Monday, November 27, 2006

Hesse, "Who Owns Writing?"

Hesse, Doug. "Who Owns Writing?" CCC 57.2 (2005): 335-357.

Hesse's address offers a meditation on the domain of writing and who ultimately is suited to act as steward over the domain. The idea of ownership indicated in the talk's title, Hesse clarifies early on, is not so much of intellectual property as of "the conditions under which writing is taught" (337). With an emphasis on practitioners, the address articulates the role of compositionists as those who, because they are knowledgeable about "the whole of" writing, are responsible for writing and writers (355).

Early in the address, Hesse refers to an essay generator and an automated essay-grading system. The computer-generated essay on aphasia scores high in the grading system, suggesting (with a chuckle from everyone in the audience) how absurd machine scoring is. He uses this scenario to bring up problems with school writing that will be graded with algorithms.

Hesse presents five spheres of writing: academic, vocational, civic, personal, and belletristic (349). Academic and vocational writing match with what he calls "obliged discourse", and he acknowledges that the profession must continue to live up to the expectation on students to perform obliged writing. The other three spheres are what he calls "self-sponsored discourse." Hesse is most concerned with the civic sphere as it has shifted from mass media to "self-sponsored" niches, thus moving the civic nearer to the personal and belletristic. He mentions Wikipedia as yet another example of an expansion in the domain of writing that compositionists should take into account, rather than continuing "to teach as if the civic sphere were still institutionally sponsored, as if there were extractable principles, guidelines, and rules" (353).

Key terms: "conflicted terms" (336), ownership society (337), digital grader (338), Turing test (341), objectivity (341), National Commission on Writing for America's Families (343), national press (343), Lakoff's conceptual frames (345), college catalog (346), obliged discourse (349), self-sponsored discourse (349), wikipedia (352),

"Our work ought to feel more important than it has in quite some time. And yet, even with all this attention--in fact, even because of it--the stars threaten to fall on our familiar worlds" (336).

"To ask who owns writing is to ask most obviously about property rights, the buying, selling, and leasing of textual acreages. But I'm rather asking who owns the conditions under which writing is taught?" (337).

"What I will do is suggest that those who teach writing must affirm that we, in fact, own it. The question is what we should aspire to own--and how" (338).

"I cut out the graph because I wasn't sure if the site would know what to do" (340). ^Brief though this is, the removal of the image is interesting in that it points to the difference between symbolic and iconic processing.

"In the machine dream, writing would become a sort of dull game, an interaction with software to produce a score" (341).

"I'm wondering if the word 'writing' may frame our work in ways that aren't always desirable. The term seems neutral enough, but it may well carry the sense of inscribing words on paper; that is, it may focus attention on the physical act of graphemic production, separate from thinking, with all the focus on correctness" (345).

"Our borders aren't fixed" (346). ^In fact, they aren't even our borders? Or borders at all?

"For various reasons, I think that as a profession we must continue to own up to the demands of obliged writing on our students. But we must also attend to self-sponsored writing, not only as target discourses but also as increasingly important forms of action in the world" (350).

"Make no mistake. We in 4Cs refract and frame no less than others. But we have something else--or if we don't have it, we have no particular right to be in this place, on this March morning. We have the lens of research and reflective practice, polished carefully and long, intentionally scratched at times, even melted. Ours is the knowledge of what writing is and what it can be, the whole of it, in every sphere" (355).

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Again with the Exams

Again, I'm engrossed in exam preparations. The latest phase consists of revolving shifts, a rotary of confidence and dread: waves of self-assured anticipation (I'll answer this way...), shudders of doubt (What if I forget, have a lousy day, etc.). I'm not quite all frazzled and manic with the process, but because it matters to me that I do well, because I want to write answers that my committee judges intelligible and even interesting, it's not as simple as just shrugging off the anxiety. And while I can't say that I've been here before, been toe to toe with PhD qualifying exams, that is, it does help to compare the stress of preparation to a certain nervousness I felt before basketball games many years ago. When I played poorly during those early years (as a freshman and sophomore), when I underachieved, Coach E. said I was "pressing": giving in to the compulsion to do too much and therefore perform all of it at a low level. The basketball solution boiled down to a simple principle (whose alternative--fitness!--was running sprints until collapse): do just three things well: box out, defend, go to the glass (different days, different trios: no turnovers, make FTs, bruise the post scorer without fouling). Keeping to just three simpler focal-metrics, the extras fell into place, usually just accumulating in stride, without deliberate effort. For qualifying exams, the correlation to pressing is jamming, working into an unproductive (st)illness (er...stylessness). Yet, of course, understanding that whatever induces anxiety (whether pressing or jamming) can best be resolved by shifting methods (have a plan/outline, keep it simple, the clock is an ally) certainly helps. Less than two weeks out, this is where I'm at as I try to forge a work-path between making too much of exams and making too little of them.

Rel: I woke up this morning with a low-on-caffeine headache and one workable claim in mind for one of the major exam questions (like K.'s sleep-writing or somnography). Not a bad trade-off, all in all. I noted the claim, adding it to the outline I'm tacking together and made a pot of coffee.

Saturday, November 25, 2006




Red Wolf


Flamingo, peccary, red wolf, fisher.

We drove over to the Rosamond Gifford Zoo at Burnet Park here in Syracuse this afternoon to enjoy the unseasonably warm temps and to get some use out of the family zoo pass we were given as a gift a few months ago. Under ordinary circumstances I'm not much of a fan of zoos (mutated Zoo! strand in my DNA?). Today the zoo was as good as it could be: cool, minimal crowds (aside from the penguin hut), and smooth-going around the half-mile trail: just right for an hour-and-a-half family outing in what is almost certain to be the last gasp of enjoyable autumn weather.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Sirc, English Composition as a Happening

Sirc, Geoffrey. English Composition as a Happening. Logan, Utah: Utah State University Press, 2002.

How do we make the classroom a happening space, a space "no one wants to leave"? In English Composition as a Happening, Sirc winds through a series of statements--a gallery crawl--contrasting, allegorically, Modern Composition studies and the materially and processually radical avante-garde arts. In the figures of Marcel Duchamp and Jackson Pollock (among others) who have gone under-examined as compositionists, Sirc leads a full-on assault of the Modernist fortress of disciplinarity- and professionalism-minded Composition studies. The curatorial or juridical spirit of Modern Composition studies as well as its most notable proponent, David Bartholomae, the "Sherman Lee of comp", have reduced writing to an enterprise of the stuffy, unreadable, and tame: "We purged ourselves of any trace of kookiness, growing first suspicious, then disdainful, of the kind of homemade comp-class-as-Happening that people like [William] Lutz tried to put together" (7). Absent the imaginative, mystical, and passionate, comp's de-intensification leads to the commonplaces about despair and despondency. One glance at the narrowed range of "bread-alone" possibilities (conventions, "rarified materials" (11)) corresponding to Modernist Composition, and there's no surprise in seeing the glum faces: boredom predominates in this spiritless domain.

Sirc calls his project a "historical review"; he works from figure to figure, both from composition in the late twentieth century and also from the avante-garde arts to give a "re-reading of the field" (13). Marcel Duchamp, for instance, forces us to rethink the narrowness of material possibilities; post-process is only possible if we never consider Jackson Pollock's ongoing, intensely precise enactments of process and variation. Venturi's studies of "nonstraightforward architecture" might help us introduce a "new urbanism" to composition studies. Change the scene: make it more like the Vegas strip or like the "bold communication" of the A&P parking lot's "megatexture" (191): feature drift as method.


Sirc's tongue-in-cheek, rapid-fire style is, in itself, intense--a demonstration of exciting (sweat-inducing) prose emblematic of the through-going propositions in the monograph. As summarily as is possible, this project advocates for radical practice, for rejuvinating the happenings influences in the late 60's and 70's that have dwindled from the scene as the field has become a legitimate (self-defined) discipline with expanded channels for professionalization: an Modernist outpost perpetuating essayistic rationalism to the neglect of everything disallowed. Sirc challenges the processual and material orthodoxies of the field, and, in so-doing, presents a lively, kicky set of quandaries for keeping with us on the gallery crawl ahead.

Key terms: Venturi and basic architecture (1), museums (2), self-definition and Post-Happenings Composition (8, 35), turns and re-turns (14), gallery crawl (20, 286), hacienda (26), juried scene (38), mathematics of accordance (42), restricted teleintertext (56), travel narrative (65), derive (89), choosing (113), alert waiting (113), material gesture (113), prose web (114), basic writers (118), post-process (119), new urbanism (187, 222), "nonstraightforward architecture" (189), A&P parking lot (191), psychogeography (195), bread-alone composition (201), pleasure zones (223), successful writing (228), architectonics of Composition (232), Sherman Lee (266), academic gatekeeper (266), residual objects (272).

"Because designing spaces, I think, is what it's all about. It's a matter of basic architecture: Robert Venturi has shown that simplified compositional programs, programs that ignore the complexity and contradiction of everyday life, result in bland architecture; and I think the reverse is true as well, and perhaps more relevant for Composition: bland architecture (unless substantially detourned, as Lutz's) evokes simplistic programs" (1).

On Composition's Canon and citation: "As article after article appeared, once could trace the waxing and waning of theoretical trends: Langer, Polanyi, Vygotsky, Odell, Emig, Berthoff, Bruffee, Bartholomae, Berlin, Anzaldua, Foucault, and Freire. This narrow-banding is curious for a discipline that trumpets the value of linguistic richness" (7).

"Post-Happenings Composition never asks (as Comp '68 did so often) 'What's Going On?' To remove any doubt about precisely what was going on, Composition undertook the classical modernist project of self-definition" (8).

"Strict boundaries have become maintained in Composition, a separation of (profession-oriented) academy and life, one discipline from another, the specific discourse from a broader lived reality. This is not Freshman English as a Happening, this is Freshman English as a Corporate Seminar" (9).

"The reason the teaching of writing is permeated by dissatisfaction (every CCCC presentation seems, at some level, a complaint) is that we--bad enough--don't really know what teaching is, but also--far worse, fatal, in fact--we haven't really evolved an idea of writing that fully reflects the splendor of the medium" (9).

"Rarefying materials, as Composition does (the middle-brow preciosity or academic aloofness that drives the reading selections we anthologize), only makes the possibilities for Happening Composition more remote, particularly for students" (11).

"I'd like, then, to retrace the road not taken in Composition Studies, to re-read the elision, in order to remember what was missed and to salvage what can still be recovered. This, then, is a negative-space history, one that reverses the conventional figure-ground relations to find the most fruitful avenues of inquiry to be those untouched or abandoned by the disciplinary mainstream. The disruptive/restorative dynamic of my project means both rediscovering the usefulness of some materials of Composition that have faded from our conscious screen, and forcing a comparison of our field with the avante-garde tradition in post-WWII American art, running that story through our own traditional, disciplined history--or better, showing our history as already-ruptured, permanently destabilized by our attitude toward (really, ignorance of) the compositional avante-garde" (13).

"The cause of our current stasis? Doubtless the major influence has been Composition's professionalization, its self-tormented quest for disciplinary stature" (24).

"Just because the rest of the curriculum has banned enchantment in favor of a narrow conception of life-as-careerism that doesn't mean we have to go along, does it?" (28).

"The Happenings lesson to take from Jackson's art is (life-) process-oriented: his process fascinates not in order to discover how to paint like Jackson (reproducing forms, reinstituting rhetorics) but to empathize with him, to re-enter the compositional scene as Kaprow could, to consider how he solved problems (what he even saw as problems), how he met limits, considered materials, tried to make a direct statement in an interesting way--to think about what Jackson felt in the moments of composition" (82).

"But Modernist Composition never admits it doesn't know what's going on" (88).

"A prose web, then, is writing as doing things to a range of materials. Composition as material gesture. It means changing the axis of the image, supplying the (missing, now active) horizontal vector to disable the predictability of composition's strict verticality" (114).

"You know what our problem is? It's a failure of nerve in our myth-making; revealing that about the field might be Jackson's most useful function for CCCC" (115).

"The way students actually inhabit the writing classroom's cityscape is very much in keeping with the situationist notion of the derive, the method used to chart a city's psychogeography" (195).

"I bring in Bono because the writing classroom under the bread-alone program resembles nothing so much as a lame parody of MTV, as seen by the TV show designed, in effect, to be a lame parody of MTV, 'Puttin on the Hits': writing in the bread-alone composition class becomes lip-syncing the standards, and teaching becomes a question of judging the authenticity of the imitation" (202).

"All writing courses, regardless of their ideological advocacy, become Modernist when they close on received notions of form and function" (206).

"All a curriculum designed to reproduce uniformity in writing empowers is the system academic writing serves (no matter how counter-hegemonic its ideology, there remain those 'reformist-progressive social and industrial aims that it could seldom achieve in reality'). Why conceal it?" (219).

"Compared with the way post-Happenings Composition defines the classroom enterprise of college writing instruction, as a professional commitment to do a certain kind of work with a certain set of materials, Composition as a Happening is far less mediated, looser. It silences that tedious, already-wrote drone of knowing, selecting, evaluating, reporting, concluding, and arguing. It is a pedagogy designed to un-build our field's spaces, a standard-stoppage, a composition theory (like Schoenberg's) that values the eraser end of the pencil (or the delete key)" (278).

!!: 1962 (20), rel. Fulkerson's axiology (155), trying on academic language (230).

Related sources:
Bartholomae, David. "What is Composition and (if you know what that is) Why Do We Teach It?" Composition in the Twenty-First Century: Crisis and Change. Ed. Lynn Z. Bloom, Donald A. Daiker, and Edward M. White. Carbondale: SIU Press, 1996. 11-28.
Deemer, Charles. "English Composition as a Happening." College English 29 (Nov. 1967): 121-126.
Rodrigues, Raymond J. "Moving Away from Writing-Process Worship." English Journal Sept. 1985: 24-27.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Fulkerson, "Composition at the Turn of the Twenty-First Century"

Fulkerson, Richard. "Summary and Critique: Composition at the Turn of the Twenty-first Century." CCC 56.4 (2005): 654-687.

Fulkerson's ten-year follow-up to earlier reports on the condition of composition studies concludes with premonitions about the field's disunity and the "new theory wars" (681). As a "map [of] a large and complicated region" (679), "Composition at the Turn of the Twenty-First Century" advances speculative claims (probabilities?) based on what Fulkerson calls "indirect evidence." Given that he ends up mentioning North's 1987 concerns in The Making of Knowledge about the sustainability of composition studies given methodological pluralism, it's worth raising questions about just how different "indirect evidence" is from "lore"--the tacit knowledge circulated informally by practitioners who represented the largest segment of the field (rel. to researchers and scholars). Fulkerson suggests that the divergence in the field at the turn of the twenty-first century goes well beyond methodologies, extending to matters "axiological, pedagogical, and processual" (681).

Fulkerson admits "frustration" as his motivation for trying to make sense of the field every ten years. He compares two teaching sourcebooks, one from 1980 and another from 2001, and based on a comparison of their tables of contents, concludes that the new chapters (ch. 5-8, pp. 656) represent "variations of the major new area of scholarly interest in composition as we begin the twenty-first century, critical/cultural studies (CCS)" (657). Of course, both teaching guides do very little to address writing technologies and new media; the more recent guide includes one essay by Charlie Moran.

To explain the disunity of the field that now applies to perspectives beyond methodologies, Fulkerson presents a grid, which he says the work of his essay will fill in.

Fulkerson Grid - Composition's Pedagogical Quandary

Fulkerson spends most of the pieces, however, on expressivism, critical/cultural studies, and procedural rhetoric, as these are the perspectives best represented in the journals. Current-traditional rhetoric, on the other hand, lingers as a given. Fulkerson's presents a hard critique of critical/cultural studies, noting that it suffers from "content envy," finds itself more concerned with "'liberation' from dominant discourse" than with "improved writing" (660), involves indoctrination, and displaces attention to writing with too much emphasis on reading (665). He also addresses the current state of expressivism and procedural rhetoric (which he identifies as "the dominant tradition of composition in the 1970s and 1980s" (671). Accordingly, it's fairly clear that composition studies has grown more complex, and this Balkanization presents problems for the field and especially for teacher training. Fulkerson concludes with seven implications (complexity; disagreement about what is good writing?; smorgasbord confusion; public responsibility to articulate what we do; no ultimate answer; must be resolved at program level; and mess this creates for coherent graduate training).

Four general perspectives (rows):

  1. Current-Traditional
  2. Expressivism
  3. Critical/Cultural Studies
  4. Procedural Rhetoric (subdivisions: "composition as argumentation, genre-based composition, and composition as an introduction to an academic discourse community" (671))

Four questions (columns):

  1. The axiological question: in general, what makes writing "good"?
  2. The process question: in general, how do written texts come into existence?
  3. The pedagogical question: in general, how does one teach college students effectively, especially where procedural rather than propositional knowledge is the goal? And
  4. The epistemological question: "How do you know that?" which underlies answers to all the others. (657-658)

Conclusions and implications (679)
See responses in CCC 57.4 (2006) and also in the carnival.

Key terms: frustration (654), comp-landia (655), composition landscape (655), axiological consensus (655), pedagogical diversity (655), Kuhn's "paradigm shift" (656), content envy (665), indoctrination (665), process and post-process (669), indirect evidence (669), argument (671), genre (674), Bartholomae and discourse community (677), stasis theory (677).

