Speculative Instruments

I’ve taken lately to thinking about the thinspreaden feeling of dissertating
like this: the writing moves in a forward direction, advancing ideas and
discussions, attempting claims, suggesting reasons for limiting the discussion
to these few pages. The reading, on the other hand, moves in a backward
direction, filing through influences before influences before
influences–something like tracking the (non-)origin of the Missouri River.
Writing and reading in this way at once leads to the thinspreaden feeling–it is
a stretch.

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Passive Observation

Earlier this week, I took a look at the
TED Talk presented by
Jonathan Harris
, creator of the programmed-art installations
WordCount,
10×10,
Phylotaxis,
We Feel Fine, and
several more, including his most recent
project, Universe. Universe, like
most of Harris’ work, presents a more dynamic and aesthetically lively interface
for encountering large samples of texts, such as news feeds from all over the
world, collections of blog entries, or the British National Corpus.  No
question Harris’ projects stand apart from nearly everything else I’ve seen
online where sizeable corpuses are rendered visually. I mean that these projects
are created in such a way that they lead with artfulness, enriching data
visualization with aesthetics.

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Seasonal Visitors

Early in The Function of Theory in Composition Studies, Sánchez
discusses the differences between applying theory and writing
theory. He refers to Hairston’s "The Winds of Change," as a moment that
inaugurates "an enduring method for ‘doing’ composition theory: take a term or
concept from a more respected or respectable field such as philosophy and use it
to illuminate some aspect of composition studies" (12). The way of
theorizing about writing, according to Sánchez:
appropriate and apply, appropriate and apply. There follows a soft critique:
methods in scare quotes (i.e., "predominant ‘methods’") and, within a few pages,
a discussion of those who "have reasserted the importance of empirically
oriented theorizing" (13). Sánchez echoes
Linda Flower with his interest in ways "that composition theory might generate
new theories rather than retrofit existing ones" (14). I haven’t finished
reading The Function of…, but I’m wondering at the end of the first
chapter whether the retrofit and the new can coexist, whether they are hybrid
and integral.

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