Monday, March 4, 2013

Not As a Trusted Guide

H alfway through Kathleen Stewart's Ordinary Affects, one of the many wishlisted titles I picked up at last month's Networked Humanities conference. Stewart's slow jumps aggregate to an "idiosyncratic map of connections between a series of singularities" (4). A colleague, when he saw the book at the edge of my desk late last week in a place where I would be sure to remember to carry it home for the first interlude of Winter Break, characterized Stewart's writing as "prose poems." I can see that. Similar to ornamented essays, i.e., stylistically adven-turous felt-arguments.

And like I said, I'm only halfway through. Slow jumps read slowly. As much as by anything else, I'm struck by--affected by--Stewart's reconfiguring of pronouns.

I write not as a trusted guide carefully laying out the links between theoretical categories and the real world, but as a point of impact, curiosity, and encounter. I call myself "she" to mark the difference between this writerly identity and the kind of subject that arises as a daydream of simple presence. "She" is not so much a subject position or an agent in hot pursuit of something definitive as a point of contact; instead, she gazes, imagines, senses, takes on, performs, and asserts not a flat and finished truth but some possibilities (and threats) that have come into view in the effort to become attuned to what a particular scene might offer. (5)

To write not as a trusted guide seems at first to go against professionalism and rhetorical ethics, but instead of turning into fanciful indulgence, because it finds gravity in description, it shifts ethos to ethos-oikos, a kind of redistributed or network-strewn, banal registry. A contagious style, Stewart's.

He noticed frost on the Honda Element outside and put off a morning jog, wrote a blog entry, ground beans for pressed coffee. "March was always warmer than this."

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Speculative Realism RG

T omorrow, a group of colleagues will convene an afternoon get-together at Ypsi's Corner Brewery to discuss Graham Harman's recent article, "The Well-Wrought Broken Hammer: Object-Oriented Literary Criticism" alongside Latour's "Why Has Critique Run out of Steam? From Matters of Fact to Matters of Concern." I'm not sure whether I will be able to attend because of another obligation to be at a textbook publisher presentation, but I nevertheless consider this a good enough occasion to attempt a few reading notes here. I'll start with Harman even though the priority he places on lit-criticism is for the most part lost on me.

Basically, Harman delivers a simplified introduction to speculative realism2007, contrasts object-oriented philosophy with new criticism (Brooks), new historicism (Greenblatt), and deconstruction (Derrida), and finally sketches what he calls "object-oriented criticism." Harman succinctly recounts the key question for speculative realism--"does a real world exist independently of human access, or not?" (184)--while suggesting that speculative realists might hold up H.P. Lovecraft as a model intellectual for his patent weirdness. Speculative realists, in other words, have an inclination to the bizarre that continually bears upon and interferes with presumptions about what is real. They would have us check both the prominence of humans and human cognitive processing when accounting for the real (correlationism) and wonder about what is real without deferring to atomism or long-established scientific paradigms, like physics, chemistry, or biology. At least in part, this is consistent with a cautious and heavily qualified decoupling of Kant's efforts to privilege human-world interactions. And this is object-oriented philosophy, more or less (admittedly less than is available elsewhere).

Harman's abbreviated run-down of speculative realism is both helpful and adequate as a primer; he introduces key terms from his work, such as allure (187) and overmining (199). The article succeeds in differentiating object-oriented criticism from its well-worn predecessors, and rather than attempt to summarize those sections, which constitute most of the piece, for now--and for Friday's reading group--I will mention just two moments/questions that stand out.

The first concerns allure, partly covered here:

The broken hammer [whose sudden transformation could not have been anticipated] alludes to the inscrutable reality of hammer-being lying behind the accessible theoretical, practical, or perceptual qualities of the hammer. The reason for calling this relation one of "allusion" is that it can only hint at the reality of the hammer without ever making it directly present to the mind. I call this structure allure, and quite aside from the question of broken hammers, I contend that this is the key phenomenon of all the arts, literature included. Allure alludes to entities as they are, quite apart from any relations with or effects upon other entities in the world.

I'm not sure whether I grasp Harman's allure, but I think it names what happens when an object is seduced into accepting as ontologically fixed some other object. The hammer's transformation upsets the trance of so many proximate objects. But I would like to know more about how if this is "the key phenomenon of all the arts," whether the arts umbrella covers rhetoric, or whether suasive arts fit elsewhere. Allure, as it is framed here, seems to me strain a bit if it must operate for rhetoric, particularly techne or poiesis, but also for what seems to be a consequential relationship between the two or three phases--hammerunbroken's, hammerbroken's, and hammerwhatever's.

The other is the concluding section in which Harman explains what an object-oriented literary criticism would bring about, what it would look like. According to Harman, object-oriented philosophy "hopes to offer...not a method, but a countermethod" (200). Counter to what? New criticism, new historicism, and deconstruction, but also counter to canonicity, axiology, the reduction of texts into social forces. Here's Harman: "Rather than emphasize the social conditions that gave rise to any given work, we ought to do the contrary, and look at how works reverse or shape what might have been expected in their time and place, or at how some withstand the earthquakes of the centuries much better than others" (201). It sounds a lot like rhetorical analysis to me--an interest in how texts-as-objects prove impactful, shaping expectations, enrolling hosts, enduring. Harman also suggests a value in "attempting various modifications of these [literary] texts and seeing what happens" (202). Reading this, I'm curious how object-oriented criticism is different from the sorts of remakes and genre transformations we commonly see in our first-year composition classes. That is, how different is it, really?

As for the second of the two readings for tomorrow, this one by Latour, I will be quick because it is late and I am tired. Latour's "Why Has Critique Run Out of Steam?" is a screed against critique's distaste for and objections to facts. Critique has sought to undermine facts, but this descriptive tool with its "debunking impetus" has proven futile. Latour does not wish to steamroll facts, nor to get away from them. He asks, "Can we devise another powerful descriptive tool that deals this time with matters of concern and whose import then will no longer be to debunk but to protect and to care, as Donna Haraway would put it?" (232).

My argument is that a certain form of critical spirit has sent us down the wrong path, encouraging us to fight the wrong enemies and, worst of all, to be considered as friends by the wrong sort of allies because of a little mistake in the definition of its main target. The question was never to get away from facts but closer to them, not fighting empiricism but, on the con- trary, renewing empiricism. (231)

Next, Latour draws together "things" with "assemblies." Things, extending from Heidegger, are gatherings. But Latour suggest we look not at the simple "pots, mugs, and jugs" (234) philosophers are fond of contemplating, but instead look at more complex things, noting their capacities to assemble and disband (234-235). There's too much I'm skipping over here, but he brings up Whitehead, who even though he "is not an author known for keeping the reader wide awake" (245), was one of the few who "tried to get closer to [matters of fact] or, more exactly, to see through them the reality that requested a new respectful realist attitude" (244). A "new respectful realist attitude" may or may not fit well with the speculative realist characteristics noted by Harman, yet for Latour, this attitude is akin to compositionism (note: in this CI essay from 2004, BL seeks to reframe "critic" "with a whole new set of positive metaphors" (247), but with "An Attempt at a Compositionist Manifesto," he has presumably abandoned reframing for re-naming).

Friday, July 20, 2012

The OOOist Writer and the Great Outdoors

I 'm re-reading Chs. 4-5 of Ian Bogost's Alien Phenomenology to prepare for the second meeting of our summer reading group this afternoon. Ch. 4, Carpentry, sets in tension writing and the making of things; Ch. 5 proposes wonder as a way of doing OOO, as a means of grasping the ways objects orient (124). Last week's meet-up attracted seven readers, and I've heard we'll have several more joining today. I'm not leading the group with any particular goals in mind. It has very simply been an opportunity to engage with a book--and a philosophy--that a handful of our graduate students have wanted to talk more about since Eileen Joy, Tim Morton, and Jeffrey Cohen visited for last semester's JNT Dialogue, "Nonhumans: Ecology, Ethics, Objects."

To prepare for today's conversation, I've been dusting back over a couple of recent blog entries here and here and here (as well as the comments, which begin to explore some lingering questions I have about OOO), and I also took a look again at Bogost's entry from 2009, "What is Object-Oriented Ontology? A Definition for Ordinary Folk." The point about OOO needing a "simple, short, comprehensible explanation" leaves me wondering to what extent the elevator pitch has been satisfactorily laid down and also whether a short-form version can adequately answer to its skeptics (e.g., those who, upon reading a bit about OOO lead with,"Yeah, but what about X?"). I suppose what I'm thinking around is whether OOO can really be boiled down to a 100-word account and whether, especially considering what looks to me like a surge of interest in units/objects/things/nonhumans, there could be a coherent statement that many of the main participants would stand behind. Yet another way, just how raging are OOO's debates, now? And how much are new/cautious/fringe enquirers capable of exploring those debates?

Looking again at Chs. 4-5, I felt this time like writing, as counterpart to carpentry, isn't given much of a chance. Writing is a foil--a thin backdrop against which a preferable set of practices are cast. The generating question follows: "[W]hy do you write instead of doing something else, like filmmaking or macrame or sumi-e or welding or papercraft or gardening?" In this context (and in this contrastive framing), writing is something of an attention or activity hog. It gets overplayed in the liberal arts; it gets over-valued in exceedingly strict economies for tenure and promotion. According to the chapter, these are cause for concern because 1) "academics aren't even good writers" (89), and 2) writing, "because it is only one form of being" (90) is too monolithic a way of relating to the world. I generally agree with Bogost's argument that scholarly activity should be (carefully!) opened up to include other kinds of making, but I'm less convinced that the widespread privileging of writing is the culprit here. It's fine to say that academics aren't good writers (though I'm reminded that we should never talk about writing as poor or problematic without looking at a specific text/unit in hand), but why would they be any better at "filmmaking or macrame or sumi-e or welding or papercraft or gardening" or coding APIs?

So while I'm interested in the call for an expansion of what can be considered scholarly activity, it remains unclear to me why writing should be at odds or brushed aside with that expansion. Instead of "Why do you write instead of doing something else?", I would rather consider "How is your writing and making and doing entangled?", whether gardening, drinking beer, or even welding (the second slide here suggests that writing and welding are compatible, though paper-based dossiers are already heavy enough; also weld-writing does not correspond to slideshow-encoding). It's a relatively minor tweak of an otherwise compelling set of arguments about scholarship-in-computational-action, and yet with just a bit more nuance, rather than concluding that "When we spend all of our time reading and writing words--or plotting to do so--we miss opportunities to visit the great outdoors" (90), perhaps we don't have to scrap composition to get beyond the limited and limiting definitions of writing still in circulation. And this may be one of the reasons an object-oriented rhetoric remains a promising complement to OOO.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Woolgar and Cooper, "Do Artefacts Have Ambivalence?"

I stumbled across Steve Woolgar and Geoff Cooper's article, "Do Artefacts Have Ambivalence? Moses' Bridges, Winner's Bridges, and Other Urban Legends in ST&S" (Social Studies of Science, 29.3, June 1999), a few weeks ago as I prepared for a session of ENGL516:Computers and Writing: Theory and Practice in which we were taking up, among other things, Winner's chapter from The Whale and the Reactor, "Do Artefacts Have Politics?" Reading the chapter yet again, I thought I would try to learn more about these well-known bridges. I'd never seen one of them, after all.

Woolgar and Cooper's article is one of those I wish I'd read years ago. It opens with an unexpected event: Jane, a student in a grad seminar, challenges the premise of Winner's artefact-politics example. In effect, she says the clearance-challenged bridges are passable, that they don't actually prevent buses from traveling the parkways on Long Island, that Winner's claim is a "crock of shit."

Woolgar and Cooper turn next to Bernward Joerges' investigation of Winner's bridges, their history, and the legitimacy in Winner's attribution of politics to these artefacts. Rather than accepting Joerges' position that Winner's example crumbles because the actual bridges allow buses to pass, however, Woolgar and Cooper suggest the bridges-articulated wield a certain "argumentative adequacy" that is not necessarily eclipsed by the bridges-actual (434). In fact, they say that proof of Winner's error is difficult to come by, despite the bus timetable they ultimately obtained, despite Jane and another student's efforts to corroborate the effect of these bridges on bus traffic.

The important recurrent feature in all this narrative [about efforts to corroborate the effects of the bridges] is that the definitive resolution of the story, the (supposedly) crucial piece of information, is always just tantalizingly out of reach.... For purposes of shorthand, in our weariness, in the face of the daunting costs of amassing yet more detail, or just because we're lazy, we tend to ignore the fact that aspects of the story are always (and will always be) essentially out of reach. Instead we tell ourselves that 'we've got the story right.' (438)

Following a discussion of urban legends and technology, Woolgar and Cooper conclude with several smart points about the contradictory aspects of technology, that it "is good and bad; it is enabling and it is oppressive; it works and it does not; and, as just part of all this, it does and does not have politics" (443). They continue, "The very richness of this phenomenon suggests that it is insufficient to resolve the tensions by recourse to a quest for a definitive account of the actual character of a technology" (443). And, of course, once we can relax in efforts to trap a-ha! an "actual character," we might return an unavoidably rhetorical interplay among texts and things, between discourses and artefacts. Winner, too, has built bridges, "constructed with the intention of not letting certain arguments past" (444). Periodically inspecting both bridges-actual and bridges-articulated is also concerned with mapping or with accounting for the competing discourses, the interests served by them, and so on: "Instead of trying to resolve these tensions, our analytic preference is to retain and address them, to use them as a lever for discerning the relationship between the different parties involved" (443). And, importantly, this is a lever that produces a different kind of clearance, "under which far more traffic might flow" (444).

Note: There's much more to this, including Joerges' response here (PDF), which I have not read yet, but I nevertheless find the broader debate fascinating, relevant to conversations about OOO we're having on our campus in preparation for Timothy Morton and Jeff Cohen's visit next month, and--even if I have arrived late--a series of volleys I need to revisit if and when I return to Winner's example in the future.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Moments of Tension, Moments of Completion

F rom Tim Ingold's Lines: A Brief History:

Unlike wayfaring or seafaring, transport is destination-oriented. It is not so much a development along a way of life as a carrying across, from location to location, of people and goods in such a way as to leave their basic natures unaffected. Even the wayfarer, of course, goes from place to place, as does the mariner from harbour to harbour. He must periodically pause to rest, and may even return repeatedly to the same abode or haven to do so. Each pause, however, is a moment of tension that—like holding one's breath—becomes ever more intense and less sustainable the longer it lasts. Indeed the wayfarer or seafarer has no final destination, for wherever he is, and so long as life goes on, there is somewhere further he can go. For the transported traveller and his baggage, by contrast, every destination is a terminus, every port a point of re-entry into a world from which he has been temporarily exiled whilst in transit. The point marks a moment not of tension but of completion. (77)

I will attempt a more fully developed review of the book later. I picked Lines up this summer curious about his explanation of the trace, of tracing. Ingold discusses traces and threads in the second chapter. But in the passage above from the third chapter, certain qualities of the trace (vs. the thread) bleed over into a contrast he draws between wayfaring and transport.

There are moments in this third chapter that click with so many different things, perhaps because the idea of lines and line segments is ubiquitous (methods, course sequences, careers, travel). Yet Ingold's division comes off almost too sharply, holding wayfaring and transport too strictly apart, which leaves me wondering whether the taxonomy is adequate, whether there are blended states in which these two are not only compatible but mutually sustaining.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Robillard, The Barefoot Running Book

J ason Robillard's The Barefoot Running Book is a primer on the "art & science of barefoot running." At seventy-some pages, this first edition amounts to a relatively informal extended essay, every bit as minimalist as the running equipment it advocates. Robillard, a psychology teacher from Grand Rapids and blogger at Barefoot Running University, recommends a slow-buildup approach to barefoot running that moves predictably from pre-running (foot strengthening and sole toughening) to barefoot exercises concerned with footstrike ("foot kiss"), cadence, and relaxation to intermediate and advanced training. The book also offers cautionary advice about blisters, minimalist shoes, avoiding debris (a basic assumption being that this barefoot running happens on hard surfaces, such as pavement). All of this guidance rests on a premise I largely accept as reasonable, which is that running shoes, or "foot coffins" as Robillard calls them, muffle many of the foot's potential sensitivities, resulting in weakened, hobbled feet.

I am no barefoot runner as of yet, but the emphases Robillard places on falling forward and on processing foot lifts rather than foot falls are instructive to me as a novice. And will probably continue to say "novice" for many more years because I don't run often or far or with much desire to identify as a runner, much less a minimalist runner. These ideas from Robillard come more as reminders than as new ideas; the running I've been doing lately (just under 3.5 miles three mornings each week) has been relatively stress free, as stress free as any running I have done before. That is, I don't think of this as hardcore training or even exercise but as something more like meditation.

So why should I be reading a book on barefoot running? This is due entirely to my brother's influence. The book arrived Kindle-lent as an experiment between us to understand how Kindle book loans work. That this was a lent book meant I could have it for fourteen days (expired today). I wanted not only to read the book in that time, but also to add a couple of annotations and disconnect my Kindle from the network to learn whether, when the loan period expired, it would remain on the device. So far, it has. I received the expiration notice via email this morning from Amazon, but I have been able to access the book and annotations the same as before (note: I have not connected the Kindle to the network; when I do, I suspect the status of the book will change. What of the notes? I don't know yet.). Here's one of them, on scanning a few steps ahead: "In either case [smooth asphalt or rugged trails], you eventually develop foot-eye coordination. Your eyes will scan the terrain in front of you. Your brain will create a cognitive map of that terrain" (Loc. 951).

I'm intrigued by barefoot running, but the extent of my training in the near term will be to end the morning loop by removing my shoes and walking a little less than a half mile barefoot while cooling down. Maybe by October I will try to jog it. That's probably going to be the end of it before winter (although Robillard says he runs barefoot in temps as low as 20F). And I will, of course, have my brother to thank (or curse), considering he is nowadays running upwards of three miles barefoot on asphalt. That he doesn't seem at all miserable about it—quite the opposite!—makes it harder for me to dismiss as lunacy.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

A Non-Scientist Would Say

F rom Eco's The Infinity of Lists, a book whose recommendation I poached several months ago from Facebook:

But, from its discovery onwards, eighty years passed before the platypus was defined as a monotreme mammal; in the course of that time it had to be decided how and where to classify it, and until that moment it remained, rather disturbingly, something the size of a mole, with little eyes, front paws with four claws of the kind paws, with a tail, a duck's bill, paws that it used to swim and to dig its burrow, the capacity to produce eggs and that of feeding its young with milk from its mammary glands.

This is exactly what a non-scientist would say about the animal upon observing it. And it's worth noting that through this (incomplete) description by list of properties, a person would still be able to tell a platypus from an ox, whereas saying that it is a monotreme mammal would enable to one to recognize it should he come across one. (218)

I say "platypus" far too often to mean something is unfit for well-established schema. The platypus identification crisis Eco explains in this selection is not unlike what happens when, whether or not we have arrived yet at the name "amoeba," Elkins' scientist puzzles over how to decide upon words for such unexpected visual patterns. Yet a technical-symbolic complex presses ahead, producing totalizing references, such as "monotreme mammal," that concentrate, reduce, and mystify a glut of describable features. The move to summary-phrase is efficient in the sense that it reduces word counts and also shrinks audience. This is another way of saying it promotes specialization.

Eco visits upon summaries and lists (thick with tropes in the example above...mole-like, duck's bill) a historical tension:

On the one hand, it seems that in the Baroque period people strove to find definitions by essence that were less rigid than those of medieval logic, but on the other hand the taste for the marvellous led to the transformation of every taxonomy into lists, every tree into a labyrinth. In reality, however, lists were already being used during the Renaissance to strike the first blows at the world order sanctioned by the great medieval summae. (245)

Summae, not quite in the same sense as "summary," but not far off, either, in its interest in total coverage. Lists, though, are a different vehicle altogether. What summaries seek to contain, lists allow to breathe, to roam. Now, I'm not ready to say these conditions generalize to all summaries or all lists, but the contain-roam distinction--and much of Eco's "illustrated essay" for that matter, is useful for thinking about what these abstract forms do differently, etc., and how they complement each other.


Thursday, February 17, 2011

Wicked and Tame

T his afternoon I finished re-reading Selber's Multiliteracies for a Digital Age (2004), which we've picked up in ENGL516 for its tightly applicable yet expansive heuristic: functional, critical, and rhetorical literacies. For Tuesday we're also looking at a complementary tier, network literacy. There's not a lot I want to recount or highlight about the Multiliteracies book in general this time through, but one specific section drew me in more this time than when I first read the book a few years ago.

Under rhetorical literacy, the section on deliberation (152), Selber refers to a 1973 article by Horst Rittel and Melvin Webber, "Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning." Both professors at Cal-Berkeley, Rittel (Science of Design) and Webber (City Planning) differentiate between wicked problems and tame problems. Selber summarizes their position this way:

Although tame problems can be enormously complex, their complexities are largely technical in character, as are their solutions. In contrast, wicked problems are more intractable in that wicked problems do not have single solutions, only interim and imperfect solutions. Adjustments in tax rates, changes in school curricula, procedures to reduce crime--these problems can all be understood, addressed, and resolved in countless ways because there are elusive social dimensions that muddy the causal waters. (153)

Selber continues for another page or two to apply the wicked/tame distinction to challenges facing interface designers. That design planning and implementation is wicked, not tame, reminds us of the important limitations of technical rationalism for addressing situated social problems at a variety of scales (e.g., poverty to usability). I am inclined to accept the proposition that follows for Selber, which is that deliberation ensures a humanistic perspective in response to HCI challenges. Among questions that remains for me, I still wonder after tracking down and reading the Rittel and Webber article whether deliberation makes a wicked problem less wicked. In other words, what does deliberation do to the problem? Does it make it appear more tame? Does it blunt (or defer) its wickedness? I find it easy to value deliberation, but I wonder whether deliberation sometimes seduces us to conceiving of wicked problems as tame.

To enlarge the context--and with it these questions--a bit further, here is one point when Rittel and Webber compare tame and wicked problems:

The problems that scientists and engineers have usually focused upon are mostly "tame" or "benign" ones. As an example, consider a problem of mathematics, such as solving an equation; or the task of an organic chemist in analyzing the structure of some unknown compound; or that of the chessplayer attempting to accomplish checkmate in five moves. For each the mission is clear. It is clear, in turn, whether or not the problems have been solved.
Wicked problems, in contrast, have neither of these clarifying traits; and they include nearly all public policy issues--whether the question concerns the location of a freeway, the adjustment of a tax rate, the modification of school curricula, or the confrontation of crime. (160)

They also say that wicked problems are notoriously difficult to "define" and "locate" (159). Perhaps this is what deliberation increases--our means of defining and locating problems, of sorting out "what distinguishes an observed condition from a desired condition" and "finding where in the complex causal networks the trouble really lies" (159). Curriculum, which both sources list, is a fine example. But so is just about any composing situation, isn't it? Writing and rhetoric strike me as deeply, constantly, willingly entrenched in wicked problems, and perhaps only in reductive notions of techne and in formulism do we find disappointing instances of writing-understood-as-tame(d).

For a closely related thought-exercise, I scraped from the Rittel and Webber article the ten traits they assign to wicked problems. Selber draws correspondences between the first three and interface design problems, which profit "from a more rhetorical and less rational view of things" (154). Others on down the list might prove more difficult to align with interface design, specifically, but they do match up intriguingly with other problems encountered by writers.

  1. "There is no definitive formulation of a wicked problem" (161)
  2. "Wicked problems have no stopping rule" (162)
  3. "Solutions to wicked problems are not true-or-false, but good-and-bad" (162)
  4. "There is no immediate and no ultimate test of a solution to a wicked problem" (163)
  5. "Every solution to a wicked problem is a 'one-shot operation'; because there is no opportunity to learn by trial-and-error, every attempt counts significantly" (163)
  6. "Wicked problems do not have an enumerable (or an exhaustively describable) set of potential solutions, nor is there a well-described set of permissible operations that may be incorporated into the plan" (164)
  7. "Every wicked problem is essentially unique" (164)
  8. "Every wicked problem can be considered to be a symptom of another problem" (165)
  9. "The existence of a discrepancy representing a wicked problem can be explained in numerous ways. The choice of explanation determines the nature of the problem's resolution" (166)
  10. "The planner has no right to be wrong" (166)

The original article is worth a read, particularly for the way they elaborate each of these qualities of wicked problems. The degree of overlap between composing problems and wicked problems piles up, making this both a theory of problems/planning worth returning to and one I wished I'd noticed (and also deliberated) more fully a long time ago.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Elkins - The Object Stares Back (1996)

T hat 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)

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Science, Etc.

W e're wrapping up Kevin Kelly's What Technology Wants Tuesday night in 516. I won't offer a full-blown review here; maybe another time. For now, it suffices to characterize this as a precarious read for how out of the blue and underdeveloped some of these ideas are. That is, Kelly's discussion sometimes advances solidly for pages and then, suddenly and without forewarning, it plunges into the quicksand. I am saying this even while I continue to hold much of Kelly's other work in high regard, yet I have found in What Technology Wants more of these soft spots than I expected I would.

For instance, there's this:

Yet there is one legitimate way in which we can claim that Columbus discovered America, and the French-American explorer Paul du Chaillu discovered gorillas, and Edward Jenner discovered vaccines. They "discovered" previously locally known knowledge by adding it to the growing pool of structured global knowledge. Nowadays we would call that accumulating of structured global knowledge science. [...] Columbus's encounter put America on the map of the globe, linking it to the rest of the known world, integrating its own inherent body of knowledge into the slowly accumulating, unified body of verified knowledge. Columbus joined two large continents of knowledge into a growing consilient structure. (336)

That this turns up near the end, in a chapter called "Technology's Trajectories" and a section called "Structure," and, as well, that it is fitted between an ever-more-conciliatory argument for technological determinism and a large-scale, large-tarp theory of everything-technology called the Technium leaves me wishing for just a slightly tighter linkage between Columbus and science—if that linkage must be attempted in the first place, especially by putting Columbus on stage with du Chaillu and Jenner. Stepping sof...quicksand, possibly worse.

Here's another puzzler, two pages later:

The evolution of knowledge began with relatively simple arrangements of information. The most simple organization was the invention of facts. Facts, in fact, were invented. Not by science but by the European legal system, in the 1500s. In court lawyers had to establish agreed-upon observations as evidence that could not shift later. Science adopted this useful innovation. Over time, the novel ways in which knowledge could be ordered increased. This complex apparatus for relating new information to old is what we call science. (338)

Maybe it's adequate for Kelly to trace the origin of "facts" to Europe in the 1500s. But I read this and feel unsatisfied, fatigued: the linkage is too crude. Again, this is in a brief section called "Structure," which is, in effect, a tale of science as beholden to the Technium's build-up. And that I am impatient with the idea of facts being invented the way Kelly says they were is all the more aggravated by the unnecessarily grandiose flourishes in the book's concluding chapter, e.g., where this theory inflates to include (or assume correspondence with) God: "If there is a God, the arc of the technium is aimed right at him. I'll retell the Great Story of this arc again, one last time in summary, because it points way beyond us" (354). The circuit from science to facts to God: that's a lot to expect from one unifying theory of technology.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Another List

L ast time I ended by asking about Elbow's believing/doubting-game, "Do absurdity and hyperbole gain traction in the predominance of a doubting manner?" I think what I meant was, Do absurdity and hyperbole function most powerfully when we hold a doubting mindset? If believing goes along with things, grants ideas a chance, then absurdity and hyperbole must lose some of their shock effect under those conditions. Believers wouldn't find them unbelievable; believers would assent (temporarily) in these moments when critique is on hold.

Later in the article, there comes another list even more ramshackle seeming than the basketball-themed chunk I worked through the other day.

There are more personal emotional fears that reinforce the monopoly of the doubting game and which must therefore be explored here. I think we all fear, to a greater or lesser extent, being taken over, infected, or controlled by a bad or wrong idea. The believing game asks us, as it were, to sleep with any idea that comes down the road. To be promiscuous. We will turn into the girl who just can't say no. A yes-man. A flunky. A slave. Someone who can be made to believe anything. A large opening that anything can be poured into. Force-fed. Raped. (185)
Reading the essay (again, reading to decide its fit in a class I will soon teach), I hovered on this paragraph slightly longer than most because I found it difficult to play the believing game with it. Promiscuity, slavery, rape: here as tropes these are excessively blunt for explaining the risks in preferring one intellectual manner over another.  Because Elbow's list-work deals out these references in quick succession, I attempted to read it as a dare--a lure configured deliberately to remind readers that our believing has its limitations and that such limitations are often due for direct contemplation (e.g., attending to how hyperbole works on us). The paragraphs that follow confirm Elbow's concern for believing as an inroads to dangerous ideas--dangerous ideas that the doubting game's overeager critical impulse would shield from us: "What is needed is practice in learning to immerse the self gradually in the element perceived as dangerous--and it is just such a process that is constituted by the believing game" (186-187).  

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Theory Blackmailed, or Invention Hobbled?

Y esterday--day one of teaching in the new semester--did not quite go as planned, and in the wake of a couple of surprises, I didn't get around to posting like I intended to in recognition of the nth annual RB of September. After a few years such postings carry a some heavy, if solitarily imagined, burden of tradition. Thus, "theory blackmailed":

Many (still unpublished) avant-garde texts are uncertain: how to judge, to classify them, how to predict their immediate or eventual future? Do they please? Do they bore? Their obvious quality is of an intentional order: they are concerned to serve theory. Yet this quality is a blackmail as well (theory blackmailed): love me, keep me, defend me, since I conform to the theory you call for; do I not do what Artaud, Cage, etc. have done? --But Artaud is not just "avant-garde"; he is a kind of writing as well; Cage has certain charm as well... --But those are precisely the attributes which are not recognized by theory, which are sometimes even execrated by theory. At least make your taste and your ideas match, etc. (The scene continues, endlessly.) (54)

Why blackmailed? Translator Richard Howard could have selected a different connotation of "la chantage," e.g., bluff, or intimidation. When the avante-garde serves theory, theory in turn may be said to hobble invention, to wrap it in a splint, to contain it. I read in this Barthes passage a concern for theory's disciplining of innovation. Unexpectedly, this clicks with concerns in the Introduction and first chapter of Muckelbauer's The Future of Invention, a book I've just started. Related are questions about what becomes of "the attributes which are not recognized by theory," put another, perhaps more helpful way, Can theory keep up with avante-garde performances? Must it?

Anyway, happy RB Day, twice belatedly.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Halavais, Search Engine Society (2009)

A couple of months have lapsed since I read Alex Halavais's Search Engine Society; in fact, I read it in June while flying to Santa Fe and back. I need to return my copy to the library, and I wanted to post a few brief notes. Search Engine Society is a terrific introduction to search engines. Halavais achieves a nice (and what I would describe as a successful) balance between accessible prose and theoretical rigor. That is, I found the book exceedingly readable, but I could at the same time see frequently enough the theoretical surroundings Halavais brought to bear. Certainly it left me with the impression this book could have been more forwardly theoretical in its examination of search engines, but that it seamlessly achieves both is one reason I will be assigning a chapter for undergraduates this semester and I will likely include the full book this winter in ENGL516: Computers and Writing: Theory and Practice.

At just more than 200 pages, the book includes an introduction and eight chapters: 1. The Engines, 2. Searching (which I will ask students to read in ENGL326: Research Writing), 3. Attention, 4. Knowledge and Democracy, 5. Censorship, 6. Privacy, 7. Sociable Search, and 8. Future Finding. Among Halavais's opening acknowledgments are that data on searching practices is hard to come by. Public search engines capture a certain amount of data about queries and the IP addresses from which they are made, but we still have much to learn about how search is deployed privately, as when computer users look for files on their hard drives. The coverage of early chapters includes how search engines work, the history of searching the web, the known limitations of presumably whole-web search engines, the web-cultural importance of specialized search engines, crawlers, currency, the rise of social search, and much more. Again, what's here might seem--to one with an advanced technical understanding of search engines--like a broad survey, but I would add as a counterpoint that there's plenty here in terms of references and context to prime beginners to these--what I regard as an increasingly important set of issues.

I have adopted Ch. 2 for ENGL326 because it gets into issues of superficial or complacent (i.e., self-satisfied) search. Drawing on work by Hargittai and others, Halavais establishes how willing searchers are to scratch the surface. So, we will seek to extend questions Halavais poses, such as "How can you know which terms, or combination of terms, best targets the information you are after?" into our own work with Search Alerts and RSS. The chapter also gets into the value of serendipity for invention, the limitations of semantic search for different file types, re-finding, the invisible/deep web, "berrypicking" (Bates), and adaptive search: much, in other words, that will be of some use to students concerned with research writing.

Halavais's last two chapters bear on my research interests, as well. His discussion of sociable search touches upon collaborative filtering and tracing associations and challenges conventional sensibilities about the search engine as an algorithmic mechanism (that subdues agency or that disguises and promotes a malevolent corporate agenda). I appreciated that the book confronts--though perhaps not with especially clear cut solutions--questions of cultural production intrinsic to search engines, e.g., "Who will know?" (190). The "who will know?" question echoed for me with Foster's "I will not know," with disciplinary assumptions about the adequacy of search and databases. Halavais concludes the book with the "who will know?" question, noting that "[t]he term 'search engine' is far too prosaic for the role that search plays" (190).

"Search personalization represents one of the most active areas of research, but, as with search generally, by privileging certain sources over others there is the danger that a searcher can become trapped by her own search history" (52).

"The internet and the web likewise have been disruptive to the way attention is aggregated and distributed, and so it is worth asking whether there is a similar 'tyranny of the web'" (58)." Or, for that matter, whether attention fatigue is to blame for the "Death of the Web." Interesting to think that a preference for a locatable web (via search, via attention-corralled, if gated, networks) yields, if not the death of the web, a catatonic (kata- -tonos), or toned-down, web.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Sklar, "Methodological Conservativism"

Y esterday morning I spent an hour or so finishing up the reading for a philosophy of science reading group that convenes at EMU later this afternoon. The group met a few times late in the winter semester, but their schedule was at odds with mine. I wasn't able to attend a single meeting. A friend from last fall's new faculty orientation has organized the group, and for a few different reasons, I agreed to participate. Among those reasons are 1) eclectic reading, 2) cross-disciplinary conversations, and 3) the possibility that I might at some point teach ENGL505: Rhetoric of Science and Technology. Philosophy of science and rhetoric of science and technology are more close siblings than twins, but I see enough resemblances to make these conversations worth checking out.

We're working through Lawrence Sklar's Philosophy and Spacetime Physics (1985), the Intro and Chapter One are up for this week's get-together. The introduction is divided into "The Epistemology of Geometry" (4), "The Ontology of Spacetime Theories and Their Explanatory Role" (8), "Causal Order and Spatiotemporal Order" (15), and "Reflections on These Essays" (19).  In that final section, "Reflections," Sklar presents a few of key points related to his own methods and how to read the book. First, he nods to his earlier book, Space, Time, and Spacetime, saying readers would find some useful staging there, but adding that the current collection of essays should provide enough context to proceed without needing to begin at some earlier work on these topics.  Sklar adopts "a rather 'dialectic' means of investigation" (20), and appears wary of contextualizing spacetime philosophy only in terms of contemporary developments in physics. Instead, he explains, "the essays try to show that the work of theoretical science takes place in a context in which various philosophical presuppositions are, consciously or unconsciously, continuously being utilized to reach theoretical conclusions" (19). Those "philosophical presuppositions," then, are like trails of crumbs scattered unevenly out of various arcs of thought. The context Sklar prefers would allow us to do a better job of noticing flecks and textures in this mélange rather than deferring to philosophically to whatever is trending scientifically these days. Sklar reminds readers that "a good way to approach this book would be to read through the essays from beginning to end, not worrying about the places where full comprehension is elusive" (21). Noted: not worrying.

C. 1, "Methodological Conservativism"
The chapter begins with a passage from John Barth's novel, The End of the Road. I'll share the entire epigraph, since it nicely encapsulates the problem Sklar addresses in the chapter, i.e., how to decide.
Don't let yourself get stuck between alternatives, or you're lost. You're not that strong. If the alternatives are side by side choose the one on the left; if they're consecutive in time, choose the earlier. If neigher of these applies, choose the alternative whose name begins with the earlier letter of the alphabet. These are the principles of Sinistrality, Antecedence, and Alphabetic Priority--there are others, and they're arbitrary, but useful. Good-bye.
There are, of course, dangers in attempting to sum up a chapter like this that so deliberately comes at things from as many angles as possible, but, in effect, the chapter echoes with "continue believing what you already believe" or "don't fall victim to alluring new theories that are at odds with personal knowledge" (there are moments early on when this reminds me of Polanyi...brief moments).  Sklar offers as an example that "There is nothing, as far as I can see, in the physical theory which existed prior to 1917 which would lead one to prefer a theory of curved spacetime to one with 'universal forces'" (31). I write this as someone who has never studied physics, and yet the guiding principle, if I can reduce it to one, is that methodological conservativism wards against a breezy philosophical manner willing to believe something new when its warrants are at odds with what one already knows (confirmed empirically, or by direct sense experience).

Sklar writes elliptically (i.e., with oblong orbit) around these terms, allowing for possibilities that concepts like "conservativism" might not be quite right:
Obviously the application of the conservative principle is simpler and more decisive in the case where we are concerned with sticking with a hypothesis which we already do believe than it is in the case of selecting from among a set of novel hypotheses. So let us focus on this situation. Is the adoption of the rule justified or reasonable even in these cases? Clearly the rule does resolve a dilemma for us--it tells us to stick with the theory we have and not to drop it for one of the newly discovered alternatives nor to lapese into a skeptical suspension of belief. But is conservativism itself warranted? (32)
I guess the next question for me would be "What does a standard preference for conservativism obstruct, delay, or waylay?"  Sklar seems to have an interest in the consequences of too willingly believing what's new, but there must likewise be consequences linked to the alternative he recommends. One clear gain is that methodological conservativism holds skepticism at bay, but I am, after reading, still wondering about the reach of these ideas, their implications.

In Part V of the chapter, Sklar situates conservativism in relation to five different belief justifications.  The justifications are
1. Justification by Intuition
2. Justification by Codification of Practice
3. Justification by Appeal to Higher Rules
4. Justification by Empirical Grounding
5. Justification by Appeal to Means and Ends
Justification itself aligns with a rationalist credo, and, in its philosophical orientation, this work gravitates toward empirical rationalism (I'm almost sure Sklar would trouble this characterization, even describing it as unhelpful "sloganeering"). 

A few more illustrative quotations/terms:
"A hidebound refusal ever to change one's belief's is nothing but irrational dogmatism. But the desire to maintain the beliefs one already has unless there is some good reason to change them is as rational as the programmatic commitment to maintain one's social institutions unless there is some reason to revise them" (38).

lemmata (41): "a subsidiary position or proposition introduced to support or advance a larger proposition"

"I think an argument might go like this. Suppose we believe H1 and then discover H2 which is just as plausible, on all but conservative grounds, as H1 relative to present evidence. What should we do? The conservative tells us that considerations of utility recommend our sticking to our present belief. But that is not necessarily what utility does necessitate.  What we should do depends, first of all, on the relevant utlities in the particular case  of not believing anything, believing something and having it be true, and believing something and having it be false. Just how important is it (on either "practical" or "purely scientific" grounds) for us to have some belief or other? If it is not all that important, then the thing to do is to admit that one just has no idea which hypothesis is true and remain in a skeptical withholding of judgment until further evidence is in" (42).

"Conservativism is not just a minor 'last resort' principle invoked only when all other principles have failed to do the selecting job for us. Conservativism is, in fact, so deeply and pervasively embedded in our schema for deciding what it is rational to believe that once we have seen the full role that it plays we are likely to reject the alternatives to it of skepticism, which tells us to withhold belief from any of the alternatives, of permissivism which tells us it is all right to pick any one we choose, or of speaking of our choices as being 'adoptions' rather than beliefs" (43).

Sklar develops the idea of "methodological conservativism" for a particular philosophical quandary, but these ideas may very well generalize to other philosophical domains any time something new and something pragmatically known collide.  In fact, for rhetoric and composition, there are resonances here for how people talk about continuing to do what they have always done (Does methodological conservativism help explain current-traditional pedagogy, perhaps as entrenched belief-in-action?).  One other issue I'm weighing heading into this afternoon's meeting is Why "methodological"?  Is this a method for philosophizing? A method for thinking? A method for deciding what to believe? And what, besides skepticism, permissivism, and semantic reframings are alternatives to this methodological orientation, not only in physics, but elsewhere, as well?

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Can Writing Studies Claim Craft Knowledge and More?

R obert Johnson's recent CCC article, "Craft Knowledge: Of Disciplinarity in Writing Studies," argues that "craft knowledge" can function effectively as a warrant for disciplinary legitimacy.  He sets up "craft knowledge" against an Aristotelian backdrop of techne, or arts of making, and advances a view of "craft knowledge" as a solution to still-raging disputes over the disciplinary status of writing studies (notably not "rhetoric and composition").  "Still-raging" is casting it too strongly; unsettled and ongoing are perhaps better matches with the characterization of those disputes in this speculative discipliniography--an article that imagines felicitous horizons for the field. As I read, I wasn't especially clear whose conflicted sensibility would be rectified by invoking craft knowledge. Among Johnson's concerns with the status of writing studies are 1) that it does not carry adequate clout (or recognition, for that matter) necessary for grant writing and 2) that it does not influence neighboring fields whose inquiries would be, by the input of those trained in writing studies, enriched.

On the problem of disciplinary status for grant writing, Johnson writes,

When the traditional disciplines--the so-called established fields of inquiry and production--work in an interdisciplinary manner, they in most cases still hold onto their disciplinary identity. This is painfully evident for those in writing studies when applying for external grant funding.  On the application forms from such agencies as the National Science Foundation (NSF), National Institutes of Health (NIH), and even the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), for example, applicants must identify their resident discipline in order to be eligible. (680-681)

Have recent changes with CIP codes impacted this?  I don't know; I am not currently working on any grants.  But I did find the CIP 23.13 categories and language extraordinarily helpful last winter during my program's meetings for MA curriculum revisions. Perhaps this classification scheme will soon extend disciplinary identification options beyond the National Research Council to the agencies Johnson names. Certainly the codes are recent development and one that ought to propel writing studies in the direction of improved statistical tracking for disciplinary activities, like dissertation projects.

The second problem--reciprocity--amounts to disciplinary neglect: writing studies scholarship is not cited frequently enough outside of writing studies scholarship: "I see little evidence that writing voices are heard, let alone cited, by the scholars in [the history and sociology of science and technology]" (681).  This issue came up in the carnival two summers ago. I wish I could say with great confidence that we have a good grasp on what is being cited and where. I offer this not because I doubt whether Johnson is correct.  For a "most telling example," he points to How Users Matter, a 2005 edited collection from MIT Press: "Virtually no one in writing studies, rhetoric, or usability studies is cited" (681). A more comprehensive study of citation in neighboring/overlapping fields would, of course, ground such a claim even more deeply and, as well, serve as a basis for investigating what import field-external citation has on disciplinary legitimacy in other cases.

I'll let these notes rest here for now. I learned a lot from reading Johnson's Platonic and Aristotelean retracing of techne through five aspects of its four causes (676+), especially where he complicates ethics for the technite and the phronomoi (679). While I felt a bit distracted by the thicket of metaphors in the "Interlude" section (i.e., duck, swords, swipes, paths, forest, and soup), and while I am more at ease than Johnson seems to be with the idea of writing studies (or rhetoric and composition, as I prefer to think of it, unhip though this may well be), I do find disciplinarity enriched by the idea of "craft knowledge," whether we aim for interdisciplinary ventures, as Johnson would like us to, whether we continue to wage legitimation efforts with large-scale research agencies, or both.

Johnson, Robert. "Craft Knowledge: Of Disciplinarity in Writing Studies." CCC 61.4 (2010): 673-690.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Proust and the Squid

I finished Maryanne Wolf's Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain early this spring, and I have been meaning to revive the blog again periodically for reading notes, so catch as catch can. Initially, I picked up Wolf's book because I wanted to know how she dealt with the endangered status of reading in the age of the internet, in terms of carrying through as both "story" and "science" of how the reading brain does neurologically what it does. Wolf's book also figured into Nicholas Carr's 2008 Atlantic Monthly article, "Is Google Making Us Stupid?", and Carr has been drawing attention (on techrhet and from bloggers) more recently following the release of The Shallows. In Carr's AM article, Wolf was cited as one whose foreboding research insights affirm Carr's "I'm not the only one" suspicions about the superficiality of reading experiences at the interface. Carr wrote,

Wolf worries that the style of reading promoted by the Net, a style that puts "efficiency" and "immediacy" above all else, may be weakening our capacity for the kind of deep reading that emerged when an earlier technology, the printing press, made long and complex works of prose commonplace. When we read online, she says, we tend to become "mere decoders of information." Our ability to interpret text, to make the rich mental connections that form when we read deeply and without distraction, remains largely disengaged. (para. 8)

I used Carr's article in the Fall 2008 semester as an an opening provocation for WRT195, a course concerned primarily with Google literacy, but returning to it now as I put together a few notes on Proust and the Squid, small pieces of the passage click much differently these two years later.  First, "worry" is exactly right.  "Worry" nicely sums up what Wolf does with respect to the impact of screens and networked digital media on reading.  At the first mention of reading the Internet, Wolf contemplates the "Google universe of [her] children" and then lists eight or nine worrying questions, e.g., "Can we preserve the constructive dimension of reading in our children alongside their growing abilities to perform multiple tasks and to integrate ever-expanding amounts of information?" (16). Even more striking, however, is the way she follows up the digressive paragraph with, "I stray with these questions.  But indeed we stray often when we read." The aside is curious, given that straying is one key source of trepidation with "reading" at computer screens: hypertext's ontology assumes straying.  Yet Wolf is not talking here about reading hypertext or "reading" at/through post-paperdigmatic interfaces; rather, she refers to an act akin to Proust-euphoric reading--sunlit afternoons curled in a window seat or hammock with Remembrance of Things Past. That "we stray often when we read" touches off a couple of by now well rehearsed problems for reading and cognition. It also demonstrates how straying is as much a function of the "text" as of the reader (i.e., Wolf launches the paragraph of questions). The greater concern for conventional reading, then, boils down to the excess of wandering protocols--dementions--in digital read/write domains.

Second, Carr's repetition of "style" stands out. What does it mean for a "style of reading" to be "promoted by the Net"?  This style puts efficiency and immediacy ahead of other stylistic qualities, perhaps not unlike Will Strunk's "little book" did when it unexpectedly blazed a trail for school-writerly consciousness in the U.S. with its slick, memorable maxims such as "Omit needless words." Of course, efficiency and immediacy are not rare values exclusive to wiki-quick or short-form writers of the web, as anyone in news journalism, technical/professional communication, or writing in the sciences can attest. And perhaps stylistic uniformity is cause for concern wherever it settles, although the web can hardly be described as stylistically normative for readers or writers. No matter, by the end of Proust and the Squid, Wolf expresses a compromising stance in the epic showdown between print pages and screens:

In the transmission of knowledge the children and teachers of the future should not be faced with choice between books and screens, between newspapers and capsuled versions of the news on the Internet, or between print and other media. Our transition generation has an opportunity, if we seize it, to pause and use our most reflective capacities, to use everything at our disposal to prepare for the formation of what will come next. The analytical, inferential, perspective-taking, reading brain with all its capacity for human consciousness, and the nimble, multi-functional, multi-modal, information-integrative capacities of a digital mind-set to nod need to inhabit exclusive realms. (228)

Wolf addresses reading the web briefly in a handful of other moments:
16: The paragraph of questions mentioned above.
77: Another paragraph of questions working through what it might mean for a knowledge-as-virtue tradition "to learn very, very quickly about virtually anything, anywhere, anytime at an 'unguided' computer screen."
85: On the "reciprocal relationship between emotional development and reading."  This is not explicitly about shifts in literacy's materiality, per se, but the issue is in some respects conspicuous by omission: the scene involves emotional development when a child reads a book (and only a book) on a parent's lap, not co-navigating a mobile device, gaming together, or reading something online.
132: Privileges a slow, methodical wandering associated with conventional reading; contrasts that with haste and a sense of sufficiency that comes with quick/short encounters. There are a couple of kinds of wandering operating here.
213: In the conclusion now, Wolf restates her valuing of a slow reading and explains differences with Ray Kurzweil's work on speeding up toward the singularity.
225: Leads into the compromised position above, but also wields strong judgments such as, "Many students who have cut their teeth on relatively effortless Internet access may not yet know how to think for themselves" (225).

