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Wandering Rhetoric, Rhetoric Wandering

Melanie Yergeau


This webtext perseverates on the following premise: The rhizome is neuroqueer.

I will explain what I mean by this momentarily. But I will first begin by attending to wandering, to meandering, to the paradoxically unmoored fixity of dog shit in my social symbolic. It is now a truism to claim that the potentiality of digital composition lies in its nonlinearity. It is probably not a truism to claim the same of dog shit, so I will now make this claim.

The potentiality of dog shit lies in its nonlinearity.

Although this (kind of) isn’t an essay on dog shit, it is an essay on wandering and wanting, on the ways in which compulsions and tics instantiate worlds at once within and beyond the discursive. In this wandering, I am also wondering: In what ways do our valued tropes occlude disabled ways of moving, thinking, and knowing in studies of digital rhetoric? What matter is disability, especially mental disability, to digital rhetoric? Who can claim the privileges and affordances of the nonlinear? And for whom is nonlinearity figurative dog shit, a.k.a. the askance trailing of radical deviance that figures certain bodyminds outside the domain of rhetoric proper? (rhetoric pooper?)

I am asking many questions here, so allow me to back up. The rhizome is neuroqueer. By neuroqueer, I mean perversely and performatively neurodivergent, permeating all modes of experience. And by neurodivergent, I mean neurological configurations that exist outside an elusive norm—or what we might traditionally conceive as mental disabilities, such as OCD, autism, Tourette’s, ADHD, dyslexia, and so on. Neuroqueerness, then, signifies ways of being, thinking, and moving that have been typified as marginal, deviant, minoritized, and/or different. The neuroqueer, according to Nick Walker, is both a verbing and an adjectival. It is a set of concepts, practices, and identities that are always in motion. In this way, Walker relates neuroqueer’s trajectories as those that “embody and express one’s neurodivergence (or refuse to suppress one’s embodiment and expression of neurodivergence) in ways that ‘queer’ one’s performance of gender, sexuality, ethnicity, occupation, and/or other aspects of one’s identity” (n.p.). In other words, neuroqueer is at once an action and an embodied experience. It is what we do, and it is what we are, and these things are always in flux. Importantly, neuroqueering is at once intentional and unintentional, operating across corporeal, material, identitarian, and discursive sites.

So how, then, is the rhizome neuroqueer, and why does this matter to rhetoric, and why does this matter to dog shit?

Importantly, the rhizome is not like the neuroqueer, but rather neuroqueers and is neuroqueer. To put it another way, the rhizome teeters between mobility and description. As Jay Dolmage argues, disability is perhaps best described as a way to move. Something can only become neuroqueer, can only use the trappings of neuroqueer to fashion itself, if it has moved in a neuroqueer manner. Here I am tempted, ever so studiously, to claim neuroqueer as a direction—but if neuroqueerness is known for its directedness, that directedness exists only in the paradoxicality of nondirection, of disorientation. For example, we might think about topoi that commonly attend neurodivergence or mental disability. Associational thinking, executive dysfunction, obsession, dysfluency, stiltedness, hallucinations, motoric awkwardness—these are all methods and cognitive processes that are typically mapped onto neurodivergent bodyminds. As well, these are processes and methods known for their unpredictable unfoldings, for their capacities to defy point, purpose, and fixity. But more importantly, these ways of thinking and moving have been grossly pathologized across time and history. When does academia value stuttering? When does academia value suicidal ideation? What place is there for dog shit in digital rhetoric?