Waxing Alien Phenomenology

Tomorrow is the second meeting of the Opt/ORG Optatio Reading Group series on Ian Bogost’s Alien Phenomenology, or What It’s Like to Be a Thing. Last week we discussed chapters 1-3 and tomorrow we’re on to tackle 4 and 5. I haven’t written about the text yet because I still find myself wondering what it illuminates (and eclipses) in composition/rhetoric, and so my thoughts are only half-formed and somewhat mutant.
Here are some things that I’ve noted during my reading:

humans are non-human: an interview on the microbial make-up of healthy humans from a Talk of the Nation interview with the Human Microbiome Project. “Each of us carries around about 10 times as many microbial cells as human cells and that they have about 100 times as many genes as we do. So not only are we outnumbered, we’re outgunned. They’re able to perform a lot of biological functionality that we don’t get to do, necessarily, in our own genome.”

While driving in the car listening to NPR, a routine test of the Emergency Broadcast System became alien when it it lost association with the place/time it was programmed to take place within. “Silence” played on the radio for thirty seconds. White noise radio transmission. Later, the program was interrupted by the test. A dissonance of (dis)association.

While driving (different trip, “same” route) I thought about how much time I have spent in the car commuting this past year. At night my mind feels like it drives itself, disassociated from my body, hovering without aid of vehicle. I first find myself thinking of Marshall McLuhan’s “The wheel is an extension of the foot”. He explains in The Media is the Massage that “All media are extensions of some human faculty-psychic or physical”. In thumbing for that quote in the graphic text, I came across a white page I didn’t remember that read “Environments are invisible. Their groundrules, pervasive structure, and overall patterns elude easy perception.”

I look for (and how does this differ from seeing?) things that seem out of place in their environments, which could be most any thing. What do/can these associations mean? For example, in leaving the hair salon I get my hair cut at and entering the parking garage across the street, I came across a pair of black latex gloves that are used to color hair. They sat on a windowsill in the stairway that faced the salon’s front.

After the first meeting, I found myself thinking about:

  • Rhetorical agency
  • Material considerations – what is (un)available in compositon, or material rhetoric
  • Re-reading Lakoff and Jonhson’s Metaphors We Live By – particularly the idea that examination leaves things unexamined, which to me, and perhaps erroneously, elicits contemplation of use(ful)(less)ness
  • If the practice of theory is theory, or theorizing, what is the practice of rhetoric? Of composition?
  • The difference between medium and material in composition
  • Ways of thinking about object relation other than Bogost’s metaphorism. I’m interested in his use of metaphor and  “phenomenal daisy chains”, but I’m uncertain as to what this looks like/acts like/does. I keep putting it in relation to Latour’s Science in Action; framing composition as in the making
  • What happens with these things? What effect does time have? And, what happens when we encounter the alien everyday, and do consider what it’s like to be a thing?

“The point is this: things are not merely what they do, but things do indeed do things. And the way things do is worthy of philosophical consideration” (Bogost 28).

2 thoughts on “Waxing Alien Phenomenology

  1. On the topic of things, things doing things: I’m wondering what’s up with the semi-ranty section on ‘radical’ philosophy/scholarship (philosophers “wielding hammers,” etc.) It almost seems like Bogost’s arriving at some sort of roundabout characterization of Marxian materialism – which, I’m sure, he would deny. This is especially odd, give that there are no references to Marx in the index, and if there are any in the text, I missed them. And only a single (flippant and reductive) allusion to socialist realism. Seems like a strange oversight to me – a discussion of the agency of things that excludes even a passing mention of socialist collectives.

    (The USSR was a pretty big thing!)

  2. Pingback: Thoughts on Bogost’s Alien Phenomenology « Conblogeration

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