"My central claim is that we have diverged again. Within the scholarship, we currently have three alternative axiologies (theories of value): the newest one, "the social" or "social-construction" view, which values critical cultural analysis; an expressive one; and a multifaceted rhetorical one" (655).

"These four chapters [5-8 in Tate's A Guide to Composition Pedagogies] represent variations of the major new area of scholarly interest in composition as we begin the twenty-first century, critical/cultural studies (CCS), showing the impact of postmodernism, feminism, and British cultural studies" (657).

"Just as no one actually knows how widespread CCS composition courses are, the same is true for expressive courses grounded in the views and experiences of the student authors. We have lots of indirect evidence for both" (669).

"In contemporary composition practice, I see rhetorical philosophies taking three different emphases: composition as argumentation, genre-based composition, and composition as introduction to an academic discourse community" (671).

"Genre-based courses and CCS courses thus share an extensive focus on close reading of texts and on culturally determined patterns, but the goals of the reading differ. In the CCS course, the students are to read critically and cite the texts read in their own papers on related topics. In the genre course, the readings serve as discourse models from which students can generalize. Both approaches presume that texts are socially constructed and intertextual" (675).

Related sources:
Berlin, James. "Contemporary Composition: The Major Pedagogical Theories." College English 44 (Dec. 1982): 765--77.
Hairston, Maxine. "Diversity, Ideology, and Teaching Writing." CCC 43 (May 1992): 179--93.
North, Stephen M. The Making of Knowledge in Composition: Portrait of an Emerging Field. Upper Montclair, NJ: Boynton, 1987.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Coach: Blinky's In Foul Trouble

Via Info Aesthetics, a basketball telejersey that doubles as wearable information display: patches light up according to "fouls, score, and time clock." Although I'm mildly skeptical about the widespread uptake and implementation, to the idea I can only shake my head and say wow (i.e., holy mackerel). Something like this would be especially useful for youth levels of basketball where the emphasis is on development. When I was coaching the Stampede teams in KC a few years ago, it was common for us to invent scenarios where two players have four fouls or where one player on the other practice squad was lighting us up (I know, quite the marvel of coaching ingenuity, yeah?). The information-rich readouts on a jersey add yet another dimension to this, making it possible, I suppose, to complicate the number of variables introduced in any practice scenario.

It gets me thinking back to the halftimes of games in high school or college when our rediscovery of the pivotal statistics were delivered to the coach. I have how many fouls? No. 34 has two-thirds of their points? They're out-rebounding us 24-10? Of course, in-game statistics involving computers and call-and-enter statistician teams have drastically improved the timeliness of the data. But to display an array of information on the jersey definitely changes around the flows of statistical information.

What's most compelling about the readout jerseys is the added perceptual dimension they introduce--in-game feedback for everyone (players, coaches, fans, refs). Scoreboards can only accomplish so much, and they're often hard for players to see for extended periods. While the feedback about one's opponents is useful; equally valuable is the information about one's own teammates. Live indications of scoring streaks, foul trouble, free throw percentages (okay, so Shaq's FT percentage is already printed in big letters on his uniform).

I'm intrigued by these jerseys (but I am tempted to ask, what's up with the rock in the photos?). I look forward to hearing more about the leagues that pilot the shirts. It's purely speculative, but I can imagine a yet more futuristic uniform or kinesthetic body suit that registers physical contact between players and reports it to a computer system on the sidelines (oh no, much tamer than we get in Hopkinson's "Ganger (Ball Lightning)"). Several of the NBA's players are already wearing tights. Why not come up with full-bodied sensate tights that report all contact? 2050: Maybe they'll jump it up in an arena with precise and comprehensive optical and proprioceptive matrices that close the gap between data and activity.

Fulkerson, "Four Philosophies of Composition"

Fulkerson, Richard. "Four Philosophies of Composition." Composition in Four Keys: Inquiring into the Field. Barbara Gleason, Louise Wetherbee Phelps, and Mark Wiley, eds. Mountain View, Calif.: Mayfield, 1996. 551-555.

In this brief piece, originally published in CCC 30 (1979), Fulkerson adapts a philosophical framework from M.H. Abrams's The Mirror and the Lamp (1953). Abrams devised a four-term analytical scheme applied to "artistic transactions" (551), consisting of pragmatic, mimetic, expressive, and objective perspectives. Fulkerson revises these terms, replacing the pragmatic and objective with rhetorical and formalist designations, in an effort to apply them to composition studies. The mid-section of the essay accounts briefly for each of the positions and names key figures associated with each:

  • formalist: bases judgments on form (grammar, syntax, and spelling); focus on the sentence and universal norms; Out front: E.D. Hirsch (552).
  • expressionist: committed to writing as self-discovery; grounded in the Dartmouth Conference; emph. "psychic equilibrium" (553); Out front: Macrorie, Donald Stewart.
  • mimetic: good writing relies on good (clear, logical, rational) thinking; formal logic and rooting out assumptions in discourse; concerned with insufficient knowledge to write; heuristic systems; enact the "real" (553); Out front: Beardsley and Kytle.
  • rhetorical: reflected in CCC; good writing is adapted for the "desired effect on the desired audience" (553); classical roots; Out front: Corbett, Richard Larson.

Fulkerson goes on to explain the challenge in classifying Elbow, an "Aristotle in modern dress," who, though invested in "free writing, collaborative criticism, and audience adaptation," still presses for students to consider audience. Because his teaching methods are interested in audience and because they jibe with his evaluative emphases, Elbow fits with the rhetorical philosophy. Fulkerson explains his concern with the pedagogy of "mindlessness" that confuses the motivating philosophy of the course with the evaluative emphases. "Value-mode confusion" is Fulkerson's underlying concern in presenting the four philosophies, which he hopes will "reduce such mindlessness in the future" (555). Consider that he reiterated a set of related concerns in CCC 56.4 (2005) with "Summary and Critique: Composition at the Turn of the Twenty-First Century." Also, this piece was reprinted in the Composition in Four Keys section on "Alternative Maps," along with Berlin's "Contemporary Composition: The Major Pedagogical Theories," and excerpts from North's Making of Knowledge.

Key terms: value-mode confusion (in the "bald" assignment) (554), modal confusion (555).

"Since the elements in an artistic transaction are the same as those in any communication, it seemed that Abrams's four theories might also be relevant to composition" (551).

"My thesis is that this four-part perspective helps give us a coherent view of what goes on in composition classes. All four philosophies exist in practice" (551).

"My research has convinced me that in many cases composition teachers either fail to have a consistent value theory or fail to let that philosophy shape pedagogy" (554).

"There is nothing wrong with an expressive philosophy, but there is something seriously wrong with classroom methodology which implies one variety of value judgment when another will actually be employed. That is model confusion, mindlessness" (555).

Monday, November 20, 2006

All Aboard the Monday Aggregator Cleanup

Like burdocks to a sock! Like lollipop drool to the shirt of a tyke! Like tongue to a frigid steel flagpole on the playground! Like the gunk trail left by that Kerry-Edwards bumper decal! Here's some stuff that sticks. Monday Aggregator Cleanup is the solvent.

Crayola Figures (via). Diem Chau carves crayons. An aesthetics of the wax museum merged with vibrant colors and the pure-seeming materiality of the crayon. This prompts me to think back to the rabid crayon-shaving in some (hurry up! just 45 minutes) elementary school art class so that we could create a wax-paper-ooze greeting card (is that right?). In the mixed detritus of bright flakes was an accidental melt: a kaleidoscope of it doesn't matter. We overlooked that the crayons could be carved into miniatures.

Yranoitcid (via). The OneLook Reverse Dictionary works from definition, even hazy approximations and phrasal guesses, to come up with a list of possibilities. The counterlookup. Includes wildc?rd features for those times you can remember only part of a word.

Draft Reinstatement (via). Support the war; support the draft? Rangel's logic: Let's reinstate the draft so that the politician-parents will sit up, feel more personally involved. Oy. And check this from Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.: "Graham said he believes the all-voluntary military 'represents the country pretty well in terms of ethnic makeup, economic background.'" Also, gone to the ether are two minutes of my life I wasted glancing here.

Frontal Lobe Junction, or The Renewed Tie Between Brain and Train (via). Japan-based Hitachi Corp. has developed a brain-machine conduction system, using brain scans ("optical topography") and indications of blood flows ("hemoglobin concentrations"), subjects wearing a wig-of-nodes were able to turn on and off a toy train. The future of telekinesis, on the market in five years. Which reminds me: In the fourth grade, the teacher riffed on dimwitted comments by saying something like, "When they formed the line for brains, he thought they said 'trains', and he left on the next one." Clever the first time, but gradually more unsettling each of the eight thousand times he repeated it that year (the same year I passed out one day from holding my breath too long?). Just saying that one-line haunt from childhood won't be the same from now on.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Stop Worrying

Word around the house is that little miss you-know-who will be sawing logs in her crib for the first time tonight, making the transition from bassinet to crib (impermanent? Perhaps.). And while we were rearranging the furniture this morning (it's okay; it's ritual; often it all ends up back where it started), I was reminded of just how comforting this Bebe Care Angel Sounds Monitor has been.

Basically, it's a combination sound monitor and movement sensor. A thin motion-sensing sheet lays flat under the baby's foam mattress, and every slight movement (breathing, stirring) signals to the pad that everything is a-okay, keeping the alarm quiet. Should the baby (or the motion-sensing sheet) become perfectly still for 20 seconds, an alarm sounds, alerting the parents to the worrisome stillness. The downside is that the motionlessness! alarm screams (after 20 seconds) when one of us lifts Is. from the bassinet and forgets to flip the base to off. Yet another downside is that the sound monitor is one-directional, so when Is. wakes from a nap (telecasting her fuss into the office), I can't simply mash a button and radio back to her with instructions for returning to sleep.

Really, the Angel Care Movement Sensor with Sound Monitor (holy crap, can they come up with a shorter name for this product?) is a gem. Certainly, it is worth the price (even if ours was a gift), just in the nerves it calms during the first few weeks at home. Plus, way I see it, with a gizmo such as this baby is assured to be a cyborg (cybernetic organism) from day one.

Added: Controversy?: D. read that some technophobes are claiming devices like this fundamentally alter the relation of the child to her surrounds and renders parents less naturally monitorial. We'd probably say it merely augments our watch.

Bransford and McCarrell, "Cognitive Approach to Comprehension"

Bransford, John D., and Nancy S. McCarrell. "A Sketch of a Cognitive Approach to Comprehension: Some Thoughts about Understanding What It Means to Comprehend." Cognition and the Symbolic Processes. Walter Weimer and David Palermo, eds. New York: Lawrence Erlbaum, 1974. 189-229.

Bransford and McCarrell set out to "raise particular questions about comprehension that may provoke further discussion and research" (189). How does one comprehend? What is the relation of object perception to comprehensible event? What is the ratio of perceptual experience to recall or memory in the meaningful event? Bransford and McCarrell key on the notion of a "click of comprehension." The "click" rests at the crisis point between aporia and epiphany: a moment of meaning-detonation. Bransford and McCarrell work through contextual constraints on meaning (missing or missed cues). They also explain the crucial role of relations among objects (195). That is, isolates (whether words or "brute things") do not mean in quite the same way when their relationality is diminished or altogether ignored. Their strong emphasis on comprehension as an orchestration of relations (perception, new knowledge, existing knowledge) matches well with Gibson's discussion of affordances (and also Fuller's discussion of Gibson's affordances).

In one example, Bransford and McCarrell speculate about what they term "abstract invariances" (197). They refer to walking as a relative class of events which, in specific cases, might vary. The "different particulars" involved with walking, then, might make is seem a novel event; however, there remains an abstract class of invariable information--abstract invariances--that apply to all (most!) instances of walking (or that function to distinguish walking from non-walking at the level of comprehension). The article goes on to consider relations and "entities involved" (an environmental or ecological consideration) and a few of the ways these ideas might be generalized to linguistic comprehension (201). That which is "directly expressed" in sentences (204) can only be comprehended in concert with whatever other information is available, including what Bransford and McCarrell "alinguistic information" (204). They also consider the "instigating force" of an unnamed, unseen entity that impacts comprehension despite its absence from the context, be it syntactic or scenic (211).

Other strong examples include the function of "submerged" in a paragraph about a man abandoning his car and walking toward the city (214). When the word is missing from the paragraph, comprehension is much more difficult. When added, however, the entire sequence of events as well as their motivations is comprehendible. A second example involves ambiguity in a confusing word, like "nog." "[The] ambiguous sentence The boy was found by the nog can be disambiguated as a function of our knowledge of nogs. If nog is assumed to refer to a monument in Central Park the sentence will be understood as a paraphrase of The boy was found near the nog; but if it refers to a furry animal with a good nose for tracking, the sentence will be understood to be a paraphrase of The nog found the boy" (219).

Sum: "Our approach to comprehension focuses on the comprehender's ability to use his general knowledge to create situations that permit the relations specified in input sentences to be realized, or to postulate situations (e.g., instigating forces) that allow perceptual events to be understood. In short, the ability to create some level of semantic content sufficient to achieve a click of comprehension depends upon the comprehender's ability to think" (220).

Key terms: click of comprehension (189, 200, 210, 215), meaningful entities (191), brute things (191), Piaget's "assimilation" (192), Bartlett's "effort after meaning" (192), affordances (193), abstract invariances (197), ecological niche (200), grasping of relations (200), sufficient alinguistic information (204), special assumption sentences and self-contained sentences (208), elaboratives (209), constraints (210), instigating force (211), categories of information (216), single lexical equivalents (216), labels for relations (218), nog (219), storehouse of images (220).

"Similarly, our perception of the world is rarely confined to identification of an individual object in isolation, but instead includes perception of an object's role in events" (190).

"Perception affords more than information about the characteristics of individual objects; it affords information about the spatio-temporal relations among entities that characterize the dynamic perceptual events (cf. E.J. Gibson, 1969; J.J. Gibson, 1966)" (191).

"That physical properties may have meaningful implications is important for consideration of perceptual learning, because it suggests that relational information that allows objects to become meaningful also affects what perceptual characteristics are learned" (194).

"The preceding discussion suggests that knowledge of entities arises from information about their relations to other knowledge, and that knowledge of relations distinguishes a meaningful object from a 'brute thing'" (195).

"Isolated objects cannot be taken as the basic unit of analysis when one seeks to understand how they become meaningful. Objects become meaningful by virtue of their interrelations with other objects (including the knowing organism); and objects are not always identified as mere objects" (197).

"Knowledge of entities and relations also interact to allow the comprehender to understand implicational significances of events which involve more information than is momentarily present" (199). ^Like Bruner?

"These examples illustrate how relational information about objects and information about abstract invariants characteristic of events interact to affect one's ability to comprehend novel situations" (199).

"The basic paradigm [for "a detailed analysis of relational information derived from perception"] is the 'ecological niche.' It consists simply of a film of a set of artificial entities that can be made meaningful to an organism as a function of his perception of their interactions in the perceptual mini-world" (200).

"These studies suggest that information 'directly expressed' by sentences cannot always be equated with the information available to the comprehender. Comprehenders do not simply store the information underlying sentences, but instead use linguistic inputs in conjunction with other information to update their general knowledge of the world" (204).

"Reasonable evidence suggests that the comprehender must frequently do considerable work to create situations that allow him to grasp the relations specified in input sentences, and that at least some specifications are necessary for the click of comprehension to occur" (210).

"We have proposed that knowledge of language might fruitfully be conceptualized as knowledge of abstract cues or instructions that guide the comprehender. The semantic content of a particular linguistic message is created only as the comprehender, guided by the linguistic cues, specifies conditions under which the abstract relations can be realized given his knowledge of the world" (215).

"Organisms must have information about an entity's relations to other aspects of his knowledge system to understand it. It follows that an image of a word's referent cannot be equated with its meaning, and similarly, the meaning of a whole sentence like The man made a touchdown cannot be equated with an image of a man crossing the goal line" (221).

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Syverson, Wealth of Reality

Syverson, Margaret. The Wealth of Reality: An Ecology of Composition. Carbondale: Southern Illinois Press, 1999.

Syverson's The Wealth of Reality--revised from her dissertation, which won the Berlin and Burns awards in 1995--calls for a reconceptualization of writing activity as radically situated in the interest of moving us away from reductionism (182) and the idealized atomistic-individual writer (synecdochic relationships fail to explain complexity). That is, an ecology of composition affords us greater explanatory power (203) in an era when the increasing presence of technology is adding complexity to the environments in which writers write (205-206). Understanding the rich ecologies of composition depends on a methodological framework drawn from complex systems thinking and distributed cognition influences. The writing environment is integral, and our understanding of "writers, readers, and texts" must take the environment into account.

Syverson's method involves a blend of ecological perspectives on situated and distributed cognition and case study. In the opening chapter, she introduces the terms that constitute a simple graph (the analytical tools for this ecological method).

Four attributes of ecological systems:

  • distribution (7)
  • emergence (10)
  • embodiment (12)
  • enaction (13)

Five dimensions or manifestations of "every object, process, fact, idea, concept, activity, structure, [and] event" in an ecological system:

  • physical-material dimension (including technology) (18)
  • social dimension (19)
  • psychological dimension (19)
  • spatial dimension (20)
  • temporal dimension (20)

The "matrix" at the convergence of these two lists grounds us in a more complex (counter-reductive; expansive) framework for studying writing in situ.

