Factory Hyperadequated

I attended EMU’s season-opening football game against Morgan State on Saturday evening. Along with a colleague, I made my way through the ticket line, paid $15 for a general admission pass, and found seats on the aluminum benches on the south end of Rynearson Stadium well enough before kick-off to see some of the pre-game activities. Through a summer rebranding effort, which included the addition of gray astroturf (er, synthetic grass substitute), Rynearson now doubles as The Factory, a designation promoted publicly by the program’s new head coach. I was seated at the most distant end of The Factory away from where our football players made their entrance onto the field, an entrance I did not notice as special or distinctive at the time, but one that later made its (justifiable, embarrassing) rounds because of a peculiar wall-buster of an idea that involved several players wielding real sledge hammers as they attempted to knock over a loosely stacked wall of cinder blocks. The rally-cry might have been something like, “Some of us will move brick walls together.”

Have a look for yourself.

Some have characterized the wall smash theatrics as a dim stunt, others as a silly but forgivable mishap. I agree that it could have been better. Foam bricks, if we must.

The game itself played out as an even match. EMU took a slight lead into a fourth quarter lightning and ominous weather suspension. After an hour, the suspension lifted, and the game played out as a victory for the Eagles by the same score, 31-28.

Yet, in its aftermath, observing as I have some of the strained exchanges about the wall smash episode, the status of the program, attitudes toward extravagances in what are felt elsewhere around campus to be lean times, I remain stuck on The Factory and the labor metaphor it calls, stuck because it has been summoned in haste and perhaps a bit too strenuously.

True, EMU sits in so-called automation alley; factories (many closed, left behind) are thick across the area landscape. And a fantastic, idealistic notion of factories does–for some, I guess–conjure up images of coordinated human-machine brilliance, hard work, sweat, pride, toughness, overtime pay, and camaraderie. Else: chronic fatigue, robot workers, union busting, environmental hazards, sore hands and backs, funny smelling air, indoor lighting, machinic-ambient noises, and so on. This is all just to acknowledge that factories are not so easily envisioned in a warm, soft pillow of feel-good enthusiasm. Factories don’t rally for me much sense of a bright and promising future; instead, I think of my neighbor in college who could barely pay bills while making seats for Ford on third shift. And as such, coupled with the gray turf, The Factory is a marketing frame that becomes memorable, though not always favorably memorable.

I don’t mean to take pot-shots on the campaign. Not at all. But I do think it is setting up a fascinating case of metaphor and its limits. I.A. Richards in The Philosophy of Rhetoric wrote about dead metaphors, and he used adequate as a verb to pinpoint the metaphor’s all-full capacity to excite the interpretive leap from one familiar frame (e.g., football stadium) to another whose pairing would amplify the significance of the first (e.g., factory). That amplification reaches its limits when two become one (i.e., when stadium and factory align). Richards says that the metaphor, once adequated, is dead. It stops exciting those leaps and instead grows weary, tiresome, banal. Wan metaphor. Dead metaphor.

Dead metaphors can re-awaken. And I don’t think it’s quite right to say that The Factory is a dead metaphor. Not yet. But adequation might be useful in helping us grasp what’s going on with our football program’s attention-hungry campaign. For instance, I lost count of how many times the work whistles blew–whoo!–during Saturday’s game, not because they were infrequent but because they were torturously too many, too many for my taste, anyway. Somebody would make a play, and the stadium would ring (chirp? bellow? cry out?) with a couple of toots of a work whistle. This along with the gray turf and along with the wall smash constitutes a tropical hybrid between metaphor and hyperbole–such an effortful blast that the metaphor has gone from invoked to something like hyperadequated since June 19 when The Factory was first announced. By hyperadequated, I mean that the metaphor is extra dead, groping zombie-like and unselfaware for attention that risks making reasonable people–prospective fans–turn away, cover their ears. Maybe this is what becomes of metaphor when it is grandstanding, straining so hard to take hold that any purported significance is eclipsed by its trying too hard to take hold and to circulate.

CCCC Atlanta Rewind, Part II

I don’t think there will be a part 3 in this series, but I wanted to post in a consolidated location the various pieces I brought to Atlanta last week. Steve offered a careful play-by-play of many of the meals and local excursions I was a part of. And he mentioned in the entry that we had a fairly small audience at the N.30 session. With that in mind, I figured I may as well render my talk into an overdubbed video and post it to YouTube where it will surely get a couple of more views in the year to come.

But first, Steve’s video, which initiated and enframed our roundtable:

Below is my contribution to the roundtable. To continue experimenting with YouTube’s closed captioning, I uploaded the full script of my talk as a text file. I’m impressed at how capably YouTube creates alignments between the video’s audio track and the text. Also, all of the oooh-aaah cloud photographs come from the recent New York Times installation, “Up in the Clouds.”

And finally, here’s the poster I tacked up in the Computer Connection room and that I’ve posted in a half dozen places already.

3.33 Ways: Tracing Rhetorical Style from Prose to New Media

The accompanying a/v playlist (linked from the QR codes) is available over here.