I found the Proust and squid metaphors surprising for how disproportionately they are developed in the book.  Proust comes up quite often.  His notion of reading as "sanctuary" is commended consistently by Wolf, idealized even, and this historical "optimum case" for reading cements for Wolf's celebration of book-reading a formidable and unproblematic teleology--one that makes it much more sensible seeming to bombard interface-reading with wariness. The squid comes up much less often, only twice, in fact: on pp. 5-6 and again on p. 226.  Here is an excerpt from the latter:

In a book devoted to the reading brain it would be easy enough to skip over the contributions of a brain ill-suited to reading. But the squid who doesn't swim quickly has a lot to teach about how it learns to compensate. This is an imperfect analogy, to be sure, because the squid's ability to swim is genetic and a squid who can't swim quickly would very likely die. But if a poor-swimming squid not only didn't die, but went on to beget 5 to 10 percent of the squid population, one would have to ask what in the world that squid had going for itself that made it so successful despite the missing capacity. Reading isn't laid down genetically, and the child who can't learn to read doesn't die. More significantly, the genes associated with dyslexia have survived robustly. (227)

So the squid who adapts slowly to swim despite its genetic predisposition is analogous to the survivor of dyslexia who copes and in many cases thrives in textually intensive environments (note: dyslexia at the center of Wolf's research and this is reflected in the book).  But the squid metaphor does not pertain to the calamitous onset of interface-reading, at least not by the book's design.  Whether or not we should extend the squid's against-all-odds story to the web is, I suppose, one of the conversations Proust and the Squid would be useful for setting up.

Finally, in an effort to emulate Hipster Runoff's quizzotic style:
What do you worry about when you read old-fashioned books? When you read online?
Has your brain turned into goo because of Google Buzz, Twitter, or Wikipedia?
How many times did you stray from reading this entry before you arrived at these questions?
Will you buy Nicholas Carr's new book? Will you teach it in a class?
What about Wolf's book? Will you read it?
Has your writing style suffered because of the internet? Are you efficient and immediate when you write online?
How much Proust is on your summer reading list?
When you eat calamari do you contemplate whether the squid it came from was a skillful swimmer?

Monday, March 1, 2010

Same Room, Different Century

A week ago Sunday, I followed a link posted at The Blogora that pointed to a 2007 New Yorker article, "The Interpreter." The article lays plain the research and travels of Dan Everett, a linguistics professor at Illinois State, who has dedicated most of his career to discerning patterns in a language spoken by an Amazonian tribe called the Pirahã. Honestly, as I followed the link, I didn't expect to read the whole thing, but after a couple of paragraphs, I was in the article's clutches. Rather than quit it, I pressed on, figuring it fit in nicely enough with the ideal-ambition of keeping alive eclectic reading habits as a beginning assistant professor.

The article does a nice job of introducing, albeit with great simplification, Everett's research and setting it in relation to Chomsky's propositions about universal grammar. Pirahã language practices are, according to the article, a "severe counterexample" to Chomsky's famous theory. I won't attempt a full summary of the article here. Instead, I want to pick up just one line from the essay--a line that has grown louder and louder in my head this week since I read it. It comes up late in the essay, in a scene where Tecumsah Fitch, another linguist, visits Everett in the Amazon to corroborate his claims about the absence of recursion in the Pirahã language. Fitch ends up fumbling with computer equipment. The equipment acts up due to high humidity; Fitch leaves the lab-tent to attempt repairs, while Everett remains with the reporter and a young Pirahã man.

At this moment, according to the article, Everett says, "'But the problem here is not cognitive; it's cultural.' He gestured toward the Pirahã man at the table. 'Just because we're sitting in the same room doesn't mean we're sitting in the same century.'"

Same room, different century. For Everett, this identifies a methodological quandary: how to traverse discordant temporalities in a culture's language development, especially in light of popular, contemporary language theories. But the room-century line is suggestive of much more, even if it only points out the possibility of two people occupying common time-space when they are not in the same century. I find it to be a rich paradox, perhaps more for how well it generalizes to everyday encounters concerning technology. I mean, have you ever had a technology-focused experience in which you thought, "which century are we"?

I suppose that sounds judgmental. I don't mean it quite that way. Let me try again. Maybe it would help to revive, for these purposes, Alfred Korzybski's peculiar system of time-stamping words (I'm remembering that something like this comes up in Nicotra's RSQ article on Burke and the General Semantics movement, but my copy is at the office right now, so...remembering will have to do). Including the date in a superscript annotation offers us a different handle on a term's temporal shifts, helping us locate its valences in time. I have no idea if this impression of time-stamping aligns with its function for General Semantics; no idea at all. But it does help me think through the same room, different century problem. By reviving time-stamp markups, that is, we could more readily differentiate computers1995 from computers2010, the Internet1998 from the internet2006, or composition1985 from composition2009, or rhetoric1965 from rhetoric2012. May be nothing more than a passing curiosity, a late winter thought experiment. And I doubt it would be much good in conversation: too fumbly, too parenthetical. But I can think of a handful of occasions, such as, say, in a course syllabus, when it would help position everyone in the same year to differentiate writingthesedays from writingassumedtobeeternal. Some day I2050 hope to look more deeply into time-annotation or time-binding (?) for the General Semanticists than I have here.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The City & ytiC ehT

L ate last week I finished China Mieville's latest, The City & ytiC ehT. TC & CT is a detective story, but it's not just any detective story (what Mieville calls a "police procedural"). In terms of theoretical richness, this one holds even with Perdido Street Station and The Scar. Mieville creates a pair of cities fraught with boundary in.discretions. Citizens from Beszel and Ul Qoma pass by each other every day, but as they do so they must unsee people and things from the other city. Even where the borders become confusing overlaps, in cross-hatched zones likely to draw heavy traffic from autos and pedestrians, unseeing remains a necessary tactic (sort of the opposite of panoptic conditioning; unseeing here as deliberate, uneasy negligence). Political, jurisdictional consequences are of course tied to this cities-wide condition. Within this intricate third-spacious scene, Mieville works up a novel that jets along with surprising acceleration: mystery elements, hazy figures, and ethereal domains, also detective work that relies on the knowledge available even while deliberately unseeing and smudge-remembering what is present (that is, a kind of audiovisually unconfirmed felt sense).

I'd say more, but I already returned the copy to Collin, who both recommended it and lent it to me, and since it was a borrowed copy, no margin notes, no dog-eared pages. But this entry is to say, pick it up. It's a lively, quick read, very much the sort of thing you still have time for even if you feel summer fading to fall.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Everything Inventive Is Good For You

E arlier this week I wrapped up Steven Johnson's latest, The Invention of Air, a pop-sci biography of Joseph Priestley. The book was typical, enjoyable Johnson: cleverly woven anecdotes, theoretical hints concerning networks and ecologies of influence, and iterative trigger-phrases that pop just enough to keep the narrative lively and fast-moving. I soared through the first 160 pages in-flight last Friday and then got back into the final chapters a couple of days ago. And I liked the book very much, except that it slowed ever so slightly near the end: the young, experimental Priestley was more provocative than the aging, dislocated Priestley. The latter, it turns out, suffered late in the religious and political aspects of his life because of the the same "congenital openness" (190) (or "chronic intellectual openness" (142)) that helped him become so influential on enlightenment scientific inquiry, and this section of the book worked at a noticeably different pace than the one dealing with Priestley's tinkering with plants.

Johnson characterizes his own ecological approach to Priestley's life with the phrase "long zoom":

Ecosystem theory has changed our view of the planet in countless ways, but as an intellectual model it has one defining characteristic: it is a "long zoom" science, one that jumps from scale to scale, and from discipline to discipline, to explain its object of study: from the microbiology of bacteria, to the cross-species flux of nutrient cycling, to the global patterns of weather systems, all the way out to the physics that explains how solar energy collides with the Earth's atmosphere. (45)

The "long zoom", thus, is both a description of Priestley's intellectual manner and also Johnson's method of developing the biography. "Long zoom" is an idea Johnson incubated in an NYU seminar he taught on Cultural Ecosystems and through an invited talk he gave to the Long Now Foundation in 2007 (according to footnotes in TIoA). I doubt that The Invention of Air does full justice to the concept as Johnson thinks of it, but the project does, on the other hand, seem to enact the "long zoom." In the passage above, the reference to scale-jumping exposes one of the rough edges of the concept. The "zoom" also comes off as predominantly vertical, along the lines of the orders of magnitude, more than horizontal or some combination of the two (viz. networked); it is not, in other words, a "long pan" or "long track" (here I'm thinking of the extended camera metaphors--pan, track, zoom--adopted smartly by Rosenwasser and Stephen when they talk about inquiry, research, and modes of engaging with an object of study). I mean that Johnson's "long zoom," even though he does not say so explicitly in The Invention of Air, seems to work both horizontally, vertically, and extra-dimensionally, as suited to networked relations as to ordered magnitudes, and all the while alert to the dangers in too recklessly skipping from one scale to another (Latour).

Priestley comes to light as a "roving" intellectual (205), one whose "hot hand" series of scientific breakthroughs culminated as consequence of a 30-year "long hunch" he'd been following (70). The "long zoom"--a kind of scale-shifting, one-thing-leads-to-another approach--allows Johnson to pin down Priestley's knowledge-making wanderluck. Yet, at another point, Priestley's success with hunches appears to be as much grounded in his "knack for 'socializing' with his own ideas" (74) as a credit to his roving, generalist sensibility. Where Johnson writes of Priestley's affinity for socializing with his own ideas, TIoA comes remarkably close to delivering a product placement ad for DevonThink--almost to the point of making me thing I'd read about it before (re: Johnson, not Priestley).

There is much more to say about The Invention of Air, but I'm out of time, viz. paradigms and anomalies (44), coffee and coffeehouses (54), hack vs. theoretician (62), ecosystems view of the world (82).

Monday, August 4, 2008

In Bad Decline

I f you bumped into me on the sidewalk or in the hallway, I might have mentioned that the visit--now one month ago--to Gettysburg on the Fourth of July was, um, thought-provoking in all sorts of unanticipated ways.  The places--war memorials, battlefields, and the famous cemetery--struck a chord with me. I was intrigued by being there.  But I thought some of the re-enactment stuff was odd--odd dialed beyond historical fetishism and into a new range of fantastical dress-up geekery.  I recovered and was more or less granted amnesty, I think, for what was a glaring foot-in-mouth moment during which I compared the degree of geekery between Civil War re-enactors and the Lucas-heads who attend Star Wars conventions dressed as Chewy and C3PO. 

In one of those subsequent, casual, "we went to Gettysburg" hallway conversations, I mentioned how the re-enactments left me with a lingering uneasiness about what was happening at those sites now. Re-enacting war is a strange brew: a half-and-half concoction blending parts of the worst of Hollywood spectacle and adult play-acting (no matter how seriously) in the grim, horrific, and atrocious war-deeds perpetrated on those now-hallowed grounds. Chilling, but hard to pin down because I didn't openly object to it (the geekery comment was never meant to disparage anyone), and I don't have any problem with gestures of tribute, respect, and commemoration.

Eventually, in that hallway conversation, the person I was talking with asked me if I'd read George Saunders' short story "CivilWarLand in Bad Decline."  I hadn't read it; hadn't read anything by Saunders, even though his name is the first one that pops up when I mention Writing Program and Syracuse U. to anyone who has lived in Central N.Y. for a few years (and then I have to explain how Saunders is in the creative writing program, which hangs its colorful hat in English and Textual Studies, and 'no I've never met him or studied with him', and so on, until the perplexed looks give way to a change of topic).  "CivilWarLand in Bad Decline," if you haven't read it, is a dystopian romp through a gang-plagued, run-down, underfunded Civil War park.  At breakneck pace, Saunders writes of a great range of escapades as the ethic of historical preservation gives way to a relentless assault by modern forces.  Reading it did not make me feel better about the re-enactments; neither did it make me feel worse.  But I laughed, and I also thought more carefully about that profoundly difficult balance between celebrating war and properly reckoning with the horrible mess it always (and to this day) makes of lives.

Here's Saunders, a point where the new gun-loving employee joins the staff at CivilWarLand:

Just after lunch next day a guy shows up at Personnel looking so completely Civil War they immediately hire him and send him out to sit on the porch of the old Kriegal place with a butter churn. His name's Samuel and he doesn't say a word going through Costuming and at the end of the day leaves on a bike. I do the normal clandestine New Employee Observation from the O'Toole gazebo and I like what I see. He seems to have a passable knowledge of how to pretend to churn butter. At one point he makes the mistake of departing from the list of Then-Current Events to discuss the World Series with a Visitor, but my feeling is, we can work with that. All in all he presents a positive and convincing appearance, and I say so in my review. (14)

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Call: CCCarnival

 First posted July 14, 2008.

Related entries:
Splitting Images
Kopelson's "Sp(l)itting Images"
more thoughts on rhet/comp disciplinary futures
Response to Karen Kopelson's "Sp(l)itting Images; or, Back to the Future of (Rhetoric and?) Composition"
New Echo, New Narcissus
Pedagogy of Rhet/Comp Job Market Imperatives
Carnival on Kopelson: The Pedagogical Imperative and Borrowing Theory
Spitting Images
Joining the CCCarnival: Kopelson's "Sp(l)itting Images"
Kopelson's Back to the Wall: Resisting Responsibility
Inversion and Dissolution
Theory and Interdisciplinarity: Kopelson Part Two
Kopelson carnival - my first take
CCC Carnival: Sp(l)itting Images
Kopelson (1): Stuck on paragraph 4
The Pedagogical Imperative: Kopelson Part I

Anyone interested in a carnival? After glancing the latest CCC (59.4) at a coffee shop Saturday morning, I had the distinctive and lasting impression that "Sp(l)itting Images; or, Back to the Future of (Rhetoric and?) Composition" would be a good choice for a swarm of late July entries.  Kopelson's article covers a lot of ground, from a survey of grad students and faculty at two institutions, to three of the chasms in the field (pedagogical imperative, theory/practice split, and the brambles of identifying by varying ratios among those two terms, rhetoric and composition), to a call for concerning ourselves less with ourselves.  Ripe! because I endured a great range of responses while reading it.

Here's what I'm thinking: If you're in, do what you can to post some sort of response by one week from today--the 21st. I'll try to keep tabs on all of the links, but feel free to send a trackback. Then we can kick around spin-offs, interjections, and retractions through the end of the month.

Also, here is how I will measure the success of the carnival:

12-15 participants: Wow.  There really is living comp/rhet blogosphere.
9-12 participants: Terrific.  Something told me the article was carnival worthy.
6-8 participants: Just great.  There is a value in reading what others think (esp. while out to sea with the diss).
2-5 participants: Um, it's late July.  What are you, on vacation?
0-1 participant: Witness spikes in traffic at E.W.M.


Kopelson, Karen. "Sp(l)itting Images; or, Back to the Future of (Rhetoric and?) Composition." CCC 59.4 (2008): 750-780. [Carnival]

Monday, July 21, 2008

New Echo, New Narcissus

K opelson writes,

Yet, as composition studies is distinct in its penchant for 'borrowing,' we are also, in my opinion, unrivaled in our proclivity for self-examination. I am not arguing that this is an unimportant activity, but only that the costs are indeed high when self-scrutiny comes at the expense of taking up other critical concerns and of making other, more innovative and far-reaching forms of knowledge (775).

This appears in the final section of the essay, the part titled "Conclusion: Banishing Echo and Narcissus." Here, Kopelson takes exception with the field's self-reflexivity, the growing heap of self-interested and self-absorbed assessments of where we are or where we are heading. There is an unidentified villain here, and I wondered as I read whether Kopelson has any favorite 'misses', accounts that get it terribly wrong or that are built up on marsh-lands of mushy data.

Reading this section and the quotation above in particular, I had the sense that Kopelson wasn't as interested in "banishing" Echo and Narcissus as in giving them overhauls, in renewing them, even in teaching them how to resonate and reflect less recklessly. In other words, what is wrong with many self-reflexive disciplinary accounts (or "discipliniographies" to lift and bend a term Maureen Daly Goggin introduces in Authoring a Discipline) is that they succumb to a localist impulse. That is, they un-self-conciously extrapolate from local experience and anecdotal evidence onto the field at large, projecting some local knowledge onto the expansive abstraction that is the discipline (however we imagine it to be). The localist impulse can take many different shapes; often it is akin to reading patterns through the course of an individual career (i.e., "in my thirty years at Whatsittoyou U.") or by cherry-picking from an exceedingly thin selection of data (titles of conference presentations or tables of contents for teacher training manuals). We all do this to some extent--making sense of the field at large through our local, immediate experiences, but it is dangerous to arrive at conclusions about the field (or world) at-large solely by examining one's own neighborhood.

What I'm getting at is that I don't have any beef with the disciplinary practice of self-examination. Perhaps there are more than a handful of fields in the academy that would benefit from more of it. I hold history (the calling of others who've navigated this canyon) and reflection in high regard (perhaps not to the ill-fated extremes of Echo and Narcissus). Resonanceresonanceresonance and reflection are valuable, especially for newcomers, for the "new converts" Kopelson mentions. But they will not be successful--or very useful--until they get beyond that localist impulse, until they involve earnest field-wide data collections and collaboratively built databases. I don't know how well this matches with Kopelson's "innovative and far-reaching forms of knowledge," but it is increasingly where my own interests lie. If those far-reaching forms of knowledge included disciplinary data (even simple stuff, like how many programs offer undergraduate writing majors), they could generate insights about disciplinarity. In the meantime those full-view insights will continue to elude us as long as we leap from local knowledge to widespread pattern, without addressing sufficiently the intermediary scales.

Kopelson, Karen. "Sp(l)itting Images; or, Back to the Future of (Rhetoric and?) Composition." CCC 59.4 (2008): 750-780. [Carnival]

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Spitting Images

A passing tribute to having wrapped up Dan Roam's The Back of the Napkin last night, I figured why not throw down a few images in the spirit of keeping things carnivalesque. Roam is a marker-carrying whiteboarder whose core premise is that we spark insights into complex problems by treating them to a simplified and illustrated version. I doubt that I have played strictly by the heuristics he introduces in the book; nevertheless, I do find some of the stark oversimplifications in these first four images helpful for thinking through some of what Kopelson sets up in the article.

Setting aside the pedagogical imperative for a moment, here's one way I've tried to come at the problem of lingering dichotomies in the field. In this mock up, I don't mean to imply that the axes are unchanging, but I do find it compelling to ask--at this abstract level--whether they are shifting or whether we are shifting or both. Both and then some, right? Over the course of study in any graduate program, we might expect that orientations would shift. Coursework often encourages this sort of dabbling for the sake of settling where to avoid and where to be, at least for now. How greatly these orientations shift depend on many variables, of course, but it stands to reason that they are determined partially by outside factors: the shape of the graduate curriculum, the training and expertise of faculty leading particular courses, and so on.

(Endlessly?) Shifting Orientations

Forgive for a second that I'm switching from when? to who? in the image below. I have done this simply to suggest that committees, too, probably do not crowd into any one box on this (admittedly problematic) grid. In fact, twenty years ago (even ten years ago?), few programs had an adequate number of rhet/comp faculty that a full committee could coexist on this grid. Why should this matter? Well, for one thing, it seems to me there is some value in having a committee whose perspectives, in a highly cooperative and professional manner, differ. This is not meant to characterize my committee or anyone's in particular, but it does suggest how the "pedagogical imperative" comes to roost: it can be summoned by just one question: application?

Committee Composition

Another way to split this out is to change "practice" to "application," and then to expect that any proposed project that gravitates in a corner risks seeming out of touch with the other areas. Does this matter? Perhaps and perhaps not. But I would think a project in which, let's say, every chapter is concerned with rhetorical analysis (as rhetoric applied) might be strengthened by certain careful gestures to other areas. This, by the way, doesn't run afoul of anything in Kopelson's article. Maybe--if it does anything at all--it helps explain how guiding questions come about, especially when a project is exceedingly committed to a narrowly focused "corner." Kopelson writes, "Yet, as my forthcoming analysis demonstrates, reductive though it is, this account of 'the battle' nonetheless reflects a disciplinary reality: after two decades of discussion, there are corners of the discipline in which the conversation remains stalled, where the theory/practice split remains entrenched, and where its resultant pedagogical imperative holds sway" (752). Yes. Still, I am not clear about how to reckon those corners and the specialization they imply with the more wholesome, middled stances that demand a generalist's wherewithal. This tension is sharper because of Kopelson's call for "developing our own brand of specialized knowledge" (751). Should we root that "specialized knowledge" at the crossroads (incidentally, where we find the most corners converging) or elsewhere?

Out of Whack?

Below I have turned from the hypothetical dissertation-in-a-corner to my own. Chs. 1-4 are well-enough drafted that I can justify their positions. Ch. 5 is underway, and these few pages into it, I can see it moving through matters of the rhetoricity of maps to the limits of representationalism as a cartographic imperative (What? You can tell just by that line that I haven't written the whole thing yet?!). Chapter Six will do everything that remains, and so I have centered it up: bullseye. But again, beyond indulging in my own reflective moment, I am trying to get traction on the ways in which these orientations co-exist and play out with considerably more refinement in specific cases than they do for something as abstract and unwieldy as the field-at-large. Further, I anticipate questions that will ask me to explain my choices, given that my committee's orientations will not precisely overlap the orientations of these chapters (or: this is some of what happens throughout revisions; or: this is how a candidate does or does not become the spitting image of a committee).

Restoring Order to the Universe in C. 6

Finally, because by now you are impatient with the grid, one more sp(l)it image.

Will We?

Kopelson, Karen. "Sp(l)itting Images; or, Back to the Future of (Rhetoric and?) Composition." CCC 59.4 (2008): 750-780. [Carnival]

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Inversion and Dissolution

O bviously I am interested Kopelson's revisitation of ages old and still going tensions for the field of rhetoric and composition. The margins of my copy bear out busy strings of alternating yesses and questions; I suppose I'll focus this entry on a couple of the questions.

Any time I come across suggestions of the field's dissolution, I want to go as directly as I can to the evidence. What are the forms of evidence supporting this or that impression that the field is gradually changing toward some state of (presumably undesirable, even disastrous) dissolution? Also: What idyllic disciplinary model is lurking as the milk and honey benchmark against which judgments of dissolution are alleged? I mean that the suggestion of a trend toward dissolution conjures up an idealized state of the discipline. From when? Where? And just how abstract is it? (I have monkeyed with this idea in the diss, but also in some of the material on the side that won't make it into the diss, like the stuff on the Golden Age).

Kopelson puts it like this in one spot:

But whatever your particular vision of the divide [between theory and practice], and wherever you lay blame (or praise) for it--with the elitist, ponderous, past-dwelling rhetoricians, or the professionalizing, pragmatic, present-dwelling compositionists--there is evidence that the seeds of dissolution are indeed being sown. (770)

About the evidence: In this article, it amounts to (x? number) of survey responses from graduate students at two institutions--programs in the Consortium, I would guess, and a sampling of sources that have dealt more or less directly in reflections upon or critiques of disciplinarity: Dobrin, Spellmeyer, North, Swearingen, Mulderig, among others. Perhaps this is adequate for establishing dissolution, perhaps not. This is not to cast doubts on Kopelson's evidence (it is, after all, reflective of pocketed perceptions of dissolution), as much as it is to say that the change is more of situated (daresay anecdotal?) degree than of field-wide kind. And so I wonder how new this perceived sowing of "the seeds of dissolution" is, and just what does it put at risk? Following this evidence--surveys and selected sources, the next line carries the claim further: "the field of rhetoric and composition is, in the most extreme cases, gradually evacuating itself of its first term (if not explicitly in name, then implicitly in institutional practice) or, in other cases, is undergoing an interesting inversion of its titular terms" (770). The possibility of evacuation and inversion calls to mind the necessary ratios between theory and practice. Is the target ratio 50:50? Might be, depending on whether we are talking topical focus (i.e., research motivated by theory or practice) or activity itself (i.e., time spent theorizing versus time spent teaching). For graduate students, of course, these ratios vary, too. In our program, we have fellowships designed to relieve students of their teaching appointment so that they might devote greater time and energy to reading and writing (if executed well, the ratio becomes 100:0). But there are also program-level constraints on these ratios, right? Some places prefer a 70:30 split. Others, 80:20. We do not always determine them independently, nor are they constant over the arc of an appointment (through a graduate program of study or otherwise).

Kopelson, Karen. "Sp(l)itting Images; or, Back to the Future of (Rhetoric and?) Composition." CCC 59.4 (2008): 750-780. [Carnival]

Friday, May 16, 2008

Foraging/Summer Reading

W riting a dissertation involves a lot of what my director calls foraging. Having worked on my dissertation for a year and a day, I appreciate this distinction more than ever between foraging and reading, even if "reading" remains too capacious a practice to pin down. Foraging (i.e., picking back through stacks of stuff one has already read before, already encountered) is necessary for writing a dissertation, but I don't find that it brings with it the same sort of inventive lift I find in reading new stuff. Yet, striking a reasonable balance between the two--between, that it, revisiting familiar materials and ideas and taking up new materials and ideas--has been tremendously difficult. In 366 days of dissertating, I have foraged well enough to draft several chapters and revise two of them sufficiently that they're off to committee. What I haven't done well enough is read new stuff that's not directly involved in the dissertation. Sure, I suppose some of this is unavoidable, but it nevertheless has felt like a void, especially so because it follows on the heels of coursework and preparing for comprehensive exams--three years of intensively reading new gatherings of texts that gravitate like this <---> rather than --><--. Another way to put it: reading up to the dissertation favors centrifugal force (i.e., tends away from center) rather than centripetal force (i.e., tends toward the center). When I have that feeling of mental drought, I believe it is--in part--because of not enough of this first sort of reading (whatever forms it might take: books, journal articles, blogs, etc.).

I still have some dissertation left to write. Thus, there will be more foraging this summer, more orbits around familiar work. But I also want to renew some of the purely-for-the-spark-of-it reading that I have been missing. Might be too ambitious to hope for a whole lot of time for this in the summer months given that I am teaching a course, working in the writing center, mentoring three new online instructors, wrapping up the draft of the diss, polishing job materials, and traveling to Seattle, Albuquerque, and Hershey, Pa., and, as importantly, grilling out, sipping margaritas, playing bolo toss, cutting the lawn, and so on, but that's a chance I must take. For summer reading, then, the start of a list:

*A Long Way Gone, Ishmael Beah (SU shared reading)
Here Comes Everybody, Clay Shirky
The Omnivore's Dilemma, Michael Pollan
A Whole New Mind, Daniel Pink
For the Love of It: Amateuring and Its Rivals, Wayne Booth
^PrairyErth (a deep map), William Least Heat-Moon (Is this for this diss?)
A Counter-History of Composition, Byron Hawk (Is this?)
The Ghost Map, Steven Johnson (How about this?)
The Back of the Napkin, Dan Roam (Might this?)

* I still need to pick up a copy of this.
^ This one's underway. A few striking moments in the first one-third (up to where I am now). On the other hand, it will push you to the brink of toxicity with details about Chase County, Kansas.

To end, I should add a nod of credit to those who have said interesting things about one or more of these books and, thus, recommended them.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

The Steep Approach

I finished up Iain Banks' The Steep Approach to Garbadale a couple of days ago. Took me about a week, and it felt like a faster-than-usual read, though it's not like I spend all that much time reading fiction for the sport of it (at least not these days). Faster than expected, a surprisingly engaging novel, a story well told--exactly as promised in the approbative cover matter.

The upshot: Alban Wopuld deals with a hiatus from the family circle, resurfacing at the behest of a cousin who recruits him to stir up dissent among family members in favor of approving the sale of their rights to a popular game, Empire!. Alban re-emerges as an influential presence in the family, all the while coping with two formative events from earlier in his life (and, in different degrees, these events are at the root of his alienation): his mother's suicide and a cousinly love affair.

This little summary doesn't ruin it. And I fully intend to be getting along with other novels by Banks just as soon of these days. I only had time for this one because I am purposefully neglecting the diss for a couple of weeks while on a back-to-back conferences jag (seriously, it must appear that I have been shitting around for a couple of weeks now; lazing through some books about maps, etc.). Anyhow, by this point, I sure I have done enough to pique your interest in The Steep Approach that I should give a little bit more, so, then, two passages from dog-eared pages:

Also, third, she tried to quantify how hopelessly, uselessly, pathetically weak she felt. It took a long time--she was a mathematician, after all, not a poet, so images were not normally her strong suit--but eventually she decided on one. It involved a banana. Specifically, the long stringy bits you find between the skin and flesh of a banana. She felt so weak you could have tied her up with those stringy bits of banana and she wouldn't have been able to struggle free. That was how weak she felt. (220)

This comes as VG--Alban's other love interest--remembers swimming near a reef when the disastrous tsunami welled up from the Indian Ocean in '04.

One more, on where are the numbers?:

Verushka and Aunt Clara are talking:
'I don't understand. What can that mean, "Where are the numbers?"'
'I think it means, Do they exist as abstract entities--like physical laws, as functions of the nature of the universe; or are they like cultural constructs? Do they exist without somebody thinking them?'
'Alban got me thinking about it this way.'
'Alban? Really?'
'Yes. He said, "Where you left them," which is pretty much just flippant, but there's a wee grain of possibility there and so my answer to the question, "Where are the numbers?" is, "Where do you think?" See what I'm doing there?'
'Not really. That sounds flippant too.'
'Well, it sounds it at first, but if you take it out of the context of flippancy and treat it as a new question in its own right, you're asking, Where does your thinking happen?'
'In your brain?'
'Well, yes, so if you use one question as an answer to the first, you're saying the numbers exist in your head.'
'Mine feels rather tight at the moment. Like it's about to burst with numbers and odd questions.'
Yeah, I get that a lot. Anyway. It's more interesting than just saying, "The numbers are in your head," because otherwise why put it in the form of a question at all? Why not just say that?'
'You mean, say, "The numbers are in your head"?'
'Yes. Because then it becomes a question about boundaries.'
'When you think about numbers, are you using a little bit of the universe to think about it, or is it using a little bit of itself to think about itself, or, even, about something--about these entities called numbers--that might be said to exist outside of itself, if one uses one of the less ultimately inclusive definitions of the word "universe"?' Verushka sits back, triumphant. 'See?'
'Not really,' Clara admits. 'And my old head is rather starting to spin.'
'Well, to be fair,' Verushka agrees, 'it's an incomplete answer. But I like the direction it's going in.'
'That all sounds very fascinating,' Graeme says.
'It is, isn't it?' Verushka says brightly before turning back to Clara as she says,
'And you do this for a living?'
'Not this part, no; this is just for fun.' (270)

Monday, March 17, 2008

Manovich, "Data Visualization as New Abstraction and as Anti-Sublime"

 Manovich, Lev. "Data Visualization as New Abstraction and as Anti-Sublime." Small Tech: The Culture of Digital Tools. Eds. Byron Hawk, David Reider, and Ollie Oviedo. Electronic Mediations Ser. 22. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2008.

Why render data visually? Lev Manovich, in "Data Visualization as New Abstraction and as Anti-sublime," the opening chapter in Small Tech (reprinted from ArtPhoto, 2003), responds to this with an answer that, in spirit, moves beyond the "data epistemology" of a cumbersome, old (perhaps even mythical) scientism. Why render data visually? "[T]o show us the other realities embedded in our own, to show us the ambiguity always present in our perception and experience, to show us what we normally don't notice or pay attention to" (9). By the end of this brief article, Manovich begins to get round to the idea of a rhetoric of data visualization, even if he never calls it this. Despite being caught up in a representationalist framework as he accounts for what data visualization does, Manovich eventually keys on "daily interaction with volumes of data and numerous messages" as the "more important challenge" facing us. That is, we are steeped now in a new "data-subjectivity."

Manovich provides four sections in his short essay: Visualization and Mapping, Data Modernism, Meaningful Beauty: Data Mapping as Anti-Sublime, and Motivation Problem. The "Visualization and Mapping" section begins with Tufte and Descartes; these are the precedents for the "dynamic data visualization" Manovich wants us to consider as it has spilled over from its origins in the "pure and applied sciences, from mathematics and physics to biology and medicine" to the greater "cultural sphere" (3). Next, Manovich attaches this to a mapping paradigm, considered here as a kind of direct conversion of data into image (1:1 precision in the translation of territory into map). This risks making visualization its own end; I question whether his approach does enough to keep the image open on the side of play, preferring a contingent and flexible (more model- or relay-like) image than one fixed and declarative in its presentation. The section on Data Modernism builds toward an understanding of data visualization as new abstraction. Here abstraction is matched with the same tradition in twentieth century Modernist art: the reduction of chaos into simple patterns. Given my own interest in abstracting practices, I tend to prefer drawing closer parallels between "new abstraction" and network studies. I deal with some of this in the diss; Manovich's take on abstraction might find a small place there. Of course, one of my reservations about "new abstraction" tracing back through art traditions is that it holds onto a faint notion of representable reality as a backdrop against which every movement is defined. Perhaps this is one of the ways a rhetoric of data visualization would do justice to Manovich's interest in subjectivity, agency, and motive, while also offering a greatly expanded vocabulary for complicating strict evaluative rules regarding chart junk and clarity (e.g., following Tufte).

In the third section of the essay, Manovich touches on scale. He describes data visualization as "anti-sublime" as it contrasts with the Romantic art concerned with the sublime." This section seems, again, to position data visualization as an end--an end in an aesthetics and epistemology valuing concretization--rather than a means, a model, or a relay. The stuff on scale is encouraging, but then he ends the section, saying, "Yet, more often than not, the subjects of data visualization projects are objective structures (such as the typology of the Internet) rather than the direct traces of human activities" (7). What's not clear is why this is so or how Manovich knows it. This isn't to dispute his claim as much as to call into question its basis, and also ask how these "objective structures" square with the "data-subjectivity" he introduces in the final section. In the final section, he is concerned with motivations and choices: why this or that design choice when several others are available? An arhetorical treatment of data visualization entertains the prospect that there is always one best way to present the data visually; a rhetorical approach, on the other hand, seems to me to create a situation--a conductive role, an agent, an exigency--in whatever comes between the data and the visualization of it. In other words, while Manovich is concerned that "computer media simultaneously make all these choices appear arbitrary" (7), a rhetoric of data visualization would frame those choices as "available means" rather than an automated function of the computer technology. Manovich: "One way to deal with this problem of motivation is not to hide but to foreground the arbitrary nature of the chosen mapping" (8). Yes, foreground it, but also let the "it" be a "rhetorical nature" in equal measure to an "arbitrary nature."

"Thus data visualization moves from the concrete to the abstract and then again to the concrete" (6).

Phrases: "Platonic schemas" (5), "new abstraction" (5), "reversibility" (6), "organic abstraction" (6), "modernist abstraction" (6), "anti-sublime" (6), motivation (6), "data epistemology" (8), "data-subjectivity" (9)

Sunday, February 3, 2008


B illie tagged me with the book meme, so I figured I may as well get on with proliferating it. It's the p. 123 meme, the one where you pick up the nearest book of more than 123 pages, flip to page 123, jump over the first five sentences, and then post the next three. My selection:

Where'd they come from, sir?
Those things aren't wild out here, are they?
No, not wild.

This comes from Pride of Baghdad, a graphic novella based on a true story about a pride of lions freed from the Baghdad zoo on the first night of the air strikes in 2003. I borrowed it yesterday and then read it this morning before everyone (other than Is.) was awake. It was written by Brian Vaughn (Y: The Last Man and Ex Machina) and drawn by Niko Henrichon, and the build-up and presentation are terrific, right in line with Vaughn's other stuff.

The last piece of the meme requires that I tag five others (chain-letter style, the last person to break the meme, so I hear, spontaneously combusted). Because I'm curious what they're reading these days, let me try Tricia, Brian, Julie, Jeff, and Malcolm.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Writing Feverlets*

C urious about her critique of Derrida's Archive Fever, I picked up a copy of Carolyn Steedman's Dust: The Archive and Cultural History from Bird Library, recalling it from another patron who had checked it out (v. sorry about that). I deal briefly with AF in Chapter Three. Steedman makes the point that AF is less about archives than about Derrida's concern for the slippage of origins (a theme in his other work) and the inseparability of psychoanalysis from Freud (and also Judaism). She writes, "The Foreword [to AF] carried the main argument, about Freud's Jewish-ness, and the contribution of Jewish thought to the idea of the archive, via psycho-analysis" (7). Basically, Steedman is suspicious of Derrida's characterization of the fever (as a frenzied pursuit of origins which do not properly exist). She complains that the concept of the fever is degraded in translation from Mal d'Archive, and then she enthusiastically claims the sickness Derrida mocks: "Archive fever, indeed? I can tell you all about Archive Fever!" (17). Dust undertakes this "all about-ness" at fever's pitch; Steedman, all the while, works to correct (or tune, at the very least) Derrida's glancing consideration of the archive left behind in his treatment of other concerns (psychoanalysis, Freud, and so on).

Steeedman suggests that Derrida, in questioning the concept of archivization, was late to the game: "There was a further puzzlement (or more accurately, a bemusement feigned to mask a kind of artisant irritation) among those who knew the 'archival turn' to be well underway by 1994, with Derrida merely (though compellingly) providing a theoretical perspective on the institution of archives, the practices of reading and writing attendant on them, and the system of regulation and coercion they have (sometimes) underlined" (2). Here, identifying Derrida's tardiness to the conversation, next Steedman pairs him with Foucault and suggests that Derrida is merely winding down a path blazed by Foucault in the 1960s with The Archaeology of Knowledge. This all seems reasonable, except that Steedman downplays Derrida's insights on digital circulation. In twenty-first century discourse networks, an institutional (or disciplinary) memory is differently distributed (this strand of Derrida's lecture in 1994 seems to me to make him early rather than late, at least in terms of oncoming changes for archives because of digitization). As I read it, this is the point where Steedman's critique could be more lenient or forgiving than it is.

Steedman has more to say about Derrida, about magistrates, and about Michelet's work in the archive (some of which draws on an essay from Barthes I haven't read). Here's a sample of what she writes about the fever she knows so well, even relishes:

Typically, the fever--more accurately, the precursor fever*--starts in the early hours of the morning, in the bed of a cheap hotel, where the historian cannot get to sleep. You can not get to sleep because you lie so narrowly, in an attempt to avoid contact with anything that isn't shielded by sheets and pillowcase. The first sign, then, is an excessive attention to the bed, an irresistible anxiety about the hundreds who have slept there before you, leaving their dust and debris in the fibres of the blankets, greasing the surface of the heavy, slippery counterpane. The dust of others, and of other times, fills the room, settles on the carpet, marks out the sticky passage from the bed to bathroom. (17)

Oye! To-do list: Reconsider the hotel booked for CCCC in April. As if the dust in the cheap hotel isn't enough, Steedman continues, describing the rising acuity of the hotel's built-in, built-up rattiness as a "screen anxiety." "What keeps you actually the archive, and its myriad of the dead, who all day long, have pressed their concerns upon you. You think: these people have left me the lot.... You think: I could get to hate these people; and then: I can never do these people justice; and finally: I shall never get it done" (17-18). Can their differences be summed up like this?: Steedman's work hinges on the past, the rank traces of dust (as material remnant of people and things); Derrida has concern for a fixation on the exhaustibility of the past the, in its obsessive pursuit, does not sufficiently heed the futurist orientation of the archive. Probably this is too simple.

I am losing hope that this one blog entry will mend the gap between Steedman and Derrida. I will shelve it in case I need to figure this out later (also because Steedman is not yet in the diss or my CCCC talk, for that matter). Before setting the entry to post, here are two more excerpts I want to hold onto:

This is what Dust is about; this is what Dust is: what it means and what it is. It is not about rubbish, nor about the discarded; it is not about a surplus, left over from something else: it is not about Waste. Indeed, Dust is the opposite thing to Waste, or at least, the opposite principle to Waste. It is about circularity, the impossibility of things disappearing, or going away, or being gone. Nothing can be destroyed. (164)

Curious here is whether Derrida works according to a similar set of principles: "It is about circularity, the impossibility of things disappearing, or going away, or being gone." Dust: no ends; AF: no origins.

Still more: Reading in a chapter called "The Story of Dust," Steedman's polarization of dust and waste is repeated; this time, however, it comes with a reference to Moretti:

Dust--the Philosophy of Dust--speaks of the opposite of waste and dispersal; of a grand circularity, of nothing ever, ever going away. There were complex, articulate and well-understood languages developed to express this knowledge, a few of which I have mentioned. And I suggest that Dust is another way of seeing what Franco Moretti described as the nineteenth-century solution to the violent ruptures of the late eighteenth century, a solution found in narrative. (166)

I am intrigued--even feverish (perhaps only struck with a passing feverlet)--by these tensions: narrative and database, a past-ist and futurist orientation for archivization, the im/permanence of material and digital substrates (nothing ever! going away, except when a hard drive crashes or a thumb drive takes an accidental tumble in the clothes dryer and no data is rescued in the lint trap). Different dusts, then, and different problems for archives, for the work of archivization and circulation, through which traces either go on or collapse into the brew.

Thursday, December 20, 2007


A t the end of a semester, I'm usually in the mood for a change--something different. Weeks and months of pacing produce the deep craving for interruption--a break from duty-rhythm (in itself, a comment on rhythm of another scale). I am almost there; after tomorrow (the same day I finished with my q. exams one year ago) I will lay off for a week, ease into some consequence-light reading, nap, snack, take walks, watch a couple of Netflix DVDs.

Why not pick up something I wouldn't read but for the desire for a break? Okay, I already did this week. I was moping around the office the other night, nearly giving in to boredom, when D. handed me a copy of Sherman Alexie's Flight (cloud) and said, "Here, read this." What is it? Juvenile literature for book club. One hundred and eighty pages; a couple of one-hour blocks on the couch between 10 p.m. and 11 p.m. Quick read. Good, too.

Flight is Vonnegutsy through and through, the story of Zits, a pimply, edgy foster kid whose one-two of violence and defiance keep him bouncing from one terrible foster home to another. The book speeds Zits on a Billy Pilgrimage as he comes unstuck in time, drifting on a Ghost Dance in and out of a series of violent encounters: Custer's last stand, Gus's (conflicted) traitorous revenge, and a couple of others.

"You let him out of his cage?" I ask.
"Well, his wings were clipped."
"A clipped-wing bird ain't a bird," I say.
"All right, all right, Dr. Earth First, I'm not the one who clipped them. He was clipped when we bought him. And it wasn't like we bought him to be a tiny little Thanksgiving dinner. We loved that bird. I loved him. My daughter named him Harry Potter."
"That's cute."
"Damn right, it's cute. You want to hear the cutest part?"
"I'm the cook of the family, the domestic, and Harry Potter loved to sit on my shoulder while I was cooking and insult my food."
"Yes, my wife and daughter told him to say Too much salt and I'm being poisoned and I want pizza instead."
"That's hilarious."
"Yes, it is. And there's more. You see, my daughter's favorite dish is pasta-anything. So I'm always boiling water. And Harry Potter is always sitting on my shoulder."
"Oh, shit," I say, already guessing the end of the story. (145-146)

Flight mixes in commentary on cycles of violence, innocence, and karmic retribution; combines a believably awkward teenage protagonist with his genuine 'whatever's and filthy language (enough that it wouldn't surprise me to hear about the language-chastisers complaining it off the shelves of school libraries). Maybe it's not quite a Slaughterhouse Five of 2007 (the ending is, after all, too nicely buttoned down given the upheaval of everything before it), but it is close: disturbing, insightful, layered. Close enough that you should pick up a copy if, like me, you are interested in a break that includes reading some stuff you wouldn't have any other opportunity to read.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Haskins, "Between Archive and Participation: Public Memory in a Digital Age"

H askins, Ekaterina. "Between Archive and Participation: Public Memory in a Digital Age." RSQ 37.4 (2007): 401-422.

Opening premise: public memory work must consider the digital archive. Haskins writes, "This article proposes to examine memorial functions of the internet in light of recent scholarly debates about virtues and drawbacks of modern 'archival memory' as well as the paradoxical link between the contemporary public obsession with memory and the acceleration of amnesia" (401).

Section I: Archival Memory and Its Discontents, 402-405
The curatorial quandary (who does the keeping, why, and who decides what is preserved) pervades institution-led archiving ventures. Public memory has throughout the twentieth century merged with monumentality and "narratives of victory and valor" (403). Digitization confuses the once-tidy roles of the removed observer-celebrant and the monolithic cast of official memory. Haskins identifies the Vietnam War Memorial in D.C. as an example of a participatory monument because "its polished black surface reflects the visitor's image and its modest scale allows one to reach out and touch the names inscribed on the wall" (404). Accessible, ongoing participation function to "guard against the tin dangers of ideological reification and amnesia," Haskins contends (405).

Section II: Promises and Problems of Digital Memory, 405-408
Haskins does not come down firmly in favor of or in doubt of digital memorial projects in this section, but instead she builds parallel accounts of the promises ("public engagement," "representational diversity," "collective authorship," and "interactivity") and problems ("rapid obsolescence," compromised "historical consciousness," impermanence). Haskins concludes this is a "mixed bag," that even while traditional keepers of official memory are watching as digitization attracts unprecedented energy and interest, digital archives are not without limitations. Haskins writes, "It is one thing to collect and digitize large quantities of memorial artifacts; it is quite another to display them in ways that stimulate not only spectatorship but also meaningful participation" (408). This is a point worth keying on, even if "meaningful participation" deserves more unpacking and elaboration.

A brief discussion of blogging as "self-memorialization" appears on 407-408. Tagging practices as an alternative to the narrowing effect (blogging as "sav[ing] the most trivial details of one's past" (407))?

"If archival preservation and retrieval are not balanced by mechanisms that stimulate participatory engagement, electronic memory may lead to self-congratulatory amnesia" (407). I am interested in pairing this word of caution from Haskins with a comment from North: "Composition's collective fund of knowledge is a very fragile entity" (2). What are the mechanisms that would stimulate participatory engagement in "composition's collective fund of knowledge"? Wikis? Forums? Tagging? We have systems of archival preservation and retrieval, but have they been properly balanced? If they have not, have we, then, experienced anything that could be described as "self-congratulatory amnesia"? And what are the symptoms of this "self-congratulatory" variety of amnesia? Too many questions to untangle right now, but one of the most useable threads (for me) in this article is counterpart to its discussion of digital archives of such prominent status as the September 11 Digital Archive (how much monumentality does it inherit from the affected structures themselves?): take similar propositions to the more mundane digital archives--those whose participation is not as *P*ublic or pulsatile.

Section III: Between Archive and Public Participation: The September 11 Digital Archive, 408-418
Memorial gestures moved from the streets to online spaces and consisted of an overabundance of "vernacular" fragments. Here Haskins details the multi-institution initiative to build the September 11 Digital Archive, a project that "epitomizes inclusiveness, which is made possible in no small degree by the interactive capacities of electronic media" (410). There is much description here of the archive, the various pieces assembled in it (personal narratives, political interchange, photographs, nostalgia, etc.).

Section IV: Conclusion, 418-419
"Online memorializing, thanks to technology's capacity for virtually unlimited storage and potential to engage many diverse audiences in content production, appears to mitigate against the ideological ossification associated with official memory practices and the fragility of vernacular memory gestures" (418).

Friday, November 9, 2007

Narrative, Database

T oday I read Ed Folsom's PMLA article, "Database as Genre: The Epic Transformation of Archives," and the better part of the five responses to the piece and even Folsom's response to the responses. I won't attempt a full summary in this entry, but I wanted to note a few initial impressions and lingering questions.

The lead article discusses Folsom's efforts to develop The Walt Whitman Archive, a growing digital collection of Whitman's works--works not easily or summarily identifiable as narrative or as poetry. Folsom characterizes Whitman as a forerunner, noting that "[f]or him, the works was a kind of preelectronic database, and his notebooks and notes are full of lists of particulars--sights and sounds and names and activities--that he dutifully enters into the record" (1574). The identification of Whitman as an "early practitioner...of the database genre" (1575) doesn't, as far as I can tell, explain why his work should be any more appropriate for digitization and databased setup than any other, but it does give us the background on Folsom's insights into database as genre.

Folsom seems generally to adopt Lev Manovich's pitting of narrative versus database in The Language of New Media. The tension between database and narrative is repeated in Folsom's account of how the Whitman project evolved, with the database taking on a predatory dimension. Folsom explains, "Only if we insulated the narrative from the database could the narrative persist. As databases contain ever greater detail, we may begin to wonder if narrative itself is under threat" (1576).