Note: Six challenges to the ecological model (202).


ecology: "a larger system that includes environmental structures, such as pens, paper, computers, books, telephones, fax machines, photocopiers, printing presses, and other natural and human-constructed features, as well as other complex systems operating at various levels of scale, such as families, global economies, publishing systems, theoretical frames, academic disciplines, and language itself. For my purposes, then, an ecology is a kind of meta-complex system composed of interrelated and interdependent complex systems and their environmental structures and processes" (5).

emergence: Syverson offers three senses of emergence: structural, dynamic, and integral or combined. The first applies to the structure of hierarchical organization; the second applies to history or processes of change. "Emergent properties suggest that all of our classificatory systems arte actually open-ended, explanatory theories rather than closed, deterministic containers" (11).

distributed cognition: "the way cognitive processes are shared, that is, both divided and coordinated among people and structures in the environment" (9).

situated cognition: "cognitive processes are always embedded in specific social, cultural, and physical-material situations, which determine not only how cognitive processes unfold but also the meanings they have for participants" (9).

Key terms: metasystems (xv), complex systems (xv, 2), ecological systems (xv, 5), wealth of reality (1), complementarity (1), ecology of composition (2), unit of analysis (3), complexity (3), case studies (3, 187), adaptive (4), mechanistic explanation defied (4), complex adaptive systems (5), textual ecologies (16), power law (142), reductionism (182), new technologies (185), research, pedagogy, and assessment (187), Learning Record (192), developmental scales vs. idealistic rubrics (195), analytical tools (203), areas of study (domains of scrutiny) (204).

"Suddenly [with Syverson's discovery of Hutchins] thinking was revealed as not simply a matter of logical processing neatly managed by a brain in splendid isolation but as a complex ensemble of activities and interactions among brains, hands, eyes, ears, other people, and an astonishing variety of structures in the environment, from airplane cockpits to cereal boxes to institutions" (xiv).

"Technological advances have proven to increase rather than reduce the complexity and difficulty of our work. We cannot hope to understand these situations by studying individuals in isolation; we need an ecological approach that considers the dynamics of systems of people situated in and codetermining particular social and material environments" (xv).

"In a complex system, a network of independent agents--people, atoms, neurons, or molecules, for instance--act and interact in parallel with each other, simultaneously reacting to and co-constructing their own environment" (3).

"Complex systems are also distributed across space and time in an ensemble of interrelated activities" (7).

"Away from this familiar supportive environment [full of tools and resources, see p. 10], writers think and write differently; when writing while on vacation or at a conference, for example, they may feel either stripped and helpless or liberated and refreshed" (10).

"Embodiment grounds our conceptual structures, our interactions with each other and with the environment, our perceptions, and our actions" (13).

"Vision is enacted--what we see is brought forth (emerges) through the coordination of our physical structure and our cognitive and physical activity" (15).

"Composing practices such as freewriting, invention heuristics, diagramming, outlining, sketching, and marking manuscripts for revision also structure the form and content of what is written" (17).

"The five dimensions outlined here [physical, social, psychological, spatial, and temporal] are not categories of classes of objects; they are five aspects of every object, process, fact, idea, concept, activity, structure, event, and so on. Thus, although we can distinguish these dimensions, they cannot be 'separated out' because they are independently specified. As in geometry, single-dimension objects can only exist theoretically, in the imagination" (22).

"I am not arguing for a mathematical approach to composing, but I am trying to get at complexities in ecological systems that have not been addressed by theorists in rhetoric and composition" (23).

"As contexts and technologies for writing continue to change at an ever accelerating pace, we cannot cling to our familiar, comfortable assumptions about writers, readers, and texts, or we will find ourselves increasingly irrelevant and obstructive" (27).

"Composition does not consist in transferring what is inside the head onto paper or a computer screen. It is a manifestation of the coordination between internal and external structures, which are constituted by and expressed through cultural and cognitive dimensions of every human activity" (183).

"In my opinion, the real value in taking an ecological perspective is that it compels us to ask a better set of questions about the dynamic relationships among writers, readers, and texts and drives us toward a deeper understanding of composition" (206).

Related sources:
Bak, Per, and Kan Chen. "Self-Organized Criticality." Scientific American. Jan. 1991: 46-53.
Bateson, Gregory. Mind and Nature: A Necessary Unity. New York: Bantam, 1979.
Goodwin, Charles, and Marjorie Harness Goodwin. "Professional Vision." American Anthropologist 96 (1994): 606-33.
Hutchins, Edwin. Cognition in the Wild. Cambridge: MIT P, 1995.

Visual Findability

Find It! (via) is a simple game of noticing or failing to notice a shifting visual scrap. Try it out; you'll see (or not). The screen's general field is occupied by a "static" image while some minor, hard-to-find, detail gradually changes, materializing in the phosphor of the screen or fading slowly from view. Trickery! The picture's motion is segmented and minimized: quieted to a soft, slow wink. Because the variation is slight, the unseen or missed in the timed glance is amplified, exaggerating the sense of visual richness of the mundane digital photograph. What did I miss? What can't I see all at once? How many pixels-amuck escape my peripheral field in a 600x400 spread?

Friday, November 17, 2006


I think I've mentioned before that the exam-prep process has inspired in me fits of number crunching in addition to the necessary obsessions with lists. For several weeks, I've been checking off each item read, adding up the remainders, subtracting them against the days left until. Qualifying exams, whatever else can be said about them, encourage managed obsessiveness. It is a phase of productively channeled bibliomania. They're designed (at least in my program) to get you do prepare more intensely than you've ever prepared for anything else. Ever. The exam fever, however, has, for me at least, had a side effect of hyper-numeracy. Where's my calculator? Where's my spreadsheet? What day is it?

And so the story goes: I'm done reading. Sort of. Well, okay, so that's not quite true (never will be). There are still a couple of books I want to revisit because I didn't take quality notes when I read them during coursework, but the first-pass stuff is in the pile of dusteds. I now have twenty days to refine notes and regroup for the two major exam questions I'll write in early December. Because the minor exams each allow me a week with the question and all notes (the first will then be written on-site in a three hour session; the other is a week-long take home), I can prepare for them differently. Tomorrow, then, begins the last leg of preparations, beginning with how best to funnel more than 290 pages of notes kept here and there into "a few pages." Nice thing about the blog is it was easy for me to look up the factoid about a seven-point font giving me the equivalent of sixteen pages of notes on just three 8.5"x11" pages.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

North, The Making of Knowledge in Composition

North, Stephen M. The Making of Knowledge in Composition. Upper Montclair, N.J.: Boynton/Cook, 1987.

North's 1987 "portrait"--importantly the first theoretical monograph in the field--sets out with a few central questions: What counts as knowledge in Composition? How will lore and practitioner-knowledge be valued as the field pursues professionalization and methodological legitimacy? What is the future of Composition given its methodological pluralism and related charges about dissolution or disunity? North describes his own method as anthropological. He begins with a brief history of the events that figure into the present climate for composition studies: the large number of practitioners relative to scholars and researchers, the devaluation of practice-as-inquiry and resultant devaluation of practitioners, and the primacy of lore (unregulated, informal, and tacit knowledge about writing and how best to teach it) in the field.

This is a deceptively simple portrait--both a history of modern composition studies and a speculative (skeptical?) opening up of questions about the deep problems facing the field with its methodological pluralism. North presents a typology for methodological communities or clusters. Each of the eight types is assigned a full chapter that includes a brief bibliographic gloss (key publications, read primarily through names and titles), a characterization of the community and a comparison of it to its nearest neighbors, and an explanation (including a list) of the typical procedures involved with the method. According to North, pure (method-free) practice (and practitioners) begins to count differently--as somewhat less than--with the 1963 CCCC and Kitzhaber's call for leadership and professionalization--exerting, in North's language, "authority over knowledge about composition" (15). The resulting methodological communities or modes of inquiry are distinguished by (aside from method), size in number (Practitioners are the most), relation to other modes, and the duality of identification (many would also refer to themselves as Rhetoricians, although North says this is not methodologically helpful) (61-63).

The eight modes of inquiry (which reflect some, not all clusters (137, 140)) are:

  1. Practitioners (the founding mode; practice as inquiry) (21)
  2. Scholars - Historians (rules include new events or new connections among events; two stages: empirical and interpretive; first-generation historians focused on pedagogy; second-generation on institutions and programs) (66)
  3. Scholars - Philosophers (most difficult to account for (91); challenge to impose coherence) (91);
  4. Scholars - Critics or Hermeneuts (a central mode of literary studies (116); favored by North; intermediary between historians and philosophers (116);
  5. Researchers - Experimentalists (replicable results to dis/confirm and certify (150)) (141);
  6. Researchers - Clinicians ("cases"; subject-oriented and fitting with psychological studies, cognition, etc.) (197);
  7. Researchers - Formalists (models or simulations; focused on formal properties of process or activity) (238);
  8. Researchers - Ethnographers (inscribers; Geertz-influences "thick description"-ists; few of them in 1987 according to North) (272).

As each group becomes more formidable (in number, publication venues, conferences, etc.), there comes an increased expectation that practitioners will fall in. Consequently, methodological pluralism can be framed as a contest--a "methodological struggle for power" (321)--that begins to recruit practitioners into particular methodological communities (^Grad programs as yet another arm of this?)

Lore (22): "the accumulated body of traditions, practices, and beliefs in terms of which Practitioners understand how writing is done, learned, and taught." Healthy lore depends upon longevity and breadth (35).

Three functional properties of lore:

  1. "once somebody says that it has worked or is working or might work, it is part of lore" (24)
  2. "While anything can become part of lore, nothing can ever be dropped from it, either" (24)
  3. "once a particular nomination is made the contributor gives up control over it" (25). Share share alike: "Such tinkering with the contributions made by other Practitioners seldom seems terribly disturbing" (25).

Key terms: modes of inquiry (1, 15), methodological communities (1), methodological land-rush (2), practical knowledge (16), emerging science (21), practitioners (21), lore (22), practice as inquiry (23, 33), lore and pragmatic logic (23), lore's experiential structure (24), expressive, poetic, transactional writing (26), The House of Lore (27), practitioners' tolerance and latitude (28), textbook's catechetical function (30), rubber triangle (53), first- and second-order inquiry (60), rhetoric (63), praxis (65), narrative (69), thick description (277), paradigm (318), tacit knowledge (319), methodological pluralism (320), topoi to organize the field (338), inter-methodological coherence (370).

"Federal interest in English per se on this scale [crisis; 1958 NDEA; 1967 NCTE NITE] was relatively short-lived, but the momentum generated by the intense interest of these few years launched modern Composition. The broadest effects were on English teachers' self-perception as professionals" (12).

"Kitzhaber's [1963] challenge calls, in other words, for the exertion of authority over knowledge about composition: what it is, how it is made, who gets to say so and why" (15).

"It takes time to identify new modes of inquiry, to acquire expertise in them, and then to find or create outlets in which to publish their results. They have emerged very slowly" (21).

"These three modes [historian, philosopher, and critic] belong in the same methodological cluster primarily because they share the humanist tradition's reliance on what can be broadly defined as dialectic--that is, the seeking of knowledge via the deliberate confrontation of opposing points of view" (60).

"Even more to the point, [rhetoric] is not much help methodologically. Rhetoric can be defined as an art to be mastered; or, as for these Scholars, the various manifestations of that art as practiced can be conceived as an object or field of study. But there is not, in this latter sense, any inherently Rhetorical mode of inquiry" (64).

"The resulting demographic pattern [among philosophers] is rather like that of a marina: a small core of full-time residents; a larger group of long-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" (92).

"I will admit to a certain bias in favor of this kind [hermeneutic-critical] of investigation; of all my work in various modes of inquiry, I was most interested in these case studies" (119).

"The first three of these [Experimentalists, Clinicians, and Formalists] constitute a methodological cluster quite as neat as the three Scholarly modes, sharing as they do the positivist tradition's fundamental faith in the describable orderliness of the universe: that is, the belief that things-in-the-world, including in this case people, operate according to determinable or 'lawful' patterns, general tendencies, which exist apart from our experience of them, and which are, in addition, accessible to the right kinds of inquiry" (137).

"After all, it [experimentation] has been the dominant mode of formal educational research in this country over the past 75 years or so. And while it has always had its share of vehement critics--who delight in pointing out, for example, the origins of many of its techniques in agricultural research, in formulations designed to deal with corn yield per acre--it is not a dominance that will surrender easily" (141).

"The natural urge is to move toward system, toward a vision of students not as discrete individuals, but as in some ways comparable units acting according to articulable general principles. Experimental knowledge responds to this urge very, very well. In it, the institutions and guesses of lore are assumed to have been transformed into a more powerful kind of truth, one by which the uncertainty, and so the stress, of what otherwise seems such a chaotic world might be better brought under control" (153).

"In terms of this study, it ["the paradigm-shift explanation for the revolution in Composition"] might be described as a power play, an attempt by one methodological community or cluster of communities to assert its dominance over the others. And this is the sort of movements that has in fact been most characteristic of the emergent field of Composition" (321).

"Versions of the conservative model may acknowledge that teaching writing is to some extent an art, but they are more likely to treat it more as a kind of technology, an applied science, as well, and to be far more attracted by the cumulative (and perhaps, by implication, Practitioner-proof) possibilities of that scientific dimension" (331).

"Nonetheless, my original question stands: By what sort of logic are these studies being strung together? Witte seems to handle the results of these methodologically diverse investigations as if they were so many Lego blocks: standardized bits and pieces of 'knowledge' which, whatever their origins, sizes, or shapes, can be coupled together to form a paradigmatic frame within which his own exploratory Experimental study will fit" (346).

"For both sides, it is a 'field,' a 'profession,' and a 'discipline,' terms that seem to be treated interchangeably, as if in obedience to an unspoken rule: Characterize Composition as paradigmatic or dialogical, coherent or chaotic as you like, but it is to everyone's advantage to treat it as a legitimate academic discipline" (364).

"It might not be too much to claim, in fact, that for all the rhetoric about unity in pursuit of one or another goal, Composition as a knowledge-making society is gradually pulling itself apart" (364).

"Is there any chance, then, for an academically full-fledged, autonomous, multi-methodological, knowledge-making Composition? Not, it would seem, without radical change. Composition faces a peculiar methodological paradox: its communities cannot get along well enough to live with one another, and yet they seem unlikely to survive, as any sort of integral whole called Composition, without one another" (369).

"Instead, I end up predicting that either (a) Composition as we know it will essentially disappear, reverting to something much like its pre-1963 form; or that (b) it might survive, but probably only by breaking its institutional ties with literary studies and, hence, English departments" (373).

"So, sad as it may be, I would rather take my chances on a fully vital Composition that fails than to settle for one that is never quite free to try" (374).

Related sources:
Geertz, Clifford. The Interpretation of Cultures. New York: Basic, 1973.
Kitzhaber, Albert R. "4C, Freshman English, and the Future." CCC 14 (1963): 129-38.
Winterowd, W. Ross. Rhetoric: A Synthesis. New York: Holt, 1986.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Aarseth, Cybertext

Aarseth, Espen J. Cybertext: Perspectives on Ergodic Literature. Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins UP, 1997.

Aarseth's discussion of cybertexts or, that is, ergodic literature (ergodic from Gr., ergon - work and hodos - path), is carried on the shoulders of an ambitious and insightful set of terms and a seven-mode textonomy for describing ergodic literature across the typical (and unsuitable) poles of digital and print for typifying texts. Cybertext, then, works with examples from (literary) hypertext, video games, text adventure games, and MUDs in an effort to compel us toward a "more viable terminology" (74), while rendering productively murky many of the thought-to-be-clean distinctions between texts experienced in the phosphor of the screen and those experienced on paper. The digital-paper dichotomy, he says, suffers from limited analytical power (54). Aarseth's project is striking for his discussion of kinds of paths, his differentiation in terms among linear, multilinear, and nonlinear (3; multilinear dissolves the linear/nonlinear commonplace (44)); unicursoral and multicursoral (5-6); and interactivity (48). The linearity/nonlinearity dichotomy and discussions dependant on engulfing notions of interactivity (48) are unsuitable, he argues, to the more viable terminology he seeks. He also builds on Barthes' discussion in The Pleasure of the Text of tmesis or skipping in reading. Cybertext, ultimately, is more a perspective than a category (24); writing as a cyborg activity increasingly reminds of the inadequacies of the Shannon-Weaver communication model for describing the complex, emerging dynamics involved with cybertexts.


Aarseth's approach emphasizes the experience of the texts (not necessarily a hermeneutics); he views text as phenomena rather than as a string of signifiers (20), and he reads cybertexts across their aesthetics, their constructions, and their uses. The cybertextual perspective is especially useful because they merge paper and digital texts into a cohesive analytic-descriptive framework.