Elkins – The Object Stares Back (1996)

That The Object Stares Back is only part of the picture; in fact, it’s the same name as one of the six chapters in Elkins’s 1996 meditation on seeing. The objects that stare back include everything from stars, moth wings, radar imagery, and insects ill-fitted to our schema for recognizing them. These objects are, although named differently, more like quasi-objects because when they stare back, they implicate us in a “tangled web of seeing” that challenges whether the human observer is an “autonomous, independent, stable self” (74). Elkins goes on, “This is the kind of idea that is popular in academia because it is so exhilaratingly radical—but at the same time it is almost entirely unbelievable, which is to say we cannot believe it if we want to keep going” (74).

The object-stare-back is a peculiar notion: “In a grocery store, I do not think for a moment that rows of vegetables and the cans of soup might be looking at me as I speed down the aisle” (73). And yet there is an emerging stare-back that accompanies positionally sentience: locatable as something suspended between products and consumer positions, if we can link this phenomena with something like the Shell gas station icon rolling up on the GPS interface. This is not quite the same as the can of Campbell’s Chicken Noodle peering at shoppers, but is does seem like a new variation on the stare-back.

In the chapter on “Blindness,” staring takes another turn: “Staring is an unusual kind of seeing, and there’s usually something odd going on when I find myself staring. Perhaps staring is a sign that an artwork has malfunctioned: it has arrested my thinking, slowed me down, paralyzed me so I can barely move” (209). Intriguing here that staring establishes an irregular relationship to time; in staring, so much comes to a standstill. Elkins also compares staring to gazing: “That’s how I would distinguish a stare or a glance from a gaze: stares and glances are focused on details” (210). Barthes’ Camera Lucida comes to mind here. That staring is an unusual kind of seeing, that it is “focused on details,” that it brings time to a standstill, could mean that it is located at the critical juncture between studium and punctum. It is, as I now think of it, at the point where the punctum‘s sting (not only photographically, but arguably extending into the world) is suspended, noticed in such a way that it heeds a kind of proprioceptive pull toward studium. In time, whatever holds the stare might end up there, something studied.

This holds up in Elkins’s discussion of German realist painter, Franz von Lenbach who appears almost straining in a series of photographs in the chapter, “Blindness”:

In picture after picture and even in his self-portrait paintings, [von Lenbach] has this same faintly ridiculous pompous stare. It may have been an accustomed squint or an affectation—as if to say, I am a great and penetrating artist—but I almost prefer to think it was the symptom of a concentrated effort to see. (He wasn’t a first-rate painter, and I also wonder if he might have been hampered by the very intensity of everything under his gaze, so that there wasn’t much left to see.)

Not much left to see: stare-punctum becomes crushing-gaze-studium. Why not? Could such effortful seeing generalize to over-exerted writing? I don’t know. But the build-up clicks for me. To re-enact the von Lenbach expression, I tried it out, let my MacBook Pro’s built-in camera capture me imitating the painter (Think, think: “I am a great and penetrating artist”). 3…2…1… Yet I cannot unpick the loopknot: Is this the computer staring back at me? Me staring back at me? Me staring back at you? You staring back at my Macbook?


By the way, to make this face I had only to think about the fact that I wrote a version of this entry yesterday late afternoon and then failed to save it: big frown and scrunched brow.

Ahead of much of what else is here, I appreciated Elkins’s attention in Chapter Two to the function of tropes in science. A researcher sees something unrecognizable, unclassifiable, and assigns to it a metaphor that links inexplicable thing (e.g., an amoeba) to an existing schema. “But [the amoeba’s] body is very strange, very distant from mine, and my mind is clotted with analogies: the amoeba reaches out ‘arms,’ it rolls over itself like a tractor head. I cannot experience the amoeba except through mechanical and biological metaphors” (158). Through substitution (i.e., tropes), recombination and, in effect, new knowledge become possible. Tropes contribute clarity and contour. Elkins identifies another example of this in a doctor’s puzzling over a previously unknown (undisclosed) condition in which the tongue’s surface changes while others aspects of its functioning are in tact. The doctor does not know what to call it, but based on pattern similarities, it becomes “Cerebriform Tongue or Cartographic Tongue” (147). Such naming is complicated, right?, because it is both consequential and underpinned with uncertainty—a provisional relationship to knowledge. In the turn to mapping, a more tightly fitted description would be Raised Relief Tongue, but “raised relief” risks a degree of domain specificity that could undermine the necessarily general level of association between topography and the tongue.

There’s more, but I have other stuff to tend to. The more: a noticably arhetorical discussion of empathy (137), a fascinating section on cyclophobic adaptations (75), a disputable point about visual desperation (156), literary flourishes citing Kafka and, at the end of the book, Wallace Stevens (the conclusion, by the way, is titled “Envoi,” which I read as “Ennui” the first time; need another chapter titled “Oops: When the Wrong Word Stares Back”).

The bit on cyclophobic adaptations is good enough (by which I mean worthy of a return) to blockquote here:

The world is full of eyes, and sight is everywhere. But there is a special category, another kind of eye that is neither real (like my eyes) nor metaphorical (like the “eyes ” of rainbows and halos). It sees, and yet it is blind. I mean the fake eyes some insects grow on their bodies in order to frighten away predators. Butterflies and moths tend to have these eyes on their lower wings, so that they can keep them hidden under the upper wings until they need to flash them in some animal’s face. The feect startles practically any animal that can see: it keeps away birds, lizards, frogs, and small mammals, and it also scares many people. So many animals are frightened of eyes that biologists have a word for it—cyclophobism. (75)