Johnson-Eilola, “The Database and the Essay”

Johndan. "The Database and the Essay: Understanding Composition
as Articulation."
Writing New Media: Theory and Applications for Expanding
the Teaching of Composition
. Wysocki et. al., eds. Logan: Utah State Univ. Press, 2004. 199-226.

Johnson-Eilola both suggests and, to a degree, enacts a fragmentary,
contingent sort of postmodern textuality in "The Database and the Essay."
He applies articulation theory and symbolic-analytic work, as he
does in Datacloud, to make sense of what he calls fragmentary texts–the
small pieces joined by links and other connective systems built upon discursive
networks. The essay begins with questions about where texts come from.
Drawing on Porter’s intertextuality, in the first half of the essay
Johnson-Eilola explains the implications of intellectual property law (as
well as the limits of copyright) (203). Intellectual property law, he says, is
catching up with postmodern textuality, leaving us with two contending poles:
private, owned, and controlled versus shared, fragmentary, free, and contingent.
Related are two trajectories: the decline of the unified subject and texts that
circulate free of economic bearing (academic) and the rise of fragmentation with
recognition of the value of such texts (private and proprietary) (212).

Ultimately, this adds up to two considerations for writing teachers:

  1. Because we can’t detach writing from economic forces, expanded notions
    of writing
    outside the classroom justify our work with writing in a
    "broader sphere…rather than a narrower one" (212).
  2. Collection is social and political; the "new notion of writing"
    values connection (stringing the contingent and fragmentary together)

Toward examples of the postmodern textuality he sets out to explain with
articulation theory and symbolic-analytic work, Johnson-Eilola describes for
emerging forms of writing in the second half of the essay: blogs (213),
databases and search engines (perhaps two separate forms here)
(218), nonlinear media editing (223), and web architectures (225).

Key terms: Robert Reich’s symbolic-analytic work (201), Hall’s articulation
theory (201). originality (206), Hall on contingent meanings (207), deep linking
(210), linking policies (211), narrowcasting (211), Web Logs (213), postmodern
textuality (215), search engines (220).

"’All texts are interdependent: We understand a text only as far as we
understand its ancestors’ ("Intertextuality" 34). But this interdependence of
texts is not without its own rifts, ruptures, and politics. In a bizarre way,
the very interconnected nature of texts holds them apart" (200).
^Work through this "bizarre way" and holding apart in connection. A database

"Symbolic-analytic work focuses on the manipulation of information
and suggests connections to a new form of writing or a new way of
conceiving of writing in response to the breakdown of textuality" (201).

"Articulation involves the idea that ideology functions like
a language, being constructed contingently across groups of people
over time and from context to context" (201).

"Following this brief set of analyses, I’ll attempt to play this breakdown in
IP through the lenses of articulation theory and symbolic-analytic work
to describe some emerging forms of writing. These new forms of writing are
interesting because they take the generally debilitating trends of IP law (the
fragmentation of content, the commoditization of text, the loss of context) and
make something useful. In a recuperative move, the new forms of writing
use fragmentation, loss of context, and circulation as
methods for creating new structures" (204).

"The bulk of this chapter deals with the separation we–I mean ‘we’ as
rhet/comp academics, but also, in this particular case, ‘we’ as the general
public–have constructed between ‘writing‘ and ‘compilation‘. In
questioning this division, I’m trying to get at an understanding of writing more
properly suited to the role writing plays in our culture" (205).

"For better or worse–or, in fact, for better and worse–texts no
longer function as discrete objects, but as contingent, fragmented
in circulation, as elements within constantly configured and
shifting networks" (208).

"In an important sense, understanding the search engine as itself a
form of writing
helps us understand the relationship between composition
and programming: a search engine works by automatic, contingent
" (220). ^Work through "automatic, contingent rhetorics."

"Indeed, search engines make concrete and visible many of the things
that hypertext theorists have long argued for: contingent, networked
, composed with large and shifting social spaces out of literally
millions of voices" (221).

"Important to my overall project here are the ways that articulation theory
and symbolic-analytic work moves through fragmentation. They don’t deny
the force of postmodernism or postmodern capitalism. Instead,
articulation theory requires a responsible stance toward contingency and
fragmentation. From an articulation theory stance, writers–or
, more accurately–actively map fragments back into contexts
" (226).