Aarseth explains his tentative "textonomy" in terms of scriptons, textons, and a traversal function. Scriptons are strings of signs (information) "as they appear to readers"; textons are strings of signs "as they exist in the text"; and the traversal function is "the mechanism by which scriptons are revealed or generated from textons and presented to the user of the text" (62). Built on these neologisms, Aarseth's seven-term typology includes the following modes of traversal (together, their variables make possible 576 unique combinations or "media positions" (64):

  1. Dynamics: the fixity, variability, or unavailability of scriptons;
  2. Determinability: A determinate text has the same scriptons each time; the scriptons adjacent to any other scripton vary in an indeterminate text;
  3. Transiency: The passage of time triggers the appearance of scriptons in a transient text (alt. intransient);
  4. Perspective: If the user has a character in the world, the perspective is personal (alt. impersonal);
  5. Access: If all scriptons are accessible at all times, as in a codex, the access is random (alt. controlled);
  6. Linking: Explicit, conditional, none;
  7. User Functions: explorative (forking), configurative (scriptons are created or chosen), interpretive (hermeneutic), textonic (able to write or program--extend or change text) (63-64).

Nonlinear text: "An object of verbal communication that is not simply one fixed sequence of words may differ from reading to reading because of the shape, conventions, or mechanisms of the text" (41).
Text: "Any object with the primary function to relay verbal information" (62).

Key terms: feedback loop (1), mechanical organization (1), reading (1-2), linearity (3), cybertext (5, 17), forking paths (5), unicursal and bivia (5-6), linear, maze, net (6), footnote (7), database (10), hypertext (12, 77), textonomy (15), textology (15), theoretical restraint (18), technological determinism (19), hermeneutics (20), computer semiotics (26), artificial life (AL) (29), emergence (30), permanence/transience (30), dual materiality (40), nonlinear text (41), nonlinear/multilinear (43), linear paradigm (46), RB tmesis and skipping (47), interactivity (48), cyborg aesthetics (51), Analytica (60), text (62), scriptons and textons (62), reader (74), network and link (83), anamorphosis (180), metamorphosis (178).

"The concept of cybertext focuses on the mechanical organization of the text, by positing the intricacies of the medium as an integral part of the literary exchange" (1).

"In a cybertext, however, the distinction [between play and performance] is crucial--and rather different; when you read from a cybertext, you are constantly reminded of inaccessible strategies and paths not taken, voices not heard" (3).

"The cybertext reader is a player, a gambler; the cybertext is a game-world or world-game; it is possible to explore, get lost, and discover secret paths in these texts, not metaphorically, but through the topological structures of the textual machinery" (4).

"Cybertext is a perspective on all forms of textuality, a way to expand the scope of literary studies to include phenomena that today are perceived as outside of, or marginalized by, the field of literature--or even in opposition to it, for (as I make clear later) purely extraneous reasons" (18).

"The various effects produced by cybertextual machines are not easily described by these textological epistemes [philological, phenomenological, structural, semiotic, and poststructural], if they can be described at all. I might achieve something by trying each one, but since all of them so obviously conceive the material, historical, and textual artifact as a syntagmatic chain of signifiers and little else, that approach would most likely prove fruitless and desultory, and it would almost certainly not illuminate the idiomatic aspects of ergodic texts" (24).

"The crucial issue here [in Aarseth's discussion of computer semiotics] is how to view systems that feature what is known as emergent behavior, systems that are complex structures evolving unpredictably from an initial set of simple elements" (29).

"When the relationship between surface sign and user is all that matters, the unique dual materiality of the cybernetic sign process is disregarded. Without an understanding of this duality, however, analyses of communication phenomena involving cybernetic sign production become superficial and incomplete" (40).

"To construct a fundamental dichotomy between linear and nonlinear types of media is therefore dangerous; it produces blind spots even as it creates new insights" (47).

"The word interactive operates textually rather than analytically, as it connotes various vague ideas of computer screens, user freedom, and personalized media, while denoting nothing" (48).

On cyborg: "[Manfred] Clynes constructed the term from the words cybernetic organism and used it to describe the new symbiotic entity that results from the alliance between humans and technology in a closed, artificial environment such as a space capsule" (53).

"When I fire a virtual laser gun in a computer game such as Space Invader, where, and what, am I?" (162). ^In "The Death (and Politics) of the Reader."

"Even if we can no longer use the word author in a meaningful way (after all, today's complex media productions are seldom, if ever, run by a single 'man behind the curtain'), it would be irresponsible to assume that this position has simply gone away, leaving a vacuum to be filled by the audience" (165).

"The ergodic work of art is one that in a material sense includes the rules for its own use, a work that has certain requirements built in that automatically distinguishes between successful and unsuccessful users" (179).

"The idea of the new is always ambiguous, and if the use of these neologisms seems contradictory and self-defeating in a study that seeks to demonstrate the ideological forces behind similar neologisms (interactive fiction, hypertext, etc.), my only defense is that I try to make my concepts less dichotomic and more analytic than their alternatives" (182).

Related sources:
Barthes, Roland. The Pleasure of the Text. Trans. Richard Miller. New York: Hill and Wang, 1975.
Weiner, Norbert. Cybernetics; or, Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine. New York: Technology Press, 1948.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Naming the Smarter Surrounds

In what few minutes I've had today to reduce various folders in Bloglines, I picked up on a few strands of the "Web 3.0" fracas initiated by yesterday's NYT article "Entrepreneurs See a Web Guided by Common Sense." In the article, John Markoff anticipates what he refers to almost glibly as "Web 3.0", which proponents contend will usher in "an era when machines will start to do seemingly intelligent things." There is no shortage of responses and reactions, ranging from doubt, charges of idiocy, mild humanism, clarification, dismissal of the name, and damning refutations. While I don't want to rile more ire, I am intrigued by the range of reactions, especially from the standpoint of how we account for transformations of such a complex creature as the web with singular terms. In some niche vocabularies, Web 2.0 refers to a class of applications; in others, Web 2.0 describes web-supported co-presence (interaction and connection). I mean that the label has been highly adaptable, a loose and generous signifier. I tend to think that it is reasonable to wish for (and even to tinker with) a better vocabulary for describing the complex and rapidly evolving nets.

Most of all I wanted to grab the references and compile them (kept!) because they add up to a fine example-set for the stasis of fact (also value, jusrisdiction). Does Web 2.0 exist? For whom (Boyd emphasizes practitioners--have you made a Web 2.0 app?)? Who gets to name what happens next? Does Web 3.0 exist? And what follows follows follows? How are matters of naming settled? What must it mean for them to settle (idleness, adequation, banality, death)? Supposing our media ecologies continue to get smarter (also more capable), and supposing we continue to get (potentially) smarter (also more capable) right along with the hybrid technologies of composition, storage, and so on, shouldn't our vocabularies keep stride? I mean, why shouldn't we create a more conceptually adequate framework for describing these emerging changes (and distinctions--great and small) than the undeniably constraining versioning of the web? Deep quandaries 2.0.

I no longer have any reservations about the "Web 2.0" label. I mention it all the time in the digital writing course I'm teaching this semester, and I think enough sharp work has been done by Kevin Kelly, Steven Johnson, and others, to ground the reference. "Web 3.0", like its predecessors, might likewise gain in popularity in the months ahead, and if it does, I only hope that it serves, eventually, to spread more moments of aha!, to steer our conversations about the vast networks, our uses for them, and their uses for us.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

The Weekend of Kittler

Hour by hour, the past 48 as a list:

Sleep, Sleep, Sleep, Sleep, Sleep, Sleep, Sleep, Sleep, Kittler, Kittler, Kittler, Kittler, Kittler, Kittler, Kittler, Kittler, Kittler, Kittler, Kittler, PS2, Kittler, Kittler, Kittler, Kittler, Sleep, Sleep, Sleep, Sleep, Sleep, Sleep, Sleep, Sleep, Kittler, Kittler, Kittler, Kittler, Kittler, Kittler, Kittler, Kittler, Kittler, Kittler, Birthday Party, Dinner, Kittler, PS2, Kittler, Kittler, Kittler, Kittler.

Bolter, "Theory and Practice of New Media Studies"

Bolter, Jay David. "Theory and Practice of New Media Studies." Eds. Gunnar Liestøl,, Andrew Morrison and Terje Rasmussen. Digital Media Revisited: Theoretical and Conceptual Innovations in Digital Domains. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2004. 15-34.

Bolter considers the place of "new media studies" in the humanities with specific attention to the existing theoretical terrain and the divide between theory and practice. He explains the limitations of early "formal media" theory (Ong and McLuhan) with its ties to poststructuralism (Derrida and De Man) and also looks at ideological critique as a theoretical orientation common in the humanities. The long standing tension between theory and practice isn't easily resolved, but new media studies mixes them in an encouraging complementarity. New media studies has found solid footing in the most practice-oriented fields because people in those disciplines were some of the earliest to experiment with emerging technologies. It's not clear, however, that new media studies (and its affront to the print paradigm) will warm to conservative views toward online publishing of scholarship and the appropriateness of such publications venues for tenure. Bolter ends by calling for refashioning a "new media critic" whose methodology is "a hybrid, a fusion of the critical stance of cultural theory with the constructive attitude of the visual designer" (30).

Key Terms: postindustrial engineering (17), formal media theory (18), technological determinism (18), hypertext critics (18), broadcast model (22), rhetoric of resistance (25), shift from consumption to production (27), new media critic (30).

"The poststructuralists were media theorists who confined themselves mainly to verbal media" (18).

"This linking of hypertext to poststructuralist theory, however, did not have the impact on the critical community that some had anticipated. It did not lead to widespread engagement with or acceptance of hypertext in humanities departments" (19).

"The dominant critical strategies in the humanities today are the many varieties of postmodernism, feminism, and cultural studies, all of which reject the formalist tendencies of poststructuralism" (21).

"When cultural studies critics now approach digital media they often assume that these new media must follow the same pattern [as mass media] of hegemonic production and resistant reception" (22).

"Computer technology has improved the status of teachers of writing and rhetoric, who were in fact among the first faculty members in the humanities to embrace the new technology" (26).

"The success of teachers in defining new forms of writing suggests that cultural theorists may have been premature in lumping electronic media together with mass, audiovisual media such as television and film" (26).

"Popular mass media forms have therefore been suspect on two counts: as promoters of both capitalist ideology and visual representation" (27).

"Will they be willing to redefine scholarship to include the multilinear structures of hypertext or (what may be even more radical) the multiplicity of representational modes afforded by digital multimedia?" (29).

Related sources:
Jay, Martin. Downcast Eyes. Berkeley: U Cal Press, 1993.
Noble, David. "Digital Diploma Mills. Part 1: The Automation of Higher Education." October (Fall 1998): 107-117.
Noble, David. "Digital Diploma Mills. Part 2: The Coming Battle over Online Instruction." October (Fall 1998): 118-129.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Wysocki, "Impossibly Distinct"

Wysocki, Anne. "Impossibly Distinct: On Form/Content and Word/Image in Two Pieces of Computer-based Interactive Media." Computers and Composition 18 (2001) 137-162.

"Impossibly Distinct" counters the commonplaces of the form/content, information/design, and word/image dichotomies. By reading (phenomenologically, rather than closely) two CD-ROMs on Matisse, Wysocki suggests that we have a "need for exploring new concepts and terms for the thick rich mix of visual potentials on screen" (161). Ultimately, this formulation pushes us to think about how visual elements or aspects of texts make those texts work in particular ways. Wysocki eventually articulates a clear preference for the Maeght CD (self-conscious) over the Barnes CD (hierarchical). Because the two pieces are visually distinctive, she works through an analysis of how assertions are differently designed into each piece across discursive and non-discursive aspects. That is, the assertions can't be reduced to words without sacrificing the evocative dimensions of the experience.

Wysocki's call for "new concepts and terms" is left open at the end. How has this been resolved? Or, rather, are form/content, information/design, and word/image dichotomies still largely uninterrogated?

Key Terms: phenomenological approach (140), new categories (138), push and pull (142), spatial-visual structure (147), temporal structure (147), hierarcy (156), designing multimedia (156), words as conceptual lexical units (159).

"I want to begin to indicate what our teachings about the visual elements of texts (what our teaching about composition in general) perhaps should expand to include" (138).

"That is, I will be arguing in the next pages, if we hold to the notion of content suggested by the citations which I opened my writing--if we understand content as words and understand visual presentation as theme or emotion or useful only as pointers to our supporting information--then we remain unable to see or explain what is asserted in the visual compositions I am about to consider" (140).

"The differences between the visual presentations of these CDs are not then simply of form or theme or emotion or assistance to memory (the possible functions of the visual named or implied by the texts I quoted on my first page); the differences between the visual presentations of these CDs are differences of assertion and thought" (152).

"To conceptualize the Maeght CD, I have to move through it, to figure our what those little buttons do and to construct my own sense of the piece's structure" (156). ^Schematics.

"This indicates to me that our teaching about the visual aspects of texts shouldn't be just about teaching people in our classes how to use the visual as theme or as first impression or as a guide to information; we need also, I believe, to be teaching how the visual structures of a text are, in addition to being assertions about artists and art collectors (for example), also assertions about what kind of readers we should be" (159).

"I do not have terms to offer here, but I do not think the split between information and design gets at how strategies of visual composition contribute to the relationship we develop with what we offer each other on screen. Finally, the relationship among the kinds of visual elements and arrangements I listed above are not ones where the visual needs support by the words: not only are the words of these CDs (as of any Web page or paper page) always visual elements, but the assertions of these CDs cannot even be found primarily in 'words'" (160).

Related sources:
Aarseth, Espen. Cybertext. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 1997.
Elkins, James. The Domain of Images. Ithaca: Cornell, 1999.
Leppert, Richard. Art and the Committed Eye. Boulder, CO: Westview, 1996.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Eat Your Rhizomes

I'm fairly competent with the pureed soups, and so I try to mix one up every now and again, especially when D. or Ph. mention it (and it's also my week for meals). Today it was a finely blended Tuber Taproot Rhizome (aka, Sweet Potato Carrot Ginger) Soup garnished with chopped honey roasted peanuts and set alongside thin-sliced sourdough from Panera. It's really a fortunate accident of fate that I can cook much of anything (i.e., lots of kitchen time as a kid), but this one turned out okay. Edible-plus.

Today's soup was inspired by a fancy-schmancy luncheon I attended a few years ago (the semi-pro hoops team in KC was pitching the idea of using our facilities for their practices). More quickly to the point: there was a sweet potato and ginger soup at that lunch meeting, and I haven't had anything like it since. Until today.

Guessing at quantities, I worked with two medium sized onions, 12-14 carrots, 2.5 sweet potatoes, and a hunk of fresh ginger root the size of two fingers (pointer and bird, to be exact). I set the carrots and onions and peeled ginger root to a low boil so they would soften (enough water just to cover things up); meanwhile, I nuked the sweet potatoes. Next, I peeled the softened potatoes, lowered the heat on the stove, and threw them in along with a pinch of salt, a pinch of sugar, two chicken bouillon cubes, and a pinch of nutmeg. (Note that this is a rather large batch; half the qty. of carrots, onions, and sw. potatoes would be just fine for a meal).

At this point, everything is stewing together, softening up, making friends. Next, I ladled it into the blender (we don't have a submersible stick-blender!), added a cup or so of half-n-half, and blended it smooth. Then back into the pan (before doing this, I emptied the kettle into a bowl to avoid any chance of unincorporated solids lingering in the puree). Again and again. I used between a pint and a quart of half-n-half (any other sort of milk or cream would be fine, I suppose, although cooking with skim can make a mess of things I think; might be wrong about that). At the end, in the final blender-full, I included a cup of plain yogurt. I have no good reason why (did I see some other recipe like this?), and I'm not convinced it improved the T-T-R soup. Your call.

I see now that this delectable improvisation doesn't resemble a recipe. So here's an approximation of what I mixed. It's a recipe I Googled when I was halfway through the process of softening the vegetables and thinking about how to season such an unplanned thing.

Kittler, Discourse Networks

Kittler, Friedrich. Discourse Networks, 1800/1900. Trans. Michael Metteer. Palo Alto, CA: Stanford UP, 1990.

First of all, there is no reading Kittler quickly. Discourse Networks 1800/1900 is like a technology-focused sequel to Foucault's The Order of Things. Kittler notes that Foucault ended his archaeology of discourse around 1850, just before things got going with the second industrial revolution and the expansion of media technologies--typewriter, gramophone, and film (each contributing to a medial turn Foucault does not address). The German title Aufschreibesysteme arguably translates more accurately as "notation systems" or "inscription systems"; provided that Kittler does relatively little with the idea of "network", "inscription systems" seems like a better fit with what's here.

What's here? Two epistemes and periods, each corresponding to a century mark. The discourse network of 1800 is set against the discourse network of 1900. The first is characterized by hermeneutics, alphabetization, and (original, solitary, Romantic) poetry (its emblematic figure, Goethe's Faust); the second is characterized by technological media, inscription, and exhaustive data storage and transmission (its emblematic figure, Nietzsche). In David Wellbery's foreword, he calls Discourse Networks a "genealogy of hermeneutics." (xi). After brief chapters explaining how the figures of Faust and Nietzsche prime the epoch under consideration, each section consists of three chapters.

Discourse Network of 1800 (Romantic/hermeneutic)
The Mother's Mouth (25): mother and state as producers/encoders of discourse; normalization of speech (36) via alphabet and primers; consumption and production model; Poet-Author ascendant.
Language Channels (70): language as mere channel (for love); writing from nature (inscription systems naturalized); aims of discourse are love and poetry.
The Toast (124): Literary philosophy driven by interpretation; philosophy joins poetry in the hermeneutic trap; complementarity of genders.

