Rhetorical Homeorhesis: Mixing Humans and Nonhumans Together

You want to cut through this rich diversity of delegates and artificially create two heaps of refuse: “society” on one side and “technology” on the other? That’s your privilege, but I have a less messy task in mind (308).

“Mixing Humans and Nonhumans Together: The Sociology of a Door-Closer” | Bruno Latour (as Jim Johnson)

All of these projects and objects are in media res: articulated and made real through and across the entanglements of humans and nonhumans alike. Accounting for some of the work, we emphasize symbolic and interpretive work, the work of humans, but don’t count the non-symbolic and non-discursive work of nonhumans. This short video from Nathaniel Rivers, part of a series he made on Bruno Latour and Rhetorical Theory, seemed to account for the chreod—a necessary path or the alignment of set ups that turn away from words —of Latour’s door-closer. In rhetorical theory, we look to texts or words to create a subject of inquiry/study, but what of actions and performances and speechless persuasion? How can we account for that which is not said, but can be accounted for in utterance?

Knowledge, morality, craft, force, sociability are not properties of humans but of humans accompanied by their retinue of delegated characters. Since each of those delegates ties together part of our social world, it means that studying social relations without the nonhumans is impossible (310).

An attempt at accounting for articulation work—extending the semiotic of story beyond human/inhuman and figurative/non-figurative:

scripts are scenes played by human and nonhuman actors

description is retrieval of the script from the scene

transcription or inscription is the translation of any script from one repertoire to a more durable one

prescription is whatever a scene presupposes from its transcribed actors and authors—the moral and ethical dimension of mechanisms

des-inscription is all the ways actors extirpate themselves from prescribed behavior

subscription is the way actors accept their lot

sociologism is the claim that, given the competence and pre-inscription of human users and authors, you can read out the scripts nonhuman actors have to play

technologism is the symmetric claim that, given the competence and pre-inscription of the nonhuman actors, you can easily read out and deduce the behavior prescribed to authors and users

The story of the door-closer is Latour’s attempt/account to make a nonhuman delegate sound familiar. In story-telling, one calls shifting out any displacement of a character either to another space or to another time or to another character—

As a more general descriptive rule, every time you want to know what a nonhuman does, simply imagine what other humans or other nonhumans would have to do were this character not present. This imaginary substitution exactly sizes up the role, or function, of this little figure (299).

Latour is working to make the door-closer, un/seen as a purely technical artifact into a highly moral and highly social actor through describing not how the door-closer works or how its made, but how it works on entering/exiting a door, or how it prescribes what people should pass through the door and their techniques for doing so—it keeps out drafts until it goes “on strike”, it is impolite in slamming shut, with a hydraulic system its discriminatory weight works against young, old, and workers hands full. To label techniques or technical as inhuman overlooks translation mechanisms and the many choices that exist for figuring or de-figuring, personifying or abstracting, embodying or disembodying actors (303).

No matter how clever and crafty are our novelists, they are no match for engineers. Engineers constantly shift out characters in other spaces and other times, devise positions for human and nonhuman users, break down competences that they then redistribute to many different actants, build complicate narrative programs and sub-programs that are evaluated and judged (309).

Returning to trajectories instead of stases, or how semiotics might account for flows instead of states of symbol/meaning or human is to intention: Homeorhesis is steady flow. Steady state implies equilibrium which is never reached, nor are organisms and ecosystems in a closed environment.

How is rhetoric working to account for the non-discursive and the non-symbolic in media res?

What does chreod afford as method?

Representation of Interpretive Research Methods

I took particular interest in the readings “A Crisis of Representation in the Human Sciences” and “Ethnography and Interpretive Anthropology” due to their discussion of the construction of knowledge made im/possible by how research (the process, the paradigms, the forms of evidence and text) was constructed. The conversations reminded me of readings from Debates in the Digital Humanities that are taking as matter of concern defining, theorizing, critiquing, practicing, and teaching digital humanities—a similar moment of crisis in representation. Its blurring/blending/breaking of disciplinarity and thus genre conventions for how research is constructed (form, methodology/epistemology and process) and its emphasis on interpretation (due to the plethora of tools that can be used to read and represent data sets) resonated with the concerns and even justifications articulated in developing interpretive anthropology as research method and moving away from working from/applying top down models of paradigmatic structure in researching.