In her response to Folsom's essay, "Narrative and Database: Natural Symionts," N. Katherine Hayles suggests replacing the rivalrous polarization of narrative and database with notions of compatibility and complementarity. Rather than accepting Manovich's description of the two as "natural enemies," we should think of them as "natural symbionts" (1603). Hayles introduces ecological and biological metaphors: "Database and narrative, their interdependence notwithstanding, remain different species, like bird and water buffalo" (1605). Each can do something the other cannot; together, they get along smartly. Yet, narrative (presumably the water buffalo; leaving database the back-pecking bird?) is "an essential technology for human beings who can arguably be defined as meaning-seeking animals" (1606). Citing Jerome Bruner, Hayles emphasizes the persistence and abundance of narrative: "Wherever one looks, narratives surface, as ubiquitous in everyday culture as dust mites" (1606). I admit to being mildly thrown off by the buffalo-bird-mites line-up. The mites--narrativistic minutiae--are not quite the same, I think, as the narrative-buffalo (or even narrative-bird, if that's the way you read it). Maybe the mites are more like data, and there is startling similarity in the small particles, whichever party they enliven. So many mites.

Hayles also has this to say:

"The constant expansion of new data accounts for an important advantage that relational databases have over narratives, for new data elements can be added to existing databases without disrupting their order ["to order" stands out earlier, as well, in Hayles' account of the strengths of database (1604)]" (1607).
"No longer singular, narratives remain the necessary others to database's ontology, the perspectives that invest the formal logic of database operations with human meanings and that gesture toward the unknown hovering beyond the brink of what can be classified and enumerated" (1607).

In his response to respondents, Folsom is won over by Hayles' replacement of "natural enemies" with "natural symbionts." Reading this series--the article and responses--I am wondering whether about the pairing itself. Does narrative go along with database? I mean that many of the treatments of the narrative/database dyad go at characterizations of the two. But why are there only two participants if, ultimately, we are thinking of these as they stand (water buffalo and bird) in the midst of a complex ecology of, well, everything else? I am not posing this question to detract from the quality of the conversation, only to call the terms back into question, and ask Why these two? Folsom's reference to database as genre makes this point seem all the more important to me. Is narrative genre? Maybe. In the same sense that exposition is genre, right? Should, then, exposition have a place in this discussion? Does database as genre parallel narrative as genre (i.e., does genre apply at the same scale to each?). I don't know. It seems like pairing of narrative and database, whether as "natural enemies" or "natural symbionts" is, in itself, adequate--and maybe it is adequate for getting at the two primary logics for arranging words and things.

Hayles characterizes some of the key differences between narrative and database; her account clarifies, for me, some of the basic qualities that hold them apart in their respective functions. Still, I wonder whether database and narrative should be predatory, symbiotic, even whether they might, in certain cases, be parasitic (one damages the other) or commensalitic (one gains from the other, but the one is unaffected). May as well be symbionts, right?

I'll stop here. This is all to say that the series slowed me down on the matters of 1.) genre and 2.) what other species are there besides narrative and database. I also need to spend more time reading on the concept of archives, beginning with the Manoff citation in Folsom's lead. If a carnivalrous mood strikes you, I'd enjoy more conversation on the set of articles.

Folsom, Ed. "Database as Genre: The Epic Transformation of Archives." PMLA 122.5 (2007): 1571–1579.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Moretti, "The Soul and the Harpy"

M oretti, Franco. "The Soul and the Harpy." Signs Taken For Wonders: On the Sociology of Literary Forms. 1983. Trans. David Forgacs. New York: Verso, 2005.

This chapter offers much that deserves a slower, more careful going-over than my notes here attempt. Moretti's aim is to position literary criticism and historiography squarely within rhetoric and, by doing so, to carve out a space for a sociology of literary forms in which everything (i.e., mass literature) is counted. This counting, it would seem, runs very close to a scientific imperative complete with empirical rationalism. But it's not quite that simple. What Moretti calls for here comes more as a blend between "genre as social action" and a Latourian sociology of associations--an examination of the ways select literary genres "secure consent" (27).

Moretti is in favor of literary historiography that, rather than working with what real historians would call "an imaginary object, " works instead with "critical interpretations" that are testable and also falsifiable (21). He writes, "an extra-literary phenomenon is never more or less important as a possible 'object' or 'content' of a text, but because of its impact on systems of evaluation and, therewith, on rhetorical strategies" (20). Still, this is not set up to trivialize the explanatory power of extra-literary phenomenon; the sociology of literary forms offers a restorative gesture that wrenches form from a pure, organic association with nature, and repositions it in the rhetorical middle--between reality (scientism and strict referentiality) and poetry (pleasure, imagination)--I'm drawing on Kinneavy's categories to make sense of this.

Form, after all (drawing on Lukacs) is evaluation, judgment, and above all, ideology (10). The two can hardly be separated (without toppling the whole house of cards). Moretti says that "literary criticism has for too long kept the terms of Lukacs's dilemma: to save the warmth of life and the purity of form" (12). Here Moretti explains his reason for treating form as sociological--as telling of certain larger events. Form, then, must not be lumped together as commonplace or cliche, but instead studied as a sociological phenomenon: "A 'slower' literary history; and a more 'discontinuous' one. At present, criticism relies on too many and too varied criteria in order to slice up the continuum of history" (16) as anyone from a periodized program of study can appreciate. A sociology of literary forms would result, instead, greater historical clarity "towards hardening the edges of historical research" (16).

Moretti's final illustration to suggest the agreeability of "so undeconstructive and unliberating a notion of literature" is the carving of the soul and the harpy on a Greek tomb. The harpy--a bird-human hybrid--tows the complacent soul to Hades. The soul appears to be at peace; it does not fight. Is the soul, form? Is the harpy a historiographer enlightened by Moretti's sociology of literary forms? Or the opposite? Perhaps the soul is analogous to literary criticism.

Excerpts: "I am unable to consider my work as something complete; that no methodological or historiographic framework wholly convinces me; and that every change I have made has been prompted by the unfashionable and banal conviction that the main task of criticism is to provide the best possible explanation of the phenomena it discusses" (2).

The future of a text--the conventions and the world views it will help to form and consolidate--is just as much a part of its history and its contribution to history" (7).

"True isomorphisms never occur, and from this categorical discrepancy stems the set of problems that characterizes literary history" (9).

"First, how far has empirical research borne out the antithesis between norm and masterpiece on which literary historiography continues to rest?" (13). Extend this question to disciplinary hits and misses--the matter of celebrated and award-winning articles and their ne'er-again-heard-of contemporaries. What can empirical research do to help explain this? Williams' article grammars might have bearing here, too.

See p. 22 on "strengthening these connections..."

"Historians know how to use computers; they will have no difficulty learning the difference between metaphor and metonymy--assuming, naturally, that one is able to demonstrate that the choice between these two figures entails cultural differences of some significance" (24).

See p. 40 on "new content, which is not reducible to the sum of its parts" and "all-embracing, as something that guarantees a modus vivendi, an adjustment between conflicting thrusts" (40).

Friday, August 24, 2007

Peeples, "'Seeing' the WPA With/Through Postmodern Mapping"

P eeples, Tim. "'Seeing' the WPA With/Through Postmodern Mapping." The Writing Program Administrator as Researcher. Shirley K. Rose and Irwin Weiser, eds. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook, 1999. 153-167.

Peeples devises a set of maps in an effort to "capture a sense of spatial positioning and the fragmentation of [Wedy] Bishop's position" as the WPA at Florida State in the late 1990's. Postmodern geography influences Peeples' project, allowing him to combine experimental maps and narrative accounts that together present the complex and multiply implicated subjectivities of a WPA whose organizational role is entangled with disciplinary, administrative, and organizational discourses.

In the end, it's not entirely clear where Peeples finds a useful distinction between subjectivities entangled in (and constructed from) discourse and those wrapped up in the material locale itself. The progression of maps tend to highlight the ways Bishop's WPA subjectivity is discursive, and a footnote backs this impression, but elsewhere Peeples seems also to recognize the implicatedness of the material site, such as when he says that "[e]thnographies would help our field better understand the details and complexities of these local spaces" (159) and also when he invokes Porter and Sullivan's Opening Spaces and "Institutional Critique" article--both of which foreground the local and material.

Three of Peeples' strategies here are especially significant for me:

  1. He doesn't establish a correspondence between maps and models, but he does present the maps as partial isomorphs (in the way Pemberton discusses them): "One of the ways we attempt to see something that is fragmented and dynamic is to place it against a relatively stable background, whereby we can at least mark its movements across space" (154).
  2. Peeples presents multiple maps: "This approach encourages the development of an expanding set of maps that begin to capture the complexities of WPA organizational subjectivities, rather than leading to a grand, unified image or Theory represented in a single map" (155). Map as monolith is out.
  3. Finally, he comments on what the map-text complementarity (text, here, not as symbol system or legend): "The text surrounding these multiple maps should, then, comment on what is privileged and obscured in the maps and even suggest what other maps might be possible" (155). The text might also address the limitations of the map, although Peeples doesn't bring this up explicitly.

On subjectivity, Peeples cites Faigley's Fragments of Rationality and Janangelo's 1995 essay, "Theorizing Difference and Negotiating Differends." The maps themselves evoke a number of questions about choices for shading (a gradient backshadow represents something less fixed than an outlined oval) and positioning (cycles giving way to intersections giving way to a periphery of "ideals").

"Rather than use terms such as 'role' and 'identity' that signify stable, unified positions, 'subjectivity' has become a key term because it signifies the dynamism, multiplicity, and fragmentation of people/positions" (153). Here, aligning with terms--subjectivity is preferable to roles and identities because it clicks with the theoretical orientation that ascribes some value to postmodern mapping.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Richards, "The Resourcefulness of Words"

R ichards, I.A. "The Resourcefulness of Words." Speculative Instruments. Chicago: U. of Chicago P, 1955. 72-78.

"Are we perhaps like mathematicians who had never thought of using the working of examples as a technique of instruction?" (77).

I.A. Richards ends "The Resourcefulness of Words" with this, posing a question of limitations, narrow perspectives, and a missed opportunity in thinking through the techniques of instruction appropriate to a course in dialectic (which, in this context, I take to refer to argumentation). This statement bears some resemblance to the David Foster quotation from JAC I have referred to again and again about the limits of what we will know.

Richards is responding to the suggestion from the President of Yale (Mr. Hutchins) that nothing coheres a course in argumentation, nothing "except talk of personality, 'character', and great teachers, the slogans of educational futilitarianism" (73). But what holds the course in argumentation together, answers Richards, is the resourcefulness of words--their versatility, their crucial part in structuring and connecting (ideas and things).

To a degree, Richards is concerned with stasis--with ways specific language in philosophy and metaphysics can lead to misunderstanding. His rhetoric is one that reconciles, patching up misunderstandings caused by words. He is not interested in "attempting to show our students (much less tell them) what Plato or Aristotle really meant" (76). Rather, students would study the ways shifting meanings in "central intellectual terms" (viz., being, have, cause, connection, same, etc.) has "give[n] rise to varied misunderstandings" (76).

The challenge I find in working with Richards is his proximity to New Criticism. Following through what Berthoff adds in "Abstraction as a Speculative Instrument," and what Haynes does, subsequently, to invoke Berthoff's notion of abstraction as a beginning point and an answer for pedagogies seeking to move beyond reason and argumentation, I would expect to find, in Richards, something that resonates with abstraction in this discussion of the resourcefulness of words. Maybe it will turn up in How To Read A Page, in chapters called "Random Scratching and Clawing" (the rustle of language?) or "To Unite, Abstract." Distant reading methods do not, per se, read a page, but a pile of pages.

The section on more expansive abstracting practices can get by without Richards. Yet his concluding thoughts in this brief essay relate to the semantic networks that are presented in, among other forms, tagclouds:

To develop a spatial metaphor here, which being all but unavoidable should be made as explicit as possible, all these words wander in many directions in this figurative space of meaning. But they wander systematically, as do those other wanderers, the Planets. By fixing a limited number of positions, meanings, for them, we may help ourselves to plot their courses. But we should not persuade ourselves that they must be at one or other of these marked points. The laws of their motions are what we need to know: their dependence upon the positions of other words that should be taken into account with them. (77)

In a fairly obvious sense, Richards is talking about context here. Words appear on a page, spatialized there--arranged in such a way that their sequentiality is implicated in their meanings. But I see no reason why this spatialization, this systematically observable wandering, and this hesitancy to fixate--why any of these should be incompatible with tagcloud as a visual model of a semantic network that drifts breezily along the same trajectories as the discipline of composition studies. Doesn't Keywords in Composition--"the first systematic inquiry into compositions' critical terms" (1)--advance this very idea? Yes. But Keywords in Composition Studies, like the class of texts dedicated to keyword extrapolation, including Williams' Keywords, is limited by its mode of presentation to a historical account of a term's wandering. [This is better elaborated in c. 3 than in c. 2]. The "systematic ambiguity" bears a past-ist orientation; its refresh rate is nullified by the limitations of its medium--print.

Note: Heilker and Vandenberg cite Richards' Speculative Instruments and How To Read A Page, but rather than going to the original publications, they draw on the excerpts reprinted in Enos and Brown's Professing the New Rhetorics: A Sourcebook.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

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.

For example, I was, for a while (~15 pp.), writing about abstraction. The very concept of abstraction. From Cynthia Haynes to Berthoff. Berthoff's work with abstraction draws from I. A. Richards and Susanne Langer. I trailed off, reading some of Langer's work in Philosophy in a New Key and Philosophical Sketches. I also have a copy of Feeling and Form on my night stand. I've read zero pages of it. Every time I leaf it through, I feel this dreadful drain of energy until...lights out. I can see the tiny threads of influence running from Langer to Berthoff, but I still can't decide how much I need to write about them or how explicit those familiarities should be in the chapter itself. Langer and Berthoff have in common that they attempt to recover abstraction from the General Semantics movements and their strict verticalization of the Ladder of Abstraction. They tug abstraction over to the side of connotation, to the side of the "rustle" of language, away from scientistic referentiality. Were they successful? I don't know.

But what they were attempting accords with what I am trying to emphasize, following Moretti, in the discussion of visual models as abstract. Why call them abstract? The data they present are concrete enough (he calls the "consequences" concrete)? I mean that the data are replicable; any other researcher would come up with the same citation counts for articles published in CCC over the past 20 years, no? Berthoff reworked abstraction in her '86 essay "Abstraction as a Speculative Instrument." "Speculative Instruments" matches up with the title of I. A. Richards' book from 1955. It's a collection of "pieces [that] were composed at different times and for very different occasions and audiences" (ix). One six-page "piece" stands out: "The Resourcefulness of Words" which comes "[f]rom a Bergen Lecture given at Yale in 1940." It goes at matters of comprehension and interpretation: language is ambiguous, meanings are multiple. There is a certain "wandering" quality to the resourcefulness of words, Richards explains, trying to finesse systematic misunderstandings in language and this wandering quality. A few pages of this were reprinted in Enos and Brown's Professing the New Rhetorics. Richards also mentions that this short piece developed into his book, How To Read A Page. That stretch I mentioned earlier, it is sometimes a yawn (or a yowl of exasperation).

Another opportunity in this for digression (or call it redirection): Will I connect How To Read A Page with distant reading and the abstract visual models produced by these methods? Maybe. But not yet. I like the riff that goes for distant reading as How To Read An Epitome (of Composition)--something along the lines of layering metadata onto relatively stable forms (i.e., models), shoring up disciplinary data-sets, and so on.

What else can I say about Richards' Speculative Instruments? What a shame that the title--a title I like--was used up on this grab bag of "pieces." With this in mind, Berthoff's "Abstraction as a Speculative Instrument" comes back into the spotlight. For the chunk of this diss on the concept of abstraction, Berthoff's piece will have to do the leg work. But it shouldn't have to do all of the heavy lifting. Sure, there's Langer, but that's not the direction I want to go in. Berthoff's recuperation of abstraction--a recuperation Haynes says failed and must be broached once again--sticks with abstraction as forming. Berthoff entangles concept formation and writing as knowing: "[Abstraction] can show us how to think of forming concepts as a matter of composing" (236). Continuing, she goes at issues of writing across the curriculum (the relevance of language to all disciplines) and also to "abstraction as a speculative instrument [that] can help us re-think the nature of the relationship of 'the contingent and the particular' to 'the general orders" (237). I can't decide whether this last part has more to do with compositionists being "great minds" or whether it is an allusion to scalability constrained by the General Semanticist's Ladder analogy (referentiality, from particular to obtuse). Berthoff's is a discussion of abstraction I find to be slotted with a space for what, of late, is more commonly discussed in terms of networks, traces, and formative, inventive association--abstraction as forming (with or without reference to "speculative instruments" and the "wandering resourcefulness" of words) gives way not to a Ladder of Abstraction, which Berthoff firmly and persuasively argues against, but to networks, impermanent paths of activation, instigating clicks of fascination and intensity, and various other evocative, uncanny encounters. It's on this point that the pre-digital foundation of Berthoff's work on abstraction seems most conspicuous.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Veysey, "The Plural Organized Worlds of the Humanities"

V eysey, Laurence. "The Plural Organized Worlds of the Humanities." The Organization of Knowledge in Modern America, 1860-1920. Alexandra Oleson and John Voss, eds. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 1979.

Daly-Goggin refers to this chapter and Veysey's book-length work, The Emergence of the American University (Chicago, 1965) in her discussion of patterned isolation. Here, Veysey examines the humanities during the period of 1865-1920. The historical focus isn't especially relevant for my work, and I can't find specific references to "patterened isolation" (which does appear explicitly in Emergence). Veysey's discussion of professionalization (pp. 57-72) presents a few useful pieces for returning to, maybe. The chapter itself presents three perspectives on the humanities to characterize the 55 year era:

  1. Burgeoning variety: the humanities as a continuation of the genteel tradition, which gave way to the fading of generalists around 1890 and the beginnings of advanced research, professionalization, and specialization. pp. 52-57.
  2. Professionalization: National organizations, learned societies and groups, and a devil may care attitude toward disciplinary interrelatedness (Veysey says the social sciences had a much more pronounced interrelatedness). pp. 57-72.
  3. Homogenous social context: Four kinds of groups: educational (school-related), custodial (keepers of special collections), voluntary associations (clubs, etc.), and media (publishers, performance agencies, etc.). pp. 72-85.

The final two sections of the essay are concerned with a review of the forces at work (85-89) and an assessment of the "basic intellectual achievement of the era" (89-92). Veysey suggests that the era can be reduced to 50 or 60 names (92), and he proposes that a comparable survey should be considered for the period running from 1920-1970. This move to name-counting indicates that the contributions were individual and typically measured as such. He refers briefly to movements--constrasting low-brow (counter-culture, avante-garde, and revolutionary) and high-brow (old world high culture) movements, but his final judgment is a count of notable, named contributors and their exemplars--Santayana for those outside the academy and C. S. Peirce for those affiliated with the academy.

"On the plane of thought, they claimed to represent the heritage of higher 'civilization.' Thus, in a time of rapid academic transformation marked by strongly progressive assumptions, the humanities stood for an important degree of continuity. While participating to some extent in the pervasive onward and upward mood, their spokesmen insisted that an acquaintance with the literary and artistic remains of the long-term past still ought to furnish the hallmark of the truly educated man or woman" (52). 1865-1920: An inertial humanities concerned with remnants.

"To the generalists, research meant submergence in arcane dry-as-dust materials located within subfields they could scarcely comprehend, along with the acceptance of a dubious and pretentious scientific posture. The Ph.D. and the entire Germanic style of graduate training threatened liberal education. Did it threaten the existence of the cultivated social elite as well?" (54)

"Those who reject the dominant scientific conception of the pursuit of knowledge can only wander off in a score of mutually unrelated directions. It is easy to see these as amounting to no more than a mixed bag of random leftovers. In particular, when such fields as history, English, foreign languages, and the history of art and music rejected science and yet invoked the past, there was the grave danger that they would run around in a spirit of sheer antiquarianism--calling attention to anything merely because it existed, with no self-conscious principle of selection, no concept of the logical relationship between evidence and larger hypothetical generalizations. Of course none of this matters if one stops dreaming of intellectual unification and rests content with the celebration of particular achievements in art, music, poetry, literary criticism, or philosophy. But these symptoms of confusion, drift, and retreatism deserve emphasis in dealing with a rubric that to outsiders appears far more coherent than it is" (57).

"The most important boundary may well be not the formalistic one between so-called amateurs and professionals but the line that divides those who William James called the once- and twice-born, between those persons of all backgrounds who have become converted to a profoundly sustaining intellectual allegiance of this kind and those others (possibly laboring alongside them in the same academic departments) who have not" (61). Could this be switched into a networks vocabulary re: homophily bias, boundary spanners, and centrality?

Terms: unguided drift [that characterizes the humanities] (56), specialization (59), managerialism (60), "intensification of elitism" (63), centrifugal forces (68), quasi-aristocratic clubbishness (68), MLA cliquishness (74).

Friday, July 6, 2007

Seasonal Visitors

E arly 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.

This feeds into another impression. In his chapter on "The Philosophers" (The Making of...), North draws on a metaphor of the marina to describe the group's turn-style make-up:

Given their backgrounds, the best first option of most of these movers (i.e., Practitioners), is the Scholars' community; and since Philosophical inquiry, in an area still so new, is so wide open--requiring the least retraining, demanding access to no special materials, and offering the chance of relatively quick publication--many have given it a try. A few, frustrated by what they perceive as the limitations of Philosophical work, are drawn on to try other modes of inquiry. Most presumably return to whatever they did before, finding themselves uninterested in or not suited for the effort involved in sustained Philosophical inquiry. The resulting demographic pattern is rather like that of a marina: a small core of full-time residents; a larger group of longer-term types, who may stay as long as two or three years, or move in and out with some regularity; and lots of one-time seasonal visitors who nevertheless--by sheet weight of numbers--leave their mark on the community. And so, even though we can say that the community has developed a stronger sense of its own identity--especially, like the Historians, in terms of a more potent critical self-consciousness--there are in fact enormous individual differences in the extent to which such a claim can be true. (92)

A long quotation, I know. I have italicized the line about the "resulting demographic pattern," in part because I have been thinking about patterns and disciplinarity, and I think that Sánchez is building toward a discussion of pattern generation (a theory of writing as pattern generation) in his push away from hermeneutics, away from writing as representation, and away from the appropriate/apply method of theorizing. But I want to add an asterisk, a qualifier, to this anticipatory sense of where Sánchez is taking me. Keeping with North's marina metaphor, might it be that professionalization and graduate training contribute to the appropriate-apply method of theorizing writing? Even the multi-year residents at the Complandia marina moved there at some point, new to the neighborhood with their things not far behind. Among those things, square boxes packed with "Derrida, Foucault, Cixous, Wittgenstein, Irigaray, and so on" (13).

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

How Far Can We Drift?

I 've been re-reading Cynthia Haynes' "Writing Offshore: The Disappearing Coastline of Composition" over the past two days. I'd read it this spring, even referred to it in my CCCC paper and in my dissertation prospectus. But this time I wanted to work at it more slowly, soak in it.

This time around, I kept finding floating crumbs that made me think this is the 50-page scholarly article version of China Mieville's The Scar. I probably can't do justice to this in the time I have right now, but I will try. Considering that The Scar is an adventure on the high seas about a hybrid, hodge-podge floating city (Armada, as dappled and remade as composition studies) and the fetishistic Lovers who command the peculiar conglomeration, there are surprising tie-ins. [Spoiler alert.]

Haynes writes of her own sea-ward excursion, a whale-watching trip into the Artic Sea. This is the event that primes her call for writing offshore, for abstraction, drifting, and groundless solidarities that offset the anchor that is argumentation, the root of composition's "pedagogical juggernaut" (673). On abstraction and composition's containment of it, a "thunderous breach"!

Just there, beneath the seas of Eckhart's theological detachment and Heidegger's secular withdrawal, we witness the thunderous breach of our whale--abstraction. But unlike Melville's Ahab, we do not slaughter the abstraction and lash it to our vessel in order to preserve some divine balance between Kant's a priori and Locke's tabula rasa. We let it be abstract; we withdraw, move away, and tread in astonishment. Into its wake I would have us sail as awakened teachers of writing and rhetoric, inviting students to detach themselves from us, from the ground--and to think in the abstract, in writing. (677)

Leap from Melville's whale to Mieville's avanc, a too-deep-to-be-seen mythical underwater creature, harnessed by the Lovers in an attempt to tow the floating city and its castaways toward their destination, the mysterious scar. Preparations:

The frantic work continued, and below the water, the shape of the avanc's harness grew slowly more solid. It was ghosted, its outlines in girders and wooden supports, like an abstract for some implausible building. As the days went on it grew a little more substantial, its intricate spines and gears more like something real. It grew through extraordinary efforts of the crews. The city was on something like war footing, every iota of industry and effort commandeered. People understood that they were careening at breakneck speed into a new epoch. (345)

Back to Haynes who would have us steer "toward an abstract horizon" (671):

The diverse senses of converting argumentation pedagogy to teaching abstraction could also include teaching how to achieve distance, to detach from one's preconceptions, distill concepts, condense language, and translate meanings. Learning to abstract would involve learning the alluring nature of language, how it draws you away, how it seduces you. (715)

What are the limits of this seduction? I ask not because I'm doubtful of Haynes' push-off from the shore but because I find it reassuring, even encouraging, her discussion of abstraction. For the Armadans, including Tanner Sack, the underwater specialist given to morphing amphibious, and Bellis, the translator of many languages, containing the avanc took a turn:

The avanc is sick.
Trying to continue its mindless motion at the rockmilk engine's command, it slows and slows. It is--what? Bleeding, wounded? Fevered? Chafed sore by the alien reality around it? Too mute or stupid or obedient to feel or show its pain, the avanc's lesions are not healing. They are shedding their dead matter in suppurating clots that eddy free and drift up like oil, expanding as the crushing pressure lessens, enveloping and suffocating fish and weed, until what breaks the waves with a mucal slurp is a noisome coagulate of infection smothered sea-life.
Somewhere between two and three thousand miles into the Hidden Ocean, the avanc is sick. (491-492)

A groundless solidarity between the whale of abstraction and the harnessed avanc? Uncertain. But why not work at this in a course, say an unlikely graduate course, one piled high with ground/sea allegories for the discipline, for discourse, and so on.

A few of the readings:
Haynes, Cynthia. "Writing Offshore: The Disappearing Coastline of Composition Theory." JAC 23.4 (2003): 667-724.
Royster, Jacqueline Jones. "Academic Discourses or Small Boats on a Big Sea." ALT DIS: Alternative Discourses in the Academy. Christopher Schroeder, Helen Fox, and Patricia Bizzell, eds. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook, 2002. 23-30.
McComiskey, Bruce. "Introduction." English Studies: An Introduction to the Discipline(s).
Neel, Jasper. "Reclaiming Our Theoretical Heritage: A Big Fish Tale." Olson 3-11.
Mieville, The Scar.
Deadliest Catch, season I.
Sid Perkins on "Flotsam Science." Week of April 28, 2007; Vol. 171, No. 17 , p. 267.

Haynes, "Writing Offshore: The Disappearing Coastline of Composition Theory"

H aynes, Cynthia. "Writing Offshore: The Disappearing Coastline of Composition Theory." JAC 23.4 (2003): 667-724.

Haynes calls for composition-theory in motion, a willingness to drift all the while cognizant that "so much defies reason" (669). If composition's theoretical currents are akin to waters upon which we float, in much that same way Haynes was when she launched from the Norwegian shore into the Artic Sea in the scene that opens the essay, argumentative writing with its commitment to ground/reason is the anchor that has dragged "until it took hold among the bedrock curricula of grammar and style, aims and modes, claims, grounds, and warrants" (668). Haynes sets out "dissatisfied with teaching writing that is primarily argumentative writing qua reason" (669). Invoking Crowley, Haynes expresses skepticism toward the "discourse of needs" (i.e., "students 'need' to write and think in particular ways" (668d)). Composition, is, in effect "rotten with reason" (668)--poisoned with a mindset in relentless pursuit of "the why, the reason, the rationale" (668). Writing offshore desires the disappearing coastline while acknowledging a need for movement; "it is suggestive" (670), preferring something like Elam's "groundless solidarity." Haynes writes, "Equally charged and similarly moved, I mean to probe the ground beneath teaching argument (née critical thinking) that compels us to teach good writing as the invention of good reasons" (670).

Unlearning a Pedagogical Apparatus (671)
Haynes creates a polarity between argumentation and abstraction, preferring the latter, but not as something the belongs exclusively to the authority of the teacher and not as something that stirs in smoothly with the "discourse of needs" (viz., "students need abstraction"). That is, as we move away from the shoreline of composition theory, we would move toward an "abstract horizon" (671), shifting our relationship to ground, footing, and finitude. The "pedagogical juggernaut" (Ong) composition has inherited suffers from a Ramist attachment to logic and reason; teacher training (replication of the juggernaut) collapses ars (art) and doctrina (teaching), reducing pedagogy to argumentation: "Reason is perfected in pedagogy, for pedagogy, by pedagogues" (673). Haynes argues for "unbuild[ing] this pedagogical apparatus" (673), for unlearning as the "defamiliarization vis-à-vis unquestioned forms of knowledge" (673). With a Derridean willingness to "disturb the doxa in its slumber", Haynes acknowledges the chance that she will be charged with "irresponsibility," but she is willing to bear this charge if it allows her "to probe the depths of a more responsive relation to students, to each other, and to each Other" (674).

The Ground of Reason (674)
Haynes "prepare[s] us to need the sea" (674), as she works at the joint between argumentation and abstraction. Reason, logic, and ground are the anchors, the root system of too much composition theory; Heidegger's turn on Being (from anchor, a release toward Being as "the principle of ground itself") moves such thinking offshore: "Just there, beneath the seas of [Meister] Eckhart's theological detachment and Heidegger's secular withdrawal, we witness the thunderous breach of our whale--abstraction" (677). But abstraction requires yet more training: "We need to hear this word, and we need to tread slowly" (677) (sounds like Latour on slowciological accounts). Abstraction risks "the fallacy of misplaced concreteness" (677) (i.e., going aground where determinate meaning is built). "We cannot leap from ground to ground unless we keep moving; and we cannot build castles in the air on solid foundations" (678). Still, from the withdrawal/detachment, we drift away from "representational thinking." Persistent problem: "Resting in our not-leaping poses the ultimate hazard: we become so rooted in reason that our feet sink deep into the sand at low tide, and each attempt to step out and up is futile" (680).

Street-Smart Writing Students (682)
Haynes is skeptical of calls to "connect the text and the street" because such gestures tend to conjure up the flaneur as the prototypical city-goer, along with its problematic "attitude towards knowledge and its social context" and its "writing safely hidden by anonymity and insignificance" (683). Here, the dismissal of the flaneur feels too deliberately pursued; he never stood a chance! But this particular framing of flanery, although it doesn't account for how such an attitude might be an improvement on certain other attitudes (some of this in the flaneur's preference for social realities as preferable to the hermeneut's disposition)...this particular framing is used to "glimpse an unhappy association in whose folly we are unwittingly complicit by connecting 'the text and the street'" (683). Haynes puts it bluntly: "'the street' serves as a metonymic substitution through which the old 'bait and switch' of 'reinventing the university' is accomplished" (683). "Street smarts" flattens into argumentation, keeping with "Hellenic male ceremonial combat" traditions, in which conflict is performed in such a way that maximally manages tensions. Haynes works through a series of references--T.R. Johnson's "School Sucks," ETS research on "Extending Intelligence," and a program called Reason!able that supports argument maps--visual renderings of a text (Haynes is especially critical of this; it's not clear that she has much tolerance for visuality, especially where technology is concerned).

What Should Not be Built (686)
Check the foundation. Is it rotten? In this section, Haynes works from Virilio's notion of the "trajective" (rather than objective or subjective) to explore the mode of being that involves "movement from here to there" (686). The nomad, transcience. She couples the trajective to questions about architecture (and ground), borrowing from Rajchman: "What would an architecture of such trajectories and movements look like?" (686). Here, Haynes also recombines the flanuer (taken apart previously) and replaces him with the refugee as "the figure of the dispossessed" passing and dwelling different "zones of intensity" (687). Citing Sirc, she mentions the change he articulates, drawing on avant-garde architects, artists, and theorists, from street "as mere topos to the street as event" (687). Clearly she prefers the latter, aligning with Sirc in "groundless solidarity." Lebbeus Woods comes up, too, as Haynes draws up a "rhetoric of the unbuilt" (688). Woods' work is that of speculative, imagined architectures, the pre-concretized abstractions that peel layers from reality with uncertainty. More examples follow, of a "peace park" between North and South Korea proposed by Natsios and Young, and of Libeskind's proposed model for the World Trade Center memorial: "Such projects remind us that a rhetoric of the unbuilt must also consider (and rendered in in/visible textures) unqualified hope" (691). Haynes calls this section an "attempt to locate (and appropriate) permissible isomorphisms between theoretical architecture and composition theory" (693) in such a way that can "bridge the expanse between reason and refuge" (695). "What clearly was needed were not new objects, but a new orientation toward a phenomenal field of events and interactions--not objects, but the abstract regimes of force that organize and deploy them" (84) (694) [Read this alongside Latour's renewal of objects; could this be taken as an undesireable sort of abstraction compatible with the sociology of the social?]

Pedagogy and the Refugee (695)
"One answer, then, to the question of what an architecture of trajectories would look like is: a boat in an intensive zone" (695). Instensive why? What puts a boat in an intensive zone? (Piracy, mutiny, scurvy?) The density is sharply up in this section; Haynes works at the problem of the "tourism experience" as relates to invoking refugee-as-figure for "abject forced mobility" (696). The irrationality (unreasonableness) of refugees primes an ethical muddle: "It cannot go without saying that removing the ground has profound implications for re-moving students into the murky waters of border politics" (697). Agamben, Agamben. Can't be oblivious to matters of the un-reason-able. Heidegger, Derrida (slow down!). Quarantining terms. Reason threatens to turn us away from Being itself (701). But a poetics of the trace remains (some hope in this): Heidegger: "What is presumed to be eternal merely conceals a suspended transiency, suspended in the void of durationless now." Haynes finds in Heidegger a revived current (charge, voltage) for the poet, still, "Thus far we have scarcely issued a reading that can properly stand beside the refugee without addressing the incongruity of poetizing in the face of their immediate and devastating dangers" (703).

Unbuilding the Logic of Containment (704)
Haynes seems to be reassembling deconstruction, re-accounting for its over-simplification, which made possible its take-down by proponents of "practical reason" (704). Haynes goes back over deconstruction with an abstraction-toothed comb, citing Caputo's explanation that "Deconstruction offers no excuse not to act....Undecidability does not detract from the urgency of decision; it simply underlines the difficulty" (704). Working through "Derrida's call for 'forms of solidarity yet to be invented'" and matters of hospitality and cosmopolitanism, Haynes works toward an assertion of "renegade rhetorics" (707), incorporating nods to Ulmer, Worsham, Sirc, Vitanza, and Davis, as she shows that "[r]hetoric as refuge rearticulates the paths of the poets and illuminates their abstract trajectories. Displacing argument is rhetoric's supreme task; disinventing logos is rhetoric's sacred duty" (707). For the concentrated push against argument and reason, this bit comes very close to sound like an assertion--an argument for the heretical. "Into these uncommonplaces, I submit rhetoric as refuge, writer as refugee, and abstract pedagogy" (708). Haynes also admits her own (t)reason: an account of the program at UTA, which was undone, some believe, by the "steady poisoning of rhetoric with the principle of reason" (708). Haynes continues to challenge the behemoth of argumentation: "Our collective (t)reason will be necessary to dismantle this edifice" (710).

Writing Nomadically (711)
"Keeping still to [her] desire to remain suggestive," (711) Haynes declares several musts in a string of manifesto-like challenges (take off the garb of the flaneur, dispossess our monopoly on abstraction, etc.). She tells about the "quasi-journal Archigram", which "rendered radical creations such as capsule apartments, walking cities (on the ocean), instant cities, university nodes, most of which were never meant to 'take up a finite configuration'" (711)--the "unbuilt spoof in response to their view of traditional architecture as hoax" (712). Receivables? Much like what Saper writes of in Networked Art (on-sendings, kits, etc.). Archigram included a course with an assignment called "depth probe" (713). Haynes correlates the depth probe to Berthoff's "abstraction as a speculative instrument" and then accounts for the discipline's tenuous relationship to abstraction (713). Although it was a "failure" in terms of uptake, Berthoff's work, explains John Clifford, "takes seriously her call to weld philosophical frames of reference to classroom techniques" (714). How much drift can we tolerate? Berthoff lamented that "seemingly broad-minded theorists...refuse to see how far from shore we can drift on theoretial currents" (714). Abstract writing, abstracting practices are overdue.

"The diverse senses of converting argumentation pedagogy to teaching abstraction could also include teaching how to achieve distance, to detach from one's preconceptions, distill concepts, condense language, and translate meanings. Leaning to abstract would involve learning the alluring nature of language, how it draws you away, how it seduces you" (715).

End: "at times I need this depth/ forgive me" (715).


Phrases: (gore-texTM)ual tourists (668b), argumentative writing (668), discourse of needs (668d), groundless solidarity (670), writing offshore (670), abstract horizon (671), Ramist dialectic (672), Ong's "pedagogical juggernaut" (673), unlearning (673), violent realities (674), castles in the air (677), abstractus (677), without why (678), marionettes (680), flaneur (682), normative catachresis (683), fliting (684), argument maps (685), trajective (686), zones of intensity (687), rhetoric of the unbuilt (688), brutal foundations (693), refugees (694), abject forced mobility (696), quarantining terms (700), metaphysical homelessness (704), renegade rhetorics (707), abstract pedagogy (708), testing contradistinctions (715), aphorism (715).

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Berthoff, "The Problem of Problem Solving"

B erthoff, Ann E. "The Problem of Problem Solving." CCC 22.3 (1971): 237-242.

In reply to Janice Lauer's "Heuristics and Composition," a brief essay and 200-item bibliography of research in psychology, Berthoff presents a polemical critique of "problem-solving" and of the singling out of psychological or political matters as relates to the teaching of writing: "every issue in public life has mutually defining psychological and political aspects, the exact relationship of which it is a primary and continuing intellectual task to discover" (237). Berthoff positions two figures, Lauer and Louis Kampf, each as the representative of a problematically extreme stance that tips too far toward psychology, on the one hand (in the case of Lauer), and too far toward political radicalism, on the other (in the case of Kampf and his eliminationist pleas). Berthoff focuses on "the psychological inadequacies and political dangers of problem-solving as a pedagogical concept" (237).

Berthoff says that she has sampled from Lauer's list and that she has grave concerns about the lack of "pedagogical grist": "Accepting [the guidance of the psychologists], we would be led from our English maze only to be abandoned among task definitions, communication frames, non-verbal processes and all other features of a strangely familiar landscape" (238). This disjuncture, Berthoff explains, has much in common with the differences that led the Dartmouth Conference to be a failure; in effect, the agendas of psychology (Lauer later comments that Berthoff treats psychology too singularly, too monolithically) tend to avoid, or at the very least downplay, politics. She draws on I.A. Richards' to explain her skepticism toward importing information theory, referring to his essays "So Much Nearer" (1968) and "Speculative Instruments" (1955), both of which offer "an important line of defense against the influence of psychologists and linguistic scientists outside of the field of their competence" (238). Berthoff rails against the "technicians" on Lauer's list, suggesting that such approaches to language "falsely [define] the forms of knowing" (238). Rather than relying on such expert-technicians from another field, "English teachers should dare to raise their own questions about the nature of learning and knowing and should dare, furthermore, to answer some of those questions which have been thought to lie in the province of the problem-solvers, that protectorate of educational psychology" (239).

Next, Berthoff notes that psychology of learning can be "politically dangerous unless it is conceived in the context of a sound sociology of knowledge" (239). Heuristics as problem-solving, then, risk falling in accordance with preparations for a bureaucratized society: "The concept of problem solving serves the belief that the school's function is to prepare citizens for life in a technological society" (239). In effect, problem-solving serves "commercial interests" (239). Alternative figures (Jane Addams at Hull House, Maria Motessori, Claude Levi-Strauss, and Paulo Freire) serve Berthoff's basic claim: cultural revolution is dependent upon literacy, and so literacy teachers must be wary of following the path of educational psychologists (e.g., those listed by Lauer) or those who, like Kampf, would argue the freshman writing curriculum as a politically oppressive instrument of the state that must be abolished. Berthoff ends by leaning on Freire's work with the idea of "problematizing the existential situation" (241) because naming (world-making via language) "wins knowledge that can liberate" (241). The act of naming is invested and re-invested in the act of knowing [tie: folksonomy/ taxonomy]. Before ending with a series of quotations, Berthoff invokes Coleridge's advice: "Know your knowledge" (241).

Although the direct relevance of this debate to "heuristics" (as I want to use it in the diss) is, as of yet, tentative, the Lauer-Berthoff disagreement does serve as a backdrop--as one current in the water under the bridge--to the surfacing of the Flower-Hayes process model that first started to circulate in 1977 with their College English essay, "Problem-Solving Strategies and the Writing Process" (CE 39.4, 449-461). Lauer and Berthoff weren't the only ones in the rising discipline of rhet-comp to discuss problem-solving, but the reappearance of the phrase in the title of the earliest* Flower-Hayes article seems significant. Does the Lauer-Berthoff argument predict the fall-out over the Flower-Hayes model more than a decade later? Whether it does or not, the debate over problem-solving resonates with many of the contemporary debates where models are mischaracterized as determinative, apolitical, neutral, and inherently at odds with maxims such as "Know your knowledge" (241). In fact, Berthoff's strong statements against "technicians," where she instead argues for teachers to "raise their own questions," could be framed as a call for legitimacy and for pluralism in model-making, where rather than inheriting models from the psychologist's wheelhouse, teachers have a hand in the creation of dynamic pedagogies.

* - ???

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Transmittable Airways

T racy Kidder's Mountains Beyond Mountains is the U.-wide shared reading for the fall semester at Syracuse. Because I will be teaching freshmen in the fall, I picked up a complimentary copy from the Writing Program office about ten days ago, figuring I'd read it sooner rather than later to get some sense of how it might merge in with the teaching I'll be doing in late August. I haven't worked that part out yet because I haven't received my formal course assignment (slight chance that it will be a Wellness Learning Community section). Still, it's never too early to begin thinking about such things. Basically, the book is Kidder's journalistic portrait of the life-work of Dr. Paul Farmer, a physician specializing in TB who is also trained as an anthropologist and who has deep convictions about treating infectious disease where it hits hardest--among the poor. A NYT Bestseller, the book trails Farmer from his start-up work in Haiti, which grew into Partners In Health, to related efforts to treat MDR (multiple drug resistant) TB in a region of Peru (eventually the entire country) and also in the prison system in Russia. Farmer is depicted as ingenious and unshakably committed to his work; he responds to ceaseless demands with a conventions-be-damned attitude toward medical treatment and cost efficacy when it comes to TB treatments.

I had considered posting about the book earlier, noting the few check-marks I've put in the margins next to the bits I want to find again--bits about Farmer's language games (ending assertions about commonplace attitudes toward the poor with the word comma to imply the unspoken word to follow: asshole; personifying infections diseases and closing his rants with Love, ID.; or his neologisms and PIH-speak: "[t]o commit 'a seven-three' was to use seven words where three would, and a 'ninety-nine one hundred' was quitting on a nearly completed job" (217). Or the bit about "hermeneutics of generosity" (215), where ethos blends with the believing game.

The TB-infected passenger who hopped aboard a flight to Atlanta generated more noise than I would have expected in light of reading Kidder's book. I'm no TB expert (not even close), but Kidder's book gives a reasonably straight-forward account of the differences among the virus's drug resistances. In fact, Farmer is notable in the subject-of-a-book sort of way in part because he is credited with getting at the complexities of TB's multiply resistant manifestations. The breakthroughs in Peru involved his realization that certain first-line treatments of the disease were, in effect, teaching the virus to resist certain drugs. Treatment success rates were so low because the medical establishment hadn't yet figured out that their treatments were smartening up the virus. The treatments were proliferating strands of the virus that were less likely to be remedied through conventional and decades-old practices.

This week's news, however, involves a case of XDR TB or extensively drug resistant tuberculosis, for which there is only a 30-pecent cure-rate (so says CNN). I can't remember any discussion of XDR TB in Mountains Beyond Mountains (my biggest complaint about the book is that it doesn't have an index), but as these events play out, as passengers who held seats on the plane get tested, and as we watch the airlines scramble to resolve the medicalization of air space (not only for flying and border-crossing, but for breathing), I am thinking about this splash of news as a kind of mini-sequel to Kidder's book, an extra chapter in what is, for me, a new awareness of the complex set of issues knotted together where medical research, germ circulation, epidemiology, border-keeping, and health care privacy come together.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Daly-Goggin, Authoring A Discipline.

D aly-Goggin, Maureen. Authoring A Discipline: Scholarly Journals and the Post-World War II Emergence of Rhetoric and Composition. Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum, 2000.

Searchable text available in Google Book Search.

Daly-Goggin presents a study of nine major journals in rhetoric an composition over 40 years as evidence of the discipline's emergence: College English, CCC, Research in the Teaching of English, Rhetoric Society Newsletter/Quarterly, Freshman English News, Journal of Advanced Composition (later only JAC), Pre/Text, Rhetoric Review, and Written Communication. The preface very clearly positions the project as a history; the opening traces rhetoric as an institutional interest, from its lowly status in the early twentieth century to its resurgence in the late twentieth century. Daly-Goggin draws heavily on a gardening metaphor--an organic framework related to gardening, budding, fruits, transplanting, and harvesting.

The book is organized by periods. The second chapter covers 1950-1965; the third chapter, 1965-1980; and the fourth chapter, 1980-1990. The fourth chapter/era is the time when disciplinarity was best established, relative to the earlier periods, and, as such, Daly-Goggin suggests that the ways journals defined themselves shifted toward theory, methods, and history and away from practice and pedagogy. Put another way, the discipliniographers (i.e., editors and contributors who literally write the discipline (xvii)) continued to move in their thinking to a point where rhetoric and composition was thought a Wissenschaft (14, 122a) or legitimate knowledge-making conglomerate.

Daly-Goggin's analysis of each journal focuses on transitions between editors; she characterizes the journals according to each editor's predilections for what the journal would do and how decisions would be made about what sorts of content would be featured. This is especially significant when it comes to features such as tables of contents (added to RSQ in 1981) and double-blind peer review (introduced to CCC relatively late compared to other journals, during Richard Gebhardt's editorship, starting in 1987).

To account for the early years (1950-1965), Daly-Goggin draws on Laurence Veysey's idea of patterned isolation where "knowledge production and consumption was dispersed, localized, and personal" (48, 65). Collin has written about this, as well, and it is tremendously useful for getting at questions of just how much journals did to alter the pattern or relieve the experience of isolation. Daly-Goggin also suggests that, for this era, many in English studies might not have been paying attention to the journal--might not have been reading it at all. In 1964, Macrorie published ten accounts by graduate students criticizing their graduate training in English. Daly-Goggin writes, "Yet English professors were silent for reasons that are not entirely clear; some may have agreed and thus saw no reason to speak out; others may have chosen to ignore the publication, and still others--most likely many others--probably simply had not read the journal" (61d). Simply had not read the journal.


Terms: discipliniographers (xviii, 148), density of publications (xviii, 176, rel. to graphs), research ideal (5), grammatocentrism (8c), Crowley's mechanical literacy (12b) (rel. models as merely or more than), Wissenschaft (14b), patterned isolation (48, 65), interdisciplinarity (87), poesis/noesis (91), generations (149b; rel. to Latour SIA), critical mass (176), marketing myopia (199d).

"However, I want to make it clear that I am not suggesting that journals alone construct the disciplinary work of a field; the phenomenon is much more complicated than that" (xviii).

"The point is disciplines have never been unified or coherent; rather by the mid-20th century academicians began to confront the illusions of coherence" (xx).

Technique: "Given the enormous new demands for work and recreational literacy, the question is why rhetoric did not expand to fill those needs instead of contracting so sharply. The answer is too complex to deal with in one chapter, but the following three sections address some of the major forces that worked to eclipse rhetoric within departments of English" (10d).

Lloyd-Jones compares research agenda to chemistry/alchemy: "Although some in the field of rhetoric and composition have criticized the natural sciences analogy, it was fitting. As I already pointed out, those in the field were isolated in home institutions and thus, largely in the dark about what others were doing, making coherent research agendas virtually impossible" (77b).

"One point must then be highlighted: The contributors and the journals in rhetoric and composition became dispersed across the entire United States, and they further began to represent fairly well the geographical distribution of postsecondary educational institutions" (160).

"In each case, the analysis suggests just how strong and how tightly woven the social fabric for the field had become by the 1980s" (178a).