Discourse Network of 1900 (Modern/medially inscribed)
The Great Lalula (206; psychophysics, technological media): materiality!; discourse analytics such as counting words (190); mathematical linguistics (222); memory experiments free from hermeneutics (208); language standards and dehumanization (223); data storage; film and gramophone; typographic spatiality (257).
Rebus (265; psychoanalysis, literature): translation is impossible; transposition is possible only in untranslatability [does this anticipate digitality?] (265-273); Freud transposes dream-images into symbolic relations and written records (274); limited inscription systems determine psychoanalytic subjects; technological media destroy the monopoly of writing.
Queen's Sacrifice (347; gender): antagonism of genders.

Wellbery suggests that Kittler "establishes a positive research program for posthuman criticism" (xii) and that he does so, in part, by analyzing at the level of machines rather than the signifier. In this respect, Discourse Networks has something in common with Fuller's Media Ecologies. Kittler's explanation of technological media suggest that they are capable of subsuming human corporeality, subjugating the subject to data such that agency dissolves and Man and soul no longer apply (258) [Fuller uses this point to distinguish Kittler from McLuhan who suggests a more cooperative dynamic between humans and their extensions].

With the medial turn in the discourse network of 1900, the flight of ideas commences. Language loses its inwardness (243), and individuals learn the autonomy of linguistic expression (239). Kittler identifies one defining locus for the transition between the two epistemes, oddly enough, in talking dolls (232), which he explains shift from repeating parental phrases (dolls of 1800) to the self-relation of children's recorded voices talking or singing to children (Edison). This self relation displaces both the mother and the state--primary encoders in the discourse network of 1800.

Key terms: monopoly of writing (370), genealogy of hermeneutics (xi), presupposition of exteriority (xiii), presupposition of mediality (xiii), presupposition of corporeality (xiv), cybernetic sociology (xviii), Lacanian register (symbolic, imaginary, real) (xxxi), Republic of Scholars (4), free writing (14), free translation (19), hermeneutics (21), cloud of meaning (21), nature's production of discourses (25), mother as primary instructor (26), alphabetization (27), coercive act of alphabetizing (30), purification of speech (37), true programming (49), circuit of legitimation (61, 153), bureaucratic baptism of knowledge (61), inscription (64), silent reading (65), love and poetry (73), translation of the unspeakable (77), fantasia of the library (91, 99), poetry, author, work (109), fixed idea (110), authorial function (111), serial storage of serial data (116), reading mania (144), anthology (147), new humanists (150), deixis (168), German essay (180), genres (183), maker of words (185), free essays (185, 329), typewriter's chaos and intervals (192), mnemotechnics (196), flight of ideas (205), random generators (206), Morgenstern's The Great Lalula (212), catch phrase (222), written verbigeration (228), rebus (274), red marks on essays (330), writer as medium (331).

"Whatever the historical field we are dealing with, in Kittler's view, we are dealing with media as determined by the technological possibilities of the epoch in question. Mediality is the general condition within which, under specific circumstances, something like 'poetry' or 'literature' can take shape. Post-hermeneutic literary history (or criticism), therefore, becomes a sub-branch of media studies" (xiii).

"Words have no effect because they are skipped over; reading issues only in writing' authors' names detract from the phenomenon of the book. In retrospect the discourse network of 1800 is a single machine designed to neutralize discursive effects and establish 'our absurd world of educators'--'to the "able servant of the state" this promises a regulating schema'--founded on the ruin of words" (179).

"The discourse network of 1900 could not build on the three functions of production, distribution, and consumption" (186).

"Not every discursive configuration rests on an originary production of signs. Circa 1900 several blindnesses--of the writer, of writing, of script--come together to guarantee an elementary blindness: the blind spot of the writing act. Instead of the play between Man the sign-setter and the writing surface, the philosopher as stylus and the tablet of Nature, there is the play between type and its Other, completely removed from subjects. Its name is inscription" (195).

"Writing ceased to wait, quiet and dead, on patient paper for its consumer; writing ceased to be sweetened by pastry baking and mothers' whispering--it now assaulted with the power of shock" (223).

"Standards have nothing to do with Man. They are the criteria of media and psychophysics, which they abruptly link together. Writing, disconnected from all discursive technologies, is no longer based on an individual capable of imbuing it with coherence through connecting curves and the expressive pressure of the pen; it swells in an apparatus that cuts up individuals into test material" (223).

"The ordinary, purposeful use of language--so-called communication with others--is excluded. Syllabic hodgepodge and automatic writing, the language of children and the insane--none of it is meant for understanding eyes or ears; all of it takes the quickest path from experimental conditions to data storage" (229).

"As technological media, the gramophone and film store acoustical and optical data serially with superhuman precision. Invented at the same time by the same engineers, they launched a two-pronged attack on a monopoly that had not been granted to the book until the time of universal alphabetization: a monopoly on the storage of serial data" (245).

"One needs the whole power of one's vision to glimpse the overlooked visibility of texts. The black and white of texts seems so timeless that is never occurs to reader to think of the architects of that space" (256).

"After the destruction of the monopoly of writing, it becomes possible to draw up an account of its functioning" (370).

More passages to keep: x, xiii, xxvi, xxx, 9, 10, 13, 16, 20, 21, 24, 29, 32, 33, 41, 51, 53, 74, 82, 95, 97, 100, 101, 108, 109, 111, 116, 117, 119, 130, 140, 177, 178, 179, 183, 186, 190, 193, 195, 212, 215, 223, 227, 228, 229, 237, 238, 243, 245, 256, 257, 264, 267, 270, 271, 274, 275, 283, 284, 298, 299, 303, 319, 326, 344, 352, 369, 370.

Wait!: epigraphs are mathematical formulas; Wellbery: DN is like Benjamin's Work of Art essay; first half is frustratingly Germanic, referential; dithyramb (181), on counting words (190), Bildung (223), tachistoscope (260), norn (266). Also, read Goethe, Nietzsche and Freud to get the big picture in certain sections.

Thursday, November 9, 2006


I'm down to rationing entries, rationing energies. And because I doubt there will be cause to mention ABC's hit series Lost before the third season picks up again on February 7, I need for last night's highly anticipated Fall Finale, "I Do," to tide me over for several more weeks. Granted, this entry is a day late, but Jeff asked, "What? No Lost commentary?" Here it is, delayed to fill up the time between now and early February (Is that right? We'll see the Colts-Bears Super Bowl before another new episode?)

First off, last night's Kate-centric episode was a real heart-warmer, overflowing with romance. In the backstory, Kate, er...Monica, bought groceries for taco night, then dashed to a phone booth (carrying the groceries in the rain) to call the agent on her fugitive trail and plead with him to discontinue his pursuit of her. No luck. The timer (purchased to get the tacos just right?) went off, and she ended the call so it would not be traced. What's the point of this backstory? Hard to say. It stirs up questions about her loyalties, sensitivities, trustworthiness (and in a peculiar twist, perhaps even her fertility, though that's unclear); the deep-down criminality was off-set by a compassionate and attached Monika(te) who wished to be forgiven for past grievances. Also, Kate's cool with marriage, still married (presumably), and vulnerable, as is Sawyer, to sins of the flesh.

Jack committed a different sin of the flesh when he slipped the scalpel gently into Ben's exposed kidney (liver?). And this led up to the climactic and suspenseful endpoint of the episode. Is Jack willing to let Ben die? Maybe he is. The folk geography of the island is throwing a wrench in the works. Jack knows he's at the water's edge because of the dangerous gusher that foiled his escape attempt a few weeks ago. And Kate thinks, based on Sawyer's explanation, that they're on a separate, second island. Their bearings are all off because the Others randomly drape burlap bags over the heads of our Lost friends. Still, it seems like they would've known whether they boarded a boat after last season's finale. They were on a dock, after all, when their heads were covered. I'm beginning to think that the Hydra (the aquarium station where they're held, yeah?) is not far from the Others' small village. Accessible only by boat? Doubtful. So while it's up in the air about whether we're seeing one island or two, it's not entirely clear how Ethan and Goodwin arrived on the respective crash sites so quickly (unless the village is on the one island, and the Hydra hatch or prison-island is some distance removed). In the episode's tense closing scene, it seems like Kate would go ahead and take the chance, split from the scene, and call Jack on the walky-talky after scoping out the surrounding terrain, except that she's now sweetly endeared to James.

Yet another oddity: Jacob's list. Is Jacob an Other name for Ethan Rom? One of Eko's victims during those early days on the beach? Probably not. I don't think we've met Jacob yet, and we have every reason to believe he's closer to the brainworks than Ben and his grubby cohort.

A few other stumpers:

  • What've Rose and Bernard been up to lately?
  • What ever happened to the pack of barefooted kids (including the ones nabbed from the Tailies)?
  • Why did Jack take his surgical gloves off?
  • How many more scenes will we have to endure where one member on the side of good is in jeopardy thereby forcing another member on the side of good to concede (a gun, a rock, a lethal grip, etc.)?
  • Explain the large stone relic (the foot of some statue) from the season two finale?
  • Who will be tuning in to Day Break? Who will be tuning in to Day Break? Who will be tuning in to Day Break?

Feel free to add to the list. I have to end. I think my optical mouse is on the fritz. Maybe it has something to do with this being EWM's diablo entry.

Mitchell, W.J.T., What Do Pictures Want?

Mitchell, W.J.T.. What Do Pictures Want?: The Lives and Loves of Images. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 2005.

What Do Pictures Want? is divided into three sections, each devoted to one of Mitchell's key concepts for explaining pictures: image, object, and medium. The book achieves a certain coherence, but because several chapters were published separately as articles, there is some repetition of central ideas.

Mitchell pursues a broadened concept of pictures (xviii), first by working through a thought experiment that accepts their aliveness. He suggests the animism and vitalism of images through the ideas of cloning and destruction, idolatry and iconoclasm, Dolly the Sheep and the World Trade Center. Rather than fitting neatly with the polarized responses to images, however, Mitchell wants us to get beyond the mystical/skeptical dyad (they're alive; they're dangerous, defeat them), to a kind of criticism that makes images resonate without smashing them. Acknowledging the peculiarity of the move to presume that images have a life-force, Mitchell asks us to entertain the fiction so that our encounters with pictures might be enlivened (ultimately, his arguments jibe with posthumanism).

In the second chapter, Mitchell answers the title's question in a variety of ways, eventually, however, proposing that a possible answer is "nothing" (50). The emphasis here is not on a method for reading images but on a richer understanding of their relationality in a complex skein of desires; rather than locating desire in consumption or production, we should locate it in the images themselves. This attribution of desire to images seems like a kind of agentic shift, although I suspect Mitchell would complicate this. His criteria for the living is that it can die. In a Q&A with readers of his manuscript, Mitchell explains that images have a verbal and visual life (55).

In the other chapters on image, Mitchell explores the idea of desire through the double entendre of "drawing" and in connection with Freud's categories of desire (72-74). He also uses idolatry, fetishism, and totemism to classify object-relations. With totemism, we might revalue the image relative to its hypervaluation in the idol and the fetish. Totemism affirms the life of the image and also introduces the idea of scale as it comes between idolatry (large) and fetish (small) [to connect this with networks, see p. 92]. Mitchell discusses each of the terms--idolatry, fetishism, and totemism--more carefully in chapter 9 (188).

In the final one-third of the book, Mitchell addresses media (c. 10.), explaining that image and picture are distinguished by medium. He pushes beyond a strictly materialist reading of media, however, instead preferring to define it as "material social practice" (203). In chapter 10, he introduces and explains ten theses on media (211):

  1. Media are a modern invention that has been around since the beginning.
  2. The shock of new media is as old as the hills.
  3. A medium is both a system and an environment.
  4. There is always something outside a medium.
  5. All media are mixed media.
  6. Minds are media, and vice versa.
  7. Images are the principal currency of media.
  8. Images reside within media the way organisms reside in a habitat.
  9. The media have no address and cannot be addressed.
  10. We address and are addressed by images of media.

Mitchell argues that images, not language, are the principal currency of media (215). I need to spend more time with the chapters in this section.

Other returns: C. 9 discussion of terms; ^Perceian triad of symbol, icon, and index (73); ^Consider Butler's Excitable Speech, speech act, and image (135); ^Networked image (92, 105, and totem, 191).

Key terms: poetics of pictures (xv), pictorial turn (5), metapictures (6, 10), magical attittudes (8), studium and punctum (9), double consciousness (10), visual trope (10), living images (14), animated icons (14), biotechnology (15), global capitalism (15), living symbols (15), iconoclasm (20), creative destruction (21), Benjamin's dialectical image (25), modern attitude (26), personhood of things (30), Medusa effect (36), violence of male "lookism" (45), visual culture (47, 337), dead metaphor (life of tropes) (53), drawing desire (59), magnetism (60), ascesis (63), scopic drive (72), symbolic, imaginary, and real (73), totemism (75), image's surplus value (76), image science (77), materialist hype (77), criticism (81), picture versus image (85), species and specular (86), dead media (90), images at the center of social crisis (94), image as immaterial (97), idolatry, fetishism, and totemism (97), found objects (113), picturesque (114), totem (122), offending images (125), objectionable objects (125), paleontology of the present (124), speech act (135), Foucault's Order of Things (155), object relations (188), totems of the mind (190), medium theory (198), medium as material social practice (203), medium and boundary (204), mystical empiricism (208), new media (212), visual studies (337), showing seeing (355), vernacular visuality (356), interdiscipline (356).

"The book as a whole, then, is about pictures, understood as complex assemblages of virtual, material, and symbolic elements" (xiii).

"A picture, then, is a very peculiar and paradoxical creature, both concrete and abstract, both a specific individual thing and a symbolic form that embraces a totality" (xvii).

"The philosophical argument of this book is simple in its outlines: images are like living organisms; living organisms are best described as things that have desires (for example, appetites, needs, demands, drives); therefore, the question of what pictures want is inevitable" (11).

"Now we see that it is not merely a case of some images that seem to come alive, but that living things themselves were always already images in one form or another" (13).

"Computers, as we know, are nothing but calculating machines. They are also (as we know equally well) mysterious new organisms, maddeningly complex life-forms that come complete with parasites, viruses, and a social network of their own. New media have made communication seem more transparent, immediate, and rational than ever before, at the same time that they have enmeshed us in labyrinths of new images, objects, tribal identities, and ritual practices" (26).

"In short, we are stuck with our magical, premodern attitudes toward objects, especially pictures, and our task is not to overcome these attitudes but to understand them, to work through their symptomology" (30).

"What is the moral for pictures? If one could interview all the pictures one encounters in a year, what answers would they give?" (35).

"The question of what pictures want certainly does not eliminate the interpretation of signs. All it accomplishes is a subtle dislocation of the target of interpretation, a slight modification in the picture we have of pictures (and perhaps signs) themselves. The keys to this modification/dislocation are (1) assent to the constitutive fiction of pictures as 'animated' beings, quasi-agents, mock persons; and (2) the construal of pictures not as sovereign subjects or disembodied spirits but as subalterns whose bodies are marked with the stigmata of difference, and who function both as 'go-betweens' and scapegoats in the social field of human visuality" (46)

"What pictures want from us, what we have failed to give them, is an idea of virtuality adequate to their ontology" (47).

"Pictures want equal rights with language, not to be turned into language" (47).

"What pictures want in the last instance, then, is simply to be asked what they want, with the understanding that the answer may well be, nothing at all" (48).

"There is simply no getting around the dialectics of life and death, desire and aggression, in the fundamental ontology of the image" (68).

"Images are also, in common parlance, mental things, residing in the psychological media of dreams, memory, and fantasy; or they are linguistic expressions ('verbal images') that name concrete objects that may or may not be metaphoric or allegorical" (84).

"Images are 'kinds of pictures,' classifications of pictures. Images are, then, like species, and pictures are like organisms whose kinds are given by the species" (85).

"We live in the age of cyborgs, cloning, and biogenetic engineering, when the ancient dream of creating a 'living image' is becoming a commonplace" (96).

"Totemism, in fact, is the historical successor to idolatry and fetishism as a way of naming the hypervalued image of the Other. It also names a revaluation of the fetish and idol. If the idol is or represents a god, and the fetish is a 'made thing' with a spirit or a demon in it, the totem is 'a relative of mine,' its literal meaning in the Ojibway language" (98).

"My main point is simply to suggest that the question of images and value cannot be settled by arriving at a set of values and then proceeding to the evaluation of images. Images are active players in the game of establishing and changing values" (105).

"Totemism allows the image to assume a social, conversational, and dialectical relationship with the beholder, the way a doll or a stuffed animal does with children" (106)

"For another key to the found object is its tendency, once found, to hang around, gathering value and meaning like a sort of semantic flypaper or photosensitive surface" (118).

"If images are life-forms, and objects are the bodies they animate, then media are the habitats or ecosystems in which pictures come alive" (198).

"The difference between an image and a picture, for instance, is precisely a question of the medium. An image only appears in some medium or other--in paint, stone, words, or numbers. But what about media? How do they appear, make themselves manifest and understandable? It is tempting to settle on a rigorously materialist answer to this question, and to identify the medium as simply the material support in or on which the image appears" (203). [A medium is more: "material social practice"]

"Media can fit on both sides of the system/environment divide: they are a system for transmitting messages through a material vehicle to a receiver; or they are a space in which forms can thrive[...]" (208).

Related sources:
Durkheim, Emile. The Elementary Forms of Religious Life. 1912. Trans. Karen Fields. New York: Free Press, 1995.
Jay, Martin. Downcast Eyes. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1993.
Latour, Bruno, and Peter Weibel, eds. Iconoclash: Beyond the Image Wars. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2002.