In one of the framing works in DitDH, Johanna Drucker, in “Humanistic Theory and Digital Scholarship”, questions of humanities scholars what impact the humanities have had on the digital environment, and the possibility of digital platforms and interfaces that are created from humanistic methods instead of the borrowing of methods from outside of the discipline, which she describes as at odds with the cares and concerns of humanities work. She explains that humanities work has encountered digital tools, but what of humanities tools in digital contexts? I see this as deep concern with methodology—how and what researchers are doing for what reasons, for whom or what. A humanistic approach, she explains,

“means that the premises are rooted in the recognition of the interpretative nature of knowledge, that the display itself is conceived to embody qualitative expressions, and that the information is understood as graphically constituted”.

Although Drucker is concerned with humanistic approaches to developing digital tools and interfaces (forms and models to study and re-present information), her concerns for accounting for the complex and the dynamic (that is re-situatable, re-interpreted) is akin to the call for a “jeweler’s eye of the world is thus urgely needed” in cultural anthropology (15). The model of cultural anthropology’s research (ethnography) has long been focused on problems of the recording, interpretation, and description of closely observed social and cultural processes—not models, but self-conscious frames of reflexive mediation (Marcus & Fischer 42).

systems of seeing

systems of seeing

How can writing come from instability and durations of temporality in reflexivity and interpretation? In this same collection, Jamie Skye Bianco asks “does DH need an ethical turn?” to which she responds yes because it operates through webs of people, institutions and politics in uneven networks of relation. People and institutions are a part of DH work: they have/n’t access to texts to research, are/n’t represented in texts, have/n’t access to tools for research, and have/n’t access or representation in what is created. Texts are contextual, they are heterogeneous and dynamic; but reading them for their semantic parts and rendering them as visualizations of selected parts that are oft negligent of situating in the whole being can run the risk of de-emphasizing the human element of the humanities. This risk may come from separating the methods of doing DH work (the tools) from the theories that give impetus to the work. This separation of theory and method risks flattening context by not revealing difference; “the constellation of context, affect, and embodiment must remain viably dynamic and collaborative in digital and computational work” (Bianco, “The Digital Humanities Which is Not One”). Because digital and computational work “documents, establishes, and affectively produces an iteration of real worlds” that are “multimodally layered” (Bianco), not losing context (and its embedded elements) becomes matter of concern. The challenge is to shift humanistic study from attention to effects of technology to a humanistically informed theory of making of technology – considerations of affect, the constructivist force of knowledge as observer dependent and emergent (Drucker, “Humanistic Theory and Digital Scholarship”).  Digital work needs to consider the realms of the digital, and the context that are digitized and situated around digital materials, need to be envisioned as “shared knowledge, culture, and semantic content” (Bianco). This is similar to concerns taken up through experimental ethnographic writing’s response to inadequacy of existing means to represent authentic differences of other cultural subjects and the charge that interpretive anthropology, if concerned with cultural subjectivity, achieves its effects by ignoring or finessing in predictable ways issues of power, economics, and historic context (44).


reading traces:

  • human sciences: extends beyond conventional social sciences to include philosophy, art, law, architecture, literature, and the natural sciences (7)
  • paradigmatic style in which ideas – not the ideas themselves – that has come under attack (7)
  • “Blurred Genres” Clifford Geertz: fluid borrowing of ideas and methods from one discipline to another (7)
  • present conditions of knowledge are defined not so much by what they are as by what they come after (8) as the postparadigm
  • key feature of this moment is loosening hold over fragmented scholarly communities of specific totalizing visions or a general paradigmatic style of organizing research (8)
  • crisis of representation: arises from uncertainty about adequate means of describing social reality (8)
  • happens in alternate swing of a pendulum between periods in which paradigms are relatively secure and periods in which periods lose their legitimacy and authority when theoretical concerns shift to problems of interpreting the details that elude the capability of the paradigm to describe it or explain it
  • emplotment, argument, ideological implication (historical work exhibits this framework from Hayden White’s Metahistory) (12)
  • during 19th century efforts to find a realist mode of description ended in irony because there were a number of equally comprehensive and plausible yet mutually exclusive conceptions of the same events; need to overcome the unsettling, self-conscious ability to have faith in itself (referring to ironic consciousness) (14)
  • task is not to escape suspicious and critical nature of ironic mode of writing but to embrace it and use it in combination with other strategies (as well as paradox, contradiction, and uncertainty)
  • interpretive anthropology – grew out of cultural anthropology work in the 1960s, which gradually shifted its emphasis from the attempt to construct a general theory of culture to a reflection on ethnographic fieldwork and writing (16)
  • ethnography: a research process in which the anthropologist closely observes, records, and engages in the daily life of another culture and then writes accounts of this culture, emphasizing descriptive detail(18)
  • modern anthropology: ethnographic research process justified by capturing cultural diversity and a cultural critique of ourselves (20)
  • “the essence of holistic representation in modern ethnography has not been to produce a catalog or an encyclopedia, but to contextualize elements of culture and the make systematic connections among them (23)
  • experimental ethnographic writing and the antigenre – tool in the development of theory/theoretical insight (42)

