ideasCraig Stroupe | Associate Professor of Information Design | Department of Writing Studies | 1201 Ordean Court # 420 | University of Minnesota Duluth | Duluth, MN 55812 | 218-726-6249 | fax 218-726-6882 |

Theory of the Manifesto: CATTt

A manifesto publicly announces something new: an original political philosophy, an avant-garde artistic method, a revolutionary way of living. In his book, Heuretics: The Logic of Invention, Gregory L. Ulmer lays out a method of writing a manifesto and, thus, of conceiving new ways of doing and thinking.

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 not just to watch someone else blaze a trail, but to join the movement.

The process of writing the manifesto is more than just an announcement of already-conceived ideas, however; it can actually contribute to the process of invention itself.

Ulmer summarizes the steps of this method in the acronym "CATTt":

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.


If you want to do something new and revolutionary, it helps to have something old and established to use as a foil or contrast. In a manifesto, the "Contrast" section serves to present the problem that the new approach will solve.

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).

If I want to argue for a new method of interpreting Web sites and conceiving of their design--using The Weather Channel site as an example--I would take on the method that dominant in Web design: usability, which assumes that all "users" simply come to this site for information about the weather.

Ulmer uses the example of Plato, who establishes his own philosophical method in Phaedrus, the "undesirable...prototype" is the Sophist's philosophy (Ulmer 8).


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.

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.

In my manifesto arguing for a new way to understand how Web sites like are used, I can draw an analogy between the social functions of Web sites and the social functions of physical places in a small-town setting. I would argue that, in today's online world, we visit Web sites not just as outlets for commodities (including commodified information like weather forecasts), but as sites of community. Just as traditional community life centers around sites like the barber shop, the post office or the grocery store where people gather together to re-affirm their sense of place and belonging--often by talking about the weather!--people on the Web can and do build new kinds of communities at Web sites based on common interests and identities that are "placeless."

Ulmer observes in Phaedrus, for instance, that 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).


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 always invoke forefathers and foremothers, and manifestos present new ideas and methods as updatings and creative new applications of great ideas.

In my manifesto of what I might call "Barbershop Web Design,"--the subject of manifests ought to have catchy names, though this one unfortunately makes me think of quartets of singers in handlebar mustaches--I would discuss at least one theorists on whose ideas I'm basing my argument. Pierre Levy's idea of "collective intelligence" within "knowledge space" is one I could use (Trend 254, 257). In his article, Levy says that, in network culture, information is not just facts for us to use in the same old world, but will increasingly serve us as an "infrastructure" for living our lives, just as water is a medium for fish to swim in (254).

In my manifesto, I would pick out details to describe from that would demonstrate how the site serves as an "infrastructure" for this "collective intelligence," which is nothing short of a non-geographical location for a new "social identity" based on "collective...imagination" (258).

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).


The "Target" of the manifesto, 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). In my own example of Barbershop Web Design, my target would be Web design (as well as the interpretation of its social consequences).


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 Barbershop Web Design, the form or "genre" would be the Web site itself, which is the location of the new practice that I'm inventing.

Without a tale, our manifesto is just an attitude.

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