Wednesday, November 8, 2006

Elkins, Visual Studies

Elkins, James. Visual Studies: A Skeptical Introduction. New York: Routledge, 2003.

Elkins presents a "skeptical introduction" to the field of visual studies, an emerging discipline he estimates to be ten years old (c. 1992). In addition to presenting visual studies in the context of visual culture, cultural studies, and art history, Elkins issues a call to make visual studies more difficult. Making it harder, he contends, will also make it more interesting. Elkins attributes the label "visual studies" to W.J.T. Mitchell, whose Picture Theory explained a "pictorial turn." Pushing his argument for rigor and risk as needed changes for visual studies, Elkins also argues for six competencies (c. 4). Visual studies, in Elkins' view, takes root in the humanities and tends to be interdisciplinary, but it can do much more to include sciences and non-art images (173). The "conceptual disarray" and programmatic confusion in visual studies is cause for concern, no matter how well we understand its multiple causes. The kind of visual studies that Elkins favors for standalone academic programs assumes a vested interest in methods (in addition to history) and moves beyond the common dichotomy in visual culture between photography and avante-garde art.

Elkins explains that the high and low designations well-known in studies of art present problems for visual studies (solutions: 45-62). The most common figures for the field are Barthes, Benjamin, Foucault, and Lacan (33). In his list of conundrums (or precepts for making visual studies more rigorous), he lists casual citation as a concern (33, 101). In his discussion of visual literacy (c. 4), he says that writing and pictures must be kept separate, as names for different and that visual literacy involves a "reflective sense" (128).

Elkins also makes the cogent point that methods in the humanities tend to seek out complexity or, that is, prefer complexity and hybridity in research (112).

Ten conundrums (program notes for making visual studies more difficult, interesting):

  1. The Case of the Calvin Klein Suit: In What Sense is Visual Culture Marxist? (66)
    Marx; problem of unveiling as a desirable end.
  2. The Case of the Poor Schoolteacher: When Visual Studies Is Self-Evident (71)
    Adorno's "hidden meanings," "how hidden are the hidden meanings scholarship uncovers?" (73).
  3. The Case of the Ill-Conceived Essay on 9/11: When Visual Studies Is Not Helpful (76)
    Limits of visual studies; Elkins didn't write an essay on 9-11 after much consideration (77).
  4. The Case of the Neglected Crystal: Visual Culture and Non-Art Images (83)
  5. The Case of the Ghost of C.P. Snow: Taking Science Seriously (87)
  6. The Case of the Benjamin Footnote: Issues Involved in Citing Benjamin, Foucault, and Warburg (94)
  7. The Case of the Unclaimed Inheritance: Seeing Deeper History of the Discipline (102)
  8. The Case of the Mexican Soap Opera: Visual and Nonvisual in Film and Media Studies (106)
  9. The Case of the New Guinea Bird-watcher: Can Visual Studies Be Truly Multicultural? (110)
  10. The Case of the Writing Itself: The Challenges of Writing Ambitiously (120)

Six competencies:

  1. Art History as a Kind of Visual Literacy (140)
  2. Non-Western Visual Competencies (147)
  3. Unrecoverable Visual Literacies (152)
  4. Visual Literacies that Involves Making Images (157)
  5. Visual Literacies in the Sciences (159)
  6. Special Effects and Digital Images (177)

Key terms: visual studies, visual culture, cultural studies (1), Mitchell's pictorial turn (5), image studies (7), non-art images (12), art history (21), transdisciplinary (28), core competencies (30 and c. 4), canon of visual culture (34), methodology (37), gaze (38), media (42), collapse and single visuality (43), informational images (45), aestheticism danger (48), high art's project of negation (50), commercial culture (50), high-low problem (45-62), wild writing and wild theory (65), VS is too easy (65), program notes (66), Adorno's "hidden meaning" (71), stupefaction (73), graphic design and ideographic writing (84), unconsciousness (92), Foucault's "bureaucratic eye" (99), hybridity (113), visual literacy (125), flaneur (129), postocular theory (133), Hirsch's cultural literacy as asterisked knowledge (138), Fourier transform (161), tags (172), graphics (180), Euclidean geometry and logic (192), studium and punctum (193), uncertainty (200).

"It is exactly that apparently unconstricted, unanthropological interest in vision that I think needs to be risked if the field [of visual studies] is to move beyond its niche in the humanities" (7).

"Visual studies growing from mathematized theories of communication is very different from visual studies in North America, where visual communications tends to be a more varied and less semiotically informed practice that includes design studies and graphic design" (10).

"In my experience, visual studies grows wild in studio art departments and art schools, where it is a standard accompaniment of studies in postmodernism" (14).

"Visual studies emerges from these books as a set of overlapping concerns united by a lack of interest in several subjects--older cultures, formalism, and canonical works of art" (17).

"Or to put it more soberly, from an art-historical standpoint, visual culture can appear lacking in historical awareness, transfixed by a simplified notion of visuality, careless about the differences between media, insouciant about questions of value, and sloppy in its eclectic choice of objects and methods" (23).

"What matters here is that the decision to emphasize a general methodological approach has two practical consequences, neither of them very desirable: it means that visual culture looks increasingly like an ordinary discipline, specializing in television, advertising, and other popular imagery; and it means that visual culture courses attract students who are interested mainly in popular art of the last fifty years" (42).

"When I propose that visual studies needs to become more difficult, part of what I have in mind is a balance; the texts would have more lasting interest, for example, if the innovative subject matter were balanced by theoretical or ideological innovation" (63).

"Sometimes the images are there just because the writers are invested in them, not because images are needed to make the arguments work" (83).

"The further you go into the fascinating hinterland of image practices--and it is a direction I love to go in, and that I wish more scholars would take--the less there is to say about social construction, commodification, and the making of the viewing subject, and the less hope there is of also being able to talk about political history, patronage, contemporary literature, or the host of subjects that can make art history and visual culture so absorbing" (85).

"If there is an analytical limit to these interests, it is the assumption that the demonstration of what I am calling hybridity is itself sufficient; the idea is to work upward from known states and dichotomies that are taken to be relatively pure toward an interesting and complex impure state" (113).

"Departments such as the one I teach in offer many opportunities to discuss the meaning of digital images, cyberspace, and the Internet, but they do not require competence in any particular programs or assume that knowledge in their teaching" (179).

"My emphasis in this book has been on the reactive side for two reasons. First, in universities--my principal concern in this book--the confluence of disciplines includes only a minority of critical practices that are intended to affect the state of affairs outside of academic discourse. Second, an overconfident activism based on an underinterrogated discourse is a recipe for uninteresting work. What matters is uncertainty in 'what history, whose history, history to what purpose,' and for me that uncertainty is deepest in the theoretical ground on which the field is built" (200).

Related sources:
Crary, Jonathan. Suspensions of Perception: Attention, Spectacle and Modern Culture. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1999.
Drucker, Johanna. "Who's Afraid of Visual Culture?" Art Journal 58:4 (1999): 36-47.
Stafford, Barbara. Good Looking: Essays on the Virtue of Images. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1996.
Wolff, Janet. Feminine Sentences: Essays on Women and Culture. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1990. (Feminist critique of flaneur)

What Mater's Most

In a rare basketball exhibition last night between mater1 and mater2, mater1 won, 103-99, in overtime.

Because they've never played, the significance of this result--even for an exhibition--is that a modest NAIA program won a dab of respect by outshining the only NCAA Div. I program between Columbia and Lawrence, even if the Roos are a low-mid major practically unknown to the world outside Kansas City. Park has a second-year coach, two transfers from CMU, and a few other guys I coached, knew as campers, or played with during my seven year stint working in athletics at mater1. Of course, it'd be equally satisfying for mater1 to bounce Wm. Jewell this weekend, now that my expectations for a good season have been piqued. Apparently that's what winning does, converting impassivity to alumni pressure overnight.

Tuesday, November 7, 2006

Seven Six Five

Just one month--thirty days--now until I sit for qualifying exams. Krista explained her program's exam procedures in an entry today, and I was reminded I'm due for a report on exam-prep progress. Every tiny exam self-report adds pep to my rally.

I've met or corresponded by email with all of the members of my exam committee, and I have just one more meeting sometime next week to bat around answerable questions for one of my minor exams now that I've dusted through the reading on that list. All in all, I've had a reasonably solid stretch of reading. Just five articles and six books (North, Aarseth, Haas, Kittler, Elkins, and Mitchell) wait for first passes. It's been impossible to work through a full monograph on teaching days, so I've been doing my best to line up articles for Mondays and Wednesdays. Should be able to get through two articles tomorrow and the rest of the first-pass reading by the end of next week. After that, I have a short list of books that I've read but for which I have few notes aside from marginalia. This means that the last two weeks of November will require lots of notes-focusing and writing in small bursts, assembling and winding through clusters of ideas most relevant to the exam areas.

I should be able to sit the two major exam questions (each for three hours) on the day after my last day of teaching for the fall semester. After that, I'll take six days with a minor exam question before sitting for another three-hour session one week after the major exams. After that, I'll get a question for the a week-long minor exam to be written at home. So that's the pattern: two three-hour questions written on-site for the major exam, one three-hour question written on-site after prepping with it for a week, and one full-week question written at home with full access to books and notes. After that, well, it'll be December 21, and I'll take a couple of days off, go bowling with the family, watch the snowflakes, anything. Because of the holidays, I'll probably learn of pass/fail by late January or early February at which time we'll convene for an oral exam where I get to apply duct tape to the flimsy places in my written answers.

Wysocki, "Awaywithwords"

Wysocki, Anne F. "Awaywithwords: On the Possibilities in Unavailable Designs." Computers and Composition 22 (2005) 55-62.

In this brief article, Wysocki complicates the dichotomy between image and word, a division reinforced in the work of Kress, who partitions words and their "temporal and sequential logic" from "image-presentations" and their "spatial and simultaneous logic" (56). Because alphabetic text is arranged, it calls "visual attention to itself" (58) and because visually designed objects are constituted with temporal strategies, we must recognize the material constraints that bear on any composition. That is, we should always try to recognize that which is taken to be natural, while detailing the social and historical constraints involved in any design. Finally, rather than asking what is lost, Wysocki focuses on a more constructive angle: what is possible?

^Vocabulary persists as a problem here. Likening image and word is useful from a design perspective, but how can we qualify our use of those terms without reinscribing the dichotomy?

Key terms: embodied worlds (57), spatial memory (57), naturalized, unquestioned practice (57), Kress' image-representations (57), image and logics of space (58), real affordances (60), perceived affordances (60), NLG's unavailable designs (60).

"The lesson is that things can be put to many uses, often neither just nor humane" (55).

"I have learned in the process of developing communications that it is always worth asking how our materials have acquired the constraints they have and hence why, often, certain materials and designs are not considered available for certain uses" (56).

"Did you read my title as "a way with words" or "away with words"?" (56).

"That is why, then, I wish to question what becomes unavailable when we think of word and image as Kress has suggested we do, as bound logically and respectively with time and with space" (56).

"If we are to help people in our classes learn how to compose texts that function as they hope, they need consider how they use the spaces and not just one time that can be shaped on pages" (57).

"Instead, we should acknowledge that when we work with what is on pages or other surfaces, alphabetic text is always part of what must be visually arranged and can be designed to call more or less visual attention to itself (with the current academic and literary convention to be that of calling less attention to itself)" (58).

"And so to use image to name some class of objects that function in opposition to word is thus either to make an arbitrary cut into the world of designed visual objects or to try to encompass a class so large the encompassing term loses function. To say that all these objects rely on a logic of space is to miss their widely varying compositional potentials" (59).

"By focusing on the human shaping of material, and on the ties of material to human practices, we might be in better positions to ask after the consequences not only of how we use water but also of how we use paper, ink, and pixels to shape--for better or worse--the actions of others" (59).

Related sources:
Drucker, Joanna. The Visible Word: Experimental Typography and Modern Art, 1909--1923. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1994.
Mitchell, W. J. T. Iconology: Image, Text, Ideology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986.
Norman, Donald A. "Affordances and design." <>.

Wysocki and Jasken, "What Should Be An Unforgettable Face"

Wysocki, Anne, and Julia I. Jasken. "What Should Be An Unforgettable Face...." Computers and Composition 21 (2004) 29-48.

Wysocki and Jaskin argue for an expanded, generous recognition of interfaces as situated and reflexive.  Computer interfaces are rhetorical, they contend.  In the first half of the essay, they survey Computers and Composition in the 80s and 90s to identify a range of arguments that discuss various aspects of interfaces, while leaving other aspects unaddressed.  Collectively, Wysocki and Jaskin want to call our attention to the partial treatments of interface, while showing that much C&C scholarship addresses the rhetorical nature of the interface and has been forgotten.

In the second half of the essay, they examine handbooks to show the emphasis on technical knowledge and functional ease at the expense of rhetoric.  These arhetorical stances are read across 14 books, suggesting the dangers of ultra-constrained treatments of interfaces--emphasis on the technical encourages us to forget about the other stuff, and only the barest advice about web design prevails (often treating web design like designing for paper).

So that we don't forget the interface's rhetorical nature and so that we see broadly beyond the technical (or recognize the rhetorical entangled with the technical), Wysocki and Jaskin recommend the work of redesign and cognizance of the presence of interfaces in both print and online materials.

Key terms: graphical user interface (30), seeing and visibility (31), interface (32), HCI and screen (32), interface as rhetorical (33), interface as complexly socially situated (33), PC vs. Mac interfaces (35), role of software (35), expectations of teachers (36), writing handbooks (37), technical as arhetorical (39), functional ease (40), form and content (43), redesign (45).

"We are concerned here precisely with how sight-and hence the metaphors for knowledge-building and comprehension that are linguistically tied to sight-is always just as much about what we don't see as about what we do, always about where attentions are not directed as much as about where they are" (31).

"What do interfaces--and our teachings about how we and people in our classes should both shape and read them--encourage or allow us to see, and then, just as often, to forget to see?" (31).

"Taylor's (1992) words ask to imagine an individual who perhaps recognizes, but perhaps not, that as she sits at a computer using software she is being seen by the software--by the software's makers as they are embodied in their design decisions--as being dull and uninventive; the software therefore only allows her the actions that a dull and uninventive person can be expected to take, and hence--if she approaches the software without abilities or background or desire or encouragement to distance herself from it--she must be that dull and uninventive person, at least for the minutes or hours she uses the software" (34).

"All these writers argued that we have to see interfaces as not just what is on screen but also what is beyond and around the screen if we want to understand how interfaces fit into and sup port the varied and entwined sets of practices that shape us" (36).

"In these varied words from writing teachers and researchers, then, we hope you can see how

  • when we are encouraged not to see the interface as taking part in shaping how we use computers,
  • when we are encouraged to look through form (as though it is arhetorical and ought to be invisible) to content,

we miss--we are able to forget--how complexly and how strongly interfaces take part in the wide ranging, and certainly not always positive, effects that computers have in our practices, lives, and relations with others" (37).

"We have examined handbooks and guides that many writing teachers use, books that so frequently now include sections for helping students design web pages, and--instead of instruction that helps students attain a broad and mindful view of interfaces--we see instruction that often constructs the technical as neutrally arhetorical; emphasizes getting work done--the values of efficiency, ease of use, and transparency--over other possible human activities and relations; and separates content from form, as though form contributes nothing to how others respond to and are shaped by the texts we make for each other" (38).

"If we do not discuss with students how what is present on screen is dependent on the attitudes and backgrounds of those who design what we see and not just on apparently neutral function or technical requirement, then we risk what those earlier writers saw: how audiences can be restricted or silenced or reduced in complexity by what we produce" (45).

"Is it possible to design--is it worth pursuing the design of--reflexive interfaces, interfaces that themselves encourage the wider kinds of seeing we have discussed here, interfaces that encourage their audiences to question how the interfaces construct and shape those who engage with them?" (46).

Monday, November 6, 2006

O Rly

That wheezing sound is me trying to keep up with this an-entry-for-every-day-of-November madness.  Incessant madness!

The real shitz-kicker is that while I'm tunneling away just fine over at my notes blog, posting at EWM feels like double-duty.

So, in the spirit of resignation and fatigue, as in What the hell, it's an entry, here's something we hope you'll really like (if you missed it earlier today on boingboing, that is): Teh Internets.

Kaufer and Butler, Rhetoric and the Arts of Design

Kaufer, David and Brian Butler. Rhetoric and the Arts of Design. Mahwah, N.J.: Earlbaum, 1996.

Interested in the "betterment of rhetoric" (305), Kaufer and Butler spell out an involved model for a modularized verbal rhetoric. They seek to distinguish (and recuperate) rhetoric understood as a design art from more pejorative designations (i.e., rhetoric of antirhetoric and rhetoric as a practical art (23), menial, or simple). In arguing for this particular understanding of rhetoric, Kaufer and Butler frame written argument as an original design art. Given an explicit focus on verbal rhetoric (words alone (9)--grounded in Austin and speech acts), it's not clear where they stand on materiality (^things are designed in language). Rhetoric, for them, involves the design of abstractions (9), and the "design art" reorientation opens rhetoric to a complexity beyond handbooks and procedurally reductive how-tos.