reading threads:

  • is experimental ethnographic writing still developing? in what forms/media?
  • what do these experimental texts look like?
  • are there examples of more open/ongoing/dynamic/interactive ethnographic projects?

How Ought We Understand Rhetorical Agency is an Anagram for Who

Cheryl Geisler “How Ought We to Understand the Concept of Rhetorical Agency?”

A Report from ARS (Alliance of Rhetoric Societies now part of Rhetoric Society of America), 2004

Author Info

Cheryl Geisler is Professor of Interactive Arts and Technology at Simon Fraser University where she serves as the inaugural Dean of the Faculty of Communication, Art and Technology. Geisler has written extensively on the nature of texts, especially those mediated by new technologies A recognized expert on verbal data coding, she is the author of Analyzing Streams of Language and leads an annual international workshop on verbal data analysis. Her research interests include advancement of women in the academy, technologies of text and verbal data analysis.

Rhetorical E/Affect

As a technology ultimately inspired by the second Great Awakening, the Ouija Board illustrates the anxiety surrounding our many fantasies about human agency, particularly in respect to communication as a transcendent, or even transparent event. (Ouija Board)

Geisler’s article sparked a response from Christian Lundberg and Joshua Gunn called “Ouija Board, are there any communications? Agency, ontotheology, and the death of the humanist subject, or, continuing the ARS conversation”. The abstract reads:

This essay responds to Cheryl Geisler’s “report” on the discussions about the concept of agency at the 2003 Alliance of Rhetorical Societies conference. We argue that Geisler’s report inaccurately and unfairly describes the wide-ranging positions discussed at the conference, particularly by collapsing subjectivity and agency and by advancing a strawperson argument about “postmodernism.” In contrast to the humanist understanding, we recommend and describe a negative theology of the subject that adopts a more hospitable posture of uncertainty toward the agent and agency.

They explain that “casting the problem of rhetorical agency as a rhetorical affect, instead of as a point of origin for rhetorical effect, requires us to think about the agent and its relation to agency as one trope among others that productively and destructively constrains the exercise of our critical imagination.” Agency, as production of effects, possesses and constitutes the agent—not the other way round.

To which Cheryl Geisler responded with “Teaching the post-modern rhetor: Continuing the conversation on rhetorical agency”. The abstract reads:

In responding to Gunn and Lundberg’s critique of her report on rhetorical agency, Geisler uses their Ouija Board metaphor to undertake an analysis of what it might mean to teach the post-modern rhetor. In particular, once the autonomous agent has been denaturalized, members of the profession of rhetoric have plenty to do in helping students first to engage with and then to participate in a more appropriately theorized rhetoric. Like the Ouija Board player, we may not be able to know how the results of our classroom teaching are related to our intentions. But–like every other rhetor–we need to recognize the costs of walking away from the game.


As rhetoricians, we generally take as a starting point that rhetoric involves action (12).

Geisler provides her account of the conversations taking place at Alliance of Rhetoric Societies that capture deliberation on the question “how ought we to understand the concept of rhetorical agency”? She maintains that without a concept of agency, we (rhetoricians) lack the necessary rationale for work (producing scholarship, social change, educating).

Inventory of Central Concerns 

the idol/idle of the ideology of agency

impetus for meeting: deliberation of the future of rhetorical studies taking up the question “how ought we to understand the concept of rhetorical agency?”