"Narrow specialization threatens rhetoric--an observation made by Cicero over two millennia ago that appears in the epigraph that opens chapter 1 of this history" (205).

Related sources:
Burnham, Christopher. "Research Methods in Composition." Research in Composition and Rhetoric: A Bibliographic Sourcebook. Eds. Michael G. Moran and Ronald F. Lunsford. Westport: Greenwood, 1984: 191-201.
Crowley, Sharon. "The Perilous Life and Times of Freshman English." Freshman English News 14 (1986): 11-16.
Flower, Linda S., and John R. Hayes. "Problem-Solving Strategies and the Writing Process." CCC 39 (1977): 449-61.
Lauer, Janice. "Heuristics and Composition." CCC 21 (1976): 396-404.
Trimbur, John. "The Problem of Freshman English (Only): Toward Programs of Study in Writing." Writing Program Administration 22 (1999): 9-30.
Veysey, Laurence R. The Emergence of the American University. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1965.
Veysey, Laurence R. "The Plural Organized Worlds of the Humanities." The Organization of Knowledge in Modern America, 1860-1920. Eds. Kenneth Oliver and John Voss. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 1979. 51-106.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Miscellaneous Notes

D avid Weinberger's Everything Is Miscellaneous (Amazon | blog) accounts for the overhaul of classificatory efforts brought about through various digital, Wikipedia, Flickr, and so on--as each affords nearly limitless reorganization. This third order, the digital, amplifies miscellany, and with it characteristics of mayhem, disorderliness, and pandemonium that distinguishes the digital from contending orders. Weinberger tabs this condition the "new order of order," and he ends the book's prologue with a gesture that brings information to life, infuses it with desire: "[information] wants to be miscellaneous" (7).

Much of what Weinberger does depends on his own taxonomy--an unshakeable bedrock of three orders, each distinct from the other. The first order is material (silverware drawers, shelved books); the second order is paper-bound (card catalogues, etc.). Each earlier order has its problems, Weinberger argues, and only a few of those problems are shared with the third order, the digital. His examples are persuasive, from the arbitrariness (and implicit cultural rootedness) of alphabetization to dogmatic assertions about the universe (or all of the fauna and flora in it) to the design rational of the periodic table of elements--with each anecdote, Weinberger shows the constraints of monolithic categorization schemes. In the digital order, the singular scheme is loosened; "everything has its place" shifts plural, as "everything has its places" (45).

To illuminate this sea change, Weinberger goes at the strained hierarchies of the Dewey Decimal System and contrasts it with the "planned serendipity" (59) in a system like Amazon's, where multiuser metadata and intelligent agents merge into a robust system for circulating interests, influence, and recommendations. He also writes about lists, about laundry, Linnaeus, and the inadequacy of trees (70) (See today's Wired: excerpt from EIM and this). On paper, a classification scheme like Linnaeus's gets bogged down. But the digital order supports layers of tags as well as "faceted classification" (76); now coated in metadata, the sorted object is readily traced along multiple arrays.

The book has much to offer; there's more here than I'm able to recapture right now. On the whole, Everything Is Miscellaneous accomplishes something we can use very much: it works through the ways classification schemes, if ever they were presumed to be rigid and reductive, are giving way to digital circulation and with it a certain buoyant impermanence better matched with the nature of epistemology, especially when we come at it with certain things in mind: rhetoric, production, circulation, and performance. That said, the entire project is circumscribed by its promising counterstatement: It's A Damn Good Thing Everything Isn't Miscellaneous (Weinberger says something similar near the end). I mean, where Weinberger is upbeat about the digital order, his focal premise forces more thoughtful reconsiderations of just how much shared ordering is necessary and practical. I would call this a symptom of all-isms or everything-ness, where the title's "everything" is bait rather than a blanket assertion.

EIM bears out a few confusing moments, as Weinberger himself has acknowledged. For instance, where he discusses meaning (169), I thought his approach risked moving too far in the direction of interpretation and away from production (i.e., knowledge wrought by reading, not writing, though I'm treating this split too simply). I also wondered how it might work to compound the order/mess pairing in chapter nine with something like stagnation and circulation (176); the activity Weinberger stresses with tagging is as much, to my mind, about scraping raw again that which has settled, grown inertial--commonplaces, givens, God terms, doxa. Again, I'm back to circulation.

I also like the section where Weinberger discusses echo chambers, "Shard Knowledge." But there's a point at which he distinguishes conversation from writing: "The noise this [conversation] makes is very different from the scratch of a philosopher's ink on paper. Paper drives thoughts into our heads" (203). Sure, there's something doctrinaire and trusted in paper's longevity, but I worry that anyone would accept as intrinsically more grounded (i.e., sensible, thought-out, careful) anything simply because it appeared on paper. Plus, conversation and dialogue don't belong to the third order digital apparatus any more than the second order of paper--just differently.

As I said three paragraphs ago when I sensed that I was nearing the end of this entry, there's much I'm glossing. I'll come back to some of these ideas later on, I suspect; they're good enough to hold with a favorable lastingness (esp. "joints of nature" (32), metadata defn (104), faceted classification (78), and family resemblances (185). I'll also formally, officially add miscellanize to the belt of verbs one day soon. And, as if that's not enough of an indication of praise, I'm also going to continue to think through how I might use Everything for the WRT205 course I teach next spring.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

McComiskey, "Introduction" to English Studies

M cComiskey, Bruce. "Introduction." English Studies: An Introduction to the Discipline(s). Ed. Bruce McComiskey. Refiguring English Studies Ser. Urbana, IL: NCTE, 2006. 1-66.

McComiskey's introduction includes a section called "The Problem of Specialization," in which he explains Stephen North's three responses to specialization before proposing his own solution: integration. North divided the responses into secession (breaking apart), corporate compromise (one subfield takes on a managerial imperative), and fusion (periods of study are stabilized, but various perspectives and methods apply from across the subfields).

Reintegration--restoring wholeness where secession has occurred--is extremely challenging, McComiskey notes, perhaps to the point of not being possible (46). He cites the implicit valuing of literature in Ohmann's English in America (1976) and points out that subtle arguments for English studies' return to the glories literary study persist.

"No single methodology from linguistics or discourse analysis or creative writing or rhetoric or composition or literature or literary criticism or critical theory or cultural studies or English Education--no single methodology (or set of specialized methodologies) can solve a complex social problem" (32). This acknowledgement of methodological pluralism echoes North's premise in The Making of Knowledge.

"A truly democratic English department (one that exercises the power of each of its composite disciplines equally in the service of a larger goal) can, quite simply, never evolve out of a discipline that defines its scope and function purely in terms of literature" (34b).

"Secession, in other words, may alleviate some immediate problems relating to curriculum and budget, but it does not solve these problems in the long run; given time, they will recur, along with the divisiveness that comes with constant specialization" (36).

Is generalization still possible? Or is specialization a given? Constant specialization is, no doubt, a formidable force (or set of ongoing pressures and prescripts), but what can be done to revalue the generalist? And is a generalist's wide-angle forays of interest and engagement crucial to an integrationist approach to the super-discipline. In other words, to what degree must we not only understand each other but even forge collegial alliances (cooperatives) across specializations?

"Corporate compromise usually involves one discipline in English studies taking managerial responsibility for the others, ideally (but certainly not always) in a democratic fashion" (37b).

"I propose that the goal of this integrated English studies should be the analysis, critique, and production of discourse in social context" (43a).

"Social context" is a sticking phrase in McComiskey's basic proposal. He explains the choice with Ogden and Richards, Malinowski, and Dewey, but Latour's Reassembling lifts the lid on this phrase. I also want to question the emphasis on discourse relative to the non-discursive (i.e., visual), and also think about the terms included in the list: analysis, critique, and production. The first two tip toward a critical or interpretive rhetoric (hermeneutics), while only the third term is oriented toward production (heuretics) (look at Arabella Lyon for this).

Terms: English Studies, disciplinarity, integration, specialization, Burke, identification, consubstantiation, history, definition, raft, secession, corporate compromise, fusion, literacy

Related Sources

Easton, David. "The Division, Integration, and Transfer of Knowledge." Divided Knowledge: Across Disciplines, across Cultures. Ed. David Easton and Corinne S. Schelling. Newbury Park, CA: Sage, 1991. 7-36.

North, Stephen M., et al. Refiguring the Ph.D. in English Studies: Writing, Doctoral Education, and the Fusion-Based Curriculum. Refiguring English Studies. Urbana, IL: NCTE, 2000.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

English Studies' Anchorage, Flotilla

B ruce McComiskey begins his introduction to English Studies: An Introduction to the Discipline(s) with a striking anecdote about the annual Raft debate among scholars from various disciplines at Alabama-Birmingham. The Raft debates start with a sinking-boat scenario. The main ship is in crisis, and all of the passengers have hurried into lifeboats, saving just one spot for a final survivor. The quandary, however, is that three passengers remain on the sinking ship, and all of them are professors at UAB who must vie with the others for the final seat on the life raft by making the most persuasive arguments for their discipline. The arguments--a braid of humor, deliberate provocation, and refutation, frame the event, which unfolds in front of colleagues and students. Audience applause determines the winner. The scenario, in effect, contributes a sense of urgency to an otherwise playful (if viciously candid) cross-disciplinary interchange. A professor of public health defeated McComiskey (who was representing English Studies) in 1999, but the outcome was inevitably the result of disciplinary incoherence, a problem the book sets out, following the early pages, to resolve: "What exactly is English studies?" (2).

The bulk of the introduction is divided into three sections: English Studies in Historical Context, The Problem of Specialization, and The New English Studies. For my own purposes, I'm attending primarily to "The Problem of Specialization," as I intend in one chunk of the dissertation to address specialization and its forms of relief (if they're not bona fide remedies). The rest of the collection is organized according to fields and subfields more or less belonging to the super-category of English Studies: Linguistics and Discourse Analysis, Rhetoric and Composition, Creative Writing, Literature and Literary Analysis, Critical Theory and Cultural Studies, and English Education.

I find the sinking-ship scenario striking because there's a certain shock in considering how my own defense of English Studies above any other discipline would take shape. I'm not alarmed at the thought of defending or explaining the work I do, but it would be especially difficult to do so while at the same time disparaging the work of another field. I mean that I know little enough about surrounding disciplines (a problem of specialization) that the spontaneous assertions I could make about the work of most others in the academy would be based at best on myths, stereotypes, and rumors. Perhaps in direct proportion to specialization, all disciplines suffer from obfuscation and misunderstanding. Meanwhile, the ship bobbed in the on-rushing waters....

I have another reason for taking note of the sinking-boat scenario, a reason I will say a few things about tomorrow (or later in the week).

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Bialostosky, "Should College English Be Close Reading?"

B ialostosky, Don. "Should College English Be Close Reading?" College English 69.2 (Nov. 2006): 111-116.

Don Bialostosky's contribution to the "What Should College English Studies Be?" symposium in the Nov. 2006 College English works through the question of whether it should be close reading.

His first thought: it should. From there, Bialostosky sorts through his favor for close reading, shifting the frame from the phrase's New Critical entrenchment to call for a way of working with texts that uses close to describe the compatibility of reading with the students' existing discursive knowledges (e.g., something like NLG's lifeworlds). Bialostosky refers to the "critical reading" curricular emphasis at Pitt as particularly exemplary in this regard, in what might otherwise be regarded as a blend of SRTOL and reading with an emphasis on "where students are at" when they come to the course.

It's a short essay at just five or six pages. Bialostosky makes clear that rather than appropriating the phrase "close reading," he seeks alternatives to it that help us formulate responses to this: What reading practices to we consider important enough to teach?

I'll return to this because, in making a case for distant reading as heuristic (and heuretic, euretic, eureka!), I want to argue for alternatives not only to New Critical close reading but to the reduction of reading practices to interpretive or hermeneutic activities. Instead, distant reading is also (perhaps foremost) productive, generative, and inventive, as well aligned, I think, with rhetorical mobilizations as with interpretive glosses or stabilized-for-now insights into the meaning of texts. Certainly it can contribute to each. But mustn't they must be held in check, made into hybrids rather than dyads? That said, distant reading practices must remain enactive or actionary; they must be additive in the sense that the new forms of knowledge they proliferate propel us into new ways of thinking rather than folding back into the project of criticism. I like Urban's discussions of inertial and accelerative for this.

Bialostosky also mentions the responses offered by I.A. Richards to New Criticism. This is another place I should return for drawing distinctions between the close reading (New Critics) and distant reading (Moretti).

Phrases: critical reading (111, 113), unexamined predispositions (112), New Critics (112), unexamined resources (113), discursive knowledge (113), ordinary language (113), productive attentiveness (113, 114), death of close reading (114)

"Paying close attention doesn’t guarantee even minimal understanding or response" (112).

"The New Critics were so successful in promulgating and institutionalizing this practice [close reading] that our students come to college English convinced that they can’t understand poetry, or literature more generally, because they have learned to distrust their initial uptake in order to highlight certain words and build from them a reading that will satisfy what they have learned is an institutional demand for deeper, hidden, symbolic meanings. I agree with Robert Scholes, who documents the pervasiveness of this practice, that this kind of close reading is a problem college English must address and not a practice it should continue" (112).

"So, paradoxically, I must conclude that close reading in its institutionalized New Critical instantiation has created the habits and expectations of reading literature that college English needs to resist and reform, or at least articulate and examine, not the habits and expectations it should uncritically cultivate" (112).

"If you wanted, as I do not, to call reading grounded in these repertoires “close reading,” it would be because they would bring literary works closer to students, to the discourse they know and use, instead of distancing, even alienating those works from the language students already know how to use and enjoy" (113).

"I want instead to open a space for considering alternatives to New Critical close reading by marking out, without naming, a pedagogical space where we teach productive attentiveness to literary texts" (113).

Here is a lengthy paragraph near the end of the piece in which Bialostosky lists questions that might be addressed in review essays that account for "productive attention to literary texts." I have switched it from a paragraph to a list:

"To what features of the poem or literary work or text do they direct attention?
How do they articulate the relations among those features?
What questions do they think are most fruitful in directing their students’ attention and to what sorts of evidence do they point their students in answering those questions?
How do they divide, subordinate, and sequence the parts of what they think worth teaching?
How do they articulate the relation between what is “in” the text and what is “outside” it?
How do they situate the poetic or literary work in relation to discourse in other spheres of communication including the vernacular and institutional ones from which their students come?
How do they situate it in relation to other literary texts?
In relation to historical and cultural texts?
What do they teach their students that literary works do, and what do they teach the students to do with them?
What traditions, arts, and disciplines inform their pedagogies—grammar, rhetoric, dialectic, linguistics, semiotics, ethics, politics, sociology, philosophy, among them—and from what sources in those disciplines do their reading practices draw?
Could they offer a theoretical argument for their reading practice grounded in those arts and disciplines?
Have they troubled themselves to articulate the practice they teach with other practices, to respond to criticisms addressed from other disciplines or sources, to differentiate their practices from those who teach under the same banner but teach differently?
How much of their critical orientation to other schools and practitioners do they share with their students and how and when do they share it?
What kind of writing do they ask their students to do, and how is it related to their reading?" (114).

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Virilio, "The Third Interval: A Critical Transition"

V irilio, Paul. "The Third Interval: A Critical Transition." Rethinking Technologies. Ed. Verena Andermatt Conley. Trans. Tom Conley. Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press, 1993. 3-12.

Virilio anticipates an ominous shift wrought by the interval of light as it proliferates in "teletopical technologies" that allow for speedier transmissions. "Act[ing] over distance" is, as a result, increasingly commonplace. Virilio builds a case for the implications of this shift for demography, urbanization, and insularity--matters that can be understood relative to human culture at-large and also to the academic institution.

Virilio is important for his foreboding stance toward the "critical transition" involving an onset of real-time technologies that "kill 'present' time by isolating it from its presence here and now for the sake of another commutative space that is no longer composed of our 'concrete presence' in the world, but of a 'discrete telepresence' whose enigma remains forever intact" (4). It's not entirely clear to me, though, how concrete presence and discrete telepresence are divisible or separable. Twitter seems to me a fine example of the implements Virilio would find so disconcerting (more general transmission technologies, too, of course, are worrisome to him in ~1993).

The third interval--light--is positioned here as a threat, as a force with tremendous destructive power. Teletopical technologies, following the transition, will, if they haven't already, crush the present as we know it, converting reality and duration into "'alternation' or 'flickering' that is also related to a sort of commotion of present duration" (7). Virilio goes on to suggest the implications of this "radical inversion" for cities. But I want to use it to understand skepticism toward distance--and distant reading (like Waters' complaint about Moretti's work). Two thoughts about this:

(-1-) One is cautionary. If distant reading is justified on the basis of efficiency (it makes large bodies of texts differently accessible), is it just another example of what Virilio calls the "tyranny of real time"? We can generate distant readings, in other words, and while they will make texts differently accessible (allowing scalable designations, etc.), do they simultaneously overload the present with an assumption that it can hold more? I suppose I'm not making this plain. If the article abstract, as a form of distant reading, functions as a teaser into the article, the present moment is still held under a heavy burden by x+1 number of abstracts. Distant reading paradoxically reduces and multiplies the labors of reading. Still, this is unavoidable, and the conditions for reading the discipline are even less tenable without such measures. A cynical response could expand the notion of domotics (domestic robotics) to something like acadomotics (the reduction and routinization of intellectual life; the flooding of a working present, the disolution of duration).

(-2-) The second requires a switch from the broad domain of human culture to the circulation of scholarship. Virilio writes, "Where, in the past, physical displacements from one point to another presupposed a departure, a voyage, and an arrival, more than a century ago revolutions in modes of transport had already set in place a liquidation of delay and oriented the very nature of travel (on foot, on horseback, and in a car!) toward the arrival at a final point that remained, however, a restricted arrival by virtue of the very duration of the voyage" (8). This goes along with the critical transition: teletopic technologies move the present instant from scarcity to abundance (the attention economy is embroiled in this transition), from delay and duration to plentitude. Read this quotation as an analogy to publication cycles. Restricted arrival gives way to general arrival; this is true for journals, such as The Journal of Literacy and Technology, that use rolling deadlines. Rolling cycles challenge us to read differently. Duration fades, the journal is potentially ever-present, its departures and arrivals highly irregular. How to read such a thing?

"Today we are beginning to realize that systems of telecommunications do not merely confine extension, but that, in the transmission of messages and images, they also eradicate duration or delay" (3).

"What is becoming critical here is no longer the concept of three spatial dimensions, but a fourth, temporal dimension--in other words, that of the present itself" (4).

"In the future, speed will be used more and more to act over distance, beyond the sphere of influence of the human body and its behavioral biotechnology" (5).

"Critical transition is thus not a gratuitous expression: behind this vocable there lurks a real crisis of the temporal dimension of immediate action" (7).

"Where, in the past, physical displacements from one point to another presupposed a departure, a voyage, and an arrival, more than a century ago revolutions in modes of transport had already set in place a liquidation of delay and oriented the very nature of travel (on foot, on horseback, and in a car!) toward the arrival at a final point that remained, however, a restricted arrival by virtue of the very duration of the voyage" (8). [Analogy: scholarly publishing]

"Thus the mobile human who had become automobile will now become motile, willfully limiting his or her bodily sphere of influence to a few simple gestures, to the emission--or zapping--of several signs" (9).

"Telemarketing, tele-employment, fax work, bit-net, and e-mail transmissions at home, in apartments, or in cabled high rises--these might be called cocooning: an urbanization of real time thus follows the urbanization of real space" (11).

Phrases: teletopical technologies (4), static audiovisual vehicle (5), electromagnetic conditioning (5), interval of light (6), immediate action (7), present instant (7), restricted arrival (8), general arrival (8), domotics (9, 11), tyrrany of distances (10), tyranny of real time (10), mobilization and intertia (11), chain of displacement (11), cocooning (11)

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Information Pickup

I was reading for exams when I came across "The Theory of Information Pickup and Its Consequences," Ch. 14 in James Gibson's The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception. Gibson writes about ecological optics; a version of his theory of affordances appears in ch. 8. He's a small piece of what he writes about information pickup:

The act of picking up information, moreover, is a continuous act, an activity that is ceaseless and unbroken. The sea of energy in which we live flows and changes without sharp breaks. Even the tiny fraction of this energy that affects the receptors in the eyes, ear, nose, mouth, and skin is a flux, not a sequence. The exploring, orienting, and adjusting of organs sink to a minimum during sleep but do not stop dead. Hence, perceiving is a stream, and William James' description of the stream of consciousness (1890, Ch. 9), applies to it. Discrete percepts, like discrete ideas, are "as mythical as the Jack of Spades." (240)

What I find interesting is how the idea of constant information pickup helps us move toward more nuanced understandings of attention and attention structures (more like Linda Stone's "continuous partial attention" than a reductive two-type alternative: focus and digression). Much in this always-on "sea of energy" will be noise. But if we accept the persistence of "exploring, orienting, and adjusting," even during sleep, then the polar extremes of focus and digression have a whole lot of messiness and richness going on between them.

So it is noted. And tossed into the rock polisher, set to agitate until smooth against some other ideas about pickup, collecting: Katamari Damacy, Benjamin's unpacked library, Sirc's box-logic, database v. narrative, filtering, aggregation, overload, and so on.

Thursday, September 7, 2006

No Last Word

R emembering to read a little bit of Barthes from time to time. I like this one (from RB):

When I used to play prisoner's base...

When I used to play prisoner's base in the Luxembourg, what I liked best was not provoking the other team and boldly exposing myself to their right to take me prisoner; what I liked best was to free the prisoners--the effect of which was to put both teams back into circulation: the game started over again at zero.

In the great game of the powers of speech, we also play prisoner's base: one language has only temporary rights over another; all it takes is for a third language to appear from the ranks for the assailant to be forced into retreat: in the conflict of rhetorics, the victory never goes to any but the third language. The task of this language is to release the prisoners: to scatter the signifieds, the catechisms. As in prisoner's base, language upon language, to infinity, such is the law which governs the logosphere. Whence other images: that of choosing up hand over hand (the third hand returns, it is no longer the first one), that of scissors, paper, stone, that of the onion in its layers of skin without a core. That difference should not be paid for by any subjection: no last word. (50)

After reading through Invention as a Social Act, I turned to this bit from RB to untwist what I was reading about collaboration as a dialectical process from Lefevre. No need to blur the distinction between synthesis (anti/thesis wound together like a bread-tie) and "scatter[ing] the signifieds."

Although this is as much because I was posting Barthes passages last year, 9/7.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Writing as Transcribed Reality

F rom Berlin's Rhetoric and Reality, a crumb from today's exam reading:

Current-traditional rhetoric did undergo a number of changes during this period [1920-1940], even though none of them were substantive. One new addition to the classroom was the use of the research paper. Requiring students to engage in library research was a predictable outcome of a course taught by teachers whose major source of professional rewards was the accumulation of research publications. Furthermore, the research paper represented the insistence in current-traditional rhetoric on finding meaning outside the composing act, with writing itself serving as a simple transcription process. The first article in English Journal to discuss the teaching of the research paper appeared in 1930 (Chalfant), but use of the research paper was commonly mentioned in program descriptions in the twenties. Textbooks that included discussion of the research paper began to appear in significant numbers in 1931. After this, no year of English Journal appeared without a number of articles on approaches to teaching the research essay. It should also be noted that the widespread use of this assignment was influenced by the improvements in library collections during the twenties, as well as by new ways of indexing these materials for easy access--the periodical guides, for example. (70)

Here, the point about research paper writing sparked by indexing systems jumps out at me. A good collection (institutional or personal; for the greater good or for my own good) needs only to be indexed when it is housed with other collections, right? The index associates and disassociates. It preserves a minor degree of granularity while introducing scalable ties (one with one, one with many, many with many). Or not. Not exactly, anyway. Still the thought of research writing before the convenience of libraries--collecting, tracing, indexing, tagging, associating--is somehow refreshing. There is a small, pleasant jolt in the reminder of something less systematized, less comprehensive: a pre-indexical aberrance.

Thursday, March 16, 2006


B ut that's not what I went to the bookstore for. I stopped down there to purchase a copy of Weheliye's Phonographies (a late arrival, absent from the shelves when the semester started). It's assigned for Afrofuturism in two weeks, and as I've been trying to maximize break for getting a jump on the end-o-sem workpile, I read through the library's copy of the book, finishing it last night. But it's good enough to own. In fact, if the "DJing is writing, writing is DJing" plug in Miller's Rhythm Science resonated for you, Weheliye has an entire chapter on the mix (c. 3). His opening chapters (the Intro and c. 1) also have a few good pieces on the record's function as an inscribed sonic medium. There's much here to elaborate up the uncanny ties between writing and phonography, to extend them, etc. The second chapter, "I am, I be," links sound to identity, working across issues of opacity and "sonic conjuring" to categories and constellations of the subject (also echoes W.'s article on black subjectivity, the optic/phonic and posthumanism in Social Text). The third chapter: DuBois and the mix. c. 4: sound's construction of space, read through Ellison's "Living with Music," and Darnell Martin's I Like It Like That. And c. 5 reads the circulation of the diasporic motif in songs by The Fugees, Advanced Chemistry, and Tricky and Martina. The "Outro" has a bit to say about about his methods and also, drawing on Massumi briefly, makes a case for affirmative methods: "'techniques which embrace their own inventiveness and are not afraid to own up to the fact that they add (if so meagerly) to reality'" (208). Chapters 4 and 5 stand out from the others as places where Weheliye gives readings; his approach in those chapters is somewhat less theoretical than in the others, aligning with more literary studies or cultural studies re-presentations of sources. And yet, I expect to return to c. 4 for his arguments about "sounding space/spacing sound" and the issues of space remade by music, noise. For a more careful review, read this.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Kress - Literacy in the New Media Age (2003) II

I n Literacy in the New Media Age, Gunther Kress settles into a gradual progression from long-held presumptions about alphabetic literacy to an increasingly hybridized and "multimodal" literacy based on the screen. The screen's proclivity for combining images and text has profound consequences, Kress argues, for the temporal/sequential logics of letter, word and clause as units of meaning. Kress contends that syntactic complexity is compromised as the frenetic reading pathways of the screen condition readers and writers to mixed-mode framings that, in turn, impact how they read and write. Contrary to my expectations, Kress is none too sour on this trend; in fact, his movement through dense sociolinguistic explanations of literacy, genre and punctuation as framing are impressively nuanced. Yet, very little of the first two-thirds of the book is explicit about the ways in which new writing technologies are entangled in the shifts he describes, and in this sense, I find Kress to be frustrating in how patiently he advances his back-analysis on traditional alphabetic literacy (replicated in formal Western schooling)--while the matter at hand--screens as a site of particular kinds of changed writing activity--hovers as a given. This book is far more about "Literacy" than about "the New Media Age;" it inches toward actual discussions of interfaces, and finally, near the end of chapter eight, offers a screen-shot of a web page with eleven (by Kress's count) "entry-points" for reading. Kress's point with the screenshot: "'reading' is now a distinctively different activity to what it was in the era of the traditional page" (138).

Granted, the tensions between linearity and directionality; image, writing and speech; space and time; and screen and page are significant, and because Kress is so complete in his attention to these contending factors, LITNMA is a solid primer for 'literacy after the revolution'. There are, Kress concludes, heavy implications from all of this on teaching--bang that drum, yes? I re-discovered, in chapter seven, "Multimodality, Multimedia and Genre," familiar ideas before I realized that I'd read it before. It's anthologized in Carolyn Handa's Visual Rhetoric in a Digital World, one of the collections we looked at two years ago in CCR601. In the chapter, Kress works on the problem of "ensembles of modes"--mixed imagetexts that don't reconcile neatly with known genre-types: "In the new communicational world there are now choices about how what is to be represented should be represented: in what mode, in what genre, in what ensembles of modes and genres and on what occasions" (117). At the end of the chapter, Kress determines that notions of mixed genres are less useful and that labeling is perhaps unhelpful; instead, we might prepare students to "feel at ease in a world of incessant change" (121) with something like Carolyn Miller's genre as social action or more generative applications of genre.

The chapter I'll return to, however, is chapter nine, "Reading as Semiosis," because it's the place where Kress best develops the shift from reading as interpretation to reading as design (50) (in new media encounters). He wants us to get at the question of whether "reading" refers to the linear process of following alphabetic sequences or, in light of the subordination of text to image and the ubiquity of the screen, something else, something akin to combinations, scanning, and reading paths (I'd include pattern) (156). There's much in this chapter to recommend re: reading the digital; it's the place I'll turn to first when I revisit this book for comps later this year. And just one last point (because it's late...), the final chapter is also a nice sketch of many of the other principles embraced by the New London Group.

Terms: display (9), scape (11), reading path (37), concept map (54), placement (65), genres (93), recount (108), ensembles of modes (116), distance (118, 141), transduction (125; elsewhere, see index), anaphoric (128), emergent writing (146), functional specialisation (20, 156, elsewhere), scanning (159), anchorage (165)

Of note: Chart on p. 70; Genre and labels 112 and 118 (conflict!)


"A vast change is under way, with as yet unknowable consequences. It involves the remaking of relations between what a culture makes available as means for making meaning (what I shall call throughout the book, representational modes--speech, writing, image, gesture, music and others) and what the culture makes available as means for distributing these meanings as messages (the media of dissemination--book, computer-screen, magazine, video, film, radio, chat, and so on). 'Literacy', in whatever sense, is entirely involved in that" (22).

"A question that is pressing is, is it possible to make the same meanings with sounds in time (and all the cultural elaborations of that) as with light in space (and the elaborations of that)? This becomes urgent now that the new technologies permit a ready and easy choice: shall I represent this as written text or as image?" (33).

"This book is not the place to conduct this debate [on the cultural pessimism toward changes in reading and writing] in any extended fashion, but is can be the place for starting it in a way that goes beyond mere polemic, and might suggest the framework within which a productive argument might be conducted around this question" (51).

"My assumption is that syntactically and textually writing may be becoming more speech-like once again, while in its visual/graphic/spatial dimensions there is a move in the opposite direction, away from speech" (73).

"Does the category of genre remain important, useful, necessary; does it become more or less important in the era of multimodal communication? The answer is that the category of genre is essential in all attempts to understand text, whatever its modal constitution. The point is to develop a theory and terms adequate to that" (107).

Friday, February 17, 2006

Kress - Literacy in the New Media Age (2003)

I 'm just eight pages into Gunther Kress' Literacy in the New Media Age. I've read the chunk before the preface (what is this thing, a superpreface, an antepreface, pre-preface?): "The Futures of Literacy: Modes, Logics and Affordances." This much is clear: image and text function according to distinctive logics. With text, word follows word. It's sequentiality involves a distinctive commitment, both for writers and readers, to paths and naming. Text inheres time, whereas image inheres space, Kress tells us. Image involves a kind of commitment to location, and while Kress hints at the importance of perceptual paths for readers of images, that point doesn't get extended early on. Next, Kress discusses media and affordances; these few lines are a sample of what he's got going here:

1. Multimodality is made easy, usual, 'natural,' by these technologies. (5)
2. The new technologies have changed unidirectionality into bidirectionality. (6) (i.e. with the email, you can send and receive)
3. Writing is becoming 'assembling according to designs' in ways which are overt, and much more far-reaching, than they were previously. (6)
4. The affordances and the organisations of the screen are coming to (re)shape the organisation of the page. (6)
5. It is possible to see writing becoming subordinated to the logic of the visual in many or all of its uses. (7)

That subordination concerns Kress, and I anticipate that it fuels what will ultimately play out as a beware-of-image argument for Writing conservation (pictures are preying on our dull-wit kids, sapping their Literacy, etc.). But you're right; to be fair, I should read more of it before leaping to cyniclusions. Here's an overarching statement near the end of the pre-preface:

What do I hope to achieve which this book? There is a clear difference between this book and others dealing with the issues of literacy and new media. The current fascination with the dazzle of the new media is conspicuous here by its absence. I focus on just a few instances and descriptions of hypertextual arrangements, internet texts, or the structure of websites. I am as interested in understanding how the sentence developed in the social and technological environments of England in the seventeenth century, as I am in seeing what sentences are like now. The former like the latter--in showing principles of human meaning-making--can give us ways of thinking about the likely developments of the sentences in the social and technological environments of our present and of the immediate future. In that sense the book is out of the present mould; in part it looks to the past as much as to the present to understand the future. It is a book about literacy now, everywhere, in all its sites of appearances, in the old and the new media--it is about literacy anywhere in this new media age. (8)

With his explicit attention to sentences, I'm not expecting much in the way of arrangement at a larger scale--the relationship of larger units of writing as perhaps both spatial and temporal commitments. And I am glad to know that LITNMA is catalogued in Google Books, so I can find that "arrangement(s)" turns up 39 times, and "rhetoric" makes just three appearances. I'll also have to read this review after I get farther along with my own reading. More notes before the weekend's up....

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Problems and Stases

A nother double-seminar Tuesday coming up:

In 720 this afternoon, we're talking up the stases (definition, fact, cause, value and action, following Fahnestock and Secor) and looking through Joseph Williams' "Problems into PROBLEMS" (PDF) to re-see the first few pages of two pieces--one of our own and one from a journal. I appreciate the problems brought up in the comments when Collin first mentioned Williams' monograph back in June--problems of being too dedicated to problem orientations, of fixating superproblematic. Still, I found this process immensely useful--returning to Williams, turning Williams' prototype intro-grammar toward an essay I've been struggling with, and giving a similarly framed writerly reading to a published article. Williams' model, like the stases, were exactly the heuristics I was needing to pull apart a few of the stifling think-knots messing up my writing. For next week, Gunther Kress, Literacy in the New Media Age. I'll try to post some notes; I've got to get going with it later this week because I'm also leading the discussion of Kress' stuff.

Before 720, however, I've got three hours of cybercartography, including pair of mini-briefings (short talks in front of the class). One covers good/bad examples of maps designed for the screen; the other is a report on early moves toward the larger project for the course.

Tuesday, February 7, 2006

In Search Of

W e capped our discussions of Smit's The End of Composition Studies (2004) and Cosgrove and Barta-Smith's In Search of Eloquence (2004) in 712 this afternoon. Smit opens for us with six chapters leading down the skeptic's infinite regress into complandia's hopeless abyss before turning to his recommendations for reform. His plans for a refurbished curriculum aren't as despairing as his account of the impossibility of teaching writing. No screeching demons, no ravenous hellhounds. In fact, the curriculum pretty well matches with Writing Across the Curriculum efforts. Smit turns out to be a proponent of a first-year course called "Introduction to Writing as a Social Practice" (185). Upper division instructors would share responsibility for teaching the course; "They must," Smit contends, "be part of a broad university-wide program that introduces all novice writers 'slowly but steadily and systematically' to new genres and social contexts, a program that encourages students to develop their 'structural, rhetorical, stylistic facility' over time (Rose 112)" (188). The second tier of Smit's curriculum involves discipline-specific courses emphasizing writing, and the third tier involves "writing outside the classroom" (190). I'm sure I'll sound glib in characterizing it so flatly, but much of it sounds, well, familiar enough. A more radical turn, however, comes in Smit's proposal for graduate training:

Contrary then to current practice, I would propose that graduate programs in composition studies be organized in order to promote the training of compositionists as writers of particular kinds of discourse, as scholars of particular discourse communities, and as specialists in pedagogy.... In fact, I think it would be helpful if we abolished the expression 'writing instructor' and replaced it with a title that includes the kind of discourse the instructor teaches: newspaper editorial instructor, for example; or biology lab report instructor. (195)

Smit pushes dual-specializations, the combination of advanced studies in writing and rhetoric with advanced studies in the discourses of particular fields. The individual, according to this model, bridges the expanses between distinctive disciplinary forms of expertise and writing genres (in and out of school settings). In sharp contrast to Smit's model of WAC, Cosgrove and Barta-Smith approach WAC by enlisting their colleagues, involving them in ongoing conversations about their perceptions of the writing done in their field of expertise, both in and out of school. Their model values conversation; it is clearly more cooperative, more networked, than Smit's:

Each of the moves we see ourselves and our colleagues making in order to perpetuate our discourse--the mutual moldings of common meaning, the affirmations, the restatements, the discoveries or sharings of common experience or knowledge--seem born out of a desire to stretch, rather than eliminate, the confines of the knowledge and language bequeathed to us by our disciplines. (61)

The conversational methods used by Cosgrove and Barta-Smith are time-intensive, and they depend on shared respect, cross-disciplinary accountability, and recognition of the knowledge and insight folks from different areas have to offer each other. Their model is ambitious, and it might be impossible to implement at larger institutions (although they carry 4:4 loads at Slippery Rock, where they held the conversations, conducted the study). Yet because it emphasizes conversations about attitudes and understandings of writing held by specific faculty in other fields and also seeks to integrate those perspectives with the work of teaching lower division writing courses, it bears greater promise, I'd say, than beefed up training for graduate students in composition and rhetoric. Cosgrove and Barta-Smith's connective, institution-wide "search" makes composition's future appear much brighter than does a notion of added training for islanded instructors (of somediscourse).

Monday, January 30, 2006

The End of Composition Studies; The Start of...

I n some ways, it's like the Blockbuster video ad campaign from a year ago--The End of Late Fees; The Start of More. The title of David Smit's The End of Composition Studies invokes an endism that one might take to suggest to the demise of the discipline of writing studies. In Advanced Philosophy and Theory of Composition, we're looking at the first half of Smit's book for tomorrow afternoon (also looking at two chapters from Cosgrove and Barta-Smith's In Search of Eloquence, which, fingers crossed, will arrive in the mail later this afternoon). Smit's forthright early on about playing double entendre with "end," both as a variation of "teleology" or "aim" and also as "termination" or "cessation." I've been reading with a stronger sense of the first connotation (teleology/aim) because 1.) people still write and 2.) writing is sufficiently complex to warrant the continuation of its study, define it however you will. And actually, that's one of Smit's chief complaints. He finds that those who would self-identify with the field of rhetcomp have yet to agree on what writing even is, much less how to best to teach it given the institutional constraints of fifteen weeks (more or less in some places, but the bugbear of layering writing rhythms with institutional timeframes is what I'm thinking about) and wildly divergent positions on what ought to constitute writing practices and curriculum in the first place.

Like Fulkerson, whose "Composition at the End of the Twenty-First Century" appeared in CCC last summer making similar claims about the field's disunity and failures to achieve sustained agreement on what is good writing, Smit's project, or at least the half I've read of it, is troubling because he's right on several counts. We lack shared definitions, insights into how people learn to write (in any way that can be recast as curriculum), sufficiently complex models for how people compose, nuance in what we mean by "social," and, most importantly for Smit, we lack evidence of transfer, "the degree to which our ability to use a word, an introduction, or a problem-solving strategy in one context will carry over into another context" (121). I won't go into full-blown chapter summaries here, but basically each chapter in the first half of the book, "Conceptual Limits," calls out just that--fuzziness or ambiguity in the presumed givens of composition: how students come to be rhetorically mature, what we mean by discourse communities (and how to tell what distinguishes one such community from another, specifically), what is the relationship of writing activity to thinking (especially "critical thinking," which he deals with at length), and so on. The second half of the book promises to deliver a curriculum (much like other "Comp Liquidation...But Wait!" projects), so it's clear that Smit hasn't completely given over to despair. We'll get to those sections next week.

Two thoughts I'll take into class tomorrow: For all of the discussion of not agreeing on what writing is (or isn't...Is not! Is so!), Smit doesn't mention technologies, discourses of interface, networks or digitality. Provided that Yancey's address from '04, "Made Not Only In Words: Composition in a New Key," is explicit about the role of technologies (throughout all of time) as co-constitutive of writing, I'm concerned at this absence. It's not, as you might think, that I would prefer a technojubilee somewhere in there, but there are moments when I find that Smit, despite his early claims about widespread divisiveness on what writing is, has closed on a particular, none-too-expansive notion of what writing activity is (especially in institutional contexts; none of this extracurricular business here).

Secondly, in his chapter on transfer, Smit uses an analogy from D. Russell on ball games (120). But I'm not sure the comparison is adequate, or, to put it another way, I don't have the impression that Smit really wants to go the distance with the correspondence between writing instruction and learning to play games with balls. Raising a skeptical series of questions about transfer, Smit reasons that, following the ball game analogy, skillful performance in one ball game would, in turn, lead to skillful performance in others. Rather than "rhetorical maturity," I think this comparison works better with notions of "rhetorical agility," a phrase that played over and over in CCR601 last year. Agility in one ball game (or genre) stands to transfer to other ball games, except that the system of the sport (roles, rules, etc.) doesn't make the staging of transfer a priority. You wouldn't know from playing basketball with me that I never started shutting off passing lanes effectively with my feet (and often kicking the ball) until I started coaching Ph.'s soccer team when he was seven. Right, I was done playing for high stakes by then, but the point I'm trying to get at is that some kind of transfer is, at the very least, notable enough to report. And perhaps this isn't enough proof to say, finally and for good, that transfer happens.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Perdido Street Station

I recently finished China Mieville's second novel, Perdido Street Station (on a generous recommendation from CGB).  Difficult as it was to put it down, I read it in several delightful interludes over many weeks, just chipping away at it between the reading I was doing for coursework. And I've never identified as a genre-fan of science fiction or fantasy, but all of that's changed now (it's in crisis).

In and around the complex sci-fi/fantasy cityscape of New Crobuzon, Isaac Dan der Gimnebulin, a self-described "dilettante" scientist working on a crisis engine, dodges close-call after close-call after he accepts a project commissioned by a nomadic Garuda (bird-person) named Yagharek.  Yag lost his wings as recompense for a crime we only learn about at the end of the novel; he walks many miles to the city where he recruits Isaac's assistance in restoring him to flight.  Isaac accepts the difficult assignment.  He immerses himself in research on flight, and in doing so, circulates a call for winged things to observe (develop a heliotype, model, etc.).  Several roguish figures want in on the money.  They bombard his lab with winged specimens.

And this is just the start.  Perdido Street Station is unrelenting with its startlingly fast pace, vividly developed figures and terrain, and wild, shocking twists.  I don't want to give too much of it away; I suspect that if you read this entry and you haven't yet read Perdido Street Station, you'll be tempted to run out and pick it up.  Mieville's fiction, here overflowing with eccentricity and imagination, is so irresistibly, punishingly smart, the pages threaten to drink your mind like the antagonist slake-moths.  A taste:

     The construct jerked.
     Deep in the construct's intelligence engine circulated the peculiar solipsistic loop of data that constituted the virus, born where a minute flywheel had skittered momentarily.  As the steam coursed through the brainpan with increasing speed and power, the virus's useless set of queries went round and round in an autistic circuit, opening and shutting the same valves, switching the same switches in the same order.
     But this time the virus was nurtured.  Fed. (210)

There's so much more here that I'm afraid I can't really do it justice: Weaver, a plane-traveling spider-figure who wields razor-honed scissors; an army of remades who follow the orders of their pieced-together crime boss, Motley; a vodyani watercrafter, Lin, who dates Isaac; a Construct Council self-foraged from a heap of rubbish; and a bad-ass team of slake-moths who play havoc on the psychosphere of New Crobuzon. Oy.  I heartily recommend it.

Friday, December 2, 2005

Manovich - The Language of New Media (2001)

N otes on Lev Manovich's The Language of New Media (2001). In the prologue, Manovich gives us what he calls a Vertov Dataset--full-passage selections from elsewhere in the book matched up with frames from Vertov.   It's a distinctive and memorable way to open onto the project--self-sampling and re-associating, which emphasizes (paradoxically?) the relational and modular qualities of new media objects, the intertwined historical-theoretical trajectories of cinema and computing that now constitute new media, the logics of selection, association and assemblage driving new media, and the evolving lexicon of new media, from database, loops and micronarratives to transcoding, [var]-montage and the tele-.  It's all in the Vertov Dataset, then explained more fully elsewhere. 

Manovich's method depends on "digital materialism": extrapolating from new media objects the generalizable principles (characteristics, properties, qualities, albeit with a false neatness acknowledged here and there by M.): numerical representation, modularity, automation, variability (a truism?) and transcoding (27-48).  In introducing the project, Manovich says he wants to observe the bottom-up organization of new media while also relating the layers of historical and theoretical precedents.  Still, new media--especially in light of transcoding or the code-layering of computing and culture--must make room for those objects unmarked by historical precedent--the innovations.  This is somewhat less deterministic-seeming than remediation; new media's programmability (numerical representation, the anxiety-producing shift from constant to variable) can dissociate the new from older forms. The "new" celebrate/mourn the obsolescence of the older forms; they also tend to flow solubly in streams of digital information (the same ductwork that heightens the body as medial). And yet, Manovich folds the cinematic-computing complexities of new media back into the history of cinema (this, one of Hansen's critiques of Manovich).  At the end of the first chapter, Manovich explains his rationale for avoiding "digital" and "interactivity" in LNM.  Briefly, he refutes "digital" because it is commonly mistaken to suggest perfectible data (no loss, degradation, noise) and "interactivity" because it is meaningless to restate "the most basic fact about computers" (55).

Something to be said for Manovich's writing: super-organized.  His chapters and sub-heads make LNM easy to navigate; the chapters are tightly partitioned and he involves just enough repetition to assist each section's coherence with the aims of the broader project.  No need to trumpet on about the structure, but I want to observe the book's structuring as one factor contributing to its landmark status and the promise of future returns to these ideas. Following chapter one, which concerns "the properties of computer data" (117), the middle chapters, 2-5 present four more aspects of new media: c. 2, "The Interface" on human-computer interface; c. 3, "The Operations," on application software; c. 4, "The Illusions," on computers as illusion-makers and new media "at the level of appearance" (178);  and c. 5, "The Forms," on modularity and interactivity or database, narratology and navigation.  To each chapter, a few sentences.

2. Human-computer interface, a key concept for Manovich and a primary concern in Hansen's critique of LNM, "describes the ways in which the user interacts with a computer" (69).  The trouble, for Hansen, is that the user is ambiguous; LNM tips toward disembodied, non-affective notions of mind and cognition.  Nonetheless, Manovich develops an insightful (basic, useful) trajectory of three interfaces: cinema, print and general purpose HCI (71).  These, Manovich writes, are the "three main reservoirs of metaphors and strategies for organizing information which feed cultural interfaces" (72), and it follows--unsurprisingly--that they contend and co-operate with one another. The cinematic is most aggressively transformed into a computer-based cultural interface in computer games involving dynamic points of view (83-84).  Manovich ends by touting the presence of the screen, and he regards the screen as completely separate from the body, perhaps even as something that imprisons, constrains or immobilizes the body (114-115).  This is considerably different from Hansen's emphasis on affect; Manovich does little to acknowledge integrative-affective HCI.

3. Next, software development has followed a trajectory defined by abstraction and automation [I'm not sure whether this characterization holds up with open source projects and some of the stackable apps developed since 2001].  Here Manovich explains three varieties of operations that are akin to transcoding (121): selection, compositing and teleaction.  Selection is, just as it seems, choice among options.  "New media objects are rarely created from scratch; usually they are assembled from ready-made parts" (124).  Selection names the re-made/ready-made logics of practicing new media; authorship becomes a technology of selection. Examples of selection range from effects plugins to customizable gaming (level editors, build your own team) to web-in-a-box CMS and build-a-site control panels.  Other theoretical and historical origins of selection trace to photomontage (125) and signal modification or filtering (132).  In selection, variability replaces a more physical-material notion of malleability; the cultural figure illustrative of selection in new media: the DJ (134-35).  The second term, compositing, involves a rhetoric of arrangement: assembling.  The flatten image function in Photoshop is an example, according to Manovich [better examples?].  Seamlessness comes in on compositing, too: "Digital compositing exemplifies a more general operation of computer culture--assembling together a number of elements to create a single seamless object" (139).  The possibility of seamlessness sustains the designer's wish for convincing virtual reality.  Contrast and edge is replaced by a desire for aesthetics of "smoothness and continuity" (142).  [Within montage, though, seamlessness and edge contrast are at odds.] "The examples of 'methods of montage' include metric montage, which uses absolute short lengths to establish a 'beat,' and rhythmic montage, which is based on a pattern of movements within the shots" (157). In the final section of this chapter, on teleaction, Manovich plays with the prefix tele- and notions of distance.  He calls telepresence more radical than VR or visual simulation because "you take your body with you" (qtd. Laurel, 165). Teleaction in new media complicates Benjamin's arguments about aura and remove or distance (171).  This also relates to a problem I want to return to, one restated by Virilio:  "He [Virilio] mourns the destruction of distance, geographic grandeur, the vastness of natural space, the vastness of guaranteed time delay between events and our reactions, giving us time for critical reflection necessary to arrive at a correct decision" (173).  I also want to come back to Bettman's Archive: a stockpile of various media (130) and Potemkin's facades for Catherine the Great (146, 148).

