Striving for Common Good and Tolerance Through Individual Agencies: Weaving Postmodern Fragments into Wholeness and Responsibility

Reynolds talks about agency in a difference sense, or more traditional sense if agency is a tool to realize changes. I agree with her idea that women should voice and interrupt the male centered narration. She does not offer a very strong desire to change compared to other feminist scholars, but she tries to connect the feminist point of view with composition studies. I love her idea of how students can be taught or instructed to interrupt. She mostly talks about drawing attention, about interruption, about conversation, and means toward agency, which is kind of annoying due to the difficulty of interruption. Cooper is more progressive and focus more on how to achieve agency more effectively or responsibly rather than just trying to get agency realized. In the postmodern era, agency is emergent for both male and female because both are fragmented. However, women are marginalized, race problems exists. Therefore, I think we should take action to solve the problem by combining Cooper and Reynold’s viewpoints on agency.

Cooper’s piece is in accordance with Aristotle and Plato’s ideal that rhetoric should seek for justice and truth. Once again I find the hope of my dream that could bring the postmodern fragments together if not by a common value, then, by tolerant agencies maybe. In our postmodern and transnational era, this could be what Cooper proposes—agency as the saver or “rescue” (420) of the postmodern negativity. She suggests that individual agencies should not only be whoever that brings changes, but that agencies should be conscious of what they are and what they are doing(421). This self-reflective awareness is what she emphasizes by using “neurophenomenology” (421).

In order to argue the “emergent” and “enacted” “individual agency”, Cooper firstly discusses the subject issue. Most of the postmodern literary criticism discusses the fragmented self and the death of the author and the protagonist because everything is fragmented, even the story lines of postmodern literature is highly stream of consciousness that is fragmented itself. The death of the subject causes the lost of subjectivity and the identity crisis of poststructural and postmodern human beings. Cooper says that this process is “posthumanist” and denies the subject’s capability of having agency, for the subject is no longer capable of coherent action(423).

Cooper proposes “the theory of agency requires the death of not only the modernist subject but of the whole notion of the subject (423). She argues how rhetorical theorists and critics are harmed by this notion of subject and not being ale to exert agency’s function to the full extent due to the “subject-object dyad” (424). On the contrary, phenomenologists have been making efforts to get out of this binary. They focus on “connections between the subject and the other and between subjects and their perceived and experienced reality (424)”. Heidegger’s camp even move on to discuss the possibilities of the subjectivity and intersubjectivity. However, Cooper favors Latour’s view that “humans no longer have to make this choice that is imposed on subjects” and that the split between the subject and the object hinders the understanding of the two as a “collective”(424).

Cooper deems agencies as actors—”the collective(s),” who acts and bring changes no matter the actions are physical or mental (424). And, Cooper claims the individual agencies are constantly changing beings who are always interacting with their surroundings and selves (425). I don’t really think this theoretical premise of hers is solid on phenomenologists—whom I love. At least in defense of Heidegger, I believe that he has already moved to intersubjectivity, therefore, a change to the possibilities of agencies already. That very notion of intersubjectivity breaks the subject-object dilemma because intersubjectivity already goes beyond the objectivity that the subjectivity can present. However, I have dipped into psychoanalysis before, so Cooper’s figures are really appealing to me. Figure 2 and figure 3 are extremely interesting and useful I suppose, when analyzing rhetorical agencies via neurophenomenological theory.

And, I found myself quite upset about her separation of the subject and the agency the subject enjoys. To compare agencies with actors is smart, but why just quit subject or subjectivity once for all? I think our postmodern subjectivity is fragmented and constantly subject to changes, but why to replace it with agency? Big question mark! She could have relate the agency issue with the fragmented self I guess? I really love her idea that agency is always in progress, but I really wish she could have discussed it with the progressive and fragmented subject. She makes me want to take some courses in the neuroscience discipline! I was crazy with this unconscious thing when I started psychoanalysis in literary studies.

I actually ignored the Obama speech due to the non-seamless of her theoretical foundation and her examples. However, I enjoyed Cooper’s idea that “agency is a matter of action; it involves doing things intentionally and voluntarily, but it is not a matter of causing whatever happened” (439). She brings together  freewill and responsibility (440), which is of great importance to the chaotic postmodern world that seems losting its judgmental ability. I guess what we need is just the tolerance to other’s freewill and the responsibility that our freewill will not harm the interest of other people’s interest. And, when conflict occurs, we should consider the variants and consequences to make the final decision for common good. For instance, in international affairs, maybe it is sensible to consider the interest of different parties in decision making and judgmental comments. What’s more, we have to be aware of the agency process that sometimes not only involves one individual’s agency, but also involves groups of agencies.


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