  • this a question of definition combined with a question of deliberation: Geisler accounts for this by describing it as an interplay between rhetoric’s interpretive project and rhetoric’s educational mission (9) and an interplay “between what rhetorical agency, in fact, is and what it, in value, ought to be” (9)
  • “Most scholars at the ARS acknowledged, explicitly or implicitly, that recent concern with the question of rhetorical agency arises from the post-modern critique of the autonomous agent” (10)
  • traditional rhetoric as ideology of agency: speaker as origin, strategy as intentional, discourse as constitutive of character and community, ends that bind in common purpose
  • issues of access to agency, the varieties of agency, available means

extending the traditional rhetor

cites advances developing agency happening in:

  • how rhetorical agency functions in subaltern social groups (those who do not have access to mainstream public forums) – the exercise of agency by rhetors without taken for granted access (11)
  • interplay of audience and media (iconic photographs) in networks of constructing and being constructed (11)
  • digital technologies that alter human experience of space and thus the sense of human potential or agency (11)

constructing agency through connections of (human) condition

she explains that the critique of the ideology of agency is concerned with the link between rhetorical action and social change—the actions of a rhetor and consequences in the world (12)

critique of agency as illusionary isn’t productive because it dissolves the connection between action and effect/change

she explains that it is more productive to:

  • think of agency as a resource constructed in particular contexts in particular ways
  • consider how various political systems figure agency
  • consider agency not a problem to be re/solved or troubled but a central object of rhetorical inquiry
  • look at the way material conditions shape rhetorical action (by which a communicative act materializes out of a combination of individual will and social circumstances 14)

skill of the rhetorical agent

  • rhetorical agency manifests when a speaker/writer displays an ability to “identify and manage or…orchestrate resources” (13)
  • a conscious structuring of one’s message to maximize possibilities of evoking
  • “only if we can assent to the role of the rhetoric in producing efficacious action can we as a discipline have a mission to educate such rhetors to have agency” (13)

duty now for the future

  • “the term agency has moved from marking off the unnoticed foundation for efficacious rhetorical action to opening up its mechanisms” (14)
  • move from universal construct to the specific local and historical conditions that undergird it
  • need to acknowledge that agency is not universally available to all members of society

rhetorical agency a rhetoric makes

the traditional model of humanist agent as addressing “the elephant in the room”—the tie between the mission of rhetoric and the concept of rhetorical agent; “a rhetorical agent seen to make choices among the available means of persuasion is an agent rhetoricians can educate to the best choices” (15)

“How can we create a better society through the pursuit of rhetoric?” (15)

  • can tap into unacknowledged resources of body, space, and so on of subaltern groups
  • abandon rhetoric’s social mission—”but would we be doing rhetoric anymore?”—in admitting that agency is illusionary


  • “how can rhetoric be understood to suffuse the entire situation if its traditional definition largely confines it to the perspective (and symbolic)activity of human subjects” (Thomas Rickert, “Circumnavigation” 3)?
  • what/who is lost in focusing on what agency is (the subject of rhetoric) instead of how agency is—its <affect> <effect>?
  • Screen Shot 2015-01-15 at 7.24.19 AM Casey Boyle and Nathaniel Rivers, in discussing the pervasive nature of podcasts and the unmoored state of being of rhetoric from any particular object; how can agency be sensed differently?

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Images (from left to right): Selection of transcript from “The Pod(cast) People Speak” featuring Casey Boyle and Nathaniel Rivers // “The Speech of Things” // “A Bot Bought Illegal Drugs and No One’s Sure What to Do About It

What is Social

Stephen J. Kline “What is Technology” (it doesn’t have a question mark; a move to define what is)

Technology is used without much nuance; it is conflated to “represent things, actions, processes, methods, and systems”, as well as a symbol for procedures of importance and the forward march of progress (210). Kline works to take apart the various usages of technology and name/define each concept (he describes four) with the goal of understanding the way(s) we humans make our living on the planet.

  • usage one: hardware (or manufactured artifacts)
  • usage two: sociotechnical system of manufacture
  • usage three: information, skills, and procedures for accomplishing tasks
  • usage four: a sociotechnical system of use

These usages of technology account for the people and equipment that manufacture; the complete working system of elements needed to manufacture—people, machinery, processes, legal/economic/political/physical environment; the knowledge, technique, know-how, or methodology to accomplish a task (one that humans could not do alone); and the combination of people and hardware in systems of manufacture and use (which depend on one another and serve as base for human societies). Kline points out that animals use sociotechnical systems but that humans are the only species that purposefully makes innovations to improve their functioning (or hopefully) and that this pattern extends far back beyond this “high-tech age” (212).

