Theory of the Manifesto: CATTt

Home | Contrast | Analogy | Theory | Target | tale

A manifesto publicly announces something new: an original political philosophy, an avant-garde artistic method, a revolutionary way of living.

In addition to being a "polemical attack on the worldview" of a tradition (Ulmer 10), a manifesto is also a practical effort to make this new method or approach replicatible by other people, rather than just an isolated, individual practice. A manifesto asks us to join the movement!

Writing the manifesto is more than just an announcement, however; it can actually contribute to the process of invention itself. In his book, Heuristics: The Logic of Invention, Gregory L. Ulmer lays out a method of writing a manifesto and so of conceiving new ways of doing and thinking.

Ulmer summarizes the steps of this method in the acronym "CATTt," which stands for the following operations, which will be further explained below:

C = Contrast (opposition, inversion, differentiation)
A = Analogy (figuration, displacement)
T = Theory (repetition, literalization)
T = Target (application, purpose)
t = Tale (secondary elaboration, representability) (Ulmer 8)

Let's take these one at a time.


Ulmer observes that the manifesto writer "begins by pushing away from an undesirable example or prototype, whose features provide an inventory of qualities for an alternative method" (8). Essentially, if you want to do something new and revolutionary, it helps to have something old and established as a foil. Everything about that Old Way is opposite of what is wanted: they have it exactly wrong , so to speak.

For Plato establishing his own philosophical method in Phaedrus, for example, the "undesirable...prototype" is the Sophist's philosophy (Ulmer 8). More....


To help define the workings of this new alternative practice, says Ulmer, the manifesto writer finds analogies for the new method from other contexts or realms of knowledge which enables a fresh perspective. In Phaedrus, for instance, Plato invents the philosophical concept of dialectic partly by making "an analogy between proper rhetoric and medicine. 'In both cases'" says Plato, "'there is a nature that we have to determine, the nature of the body in the one, and of soul in the other" (Ulmer 9).

If you are inventing a new method of painting, for example, you might make analogies to something that is unlike painting: say, engineering, dreams, or politics. More...


Though manifestos are by nature revolutionary, writers ground their arguments by basing them, says Ulmer, "on the authority of another theory whose argument is accepted as literal rather than a figurative analogy" (as above) (9). Basically, revolutions and movements need fore-fathers and -mothers, and manifestos present their new ideas and methods as updatings and creative re-applications of great ideas.

If we base our radical new philosophy of movie-making on Freudian theory, for instance, we are not just making an analogy, but saying that Freudian psychology is the best explanation for human experience and behavior, and the truest films are therefore constructed on its principles.

Frequently, manifesto writers go outside their fields for these grounding theories. "In the Western tradition of method," notes Ulmer, "mathematics has been the favorite authorizing theory for invention in other areas" (9). More....


The "Target," according to Ulmer, is the "area of application that the new method is designed to institution whose needs have motivated the search for a method" (9). This one is usually obvious. Artistic manifestos are aimed at the art world and artistic practice. Plato's target "is education" (9). More...


The "tail/tale" of the CATTt is the final form that the method takes, the "form or genre" of this new, revolutionary practice. For Plato, the form is a dialogue: says Ulmer, "Plato's dialogues represented his premise that learning much be face-to-face conversation" (9). The "tale" of a manifesto of teaching would be aimed at classroom practice. For painting, it would be the picture. Without a tale, our manifesto is just an attitude. More...