Invention and the Internet Continued

Can random entertaining internet programs serve as sources for rhetorical invention?

Perhaps. One of the better examples is Nietzschean Family Circus which pairs a random Nietzsche quote with a random Family Circus cartoon. The results are pretty incredible.

It reminds me of inventional techniques in poetry taught at Naropa Institute in the 1970s by people such as Anne Waldman, Michael McLure and Allen Ginsberg. The idea was that you combine words that don't belong together and it provides a revalation, insight or explanation of things beyond what you could do if you were just straightforwardly attempting to articulate something. The most famous example is Ginsberg's "hydrogen jukebox."

Of course we rhetoricians understand this to be a variation on Kenneth Burke's idea of "Perspective by Incongruity" - which is really the term for the modern web. Think about how much of your web life is dominated by sites that engage in "mashup" - a rhetorical strategy of combining what is thought to be opposite. Perspective by incongruity for me seems to work the same way.

This also connects to Aristotle's topics, where in the common topics he suggests the mode of "going through the opposite" to get your point across. That is, start from the opposite assertion, and use that discussion to prove your point.

What is so important about perspective by incongruity? It reveals that we are able to change our position on things. We can change our mind given a new point of view to stare at (or a new set of motives upon which to construct our attitudes). Perspective by incongruity is the antidote to the hard behaviorist/psychologist viewpoint that we are bags of chemicals coursing with electric pulses.

So the family circus site offers a nice perspective by incongruity on many things. I wonder if a list could be made for class discussion.

Additionally there is the Garfield Randomizer, which randomly associates 3 panels of 3 different Garfield cartoons - the results are often much, much better than the planned strip. Why is this so? Is it because it's totally random? Or is it because it appears planned but we know that it's random?

I think that this website is best used for class discussions on form, perhaps on planning (and how students feel that planning is really not necessary for speeches, they can just 'wing it' and what's involved in that judgement) as well as larger issues such as the "ready-made" sense of culture we get from Baudrillard and the sense of how patterns appear in any analysis, forwarded by many people but most specifically I think of Stuart Hall and the Birmingham School.