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“The iPhone is Part of My Mind Already”: Rhetoric and the Cultivation of Body and Mind 1

Rhetoric’s relationship to the material is under much positive scrutiny within

rhetorical studies. Debra Hawhee argues that Kenneth Burke’s turn toward

the materiality of the body expanded his treatment of rhetoric. As Hawhee

writes, “we are talking about affect and nature and language; about

movement and pain and environment” (8). Diane Davis uses mirror neurons

as “eloquent deconstructions of Burke’s ultimate order of things, shattering

the presumption of an originary biological disconnect between self and

other” (131). Jenny Edbauer Rice’s reading of critical affect studies—which,

she argues, suggests “increased attention to the physiological character to

rhetoric” (211)—“poses an interesting question for rhetorical studies: is

discursive deliberation sufficient for talking about the constitution of publics”

(211)? In his rhetorical treatment of the spaces of Ancient Greece, James

Fredal argues that there is not “any clear or stable boundary between the

verbal element and the extraverbal or nonverbal” (193). Jennifer Bay and

Thomas Rickert, reading new media through Heidegger, write, “learning to

dwell with new media and its technologies entails a harkening to their

ontological weight and rhetorical agency” (213). Reintroducing vitalism to

rhetoric through complexity theory, Byron Hawk writes, “The problem with

many theories of human action is that they operate from an opposition

between human intention as active and material context as static and

passive, thus privileging human action. In contrast to this humanist model,

human action is actually a part of the feedback loop of complex systems”

(158). We are no longer and never were brains in vats discoursing with one

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“The iPhone is Part of My Mind Already”: Rhetoric and the Cultivation of Body and Mind 2

another; we are bodies, brains, tissues, technologies, and feelings located

both within and across time and space. The fact of this matter compels us to,

borrowing from Hawhee and Cory Holding, “more deliberately theorize

rhetoric’s material components” (264).

Building upon such material rhetorics, I argue rhetorical studies can

and ought to insist on even more. Rhetoric should set its sights deeper into

the material beyond (but not transcending) how rhetoric can account for the

material and its influences. As a field intimate with its material contours, I

think it is high time we place rhetorical studies out in the world of brains,

bodies, and environments. In short, the material (or, more specifically, much

of the material that matters for human becoming) does not arrive to rhetoric

independent of rhetoric, but already implicated in a vital, rhetorical dynamic.

I want to argue that materiality itself (what we often call “human nature”)—

the body, the mind, and human environments—is, in part, rhetorically

cultivated.

Fully emplaced within material dramas, I define rhetoric as the

cultivation of human nature. Rhetoric, which I argue is about decision-

making and influence, is the means of social, biological, and environmental

persuasion by which we cobble together both ourselves as a species and the

places we inhabit. Rhetoric thus defined challenges the tendency to treat as

“natural” things like human development, cognitive function, and physical

ability, which could be otherwise. A definition of rhetoric—wedded to a model

of human physiology that sees human nature as anything but pre-specified—

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highlights the ethical and suasory nature of becoming human. That is, those

who study the materiality of the human experience must account for what

Kenneth Burke calls “the factor of rhetoric” (Rhetoric 43).

To advance this claim for rhetoric I suggest two key terms for material

rhetoric and use these terms (“cultivate” and “attitude”) to articulate the

rhetoric implicit in the material objects of cognitive science. I demonstrate

that the specific material equipment of human cognition is not only

something rhetoricians should account for but also for which rhetorical

activity is necessarily (though partially) responsible for. This synecdotal

connection to cognitive science strongly anchors my argument in specialized

studies of the material dramas from which human beings emerge.

Cognitive scientist Andy Clark’s model of the extended mind

recognizes the “factor of rhetoric.” Clark argues that human cognition is

extended across bodies, brains, technology, culture, and environment, and

thus opens up the possibility that rhetoric (which we find operating within,

certainly, technologies and cultures) can and does cultivate cognition. I make

this connection to demonstrate the rhetoric both in and of the material, and I

do so through the key term cultivate. Cultivate suggests at once both the

cultivation of plants (as in agriculture or horticulture) and people (as in the

cultivation of a following or a society). It is a term used to designate

attention or devotion to the growth of plants, art, science, habits, friendships,

and people. Articulating both versions of cultivate, digital theorist and noted

journalist Kevin Kelly argues, “Our human nature itself is a malleable crop

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“The iPhone is Part of My Mind Already”: Rhetoric and the Cultivation of Body and Mind 4

that we planted 50,000 years ago and continue to garden even today (235).

Cultivation is a term and an activity at the boundaries of nature and culture

—folding them together but not erasing the fold.

