the mother-child relationship created through the bond of breastfeeding is as important as the nutritive value of breast milk. Formula necessitated attention to the components of breast milk and the nutritive value; breast pumps, which allow women to work outside the home and leave their babies, underscore the idea that breast milk is disembodied. This necessitated LLLI’s argument for attachment parenting and the need of the child for the mother. The bottle necessitated the “back to the breast” rhetoric that explains that bottles result in nipple confusion.
Avent Isis breast pump and bottles kit. Objects necessitating (or making possible) LLLI’s attachment parenting rhetoric. the
For my Feminist Rhetoric class this semester I did a rhetorical analysis of changes between the 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th editions of The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, and I found that in earlier editions LLLI seemed reluctant to address the use of those objects (bottles, pumps, formula supplements) that make it’s rhetoric necessary. In fact, the 5th edition encouraged mothers to have babysitters give a few bottles as possible so that the baby would want to nurse from the mother’s breast when she returned home from work. Late editions dropped this advice. Later editions, particularly the 8th, gave advice for using a bottle and pumping milk. I think that this was important for LLLI because by ignoring the objects that necessitated their rhetoric in the first place, the rhetoric of LLLI created an either/or dichotomy: either you feed your child our way, or you don’t. By discussing how to use the objects in support of a mother-child relationship that, as closely is possible for the particular mother and child, resembles the one espoused by LLLI, the organization provides a middle way for mothers who must work.