4. The illusions chapter covers the problem of new media and appearances.  Beginning with VR's "quest for a perfect simulation of reality" (178), Manovich accounts for the evolution of 2D and 3D graphics, conceptions of the real in cinema and computing, and broader pursuits of mimesis.  Pursuits of realism diverge along two lines for Manovich: cinema and computer animation.  In this chapter, Manovich also articulates what I take to be a controversial claim about the problem in the mix of photorealism and the digital: "Synthetic photos are more real than traditional photographs.  The synthetic are 'too real'" (199).  Realistic representative media are pushed by the entertainment industry (re-recoloring of B&W films) (192-193) and also by initiatives to perfect simulation. Interactivity and navigability shift the encounter from viewer to user.  Manovich briefly mentions that the (re)combination of real and illusory objects necessitates "different mental sets--different kinds of cognitive activity" (210). Now a possible illusion, the represented real is no longer secure (if it ever was).

5. New media make use of indexing and database logics that are distinctive from traditional forms of documentation. Manovich suggests that "information access and psychological engagement with an imaginary world" influence the invention of new media objects (216).  Furthermore, although they run together, often mix-mashing into conglomerations (234), database and narrative can be understood as distinctive trajectories in new media.  Whereas narrative logics (syntagmatic) are primary to database logics (paradigmatic)  before the information age, new media reverse their relationship and pit database logics at the fore.  Consequently, "montage is the default visual language of a composite organization of an image" (229).  The second half of this chapter takes up navigation--the spatial journeys (245) and diagesis (246) involved with narrative action and exploration. Manovich draws on the figures of Gibson's data cowboy (250) and Charles Baudelaire's flaneur (268) to account for the variety of axes we select when moving at/through the space-medium of new media. The connections to de Certau (245), Virilio (278) and Auge (279) ring with other stuff I've heard/read/thought through lately, too.  There are several promising returns in this chapter.

6.  Following a restatement of the intersection of cinema and computing--its ~junction, new media--and a list of arguments from the book so far (287), the final chapter, "What Is Cinema?", reconfirms the blend of illusionistic and real brought together in computer images and new media objects. For all that the cinematic real did to displace animation in the mid-20th century, new media has (con)fused them, thereby relegating animation to "a subgenre of painting" (295) and cinema to "one particular case of animation" (302).  Hansen's critique takes issue with Manovich's historical assertions here; these arguments sound more like Bolter and Grusin in Remediation than some of the more nuanced spots in LNM.  In the concluding section, Manovich asks, "Can the loop be a new narrative form appropriate for the computer age?" (317).  I found this section on loops and micronarrative to be especially striking, especially for its potential to incorporate narrative and database logics rather than treating them as incompatible.

LNM presents a whole lot more than this, but this is all I have to blog about it for now. 

Terms: new media objects (14), cinematograph or "writing movement" (24), digitization (28), lossy compression (54), viewing regime (96), dioptric arts (104), photomontage (125), "tissue of quotations" (127), "authorship as selection" (130), "digital compositing" (136), montage (158), tele- (161), phatic function (206), metarealism (208), diagesis (246), kybernetikos (251), haptic/optic (253), space-medium (255), flaneur (268), loop (315), "database narrative" (319), micronarratives (322)

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Hansen - New Philosophy for New Media (2004)

T he foreword by Tim Lenoir, "Haptic Vision: Computation, Media, and Embodiment in Mark Hansen's New Phenomenology," lays out groundwork on the "deterritorialization of the human subject" in terms of digital media, detachment and problems of reference.  Lenoir touches on Hayles' account of post-humanism (also Bill Joy's "Why The Future Doesn't Need Us"), Shannon & Weaver's signal-based model of information, and Donald McKay's alternative communication model.  Overall, it's more than a worthwhile thumbnail of Hansen's project in the context of other works only semi-familiar to me: Kittler's Gramophone, Deleuze's Cinema 1 & 2:, and Henri Bergson on the body as image:

The body is itself an image among other images--in fact a very special kind of image Bergson calls a "center of indetermination," which acts as a filter creatively selecting facets of images from the universal flux according to its own capacities.  The body, then is a source of action on the world of images, subtracting among external influences those that are relevant to its own interests.  Bergson calls such isolated image components "perceptions." (xx)

Lenoir's foreword solidly marches us through the conceptual surrounds to Hansen's concerns with embodiment, enframing and the relationship of image and body which has been redefined by digital technologies.  I keyed especially on the notion of post-medium, something Lenoir critiques as an extreme position from Kittler: post-medium--"when media disappear into information flow, when information no longer needs to adapt" (xvii).  Affect is central to Hansen's project, and so it makes sense, given this contrast with the idea of post-medium, that Hansen would extend Bergson's stance with emphases on vision, touch and self-movement: body and image.  The sharpest part of the foreword comes near the end with the discussion of affective cognition.  According to Lenoir, "affect provides the bond between temporal flow and perceptual event" (xxv).  Summarizing neurophenomenologist Francisco Varela, Lenoir notes "that affect precedes temporality and 'sculpts' the dynamics of time flow" (xxv).  Taken to questions about the visceral interaction between body and image, these affectively sculpted dynamics transform the "thresholds of the now" incumbent to new media. 

Well yes of course, and there is the part of the book by Hansen.  Introduction (1-15):  When aura, as from Benjamin, vanishes (or rather submerges into the dull wash of commonplaces); when, as Rosalind Krauss might argue, the post-medium condition has burdened us with "the possibility for the universal and limitless interconversion of data" (2); and when, as Kittler might contend, "digital convergence promises to render obsolete the now still crucial moment of perception, as today's hybrid media system gives way to the pure flow of data unencumbered by any need to differentiate into concrete media types" (2), we need not to surrender the body to these seemingly dehumanizing forces.  Hansen asks, "Will media matter in a digital age?" (1).  We might find in his project an affirmative response, one that, by involving Bergson's Matter and Memory, establishes the body as a kind of medial nexus: "the body functions as a kind of filter that selects, from among the universe of images circulating around it and according to its own embodied capacities, precisely those that are relevant to it" (3).  Perception is always embodied, then.  The body becomes an affective aggregator, inevitably selecting among (a plenitude of possible) perceptual experiences and leaving out the rest.  The enframing body wreaks havoc on idealized, ocularcentric notions of frame: "Beneath any concrete 'technical' image or frame lies what I shall call the framing function of the human body qua center of indetermination" (8).

In chapter one, "Between Body and Image: On the 'Newness' of New Media Art," (21-46), Hansen argues that "the body's centrality increases proportionally with the de-differentiation of media" (21).  We experience variously encoded realities (physical, virtual, hallucinatory), and we experience, in the digital era, changes in the "body's scope of perceptual and affective possibilities" (22).  New media embodiment stands (if hologrammatically?) among such realities and possibilities.  Specifically, Hansen critiques art historian Rosalind Krauss and media studies scholar Lev Manovich.  Krauss's "pulsatile dimension," which she applied to Duchamp's Rotoreliefs and James Coleman's Box (on Tunney-Dempsey boxing) which involve the viewer's body in the "filmic fabric" (28), privileges the work over the body and thus it isn't quite adequate to account for the aesthetic (synesthetic?) experience of projects such as Douglas Gordon's 24-Hour Psycho (Hitchcock's film at a "disjunctive" two frames per second (29)) and Paul Pfeiffer's The Long Count.  The bulk of the chapter turns critical attention to Lev Manovich's The Language of New Media. Hansen sees Manovich's reliance on film as overwrought--too dependent on models of cinema-frame-image that bear out culturally and historically, confining the "polymorphous possibility" of the digital image (35).  Hansen also regard Manovich's discussion of VR as privileging the physical to the representational, a mistake which is even more glaring in consideration of the telepresence interface (40) (simulators for surgery, etc.).  Manovich's work, ultimately, is too cinematically determined, according to H. 

"All forms of cognitive act arise from coherent activity of subpopulations of neurons at multiple locations" (xxiv).
"The philosophical problem [Bergson] faces is how to reconcile the specific aggregate of images that appears to my body functioning as such a center of indetermination and the aggregate of images that comprises the universe as a whole... (4)
"Affection of affectivity is precisely what differentiates today's sensorimotor body from the one Deleuze hastily dismisses: as a capacity to experience its own intensity, its own margin of indeterminacy, affectivity comprises a power of the body that cannot be assimilated to the habit-driven, associational logic governing perception" (7-8).
"Correlated with the advent of digitization, then, the body undergoes a certain empowerment, since it deploys its own constitutive singularity (affection and memory) not to filter a universe of preconstituted images, but actually to enframe something (digital information) that is originally formless" (11).
"As I see it, the reaffirmation of the affective body as the "enframer" of information correlates with the fundamental shift in the materiality of media: the body's centrality increases proportionally with the de-differentiation of media" (21).
"Far from being the source of a reductive unification of diversity, the body is the very place where such diversity can be retained in a nonreductive aggregation.  As such, it is itself an integral dimension of the medium" (25).
"The body, then, impurifies vision constitutionally, since, as Krauss points out, there would be no vision without it: like the affective dimension of perception, the corporeal holds a certain priority in relation to vision" (27).
"Because digitization allows for an almost limitless potential to modify the image, that is, any image--and specifically, to modify the image in ways that disjoin it from any fixed technical frame--the digital calls on us to invest the body as that "place" where the self-differing of media gets concretized" (31).
"Recent phenomenological and scientific research has shed light on precisely how and why such manual, tactile stimulation functions as "reality-conferring" in the sense just elucidated. Phenomenologist Hans Jonas, from whom I borrow this felicitous term, has shown that the disembodied (and hence, supposedly most "noble") sense of vision is rooted in an and dependent on touch for its reality-conferring affective correlate" (38).

Figures: Benjamin (1), Bergson (4), Deleuze (6), Manovich (9), Krauss (23), Duchamp (26)

Terms: extended mind (xx), movement-image (xxii), machinic vision (xxiii), haptic (xxiii), embodied perception (4), time-image (6), body's framing function (8), philosophemes (25), ergodic (39), hallucination (41), cinematic metaphor (42), visual-bodily cross-mapping (39)

Monday, November 7, 2005

Bolter and Grusin - Remediation (1999) III

I n the final section of Remediation, B&G break out three self orientations--three varieties of self in light of the forceful processes of remediation: the remediated self, the virtual self, and the networked self.  The remediated self basically begins with a notion of self as summative and re/configurable (like William James' empirical self (233)) rather than rigid or authentic.  Remediated self gives way to (at least) two variations of self:  immersed and interrelated/interconnected.  These selves correspond to the poles of remediation; the immersed experiences the visually mediated as transparent and immediate; the interrelated/interconnected self experiences the visually mediated as opaque and navigable (232).  According to B&G, we experience ourselves in both ways.  This connects up with expressive activity, too. Virtual reality (where the user moves through) fits with romantic selfhood, while opacity and ubiquitous computing are akin to the fixed-subject self of the Enlightenment.  The clearer part of this first chapter in section three--"The Remediated Self"--builds on the duality of self as object and subject in the specific case of bodybuilding.  In bodybuilding, when "the body is reconstructed to take on a new shape and identity," the body as medium seems most plausible (237).

The virtual self opens onto vast possibilities for perspectival free-play: "this same freedom can serve a more radical cultural purpose: to enable us to occupy the position, and therefore the point of view, of people or creatures different from ourselves" (245).  The most optimistic response to this virtual freedom frames it as a way to reapportion point of view, ultimately fostering empathy (245).  Jaron Lanier suggested more radical notions of empathy with the idea that VR users might move beyond human subjects to empathize with dinosaurs or even molecules (246).  Of course, there are as many skeptics as proponents, but VR has sprung these questions to the fore, challenging us to sift through the implications of "perspective as a locus of all knowledge" (249).  In the section, "The Dissolution of the Cartesian Ego," B&G hold VR up to Descartes' cogito and distrust of sensory experience (may as well trace this all the way to Sextus Empiricus and the Pyrrhonists...some of the earliest virtual-realists?).   

Next chapter: "The Networked Self."  Unlike the remediated self and the virtual self, which are forged through through the visual (?), the networked self is deliberately constructed out of felt connectivity among multiple and oftentimes simultenous points of view (257).  The networked self is hypermediated because it is hypertextual.  The examples in this section draw on MUD/MOO encounters--the encounters in multi-user online spaces (chat, etc.). 

From the conclusion:1996 presidential campaign, Mars Surveyor landing, and Princess Dianna.  "As we have shown, what is in fact new is the particular way in which each innovation rearranges and reconstitutes  the meaning of earlier elements.  What is new about new media is therefore also old and familiar: that they promise the new by remediating what has gone before" (270).

Terms: overwhelmed self (232), authentic self (233), William James' empirical self (233), operational degrees of freedom (244), adaptive interface (248), Cartesian perspectivalism (249), empathetic knowing (251), haptic feedback (252)

Figures: William James (233), Hayles (250), Descartes (250), Bourdieu (250), Lanier (251), Butler (264), Wittig (264)

"These virtual reality films take the process of empathetic learning dangerously far--dangerous, that is, for the characters, who may find it difficult to get their minds back into their original bodies" (247).
"Now, in the late twentieth century, no one in the virtual reality community can share Descartes' distrust of the senses" (249).
"The crowding together of images, the insistence that everything that technology can present must be presented one at a time--this is the logic of hypermediacy" (269).

Sunday, November 6, 2005

Bolter and Grusin - Remediation (1999) II

L et's call this entry part two of three. I'm a bit behind (behind what? just my own schedule), but I'm through the application chapters--the middle 140 pages of B&G.  In the paragraph opening into the final section, "Self," B&G write that these middle chapters are applications of remediation as a process.  In their glossary, B&G define remediation this way:

remediation Defined by Paul Levenson as the "anthropotropic" process by which new media technologies improve upon or remedy prior technologies.  We define the term differently, using it to mean the formal logic by which new media refashion prior media forms.  Along with immediacy and hypermediacy, remediation is one of the three traits of our genealogy of new media. (273).

B&G discuss remediation as this logics-guided process involved with a variety of media throughout section two: computer games (88), digital photography (104), photorealistic graphics (114), digital art (132), film (146), virtual reality (160), mediated spaces (168), the www (196), and ubiquitous computing (212).  In the final section, "Convergence," B&G offer an explanation for more various push-pull relationships among media.  Whereas remediation tends to describe a uni-directional process of influence, convergences are akin to blends--multi-directional shapings felt among media (where television flows into the www and the www flows into television).  Convergence rel. to remediation: a sloshing media spillway, a complex subversion of remediation's teleology.

The brief chapters in this section are useful as mini-histories for specific media, and they are also instructive for the way they set up the tensions between immediacy and hypermediacy, between realism and virtuality.  However, because B&G's project is now 6+ years in circulation, I wondered how well remediation--as a description of one medium transitioning into another--holds up.  It's clear that remediation happens; it's a valid description for the derivation and diffusion of logics.  These logics, I suppose, draw together representation, technique, communication, instrumentation, and so on (this is an admittedly unruly list...wordwatchers, go on and ask what I mean's a little bit loose, crumby).  But remediation depends on resemblances; what happens when simple two-resemblance comparisons (x into y) become (-1-) so common and persistent as to be commonplace (pass into ubiquity?) or (-2-) so freestyle-frenetic as to exceed the analogic formulae for one media rolling pleasantly into another (breech the hyper, a hyper-hyper)?

Because remediation is processual, the short chapters on each medium also bring up questions about processual orthodoxies.  Ever since looking at Sirc's En. Comp as a Happening this summer, I've been thinking about material and processual orthodoxies, esp. as reflected in composition (although S. is more explicitly concerned with the material).  Such orthodoxies, artificially constructed as they may be, are useful even as plastic models good for introducing malleability to widespread practices (so widespread, I mean, as to be ingrained, rooted, reproduced smoothly and without hesitation).  Remediation might simply point out the persistence of orthodoxies; to say something is remediated is as much a testament to its being constituted by antecedent parts/modes/models as it is an acknowledgement that change is inevitable (though not always deterministic). 

The application chapters include a number of small points worth following up on: links between hypermedia and insanity/mania (154), digitality mocking photoreality (111), filmic games (98) and cinema of attractions--the public electrocution of an elephant (173).  I'll also return to the section on mediated spaces; it was interesting to read the stuff on Auge and non-spaces following Jenny's talk on Friday about delocalization and a meta hodos of documentary.  More on that, I hope, in another entry sometime soon.  (We just lost electricity, so I'm finished.)

Terms: real as plenitude (119), vacillation (plate 8), digital art (133), absorption (147), Cinema of Attractions (155), fright/exhilaration (161), point-of-view technologies (162), virtual reality (166), flaneur (174), shared replicability (177), channel (188), ricocheting remediations (192), replicatory technology (201), augmented reality (215), telepresence (214), flow (as organic metaphor) (223)

Figures: Barthes and CL (110), Walt Disney (171), Marc Auge (177), Haraway, Anne Balsamo, Allucquere Rosanne Stone (182), Williams and McLuhan (185), Baudrillard (194)

"The process of digitizing the light that comes through the lens is no more or less artificial than the chemical process of traditional photography" (110).
"Here as elsewhere, the logic of hypermediacy is to represent the desire for transparent immediacy by sublimating it, by turning it into a fascination with a medium" (122).
"Once it has been digitized, any image can undergo a while repertoire of transformations, which for our culture are regarded as distortions: rotation, shearing, morphing, and filtering (139).
"Virtual reality is also the medium that best expresses the contemporary definition of the self as a roving point of view" (161).
"If artificial intelligence in the 1950s and 1960s refashioned the computer from a mere adding machine into a processor of symbols, virtual reality is not refashioning the computer into a processor of perceptions" (162).
"The television broadcast protocols have until now offered the viewer much less visual information than a photograph or a film" (186). [Consider alongside real/plenitude (119)]

Monday, October 31, 2005

Bolter and Grusin - Remediation (1999) I

T he remediation project depends on a double-logic.  Tangled around and around one another, bread-tie like, hypermediacy (opacity) and immediacy (transparency) stand as the two poles between which all remediation oscillates (again, oscillations, as from Lanham).  Hypermediacy is the "frenetic design" that comes with exciting and blending mediaforms into one another.  Immediacy refers to the dreamwish of closing the gap between the real and the mediaform.  Hypermediacy invites others to enjoy the interplay (explicit); immediacy strives for the perfect mimesis, a match with reality so convincing that the real/virtual distinctions wash together, ripple-free (tacit).  Remediation, relative to these poles, synthesizes, collects them together again, keeps order, shepherds inventive deviations and garbled others back in step: web 'pages' inhere newspaper layout, television inheres film, blogs, just like diaries. 

After first describing the project as a genealogy (attr. Foucault, a la TOOT), Bolter and Grusin frame chapters one, two and three as theoretical: c. 1 "Immediacy, Hypermediacy, and Remediation," c. 2 "Mediation and Remediation," and c. 3 "Networks of Remediation."  The introduction on double-logic and C. 1 set out definitional parameters, present theoretical bases for the twist of immediacy and hypermediacy into remediation, and lay the groundwork for the running together of media.  There are a couple of interesting hooks here; stuff I'll return to: actual immediacy and the discourse of immediacy (30), windows and scaling (33), and (un)acknowledged repurposing (44-45). In c. 2, B&G write that remediation encompasses mediation and all that's involved, including language (57).  This extends definitions of hypermediacy and immediacy in terms of the mimetic aims and the hybrid qualities (58).  The definitions in this chapter run the risk of totalization--ballooning remediation to a vast scale.  Its end?  Exceptions?  What escapes/exceeds/eludes remediation?  In c. 3, B&G suggest the relationships among media; the theater lobby filled up with movie posters and cardboard cutoutprops remediating the film is exemplary, and the film reciprocates, remediates the lobby in return. 

Also in chapter three, B&G write, "Remediation is not replication or mechanical reproduction" (73).  But I wonder if we could agree that remediation is devoutly historical; it prefers antecedent trajectories to notions of innovation, revolution or break.  In this sense, remediation describes media (all expression?) first as inertial and indebted, rather than as accelerative, disruptive or eccentric.  In this, I think, I can account for one of my apprehensions about remediation: as a descriptive term, it licenses the dismissive turn--the ambivalent shrug-it-off of time owns all.  Paradoxically, perhaps, and widely applicable as it may very well be, it too easily atrophies new media (as in "weblogs are merely...").

I also want to think more about hypermediacy (as well as other prefix-mediacy).  Just how hyper- is it? And is its counterpart, tamediacy, in some way plain or banal or ob(li)vious? As in, aw, nothing; I'm just watching reruns of Friends.  It's barely televisual, but it's not immediate and I can see it as media.  I'm less settled on this point ( can tell?).  Without coming off as smug, I want to ask whether hypermediacy, given its opacity and given its "frenetic style," accounts for all self-conscious mediaforms.  Same question as the earlier one: what evades it, dodges it--or proves the hyper- prefix sedate

I'll try another few notes on the middle and ending chapters in a day or two.

Terms: virtual reality (22), linearity (24), erasure (24), beyond medium (24), automaticity (24), photorealism (28), monocular (28), immediacy (30), windowed style (31), hypermedia (31), phenakistoscope (37), photomontage (39), replacement (44), remediation (45), mediatized (56), hybrids (57), remederi (restore to health) (59), medium (65), abandonment (71), immediacy (epistemological/psychological) (70)

Figures: Latour (24, 57), Foucault (21), Rheinghold (24), Strange Days (24), Jameson (56), Cavell (58), Philip Fisher (58-59), McLuhan and R. Williams (76), Benjamin (73)


"Our culture wants both to multiply its media and to erase all traces of mediation: ideally, it wants to erase its media in the very act of multiplying them" (5).

"We will argue that these new media are doing exactly what their predecessors have done: presenting themselves as refashioned and improved versions of other media" (15).

"With photography, the automatic process is mechanical and chemical" (27).

"Again, we call the representation of one medium in another remediation, and we will argue that remediation is a defining characteristic  of the new digital media" (45).

"The rhetoric of remediation favors immediacy and transparency, even though as the medium matures it offers new opportunities for hypermediacy" (60).

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Lanham - The Electronic Word (1993)

T echnology, democracy (explicit in the subtitle), rhetoric education and curricular reform recur as themes in Lanham's The Electronic Word.  The book sets out with an overarching consideration of the material, instrumental and ideological transitions in the interfacial revolution from book to screen.  The screen has rattled the "reign of textual truth" (x), opened up the meaning of "text," and, consequently, challenged traditional-humanist rationale for moralistic training via literary works (lots on the Great Books debate here) . EW is set up for reading as a continuous book and also as discrete chapters, according to Lanham; the chapters make frequent intratextual reference (i.e., "In chapter 7, I...").  He gives readings of rhetorical/philosophical traditions and more recent -phobe and -phile orientations toward microcomputers and related computing activities--activities he regards as deeply rhetorical and thoroughly transformative for commonplaces about text, decorum, higher ed, and the humanities.  EW is probably one of the earlier takes on a digital rhetorics, even if he frames a compelling range of precursors (xi)--"a new and radical convertibility" of "word image and sound" (xi) staged in Cage's experimental art and music, Duchamp's readymades and even K. Burke's poetry.

Key ideas:

AT/THROUGH (43):  At-through is one of several bi-stable qualities for engagement/encounter (?); it primarily concerns visual experience (correct?), and it suggests a perceptual oscillation:  The at disposition is alerted to surfaces; it is highly self-conscious of play and design; through, on the other hand, is un-self-conscious and unaware of any fashioned aesthetic.  Lanham writes, "Print wants the gaze to remain THROUGH and unselfconscious all the time" (43). 

bi-stable decorum (oscillation) (14):  Lanham introduces this model as a way to complicate what he calls the "classical notion of decorum": Clarity, Brevity and Sincerity (34).  Bi-stability introduces a dynamic quality to otherwise static, absolute orientations.

  Unselfconscious Selfconscious
Object Transparent<--- --->Opaque
Viewer Through<--- --->At
Reality Biogrammar<--- --->Drama
Motive Hierarchy<--- --->Play

scale (41-42): Through much of chapter two, Lanham deals with concepts of scale; he says "scaling change is one of the truly enzymatic powers of electronic text" (41); these powers, he says, line up with distinctive textual aesthetics such as collage.  His discussion in this section put me onto a few questions I need to work through a bit more about the virtual and the limits of scalability.  It makes sense that zooming enables interactivity; it democratizes the epic, according to Lanham, but to what end?  Google Earth? Relative to foreclosed notions of text-as-art, sure, "all of this yields a body of work active not passive, a canon not frozen in perfection but volatile with contending human motive" (51).  Good stuff, but what of limits (in relation, perhaps, to more recent developments)?

the "Q" question (c. 7):  The Quintilian question: is a good orator also a good person?  Lanham broadens the question to the humanities curriculum and a divide between philosophy and rhetoric: how do we justify the humanities?  Do the "humanities humanize" (181)? Starting with Peter Ramus's split of rhetoric into philosophy (invention, argument and arrangement) and true rhetoric (style and delivery).  It's hard to sum up, but it seems to reduce to inertial/accelerative tensions in the curriculum.  Lanham observes protectionist/preservationist stances which cling desperately to canonical traditions but that can no better prove the moral effects of humanities education than those who are more adaptive.  He advocates an integrative/oscillatory stance--a sprezzatura (161)--that is at once forward-looking and dynamic, welcoming movement between the rhetorical and the philosophical.  This is what he calls a "Strong Defense" which accepts that rhetoric is essentially creative (156).  In contrast, a "Weak Defense" of a rhetoric-based humanities curriculum argues the good rhetoric/bad rhetoric split, which, in turn, allows for a moral stance disaffiliated from those unsavory definitions of rhetoric as coercive or merely ornamental.

Keywords: pastists (x), proleptic aesthetic (xi), device of dramaticality (6), chameleon text (7), motival structure (14), ekphrasis (34), chreia (40), calligram (34), architectonic (56), expressive technologies (73), experimental humanism (110), remediation (130), ethnographic map (141), bricolage (144), useful miracles (151), curricular compass (152),  mindless hypertext (218), technophobic jeremiads and political stinkfights (226), noosphere (235), phatic communion (240).

Figures: McLuhan, Marinetti (31), Burke (35), Cristo (48-49), Charles Jencks (62), Robert Venturi (63), Susan Langer (77), Richard McKeon (165), Bolter, Landow, Ulmer (c. 8), Postman (c. 9)

I have quite a few additional notes, but I'll keep the rest scribbled on paper for now.  Lanham's mention of quoting images (what of that?, 46) started me thinking.  As much as anything else, I was also struck by the applicability of the "Q" question to the ongoing (de)merits-of-academic-blogging debate.  Arching over the Tribble column, sharp responses, and concerns about blogging related to scholarly activity and T&P: the "Q" question.  That blogs (potentially...oftentimes?) humanize is, perhaps, what renders them--in light of the "Q" question--so deeply inappropriate for dutiful academics (or so the argument roughly goes).  The "Q" question might also help us sort through the discordant views on Web 2.0, especially the notions of "amorality" suggested by Nicolas Carr (via, via). Although the web doesn't fall strictly in humanities territory, it does force difficult questions on academic definitions of the humanities and related justifications.  I don't want to be too quick to dismiss Carr's total argument (destructive as it is to push in the break and mash the accelerator, unless separated in time), but I am suggesting that it was instructive for me to read Carr's entry with the "Q" question in mind.


"Digitized communication is forcing a radical realignment of the alphabetic and graphic components of ordinary textual communication (3).

"The personal computer has proved already to be a device of intrinsic dramaticality" (6).

"The themes we are discussing--judgments about scale, a new icon/alphabet ration in textual communication, nonlinear collage and juxtapositional reasoning, that is to say bottom-up rather than top-down planning, coaxing change so as to favor the prepared mind--all these constitute a new theory of management" (47).

"Does the center of liberal education lie in methods or texts? If methods, intuitive or empirical? If texts, ancient or modern?" (101).

"If you separate the discipline of discourse into essence and ornament, into philosophy and rhetoric, and make each a separate discipline, it makes them easier to think about" (159).

"If you are trying to revolutionize a bureaucracy, even an educational one, you cannot afford to write like a bureaucrat" (217).

"Intelligenda longa, vita brevis should be the motto of the information age--life is short, but long indeed the list of things to be known in it" (227).

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Eloquent Images III

B arta-Smith and DiMarco - "Same Difference: Evolving Conclusions about Textuality and New Media," 159-178
In "Same Difference," Barta-Smith and DiMarco argue for an evolutionary view of new media (precedent rich) rather than a revolutionary view (precedent creating or precedent exploding).  Beginning with "what is a visual revolution?" and concerns about discussions of new media that "suppress continuity" (161), they apply a sophisticated reading of Maurice Merlau-Ponty as a way to "celebrate imitation as combination and succession" (163).  An evolutionary frame tacks new media to certain historical trajectories (there's been visuality ever since the first eyeball!).  The article rings solidly with a developmental view (in fact, it reminded me of Emig's "The Origins of Rhetoric: A Developmental View," speaking of evolution) and there are frequent references to perspectives from cognitive science.  Visual evolution is distinct from imitation (which emphasizes the causality connecting visual assimilation to sensorimotor activity) in that it recombines and leads to "structural integration" (173) and reorganizes existing cognitive patterns.  Theirs is a nuanced argument, and it's interesting to me because I haven't read much about on new media and cognitive science. 

Briefly, there is one small thing about this article that didn't work for me.  Merlau-Ponty's critique of Piaget is accepted but never really opened up.  Where does Piaget get it wrong exactly (tertiary circular reactions?)?  It's difficult to say, and the article doesn't refer directly to Piaget, only to MP.  I don't know whether the standard applies, but I was surprised to find Piaget invoked without really being explored first-hand in the imitation and perception discussion.  Oh...I should go read Merlau-Ponty?  Right. That would only be fair.

So if we accept visual evolution over visual revolution, what does it mean?  Barta-Smith and DiMarco write that we need to: "Accept the continuity among oral, print and visual media and search for it," and "Create and user-test new forms of writing in real contexts" (175).  I wonder, though, if the contested frame (evolution v. revolution) substantively impacts how we practice new media. 

"Meaning presents itself even without words.  To this way of thinking, the best innovations in writing and new media will value existing forms, coordinating them into new arrangements rather than celebrating their demise" (176).
"Likewise, we may find that the most revolutionary ideas about writing and new media emerge as mixtures of existing text, voice, and image, that is, as evolving combinations rather than definitive conclusions about textuality and new media" (175).   

Keywords: imitation (167), visual, new media, evolution, revolution
Figures: Ong, Piaget, Merlau-Ponty, Tebeaux, Ann Russon

Wiley - "Cognitive and Educational Implications of Visually Rich Media: Images and Imagination," 201-215
Coming from an educational psychology perspective, Wiley undertakes what we might call a cost and benefit analysis of images in text.  Do images help or hinder learning?  According to Wiley, cognitive science research on this issue is conflicted, demonstrating that images may either help understanding in some instances and hinder it in other situations. The chapter's purpose: "examine the educational implications of visual adjuncts and how they may affect the processing of conceptual information and therefore, the transmittal of knowledge within particular subject matter areas" (201-202).  On the upside, images may be more efficient (quicker to scan for meaning) and memorable (visualizations as mnemonic devices), and they can serve conceptual modeling (204).  On the downside, they can minimize reading engagement, substituting "intimacy and intensity" with superficiality (207), and they can act as "seductive details" (206) that recruit attention away from substantive meaning and "actually prevent readers from developing understanding" (208).   Notably, one of the anti-images sources is S. Jay Samuels, dated 1970. 

"Hence, figures, graphs, or flowcharts that may enable the reader to think about abstract concepts through images may allow for the creation of more complete situation models and as a consequence may in fact improve comprehension of text, as the studies of Darrell Butler (1993) and William Winn (1988) have demonstrated" (205).
"Visual adjuncts can serve an important role in clarifying and providing vivid examples of evidence and in exciting the reader about a topic, perhaps even in providing an aesthetic or persuasive experience, but the images and animations themselves can hardly stand along in terms of subject matter learning" (212). 

Keywords: seductive details (206), emotionally interesting adjuncts (210), joy of discovery (212)

This is my last entry on Eloquent Images for a while (sorry...I know you wanted me to take the series even higher, but the trifecta has got to be good enough for now).  For the independent study, I'm moving on to Lanham followed by Bolter and Grusin.  In method~ologies, Durst's Collision Course tomorrow (students as reflective pragmatists, give 'em what they want) 307, c. 5 in The Cluetrain Manifesto, and Thursday, I'm stepping to the mic for a lunchtime talk about Why Blog.  It starts, "Blog because...."  Gonna be great. 

Monday, October 17, 2005

Eloquent Images II

W ysocki - "Seriously Visible," 37-59
First, hypertexts, in their affordances of choice, are inherently engaging, and these engaging properties (engagementalities?) extend to civic and democratic practices (freedom, liberty, etc.).  Second, predominantly visual documents are unserious; they are the stuff of children's books--lite, silly and non-rigorous. Wysocki opens with these old feints, and offers "responsive counterexamples" elaborated through analyses of Scrutiny in the Great Round and Throwing Apples at the Sun, two visualmedia pieces.  Before introducing the counterexamples, Wysocki thickens the air with surveys of the critical tensions invested in the opening positions.  To set up the idea of hypertext reader as civic agent, she cites Lanham, Bolter, Edward Barrett (cognitive science), Woodland, Nielsen, then extends to Mill, Habermas and Virilio to explain the correlation between hypertext as choice and the dependence of public sphere on divergent opinions.  Importantly, Wysocki includes a section in the essay (40-41) to acknowledge the "quickness of [her] preceding arguments" before imparting a second survey of positions suggesting that the visual is elementary, again from Habermas and Virilio.  Included here are a series of scholars who have called for renewed attention to the complexity and dimension of images (42-43).  Before shifting into the analysis of the visualmedia pieces, Wysocki explains,

The assumption behind the critique of the visual is that we take in what we see, automatically and immediately, in the exact same way as everyone else, so that the visual requires no interpretation and in fact functions as though we have no power before it[...]; the assumption behind the celebrations of hypertext is that any text that presents us with choice of movement through it necessarily requires interpretation (43).

The analyses of Scrutiny in the Great Round and Throwing Apples at the Sun are nuanced and insightful; this got me thinking that I probably ought to spend some time interacting with one of the pieces first-hand.  The analyses are also successful in that the attention to detail and difference effectively demonstrates Wysocki's response to the opening bits, arguing, in effect, that "visual texts can be as pleasurably challenging as some word-full texts" (56).  A few other brief quotations--copied here--round out the essay, which closes with pedagogical assertions:

"But we can compose in new ways only if we acknowledge that the visual and hypertextual aspects of our texts are not monolithic.  Even to say 'the visual' or 'the hypertextual' is to imply that anything that fits under one of those signifiers points to the same signified; the pieces of multimedia I have analyzed show this not to be the case" (57).

"If we want there to be more complex texts in the world and more complex and active readers and citizens, then let's work with people in our classes to make such texts and to develop together the abilities and concerns to help us be the latter" (57).

Kirschenbaum - "The Word as Image in an Age of Digital Reproduction," 137-156
Many people presume that "the boundaries between word and image have never been more permeable than they are now" (136), but images and text are very different data-structures and those differences figure significantly in projects designed to digitize illuminated texts such as William Blake's poetry (141).  Furthermore, image and word are defined by their technical structures; anyone with a dial-up modem understands that image files are larger and slower to load, Kirschenbaum explains.  These distinctive constitutions limit the kinds of "electronic moves" (142)  we can make with words and images.  For tagging and retrieval, this means that images must, in effect, be partnered with a descriptive lexicon; Kirschenbaum shares an example of the "characteristic components" used to identify Blake's "The Shepherd": shepherd, male, young, short, crook, tights, standing, contrapposto, and looking (146).

There are two other examples of text and image complicated by visualization (as in, is it image or is it word?): the Language Visualization and Research group at Cornell (148) and Kirshenbaum's own project using VRML in Lucid Mapping and Codex Transformation in the Z-Buffer (150).  Once the text surrenders into image--as is the case with the 3D narrative project--writing activity slides to second chair, outdone by "the kaleidoscopic visual effects" (153).  With this description of his project, Kischenbaum includes the question, "Can one speak of 'links' in a 3-D writing space, or does the addition of a third dimension foreground the extent to which linking is a 'flatland technology'?" (150).  Hmm.  Flatland technology. About the Lucid Mapping project, Kirshenbaum writes, "I meant to suggest a sentient and directed narrative experience, assembled 'on the fly' in response to changing visual and spatial conditions within a graphical environment: a mapping that then in turn alters the topography of the environment itself, and so on, thus sustaining the classic cybernetic feedback loop" (152).  There is a whole lot more to say about the split between image-text as conceptual blend (or even "aesthetic conceit") and image-text as technically constituted, and I want to look again at this article with more thought about the archival material (how different are the humanities computing initiatives from our own efforts to remake the image-bound archives of CCC Online?).  In as summative of a statement as I could locate, Kirschenbaum ends the article with, "My point is that there are significant ontological continuities with analog media that are not adequately accounted for by casual assertions about the blurred boundaries between word and image" (153).

"The point I want to illustrate through the above discussion is that one cannot talk about words as images and images as words without taking into account the technologies of representation upon which both forms depend" (141).
The notion that digital texts and images are infinitely fluid and malleable is an aesthetic conceit divorced from technical practice, a consensual hallucination in the same way that William Gibson's neuromantic 'lines of light' delineate an imaginative ideal rather than any actual cyberspaces" (154).

Terms: jaggies (142), imageforms (145), image-vector-text and scalability (152), lucid mapping (152)

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Eloquent Images I

B olter - "Critical Theory and the Challenge of New Media," 20-36
In this brief article, the first in Hocks and Kendrick's Eloquent Images, Jay Bolter begins with a historical overview of the image-word problem.  He traces a larger outline of new media by propping up a series of artificial dichotomies: visual-verbal, theory-practice, critique-production, ideological-formal (34); the project of new media is to collapse these terms.  Bolter explains that unlike film and television, which few cultural critics conceived of as full-scale replacements for print, the web and its hyper-blended forms of discourse introduce a different kind of contest between old and new media forms. Yet it would be a mistake to view new media forms and print as strict teleological trajectories, each edging out the other, competing for a mediative lead.  This matters differently if you're the CEO of a Weyerhaeuser, I suppose, and maybe there's something to the race track metaphor (one car to each, one driver, one big-dollar sponsor) that admits or allows for the capital backing of media forms.  That's not really Bolter's point here. He explains, "It is not that there is some inadequacy in printed media forms that digital forms can remedy: New digital media obviously have no claim to inherent superiority" (24). 

Early in the essay, Bolter suggests that writing studies scholars are doing some of the most important work in new media because they merge practical and theoretical dispositions. In writing studies, scholars can work with a practical understanding of the increasing presence of digital writing technologies and also put them to use, activating the new media in compositional practices and pedagogy.  And, according to Bolter, it's not necessary to eschew political orientations, disregard cultural studies or neglect critical theory along the way (25). New media productively unsettles what writing studies does.  Elsewhere in the article, Bolter points out the irony of so much new media scholarship reverting to print forms for circulation; he refers specifically to Postmodern Culture as an exception among academic journals and notes that many articles on new media hold to the conventions of print even when they are published online.  He also highlights some of the exciting work in new media among his colleagues in Ga. Tech's School of Literature, Communication and Culture (formerly, the English Dept.), which houses the new media studies program. 

Quotations: "To approach new media as practice is to appreciate the cultural significance of images and sounds as well as written words" (27).
"Although publishing a linear essay on the Web is not suspect, creating a hypermedia artifact may be, precisely because it involves media forms that cultural theorists have come to associate with corporate software and entertainment giants" (25).

Terms: distinction between repurposing and remediation (29)

I'll have a few more entries on articles from EI (2003/2005) later today and in the days ahead.  I want to note, too, how impressed I am with Hocks and Kendrick's introductory frame for the book.  Beyond the brief overview of each article (a commonplace for introductions of collections), I found it especially interesting in "From Word/Image Binaries to the Recognition of Hybrids" (3), which makes use of Latour's theorization of hybrids to articulate the fluctuation between word and image, between print culture and visual culture. How can I fit Latour into my reading this semester?

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Tufte - Visual Display/Quantitative Information (1983)

E xcellent graphics are simple, clear pictures of numbers, Tufte argues in this "landmark" book, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information.  Basic graphical designs--"box plots, bar charts, historograms, and scatterplots" (124)--have in common principles of functional simplicity and clarity. Note the review comment attributed to the Boston Globe: "A visual Strunk and White." I read the first edition, and it's currently out in a second edition, so these notes should be so-understood.  They reflect the 1983 edition--the version that later needed an update for one reason or other. 

Tufte's book is filled with examples, and because the examples are illustrative--literally graphical--TVDOQI is good for browsing and for casual returns or future reference.  The principles guiding Tufte's project are fairly straightforward: "Graphics reveal data" (13).  Just how they reveal data best along with anti-examples or failures of statistical graphics to reveal data simply and clearly--these are the concerns guiding the book.  The pages are filled with successes and failures rel. to lie factors (57) and chart junk (107).  Tufte also looks at data-ink ratios; he argues that effective statistical graphics should make comparison easy to see.  They should tell the story of the data with design variables matching exactly to data variables and with minimal interference from decorative schemes and editorializing (59).  TVDOQI advocates tailoring tidy relationships between data and graphical representations of data.  Representation and reading, however, are not depicted as complicated, flexible or interpretive; they're strict activities understood as rigid (timeless, acontextual) universals and rigid psychological models of comprehension and visual experience.

Tufte's project is explicitly focused on quantitative data; he is quite direct about the primacy of clarity as the ultimate aim of the statistical graphics he's concerned with.  Because his project is bracketed in this way, it raises, for me, questions about a broader representative arena.  Why not The Visual Display of Qualitative Information(like city blocks with photographs at the beginning of  Sidewalk) or The Visual Display of Imaginative Information (mind-mapping and conceptual graphing)?  They're not quite the same type of scientistic data-sets Tufte looks at in TVDOQI, but his project is still useful for thinking about these other areas.

Tufte rationalizes several claims on a scarcity model of (re)presentational space (i.e. front pages of news papers or the confines of scientific journals); one of his formulas--the data-ink ratio (93)--falls right in line with a related theme: design efficiencies that presume normal, undifferentiated reading of statistical graphs.  Lasting and insightful as some of these codes might be, the critiques of moire effects (patterned shading) and pencil strokes for the drafting artist apply more roundly to the historical moment--how many turns of the straight-edge should a rug plot (135) require...and so on.

I had a few thoughts about small multiples (170)--one of the varieties of statistical graphics I hadn't thought much about before.  And I should return to the few pages near the end where Tufte articulates an integrative view of words, numbers and pictures (181).  Bits from the brief section on the integrative view seem to conflict with the consistent lines of data-as-truth and graphs-as-clear.  The example of a page from Leonardo's notebook is interesting, too. But all in all, Tufte, widely associated as he is with data visualization, tips heavily into constraint and reduction with TVDOQI

"The design of statistical graphics is a universal matter--like mathematics--and is not tied to the unique features of a particular language." (2)
"Graphics reveal data" (13).
"The distinguished graphic successfully organizes a large collection of numbers, makes comparisons between different parts of the data, and tells a story" (30).
"But no information, no sense of discovery, no wonder, no substance is generated by chartjunk" (121).

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Mitchell - Picture Theory (1994)

S ome risk involved in beginning with a leap; Mitchell's Picture Theory splinters through the title's pun--a theory of pictures and theory pictured or picture-able.  In the introduction, Mitchell calls the problem of the 21st C. a problem of the image.  This opens onto difficulties with the relationship between word and image, mapping and organizing fields of representation, and discord between reading proper and spectatorship (3).  Fumble them as we inevitably will, these and other differences might seem less gnarled if we "adopt Michel de Certau's terminology and call the attempt to describe [them] a 'heterology of representation'" (5).

This project--from theory-orientation of the first three chapters to the applications in the remainder of the book--develops out of a concern with agency and attempts to "open onto the image/text problematic" (7).  It also expresses a function related to curriculum and theory (6) in an effort to engage the following three questions: "What are pictures? What is their relationship to language? Why does this matter?" (5).

"The Pictorial Turn"
In this chapter, Mitchell begins with Rorty's idea of "turns" in philosophy; the pictorial turn engages the spectator-scene relation; it involves stances on the mass circulation of images and their relationship to text.  This iconology is complicated by the formalizing of visual arts as a discipline, by resistance to images in text (12), and postmodern upheavals of perspectival theories of representation.  In a nutshell (the picture of a nutshell):

Whatever the pictorial turn is, then, it should be clear that it is not a return to naive mimesis, copy or correspondence theories of representation, or a renewed metaphysics of pictorial "presence": it is rather a postlinguistic, postsemiotic rediscovery of the picture as a course, bodies, and figurality.  It is the realization that spectatorship (the look, the gaze, the glance, the practices of observation, surveillance, and visual pleasure) may be as deep a problem as various forms of reading (decipherment, decoding, interpretation, etc.) and that visual experience or "visual literacy" might not be fully explicable on the model of textuality (16). 

This tangle (tango?) between spectatorship and reading jostles conventional notions of reading as an undifferentiated activity (the common assumption: everyone gets "reading").  The move to complicate or question (interrogate) the spectator stands out from the rest of what Mitchell is doing here.  It springs from the pictorial turn: where are the differentiated models for reading?  Who's running them off?  How are those (faintly) differentiated models re-domesticated under the rubric of literacy (toss in 'critical' if you want)? Finally, Mitchell has a nice set six scenic inquiries along the lines of "what might we notice?" (26).

In this essay "on pictures about pictures," (35) Mitchell works through "an array" (57) of six+ images as a way to tease out the infinite relation between image and text suggested by Foucault in The Order of Things.  Mitchell calls his procedure "ekphrastic," which refers to "words about pictures" (38).  Self-referential images, like Saul Steinberg's The Spiral (1968), call attention to but cannot exhaust the "nested" representational possibilities (42).  In a section on "Dialectical Images," Mitchell works on the problem of "multistability" (43)--the blinking of an image that seemingly toggles back and forth (without dimming).  Can it be both?  The model here is the Rabbit-Duck that so concerned Wittgenstein. Its "what am I?" is perpetually unresolved.  Wittgenstein would give the Rabbit-Duck the possibility of both expressions at once, thus "restoring the 'wildness'" diminished by "psychology and by photographic models of the psyche" (53). 

Mitchell calls Valesquz's "Las Meninas" a meta-metapicture; the famous painting implicates us in the infinite referentiality--an undying parallax.  Is that you in the mirror observing the whole scene?  For Foucault, the importance of the painting is its way of keeping open those possibilities rather than fixing the relationships through naming.

At the end of the chapter, Mitchel considers "Talking Metapictures" (64): This is not a pipe, The two mysteries, and Arcadia Ego.  Such images suggest different effects; it's worth noting the primacy of text in pictures of reading.  Even in "This is not a pipe," the text tends to come define the picture of the pipe rather than the other way around--"discourse has the final say" (66).

"Beyond Comparison: Picture, Text and Method"
A method of imagetext must not become trapped in conventional comparisons.  Mitchell proposes imagetext not as kind of reduction or collapsing of image into text or text into image, but rather as a way to "pry them open" (100, 106).  Furthermore, a method of imagetext understands the varied disciplinary expectancies: these ideas might unsurprising to art historians who have long listened to images or literary scholars for whom imagery is passe (99).  Mitchell asks us to move beyond comparison--"the ideal trope for figuring 'action at a distance' between different systems" (85).  Why?

If the relation of the visible and the readable is (as Foucault thought) an infinite one, that is, if 'word and image' is simply the unsatisfactory name for an unstable dialectic that constantly shifts its location in representational practices, breaking both pictorial and discursive frames and undermining the assumptions that underwrite the separation of the verbal and visual disciplines, then theoretical pictures may be mainly useful as de-disciplinary exercises (83).

Terms: iconology (24), multistability (45), hypericon (28), ekphastic procedure (38), gestalt (42), nesting (48), assemblages (49), figure and dead metaphor (66), textual repetition and defacing (69), bands of readability (71), apotropaic image (78), attributed masteries (63), calligram (77)

Effects (not to be confused with theme or topoi) (74): Pipe Effect (74), Vortex Effect (75), Medusa Effect (78)

Figures: McLuhan (15), Panofsky (16), Foucault (5, 18, 60), Jonathan Crary (19), Althusser (29), Wittgenstein (60), de Certau (5, 71), Deleuze (70)

"Is iconology, in contrast to its 'disintegrative' methodological cousin, philology, incapable of registering 'faults' in culture, the fractures in representation, and the resistance of spectators?" (23).