Anthropologist Tim Ingold informs this use of cultivation within the

context of the Western tendency to bifurcate nature and culture. Ingold

explores the work of growing things in order to avoid the dichotomy of

“finding” food in nature or “making” food outside of nature. “First,” he

writes, “the work people do, in such activities as field clearance, fencing,

planting, weeding and so on, or in tending their livestock, does not literally

make plants and animals, but rather establishes the environmental

conditions for their growth and development” (85-86). Second, he writes,

“growing plants and raising animals are not so different, in principles, from

bringing up children” (86). This “bringing up children,” however, is not be

understood as “a socially approved mastery over supposedly innate human

impules” as in the “a refinement of taste and manners” (86). “What each

generation provides, whether in growing plants, raising animals or bringing

up children, are precisely the developmental conditions under which ‘growth

to maturity’ can occur” (86).

Cultivate, then, works against the bifurcation of nature and culture by

reinforcing the complexity of their relationship and making salient the

numerous forces and agents that participate in it. Such bifurcations are best

exemplified in the Standard Social Science Model (SSSM), which sees culture

as distinct from human nature. There are, in this model, disciplines that

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address human culture and others that address human nature, and the latter

see human nature emerging independent of culture. Most problematic for

material rhetorics, this model distinguishes the operations of culture from

the operations of nature, and there is no sense of the vital role cultural

practices play in the emergence of nature. In this view, cultural practices are

wholly distinct from natural processes. The SSSM, prominent in the

humanities, assumes nature to be the biological and environmental stage

upon which social dramas play themselves out.

Attempts to integrate nature and culture, however, can prove equally

problematic, particularly when they reduce cultural phenomena to biological

or genetic mechanisms. According to the psychologist Maarten Derksen,

such problematic integrations are found primarily in the sciences where

culture is typically subjugated to biology or genetics. This is best evidenced

by the attempts of evolutionary psychologists to show that “culture depends

on evolved mechanisms for its functioning” (191). In these models, culture is

an artifact of biological evolution rather than intimately interwoven into

human evolution. These models assert, essentially, that “any explanation of

cultural phenomena must at least be consistent with evolutionary

psychological theory, because culture is made possible by evolved mental

architectures” (192), and not, we suppose, by the architectures living

humans construct.

My second key term resists both problematic bifurcations and

integrations of nature and culture. Kenneth Burke’s concept of attitude

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“The iPhone is Part of My Mind Already”: Rhetoric and the Cultivation of Body and Mind 6

“designates the point of personal mediation between the realms of

nonsymbolic motion and symbolic action” (394), which I, not

unproblematically, treat as rough analogs for nature and culture

respectively. That is, attitude rearticulates what is historically distinct.

Burke’s notion of attitude is an important way to understand how human

embodiment and environmental practices are rhetorically infused and how

rhetorical practices are embodied and emplaced. Likewise, attitude, defined

via I.A. Richards as incipient action (Grammar 236), works rhetorically as the

position we adopt in response to and as cultivated by our purpose and scene

(or, perhaps, desire and environment). For Burke, then, attitudes work both

in terms of the social or symbolic as well as the material or nonsymbolic.

Burke’s notion of attitude, Michael Feehan argues, “bridges the gap between

the speechless body and bodiless symbols” in a way that avoids reducing

one to the other (68). Describing Burke’s use of attitude in terms of

“postures”—a word I think that nicely (re)incorporates the bodily component

of attitude that Hawhee has described—Feehan writes, “Attitudes exist

ambiguously as postures we actually take and as a repertoire of postures

available in our culture and as that subset of cultural postures which we, as

individuals, harbor as potential. Attitudes are physical, social and individual”

(71).

An effective anecdote of attitude comes from the field of cross-cultural

psychiatry. In an essay drawing on his book Crazy Like Us: The Globalization

of the American Psyche, Ethan Watters calls attention to the spread of

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Western mental illnesses and/or symptoms of mental illnesses abroad.

Watters cites the medical historian Edward Shorter who very much echoes

Feehan’s retelling of Burke’s attitude: “we might think of the culture as

possessing a ‘symptom repertoire’—a range of physical symptoms available

to the unconscious mind for the physical expression of psychological

conflict.” That is, as American attitudes towards mental illness spread across

the globe so too does the repertoire of symptoms available.