The name Kline sparked a connection to Kevin Kelly’s What Technology Wants (because I first thought it was written by Kevin Kline, who is actually an actor), because I found myself thinking about the sociotechnical system as akin to Kelly’s “technium” — the greater, global, massively interconnected system of technology vibrating around us. Technology is possibility. I found myself trying to picture Kline’s sociotechnical system, defined in four usages, and first concocted a nested diagram of increasing complexity. While his definitions are put simply, they account for great complexity; quickly my mind began inserting arrows and paths of flow which assembled a radiating outward/inward network that learns from the patterns emergent in the input/output of humans and nonhumans. I wonder how Kline’s definitions (perhaps limited due to its length) account for how the elements of these systems (are allowed to) communicate (especially when progress is the goal), whereas Kelly’s technium seems to account for ambience, the intangible, and the yet conscious—possibility (or perhaps he just uses words like punctum). In Kline’s sociotechnical system, of which humans and nonhumans are necessary and intrarelated parts, are we (humans) at the center? Based on what/who do innovations take place? How can use and progress (which connote the social in this conception of technology) be discussed with more nuance?

This is less a closing than an opening up, but I found myself wanting to problematize the use of social with the same care that Kline affords technology. I thought of the opening toReassembling the Social ,”Introduction: How to Resume the Task of Tracing Associations”, in which Bruno Latour discusses the definition of social.

“The argument of this book can be stated very simply: when social scientists add the adjective ‘social’ to some phenomenon, they designate a stabilized state of affairs, a bundle of ties that, later, may be mobilized to account for some other phenomenon. There is nothing wrong with this use of the word as long as it designates what is already assembled together, without making any superfluous assumption about the nature of what is assembled. Problems arise, however, when ‘social’ begins to mean a type of material, as if the adjective was roughly comparable to other terms like ‘wooden’, ‘steely’, ‘biological’, ‘economical’, ‘mental’, ‘organizational’, or ‘linguistic’. At that point, the meaning of the word breaks down since it now designates two entirely different things: first, a movement during a process of assembling; and second, a specific type of ingredient that is supposed to differ from other materials.”

So, what is social?

Comparative Possibilisms In the Form of Historiography

Comparative Possibilisms In the Form of Historiography


Matter is a tendency toward spatialization.

Jane Bennett, Vibrant Matter

Setting up Space for Historiography

In questioning how to do historiographic work, the emphasis of do encapsulates and conflates method/ology, subject matter, and evidence all into a single word. Debates on how to do historiographic work raise as matter of concern who or what is being researched, how the text is being written (through what lens is the history being seen), and what the history contributes to knowledge in the discipline of rhetoric. The histories of rhetoric could fill volumes of text categorized by time, subject/object, method, methodology. Histories invoke other histories as acts of carrying forward, of pausing, or even revising, but this relationality of texts is based on events in time. While methods of historiography continue to work towards attention to the agency of objects and space on an event (a shift in perspective from human to nonhuman) and to look at events as more ecological in composition (made up of many elements), the form these histories take, the space they occupy, is bound by lines in time.


Rhetorical texts occupy rectangular fields in books and journals, with the occasional rupture of this rectangular frame in digital publication environments. I am curious what historiographical texts might be able to take as matter of concern if they are able to matter, to occupy spatiality. Writer William Burroughs developed a concept of media being, that he described as an individual who mixes and is mixed, who composes with media by commutating, appropriating, visualizing, and chorally structuring knowledge. The concept of chora, credited to Plato, designates  a receptacle, a space, or an interval; the space creates time and place conditions. In “Toward a Post-Techne Or, Inventing Pedagogies for Professional Writing”, Byron Hawk, through posthumanist theory, discusses the concept of ambience—of a relationality from emergence that attunes to environment. He explains “This view sees cognition, thinking, and invention as being beyond the autonomous, conscious, willing subject. A writer is not merely in a situation but is a part of it and is constituted by it. A human body, a text, or an act is the product not simply of foregrounded thought but of complex developments in the ambient environment” (378). In a rectangular frame of text, even reference and contradiction as integral to argument or as footnote or bibliography entry are limited through construction as lines in the “temporal” present that allude to something beyond that they cannot call upon. I question the affordances of constructing texts as spatially minded (acknowledging that all texts are spatial in consideration of layout); what can the form of texts make available to historiographic work?