Friday, September 23, 2005

Taylor and Saarinen - Imagologies (1994)

I n Imagologies, Mark Taylor and Esa Saarinen weave and warp through a series of new media (vintage 1994) fabrics. I call them fabrics because the book's designer, Marjaana Virta, does: "Mediatext: A collection of fabrics..." (jacket). And if we can call Imagologies a "book"--rich ironies here for all their project does to frazzle the paradigms of print--the visual designs and variations are as striking as any of the stuff we might otherwise classify as content. Perhaps as much as any paper-bound book could hope to, Imagologies pushes and sometimes exceeds the constraints of the bound page.

It's mentioned just once early on, but Taylor's explanation of imagology as a riff on mythology influenced my reading of the rest of the project.  When we begin to think about mapping mythologies, then, how would it change if we instead (or additionally) framed it as mapping imagologies?  How do each of these logics implicate space or spatial qualities?  How does each find a relationship to language?  How do they manifest, move about, spread?

As a project, Imagologies tips a couple of ways. One thread involves Taylor and Saarinen's collaboration over two years on a telecourse called "Imagologies," a course on media philosophy linking Saarinen's class in Finland with Taylor's class in Massachusetts. Their course formalized in the fall of 1992--quite possibly one of the earliest telecourses, coming at a time when many higher ed. institutions, like the one I was at for my undergraduate studies, were scrambling to build TV-studio-classrooms. Another thread is what I would describe as meta-pedagogical. I'm referring here to the documented interchanges only loosely related to the teaching of the course--emails back and forth about cultural and philosophical differences: traditional philosophy's tolerance for new media, the legitimacy of "American philosophy," and so on. And then there's a mess of threadlings--scraps and pieces that fill up the pages with media philosophy maxims and quips. These one- and two-liners are strewn throughout the project, giving Imagologies the feel of a new media almanac, something to be read casually and intermittently, referenced, and so on.

Rather than adopting the convention of continuous pagination, the book is chunked into twenty-five chapters, and each of them uses a reset-to-one page count. The sections: Communicative Practices, Simcult, Styles, Naivete, Media Philosophy, Ending the Academy, Pedagogies, Videovisions, Televangelism, Superficiality, Telewriting, Ad-diction, Interstanding, Netropolis, Electronomics, Telepolitics, Speed, Telerotics, Cyberwar, Virtuality, Body Snatching, Cyborgs, Shifting Subjects, Net Effect, Gaping.

While I have brief notes on each of them, I decided rather than sharing all of it, I'd just focus on five or six of the chapters, comment on my interest in them, firm them up with a shot of blogged-notes preservative.  These are the sections I think I'm most likely to return to later on.

Naivete:  Naivete refers to the stance or attitude of the imagologist..  Such a disposition, according to Taylor and Saarinen, "requires a Kierkegaardian leap of faith in the age of faithlessness" (Naivete 1).  Naivete means accepting the complicated imagetext moires, the ripple of multiple and varied surfaces. 

Media Philosophy: Basically, media philosophy disturbs traditional philosophies that have sought "rational...objective thought" (5). Philosophical language is no longer adequate for entertaining grandiose questions; philosophical ventures must now involve the "energetics of image" (6).

Superficiality: Superficiality qualifies the aleatory as having a redefined relationship to the "burden of meaning" (3) perpetuated by "expert cultures" in the age of the mediatrix.  There's more to it than this, of course, but the idea is that the aleatory need not cause anxiety and inhibition.  Taylor and Saarinen tell us that "naivete should not be confused with superficiality," and "the postmodern condition is inescapably superficial" (5).  This chapter also includes a short take on reading that I definitely want to return to (7).  Ex.: "Professional expert cultures legitimate their non-reading by defining essential reading in a limited textmass in narrowly circumscribed forums of publication" (7).

Telewriting: This works through some implications of the mediatrix for writing.  "Hypertext" is recurrent in this chapter's maxims, and I like the many openings here to writing technologies and telewriting activity.  "Telewriting is imagoscription," for example.  Telewriting gives us the prefix for distance which is, in turn, explained (only in part) by a traversal, a digitized tour, IO goes to Helsinki in .001 seconds.

Netropolis: Key terms from this chapter include circulation (2), spectacle (gone wild) (2), and nomadism (4).  It's a move toward a metaphor of the city for the way space and time have been transformed in the structures of the mediatrix.  Specifically, Taylor and Saarinen call this structuring "electrotecture" (4).  Nice one.  And they liken electrotects to imagologists, imagologists to media philosophers.

Even looser notes: A few terms: polylogue (Ending the Academy 1), conduction (Gaping 8), new structures of awareness (Speed 3), staging (Cyberwar 3), lens louse (Ad-Diction 8), telelogic (Interstanding 4), amplification (Communicative Practices 8), mediatrix (Communicative Practices 5).

A few figures: Hegel, Debord, Baudrillard (Simcult 1), Warhol (Styles 7), Kierkegaard (Naivete), Madonna (Media Philosophy 14), Petra Kelly (Media Philosophy 9), Jameson (Televangelism (7), Benjamin (Telewriting 1), Paul Virilio (Netropolis), Foucault (Virtuality 12).

A few quotations:
"In simcult, the responsible writer must be an imagologist. Since image has displaced print as the primary medium for discourse, the public use of reason can no longer be limited to print culture. To be effective, writing must become imagoscription that is available to everyone" (Communicative Practices 4).
"The only responsible intellectual is one who is wired" (Communicative Practices 13).
"The play of simulacrum creates a lite culture" (Simcult 6).
"Imagology insists that the word is never simply a word but is also an image" (Styles 3).
"The imagologist suffers from the mania for signifying" (Styles 9).
"The imagologist does not seek truth but entertains enigmas. Though in opposite ways, the academy and mass culture worship the altar of clarity and simplicity, which the imagologist shatters. Institutions of triviledge abhor enigmas that ought to be cultivated" (Ending the Academy 3).
"Did not teaching change with the invention of writin? Did not teaching change with the creation of print? Must not teaching change with the arrival of the mediatrix?" (Pedagogies 3).
"It remains unclear whether the contribution of a media philosopher is anything other than an outburst of laughter" (Ad-diction 8).
"Telelogic subverts the institutions of triviledge established by expert culture. Analysis divides to conquer. Its 'victory', however, is pyrrhic, for its touch turns everything into a corpse. Telelogic is an electric shock treatment whose jolt revives thought by creating live wires" (Interstanding 4).
"Scientific truth always comes too late" (Naivete 2).
"A laughable project: not to analyze but to explode language in an effort to create tentative syntheses of that-which-cannot-be-synthesized" (Naivete 5).

Monday, September 19, 2005

Baudrillard - Simulacra and Simulation (1981/1994)

B audrillard begins by suggesting the impossibility of Borges's exhaustive map, a precise cartography of the empire.  According to Baudrillard, such a map is no longer possible; the farcical project is rendered impossible because of "the precession of simulacra," which we might take as an onslaught of images without immediate reference or "copies without originals."  If images are referential, simulacra shroud the reference, resulting in what Baudrillard calls the hyperreal as well as conditions giving rise to "the era of simulation [which] is inaugurated by a liquidation of all referentials" (2).  Hereafter, maps precede territory (1); this applies to the medicalization of the body and anticipations of war-action as the trainings for each are staged through elaborate and artificial simulations.  Also, Baudrillard works this theory on Disneyland, Watergate and God.

In the first chapter, "The Precession of Simulacra," Baudrillard sets up a theoretical imbroglio (17); subsequent chapters function as applications and cases for trying our and further complicating and extrapolating these concepts.  Early on, Baudrillard works through challenging (often surprising) engagements with religion (5), ethnology (7), museumification of "our entire linear and accumulative culture" (10).  He argues that "demuseumification" is just as artificial as the ethnologist's "pure form" project: "Repatriating it is nothing but a supplementary subterfuge, acting as if nothing had happened and indulging in retrospective hallucination" (11).  Baudrillard is clear that we have moved outlived the society of the spectacle, outlasting "the specific kinds of alienation and repression that [the spectacle] implied" (30).  Spectacle, as I read it through Debord, acknowledges an excess of representation, of hypercirculating image-objects, much of which is apprehendable; comparably, simulacra are somehow sly or non-obvious, advancing quietly and without exhibitive splendor paraded in the spectacle.

On images, Baudrillard writes of four "successive phases":

it is the reflection of a profound reality;
it masks and denatures a profound reality;
it masks the absence of a profound reality;
it has no relation to any reality whatsoever: it is its own pure simulacrum. (6)

Baudrillard is like a hop on a boogie-board: so much to try out (as much as you're up for).  But I'll note just a couple of things, then let the vague referents below serve as cues for a later date (these notes have got to be readable in, next year, anyhow).  First, with simulacra and simulation, Baudrillard suggests a turn from persuasion to deterrence (29) (this, in the section called "End of the panoptic system.") I need to think through this turnabout a bit more--think about what this might mean for rhetoric, what B. calls the "end of perspectival and panoptic space" (30).  One more: in "Clone Story," B. mentions scissiparity (96) ( reproduction by fission). Just interesting, scissiparity.

Two quotations: "The only weapon of power, its only strategy against this defection, is to reinject the real and the referential everywhere, to persuade us of the reality of the social, of the gravity of the economies and the finalities of production" (22).
"What is essential today is to evaluate this double challenge--the challenge of the masses to meaning and their silence (which is not at all passive resistance)--the challenge to meaning that comes from the media and its fascination" (84).

Simvitees: Eisenstein (33), Loud family (27), McLuhan (30, 82) Rel. Benjamin and aura (99), Neo

Returns: museum (8), repatriation (11), proof in antis (19); network of artificial signs (20), mapping and confinement (29), satellitization (33, 35), information and the destruction of the social (81), soft technologies (101).

With this installment of notes, I'm shifting phases...moving from what we've termed new media/visualization groundwork to what's next: Imagologies (Taylor and Saarinen), Picture Theory (Mitchell), and Visual Display... (Tufte).

Barthes - The Photographic Message (1961)
Barthes - Rhetoric of the Image (1964)
Barthes - The Third Meaning (1970)
Benjamin - The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction (1936)
Debord - Society of the Spectacle (1967/1983)

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Debord - Society of the Spectacle (1967/1983)

S pectacle, for Debord, refers broadly to the convergence of representation, media, the proliferation of image-objects, and visually gripping mass circulations given to commodity: "a monopoly of appearances" (12).  Debord spearheaded the Situationist International movement which was resolutely actionist, performative, politically motivated, and theoretically sophisticated (expansive of avant-garde, from Dada to surrealism).  In Society of the Spectacle, Debord issues a series of relatively short vignettes--manifesto-like blurbs each attending to the effects of the spectacle, from the separations of workers and their products to widespread isolationism.  Debord was concerned with the implications of the massification of the image, consumerist patterns, and the spread of disillusionment pushed by the complacent and consenting bourgeois profiteers.  Among the multiple definitional turns, Debord writes, "spectacle is the opposite of dialogue" (18).

Elsewhere, Debord identified "a growing multitude of image-objects" as one cause for the rise of spectacle and its many accompanying conditions: lonely crowds (28), commodity fetishism (36), and quantitative triviality (62).  The spectacle is, in yet another sense, the "epic poem of the struggle of every commodity to assert itself everywhere" (66); and thus, the rise in ambivalent consumption is at the heart of any spectaclist trend. 

Debord briefly discusses spectacle in terms of a totalizing world map (without reference to Borges, however), and this resonates with Baudrillard's opening reference in Simulacra and Simulation to a map/territory framework. Debord: "The spectacle is the map of this new world, a map which exactly covers its territory" (31). It seems that the Borges-Debord-Baurdillard segment and the related map-matches-territory concept has ripened in the wake of the many mapping technologies that have sprung forth in recent months (Google Maps and Google Earth w/ API; MSN Virtual Earth, whatever can be said of it, a time-warped territory).  In another spot, Debord (where'd I read, Debord as postmodern before pomo was fashionable?)--on systems and structuralism: he acknowledges the problem of a strict structural view of systems and the "freeze" required to treat the system as a structure (hold still, Shifty!) (201).  I also want to hang onto Debord's stance on the give-take of plagiarhythm: "Ideas improve. The meaning of words participated in the improvement. Plagiarism is necessary. Progress implies it. It embraces an author's phrase, makes use of his expressions, erases a false idea, and replaces it with the right idea" (207).

And finally, I've been revisiting Anderson's work on the Long Tail for a talk coming up next month, so I was starting to think about the possibility that the head of the curve (its long ears? calling it the head of the curve seems off somehow) appeases or accommodates spectacle in ways that the long tail does not--not in quite the same way, at least.  So when we apply Pareto's Law to systems of networked writing, let's say, I'd argue that the head--top 20%, if you want a number--is somehow more hospitable to spectacle than the tail.  We could even go so far as to describe the head as spectacle, no? But of course, please, tell me why I'm wrong about this.

Returnables MEc: illusion of encounter (217), tradition and innovation (181), nadir of writing (204), banalization (59), celebrity (60-61), systems (201), falsification of social life (68), illusory community (78), collection of souvenirs (189), concentrated/diffuse spectacle and misery (63)

Spectacle crusher: "To effectively destroy the society of the spectacle, what is needed is men putting a practical force into action" (203).

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Benjamin - The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction (1936)

T hen came film and burst this prison-world asunder by the dynamite of the tenth of a second, so that now, in the midst of its far-flung ruins and debris, we calmly and adventurously go traveling (236).

The possibility of multiple copies--an indistinguishable hoard of duplicates--is central among concerns covered in Benjamin's time-worn essay on art and mechanical reproduction.  The essay reads almost episodically; it is broken into a preface, fifteen chunks and an epilogue.  I first read this essay ten or twelve years ago, again (if skimmingly) sixteen months ago, and most recently, today.  As explicitly concerned as Benjamin is with shift in mass consciousness with the advent of the camera (for photography or for film), he's also tacitly concerned with the propaganda-subjected mass consciousness that would foment under the conditions of so easily produced and circulated materials.  In this sense, reproducibility qua image/art and photo/film is but one symptom of more general massification (234), spectacle (232), the blend and fade of author/public distinctions (232), changing "modes of participation" (239), the degradation of human aura (presence-force) (229), and distraction's weakening of concentration on the art object (240). 

But are we yet in an age of mechanical reproduction?  How have digital productions--the internet's hearty copycopia--slanted and refigured Benjamin's predictive insights?

The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction...

Benjamin makes a few claims dependent on the distinction between cult value and exhibition value.  As I re-read today, the cult value persistently struck a chord with me as the art object's situatedness in a kind of local, inertial aesthetic--originality, tradition, religiosity and the magical.  In the cult value (223), a "ritual function."  But in the age of mechanical reproduction, the art object is freed from these constraints; it enjoys a release to multiplicity (twenty-four screens; Technorati, etc.). Bust out of the museum case, Art; go out and play (although everyone's not comfortable with this). 

Finally, returnables (5cME):
(-1-) This notion of aura (presence) (229) tends toward essentialism?
(-2-) Atget's photos of the barren Paris streets in 1900 (226); the photo as evidence; people, no people?  Barthes (where, in RB?) says that people must be present for him to feel the sting...yes?
(-3-) On the "pioneering" Dadaists (237): How far-reaching or well established is Benjamin's contempt for them?

Monday, September 12, 2005

Barthes - The Third Meaning (1970)

B arthes's essay, "The Third Meaning: Research notes on some Eisenstein Stills," approaches a third order of meaning, an inarticulable beyond, extant to the first-order obvious and the second-order symbolic but not wholly divorced from them.  The third meaning takes its shape from a "theoretical individuality" (55) (close associate to the punctum/sting, no doubt).  And it is, of course, difficult to name because, as Barthes puts it, the third meaning or obtuse meaning "is a signifier without a signified" (61).  Barthes's essay-notes proceed through a kind of awkward profundity; piling through an array of near-descriptors, as near as one can get without reducing the third meaning into something it is not. 

To attempt these notes (on notes on a thing indescribable), I have simply assembled marginalia and annotations, crunched them together here, as if in a build-up of please make sense, so that I can comb through, piecemeal style.

Early distinctions: obvious (55) and obtuse (56).  The obvious meaning is evident; it "comes to seek me out" (54)--emphatic and important.  The obtuse meaning or third meaning ("the one 'too many'"...yes!) "extend[s] outside culture, knowledge, information; analytically, it has something derisory about it: opening out into the infinity of language, it can come through as limited in the eyes of analytic reason; it belongs to the family of pun, buffoonery, useless expenditure.  Indifferent to moral or aesthetic categories (the trivial, the futile, the false, the pastiche), it is on the side of carnival" (55). 

Here, third meaning for Barthes

Third meaning gravitates to the curiously disguised.  "The characteristic of this third meaning is indeed-at least in SME[isenstein]-to blur the limit separating expression from disguise, but also to allow that oscillation succinct demonstration--an elliptic emphasis, if one can put it like that, a complex and extremely artful disposition (for it involves a temporality of signification), perfectly described by Eisenstein himself when he jubilantly quotes the golden rule of the old K.S. Gillette: 'just short of the cutting edge'" (58).  And so it seems to close in on the touching, sensitive and emotional without precisely locating such conditions. Next: "Caught up in the disguise, such emotion is never sticky, it is an emotion which simply designates what one loves, what one wants to defend: an emotion-value, an evaluation" (59).

Here, third meaning is dissolved.

"If the obtuse meaning cannot be described, that is because, in contrast to the obvious meaning, it does not copy anything--how do you describe something that doesn't represent anything? The pictorial 'rendering' of words is here impossible, with the consequence that if, in front of these images, we remain, you and I, at the level of articulated language--at the level, that is, of my own text--the obtuse meaning will not succeed in existing, in entering the critic's metalanguage.  Which means that the obtuse meaning is outside (articulated) language while nevertheless within interlocution.  For if you look at the images I am discussing, you can see this meaning, we can agree on it 'over the shoulder' or 'on the back' of articulated language" (61).  Paradoxically, third meaning can be understood (right?) and also steer clear of the "critic's metalanguage." Third meaning, in this sense, "outplays meaning" (63), it takes the side exit on "literacy's depletion."

"In short, what the obtuse meaning disturbs, sterilizes, is metalanguage (criticism). Reasons: 1. discontinuous (61) 2. depletion (not filled out) (62) 3. accent (the form of an emergence, a fold) (62).

Just a few more observations, quotations and one or two questions: Barthes develops this notion--third meaning--around stills (frames from films).  He argues that third meaning "makes the filmic possible" because it "structures the film differently without--at least in SME--subverting the story" (64).  The possibility of an excessive meaning (in this out-there stratum) that doesn't destroy narrative seems important here. "The filmic, then, lies precisely here, in that region where articulated language is no longer more than approximative and where another language begins (whose science, therefore, cannot be linguistics, soon discarded like another booster rocket).  The third meaning--theoretically locatable but not describable--can now be seen as the passage from language to signifiance and in the founding act of the filmic itself" (65).  Barthes explains that the filmic is not the same as film (a corollary: novelistic/novel).  Could it be that this explanation of filmic makes it writable; can the filmic be written?  Can writing be filmic?  Is third meaning relegated to the visual?

More on narrativity and subversion:

"The indifference of freedom of position of the supplementary signifier in relation to the narrative allows us to situate with some exactitude the historical, political, theoretical task accomplished by Eisenstein.  In his work, the story (the diegetic, anecdotal representation) is not destroyed--quite the contrary: what finer story than that of Ivan or Potemkin? This importance given to the narrative is necessary in order to be understood in a society which, unable to resolve the contradictions of history without a long political transaction, draws support (provisionally?) from mythical (narrative) solutions.  The contemporary problem is not to destroy the narrative but to subvert it; today's task is to dissociate subversion from destruction: the presence of an obtuse, supplementary, third meaning--if only in a few images, but then as an imperishable signature, as a seal endorsing the whole of the work (and the whole of his work)--radically recasts the theoretical status of the anecdote:  the story (the diegesis) is no longer just a strong system (the millennial system of narrative) but also and contradictorily a simple space, a field of permanences and permutations.  It becomes the configuration, that stage, whose false limits multiply the signifier's permutational play, that vast trace which, by difference, compels what SME himself calls a vertical reading, that false order which permits the turning of the pure series, the aleatory combination (chance is crude, a signifier on the cheap) and the attainment of a structuration which slips away from the inside.  It can thus be said that with SME we have to reverse the cliche according to which the more gratuitous a meaning, the more it will appear as a mere parasite of the story being narrated; on the contrary, it is this story which here finds itself in some parametric to the signifier for which is is now merely the field of displacement, the constitutive negativity, or, again, the fellow-traveler" (64).

Why such a long passage?  Just one megaloparagraph.  But in it we have one of Barthes's two references to Eisenstein's notion of vertical reading (a dilute or thinly-known story-structure?).  And I'm not sure what Eisenstein or Barthes mean--vertical reading.  I'm also interested in the idea of "radically recast[ing] the theoretical status of the anecdote"; I guess this works on the analogy still is to film as anecdote is to narrative. 

Saturday, September 10, 2005

"We Are Coming" - Logan (1999)

I n 691 (Method~ologies) this week we're considering historical methods and reading for such methods specifically through the Shirley Wilson Logan's work in "We Are Coming": The Persuasive Discourse of Nineteenth-Century Black Women.  In the preface, Logan speaks briefly to her method: "Since rhetorical analysis requires an understanding of the formal features of a text in conjunction with its historical context, I consider pertinent historical details--biographical, social, political and cultural.  Moving from the historical, I address various characteristics of a chosen text in the light of these details.  The selection of characteristics is informed by classical rhetoric and its twentieth-century reconstructions.  My hope is that these discussions might also add to a clearer understanding of nineteenth-century culture and of the ways in which the persuasive discourse of nineteenth-century black women adapted itself to its multiple audiences and multilayered exigencies" (xvi).  As well as any passage I could locate, these few sentences give a fairly complete, succinct overview of the project.

Although the historical span in question runs from 1832-1900, many of the samples of persuasive discourse--often performed speeches--tip toward the tail end of this period, 1880-1900.  Logan's reading is admittedly pastiche-like, working from sometimes-fragmentary sources in search of patterns that, when understood in the context of other histories, might be regarded as evidence of heretofore unhistoricized rhetorical activity concerned with abolition, women's rights, antilynching and racial uplift (which, in c. 7, splits out to roles rel. to home, church and work).  The restorative aspect of this work is compelling and important, but in some places I found it hard to work through the accumulating referential details. For instance, this paragraphs opens into the final section the concluding chapter:

The persuasive discourse on women's racial uplift work and the uplift of women's work in this last section comes out of the Hampton Negro Conferences of 1898 and 1899 and out of a Hampton publication.  The Hampton, Virginia, conferences, first held in 1897, were presided over by Hollis Burke Frissell, principal of the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute from 1893 to 1917.  Victoria Earle Matthews's address, "Some of the Dangers Confronting Southern Girls in the North," was delivered at the second summer conference, July 20-22, 1898.  "Colored Women as Wage-Earners," an article by Anna J. Cooper, appeared in the August 1899 Southern Workman and Hampton School Record.  Lucy Laney's speech, "The Burden of the Educated Colored Woman," was delivered at the Third Hampton Conference in July 1899. (172)

It would be off-base for me to suggest that this paragraph is broadly representative of Logan's prose.  I include in these notes because it's especially representative of the referential bog so problematic in some historical projects.  Are all these details relevant?  Possibly.  But this case seems more appropriate to a footnote.  These are the questions writing researchers confront, yes?  Yet the hyper-referential sneaks in periodically, extra-loaded passages so chock full of references that they might be better suited to a database than a paragraph.

It's never explicit why Logan prefers to prop up the speech-events or persuasive acts on these New Rhetorical structures.  A pattern emerges in chapters 2-6 of introducing a figure (Maria Stewart, Frances Harper, Ida B. Wells, etc.) and a sampling of that figure's notable speech-events.  Each historical figure and act/event, however, is accompanied by a kind of rationalization, as in this is rhetorical. Logan points out the correspondences, "informed by classical rhetoric and its twentieth-century reconstruction."  It's clear enough that this is happening, but I continued to wonder why it was necessary.  Sure, these are gestures to well-known figures and tropes, but to what extent are such gestures vital in this kind of historical project?

To illustrate, here (roughly) are the classical/New Rhetorical tactics and figures invoked in each of the chapters:

2. Africa Origins/American Appropriations: Maria Stewart and "Ethiopia Rising"
Tactics/figures attributed: Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca's figures of choice, presence and communion (23, 34) and apostrophe/allusion (38)

3. "We Are All Bound Up Together": Frances Harper's Converging Communities of Interest
Tactics/figures attributed: Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca's association and dissociation among communities of interest (47)

4. "Out of Their Own Mouths": Ida Wells and the Presence of Lynching
Tactics/figures attributed: Cicero, "ocular demonstration" (intensifying descriptions) and Quintillian, Enaergeia (72); Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca rel. to several other schemes: amplification, onomatopoeia, synonymy, interpretatio, enallage, anaphora (74); analogy (81)

5. "Women of a Common Country, with Common Interests": Fannie Barrier Williams, Anna Julia Cooper, Identification and Arrangement
Tactics/figures attributed: Burke's identification and division (99, 107, 111);  Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca's arrangement and order or sequencing (117, 121) and presence (123)

6. "To Embalm Her Memory in Song and Story": Victoria Earle Matthews and Situated Sisterhood
Tactics/figures attributed: Dyson's public intellectual (127); Bitzer and Miller on rhetorical context and exigence (129, 145); public intellectual, Bitzer and Miller (129, 145); Nancy Fraser's counterpublics (150); and Aristotle's forensic and deliberative rhetorics (135, also epideictic on 119 and elsewhere)

I hope that presenting the tactics and figures in this selective way doesn't appear as a slight against Logan's work.  This is admittedly but one strand of marginalia and things not(ic)ed from my reading, and I've traced it for thinking more carefully about the (perhaps false) notion of any method's transparency/ubiquity in a given text.  Maybe I could begin to account for my uneasiness with the gestures to more canonical rhetoric by noting the related terms that seem only subtly present (esp. in comparison to Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca references), e.g. nommo (life seed or life force, rhetoric as organic) (24), "verbal magic" (74), the conditions giving rise to nadir (71), and race literature (135). Ultimately, this set of terms--more than the classical/New Rhetorical references--moves me to consider the significance of this project as something more than recovery work or recuperative history.

Thursday, September 8, 2005

Barthes - Rhetoric of the Image (1964)

I n the advertising image, nice bright colors--a net-sack of Panzani pasta and assorted spaghettimakers including vegetables, fresh and plenty. Though non-linear, many of the signs accord with a variety of "euphoric values," says Barthes: domestic preparation, freshness, an unpacking, the casual market-knowledge of slow foods of a pre-mechanical pace (no need for preservation, refrigeration). Also, in the coordination of colors and types, Barthes suggests second meaning--Italianicity or a gathering of things Italian, much of this "based on a familiarity with certain tourist stereotypes" (34).  Each of these meanings match with distinctive kinds of knowledge.

"Thus we find ourselves immediately at the heart of the most important problem facing the semiology of images: can analogical representation (the 'copy') produce true systems of signs and not merely agglutinations of symbols?" (32)

Onward down a trail of theorizing resembling the semiotic pursuit begun in "The Photographic Image," Barthes names three orders of meaning in the advertising image, three messages: "a linguistic message, a coded iconic message, and a non-coded iconic message" (36). A reading of the image might consider each of these messages (as well as the questions opening the essay: "How does meaning get into the image? Where does it end? And if it ends, what is there beyond?" (32)).  The meanings are discontinuous; they involve "floating chains of signifiers" (39), and this polysemous quality--a quality shared by all images?--opens onto choice (i.e., those two signifiers, but not this one).  Consequently, "in every society various techniques are developed," Barthes explains, "intended to fix the floating chain of signifieds in such a way as to counter the terror of uncertain signs; the linguistic message is one of these techniques" (39).

The interplay of these signifying orders--the three message-types--concerns Barthes throughout the essay.  In specific cases, the linguistic message might reinforce or "support" the coded iconic message, resulting in what he calls anchorage: "a kind of vice which holds the connoted meanings from proliferating, whether towards excessively individual regions (its limit, that is to say, the projective power of the image) or towards dysphoric values" (39).   Anchorage basically involves "elucidation" and selection. Relay, a term B. partners with anchorage, is less common, he says; as I understand it, relay is the linguistic message that leads (often through a series of images), thereby making the image-set or sequence "lazier."  Relay introduces diegesis; it stories the image and, as a consequence, eases or relieves seeing.

In the final two sections of the essay--"The denoted image" and "Rhetoric of the image"--Barthes addresses a pair of problems: the truth or fact of the image as taken-to-be natural and the rhetorical factors affecting the reading of the image.   The first problem results from from mechanical capture and (re)production--a sort of latent mathesis: "the absence of a code reinforces the myth of photographic 'naturalness': the scene is there, captured mechanically, not humanly (the mechanical here is a guarantee of objectivity)" (44). Myth indeed.  He continues, "What we have is a new space-time category: spatial immediacy and temporal anteriority, the photograph being an illogical conjunction between the here-now and the there-then. (44) And, "Hence the photograph is not the last (improved) term of the great family of images; it corresponds to a decisive mutation of informational economies" (45). [Strung together quotes; allowable for notes?]

Lastly, in terms of rhetoric and lexicons (lexia?), Barthes works through some of the issues involved, from attitudes and ideology, to knowledge and "surprises of meaning" (47): "The variation in readings is not, however, anarchic; it depends on the different kinds of knowledge--practical, national, cultural, aesthetic--invested in the image and these can be classified, brought into a typology" (46).

Tuesday, September 6, 2005

Barthes - The Photographic Message (1961)

P ress photographs.  Barthes refers to several such photographs in this essay from 1961.  He was concerned with contending orders of connoted and denoted meanings operable in the reading of photographs. The "photographic paradox," as he puts it, involves the double structure of contending linguistic orders (connotative, denotative) and the photograph as analogon, "a message without code" (17).  Paradoxically, the press photograph bears a "continuous message" sustained in the two significant structures (of which "only one is linguistic"...either accompanying text or description). Barthes calls the relationship between the image and the text "contiguous" rather than "homogenous" (16). And so the photograph must be read with some awareness of these variations, which lead to variations in meaning. Barthes: "What can at least be done now is to forecast the main planes of analysis of photographic connotation" (20).

Browder (left) and Tydings (right)The "planes of analysis" or "connotation procedures" read much like a taxonomy, and they come in two groupings: a first set (trick effects, pose, objects) and a second set (photogenia, aestheticism, syntax).  The first set "is produced by a modification of the reality itself" (21).

  1. Trick effects: photo-doctoring--exploits the analogue, the power of denotation.  Ex. Senator Millard Tydings and Communist leader Earl Browder (shown)
    Pose: possibility of double structure (denoted::connoted) in the posed (ex. Kennedy praying).  How much is positioned?
    Objects--placed for connotative effect; a meaning, but not a power (from a "stock of stereotypes")
  2. Photogenia--an inventory of effects; embellishments, aesthetic qualities of technique-production ("lighting, exposure, printing") (23)
    Aestheticisim--remediation; a photograph of a painting (24)
    Syntax--multiple images, supra-segmental and concatenations (24)

Text and image (25-27)
In this section of the essay, Barthes works on the impact of accompanying text on photograph.  Text can contribute (-1-) as a parasitic quickening (this is a historical reversal of the photo as merely illustrative of the text).  The text (a caption, perhaps) can be (-2-) "innocented" by the denotation of the photograph (26).  But it's not possible, according to Barthes, for the words to duplicate the image; text can, however, "amplify" the image, "retroactively project" onto the image, or even "contradict" the image.

And finally, on "Photographic Insignificance" Barthes works up a set of contending connotations in the photograph--a set we need "to elucidate fully the mechanisms of reading" (28): cognitive (28), perceptive (29), ideological or ethical (29) and political (30). 

Connoted code: "The code of the connoted system is very likely constituted either by a universal symbolic order or by a period rhetoric, in short by a stock of stereotypes (schemes, colours, graphisms, gestures, expressions, arrangements of elements)" (18).

On description: "To describe consists precisely in joining to the denoted message a relay or second-order message derived from a code which is that of language and constituting in relation to the photographic analogue, however much care one takes to be exact, a connotation: to describe is thus not simply to be imprecise or incomplete, it is to change structures, to signify something different to what is shown" (18-19).

Note: This is the first of a series of write-ups/note-strings for an independent study reading list (690: New Media and Visualization).  I can tell now that my future notes will need to be somewhat more succinct.  Before the end of the week: Barthes - "Rhetoric of the Image" and "The Third Meaning" and Benjamin - "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction"--all groundwork.  Unfortunately, I'm not very skillful at rendering these notes into entries-for-readers; hope that will improve with practice.

Monday, September 5, 2005

New London Group, "A Pedagogy of Multiliteracies"

W e're on with four articles for Wednesday's meeting of 691: Crafting Researchable Questions.  We broke up responsibilities for question-bringing, two or three primary respondents/discussion-framers to each of the articles, but I have brief notes here on each of the articles (something I can carry to class, search later, etc.).  My lead article, however, is a chapter from the New London Group's Multiliteracies: Literacy Learning and the Design of Social Futures.  The citation says the book was published in 2000; this chapter--"A Pedagogy of Multiliteracies: Designing Social Futures"--was circulated as early as 1996, I think.  Roughly, the chapter--the opening chapter in the book--sets up the what and how of a pedagogy of multiliteracies (many-literacies, a lifting the lid from monoliteracies...yes?)--the multi- that "allows [learners] to participate fully in public, community, and economic life" (9).

Already in the second paragraph, two aims for their work:

First, we want to extend the idea and scope of literacy pedagogy to account for the context of our culturally and linguistically diverse and increasingly globalised societies; to account for the multifarious cultures that interrelate and the plurality of texts that circulate.  Second, we argue that literacy pedagogy now must account for the burgeoning variety of text forms associated with information and multimedia technologies (9).

As I read the chapter, I keyed on the second point because (-1-) I'm interested in "information and multimedia technologies," and (-2-) I had doubts that NLG would come close to post-literacy or Anne Wysocki and Johndan Johnson-Eilola in "Blinded by the Letter" or Ulmer's electracy.  Although "designing" figures significantly into NLG's multiliteracy pedagogy, writing technologies and digital apparatuses are all but eclipsed in the rest of the chapter (can't say about the remainder of the book).  Just two more mentions of tech I could find: an off-handed jab at "technocrats" (13) and alarm over the "increasing invasion of private spaces by mass media culture" (16).

What, then, of this pedagogy of multiliteracies remains for us to consider?  Early on, NLG splits the "realms of change" into "our working lives, our public lives (citizenship), and our personal lives (lifeworlds)" (10).  Their proposed pedagogy works through the flattening of hierarchies (check Weaver's "holarchies"), which fits nicely with network studies, "productive diversity," the dissolution of standards in public discourse (14), the structural, historical dimensions of diversity (15), and the "conversationalization" of public language (16).  According to NLG, schools are the obvious site of intervention for teaching and learning that supports adjustments to these realms of change, and consequently, "curriculum now needs to mesh with different subjectivities, and with their attendant languages, discourses, and registers, and use these as a resource for learning" (18). To bring such change about, then, the NLG says we need to think in terms of three elements: "Available Designs, Designing, and The Redesigned" (20).  Each of these phases (para.: inertial, activity and systems-based, and re-made or hybridized) accords to one of the design elements: linguistic, audio, visual, gestural and spatial (no temporal?), and in NLG's explanation of the elements, linguistic gets a good deal of attention; the others, much less. 

I have a few other questions (i.e., the absence of "rhetoric," NLG's take on nominalisation (29)), but I'm just as interested in the idea that the International Multiliteracies project would adopt a metalanguage for "analysing the Design of meaning with respect to 'orders of discourse,'" ultimately moving from genre and discourse to specific questions such as "what's the game?" and "what's the angle?" (24).   What about it?  It's their notion of "game" that set me to digging around for Giddens' stuff on structuration from the course this summer.  In "Problems of Action and Structure," after explaining that "game analogies can be highly misleading," (117) Giddens writes:

Rules can only be grasped in the context of the historical development of social totalities, as recursively implicated in practices.  This point is important in a twofold sense. (a) There is not a singular relation between 'an activity' and 'a rule,' as is sometimes suggested or implied by appeal to statements like 'the rule governing the Queen's move' in chess.  Activities or practices are brought into being in the context of overlapping and connected sets of rules, given coherence by their involvement in the constitution of social systems in the movement of time. (b) Rules cannot be exhaustively described or analysed in terms of their own content, as prescriptions, prohibitions, etc.: precisely because, apart from those circumstances where a relevant lexicon exists, rules and practices exist only in conjunction with one another. (118)

Is Giddens right?  If so, what are the limits to framing discourse/genre activity in terms of games (as well as corresponding rules)?  And what's left lying (neglected, overlooked) in a game/rules theory of design elements (applied to language first, then second-order elements)? 

Key terms: multiliteracy, literacy pedagogy, productive diversity (13), "assimilatory function of school" (18), genre (21), designing (22), redesigning (hybridisation) (23), game (24), genre and intertextuality (25), pattern recognition (31), critical understanding (activity) (32), situated practice (33), reflective practice (35)

Other notes for 691:

Judith Butler's "Doing Justice to Someone: Sex Reassignment and Allegories of Transexuality" from Undoing Gender
Butler works through the quandary of a case-study methodology and a notion of "doing justice." She approaches the constitution of gender (a core gender, an essential gender), from sociocultural forces to the bodily and biological/hormonal variables involved.  In a sense, Butler presents a reading of the case of David Reimer and, in the process, suggests a compelling bundle of factors, which, taken together, challenge dimorphism with something like chromosomic multisexes (a phrase I heard about when VV ref'ed Butler's book at the Cortland Conf. last October).  

Gordon Brent Ingram's "Returning to the Scene of the Crime," GLQ 10:1
Ingram's methodology involves historiography, geography and analysis of space-based legal discourse--specifically the legal dossiers of court cases involving what he terms "sexual minorities."  Basically, Ingram historicizes urban sexuality in British Columbia (Vancouver and Victoria); he urges us to generalize this historically and geographically specific work by "examining the local forms of homoerotic networks, repression, resistance, and agency and comparing them with those of other regions" (79).  He names networks frequently in this article, but his object-places seem to toggle between urban/rural and public/private rather than scaling along a differentiated third term--the sort of complexity-blend between urban/rural and public/private that network vocabularies make available. And why doesn't Igram make use of maps?  Inasmuch as his project articulates the tension between institutions of law and homosexual networks before and after the decriminalization of sodomy and associated acts, I would have been interested in seeing an attempt to map the "sex crimes."  The argument for reading urban space (and its histories) in light of the networks suggested by legal dossiers is something I hadn't considered.  Ingram's methodology comes at historical work by drawing together urban development/formation, sexual (and otherwise socially networked) geographies, and legal rhetoric. 

There's a fourth article on doing diversity work, but it's unbloggable: can't cite it outside of class.

Friday, August 12, 2005

For Reading

H ere are the booklists for the two classes I'm taking this fall.  I ordered many of them the other day (had several from the second list already on the office shelf).  The second class (690) is an independent study, so I was thinking that it might be worthwhile to (semi)formalize a reading schedule, post it here, and invite read-alongs.  By this I mean that anyone interested (or already intent on reading anything listed in the months ahead) could coordinate readings mixed with a few carnivalous interchanges, conversation and so on.  And yet I understand how things go, how in-semester workloads swell beyond our earlier anticipations of them.  No problem if that happens (if, down the line, you're too busy).  As one of the agreed-to aspects of the study, I'll be registering notes, lines of inquiry and other connectables throughout the fall, blogging it either way, I mean.  Feel free to express interest, whatever comes of it.

As I've just added the starred items to the 690 list, it's starting to look more and more ambitious, so I'll probably be swift with some, more careful with others.  In addition to the list of books, we have a packet of 8-10 articles in 691--the final core course in my current program of study.  Along with teaching 307, this constitutes my fall:

CCR691: Comparative Processes and Premises of Research: Crafting Researchable Questions
"We Are Coming": The Persuasive Discourse of Nineteenth-Century Black Women by Shirley Wilson Logan (ISBN 0-8093-2193-9)
What Writing Does and How It Does It: An Introduction to Analyzing Texts and Textual Practices edited by Charles Bazerman and Paul Prior (ISBN 0-8058-3806-6)
Sidewalk by Mitchell Duneier (ISBN 0-374-52725-3)
Collision Course: Conflict, Negotiation, and Learning in College Composition by Russel K. Durst (ISBN 0-8141-0742-7)
Rhythm Science by Paul Miller aka DJ Spooky That Subliminal Kid (ISBN 0-262-63287-X)
Self-Development and College Writing by Nick Tingle (ISBN 0-8093-2580-2)
Strange Encounters: Embodied Others in Post-Coloniality by Sara Ahmed (ISBN 0-415-20185-3)

CCR690: Visualization and New Media
Barthes, Roland. Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography. Trans. Richard Howard. New York: Hill and Wang, 1981.
Baudrillard, Jean. Simulacra and Simulation. Trans. Sheila Faria Glaser. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1994. (selections)
Benjamin, Walter. Illuminations. Ed. Hannah Arendt. New York: Schocken, 1978. (selections)
Bolter, Jay David and Richard Grusin. Remediation: Understanding New Media. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1999.
*Fuller, Matthew. Media Ecologies. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2005.(selections)
Hansen, Mark. New Philosophy for a New Media. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2004.
*Hayles, Katherine. Writing Machines. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2002.
Hocks, Mary and Michelle Kendrick, eds. Eloquent Images. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2003.
iPod (aural digression). Apple. 20GB. W/ iTalk for podcasting.
Johnson-Eilola, Johndan. Datacloud: Toward a New Theory of Online Work. New Dimensions in Computers and Composition Ser. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press, 2005.
Kittler, Friedrich. Discourse Networks, 1800/1900. Trans. Michael Metteer. Palo Alto, CA: Stanford UP, 1990.
Liestol, Gunnar, Andrew Morrison and Terje Rasmussen, eds. Digital Media Revisited: Theoretical and Conceptual Innovations in Digital Domains. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2004.
Lanham, Richard. The Electronic Word: Democracy, Technology, and the Arts. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1995.
Manovich, Lev. The Language of New Media. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2002.
Mitchell, W.J.T. Picture Theory: Essays on Verbal and Visual Representation. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1995.
*---. What Do Pictures Want? :  The Lives and Loves of Images. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 2005.
Norman, Donald. The Invisible Computer: Why Good Products Can Fail, the Personal Computer Is So Complex, and Information Appliances Are the Solution. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1999.
Taylor, Mark and Esa Saarinen. Imagologies: Media Philosophy. New York: Routledge, 1994.
Tufte, Edward. The Visual Display of Quantitative Information. 2nd Ed. Cheshire, CT: Graphics Press, 2001.

Thursday, August 4, 2005

Pass It On-sendings

[Ray "Sugar Dada"] Johnson initiated a practice called 'on-sending' which involved sending an incomplete or unfinished artwork to another artist, critic, or even a stranger, who, in turn, helped to complete the work by making some additions and then sending it on to another participant in the network.  These gift exchanges, begun in 1955, evolved into more elaborate networks of hundreds of participants, but at first they included a relatively small circle of participants.  Johnson would often involve famous artists, like Andy Warhol, as well as influential literary and art critics in these on-sendings.  In a variation on this process, each participant was asked to send the work back to Johnson after adding to the image.  Much of Johnson's mail art and on-sendings consisted of small, trivial objects not quite profound enough for art critics to consider them 'found objects.' These on-sendings were part of the stuff previously excluded from art galleries.  Johnson's gift giving resembled the lettrists' earlier use of a type of potlatch (which was the name of one of their journals), Fluxus Yam Festivals, and the work of intimate bureaucracies in general.  The gift exchanges soon led Johnson to explore the fan's logic in more depth. (31)

Saper, "A Fan's Paranoid Logic," Networked Art

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

A Comp-landia Itinerary

E ncouraged by C.'s comment at cgbvb and entries by Jeff and Donna, I'm in on the carnival; flipped through Fulkerson's essay in the latest CCC (56.4) this afternoon.  My general impression is that it's an interesting overview of the discipline--engaging for the divisions he suggests and for the grim note that caps the essay.  Good carnival entries (jus' sharpening the axiology), I think, keep it to a few points, raise questions or pull on knots, puzzles and so on. Right?  So, on:

1.  I prefer to think of the pedagogy volumes Fulkerson selects more as itineraries than maps (was also leafing in Jameson this morning for a short minute).  The itinerary anticipates the venturing out--into an actual teaching situation, let's say.  And while my experience as a beginning teacher in the winter of '98 might be idiosyncratic, the teacher training never neatly matches the course.  First courses (and later ones?) are grubbier--responsive, gut-following performances that often map quite differently than even the most keen plotter could exact.  And because Fulkerson's essay closes with an eye on the impending "new theory wars," I'm more content with the notion of itinerary than map.  In one sense, then, I'm trying to raise the question of the correspondence between edited collections arranged for teacher training and what shapes up in practice.  If we could map the enactment of the scholarship at a practical level, how completely would the taxonomy correspond?    

2. Fulkerson acknowledges that the chart (658) is inexact.  He suggests the fluidity of the categories, especially those defining the vertical columns (evaluative theory, views of process, views of pedagogy, epistemology assumed).  The rows, however, also reflect four positions: current-traditional, expressivism, cultural studies, and procedural rhetoric. Only the last three get sections unto themselves; current-traditional formalists, Fulkerson says in the endnote, "you shall have always with you" (682).  And so the current-traditional model doesn't warrant any reconsideration in "Composition at the Turn of the Century."  I wondered why current-traditionalism stands as the rock-solid camp of the bunch (a foregone conclusion, comma-splice menders?), whereas expressivism, cultural studies and rhetoric-oriented comp are the divergent axiologies--the less fixed models threatening to jeopardize the discipline's stability.

3.  As I understand it, Fulkerson's concern about the (in-different-directions) march of disunity in the field would be well served by some agreement about what constitutes good writing.  And yet that the field is somewhat more fragmented (after processual commonality) than it was twenty years ago isn't a ticket to a desolate future, is it? Or a prediction of even more dissolution in the days ahead?  What else might disunity say about the wellness of the field--the vibrancy of multiple, differing strains?  Productive contestations?  Needed specializations?  Flip it over: One counterpart claim--an expression of grave concern because of too much like-mindedness, too much agreement is even less encouraging from my perspective.  Even more worrisome.

Monday, May 23, 2005


O ver the weekend I finished up Connie Willis' 1996 novel Bellwether.  It was the between-semesters pleasure-read I made space for.  I overheard C. and M. chatting about it one day this spring; decided it'd be worth a quick read if it made both of their lists. And so reading lists spread.

Basically, Bellwether is the story of a diffusion researcher, Sandra Foster, and her work on fads.  Foster is concerned with hair-bobbing and, as well, with other inexplicable flare-ups of activity.  She maps the  flashes of pop anomaly in space and time, works to discern the forces figuring into the genesis and spread of fads, runs statistics to trace patterns and trends.   Each sub-chapter leads off  with a blurb on a specific fad--coonskin caps, mah-jongg, diorama wigs--and the narrative is laced with allusions to Robert Browning's Pied Piper and Pippa Passes.  I was familiar enough with the Pied Piper of Hamelin; in fact, reading Bellwether reminded me of an encounter with P.P. when I was young: Mom had a hair appointment in Rosebush and it was the only kids book (only one I remember, anyway) in the waiting area.  Read and read and read that story.  The references to Pippa Passes were unfamiliar and something of a pleasant surprise.  Pippa, as framed second-hand in the novel, is an elusive, fantastic figure--one who influences others from the obscure periphery, whose passing song carries from a distance and leaves its mark without Pippa full-knowing.  In this sense, Pippa mirrors the annoying office assistant, Flip, who unwittingly proliferates fads while fumbling through her duties as an office assistant at HiTek, the lab where Foster works.  And a third mirroring: the bellwether itself, as an exceptional looks-like-a-sheep, smells-like-a-sheep leader who impacts the herd without much cognizance of her persuasive impact.

I don't think I've ruined it yet--for those who haven't read this one.  S. mentioned recently that she finished Doomsday Book by Willis; Bellwether is the first I've picked up, but I look forward to reading more of her stuff, perhaps during a future between-semesters break (now that my summer course on genre theory has officially started--today).