Watters tells of a teenaged Chinese girl whose collapse and death in

downtown Hong Kong helped precipitate a dramatic change in how and how

often anorexia manifests itself in China. “In trying to explain what happened

to Charlene [the “anorexic girl”],” writes Watters, “local reporters often

simply copied out of American diagnostic manuals” such as the Diagnostic

and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), which is aggressively

promoted by American and European psychiatrists and psychologists. Local

papers “confidently reported that anorexia in Hong Kong was the same

disorder that appeared in the United States and Europe.” Many reporters

assumed, based on the ubiquity of the DSM, that a disease or disorder is a

disease or disorder no matter the historical moment, the place, the culture,

or its values. However, and as the Chinese psychiatrist and researcher Dr.

Sing Lee argues, this is far from being the case. There had been far fewer

cases of anorexia in China prior to the one described above; after the media

coverage, the cases Dr. Sing Lee saw jumped from two or three a year to as

many as two or three a month. Just as worrying, the expression of the mental

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illness changed. Individuals typically diagnosed with anorexia in China prior

to the media coverage experienced none of the symptoms common to those

diagnosed in America. “[Chinese patients] complained most frequently,”

reports Watters, “of having bloated stomachs.” In the aftermath of the

Charlene story, the symptoms common to anorexia in America (such as

distorted body image, low weight, and extreme dieting) became increasingly

common in China as well.

Rather than isolating anorexia as a distinct mental illness apart from

culture, we should re-place (or emplace) mental illness in its social context,

explicitly recognizing how social and thus moral forces, in part, cultivate a

mental illness. This, then, is Burke’s attitude as I make use of it: a repertoire,

a set of postures, cultural, bodily, and cognitive that is cultivated rhetorically.

Making use of Burke’s attitude in this way has important consequences for

how we understand ourselves as human and our work together. Implicitly

articulating Burke’s attitude and cognitive science, Derksen argues, “The

limits of human nature are first and foremost an everyday topic of concern

for ordinary people. It is everyone’s business to find out what one is capable

of and what not, what people in general can be brought to do, and what is

beyond them” (“Cultivating” 202). That is, who we are and what we can do

or be brought to do is far from settled in advance. Our “potential” as bodies

in motion is cultivated in and by our use of them, and that use, in human

terms, is symbolically as well as nonsymbolically motivated. Attitude is the

stuff of cultivation.

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Discussing the implications of conceiving human cognition as existing

beyond what he calls the “skinbag,” Clark argues that human “embodiment

is essential but negotiable” (Natural-Born 114). Clark’s language reflects a

view of human nature as timely, emplaced, and contingent. He implicitly

calls for a theory of human embodiment that can conceptualize the various

ways “persuasion” works on and in bodies and brains. The seepage of

context, culture, environment, and technology in and out of human skin and

skull, what Clark calls “mingling,” “is the truest expression of our distinctive

character as a species” (139). Clark suggests that an openness to and facility

for persuasion or cultivation defines the human condition and that “human

nature” is continually cultivated by what seeps in and out.

Important for this larger project of material rhetoric, then, is Clark’s

admonition that we “resist the temptation to define ourselves in brutal

opposition to the very worlds in which many of us now live, love, and work”

(Natural-Born 142). This is also to argue that our living, loving, and working—

our conventional becoming—has a say in our overall material becoming.

Defining ourselves in terms of the worlds we “live, love, and work” in (rather

than in brutal opposition to them) is key for Clark, as his work is predicated

on the idea that human cognition and decision-making is not strictly

dominated or centrally-controlled by the physical brain. Clark is thus

rhetoric’s “natural” ally in the face of Plato’s criticisms and criteria for “true

rhetoric,” which “becomes the method whereby the philosopher and his pupil

free themselves from conventional beliefs and worldly encumbrances in the

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pursuit and eventual attainment of transcendental absolute truth” (Bizzell

and Herzberg 29).

Drawing on the principle of scaffolding, Clark argues that it is through

culture, technology, and other “supportive environments” that humans

continually contest, permeate, and grab at one another. “We create these

supportive environments, but they create us too” (Natural-Born 18). It is

these constructed and supportive designer environments that allow and

account for the full range of human materiality and agency. The tools and

environments we think with and through are not cosmetic add-ons to a

discrete human nature but are part and parcel of who and how we become.

We are who we are, Clark argues, only because of “a baffling dance of

brains, bodies, and cultural and technological scaffolding” (11).

Clark’s work allows us to see the rhetorical action at play in the

cultivation of human cognition. In a section titled “Building Better Brains,”

Clark articulates the cultural and environmental elements at work in the

cultivation of human nature: “we must never underestimate the extent to

which our own abilities as artists, poets, mathematicians, and the like can be

informed by our use of external props and media” (Natural-Born 77). Using

even stronger language than “inform,” which suggests the possibility of art,

poetry, and math without props and media, Clark writes, “the sketch pad is

not just a convenience for the artist, nor simply a kind of external memory or

durable medium for the storage of fully formed ideas. Instead, the iterated

process of externalizing and re-perceiving turns out to be integral to the

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process of artistic cognition itself” (77). The ability of an artist, like the

abilities of any human being, is in large part emplaced in the environments

and technologies and cultures they have access to. The artist’s “ability” is

not hardwired and onboard, but is distributed out in the world.

