On the evening of Monday, May 6, 2013, I sat down with Thomas Rickert at two breweries (4 Hands and Schlafly) in Saint Louis, MO, to discuss his new book, Ambient Rhetoric: The Attunements of Rhetorical Being, published by the University of Pittsburgh Press as part of their Series in Composition, Literacy, and Culture. This is Rickert's second book in the series: the first was Acts of Enjoyment: Rhetoric, iek and the Return of the Subject published in 2007.
In Ambient Rhetoric, Thomas Rickert seeks to dissolve the boundaries of the rhetorical tradition and its basic dichotomy of subject and object. With the advent of new technologies, new media, and the dispersion of human agency through external information sources, rhetoric can no longer remain tied to the autonomy of human will and cognition as the sole determinants in the discursive act. Rickert develops the concept of ambience to engage all of the elements that comprise the ecologies in which we exist.
I chose an audio interview, to which Thomas eagerly consented, in an effort to attune the interview itself to ambience, in this case the sounds of bars: chatting, chairs dragged across the floor, outbursts of cheering, glasses clanking, peels of laughter, and our iPhones, which sonically mark the responses we received to the status updates and pictures we posted throughout the interview. This ambience shaped both the interview itself and its present digital form. The interview can be streamed in its entirety or as three separate parts. There is likewise a brief epilogue in which I reflect on the choices I have made and how those choices resonate with the concept of ambient rhetoric.
Circumnavigation: An Interview with Thomas Rickert
Part One: "Only the Easy Ones"In part one, Thomas and I discuss the emergence of this book and its key term as well as its relationship to his previous work. We also begin to delve into the core issues and implications of ambience: affect, agency, subjectivity, and environment. Music clips from: Brian Eno Ambient 1: Music for Airports, "1/1"; Sigur Rós ( ), "Untitled 8"; Morphine Cure for Pain, "Cure for Pain."
Part Two: Comings & GoingsIn part two, which starts mid-stream in a conversation (begun off-mic) about Richard Lanham and Bruno Latour, we continue to dig deep into ambience, connecting it to the work of Heidegger, who Thomas draws on throughout Ambient Rhetoric. We likewise discuss the relationship between this book and areas such as speculative realism and new materialism. Music clips from: Wilco Yankee Hotel Foxtrot Demos, "Magazine Called Sunset (Alternate Version)"; The Bird and the Bee Ray Guns Are Not Just the Future, "Phil"; Cat Power The Greatest, "Live in Bars."
Part Three: Intense ConsequencesPart three focuses on the implications of Ambient Rhetoric, in particular its poltical implications. What happens when rhetoric is intensified? We also discuss music some more. And just when you think we've reach the end, we go on some more (and end up discussing the next book). To be honest, we really just didn't know how to stop. Music clips from: Morphine Like Swimming, "Lilah (Instrumental)"; Brian Eno Ambient 1: Music for Airports, "2/2"; Radiohead OK Compunter, "Fitter Happier"; Boomtown Rats The Fine Art of Surfacing, "I Don't Like Mondays"; Ween Quebec, "The Fucked Jam."
Epilogue: Interviews IntoxicatedThis epilogue includes a brief reflection on the interview, the choices I made as the interviewer, and how the composition of the interview resonates with the work of Ambient Rhetoric.
Special thanks to both 4 Hands and Schlafly for providing the ambience (both the places and the pints) for this interview. The wonderful nighttime weather likewise deserves a nod as the final portions of the interview were recorded outside at Schlafly. Also, thanks to the Reinert Center for Transformative Teaching and Learning at Saint Louis University for lending us the audio equipment for the interview. Nathaniel would also like to thank Jim J. Brown Jr., for helping him to think through the author interview (Jim and Josh Gunn conducted a fine review of Thomas's first book).