Here's just one more keeper on research-mapping models from B'wether.  There's a place mid-way through where Foster is at a friend's house for a birthday party. The friend's kid, Peyton, is in her room as a punishment, and Foster goes in to use the telephone--a conversation with her rancher friend who ends up providing the sheep herd for research.  Rather than skulking through the punishment, young Peyton appears to be doodling, but instead she's line-charting--with a series of squiggles--her Barbie's predilection for this or that (shopping, riding mopeds, dating) because "everybody's doing it."

It was a map, in spite of what Peyton had said.  A combination map and diagram and picture, with an amazing amount of information packed onto one page: location, time elapsed, outfits worn.  An amazing amount of data.

And it intersected in interesting ways, the lines crossing and recrossing to form elaborate intersections, radical red changing to lavender and orange in overlay.  Barbie only rode her moped in the lower half of the picture, and there was a knot of stars in one corner.  A statistical anomaly?

I wondered if a diagram-map-story like this would work for my twenties data.  I'd tried maps and statistical charts and computational models, but never all three together, color-coded for date and vector and incidence.  If I put it all together, what kinds of patterns would emerge? (122)

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Four Sentences

C ourtesy of Nell Irvin Painter, Standing at Armageddon: The United States, 1877-1919.

In 1892, 1,300 delegates from the Alliances, Knights of Labor, Nationalist and Land and Labor parties, and a series of smaller groups met in Omaha, Nebraska, and formed an independent party which they called the People's party, whose adherents became known as the Populists. (98)

Silver had become the favorite cause of Populists, silver Democrats, silver Republicans, and the owners and miners in the silver-producing areas of the West which stood to gain from the massive purchases of silver that would follow unlimited coinage. (135)

In 1900 Mitchell's ties to the National Civic Federation eased relations with Hanna, who in turn approached J.P. Morgan, who headed the Morgan-Hill-Vanderbilt-Pennsylvania group of railroads that controlled the mining of anthracite coal. (181)

After having served one term in the U.S. House of Representatives in the mid-1880s, Robert M. La Follette, a maverick Republican, won the Wisconsin gubernatorial election of 1900. (190)


Friday, March 25, 2005


S core me tardy, but I'm just now getting around to posting shreds of notes on a few of the sessions I attended at the conference last week.  Been called worse than a slacker.  Much worse.

A.15 Public, Private, Political: Social Theories and Blogging Practices
Lanette Cadle talked on her research involving four-month studies on the Livejournal weblogs kept by a group of young women.  She referred to at least two phenomena that made it into my sketchy notes: 1.) aggregated multiblog clusters determined by group friendship designations and 2.) friend cuts--the subtractive role call enlisting a note of "here!" to validate presence.  Cadle also mentioned the fluidity of identity construction; she seemed to be interested in exploring the ways communal practices and trends in linking impact, even accelerate, identity construction. But I might have this wrong.  Daisy Pignetti abstracted comparisons between the political weblogs used by Howard Dean and George W. Bush's campaign teams leading up to the 2004 Primaries.  She worked on questions about why the Dean campaign failed despite its robust start in the blogosphere; she also suggested the expanded role of weblogs as a campaign technology in 2008.  Clancy Ratliff led with reasons to complicate questions of "Where are all the women bloggers?"  I noted more questions and connections than tidy summary statements, so I can only say that the talk got me wondering about the relationship between audience and opportunities for dissonance, locationality-positionality, and the degree to which patterns of practice and stylistics in blogging might be understood as gendered.  Clancy also mentioned subaltern counterpublics--a nice conceptual hook due for more consideration in the often overgeneralized totality of the blogosphere.

B.26 Evaluating Academic Weblogs: Using Empirical Data to Assess Pedagogy and Student Achievement
I was on this panel, and honestly I didn't take any notes.  As well, in light of channeling all my attention and energy toward my own talk, I had a hard time focusing on the particulars of my co-presenters, so it's far and away more worthwhile to consider the generous summary-overviews here and here and here.

C.Featured_Session Writing Modalities within Literacy and "Electracy": A Conversation with Gregory Ulmer
Let me see.  Quite a lot going on here.  If only I could read my notes.  The talk was in a curtained space, so it was like a two-for-one, a polyvocal mingling.  Basically, Ulmer talked back to a series of questioners--Haynes, Coleman, Davis and Jarrett.  Ulmer initiated the talk by referring to the lack of felt he felt when he first read McLuhan's Gutenberg Galaxy.  He spoke of the developing apparatus--a social machine plotted in three dimensions: technology, institutionality and identity formation.  I appreciated Ulmer's re-articulation of heuretics (eureka!, heuristics) next to hermeunetics; he spoke of electrate people and non-electrate people, of moving into electrate possibility.  My notes tell me Cynthia Haynes declared herself a mystorian; she said Ulmer would have us consider a created mood.  What do we do with error?  Glitch heuretics--bug, blunder, fluke.  Graphic disobedience and propaganda remix.  State of attunement: how do we teach students to be receptive to their change? Punctum as a sting!, getting students to read.  Any technological apparatus is in service to memory.  Lisa Coleman talked about the felt, connecting it with bodily/affective and personal is political.  And then I wrote a whole bunch of unrelated stuff on my scrap of paper.  Weird.  I guess I'll stop here (even though I know Davis' and Jarrett's bits were sharp, interesting).  I'm not really doing justice to the complexity of these ideas; these ideas deserve better.  My notes: not so thorough.

D.24 The Aftermath of Access: From Critical to Creative Computer Literacies
This session was subdivided into four chunks, with Jenny Bay and Collin Brooke each working through two units. Jenny led the session off with some defining terms--intelligent agents and expert systems.  She spoke on interactivity, folksonomies and communal ethos.  Collin's talk started out with a recognition of the centripetality/centrifugality(!) of deictic gestures; he also talked through linking practices and power laws in terms of economies of abundance and scarcity.  Missed it?  Then you should go listen to these important, insightful talks on blogging now. (Yeah, how many pod-casted CCCC papers have you checked out before?). Ah, and better notes than mine over here.

G.23 Rapping Down the Gate: Black Women and Hip-Hop
A versusing of hypocracy and hip-hopcracy.  Elisa Norris?  Mm-hmm.  Makes my hands shake trying to recapture this one.  Good stuff on teaching within hip-hop framework, on the implications of partial invocations of African-American rhetorical traditions.  CGB's got notes here, too.

When I have more uninterrupted time (apart from writing a short essay on emergence and Vygotsky, chapters from de Certau, Porter and Sullivan, _Situated Learning_ and _Situated Cognition_, and prepping for a conference talk in Albany in mid-April), I aim to post more notes on the other sessions I attended:
H.30 Owning Knowledge: New Intersections of Intellectual Property, Technology, and Academia
I.26 Accessing Identities: Women's Life-writings in the Progressive Period
L.20 Exploring Online Communities
M20 Indigenous Rhetoric: Speaking to Power without Saying a Word

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Only Slightly Less Burdened

I n case you were wondering, I've been fending off a stalwart northeastern head cold.  That explains (no it doesn't, yes it does--okay, only partially) recent entries at EWM.  I've also been buttoning down the canvas for a wild week ahead; the reading load has spiked (an entire January Sunday getting to know Emig's Web of Meaning), and, in another course, I'm first into the fray as presenter of chapter one from White's Tropics of Discourse on Thursday morning.  Knees high, leading the parade.  And so I've been prepping obsessively, combing over stuff I think I mostly get. 

And since I felt apprehension throughout last semester about bringing academic work into this blogspace, I'm turning over a new leaf and issuing an exclusive early release of the summary that goes with that presentation of White's first chapter here, before it's circulated anywhere else.  And then I'm going to eat; after that: give two-thirds of the house members free haircuts (that'd be me and Ph.).  I'd love feedback on the summary, if you're up for it.

Oh, and one other thing, dear blogosphere, I need a CCCC room-share in SF.  The west coast swank-elite wants dang near 200 clams each night, and for that, I can probably stay awake for three days.  But seriously, low needs room-share, 50:50. NCTE used to offer a web-board for practical matches such as the one I'm seeking; where is that now?  The only alternative is to re-draw the strapped personal budget for conference travel. Ideas? Folks known to be in the same bind?

White, c.1, "The Burden of History," Summary

White, Hayden. "The Burden of History." Tropics of Discourse: Essays in Cultural Criticism. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 1978. 27-50.

In his 1966 essay, "The Burden of History," Hayden White speaks of at least two burdens: the burden felt by the historian who works awkwardly from the middle-space between the imaginative, creative arts and the hard sciences, and the burden of history itself, bearing its conditionally drawn lessons on contemporary thought and action (41). From the outset, White seeks to account for the domains of art and science which have openly expressed contempt toward the historian's enterprise because of its soft methods, crude metaphors and ambiguous suppositions about the human sciences (27). He cites a literary tradition that culminates with Joyce's Stephen Dedalus who, in Ulysses, refers to history as the "'nightmare' from which Western man must awaken if humanity is to be served and saved" (31). This Nietzschean disavowal (32) of concerns about establishing a record of the past extends directly to the philosophical climate of post-WWI Europe, when, though clashing in gross juxtaposition, Hitler's nihilism and French existentialism--figured primarily through Camus and Sartre--held similar views toward the prospect of history-making: it was worthless. The inexplicable surrounds of war-torn civilization pointed to history's limited explanatory power; as historians sought to account for what happened, their failure to explain widespread destruction and atrocity was exposed (36). Only in rare cases, such as the work of Norman Brown (39, 45), do we find historiography set on sorting through the influence of "outmoded institutions, ideas, and values" on the current "way of looking at the world" (39). Consequently, historians, who, according to White, can be distinguished by their methods (42), deserve a share of the credit for the proliferation of ahistorical attitudes; accountability extends particularly from history's privileging of a limited range of artistic forms, such as the 19th century realist novel and, on the other hand, the rigidly positivistic proofs associated with the physical sciences--both of which mistakenly regard recorded history as an end in itself (41). To correct this quandary, White contends that historians might rethink their procedures in terms of the literary artist's use of metaphor and the scientist's use of hypothesis, both of which are tentative, experimental schemes used to guide ideas beyond tentative speculation (47). Resolved as such, the historian could negotiate the truthful/imaginary binary (46), and, drawing upon the orders valued by literary artists and scientists, the "historical account could be treated as a heuristic rule which self-consciously eliminates certain kinds of data from consideration as evidence" (46, emphasis in original). Furthermore, White argues that historians need to learn how to take seriously and engage contemporaneously with the questions driving other fields. He also urges reconsideration of narrative bias (43) toward "an awareness," conveyed by Hegel, Balzac and Tocqueville, "of how the past could be used to effect an ethically responsible transition from the present to the future" (49), underscored by "dynamic elements" (49) and "the essentially provisional character of the metaphorical constructions" (50).

Burr-words: cultural palingenesis (41), hypostatized (48), Fabian tactic (27), heuristic rule (46)

Saturday, October 2, 2004

Through Drawring

I 'm giving another 5-10 minute spiel on Foucault Monday evening (bc Barthes: canned).  This time, I've committed to map-charting the model(s) spelled out in the last chapter of TOOT.  I'm fairly satisfied with what I have so far, but a few cues in the last parts of the chapter still have me scratching my head.  I'm not sure how best to represent history as a concept that pre-existed the modern human sciences; I have no idea how to fold the strict ethnology-psychoanalysis model into the countersciences scheme I have here; and, I haven't decided what to do with the problem of linguistics--the grand dilemma of the whole book. 

"The domain of the modern episteme should be represented rather as a volume of space open in three dimensions" (346).

"In relation to biology, to economics, to the sciences of language, [the human sciences as configured] are not, therefore, lacking in exactitude and rigour; they are rather like sciences of duplication, in a 'meta-epistemological' position" (355).

"But when one follows the movement of psychoanalysis as it progresses, or when one traverses the epistemological space as whole, one sees that these figures are in fact--though imaginary no doubt to the myopic gaze--the very forms of finitude, as it is analyzed in modern thought" (375).

Please let me know if you see anything disastrously wrong with any of the models. My renderings are best guesses, and my expectation is that we'll process 'em into distortion through the group-fueled critique machine Monday night.  In case you think my day was a total waste (if this is all I have to show for it), I'll have you know I assembled a kitchen countertop island thing'mabob with wheels *and* watched a few minutes of SU's impressive win over the Rutgers Scarlet Knights *and* hanged a fresh clothes bar in Ph.'s closet.  The old bar just wouldn't bear his weight when he climbed for something way up on the top shelf--rather than asking for a hand--last night.  Like the modern episteme spelled out by Foucault, it all crashed, a structure-less rubble-heap of fabric and debris.

Sunday, July 25, 2004

Corder, 1976, "What I Learned at School"

 Corder, Jim. "What I Learned at School." On Writing Research: The Braddock Essays, 1975-1998. Ed. Lisa Ede. New York: Bedford St. Martin's, 1999. 43-50.

Big Idea
Jim Corder's essay playfully reconsiders his overeager commitment to write nine essays in one semester--projects written from the same nine calls issued to his students.  Corder lays out a few important lessons, and goes on to explain the antithetical teetering between the openness of invention and the closed-ness of structure. He acknowledges that much of what he wrote during the semester-long experiment stemmed from ideas he'd been thinking about for some time.  To that end, Corder concludes that "a semester affords precious little time for genuine invention, exploration and discovery" (44), and students often labor against inadequate inventive time.  Corder's lessons, however mundane and ordinary, are important, common-sense reminders about rethinking what we teach and frequently returning to questions about what we do and why. The second half of "What I Learned" is a reprint of "Half Thoughts on a Whole Semester," the ninth and final essay composed by Corder in fulfillment of his promise to his students.  It's a self-reflective critique of his teaching, of his pedagogical emphases (invention and structure), and the assorted tenets about composition drawn from the experiment (to write one's own assignments with students). 

Wondering About
I've never tried the Corder experiment (if I might rightly assign the name of the experiment to him), but I think remember hear such practices mocked as preposterous.  How wildly adventurous and glutton for punishment would a teacher be to do all of the assignments with students?  This essay is forthright and fun; it's a glimpse inside Corder's self-consciousness about the problem of realizing a gap between writing as we stage it for our students and writing as we engage with it ourselves (habits and purposes rifts, I guess). It's not exactly clear what Corder would do differently as a result of the experiment.  It's illuminating stuff (albeit striped with functionalism), but I came away from the essay with more questions than answers about what this means for designing a writing course. 

I can think of a few occasions when, like Corder, I was tempted to backpedal or scrap plans--the souring of a pre-semester planning buzz.  The flops were never disastrous; I learned, corrected, made changes for subsequent semesters.  Teaching is endless experimentation, after all.  Even when it's perfect, student dynamics assuredly flip, redouble.  Corder is modest about his commitment, too; he downplays the significance of following through on his word, of keeping his end of the agreement rather than changing course, explaining himself out of it, leaving students with their work. He certainly could have said, "I take it back."  Some occasions should allow for flexibility, but I admire that Corder actually wrote the essays and acknowledged the cumbersome, inherent challenges in so doing.

Corder mentions his work with the TUTO rhythmic method.  Any idea what this is?  I Googled around for the method, but didn't come up with anything.  Has anybody heard of this?  My hunch is that it involves invention, pre-writing and generative heuristics, but that's a long shot.  I can't find anything on the TUTO acronym, period (TUTOrial?).

We won't win Braddocks for it, but I like the idea of formally writing through our lessons learned following a term of teaching.  I suppose many comp programs encourage this sort of self-reflection for their TAs and other folks who take seriously improvement in their teaching.  But lots of part-timers (and perhaps too many long-term full-timers) stop working through their teaching questions.  Could be a matter of not recognizing the rough spots, not having the time/energy to devote to self-reflection, or resigning to the inevitability of grand performances sometimes sailing and other times sinking because of variability. And so I'll sneak in a plug for blogs as teaching registers. Constantly thinking about how much information to reveal here keeps its exigency, but post-term reflections about assignments, pace, successes and would-do-differentlies are blogable, I think, and, as such, reflective blogs can be done responsibly and in ways that build toward an improved teaching manner.  Of course, private teaching notes can serve this purpose, too (and probably ought to if a blog isn't part of the mix).

Here are a few more pieces from Corder.  His short essay is worth a read, especially if you've ever entertained the idea of doing assignments with students or if you're interested in the pull between invention and structure.

His lessons:

1. I learned that writing out one's own assignments is a marvelous corrective to any tendency one might have for using merely habitual assignments or for witlessly making thoughtless or stupid assignments.

2. With some of the arguments and assumptions that undergird freshman composition I am familiar.  I know that "the ability to write a literate essay is the hallmark of the educated person." I know that "a competent student out to be able to produce a decent piece of writing on call."

3. I learned that I often did precisely what I urged my students not to do: I hurried; I waited until the last moment, because that was the only moment there was; I accepted available subjects that came easily to mind; I wrote some "nice" essays and some "acceptable" essays; once or twice I turned in rough drafts as if they were finished papers.  Perhaps I should add that I did usually get semicolons in the right place.

4. I need to say more about items 2 and 3 in order to tell what I really learned, to tell why writing nine essays is a task very nearly not doable.  Perhaps what I really learned is that I have not learned enough.  Or perhaps what I really learned is that part of what I know about writing (though right enough in its way) is not germane or immediate or companionable when one is doing the writing.

One more quotation

"I was sitting there looking at the assignment when another dark thought came: 'I know how to write this thing,' I remember saying to myself, 'but why in hell would anybody want to?'" (45).

Corder's Laws of Composition (thinned version)
Ninth law of composition: Everything comes from somewhere and goes some place.
Eleventh law of composition: Some things precede other things. Invention precedes structure. Thinking and feeling and being precede writing.
Eighteenth law of composition: You are always standing somewhere when you say something.
Twenty-fifth law of composition: Invention is an invitation to openness.
Twenty-sixth law of composition:  But structure is a closure.  You can't organize an essay or a sonata unless you have ruled out other organizations.
Twenty-seventh law of composition: Invention and structure, then, represent a way of being in the world.
Thirty-second law of composition: What follows feeds, enlarges, and enriches what precedes.

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Mortensen/Kirsch, 1994, "Authority"

 Mortensen, Peter and Gesa Kirsch. "On Authority in the Study of Writing." On Writing Research: The Braddock Essays, 1975-1998. Ed. Lisa Ede. New York: Bedford St. Martin's, 1999. 321-335.

Big Idea
Clearly enough, Mortensen and Kirsch set out to complicate conceptions of authority beyond the autonomous, paternalistic, heavy-handed sort long understood to be the source of oppression, as in a hegemony of control and order.  This essay emphasizes the role of ethics and care in contextualized authority systems, where power is understood through community assimilation and distrust of autonomous authoritative forces are out in the open.  Mortensen and Kirsch urge a shift away from long-accepted connotations of authority as the continuation of autonomous and paternalistic legacies.  More complex variations of authority look at knowledge sources as contextual, assumable, provisional, situated (or locally distributed), and ethical.  By turning to feminist critique, the essay seeks to loosen and re-associate the significance of authority in relationship to discourse, power, and community, the buzzwords of the 90's in writing and rhetoric.

Wondering About
"On Authority in the Study of Writing" leads with a note about Barthes and dead authors, followed by mention of modernity's unraveling of authorship resulting in language re-styling English Studies, followed by the question, "How are we to account for the theoretical erasure of the authority that constitutes the writers--the authors--we face every day in our composition classrooms?".  Authors are dead; authority is dead.  Right?  That's the linch pin for Mortensen and Kirsch, since authority is alive and well.  But where?  They're certainly not faulting Barthes for his excise of authors; in fact, his move gave us good cause to look at all of the other, perhaps more complex manifestations of authority, various forms wrapped in power, discourse, and community dynamics.  I'd say this essay does a terrific job of sizing up those forms, pointing them out, and reminding me that they aren't all evil (which is often my suspicion).  In fact, M&K's answer to the question is that there are at least two predominant perspectives on authority--assimilation and resistance--and we (with our students) ought to know both of them as well as other, subtler forms.

I'm not ready to answer M&K's question about "theoretical erasure" because I'd prefer to ask it just a bit differently, replacing "erasure," I think, with "complexity."  Of course this kind of critique can give way to endless tinkering.  I won't do that.  But just this one turn--complexity rather than erasure--would allow the question to point out what I think this essay does.  Old, autonomous authority isn't dead; it's just buried (read: nested, resting).  And maybe we should be just as distrusting of new authority (contextual, assumable, provisional, situated, ethical) because it's more elusive, harder to know, but potentially as controlling, power-wielding, and uncaring.  Potentially.  And then "how are we to account for the theoretical [complexity] of the authority that constitutes the writers--the authors--we face every day in our composition classrooms?".  Rhetoric: running the range of persuasive, effective, compelling postures in variously authority-laden situations. 

In differentiating cognitivist views of writing as situated between the "twin seats" of the "individual mind and the autonomous text" and social views of writing as co-constructions of knowledge, M&K's essay makes some interesting suggestions about the place(s) we often locate authority.  Whatever the perspective, cognitivist and social approaches to writing struggle with embodied authority--in the unified mind-strength, the tome, or the community.  One answer is to turn toward foundationalist/anti-foundationalist binaries and Pat Bizzell's contention that, "using gender as a lens," we can re-vise models of autonomous authority.

Other interesting bits: reference to John Trimbur on disensus (324) and Bakhtin on centrifugal (gravitational, centering) and centripetal (agitational, radiant) forces and "internally persuasive discourse" as "the constellation of voices we appropriate as we learn how to differentiate ourselves as individuals in a particular social setting (326).

As I read Mortensen and Kirsch's article, I had Milgram's Obedience to Authority on my mind, too.  See, I read through the bulk of his study on subjects, teachers, shock distribution, the agentic state and so on back in March or thereabouts, but I left off at chapter twelve, "Strain and Disobedience."  Picked it back up the other day, and in c.12, Milgram says,

Theoretically, strain is likely to arise whenever an entity that can function autonomously is brought into a hierarchy, because the design requirements of an autonomous unit are quite different from those of a component specifically and uniquely designed for systemic functioning.  Men can function on their own or, through the assumption of roles, merge into larger systems.  But the very fact of dual capacities requires a design compromise.  We are not perfectly tailored for complete autonomy, nor for total submission.
     Of course, any sophisticated entity designed to function both autonomously and within hierarchical systems will have mechanisms for the resolution of strain, for unless such resolving mechanisms exist the system is bound to break down posthaste. (153)

The characterization of human systems as designed and autonomous reverberates with a kind of gross, mechanistic industrialism.  And Milgram's work on strain resolution reads like a self-help checklist.  But it's useful, I think, to consider the blend of authority with strain, to wonder about what authority does and how authority does it, and to reflect on what it means for design compromise to figure into this.  Is it more than obedience?  We have an entire pharmaceutical industry getting filthy rich on "mechanisms for the resolution of strain."  It's also interesting to think about this in the context of the hot potato of suspended accountability related to the WMD reports.  An authoritative intelligence community absorbs the nebulous charge of failure (spread around air-thin), the CIA director takes a bounce, the community's reputation undergoes strain followed by a new call for diligence and obedience, and everything is fixed.  When authority belongs to a community (particularly an inexact, classified community), the "design compromise" involves a rhetorical shift of dispersion which basically amounts to a vanishing act.  [Please forgive this dizzy-making; I'm reluctantly posting it to EWM, but these are mostly rough notes to myself.]

"How are we to account for the theoretical erasure of the authority that constitutes the writer--the authors--we face every day in our composition classrooms?" (321).

"So alive or dead, functional or not, the concept of authority is very much with us.  Or perhaps we should speak of concepts of authority, concepts that we might array from the most contingent to the most determined" (321).

"Among these limits is a tendency to objectify authority, to cast it as something fixed and autonomous that writers or writing can possess.  We propose, instead, a dialogic model of authority, one which infuses authority with ethics" (322).

"Models of autonomous authority presuppose that discourse communities function largely as egalitarian forums" (322).

"For Bakhtin, communities always contain forces contending oppositely for stasis and change (270-72). On the one hand, community members maintain a predictable state of affairs through acts of accommodation.  That is, for the sake of mutual benefit, people accept the conventions which constitute authorized ways of doing things in the community--like interpreting discourse" (325).

"We entertain this discussion of care and authority not because we see it as a simple or even necessary approach to interrogating authority, but because it provides a heuristic for thinking through alternative ways of reconceptualizing authority.  Yet unlike authority, care can never be fully autonomous, autonomous care being essentially narcissism. Rather, care inheres in relations between people and, therefore, assumes community as its first domain" (330).

"Rather than understanding authority as stemming from a totalizing impulse, then, it becomes a phenomenon knowable only in context, as it continually constitutes (and is constituted by) particular communities" (331).

Sunday, July 4, 2004

Witte, 1984, "Topical Structure and Revision"

 Witte, Stephen. "Topical Structure and Revision: An Exploratory Study." On Writing Research: The Braddock Essays, 1975-1998. Ed. Lisa Ede. New York: Bedford St. Martin's, 1999. 132-155.

Big Idea
Stephen Witte's 1983 article reports on the quantifiable patterns of topical structure in a sample of written revisions of a common text.  Through comparative readings of revised texts and a common seminal text (from which the revisers set out), Witte's study surmises that the reviser's treatment of sentence topics correlates to the writer/reviser's understanding of the text's discourse topic.  The relationship between a discourse topic and sentence topic figures significantly into Witte's work; he adopts a vocabulary of specialized terms such as "topicalization," "theme/rheme," "macroproposition," and "hypertheme" in his elaboration of methods.  According to Witte, sentence topics may or may not house discourse topics, but the writer/reviser's prior knowledge and readerly understanding of the seminal text's discourse topic guides the choices applied throughout revision.  Witte acknowledges his methods are suited to informational texts, collaboratively revised. Notably, he delivers some eighteen-plus name references in the first three or four pages of the article (a cluster of comp/rhet folks as well as several {unfamiliar-to-me} structural linguists from the Prague School).

Wondering About
With all due respect, big chunks of this essay were a muddle; lesser chunks were interesting in a structuralism-amuck, 1983-snapshot kind of way.  Witte's theoretical lead-in to the more empirical study sparked a few interesting issues.  Without explicitly discussing sentence topics in terms of links and relationships, Witte is centrally concerned with syntactic cues, their systematic connections, and the role of the writer/reviser in reshaping those cues toward a more coherent, unified discourse topic. We could bend this analysis to rhythm or pulse--the discourse topic's dependence on the coordination of smaller units.   As provocative as this is, the structuralist drawback impends: the study builds from a kind of de-natured, de-cultured "writer's hand(s)" (not unlike de Saussure's featureless talking heads).  The situation is absent: topoi sans kairos.  

The portions of the essay that scale the revisions from high-score to low-score based on the sentence topic patterns (matches, deviations, etc.) were hard to read.  It's filled with statistical references, and it's never easy to connect the high/low assessments to specific texts (only a few of which are sampled).  Witte notes that one of the setbacks in his study is the problem of "no average text."  In fact, the whole piece is responsibly self-conscious; he incorporates lots of reminders that this is "an exploratory study," and it's simply a frame for writing researchers to consider.  But how should we use this? What other applications might Witte's work hold?  I don't have a lot of ideas about this, but as I read, I started to think that much of this analysis could be applied electronically (especially the clause-length stuff).  In other words, when I want to see revision (separated from the document), I simply use Word to compare texts.  The changes are highlighted, easy to view.  I've never considered the quality of a revision in terms of altered topic patterns; instead, I simply have a glance at the depth of revision, the way the writer responded to specific in-text suggestions or questions, and any oversights, omissions, or clear decisions not to make changes.  And while I'm not in favor of computers as stand-alone readers, I continue to wonder how technologies can assist our reading by helping us see patterns in texts (not to kick out sloppily composed standardized exams).  Witte's approach, I think, could be rendered into a software application--an application that might be useful if we use it to see texts differently rather than measuring those texts as successes or failures. 

Witte's approach to measuring sophistication of revisions based on topic patterns doesn't acknowledge rhetorical strategies, deliberate re-arrangement, topical abstraction or exemplification.  All of these forces ought to figure into revision--even in classifiably informative texts, and studies of topic structure alone might not reveal such developments.  It also sets up knowledge of audience and revision in fairly narrow terms.  Revision isn't always (ever!) a sealed-off, exclusive, after-writing stage; knowledge of audience, however carefully ascertained, is imperfect, incomplete.  Similarly, while the sentence topics can be identified and tagged, discourse topics spill, morph, shift--endlessly.  By this, I mean the sentence enjoys punctuated boundaries; a discourse topic flows and is not frozen in time. 

"Although making inferences about composing processes from written products is somewhat risky, the method I have outlined and applied to controlled revisions of college writers appears to be a promising one for studying the textual causes and effects of revision.  It is a method which may allow researchers and teachers alike to study the decision-making processes writers use during revision" (153).

"Whether the findings hold for other kinds of texts collected under different circumstances and evaluated by different kinds of raters remains an open question" (153). 

"In this regard, topical structure analysis--unlike the analytic methods designed to examine the effects of the revision--enables the researcher to explore the relationship between the textual causes of revision, the text features to which the writer as reader responds, and the effects those changes have on the revised text" (153).

"Thus in revising the original text, the high-score writers chose to reduce the number of sentence topics and to develop more fully those retained, whereas the writers of the low-score texts chose to increase the number of sentence topics and to develop each of them less fully" (153). 

~muddle~ "Differences between the two sets of revisions can also be attributed to differences in the mean number of t-units per sentence topic.  The low-score revisions averaged 1.89 t-units per sentence topic, while the high-score revisions averaged 2.59, about 27% more than the low-score ones" (150). ~muddle~

"The two groups' differing constructions of the gist of the original governed their choices of sentence topics.  These different sentence topics, in turn, led to different decisions about content which could be deleted from the original" (149).

"But on what basis did the two groups decide which elements of the original text to delete? I suspect that they based such decisions on their constructions of a discourse topic or a gist for the original text, because those constructions seem to differ in important ways" (147).

"When what is said (by the principal verbs in the text) about the discourse topic is combined with the discourse topic, the product is the 'macroproposition,' 'gist,' or 'point' of the text" (140).

"As I have explained it, topical structure analysis would seem to be a useful tool for studying the textual cues which may prompt revision and for studying the effects of revision on text structure, primarily because it accounts for and illuminates the interaction of reading and writing during the revision process. Topical structure analysis should enable researchers to chart more efficiently the actual decisions writers make as they revise texts" (140).

"Such a view of the relationship of subtopics (i.e., sentence topics) to the discourse topic surmounts the problem of using the orthographic boundaries of sentences and paragraphs as the principal semantic or meaning markers in extended discourse. (Sentence boundaries can vary independently of meaning when writers choose to produce compound or compound-complex sentences, and I can find no evidence that writers segment texts into paragraphs in consistent ways.)" (137).

Saturday, June 26, 2004

Glenn, 1995, "sex, lies, and manuscript"

 Glenn, Cheryl. "sex, lies, and manuscript: Refiguring Aspasia in the History of Rhetoric." On Writing Research: The Braddock Essays, 1975-1998. Ed. Lisa Ede. New York: Bedford St. Martin's, 1999. 336-351.

Big Idea
Aspasia, a woman rhetorician from Miletus--what's modern day Turkey--stood in an improbable role during the heyday of the rhet-charged Greek polis.  A contemporary of the patriarchy of better-historicized--Pericles, Xenophon, Aeschines, Aristotle and Sophocles--Aspasia affected the public sphere and contributed, with notable influence, to the votary of male officials.  Cheryl Glenn's 1995 Braddock-winning essay, invokes mapping metaphors to suggest gendered displacements while appropriating Aspasia a legitimate place in the rhetorical tradition.  The essay is necessarily encyclopedic; it also piles through a fair amount of best-guesses, probabilities and likelihoods in a successful attempt to carve out historiographic room for Aspasia.   Glenn's work situates Aspasia in the context of heavily patriarchal rhetorical tradition.  In doing so, she  exposes openings and possibilities in the sketchy historical record, and ends with a call for ongoing re-readings of the rhetorical tradition that ask questions about representation, absence and silence, and that accept Aspasia as a beacon for modern feminist scholarship in rhetoric.

Wondering About
My foothold in classical rhetoric is shaky at its most stable.  Reading "sex, lies, and manuscript" helped me see the tradition as a contested realm, and the trick for the scholar of classical rhetoric--it seems--is to explore the nebulous areas, to inquire about what's missing and why, and to see the tradition anew by refreshing it with now-relevant questions.  It's clear I need to spend more time with B&H's The Rhetorical Tradition; I've plans to crack it later this summer.

The "sex, lies, and manuscript" reference gets explained later in Glenn's essay (or is it in the afternote?).  I never saw the movie sex, lies, and videotape, so the allusion was a stretch.  I think it might have come across more resolutely for readers ten years ago, but the reference didn't seem adequately sustained, sufficiently built-in for me--especially for the juxtaposition of manuscript and videotape. Probably would make better sense if I checked out the movie, eh?

I wondered how differently each of the characterizations--"[one who] ventured out into the common land, [one who] distinguished herself by her rhetorical accomplishments, her sexual attachment to Pericles, and her public participation in political affairs"--rolled together to give Aspasia a single sense of persona.  For that matter, did Glenn find these overlapping identities competing?  Manipulable? Exclusive?  It's not easy to say with precision, but especially in the places where Glenn needles at Pericles' legitimacy (suggesting, basically, that "Aspasia surely must have influenced Pericles in the composition of those speeches that both established him as a persuasive speaker and informed him as the most respected citizen-orator of the age" (342)), I had the sense that the unverifiability of it all encroached on Glenn's argument. And, of course, I recognize that this also points to an imperfect historical record and the difficulties of writing across +/- 2,500 years. 

I picked up a few terms that I'd heard before (some of them, anyway), but that I hadn't explored lately:  arete and homonoia.  As Glenn casts them, arete tends toward an elite sense of governance by virtue--a kind of oligarchic/aristocratic democracy, whereas homonoia called for virtue by all, no matter gender or social class, for the good of the entire democratized polity.  According to Glenn, "Thus was manifested the complex tension between the elitist arete and a more democratic homonoia.  Another useful term was panhellenism, which points to "a doctrine sorely needed to to unify the Greek city-states, just as it satiated the male appetite for public display."  The term is used in a way that might allow something like diversity or heterogeneity (especially in relationships, I guess) stand in its place.  And the last noteworthy term is consubstantiality.  The funeral orations aspired to this attribute of consubstantiality, which basically means that the experience--the rhetorical effect--would be replicated throughout time, so "the shared experience of this rhetorical ritual linked [!] everyone present even as it connected them 'with other audiences in the past' (Mackin 251)" (344).  Consubstantiality.  Consubstantiality.

"Such challenges not only restore women to rhetorical history and rhetorical history to women, but the restoration itself revitalizes theory by shaking the conceptual foundations of rhetorical study" (336).

"When other women were systematically relegated to the domestic sphere, Aspasia seems to have been the only woman in classical Greece to have distinguished herself in the public domain" (338).

"By every historical account, Aspasia ventured out into the common land, distinguished herself by her rhetorical accomplishments, her sexual attachment to Pericles, and her public participation in political affairs" (339). 

"The Menexenus contains Plato's version of Socrates' version of Aspasia's version of Pericles' Funeral Oration, further recognition of Aspasia's reputation as rhetorician, philosopher, and as influential colleague in the Sophistic movement, a movement devoted to the analysis and creation of rhetoric--and of truth" (344).

"Jarratt explains the sophistic rhetorical technique and its social-constructionist underpinning with her definition of nomos as a 'self-conscious arrangement of discourse to create politically and socially significant knowledge...thus it is always a social construct with ethical dimensions' (60)" (345).

"Our first obligation, then, as rhetorical scholars is to look backwards at all the unquestioned scholarship that has come before; then, we must begin to re-map our notion of rhetorical history. By simply choosing which men and women to show and how to represent them, we subtly shape the perceptions of our profession, enabling the profession to recognize and remember--or to forget--the obvious and not-so-obvious women on our intellectual landscape" (349).

Friday, June 11, 2004

Odell, 1980, "Needed Research in Discourse Theory"

 Odell, Lee. "Teachers of Composition and Needed Research in Discourse Theory." On Writing Research: The Braddock Essays, 1975-1998. Ed. Lisa Ede. New York: Bedford St. Martin's, 1999. 84-92.

Big Idea
Lee Odell argues for yet-to-be-done composition research as of 1979.  He contends that we must not only be practical and pedagogically centered, but we must also shape discourse theory and adapt it to benefit students.  His premise rests squarely on the basic notion that theoretical investigations in composition must always return to practical matters, to pragmatic application in the classroom on Monday morning.  I'm not certain how long before Odell's 1980 piece the Monday morning question became a fixture in composition studies.  "How will you use this to teach?" was often bandied about by some of the practice-heavy folks in my MA program.  It's a line of thinking that somehow characterized the useful and worthwhile queries as ones that can be proven to funnel toward students' proficiencies in writing.  Unless it shapes student writing, it's fluff, abstraction (or that's the script, anyway).  Odell's brief article starts with a push away from Kinneavy's Aims of Discourse; he faults the aims for their overemphasis on product at the expense of attention to the series of choices reflected in a student text.  Odell thinks composition folks should investigate student choices by engaging in comparative readings of drafts, redirecting student projects through revisions toward "different purpose[s] and appeal[s] to a different audience," and by enlisting students to explain--even through tape-recorded narratives(!)--their own choices while writing. Odell suggests advantages in comparing unassigned student writing (writing done for non-academic purposes) to assigned student writing.  How, for example, do styles vary when the writing is subjected to the forces inherent in the institutional arrangement?  Because we can be sure student writing performance varies, we must acclimate our evaluation methods. Odell's case aspires to getting inside why students do what they do when they write and understanding full well how our own work affects what they do.

Wondering About
This is a brief little article, under ten pages.  It reminded me about one of the research interests of a professor in my MA program.  He contended that one of the first orders of business in teaching composition was to come to terms with the thing that governs students' sense of essayism. He supposed a kind of accumulation of essayistic force compelled many students to write mechanically, guided by their overpowering sense of what an essay is (often conditioned by years of Thou Shall Not's) rather than what the specific language in the prompt asks them to do.  In these terms, students' choices aren't always affected by consciousness, choices aren't always easy to articulate, decisions aren't always precise or simple.  And I wonder if the same is true for more experienced, even professional writers.  Must we always be able to explain choices?  Is every articulation governed by a choice?  Is it possible for unchosen (free, unrestrained, accidental) articulations to achieve a desired aim or must the entire writing process be underscored by choice after choice in pursuit of an explicit aim?

Along these lines, Odell's essay sent me reminiscing about a hard camp-line in my MA program.  The line basically divided those who held that, in fairness, instructors must account for the entire semester's plan at the outset of the term of study.  Students should be able to look ahead;  proper planning by the instructor ensures a more organized semester and, as a result, the course will come off as more polished, more coherent.  Over on the other side (Me? Oh, back then I straddled.  Good MA students avoid the wrangling, stick to the middle.) were folks who contended that we cannot know where what the next assignment should be until we've read the one before it.  It was more in line with responsive pedagogy--the kind that accepts that we need to improvise, bend the curricula to our students who vary from term to term, and allow for contextual factors to steer the course rather than proceeding from an inflexible master plan.  How does this connect with Odell?  I think his work here supports a version of the second approach, the loose and responsive plan.  After all, he argues that we must get to know our students and, in doing so, realize that effective pedagogies are fine-tuned to specific students.  

It makes sense that composition instructors should care about un-assigned student writing.  Digital media have given us greater access to unsolicited writing done by students; we can read weblogs and participate in chats without getting wrapped up in institutional dynamics.  But what other sources of un-assigned writing are there?  Where might we look harder at writing done by students outside of academia?  Why are they writing?  How might our writing curricula navigate the assigned-un-assigned binary for the betterment of everyone involved (including the assessors, accreditors--who unfortunately matter)?

Notably, several of Odell's methods for getting to know the choices students make when writing strike me as incredibly laborious.  Tape-recording?  Reading multiple drafts and attempting comparative readings of multiple drafts is challenging, but listening to students' voice-recordings explaining the choices they've made in a particular essay draft seems impossible.  Could be my own sense of appropriate pace and workload, but I can't imagine attempting more than two essays in a sixteen-week semester if multiple stages and careful interrogations of choices were part of the plan.  At times, I have used MS Word's document comparison feature to read revised essays against their predecessor, and although it doesn't come with a student narrative about specific choices, it does reveal patterns and lend insight to the scope of changes being applied between drafts.  I can also see the use of a discussion of choices when conferencing with students.  I've never tried it, but I am curious about the experiences of folks who have used voice-clip inserts to comment on student writing (in the mix of text-based comments, perhaps).  And I suppose this comes close to one of the recent discussions on the WPA list about the writing assessments used by UPhoenix where, because of the burden of responding to student writing, human readers are teaming up with machine readers--layering computer and teacher--toward a two-part rendering of response to student writing.  It's not exactly what I had in mind when I wrote about collaborative commenting a few months ago, but it churns up some interesting (disturbing, exciting) possibilities.   

"One basic assumption in current discourse theory is expressed in James Kinneavy's claim that purpose in discourse is all important" (85).

"A second major assumption in current discourse theory is that different writing tasks make quite different demands on writers" (86).

"The writing of our students represents a kind of information that is almost impossible to obtain in any context other than a course that is primarily concerned with students' writing" (84).

"Whereas we once could use a single, widely-agreed-upon procedure for evaluating all the writing done in a given mode, we may now have to use a variety of evaluation procedures, most of which we have to create for ourselves" (88).

"When our colleagues complain to us that we're not teaching students to write, they often mean that they're tired of seeing misspelled words and sentence fragments" (89).

"If it is true that students are likely to be more successful with one sort of writing task than with others and if it is true that we must vary our evaluation procedures according to the specific writing task at hand, we may have to make substantial changes in the way we assign and evaluate writing" (90).

Friday, May 28, 2004

Brooke, 1988, "Underlife and Writing Instruction"

 Brooke, Robert. "Underlife and Writing Instruction." On Writing Research: The Braddock Essays, 1975-1998. Ed. Lisa Ede. New York: Bedford St. Martin's, 1999. 229-241.

Brooke in 1998: "Now that we, as a field, understand this, perhaps the task of the next ten years will be to imagine programs which increase the self's possible roles, widening the ways literacy is used in the celebration and establishment of viable, sustainable communities" (241).

Big Idea
In his 1987 essay, "Underlife and Writing Instruction," Robert Brooke builds on the sociological trope of "underlife" to characterize classroom behaviors in writing instruction. Brooke's is a comp-related rendering of Goffman's Asylums and Stigma bent on ethnographic studies of the behind the scenes substrata of discourse in the writing classroom.  Brooke contends that writing instructors must understand the fundament of "underlife" because such scales of disruption underscore our aims in composition: attune students to identity-staked information games, help students to ride out the grand vacillations among systematized roles, create ways for students to try on more transgressive, contestatory, even counter-hegemonic agilities (as opposed to stances) toward critical literacy and toward disruptive rhetorics. Brooke teases out an interesting distinction between contained underlife (resistant yet functional within the structure) and disruptive (attempts to undermine and reset the institution) underlife.  His ethnographic method amounts to classroom observations; he taps into the murmur and buzz among students--the hum of quiet interchange unnoticed by the instructor.   

Wondering About
Reading this essay against a recent wrangle on techrhet this week, I carry forward a strong impression that Brooke's work should resurface more frequently, that it might inform tendencies in writing instruction that bow to the pressures to vocationalize students, to make them over into so many obedient widget-makers.  I probably ought to back up and explain.  Basically, a lister on techrhet left a link to this article from Fox News.  The article makes a case for the risky messages about identity inherent in cryptic email addresses. For example, probably isn't appropriate for a resume.  The article summarily suggests that the most decorous, normal candidates get jobs:

"There's no way we'd ever consider hiring someone with a silly e-mail address," said a human resource manager at a major financial institution, who wished not to be identified.

The bottom line, experts say, is that job seeking is a sales game, and resumes, cover letters, e-mails, Web sites and voice mail messages are all part of the ad campaign applicants put out about themselves.

"People have to remember that they are a product," Holland said. "You are the most important product you will ever represent."

The article link and the exchange that followed was lively, interesting.  As unsettled as I am by list culture, I even participated with a remark or two.  By and large, it was far less about inappropriate email addresses than our senses--as writing instructors--that we ought to steep the classroom in hegemonic forces, that we ought to shape curricula to the pressures that bear down beyond academe, that we ought to mold our pedagogies to the market realities, and that anything short of best preparing students for future employment shortchanges them and reflects poorly on academic programs and institutions.  Nutshell of a much meatier issue, here.

With that, I want to return to Brooke with the question, "underlife, under what?"  In other words, once the teacher and the students relish in disruption, what is the glue that congeals whatever subordinates them? What is that pressure?  Its source?  "Underlife," especially as Brooke characterizes it through his observations, suggests students are incredibly savvy about playing "information games" in the classroom, about being moderately dutiful, about appealing to the teacher's biases, about wooing the teacher's approval for successful acts.  And that, I guess, is the connection between the Fox article and Brooke: 1.  Students are incredibly adept at negotiating identities and making plays on representations of themselves that will win favorable regard.  2.  Writing classrooms, unlike many places, ought to be a space for tentative explorations of identities, consequences, transgression and subversions of convention.  3.  Rhetoric is inherently tensional.  A lack of discursive resistance (no need to compel assent, move, affect, charge, communicate) is more or less a-rhetorical.  Yes?  

Brooke's essay helped me think about recent recastings of  backchanneling--the fuzzy ring of communication that carries off through media channels (blogs, IM, conversation) following a formal speaking occasion. He notes students who work on assignments during class or who "disrupt" the teacher-centered classroom by talking with peers while the teacher is also talking.  So I want to tuck Brooke away for his ethnographic methods and his conclusions about "underlife"--a term that, perhaps, has been left back in 1987.  It seems to be a useful term in application to blogging.  For my own recall, I want to drop in bell hooks and Antonio Gramsci, too.  Teaching to Transgress and Gramsci's Notebooks on hegemony seemed to run faintly (and without specific mention) through Brooke's essay.  And I probably ought to look up Goffman's Asylums and Stigma.  I hadn't heard of it until now; rings of Foucault and Bentham. 

One last note: Early in the essay, Brooke drops in mention of "real academic success."  It involves the development of a particular kind of identity according to the line that follows.  But this idea of roles and disruption doesn't get framed in terms of "real academic success" later in the essay.  And I wondered about that.  Lots of side issues might attach to it: grade inflation, WAC, the parsed worlds of academe/outside.  But the adjective real stuck with me as I read, especially as I read Brooke in light of the sanitized self arguments churning through the techrhet list.  


"Writing involves being able to challenge one's assigned roles long enough that one can think originally; it involves living in conflict with accepted (expected) thought and action" (229).

"My understanding of 'underlife' stems from Erving Goffman's books Asylums and Stigma, although the concept has long been accepted in sociology.  As presented in these books, the concept of underlife rests on three assumptions about social interaction. First, a person's identity is assumed to be a function of social interaction.  Second, social interaction is assumed to be a system of information games.  Third, social organizations are assumed to produce roles for individuals which imply certain kinds of identities" (230).

"In Asylums, Goffman studies the underlife of a major American mental hospital, and comes to the conclusion that underlife activities take two primary forms.  First, there are disruptive forms of underlife, like those engaged in by union organizers, 'where the realistic intentions of the participants are to abandon the organization or radically alter its structure.' Second, there are contained forms of underlife, which attempt to fit into 'existing institutional structures without introducing pressure for radical change" (231).

"No one but the complete fanatic completely associates herself with only one role--instead , the self is formed in the distance one takes from the roles one is assigned" (232).

"The purpose of these evaluative comments, it seems, is the same purpose as the other underlife activities--to assert one's fundamental distance from the classroom roles" (235).

"In 'Reality, Consensus, and Reform,' Greg Myers shows how wanting to teach writing as a freeing process has historically been in conflict with (and undercut by) the ideological purposes of the educational institution, and argues that writing teachers need to recognize that 'our interests are not the same as those of the institutions that employ us, and that the improvement of our work will involve social changes' (170)" (237).

"Alongside these suggestions for classroom reform are powerful indictments of the traditional writing classroom for being teacher-centered rather than student-centered, focused on the product rather than process, being oppressive rather than liberating" (238).

"When we look at writing instruction from the perspective of underlife, it appears that the purpose of our courses is to allow students to substitute one kind of underlife for another.  Instead of the naive, contained form they normally employ, we're asking them to take on a disruptive form--a whole stance towards their social world that questions it, explores it, writes about it" (239).

Saturday, May 22, 2004

Porter, et al., 2001, "Institutional Critique"

 Porter, James, et. al. "Institutional Critique: A Rhetorical Methodology for Change." CCC 51 (2000): 610-642.