Clark’s model also runs counter to a perspective common in

evolutionary psychology known as “pre-specification.” Proponents of pre-

specification assert, “the bodily forms, physiological processes, and

behavioral dispositions of organisms can be specified in advance of the

individual organism’s development” (Lickliter and Honeycutt 820). This view

posits, according to Derksen, that the developmental process is “pre-

specified in the genes” (“Realism” 480). Countering this, Derksen argues,

“the problem, the solution, and its user tend to emerge hand in hand” (482).

Further discounting the “innate,” Clark argues humans “create and exploit

various species of cognitive technology [notepads, sketch pads, and iPads]

so as to expand and reshape the space of human reason” (Natural-Born 78).

This is to argue that the space of human reason is cultivated, in part, by the

very tools (technological and cultural) that humans build.

This complexity is again captured by Burke’s attitude (68). For Burke,

the nonsymbolic ground of symbolic action (e.g., the biological resources of

an artist) is continually reshaped by symbolic action. In a 1987 retrospective

in Attitudes Toward History, Burke writes that he has learned, “how

substantially the realms of symbolicity transform the realm of non-symbolic

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motion we are grounded in” (392). Rather than seeing one as reducible to

the other, Burke saw them as complementary (392).

Clark echoes Burke when he asserts that even our “basic biological

modes” are themselves permeable and contested. Clark describes “two

distinct, but deeply inter-animated, ways in which biological cognition leans

on cultural and environmental structures” (78). First, there is the

“developmental loop”: it is within this loop that access to external symbols

and environments augment “the brain’s own inner tool kit” (78). The second,

called the “persistent loop,” is the continual gearing of neural activity “to the

presence of specific external tools and media” (78). That is, certain external

elements add cognitive capacities and these elements can, in turn, rework

the brain itself. The work of these persisting loops demonstrates the

necessity of creating environments, in the language of Clark, to “build better

brains.”

Clark’s work productively suggests that the cultural and technological

environments we create for ourselves work powerfully to cultivate who we

are and what we are capable of. We should also see the active decision-

making and valuation in the construction of such scaffolds. “The goal,” Clark

writes, “is to provide rich environments in which to grow better brains” (86).

The shape and structure of these environments are rhetorical: they are

symbolically organized and are made manifest in the nonsymbolic ground of

human action. If embodiment is not fixed and thus needs to be cultivated,

then embodiment is linked with activity and practice more than a state (or

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expression) of being. We do not simply have a form that can be shaped

differently; our form is what we have cultivated from our living with each

other in an environment. As Derksen argues, we are responsible for our

cultivation. Suggesting the conventional qualities of human nature, Derksen

invites or invokes a strongly rhetorical understanding of that nature. Also

important, and with a nod to the material rhetorics I outlined in the

introduction, this is not to suggest that anything goes with respect to human

nature. Derksen writes,

That the properties of the brain are historically and developmentally

emergent does not entail that our brains are capable of anything and

everything. It means that there can be no final list of specifications, because

they depend on an evolving context. Not ‘anything goes,’ but what does is

never definitively settled. (“Realism” 483)

Mine is not a mind over matter rhetoric, which supposes a rhetoric of control

or coercion rather than one of cultivation (recall Ingold’s treatment of

“bringing up children”). It is a model of humans working and becoming

across brains, bodies, and environments: it is an embodied and emplaced

rhetoric.

In conclusion, Clark reveals human cognition as embodied and

emplaced in culture, technology, and environment; attitude and cultivation

allow us to theorize rhetoric in ways that make the most of Clark’s work.

What this articulation of rhetoric and cognitive science also allows for is a

more reciprocal relationship between rhetoric and the material to unconceal

itself. Our work in rhetorical studies must certainly be to chart the material

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and how it works through and on rhetorical practices. But this is one half of

the complex project of becoming human, which is deeply rhetorical. In failing

to account for the cultivating work humans necessarily do, we erase our

ethical obligations. Our “nature” is not something we can assume and trust

as the moral high ground from which we can judge our conventional

practices; it is an ethical, rhetorical dynamic itself—not outside the human

barnyard but an emplaced and continually re-emergent effect of complex

historical, political, material, and, thus, rhetorical cultivation.

Nathaniel A. Rivers