Goals in Rhetorical Design

While the structure of their model seems rigidly executed at times, holding apart, for example, the rhetor from the environment (58), Kaufer and Butler emphasize its suggestive quality rather than pitching it as a prescriptive serum to perfect all rhetorical encounters. They describe the model as diagnostic at one point (305; diagnostic because of modularity), but it is equally useful as a set of heuristics which can be deployed to stabilize public, civic discourse (the application throughout Rhet/Arts of Design is the Lincoln-Douglas presidential debates). In pursuit of coherence, Kaufer and Butler characterize the model as asituational (i.e., portable, generalizable).

The second half of the book, chapters 5-9, is devoted to explaining and applying each of the modules: 5. Goals, 6. Structure, 7. Plans, 8. Tactics, and 9. Events. Goals and Structure are higher order modules, while Plans, Tactics, and Events manifest in the design space. Tactics tend to be opponent-directed and combative; Events are audience-directed and cooperative (67). Further, each of the modules is coordinated with other modules (including the Strategic module (268) and Presentation module (273)). The modules are, in effect, alive; they are rather like Latour's hybrids to a degree. Kaufer and Butler explain that they partially anthropomorphic (dynamic, agentic conditions). Also called "experts," the modules are entangled in a symbiotic orchestration.

^materiality, role of genre, rationalism.

Rhetoric: "Let us define rhetoric as the control of events for an audience. To be more specific, let's say that rhetoric is the strategic organization and communication of a speaker's version of events within a situation in order to affect the here and now of audience decision making" (12).

Design arts: "Design arts highlight a distinction between an agent's naked intention, the goals outside of and motivating the design, and the goals of the designer, that reside in the design. The goals of the design (e.g., fame, wealth, glory, power) and the goals in the design (e.g., balance, symmetry, restraint) coevolve. The defining conditions of a design art are that (1) the goals of the design are perceptually distinct from the goals in it; (2) the artifact produced by the design depends on the coevolution and convergence of these systems of goals; and as an unavoidable consequence, (3) the actor requires considerable effort and skill to bring about this evolution and convergence (29).

Key terms: probability (xv), antirhetoric (2), novelty (3), absence (3), archivability (3), boundedness (4), speed (4), axiomatic science (7), design knowledge (7), verbal rhetoric (8), audience and opponent (10), event and situation (12), canonical event-telling (14), noncanonical event-telling (16), rhetorical situation (19), ancillary events (20), practical arts (23), dialectical argument as contrasted with rhetoric (26), material and symbolic artifacts (33), quasi-real (33), module (37, 39), topics/topoi (49), goals (59), structure (61), knowledge representation (61), public space (64), predictiveness and adaptiveness (76-77), public (95, 124), entity classes (109), modeling a public (129), experts (267), strategic module (268), presentational module (273), media (296).

"The cultural stereotype for rocket science applies, in more muted and modest shades, to the arts in the family of arts we associate with design--engineering, architecture, graphics, musical composition. The principal argument of this book is that rhetoric belongs in this family of arts as well" (xiii).

"As rhetoric has tried to prove itself in the modern academy, it has had to reshape itself to look more like an organized body of analytical knowledge and less like a form of productive knowledge, the latter considered more craft-like and heuristical than principled and lawfully regular. Yet as rhetoric has 'succeeded' in remaking itself to fit the modern standard, it has lost its bearing as an art of production" (xvi).

"Through these three material properties [archivability, boundedness, speed], print made it possible to foreground novelty as a new paradigm for the cultural dissemination of ideas" (4).

"Work in the rhetoric of inquiry and writing in the specialized disciplines tries to show, in sum, how rhetoric, assumed to be a loosely knit and relatively unstructured bundle of practices, finds its way into disciplines considered too highly structured to need rhetoric" (6).

"We argue that rhetoric has remained institutionally unstable as an indigenous knowledge because the academy has failed to place it where it deserves to be placed--in the family of the design arts" (7).

"Design knowledge is the knowledge associated with the architect, engineer, and computer specialist. It is standardly described as (a) modular, able to be broken down into parts; (b) cohesive, allowing the parts to be related back into a working whole; and (c) problem-focused, allowing persons with the knowledge to apply it to do so for pragmatic ends. Our thesis is that rhetorical knowledge, whether practiced in civic communities or by schooled professionals, is a type of design knowledge" (7).

"Within a construction of consciousness, the past, present, and future are integrated as overlapping horizons of time that unite intention, action, and reflection. This gives each event in a noncanonical presentation the look, not of a semantic island, but of a dispersed mass spread across sentences and paragraphs with no clear boundaries" (18).

"It has been difficult to reconcile the dignified universals of the humanities with the interestedness, practicality, and localness of rhetoric" (21).

"Given the local, tactical, and applied nature of rhetorical knowledge, it was and has remained impossible to defend rhetoric against the earliest charges made by philosophy that rhetoric has no intrinsic interest in the universals of truth and morality" (22).

"An ethical consideration more intrinsic to rhetoric is whether the audience is empowered to see the design behind the events constructed" (30).

"To summarize, for an adequate conceptualization of rhetoric, we contend that it is necessary to leave behind the practical arts and associate rhetoric with the arts of design" (35).

"A central contention of this book is that rhetorical design exists as an entity much larger and more encompassing than the textual implementation of rhetorical discourse" (45).

"The Tactics module presupposes a viewpoint different from Plans. Although Plans only knows about truth and falsehood in the social world, Tactics knows only about a world of gaming between a speaker and live opponents in a specific rhetorical situation. Plans knows nothing about the particulars of rhetorical situations. Plans stays somewhat aloof from the actual details of any specific situation of rhetoric. Tactics and Events are the modules that actually 'forage' rhetorical situations, modules that directly manipulate situational inputs that can change with design structure" (65).

"[The Events module] forms the basis of language we call rhetorical performatives, like adaptations, nondeclaratives, indirection, emotives, and reflexives like wit, humor, and irony" (67).

"We acknowledge a partial anthropomorphizing, that is, anthropomorphizing within a module. Within a module, we have relied on an anthropomorphic intelligence to provide the mechanism by which a specific module, within the limits of its own knowledge and action potential, 'decides' or 'does' something" (263).

"Plans, Tactics, and Events operate concurrently, as independent 'experts' that look for opportunities to change a design as the state of the design changes" (267).

"Conservatively, training in the studio arts is anywhere from 5 to 20 times more expensive per student than training in the humanities. To avoid the expense, it is easy to keep rhetoric the lowly practical skill of the humanities, taught to freshman as a rite to passage to the college curriculum. But that is to reduce rhetoric to freshman composition and to miss rhetoric's potential as a member in good standing with the arts of design" (298).

"We have argued that the complexity of rhetoric evinced by these debates shows rhetoric to be much more than a practical art, an art comprehended or captured by a handbook tradition. It is rather a modular art of design, fulfilling all the essential definitions of such an art" (305).

Related sources:
Simon, Herbert. The Sciences of the Artificial. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1996.

Sunday, November 5, 2006

Mystery Shoppers

To the email inbox came a solicitation from the Mystery Shoppers Association a couple of days ago. The MSA was recruiting me with a series of links: "Click to become a Take Out Critic." I was enticed by the offer to review delectable meals from Wendy's, Chuck E. Cheese's, Arby's, and so on, but unfortunately I had to decline (or, more exactly, delete the email). I'm doing my very best already to manage a wildly long and demanding list of obligations (i.e., qualifying exams).

Still, mystery shopping is something I could get into some day. Until then, here are the few puzzlers I'd sell to anyone on the lookout for perplexity. Five cents apiece:

  • Do I have one of those laptop batteries that will explode and burn my life's work to a crisp?
  • Why does my stomach hurt?
  • What happened to all of the Halloween candy?
  • Did I feed Yoki this evening? Or am I thinking of the scoop of food I gave him this morning?
  • How bad did my haircut turn out this time?
  • Why is fish so expensive?
  • Should I return the crappy winter window treatment kit to Ace Hardware or endure the twelve dollar setback quietly?
  • Will I get done everything I need to get done before tomorrow's class?

George, "From Analysis to Design"

George, Diana. "From Analysis to Design: Visual Communication in the Teaching of Writing." CCC 54.1 (2002): 11-39.

In this oft-cited essay, Diana George accounts for the vexed relationship between composition studies and visuality or visual studies. Only in rare cases does one find imaginative curricula that engage with visuality as a serious aspect of composition. George works through many of the default presumptions about visuality, its history as something most often aligned with technical communication (charts, diagrams, and graphs). Her central argument calls for a renewed legitimacy of the visual in composition studies.

Two catalysts for this argument are W.J.T. Mitchell's Picture Theory, in which he describes a "pictorial turn," and the New London Group's 1996 manifesto on multiliteracies. Following the New London Group's emphasis on design, George argues for visuality as productive practice rather than consumptive, analytical, or critical (i.e., non-productive) practice. George is after a more sophisticated account of visuality, and she pursues this by historicizing the question (visuality?) in popular composition textbooks like McCrimmon's Writing with a Purpose and Bartholomae and Petrosky's inclusion of John Berger in Ways of Reading. George wants to present and also depart from a (media-anxious) tradition in composition studies throughout which "visual studies has been perceived as a threat to language and literacy instruction" (15).

To conclude, George calls attention to her own pedagogy and her work with what she calls "visual argument." Still, design is a generative (core) term in the renewal of visuality in composition studies (she locates the minimal attention to visuality in layout standards for research papers--a sort of anti-design). Also, George mentions multimodal design (18); perhaps this is the first appearance of the term in CCC.

Key terms: Mitchell's pictorial turn (13), NLG's multiliteracies (13), producers (13), technical writing (14), visual studies as threat (15), curricular context (15), reading pictures (15), media revolution (16), new literacy (17), mass media and anxiety (17), design (18, 25), mutimodal! design (18), visual appearance and dumbing down (19), visual analysis (21), Berger in Ways of Reading (23), academic decorum (25), research paper and page design (25), desktop publishing (26), comics (27), visual argument (28), art work (28).

"Or, even more to the point--our students have a much richer imagination for what we might accomplish with the visual than our journals have yet to address" (12).

"In place of a resolution, then, I am after a clearer understanding of what can happen when the visual is very consciously brought into the composition classroom as a form of communication worth both examining and producing" (14).

"In the end, I argue that the terms of debate typical in our discussions of visual literacy and the teaching of writing have limited the kinds of assignments we might imagine for composition" (15).

"Only rarely do we encounter a suggestion that students might become producers as well as receivers or victims of mass media, especially visual media" (18).

"Yet, without a concept like the notion of design, these older media assignments seem to be stuck in a kind of literacy civil war--one that pits poetics against the popular and words against pictures" (19).

"Running through much of the composition literature of the period, assignments linked to images carried with them a call for relevance, the need to make this dull, required class more interesting, and the suggestion that less verbal students would perhaps succeed with pictures where they could not with words" (21).

"Instead, the push in the eighties was to continue to explore what visuals could teach students about their written compositions" (23).

"To talk of literacy instruction in terms of design means to ask writers to draw on available knowledge and, at the same time, transform that knowledge/those forms as we redesign" (26).

"What such a question [asked by Wysocki and Johnson-Eilola in "Blinded by the Letter"], and others like it, does lead to, however, is a new configuration of verbal/visual relationships, one that does allow for more than image analysis, image-as-prompt, or image as dumbed-down language" (32).

Related sources:
Faigley, Lester. "Material Literacy and Visual Design." Rhetorical Bodies: Toward a Material Rhetoric. Ed. Jack Selzer and Sharon Crowley. Madison: U of Wisconsin P, 1999. 171--201.
Trimbur, John. The Call to Write. New York: Longman, 1999.

Wysocki, Anne Frances. "Monitoring Order: Visual Desire, the Organization of Web Pages, and Teaching the Rules of Design." Kairos 3.2 (Fall 1998). 12 Jun. 2002 <>.

Saturday, November 4, 2006

Fuller, Media Ecologies

Fuller, Matthew. Media Ecologies. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2005.

That the twenty-three quotations listed below are just the tip of the iceberg should serve to remind me to return for a more careful reading of Fuller. Every damn sentence in this book is like a compressed coil; in combination, they make for an exciting if exasperating string of pithy insights into methods and sites/objects of media ecology.

Two themes open the book (which is a "media ecology made of bits of paper"): 1.) media systems interact by interacting and so the method is radically situated; such interactions must be lived out rather than observed in a control sample, and 2) media systems should be understood as materialist in their constitution (which does not lead inevitably to instrumentalism or positivism) (1).

In the introduction, Fuller accounts for three connotations to "media ecology": 1.) concerns the "allocation of informational roles in organizations and in computer-supported collaborative work" (3); 2.) a kind of answer to tech determinism that emphasizes systemic balance--media environment equilibrium (Postman, McLuhan, Mumford, Innis, Ong, and Ellul); and 3.) concerns "discursive storage, calculation, and transmission systems" (4) (Hayles, Kittler, and Tabbi). Chapter summaries appear on pages 5-12.

Fuller's method is best described as the "indexing of multiplicities" (52) among "conjunctive media." Inventories and lists (15, 44) play a significant part in this approach to understanding more fully the situated interrelations of media and standard objects. Fuller makes use of D&G's machinic phylum--"materiality, natural or artificial, and both simultaneously; it is matter in movement, in flux, in variation, matter as a conveyor of singularities and traits of expression" (17)--to comb through the amalgamation of media involved with pirate radio. In chapter two, he also involves Gibson's theory of affordances (44-47), noting that it is especially adept for the study of media ecology because it hinges on "potential or activated relations" (45). Finally, in studying these live systems, Fuller notes that layerings (up and down scales) are neither visible nor reciprocal (176).

Hylomorphism (18): a model of the genesis of form as external to matter, as imposed from the outside like a command on material which is thought inert or dead
Feedback defined (25): the property of being able to adjust future conduct by past performance

^What would a machinic phylum of composition look like? Rel. p. 23, machinic phylum of radio.
Note of critique for Nardi and O'Day's Information Ecologies because its scope is "insufficient to challenge standardizations of either [technologies or people]" (179).

Key terms: fabrication (2), ecology (2), media ecology (3), information ecology (3), scale and dimensionality (10, 132), reflexive (12), zone of experimental combination (13), lists and "infinite patchwork" (14), hegemonic manyness (15), the aesthetic of multiplicity (15), disequilibrium (16), permutational fields (16), technical standards (16), machinic phylum (17), tacit knowledge (18), hylomorphism (18), hyle (20), Markov chain (29), dub (30), crooning (33), peritextual apparatus (35), hype, redundancy and information (36), earlid (38), translation (42), visible speech (42), affordances (45), conjunctive media (47), clots of association (51), indexing of multiplicities (52), technical ensembles (61), standard object (93), relations of dimensionality (131), fleck of identity (148).

"Parts no longer exist simply as discrete bits that stay separate; they set in play a process of mutual stimulation that exceeds what they are as a set" (1).

"Crucial to such an approach is an understanding that an attention to materiality is most fruitful where it is often deemed irrelevant, in the 'immaterial' domain of electronic media" (2).

"How can words, concepts, quotations, footnotes, the mechanics of a book, and the writings and accounts that evade them themselves be nailed down or glued to a page in a way that makes them reverberate?" (11).

"Children make their way around the world by responding with a ceaseless 'why' to every explanation or grunt offered them. This chapter [4] perhaps betrays the effect of the main methodological influences in my life at the moment, but I hope it benefits from the rather childish insistence on being able to take every path in a labyrinth simultaneously" (11).

"The accretion of minute elements of signification into crowds, arrays, and clusters allows a reverberation of these cultural particles between them and together, the connotations of one into flying off the lick of another" (14).

"Parataxis (a sequence of this and that, 'ands') always involves a virtuality that is hypotactic (concepts and things, nested, meshed, and writhing). It puts into play a virtual syntax" (15). ^Networked image?

"Multiplicity is induced by two processes: the instantiation of particular compositional elements and the establishment of transversal relations between them. The media ecology is synthesized by the broke-up combination of parts" (16).

"Pirates operate without such prescriptive demands, working instead with their inverse: at what level of cheapness will things still run?" (16).

"Phyla are replaced or added to by other systems of reference, such as clades, analytical tools produced by emergent tools and discourses, such as genetic databases, which provide access to dimensions and interpretations of evolution other than those simply available to the interpretive eye" (17).

"Electricity scratches the vitalist itch precisely because it involves the operation of matter on itself" (19).

"The machinic phylum of the radio in this sense is that of the creation of flow among dense population, an expanded form of phyla that at once multiplies the domains in which it is traced by it also produced in the attempted or actualized imposition of hylomorphic patterning--law, the state, or the technologies of capture employed by it" (20).

"Speech and its reception becomes Law, each syntagmatic accretion another node solidifying along the alveoli of power" (26).

"We need now to pay close attention to the particular material qualities of these technologies as a means to accessing such layers. If we are to take the elements of these lists as being at one scale a whole, an object--perceptual effects, which will be discussed throughout the following chapters--we can also begin to take them apart. While such an element might provide, as for Whitman's poet detained in love, a door to a new universe of relationality in which we can lose ourselves, each component provides a chance to get smaller, to get molecular, to get material, while at the same time getting more massive. Details count here" (45).

"The advantage of [Gibson's] work is that it takes up the possibility of detailed exploration of the material qualities of things-in-arrangement, rather than of their essence" (45). ^Strong discussion of Gibson, affordances, and relationality here and on 46.

