A primer on auto-discourse

by Clinamenic

If traditional first-order discourse is characterized by the exploration of a given topic, with the author aptly assuming some degree of authority, there exists a second-order mode of discourse wherein the author’s own understanding of the topic is jointly, alongside the topic itself, the object of inquiry. This latter mode of discourse, here referred to auto-discourse’ insofar as it contains some degree of self-reference to the author’s own understanding of the topic, may perhaps lend itself to didactic applications which the former mode discourse may not, with such prospects being the focus of this piece.

In auto-discourse, the body of discourse itself is partitioned into discourse on the topic, and discourse on the author’s understanding of the topic. Traditional discourse, however, involves conventions whereby the author is often discouraged to foreground their own uncertainty or thought process, for fear of undermining the thesis or the confidence of the reader.

Epistemic intervention

One way of understanding the relationship between these two modes of discourse, is in terms of the stage of the reader’s understanding at which the author wishes to intervene. That is, if the author is writing for readers seeking definitive knowledge on a topic, the author may likewise wish to come to a more definitive understanding of the topic, and limit the discourse such that it pertains most directly to said topic, relatively unencumbered by epistemological reflections and metacommentary. If, on the other hand, the author wishes to intervene at an earlier epistemic stage of the reader, whereby the reader is exploring some number of possible understandings of a topic, the auto-discursive approach may be advisable.

What is perhaps the driver of any supposed efficacy of this auto-discursive approach, toward the aforementioned end of aiding the reader in their sensemaking process, rather than prescribing some ostensibly definitive understanding, is the degree to which the author can intuitively convey their own sensemaking processes regarding the topic at hand. In this sense, it is as if the author is tasked not only with conveying the topic at hand, but their own epistemic scaffolding around said topic, in such a manner that the reader may choose to emulate this scaffolding in their own efforts at understanding the topic.

Prescriptive and comparative epistemics

As above understood, auto-discourse may be employed according to a variety of imperatives, based on what the author is trying to achieve. For instance, if the author is trying to prescribe or at least suggest a particular understanding of a topic, they may erect and communicate such an epistemic framework which predisposes the reader toward a particular understanding of the topic. Insofar as this approach involves reconciling or discarding possible understandings into the single prescribed understanding, this may be understood as the arborescent approach to auto-discourse. The manner in which this arborescent auto-discourse differs from traditional discourse, at least according to how traditional discourse is depicted in this inquiry, is that the former involves the author foregrounding a greater bulk of their own sensemaking of the topic, as if the intention is to grease the wheels of the reader’s comprehension in the direction advocated by the author.

If the author, however, does not wish to prescribe any particular understanding of the topic, but rather to foreground a variety of possible understandings of a topic, they may be more drawn to a rhizomatic approach to auto-discourse. This approach would admittedly seem to contain a great deal of formal complexity relative to traditional discourse, and as such its adoption should be carefully considered. It would also seem to require the author to advance multiple fronts of understanding of a topic, thus rendering the topic itself an anisotropism within the context of the discourse, and thus presuming no small degree of cognitive dexterity on behalf of the reader. Not only would the author need to aptly convey the topic to be considered, but they would also need to convey some number of epistemic scaffoldings which the reader may alternatively wrap around the topic itself.

A mode for every season

Depending on the intentions of the author, a decision may be made between employing the traditional mode of discourse, or this mode of auto-discourse. Whereas the former generally limits its focus to the topic, advancing a more or less unified understanding of that topic while keeping the author’s development of said understanding in the background, auto-discourse foregrounds this development such that the focus is split between the topic and the development of the author’s understanding of the itself.

The author’s decision between these two modes may depend on the targeted stage of the maturation of the reader’s understanding of the topic. Within the mode of auto-discourse, the author may prescribe a unified epistemic framework for the reader to emulate, or the author may choose to present a number of such frameworks for the reader to compare. This contingent decision between an arborescent auto-discourse and a rhizomatic auto-discourse would seem to depend primarily on the intentions of the author, namely whether the author wishes to advance, through their discourse, a particular interpretation of a topic, or if they wish to encourage a plurality of interpretations. In any event, an author may feel some additional degree of empowerment in adding these modes of discourse to their creative repertoire.