Discourse on Method
Heuresis (or invention) comprises, as Richard Lanham notes, "the first of the five traditional parts of rhetorical theory,
concerned with the finding and elaboration of arguments" (1991: 91). In Aristotle's Rhetoric the category of heuresis included
the kinds of proof available to the rhetorician, lists of valid and invalid topoi, as well as the various commonplaces the
rhetorician might touch upon - loci or stereotypical themes and observations ("time flies") appropriate to a given occasion
(Lanham 1991: 166-170). In a more contemporary sense heuretic is defined by the OED as "the branch of logic which treats
of the art of discovery or invention." Both senses of this word, along with its more familiar cognate heuristic, are significant
for the project embarked upon in Gregory Ulmer's latest book, Heuretics: The Logic of Invention.
In a continuation of a project begun in his two earlier works, Applied Grammatology and Teletheory, Heuretics seeks to
explore the possibilities opened up by the "matrix crossing French postructuralist theory, avant-garde art experiments, and
electronic media" (xi) for the invention of new methods of academic research and the production of new kinds of texts.
"Theory," Ulmer notes, "is assimilated into the humanities in two principal ways - by critical interpretation and by artistic
experiment" (3). Heuretics, then, is to be contrasted with hermeneutics.
The relevant question for heuretic reading is not the one guiding criticism (according to the theories of Freud, Marx, Wittgenstein, Derrida, and others:
What might be the meaning of an existing work?) but one guiding a generative experiment: Based on a given theory, how might another text be
In a Canadian context one thinks of Northrop Frye whose theories served as the inventio for a generation of mythopoetic
writers. Ulmer's book presents itself, in part, as a heuristic device for enabling such new forms of research and text
production from the inventio provided by Jacques Derrida. In The Other Heading, reflecting on contemporary Europe,
Derrida repeats a fundamental question posed by Paul Valery in 1939 in the wake of fascism: "What are you going to do?
What are you going to do today?" (1992: 18, cited in Ulmer 84). Ulmer sees his work as a response, in 1992, to this call for
Ulmer's text also presents itself as providing a method for "the contemporary paradigm" (12) of poststructuralism
comparable to the method Descartes provided for an emergent scientific rationalism. He is quick, however, to qualify this
project for "any attempt at a postmodernist 'method' is contradictory (an impossible possibility)" (25). In one of the most
suggestive sections of work, the initial chapter contends that "all of the manifestos of the avant-garde, belong to the tradition
of the discourse on method" (8), and provides an analysis of the common elements comprising such discourses. They...