"Taking up from where he suggests Foucault leaves off--according to Kittler, Foucault's work, being primarily concerned with textual material, largely cuts out at the point where modern electronic media emerge, between 1860 and 1870--his procedure for organizing the recognition of discursive practices makes a substantial and profoundly useful expansion of what is understood to be constitutive of discourse" (61).

"Each of these first lists also provides a route into a specific approach to the combination of media systems: memetics, a set of theories in which cultural elements and processes are proposed as being recognizably 'evolutionary'; seamlessness, the condition of an uncomplicated confluence of media systems; and surveillance, the medial drive to spot, name, and control" (110).

"At this point, it is useful to make clear the conjunction of the two terms meme and fleck of identity. Under the rubric of monitorability demanded by meme theory as an epistemology--that it requires an identifiable isolate, the meme--we can say that the processes of constituting control make a similar demand. They require identifiers, tags. Within the society of control, the meme is transduced as a fleck of identity" (149).

"All standard objects contain with them drives, propensities, and affordances that are 'repressed' by their standard uses, by the grammar of operations within which they are fit. (This 'repression' should not necessarily be construed negatively. It is likely itself to arise as the result of a previous or immanent recombination, disassembly, or adaptation)" (168).

"Discourse and language arise as both tabulatory, isolatable object, the maker of lists, and as visceral reality-forming means of escape from the grid" (170).

"To the side of every line of text is a nonrecorded chaos of life, of deleted words, gibberish, a health improper to record among the thin lines of carefully non-nonsensical findings and leavings" (171).

"The machinic phylum is also produced in the dynamic and nonlinear combination of drives and capacities that, stimulating each other to new realms of potential, produce something that is in virulent excess of the sum of its parts. Indeed such parts can no longer be disassembled; they produce an ecology. Not a whole, but a live torrent in time of variegated and combinatorial energy and matter" (171).

"A media ecology is a cascade of parasites" (174).

"The book has adopted a method that works on the basis of a relatively detailed grounding in specific media elements in order to draw out what is, one hopes, a more accurate and hence useful account" (175).

Johnson-Eilola, "The Database and the Essay"

Johnson-Eilola, 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) (212).

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 paradox?

"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 objects 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 rhetorics" (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 texts, 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 designers, more accurately--actively map fragments back into contexts recursively" (226).

Wysocki, "Opening New Media to Writing"

Wysocki, Anne. "Opening New Media to Writing: Openings and Justifications." Writing New Media: Theory and Applications for Expanding the Teaching of Composition. Wysocki et. al., eds. Logan: Utah State Univ. Press, 2004. 1-23.

To set up Writing New Media, Wysocki invokes a metaphor of the rug-pulled-out in relation to transformations underway between the purportedly stable forms of texts (i.e., generic books) and new media: "writing is changing" (2). Wysocki organizes the chapter around five openings:

  1. The need, in writing about new media in general, for the material thinking of people who teach writing
  2. A need to focus on the specific materiality of the texts we give each other
  3. A need to define "new media texts" in terms of their materialities
  4. A need for production of new media texts in writing classrooms
  5. A need for strategies of generous reading (3)

More generally, what Wysocki offers is an approach to new media that focuses on writing's materiality and that places production above analysis. Materiality, explained through Horner, comes with two caveats: no list is exhaustive, and "agency and structure are interdependent" (4). Wysocki briefly calls for more critical work like that done by Romano, Takayoshi, and Selfe and Selfe on GUIs. Rather than seeing new media work as the analysis of specific pieces of media or the characterizations of broader macrostructures, however, Wysocki maintains that writing teachers are especially well positioned to "open new media to writing" through the foregrounding of materiality in situated compositional practices. That is, writing teachers can make choices about writing with a wide range of writing technologies, which are relevant to exploring the relationship between objects and identity. Wysocki importantly establishes a definitional framework for new media (19) that includes pointing out that new media "do not have to be digital" (15). In contrast with Kress and van Leeuwen, who argue for a distinction between media and mode so that mode accounts for transparencies that have no bearing on meaning, Wysocki holds contends that "digitality gives us a position for questioning what had earlier seemed like a natural silence of media" (14). All material aspects of texts, in other words, bear on meaning, even when we have little choice among materials.

Key terms: materiality of writing (3, 7, 19), new media (5, 19), writing technologies (11), medium theorist (11), social forms (13), modes (13), interactivity (17), Manovich on new media (18), information communication system (18), system-contingent design (21), expressive design (21), aesthetic investment (21).

Citation: Bolter (1), Kress (1), Horner (3), Selfe (8), Takayoshi (8), Romano (8), Haas (11), Manovich (17), Hayles (7), Hall (20), Feenberg (20-21).

"What we offer are some openings--some ranges of active possibilities--we each see in this particular time of change, openings that allow and encourage us to shift what we do in our thinking and classes so that we do not forget, so that we make actively present in our practices, how writing is continually changing material activity that shapes just who we can be and what we can do" (3).

"Instead, I want to argue that new media needs to be opened to writing. I want to argue that writing about new media needs to be informed by what writing teachers know, precisely because writing teachers focus specifically on texts and how situated people (learn how to) use them to make things happen" (5).

"This, then, is why it matters for writing teachers to be doing more with new media: writing teachers are already practiced with helping others understand how writing--as a print-based practice--is embedded among the relations of agency and extensive material practices and structures that are our lives" (7).

"I want to argue that these results of digitality ought to encourage us to consider not only the potentialities of material choices for digital texts but for any text we make, and that we ought to use the range of choices digital technologies seem to give us to consider the range of choices that printing-press technologies (apparently) haven't" (10).

"I think we should call 'new media texts' those that have been made by composers who are aware of the range of materialities of texts and who then highlight the materiality: such composers design texts that help readers/consumers/viewers stay alert to how any text--like its composers and readers--doesn't function independently of how it is made and in what contexts. Such composers design texts that make as overtly as possible the values they embody" (15).

"My reason for defining new media texts in terms of materiality instead of digitality is to help us hold present what is at stake: to look at texts only through their technological origin is to deflect our attention from what we might achieve mindful that textual practices are always broader than technological" (19).

"And I argue that--because in acknowledging the broad material conditions of writing instruction we then also acknowledge the contingent and necessarily limited structures of writing and writing instruction--people in our classes ought to be producing texts using a wide and alertly chosen range of materials--if they are to see their selves as positioned, as building positions in what they produce" (20).

"And so I write here that, if we do want to understand compositions as allowing us to see our positions, then it would be useful to think about--and teach--composition of page and screen as a material craft under the terms I've just described" (22).

No Touch-backs

I've been tagged. Here, then, are those five little-knowns:

  1. Sources of deep-seated anxiety: clipping Yoki's toenails (how much can I take off?), mowing the lawn when there's a possibility that small creatures are lurking in there, and maneuvering in spaces like unfinished attics or low-ceiling basements where the exposed ends of nails are just millimeters from my head.
  2. I subscribe to the RSS feeds of seven
  3. In elementary school, one year was especially loaded with U.S. geography. We could draw each of the fifty states for extra credit. I planned to do all fifty, of course. I took to my dad's drafting table (the surveying business back then was stationed in two front rooms of the house). Alabama. But damn!, Alabama has some some crazy jags in the SW corner. I skipped to Colorado. Moved on to Utah and Wyoming, and, in a flurry of ambition, finished with Nevada. Call it my Euclidean stage. Extra credit: +5.
  4. Despite being elected in a landslide as senior class pres late last century (i.e., nobody else ran), I took no part in planning the most recent reunion (didn't attend, either). Soon thereafter, I noticed the neighbors around here had "Impeach" signs stuck in their front lawns. How did they find out?
  5. Exam preparation has taught me finally how to read (by which I mean there's most certainly been a phase transition in recent months). Regrettably this transformation has come at the expense of drinking beer.

Friday, November 3, 2006

Gliffy and Facebook

The week's quasi-experiment in WRT302 blended Facebook and Gliffy. In the session dedicated to Facebook (what of it?), I wanted to prime our upcoming discussion of networks when we read a few chapters from Critical Mass. But reading about Facebook didn't seem to me to be enough. I was mildly bored with the idea of reading about Facebook. Next, pose as if critical. Next, rehearse the cautions about visibility and decorum. Thorny! It's a fairly reliable pattern that when I'm bored, my students are doubly bored. And so.

By involving Gliffy (Draw and share diagrams on the web), we prefaced the conversation about Facebook by mapping ourselves as a network, first assembling into small clusters of three or four and then by researching ties that would connect each person within a cluster and then each cluster to another. Gliffy did the trick. I could easily start a file (one for each group) and then invite collaborators. Each collaborator received an email with a temporary password. Once logged in, each collaborator was able to draw and rearrange elements on the canvas. Saving the file swiftly captures that iteration of the glyph and adds it to running list of versions for all to see (enabling restorations of earlier versions as well). It's especially suited to collaborative diagramming, activities like composing a network map or chart.

At first this meant that students had to spend time (re)learning names of peers and looking over their Facebook profiles for link-worthy criteria. This stage was only loosely defined; the one caveat was that students should try to avoid obvious ties (direct friends; live in N.Y.; taking WRT302). Dig around, prefer the non-obvious, and make use of degrees of separation as needed. In twenty-five minutes, each of the clusters of students was finished with the first phase. Gliffy includes one-click publishing to the web, so the groups were able to publish, then drop the links to their network diagrams into the class's account for simplified sharing. Everyone could then see the work performed by other groups.

I'm blogging this mainly to record (for an eventual return) that this might serve well as an ice breaker (if, that is, the ice must be broken) provided everyone has a Facebook account. For those who don't, however, it's still possible for them to suggest a basis for links to others, and establishing those links generates a lot of other conversation. More importantly, when we finally turned to our discussion of Facebook, it made far more sense to approach it as a network phenomenon, and as such, we could deal with the strength of ties (what warrants a thick line? a thin line?), centrality (who was easiest to connect to?), dynamic relations, and structural holes as concepts applicable to a broad assortment of domains and beyond the most facile uses.

Thursday, November 2, 2006

Open Gallery

The open gallery introduces variation--a lift!--to the withering paces of the semester. I'd never tried anything quite like it before, and to be honest, even though I listed it on the course schedule for WRT302, I considered a reversal of plans right up until two days before. The open gallery emphasizes circulation, conversation; whatever the compositional pieces, there's a gathering, music, movement, laughter. A lightness.

Eleven students are now enrolled in the course. They'd been working on their "combinatorial scenes" (imagework and logics of association and juxtaposition) applied to arrangements of image and text (other conceptual hooks in Barthes' studium and punctum). Tabblo, Flickr, Wayfaring, and Flash. We meet in the computer cluster (a lab, basically). Guests passed through much like they would at any other sort of gallery, browsing, taking in glimpses, chatting informally: "What have you done?". And there was a bowl of Halloween candy for ramping up the blood sugars.

To be fair, I agreed to do what I could to encourage attendance provided everyone else brought a guest. Many students arrived with guests; a few did not. My own emails to the department and graduate program listservs persuaded a few colleagues to drop by (although acknowledgements were off on my listserv account, and I was unconvinced that the invitation had been distributed, so I re-sent it...for some it poured, like a good sp&m, into their inboxes three times, and still, they didn't attend the gallery).

We planned to hold the open gallery for just thirty minutes, 1-1:30, although our class ordinarily convenes for 80 minutes, from 12:45-2:05. The narrowed time-frame allowed us to meet for a few minutes before people started showing up, and it left us time at the end of things (around 1:40) to talk about how it had gone, what would have been better had we done it another way. We could have promoted it more aggressively by chalking the quad and posting fliers, but too large a crowd might have upset the cadence in the room. In other words, with just 20-25 people (including class members), everyone was able to move at a reasonable pace from station to station and take it all in without being hurried.

I would do this again. I like the idea of opening up the classroom, especially opening it to students who might be interested in taking a course or the proximate but distant colleagues who have only a vague sense of what happens in a course called "digital writing." Because it went well, I want to continue to look for other ways to generalize the open gallery to other courses, other occassions to feature what we do.

Brooke, "Forgetting to be (Post)Human"

Brooke, Collin Gifford. "Forgetting to be (Post)Human: Media and Memory in a Kairotic Age." JAC 20.4 (Fall 2000): 775-95.

Rather than lumping posthumanism with the other post-isms, Brooke draws on frameworks pursued by Hayles in How We Became Posthuman and Latour in We Have Never Been Modern as a way to resolve rhetoric's exceptional role in patching the nature/culture rift (Hayles' corollary, "we have always been posthuman" catalyzes this path of inquiry). Rhetoric, a "posthuman rhetoric" according to Brooke, is repositioned in the space of Latour's hybrids. Turning next to ancient rhetorics, Brooke points to Gorgias as one whose rhetoric enacted the imbroglio that resisted the polarization toward designations of artificial and natural. Like the Gordian knot Latour wishes for us to re-tie (it was unraveled by modernist purification), the Gorgian knot suggested by Brooke draws on posthumanism to furnish a both/and compromise that, rather than viewing memory as natural (as in orality; see Plato) or artificial (as in writing, electracy, secondary orality [?]), instead views it as doubly applicable to our "hypermediated society" (788). In other words, posthuman rhetoric would keep us cognizant of the error involved in tipping too far toward either a presumption of memory's naturalness (truth in mediation, such as Rodney King film footage segmented into individual images) or its artificiality (the rhetoric of antirhetoric). Brooke uses the counterparts of kairos and chronos to explain that the disembodiment of information (e.g., w/ King and the Challenger explosion) should call back into question the material manipulation of media that taken to be natural.

Key terms: hermeneuts of suspicion (776), convergence (776), Hayles' semiotics of virtuality (777), novelty (778), biotechnology (782), Gorgian knot (783), Valesio's rhetoric of antirhetoric (784), mimesis (785), Ong's secondary orality (787), Ulmer's electracy (787), discursive ecology (787), chronos and kairos (790), posthuman rhetoric (791).

"Bailiff's citation of both the postmodern and the posthuman, however, marks a distinction I want to pursue in the first part of this essay by claiming that the posthuman is not simply the latest in our academic procession of post-isms. In the first section I turn to the work of Katherine Hayles and Bruno Latour in an effort to articulate a space for posthumanism that is distinct from the modern/postmodern complex" (776).

"I transpose Hayles' own 'semiotics of virtuality' to the field of rhetoric, suggesting that the revision of memory that results may provide us with our best hope for tempering the will to knowledge that is one of our modernist legacies, an inheritance that has been intensified with recent advances in technology" (778).

"In fact, the network of relations among speaking and being spoken, nature and culture, and agency and determinism might seem to us the very sort of Gordian knot Latour seeks to retie" (783).

"From its inception, rhetoric does not claim to be anything but artificial; indeed, it is its artificiality that renders it transferable and teachable" (784).

"After Plato, rhetoric is an artificial construct, one that encourages us to conceive of our relationship to language as one of production and control" (784). ^Valesio's rhetoric of antirhetoric.

"Whether or not the shift from orality to literacy carries with it a corresponding change in mental faculties, it has a radical effect on the environment in which we think and act, which amounts to the same thing, according to Edwin Hutchins. Hayles glosses Hutchins' point: 'Modern humans are capable of more sophisticated cognition than cavemen not because moderns are smarter...but because they have constructed smarter environments in which to work' (289)" (786).

"As our memories and technologies have become more artificial, they have done so only as far as they circle back and approach the appearance of the natural" (787).

"We must reconceive the canon of memory, complicating the binary that Plato provides and reopening a space within our hypermediated rhetoric for the recognition of experience" (790).

"Why a postmodern rhetoric might privilege kairos over chronos, a posthuman rhetoric would find room for both" (791).

"As our technologies tempt us with the possibility of absolute (patterned) knowledge via the purified technologies of mediation (absence), a posthuman rhetoric would require us to temper that possibility with the materially situated emergence (presence) or opportunities (randomness)" (791).

Related sources:
Hutchins, Edwin. Cognition in the Wild. Cambridge, MA: MIT P, 1995.
Valesio, Paolo. Novantiqua: Rhetorics as a Contemporary Theory. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1980.

Wednesday, November 1, 2006


Another! Lost! Entry!

Okay, let me not spoil it. This episode, "The Cost of Living," brought back the psychedelic darkfog--the same curious fog? smoke? Are those chains rattling in there? that confronted Eko mid-way through last season in the Eko-centric episode, "The 23rd Psalm." Soon after the earlier episode aired, I recall that the forums were abuzz with screenshots of darkfog's electrically-charged flickers of images from Eko's life, his memories. I admit, I went to the forums a time or two. But it was February (first, to be exact) in Syracuse, N.Y. For kicks and digression: Lost forums. My point is that the psychedelic darkfog, with all its industrial ticks and mystery, seemed to mirror Eko's mind. That is, during that first encounter with the darkfog, it tapped into something that presumably had bearing on the events of tonight's episode, even if that earlier encounter wasn't reintegrated by any of the catch-'em-up moments in tonight's episode ("Hey, what are all of the other monitors for?"). It got to know Eko. Who else does darkfog know?

And then there's the matter of Ben's neck-tumor. Keep an eye on Juliet. She did not play To Kill A Mockingbird in the VCR for Jack.

What would a Lost entry be without glossing meta? Fine: Aside from a few small and loose threads and beyond the most obvious turn of events, tonight's episode made the series seem endable.