In this text/as this text, I will experiment with spatiality as form and as method/ology for doing historiography. My purpose is to provoke considerations in historiographic work in opening up texts as demonstrative of spatiality through cut up and juxtaposed elements of comparative rhetoric, Victor Vitanza’s Third Sophistic and Post-Philosophical Rhetorics, works of literature, sound bytes, glitched images, Twitter bots, and texts altered by various enhancing or disruptive processes of web 2.0 tools.


Mattering of Spatiality in Historiographic Research

I want to first acknowledge historiographic research that takes as matter of concern mattering—elements of ambience, environment, and spatiality that lend me space to form of work as significant. These scholars destabilize more traditional notions of historiographic work to draw attention to what is eclipsed in predispositioned views of time and space in not only the event being researched, but how the historical text of that event is constructed. In “Thinking beyond Aristotle: The Turn to How in Comparative Rhetoric” LuMing Mao describes comparative rhetoric as an inherently interdisciplinary research method, and as “committed to different ways of knowing and speaking and to different forms of inquiry, investigates across time and space communicative practices that frequently originate in noncanonical contexts and are often marginalized, forgotten, or erased altogether” (448). Citing emphasis placed and propagated by Aristotle’s work to define proper and essential subject for the art of rhetoric and on the body of proof for its demonstration, Mao illuminates the emphasis on a perpetual want to claim a set of concepts for rhetoric, despite the competing meanings that have accumulated over time. Mao attributes this emphasis to the need to claim intellectual progress, and as a result, disciplinary legitimacy as study. Instead of fixating on facts of essence, Mao suggests a shift to focus on facts of usage to develop a more informed understanding of the conditions of historicity, specificity, and incongruity.


Mao invokes Jenny Edbauer Rice’s rhetorical ecologies as a way of envisioning history that permits and frustrates the available means and models of discourse in the “shifting and moving, grafted onto and connected with other events” and lined “to the in-between en/action of events and encounters”. Rice’s rhetorical ecology reimagines rhetorical situation—kairotic moments of rhetoric— as “a framework of affective ecologies that recontextualizes rhetorics in their temporal, historical, and lived fluxes”. This new ways of seeing matters of fact can lead to the discovery of new paradigms of knowing. In comparative rhetoric, this look in between two texts is not to see the similarities and differences across them, but to see the effects of text—what has influenced and been influenced. The move is “metadiscplinary” (Haun Saussy); the purpose is not to guarantee uniqueness or coherence, but to represent “the condition of openness to new objects and new forms of inquiry” (453).


In that unbounded moment, I saw millions of delightful and terrible acts, none amazed me so much as the fact that all occupied the same point, without superposition and without transparency. What my eyes saw was simultaneous what I shall write is successive because language is successive. Something of it, though, I will capture.

Jorge Luis Borges, “The Aleph”


Similar to LuMing Mao’s disruption of temporal and spatial coherence to keep inquiry open, in “Writing the Event: The Impossible Possibility for Historiography”, Michelle Baliff discusses making history variable, questions  what it means to not only acknowledge that history is contested, but to create histories to be contested. She explains that “‘normative historical thinking’ elides the radical singularity of the event by subjecting the event meaning by way of categories of knowledge that cannot—by definition—include the radical singularity of ‘what happened’” (243). According to traditional historical thinking, events are only significant if they satisfy a chronological narrative of beginning, middle, and end; they are constrained by temporality. Baliff is interested in unbinding events from temporality to explore the possibility of impossibility; instead of submitting an event to a particular state of being by making ontological claims about the event (which flatten it along a horizontal timeline), the event is instead merely foregrounded by its various appearances (244). Baliff is suggesting a view of events as singular, as exceptional, as not reducible to pre-existing dispositions of rules or norms. The event is instead arrivant, a future that cannot be foreseen (246). This shifts the future from horizontal expectations of temporality to a vertical orientation (246). The event is then always repeatable, it reappears in its possibility to arrive all the time instead of at a time. The event disrupts categorical systems of creating knowledge by forcing consideration in how to write historiography that reorients time as an event— as possibility (247). Writing becomes of chance because the destination of the event cannot be determined. Like Mao’s description of comparative texts being structured as representative of a condition of openness, Baliff describes the text of the event as hospitality; the text sets the table, but leaves an empty place setting for what will have arrived, what has not yet arrived, and for what could not be recognized as having arrived (254).