Big Idea

Institutions can be changed through rhetorical activism.  Porter and company develop broad model for institutional critique driven by rhetoricians as agents for change and pomo geographical interrogations to stage institutional dynamics (needing change).  The authors juxtapose "despair" as the unsatisfying alternative to a more hopeful and upbeat, even (re)visionary empowerment:  the field must vigorously imagine its potential for changing institutions, for transforming them through language, and for thinking about rhetoric and writing as activisms beyond academe.  The essay sets up a macro-micro paradigm for thinking about institutionality, then, invoking a model of "boundary interrogation," the space-made-over institutional critique ventures into the space between the macro-micro and into the "'zones of ambiguity,' or spaces that house change, difference or a clash of values or meanings."  

Wondering About

My impression is that this article and the premise it advances are much more compelling due to the group authorship.  A team-authored article suggests a formidable solidarity, a banding together of credibility and force--the very sort of coordinated leverage that makes institutional critique possible.  As I read the essay, I had questions about whose agency is staked in the critique.  Is rhetorical-discursive institutional critique most potent when it is pressed by clearly recognized members of the institution?  Membership and stability can work both ways; institutional critiques, I suppose, work best when they are formulated by stable bands of respected participants members in the institution.  Contingent faculty, like new students or new workers, probably have a more challenging time leveraging such critiques against their own proven records for longevity and loyalty. Hear this: "You haven't been here long" or "You won't be."  So I wondered whether this is a workable plan for all comp/rhet folks or whether it is much more realistic for WPAs and groups of faculty with a shared sense of how the institution should change.  Even if, as the article suggests, we rename "composition teachers" as "writing experts" and fashion thereby a public sensibility about the broad applicability of rhetoric and writing, we (must) continue to feel the tug of unsavory labor practices.  In other words, it's not easy to promote the *new and improved*  "writing expert" toward a public role when the writing program (employing said experts) relies on contingent and contract labor to cover courses. "Writing experts" like "composition teachers" can't be remade publicly until they are remade materially, validated and stabilized by the institution's commitment to capital support--all of which is why this works wonderfully at an institution with a well established writing program and works less swimmingly in places where the writing program is already in the institution's cellar (free of despair, not tribulation).  In such places, routing institutional critique through a writing program (in the name of rhetoricians for change) can be risky business--even riskier, perhaps, where comp/rhet is a subset of English.  So leaving behind the name "composition teacher" because it reflects the field's history of inferiority and subjugations of labor doesn't alter the legacy or the lingering (even prevalent) realities of exploited contingent faculty. That said, I'm sure Porter et al. don't take the plights of lesser established U's or contingent faculty lightly. 

The essay outlines the avenues of institutional critique, categorizing critique into administrative, classroom and disciplinary areas.  And in the administrative area, the WPA can make great strides toward institutional critique by 1.) establishing graduate programs in writing and rhetoric and 2.) establishing a writing major.  These in-house steps affirm the validity of the writing program; they give body to the power necessary for such critiques to be taken seriously. 

In a few places, I wished for clearer examples.  The critical geography references are terrific: Edwards Soja, David Sibley, Doreen Massey, Michel de Certeau and David Harvey figure into this essay, and for composition, I suppose this essay is attempting something new by calling on spatial analysis postmodern mapping and boundary interrogation--both of which play heavily in their analysis.  The single diagram in the article--a map of a site for institutional critique--is included without much of the boundary analysis said to be so promising. It maps the space "where Institutional Critique operates," but it left me wondering why the map wasn't subject to the interrogations promoted in the essay.  I also wondered why the space of institutional critique didn't bear out a productive tension with the composition classroom (in the map-diagram) the way it did with the discipline and the macro institution. I didn't pick up on much boundary interrogation of their diagram nor any acknowledgement of the problem that mapping (unanalyzed, two-dimensional) tends to be oversimplified for any complex system.

I wanted a few more examples of a "zone of ambiguity."  The article leads with one example in which a usability expert and former CWR student pushes for the term usability in a Microsoft development chart.  Is a space between macro and micro ambiguous to the extent that it is contested or institutionally unstable?  In such cases, institutional critique from all directions (not just from WPAs and faculty) inevitably continue to refigure the zone.  Its contestation is discursive and material, but can we say the same of an unambiguous zone?  Or are all institutional zones--all spaces, even--ambiguous to the degree that they are rhetorically charged?  Is this true more so when we conceive of space as, in Harvey's terms, "produced."  One example brought in is Purdue's OWL, which is atop the heap of online writing labs.  The essay describes the scientific appeal of a lab space (sig. of naming), the ongoing battle in an English department about the usability of space.  Question: how, if at a place such as Purdue, the tension rages on, might smaller, lesser established writing programs venture into such perilous matches.  Must they?  What are the risks?


"[I]nstitutional critique is an unabashedly rhetorical practice mediating macro-level structures and micro-level actions rooted in a particular space and time" (612).

"But we have a particular spin on institutional critique.  Our spin is more locally situated, more spatial, and more empirical than most theoretical discussions of institutions" (613).

"We are frustrated, however, with the gap between local actions and more global critiques (which are far more common in our disciplinary discourse). We are frustrated, in other words, when global critiques exist only in the form of ideal cases or statements, which all too often bracket off discussions of materiality and economic constraints in favor of working out the best case scenario--which, all too often, does not come to pass" (615).

"Talking about institutions at this macro level is extremely important (as we argued earlier in respect to WPAs) because it is one way to discuss how our public lives are organized and conducted (both for us and by us). But limiting our analytic gaze to macro institutions also encourages a level of abstraction that can be unhelpful if it leads to a view of institutions as static, glacial, or even unchangeable (i.e., if it urges us to see change as requiring large-scale action that few people rarely have the power to enforce). If institutions are conceptualized exclusively on this macro level, we may be restricted to visualizing an abstraction of institution that makes change difficult to imagine" (621). 

"Our discussion raises an important question about the relationship between institutional action and reports of action. Can dissertations and other publications themselves be instances of institutional critique?  Maybe, but as with idealized goals statements, we are suspicious of publications that do no more than recommend or hope for institutional change.  To qualify as institutional critique, a research project has to actually enact the practice(s) it hopes for by demonstrating how the process of producing the publications or engaging in the research enacted some form of institutional change" (628).

Sunday, May 16, 2004

D'Angelo, 1977, "Intelligible Structure"

 D'Angelo, Frank. "The Search for Intelligible Structure in the Teaching of Composition." On Writing Research: The Braddock Essays, 1975-1998. Ed. Lisa Ede. New York: Bedford St. Martin's, 1999. 51-59.

Big Idea
Look!  We, compositionists, are disciplinarily vital. We have an epicenter, proven radials, recognizable and defensible structures holding our work together.  D'Angelo's essay, I'd say, is best read as a freeze frame in composition's becoming.  In his afterthought, he notes, "Much has happened in the teaching of writing and literature that suggests that our earlier emphasis on structure and sequence may have been misguided and naive" (59). He cites a long list of folks (Leonard, V. Burke, Scully, Stade, W. Rice) whose critiques hammered at the (perceived to be) thin, 1976 shell of the dispersed ranges of academic writing.  Toward "new unity and order," D'Angelo diagrams the modes of discourse, partners them with Kinneavy's aims of discourse, and folds them together with the contention that the field must be drawn with a sense of coherence, visible chalk lines.  

Monday Morning
D'Angelo's essay, brief as it is, proceeds descriptively more than critically.  It's not an overtly political defense of the field of composition, but by leading with the allegations that "writing is the disgrace of American education" (Leonard) and that "many entering students are in fact 'functionally illiterate'" (Scully), the essay serves up an answer as well as a call for a recentering of stray pedagogies.  In one sense, I see D'Angelo's Braddock as a crucial moment: it carved out a future into which compositionists could proceed critically.  By promoting a disciplinary structure, it also sets up a core fade to (trained) corps fade to clubhouse fade to "what you're doing isn't composition."  

Because I had time yesterday to take on a decent chunk of the latest CE, I'm thinking about "Intelligible Structure" under beams of Bonnie Kyburz's essay on chaos theory in composition and at least one small bit of Joseph Harris' response to Beech and Thelin's critique of his article on "Revision as a Critical Practice."  First, Kyburz's chaos theory work probably wouldn't have been well received thirty years ago; "Intelligible Structure" is, in part, D'Anglo's response to Virginia Burke's claim that "there is chaos today in the teaching of composition because since the turn of the century, composition has lacked an informing discipline." Arguing for chaos could have been like rocks to a fragile figurine--hazardous. And I wonder: are these different brands of chaos?  In "Meaning Finds a Way: Chaos (Theory) and Composition," Kyburz writes;

I have long been fascinated (like Taylor and Walker) by the concept of writing as a chaotic process, and I find that this notion is encouraged by conversations regarding "alternative discourses" and "post-process" pedagogy.  These progressive, "alternative" discourses--which shape-shift, form, and reform according to rhetorical purposes, unbound by the strictures of traditionally bland, uniform, and regulated "academic writing"--have recently gained currency in composition studies.  Yet, as Gary Olson tells us, there remains within the field a conservative and nostalgic presence that denies these and other progressive discourses the sorts of disciplinary status that can create appreciable change for the composition classroom and for our notions of what we are about in composition studies ("Working"). Perhaps by returning in iterative fashion to the chaos metaphor--via chaos theory--that has for so long informed ideas about writing, we may find ourselves rethinking writing in increasingly complex and promising ways, effectively resisting pressures to define ourselves and our students through standardized testing and retrogressive pedagogies, among other ages practices, as the gatekeepers and worthy practitioners of "order" (that is, Standard Written--white, middle-class--English. (CE 66.5 505)

Retrogressive pedagogies.  Hmm.  Good stuff.  It reminds me of Joseph Williams' phrasal links interface shared via techrhet a few weeks ago--loosely associated links from among the spray of web texts--discovery and potentials in chaotic textual extension.  Wonderful.

And this clarification from Joseph Harris on his use of diverge fits with D'Angelo, too, I think:

The verb I actually use in my essay is diverge.  I don't see myself as trying to head off or rebut the work of Ira Shor, James Berlin, or Patricia Bizzell. Rather, I view us as starting out with a similar set of aims and values, but ending up in different places, doing different kinds of work.  Our approaches to teaching don't conflict so much as branch away from one another.  We need to find ways of talking about such divergences that don't lock us into fixed antagonisms--and especially that resist valorizing some teachers for "empowering" students while dismissing others as serving the "dominant ideology." (CE 66.5 557)

With this, then, I need only to note that I see D'Angelo's essay as a necessary, momentary assembling of the field toward "intelligible structure" so that compositionists could, again, diverge in good stead, loosely tied, supported, affirmed by some conceptual disciplinary guard--a force at once beneficent and differentiating, making divergence possible yet risky.

Detached Structures

"But one of the most important reasons for our inability to teach composition adequately is that we have failed to identify the most significant principles and concepts in the field which make intelligible everything we do" (52).

"My thesis is that composition does not have an underlying structure which gives unity and coherence to the field, that that structure can be conceived of in terms of principles and forms (akin to those found in music or painting, (for example), and that these principles and forms need to be taught in an orderly sequence" (53).

"Virginia Burke emphasizes this point even more forcefully: 'There is chaos today in the teaching of composition because since the turn of the century, composition has lacked an informing discipline, without which no field can maintain its proper dimensions, the balance and proportion of its various parts, or its very integrity. Consequently, the practice of composition has shrunk, has lost important elements, has become a victim of all manner of distortion'" (51).

"According to many critics, the composition curriculum was a loose amalgam of separate skills and content which tried to pursue its various objectives in a bewildering variety of ways" (57).

Thursday, May 6, 2004

Cooper/George/Lynch, 1998, "Moments of Argument"

 Cooper, Marilyn, Diana George, and Dennis Lynch. "Moments of Argument: Agonistic Inquiry and Confrontational Cooperation." On Writing Research: The Braddock Essays, 1975-1998. Ed. Lisa Ede. New York: Bedford St. Martin's, 1999. 390-412.

Big Idea
George, Cooper and Lynch, teaching from Michigan Tech, call for more sophisticated argument pedagogies in this essay.  They begin by waving off the slew of textbooks that introduce argument as a simplistic binary, a scheme of either/or, right and wrong, often setting up hypothetical tensions and straw-thin oppositions.  The trio historicizes cooperative models for argument, juxtaposing them with caustic models.  They invoke Susan Jarratt, citing, at length, her call for "composition instructors to rethink their objections to agonistic rhetoric and conflict-based pedagogy" (391), and John Gage, for his concern that "the real conflicts are already there at the outset of a disagreement" and that teachers ought to draw students toward cooperative, collaborative interchanges toward a shared sense of social resolve (394).  The authors also acknowledge the rootedness of their central research question--toward an improved model of argument in writing pedagogy--in their own teaching.  To that end, George, Cooper and Lynch, propose the blend of "agonistic inquiry" and "confrontational cooperation" so that teachers and students might see "argumentation as a crucial social responsibility--an activity that requires us to position ourselves within complicated and interconnected issues" (411). 

Monday Morning
Before wrapping these notes up and putting them to blog (this is the bit I'm doing last), just wanted to make a few pieces about my experiences teaching argument as argument.  Once I inherited an argument-based course.  Last minute appointment, two-alarm shortage.  Usual adjunct drill.  The syllabus was already written (ugh!) and the text already ordered.  I don't remember the name of the textbook, but I do recall its onerous simplicity with respect to polarized arguments.  

Sample assignment: Pick a side:  For war or for peace.  Go.  

I didn't have a good time of it.  Deep down, I think I was in favor of the kind of elaborative heuristics, question layers added atop question layers toward new perspectives, redirection, altered relationships, improved understandings.  But it broke down because the textbook didn't ask it of the students, and the students didn't ask it of each other.  

The approach in this essay--learn the legacy, understand that arguments are bound up in webs and forces, read historically to think futuristically--all of these factors make me think about Cultural Conversations: The Presence of the Past--a textbook I use for the online EN106 course I put together.  I know one of the editors well, and I admire the way the book builds a sense of legacy and patterns of language, then asks students to move outward from there.  I suppose there are other textbooks like it, but it seems to me that it encourages the work this essay describes.

The first question I had was about how this works differently in a classroom abundant with diversity. Specifically, I wondered what this approach would mean for the student--or group of students--who come to the course with a deep, personal (familial, cultural) attachment to the legacy of the issue debated.  In other words, if students don't regard the contested issue as naturally occurring to them in their extracurricular lives, then the issue is an academic construct--a piece glowing institutionally for its curricular situatedness. Make any sense?  

The contested issue's institutionalized situation doesn't necessarily weaken the potential to teach argument (as style or as cultural negotiation?), but it might.  In other words, students enter the course with various stakes in issues.  And we, as teachers, cannot always see inside of those stakes sufficiently to anticipate the dispositional oscillations that might lead to silence, discomfort or other forms of suffering.  Perhaps this is less of a problem when working with homogenous student populations as is suggested in the essay's postlude notes: "Our students combine the characteristics of relatively homogenous backgrounds, a willingness to investigate the world, a suspicion of new points of view, and a tendency to pull back rather than engage others" (412).  I hardly want to sit up here on my blog and renounce the good, provocative work of this award-winning essay.  But it leans into a contestation-loaded middle between Gage and Jarrett--a space where the rules are murkier, the consequences shadier, and the student experiences subtler with respect to their pre-course orientations.  Most specifically, I wondered how the teachers in the course on Native American naming of mascots knew whether they had any indigenous students among them.  Did they know?  Should they have known? How?

2. Sites and formality

"We need to see it as a complex and often extended human activity, or, rather, as an array of human activities, including institutionalized formal debate, legal trials, shouting matches that threaten to end in fist fights, conversational games of one-upmanship, disagreements among friends, and extended deliberations within a community over what course of action to pursue" (411).

This excerpt comes near the end of the essay.  It suggests a wide range of sites where the "human activity" of argument might manifest, governed in some cases by authoritative ordinance and in other cases by informal social codes.  It's quite a list; among these sites, argument emerges with vast, various differences.  But I wanted to push against the authors' claim that "first-year students often seem to dismiss the many issues that surround them daily, in the news, in classes, in work situations, even in the most mundane kinds of arenas--like what to name a football team" (398).  There are reasons for dismissal, to be sure.  Many dismissals stem from peer networks, social hierarchies, and the sense of value in expounding views aloud (which also brings up the place of intensional argument--the contemplative, self-ward negotiations and flux layered in all of this, never separate).  It's just that mundane arenas are capable of germinating richer and more dynamic arguments because the knowledge unfolds more naturally, less as an academic exercise.  This reminds me of Jabari Mahiri's work in Shooting for Excellence; his ethnographic studies present challenges to the idea that "students seem to dismiss the many issues that surround them daily" or that, following this logic, that they tend to argue poorly as a result. 

One other point stemming from this quotation: "Such a conception can remove argument from the (televised) boxing ring and return it not to the private domestic sphere but to the many ambiguous public spaces--meeting rooms, hallways, cafeterias, and, yes, classrooms--where it has a chance to become more productive" (392). I'm not sure the "ambiguous public spaces" ought to become more productive sites."  For them to be classifiably productive, they might rely on formal affirmations, measures, assessments, etc.  Argument in ambiguous public spaces is potentially richer than the official sort--the "institutionalized formal debate, legal trials," because it is informal, boundless in a sense, experimental, guided by deep wonder more than formal structure.  I'm more comfortable with the justification of argument-based pedagogies that points to civic discourse, the aims of democracy, and the vitality of critical consciousness that upholds freedom.  But I'm not sure the mundane sites and ambiguous public spaces would be helped by formalization.

Passages Passages
"What is important, to our minds, in teaching students to deal with conflict is that they experience the process of constructing a complex, historically knowledgeable position in light of what matters to, and what will arise for, those affected by the positions taken" (410).

"But when arguments are entered into hastily, the complexity of the issues is often lost, and with it (we might add) the basis for introducing important, higher level concepts such as ideology, multiple subjectivity, and contingent foundation" (410).

"Too many classroom strategies, too many textbooks, insist that students learn to take hold of and argue a position long before they understand the dimensions of a given issue" (402).

"From our perspective, though, the risk is not merely that your social position and identity may be challenged, or not merely that someone may disagree with your intellectual position, or not even that you may lose the argument; the risk is also that you may become different than you were before the argument began" (396).

"What we are seeking is a way of reconceiving argument that includes both confrontational and cooperative perspectives, a multifaceted process that includes moments of conflict and agonistic positioning as well as moments of understanding and communication" (392).

"Emulating others' classroom practice is tricky: you always need to determine what exactly in the practice is appropriate and applicable to your own teaching situation" (411).

Sunday, May 2, 2004

Muchiri, 1996, "Importing Composition"

 Muchiri, Mary, et al. "Importing Composition: Teaching and Researching Academic Writing Beyond North America." On Writing Research: The Braddock Essays, 1975-1998. Ed. Lisa Ede. New York: Bedford St. Martin's, 1999. 352-371.

Big Idea
     Four university composition instructors collaborated on this article, "Importing Composition," to address the global reach of research and prevalent assumptions disseminating from the capital centers of knowledge in the field.  Composition research often suffers a narrowed utility when it makes its way into the variously removed, distant contexts.  Muchiri's group sets composition in the US against trends in English Language Teaching (ELT) abroad, where writing pedagogies are (almost always) combined with communication studies, where content reigns superior to personal narrative, where examinations hold greater assessment value than coursework, and where limited institutional resources make one-on-one mentoring and extensive essay-marking impractical. The project seeks to stir further conversations on these matters.  Other key issues are the political and institutional pressures proliferating a "dullness of correction and compliance"--the idea that students might not be willing to take risks because they fear failure or rebuke; Kenyan and Nigerian students often align into note-sharing groups whose solidarity is often seen as a form of resistance to the teacher's authority; the field's research map as a geography marked by "distant and powerful research centers"; and composition research's assumption that students have multiple chances and plenty of time to move toward proficiencies.

Terms of Export
L1 - primary language; L1 studies are language studies in one's primary, native language
English for Academic Purposes (EAP), English for Specific Purposes (ESP) - academic categories commonly used to name departments responsible for teaching practical communications in English aimed at mobilizing students' progression toward advanced study dependent on basic English literacy and "immediate needs."  
English Language Teaching (ELT) - Unlike L1, ELT sets out to work with students who come at English as a second, third or fourth language
mwakenya (Kiswahili, pro-democracy movement), Nondo (Kiswahili, crowbar), Kombora (Kiswahili, missile), Ecowas (Economic Community of West African States)--vernacular terms shared among students to name their systems of group resistance to institutional forces.  Such resistance takes the form of note-sharing and collaboration--collaboration that might be characterized as cheating in a rigidly individualistic assessment system

Monday Morning
    Near the end of the essay, the project turns to the clearly economic metaphor of import/export.  They note that throughout its draft stages, they preferred the term "export," but in the end, they switched to "import" because they didn't see research in composition as being fairly characterized by a neocolonial label or a term that suggests multinational monopoly.  It seems like an interesting turn; maybe all research is export--a produced knowledge-construct, delivered.  The farther and longer (in time) it travels, the greater its purported value and firmer its stance as essential(!) and centering. Their final set of questions--built up on the import/export logic--go, 

Imagine you could pack something of the world of composition, just enough to fit in a small box that would fit under an airline seat.  It is not for foreign aid, or for trade, both of which an be exploitive; let us think of it as barter. What would you pack in this box; what is essential in the composition enterprise?  That's the fun part.  Now here comes the hard part: Where would you send it?  And even harder: What would you expect to get in return? (370)

     I don't know where I'd send it, but a laptop with satellite wifi, loaded up with a blogging account strikes me as having greater compositional potential than anything else I can come up with.  (Shameful that I'd consider sending it to myself--if for only a brief, irresponsible moment...hehe.) 
     I thought the essay might have done better to complicate the language demographics of North America.  In places, it seems to gloss over linguistic diversities in North America and the deep challenges they present to composition teachers and researchers.  With something like 45 million US citizens (what, 13-15%) in homes where English is not the everyday language of the family, this becomes slightly more complex than a broad-strokes depiction of the US (even all of N. America!) as linguistically homogenous.  Of course, I come at this article after a year of teaching mostly international students in on-campus courses, and mostly domestic US students in online classes while they travel abroad.  So I wished for some acknowledgement of the cross-flow of compositional trade (if we must call it something like this...following the commerce metaphor).  In the fall, I taught a class called Reading and Culture for International Students on campus.  They were from Kosrae, Indonesia, Nigeria, Kenya, Mexico, Brazil, Morocco, and Nepal.  It was an advanced ESL course, but the cultural interplay was magnificent.  This semester, in an on-campus section of second-semester FY composition, students were from Northern Ireland, Tanzania, Poland, Kenya, and Somalia.  Meanwhile, in a current intro to humanities course, I am working with native English speaking students who are in Korea, Uzbekistan, Germany, a classified location in the British Indian Ocean Territory and twelve different US states. I feel like my experience has distorted my sense of still-standing boundaries that place an embargo on increasingly globalized understanding and interaction.
     One other intriguing side to this project is its insistence on opening a discussion.  It's a discussion that I haven't looked for, but it's also a discussion that I'm not certain advanced much after this article showed up in CCC in 1995. Composition research continues to center on N. American contexts, yes?  Where has this discussion gone?  Whose work is guiding it?  How badly do teachers in other parts of the world need the comparatively well-established, well-funded research efforts in the US?  

Passages Passages
"The purpose of this paper is to open a discussion of what happens to the published literature on composition in these new [internationalized] contexts. [...] Composition research makes assumptions about students, teachers, language, and universities.  Some of the assumptions from US research are refreshing in these new contexts; some have to be questioned, and some seem bizarre" (353).

"While there is no composition industry outside the US and Canada, that is not to say that there is no interest or research in academic writing.  But most studies are done to support programs for students whose first language is not English--the idea of teaching English to English speakers (L1, or first language, students) is seen as rather odd" (353).

"Another way in which the journey is different is that university attendance remains in most countries in the world the privilege of a tiny minority.  It is easy to forget in the US just what a difference this makes to students.  Students in these countries may come to university bearing not just the hopes of their family, but the hopes of an entire village, for whom they will become an important link to the worlds of government and business. The pressure to succeed, or at least to survive, is enormous" (355).

"But composition teachers, too, regularly express annoyance with the dullness and correctness of run-of-the-mill essays they receive.  The annoyance arises when the dullness seems to arise from a rejection of academic challenges.  Are we saying that such dullness is (horrible thought) a cultural university? No, we suspect that a very similar dullness may have quite different social causes.  The fear of failure in North American university may not be so great (of course we cannot say). Certainly the fear of political persecution should be less. Essays may be dull because the university means too little to the student, or because it means too much.  Can we tell the difference between the dullness of boredom, and the dullness of linguistic limitation, and the dullness of fear?" (356).

"For monolingulas in the US, ideas like 'speech community' or 'code-switching' or 'register' have to be painstakingly established as abstractions and illustrated with data.  In Africa, as in all multilingual countries, people to sociolinguistics on every streetcorner.  Someone in Nairobi market who switches from English to Kiswahili to Gikuyu in the course of buying a kiondo (a bag) is changing footing, and knows just what is going on" (364).

"Lest the composition researchers get too complacent, one should look for places where composition is difficult to transplant, and ask if these difficulties don't sometimes arise closer to home.  We have mentioned the dull errorlessness of the prose, and wondered how it related to similarly depressing prose in North American students, perhaps seeing a variety of causes, not all of them matters of laziness or lack of imagination.  We have mentioned apparently absurd arguments from authority in essays, vague reliance on consensus, uncritical use of written sources, treatment of teachers as parents, invocation of religious belief, all of which can be dismissed as simply conformist, but all of which may be valued differently from other perspectives.  North American teachers develop ways of dismissing some kinds of resistance to their reforming message as not worthy, while other kinds of resistance are to be promoted as progressive" (370).

Monday, April 26, 2004

Fitzgerald, 2002, "A Rediscovered Tradition"

 Fitzgerald, Kathryn. "A Rediscovered Tradition: European Pedagogy and Composition in Nineteenth-Century Midwestern Normal Schools." CCC 53 (2001): 224-250.

Big Idea
Midwestern normal schools at the turn of the nineteenth century were fertile sites for promising pedagogical mixing which brought together student-centered European practices (attributed to Heinrick Pestalozzi and John Frederick Herbart) with the populace-serving, democratizing missions of normal schools.  Fitzgerald's historical account of the Oshkosh conference of 1900 elaborates these forces through descriptions and analysis of the archival gems pointing back to the important work of the normal composition teachers of the era.  Pestalozzian and Herbartian pedagogies generally favored student-centered rather than content-centered approaches.  As a result, the normal schools in Wisconsin served as a stage for these pre-Dewey practices to foment toward efficacy, while shrugging off strict adherence to textbook lessons, adopting a more compassionate, respectful view of students' linguistic competence and preferring demonstrations of understanding--often in the form of writing and students teaching to other students--over rote memorization and recitation. Fitzgerald's essay ends with a plug for the study of teaching practices in contemporary and historical contexts (quartered by regionalism and institutionality).  She also emphasizes--at the end--the role of teaching in the curriculum as vocational/professional/normal schools have been subsumed into grand research conglomerates where pedagogy is relegated to servile rank and often viewed as a necessary but unpleasant burden. 

Terms of Import
normal schools - Vocational/professional colleges premised on access, they often served wider segments of the population than the more selective, costly private academic institutions.  Many of the normal schools grew into state universities.
Pestalozzian pedagogy - grew out from "Rousseau's educational romanticism" to become best known for the "object lesson" or that which proceeded with teaching that trusted the child's curiosity and "intuitive powers based on experience and reason."
Herbartian pedagogy - adds emphasis on getting to know students, situating teaching in the swell of social forces, diversely demonstrable aptitudes, customized learning ventures, and curricular shifting as contrasted against rigid, content-fixed plans
1900 Oshkosh conference - a four-day state-wide meeting of faculty from the Wisconsin normal schools where they "discussed and debated their aims, philosophies, and methods in terms of their unique mission of providing free education to prospective teachers of students in free common schools" (234).

Monday Morning
     Fitzgerald's essay is nicely historical.  I read it with a feeling of resistance that I want to explore just a bit--in fairness.  Historicizing the legacy of practical pedagogy is useful, and I often see my own contribution to the academy as a teacher.  In a historical context, I suppose it works to set up the tensional relationship between normal schools and the Ivy elites (private, academic, economically affluent).  But in contemporary contexts, the us-themisms start to feel like a rub--the sort that makes a blister but never a callus.  Okay, and now I'm off track.  I keep having the impression that we're too quick to distinguish theory from practice, elite from popular, and complexity from accessibility, that the binaries ought to be more fully explained if they're necessary.  I read Fitzgerald's essay and took from it a worthwhile understanding of the contrast between certain sets of institutions.  The influence of a European pedagogical tradition applies smartly, forms a thick share of the trunk supports our sense of important, historical connections merging then spreading into much branchier field these days.  But there's a side of this argument that sounds just a bit anti-intellectual, just a bit quotidian for the way it hedges the critique at the expense of the Eastern private elites.  I oughta back out of this by acknowledging that this is a tension in my reading of the essay that probably says a whole lot more about me than about the essay.  I'm not trying to argue that Fitzgerald's essay falls short; heck, it's incredibly smart and carefully worked.  And it's a Braddock winner. 
     Somewhere (I can't pinpoint it precisely--it's mostly in my head, I think), there's a faintly dismissive din in historical research that uses a dominant form, such as theory, which is often labeled elitist for its complexity, for its aspiration to think hard about how we think, to assign names, to produce the cultural capital of the university, theory gets used as a push-off from which practitioners seek to be defined as an alternate.  But theory and practice aren't so easily separated.  And maybe, along those same lines, I have this uncomfortable feeling about an unexplained us-them because I want to know what's happening at the hyphen. What action is at the hyphen? Historically?  Presently?
     I've made it far enough into these notes to leave off at a place where, when I'm scratching my head over the Wisconsin normal schools and historical infusions from European pedagogical traditions, I'll be able to find my place. 

Passages Passages
"Current historical research into alternate sites of writing instruction will give compositionists multiple options for identifying with as well as against our past" (245).

"I have pointed out that the conditions of the normal schools differ significantly from those of the institutions where composition originated in two respects.  The first is the aims of the institutions--the normal schools were intended to be inclusive, democratic institutions that focused on professional rather than academic preparation.  The second is the intellectual traditions upon which composition faculty drew--normal school faculties had access to European pedagogical theories as well as composition textbooks" (244).

"By 1900 the changes in psychological thinking were no longer confined to Europeans like Pestalozzi and Herbart, for Americans like John Dewey, William James, and Stanley Hall were beginning their work on theories of learning and development that would render faculty psychology obsolete and begin to frame educational theory for the next century" (241).

"While they shared with Pestalozian pedagogy the fundamental concept of placing the child and his/her interest, rather than the subject matter, at the center of education, Herbartians had more in common with later socio-psychological views of the educational process than with Romantic concepts of individual development" (233).

"However, as noted above, the normal school, in a time of high-stakes contestation over the financial base, student populations , and objectives of various institutions of higher education, was almost certainly the most contested site of all.  The conflict over the objectives and scope of the normal schools was heightened in part because of the very different social and intellectual traditions and allegiances from which they emerged" (229).

"Herbst, Borrowman, and Salvatori together with a few others limn a complex tale of the contested scene of the nineteenth-century normal schools, which finally resulted in the political supremacy of liberal education over vocational/technical education, the intellectual dominance of research and theory over pedagogy and practice, and the marginalization of teacher education to schools of education in universities" (227).

"Although this brief summary doesn't begin to suggest the wealth of material composition historians have uncovered, it does point up the elitist, undemocratic aspects of the field's past that disturb many contemporary compositionists, who see their aim as extending the opportunities available through education to all social classes by introducing students to discourses of power" (225).

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Connors, 1982, "Modes of Discourse"

 Connors, Robert. "The Rise and Fall of the Modes of Discourse." On Research Writing: The Braddock Essays, 1975-1998. Ed. Lisa Ede. New York: Bedford St. Martin's, 1999.

Big Idea
Connors historicizes the ascent and decline of the modes of discourse as a widely favored, pervasive scheme for organizing FY composition from the early 1800's until the late 1960's when modified approaches and the process movement, bound up with phenomenological underpinnings in many cases, threw off the charm of modal curricula. The modes of discourse commonly included Narration, Description, Exposition and Argument, although variations included Didactic in place of Expository (Newman), Pathetic (Parker) and Speculation (Quackenbos). Connors' essay offers a fairly clear chronology of the modes, their brief reign, and the forces that brought about their gradual (and yet ongoing) unraveling: single-mode text books, especially ones centered on exposition, and what Connors calls "thesis texts"--texts purporting a central, masterful method for engaging students to write powerfully, effectively. He details the causal relationships from a classical belletristic set of modes, to Newman's A Practical System of Rhetoric in 1827, to Winterowd's condemnation in 1965, "that the modal classification, 'though interesting, isn't awfully helpful.'" 

Terms of Import
modes of discourse--variously assembled, the modes usually include Narration, Description, Exposition and Argument. They grew into a rarely questioned kind of pedagogical currency and have been used to organize a vast mass of composition courses over the last 150 years. Underling categorizations applied to paragraph composition were Contrast, Explanation, Definition, Illustration, Detail and Proofs.
belletristic modes--classical antecedents to the modes of discourse, assoc. with Hugh Blair's Lectures (1790-1860): epistle, romance, treatise, dialog, history, etc., and also with Reviews, Editorials, Allegories, Parables, Letters, Treatises, Essays, Biographies, and Fiction.
Kitzhaber's "Big Four" --Barrett Wendell, John Genung, Adam Sherman Hill, and Fred Newton Scott: late nineteenth century textbook authors who had ascribed to the modes of discourse by 1894. Wendell advanced a variation in his Unity-Mass-Coherence trinity. Wendell neither openly advocated the modes nor devised a competitive model; instead, his trinity was usually subsumed by the modes as the naturally embedded features of each mode.

Monday Morning
     Before I understood the tension between the modes and process orientations (which aren't mutually exclusive, of course...what, separate?), I'd had a couple of experiences teaching to the modes--both were in courses I'd inherited, last minute "who's qualified and available?" teacher grabs--the sort that all-too-often staff late-opening sections in many writing programs. Ah, the modes. Looking back: Oh! What I didn't know. What I should've understood. In one case, I broke severely from the textbook by about week ten. By then it was all a mess. In the other case, we pounded ahead. We actually turned to finding modal hybridity in popular essays, opinion columns and so on--making sense of the mixed modes, the ways they stir in popular print journalism. 
     I don't know if I follow Connors' contention that their power in rhetoric is gone (what does it mean for power to be gone?). In fairness, Connors points to the faint persistence of the modes, their vacant recurrence as minor elements in textbook organization. But as long as textbooks and the writing programs who adopt them find arrangements to be of value, the names of the arrangements might change, but the modal quality--the empty container of a named, formulaic textual device--will persist, and we'll continue to see fluctuations in arrangement and rebuke, arrangement and rebuke. Perhaps none will have such a magnificent hold on the field as the modes of discourse once did.
     Before pulling these notes into coherent form (ha!), I looked all around for something I remember reading recently about how argument is rather more like a method (?) than a mode. Argument, I remember the discussion suggesting, is the extra-modal mode, the one the umbrellas all discourse because all rhetoric is tensional and, thereby, inherently argument-bound. Couldn't find the context for the discussion. Was it a listserv? A date-buried weblog entry? The notion was useful for a couple of reasons, and I'd really like to give credit. Most of all, the idea suggests that rather than seeing the modes of discourse as powerless, we might instead see them as a kind of shelved, archived Pandora's box whose lid, when we lift if for a contemporary peek now and then, reveals a curious, remarkably popular phase in comp studies--one whose legacy we are still sorting out, and one whose aura is still with us (all), especially if we were ever taught to write to the modes. 
     I wanted to note, too, that Connors' identification of the "thesis text" parted from the dominant modes of the '40s in favor of the newly fashioned fourth C: communication, which "reflected the two most popular intellectual movements in composition theory at the time [1948]: the general education movement with its 'language arts/communications' approach, and the General Semantics movement." He refers to Hayakawa's Words in Action as an influential work.
Does everyone know about the fall? Why are the modes still in use if the fall was authentic? Is it permanent? Is the fall rather more like a splash where the modes mixed in with emergent trends? Are the modes still responsible for curricular plans in ways that contemporary pedagogies have left behind (thinking narration/description in FY comp I and exposition/argument in FY comp II)? 

Passages Passages
"To explore the question of what makes a discourse classification useful or appealing to teachers, this essay will reexamine the rise, reign, and fall of the most influential classification scheme of the last hundred years: the 'forms' or 'modes' of discourse: Narration, Description, Exposition, and Argument" (110).

"Genung, of course, did not adopt Bain's notion of the four modes absolutely, as had Bain's earlier and less successful imitators A.D. Hepburn and David Hill. He distinguished between Argumentation, which he called 'Invention dealing with Truths' and Persuasion, which he called 'Invention dealing with Practical Issues.' These two sorts of arguments were copied and used by derivative textbook authors after Genung until about 1910, when the four standard terms swept all before them. Genung himself adopted the four terms of the standard modes in 1893 in his Outlines of Rhetoric, the follow-up to The Practical Elements" (113).

"Stripped of their theoretical validity and much of their practical usefulness, the modes cling to a shadowy half-life in the attic of composition legends" (119).

"Our discipline has been long knuckling from its eyes the sleep of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and the real lesson of the modes is that we need always to be on guard against systems that seem convenient to teachers but that ignore the way writing is actually done" (120).

Sunday, April 18, 2004

Flower, et al., 1987, "Strategies of Revision"

 Flower, Linda, et al. "Detection, Diagnosis, and the Strategies of Revision." On Writing Research: The Braddock Essays, 1975-1998. Ed. Lisa Ede. New York: Bedford St. Martin's, 1999. 191-228.

Big Idea
Over two years, five contributing researchers sought to refine the key intellectual actions in revision. The study dealt with both student-written texts and expert-written texts; it's an example of collaborative analysis and the challenges of collaborative writing. The project seeks refinement in the terms we use to describe the revision process, setting out with special investment in "detection" and "diagnosis." It also works from a confluence of theories toward revision. Specifically, the endnote acknowledges theory's promise of tentative knowing (Dewey's "experimental ways"). Their work affirms the complex, various interplays of revision toward the fulfillment of a textual need. And, although the textual need is often defined by the teacher, the essay-project promises the value in enabling "novice" student-writers to detect, diagnose and strategically affect textual needs emerging from their own knowledge and intention. 

Terms of Import
experts/novices - the essay-project uses these terms loosely to characterize those who are proficient with the detection-diagnosis-strategic revision sequence in relationship to those who are less adept at negotiating the phases of the sequence.
knowledge/intention - this is elaborated at length; it seems to impart a tension between what we know about our writing and what it does, and what we intend for our writing to do. Often (always?) the two are wedged apart to various degrees. We don't always know what our writing does (in the full sense of its potential to move readers, compel assent, and so on). 
nested processes - revision is necessarily reflexive. The work of revision engulfs small 
mental text - the writer's sense of the text's meaning distinct from the syntax expressed in writing (This is a tricky concept. I'm not sure how to understand the mental text as narrow, confined and rigid in the same sense that I think of words on the page. The "mental text" makes sense to me only when I consider it a _near_ copy of the written text. Accordingly, I doubt how fully the "mental text" exists before the written text. Only after the written text takes shape does the "mental text" take its echoic, sometimes distorted shape--the dusty film that prevents us from reading our own writing with the same discernment we are able to employ when reading a text that is not our own.)
three major gates - detection, diagnosis, strategies of revision
detection - I recognize that something is wrong with this sentence, but I can't tell what it is.
diagnosis - I recognize that something is wrong with this sentence; here's what it is.
strategies of revision - I recognize that something is wrong with this sentence; here's what it is, and here's how I intend to fix it. The three major gates and several other commonplaces in composition are narrowed and subtly differentiated in this essay-project. 

Monday Morning
     As I read this essay, I felt pedagogically shrimpy. I don't give sufficient time or attention to revision, to carefully reworking texts, to settling the terms we use to talk about the "progress" of the text toward some projected rhetorical need. At times, I wondered whether revision of this deeply engaged, patient sort is possible in a writing classroom. It seems more intimate--the kind of interaction that is better done in the writing center, maybe. 
     The source-rich ensemble of research here and the two-dimensional diagrams depicting embedded processes in revision don't seem particularly useful to basic writers. I can see the value in this study for teachers of writing; it might be enough to model the subtle stages, to point out examples of detection, diagnosis and strategic revision. I liked the idea that revision should be introduced as "re-seeing" the ways we think rather than retooling the surface errors in the words on the page. This invokes a theory of revision as "re-cognition," too. 
     The essay left me with the feeling that we could invent an entire course on revision. It's represented as an incredibly complex process, and I have doubts about whether I'm well prepared to teach revision differently than I've practiced it, which means I need to practice it more, think about my own revision habits. 
     I also thought about the relationship between revision and weblogs. Charlie Lowe briefly mentioned the usefulness of returning to previous entries, of re-reading our own weblogs critically, of teasing out our terms and improving the coherence of a set of connections. But, among the weblogs I check out regularly, few offer examples of revision. Or is it just invisible? Frequently, I see clusters of internal links to previous entries as a kind of incremental, pooled essay. 
     Revising, in "Detection, Diagnosis," is aimed at a seamless text and rhetorical mastery--its antithesis: messiness. There's plenty left off here: 38 pages assembled over two years (of weekly meetings), making use of 61 sources, an eventual book. A lot left off.

Should we imagine revision as a way of returning to our writing for reasons other than satisfying a textual need? Might revision include reaffirmation or remembrance? How much time might we imagine between the drafts? Is there always a lapse? What happens to the mental text during the lapse? How much time is optimal? Who are the experts and who are the novices? Are these roles always distinguished by formal training? Must the problem be named for the text's "need" to be met? Who benefits most from the naming of the problem? To what extent should naming the problem and proposing the need be shared with the class in a forum for group learning about revision? With the student-writer? Via written comments? In conference sessions? Does it matter how it's shared? 

Passages Passages
"One revises only when the text needs to be better" (193).

"If a given performance in revision depends on a dynamic interplay of knowledge and intentions, how can we model the process of an effective reviser? [...] One approach to this problem is to step back and describe or model the basic thinking processes which underlies revision itself then to look within that process for those places where experts and novices make different decisions or handle the process itself differently" (195). 

"Our model of Evaluation, then, describes a generative process built on the principle of a progressive enlargement of the goals and constraints one entertains" (199). 

"A text is simply one instantiation of the writer's meaning; a plan represents that meaning in another, less elaborated, less constrained form (Flowers and Hayes, "Images"). Revision operates on meaning in all its forms. The experiences writers in this study were particularly adept at working with the larger, more abstract units of plans and gists" (202).

"To sum up, detecting problems in a text--even achieving that initial sense of dissonance--calls on two non-trivial constructive processes: representing a "text" through reading (or memory), and representing one's intentions. And both are affected by the writer's willingness to entertain dissonance itself (Young, "Rhetoric")" [For how long?] (203). 

"The only way to enter the REVISE process is to go through Diagnose first. This is because REVISE is, by definition, a process that depends on the new information generated in a diagnosis, whereas REWRITE, like original text production, does not." (216).

"The power of diagnosis is not based on knowing the technical vocabulary of a college handbook--one can be innocent of grammar and recognize an agreement problem, and one can have never heard of "squinting modifiers" or undisturbed middles" and still recognize the pattern, diagnose its logic, and know what to do. On the other hand, one premise of education is that having a language helps you see and think about what you see (Freedman, "Review"). The question is how much of what do we need to teach writers?" (222).

Thursday, April 15, 2004

How will I know when I'm blogging?

I 'm posting my first lil' write-up on the Braddocks.  And I should beg your pardon for not asking whether anyone cares if I turn this weblog toward self-serving notes on some days (wait...nevermind...I do that every day).  Periodically, over the next few weeks, I hope to register a series of scrappy notes like this.  They're not wonderfully critical or connected; they're not aimed at any research project.  They're rather more like the solid (squiggly?) paint-lines along the highway to Syracuse's CCR program in the fall.  With that, I also confess to testing out Scribe--a free note-organizing app.  These few notes are shaping up in Scribe as a way to see how it works, whether it's worth the price.  Well, it will be.  The program works.  How well, I just can't be sure yet. One of the best parts is how it fits conveniently on my 64MB jump drive and runs from there via a USB port, making it easy to switch from home to work and back again.

I had to smile at myself more than once, chuckle, grin inside about my sense of humor in this whole experiment.  A lot of behind-the-blog antics.  A lot of tongue-in-cheek and silliness over the idea of taking myself seriously here.  It's not official, but I prefer to play around at Earth Wide Moth.  For now, I'm resistant  to poisoning my blog with responsibility; responsibility is everywhere else. 

Most of the way through Richard Braddock's essay, I decided to mix it up.  Avoid a linear reading of the honorary essays.  I pasted the table of contents into Excel, inserted a random integer formula, and sorted by the RAND() column.  Spice it up, you know? Before long, I'll create a list of my plan over in the sidebar (along with the 'About' note I've been mentioning).  And one more thing: I'm not applying a tidy, syntopical format to the essays, covering them only as Mo Adler would want me to.  Just jotting loose notes, free-associating, reacquainting with the Braddocks I've read and getting to know the ones I haven't.  That pretty well covers the who, what and why

Braddock, 1975, "Frequency and Placement"

 Braddock, Richard. "The Frequency and Placement of Topic Sentences." On Writing Research: The Braddock Essays, 1975-1998. Ed. Lisa Ede. New York: Bedford St. Martin's, 1999. 29-42.

Big Idea
Braddock's essay on the placement and patterns of topic sentences exposes a problem of referring students to mythic truths--affirmed in popular textbooks old and new--about professional expository writing. His empirical research and methodical investigation (lots of data-counts, tables) of faulty advice about prevalent organizational patterns is an affront to the echo and reiteration of uncritical teaching. His essay calls for conscientious attention to topical organization in paragraphs.

Terms of Import
t-unit (minimal terminal unit , Kellogg Hunt (1965)) -- the "shortest grammatically allowable sentence into which...[writing can] be segmented" (31).
delayed-completion topic sentence (35)--undeclared predicate forces us to read beyond the seminal t-unit and into a subsequent sentence
assembled topic sentence (35)--infused with quoted bits from another source
inferred topic sentence (35)--implied topic that cannot be reconstructed by quoting phrases from the original text
major topic sentence (35)--reflection of the "larger stadia of discourses," like Irmcher's "paragraph bloc"

Monday Morning
Simply put, teachers of writing should be cautious to make unfounded claims likening work done by students to work done by professionals. If we demand students organize paragraphs by locating topic sentences at the beginning and the end of their paragraphs, we must not justify the requirement by referring to foggy, disproved characterizations of a larger writing institution. Braddock's research establishes that only 45% of 761 paragraphs studied used simple topic sentences; only 16% located those topic sentences in the first or final sentence of the graf. 

So, 1.) We should always be skeptical about common truths in textbooks; 2.) We should not attest to gross generalizations about expository prose or, heck, even refer to "most" expository prose working in a particularly systematic way unless we are able to attach illustrative examples; 3.) We should watch for topical variations in students' expository writing and teach organizational variations as a controllable feature of composition (particularly calling attention to it during stages of revision, I think).

How much time and attention do writing instructors give to teaching about t-units or topic sentences in 2004? Is the concept of topic sentences irresponsible if it leaves off the subtleties and variations? Should instruction about topic sentences in expository prose foreground the act(ion) of research writing? When should students be welcomed to think about it? Is it inline with broader studies of textual organization (merging HTML, visual rhetorics, distributed schemes)? How do we teach organizational awareness? Outlining? Mapping? Of students' writing? Popular writing? How much time and energy does this deserve in a FY writing course? In an advanced expository course? Is this essay still regarded as important (for its methods, perhaps, as much as its contribution to more sophisticated pedagogy)? Or is it rather more like a shelved artifact? 

Passages Passages
"This sample of contemporary professional writing did not support the claims of textbook writers about the frequency and location of topic sentences in professional writing. That does not, of course, necessarily mean the same findings would hold for scientific and technical writing or other types of exposition. Moreover, it does not all mean that composition teachers should stop showing their students how to develop paragraphs from clear topic sentences. Far from it. In my opinion, often the writing in the 25 essays would have been clearer and more comfortable to read if the paragraphs had presented more explicit topic sentences. But what this study does suggest is this: While helping students use clear topic sentences in their writing and identify variously presented topical ides in their reading, the teacher should not pretend that professional writers largely follow the practices he is advocating" (39).