Victor Vitanza’s “Imagine A Re-Thinking of Historiographies (of Rhetorics)” also takes as matter of concern how and where texts are constructed by calling for re-thinking how histories are told. Vitanza works to dismantle the bounds of temporality through the use of theories of cinema as atemporal and anachronistic. He explains that historiography “plots out a transcendental, vertical line of negation, via a rationalization, that executes the conditions of possibility for realizing the desire for the lost object” (268). The lost object is a desire for linear narrative as model for historical events, but he proposes that film has replaced narrative because it can speed up events, stretch them in slow motion, work them into flashbacks, and most importantly cut and splice stating “Life is not about stories, about actions oriented towards an end, but about situations open in every direction. Life [is] made up of an infinity of micro-movements” (qting Jacques Ranciere) (282). Reimagining historiographies with film disrupts chrono-time into non-linear and multi-linear histories—histories tremble— by way of images over words because writing erases the present (273).

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Mattering of Spatiality: Other of the Eye and Ear


If spatiality is ambience, developed from complexity, how can it be attuned to?


Roland Barthes’ Third Meaning looks at stills from film, working in this “inarticulable beyond” to articulate meaning beyond that of the obvious and the symbolic. This is difficult to do because as Barthes explains a third meaning is “a signifier without a signified” (61). Obvious meanings are evident; they seek the reader/viewer out (54). The obstuse meaning is one too many, it

“extend[s] outside culture, knowledge, information; analytically, it has something derisory about it: opening out into the infinity of language, it can come through as limited in the eyes of analytic reason; it belongs to the family of pun, buffoonery, useless expenditure.  Indifferent to moral or aesthetic categories (the trivial, the futile, the false, the pastiche), it is on the side of carnival” (55). Third meaning outplays meaning because it is discontinuous, depletion, accent (61-62). The third meaning—theoretically locatable but not describable—”can be seen as the passage from language to significance and in the founding act of the filmic itself” (65).


allow that oscillation succinct demonstration—an elliptic emphasis… Roland Barthes


In “Other of the Ear”, Victor Vitanza recounts the space/time whe(re)n he experienced tinnitus—the hearing of noises when there is no outside source of sound—and labyrinthitis—a disorder of irritation and inflammation of the inner ear. He exclaims that it is “The thEAtRe (not a Club) of the Third!… Which would be the pedagogical site of the Revenge of the Object.”

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Sub/Versions of History and Form

While the work of LuMing Mao and Michelle Baliff provide theoretical considerations of historiography that consider space, their construction does not. (Juxtaposed) To their concepts, I wish to model form theory/theory form with the sub/versions of histroiography of Victor Vitanza. In “‘Some More’ Notes, Toward a ‘Third Sophistic’” Victor Vitanza provides an account of  Sophistic traditions in categories he describes as: Classical, Modern, and Postmodern or ParaRhetoric. According to Vitanza, Traditional or Classical Rhetoric is the art of discovering the available means of persuasion in the given case (Aristotle); “its ideal is unity, simplicity, and communicability”.  Modern Rhetoric is the art of accounting for the available means of identification in the given case; the ideal is not persuasion but consubstantiality or sympathetic understanding (Burke). Modern Rhetoric attempts to foster heterogeneity of points of view, but semiotically attempts to “account for” a finite set of ways through which human beings are persuaded.  Postmodern or ParaRhetoric, his concept of a Third Sophistic, is an art of “resisting and disrupting” the available means (that is, the cultural codes) that allow for persuasion and identification” (133). Through a  pathos of distance, ParaRhetoric plays and engages  ideas not just “contra to” but “along side” (133). He explains that a  “Third Sophistic Rhetoric is interested in perpetual decodification and deterritorialization”; it has no faith in the game (or gain) of knowledge or the grand narrative of emancipation in history (133).  Vitanza deploys these figures to consider and disrupt the role of negation and subjectivity in “the” history of rhetoric. Vitanza seeks a movement from (negative) possibilities and probabilities to (denegated) incompossibilities (counter-factual, co-extensive possibilities). The “Third Sophistic Rhetoric” as well as the “excluded middle” serve as the structure for doing hysteriography—his stance on historical work deviating from a singular construction of history. He explains “The notion of a “Third Sophistic,” as I espouse it here, can be more accurately understood according to the topoi of “antecedent and consequent” rather than “cause and effect,” and according to radical “parataxis” rather than “hypotaxis””. Vitanza limits the First and Second Sophistic to the counting of one and two in that they could only account for positions of first cause, and then cause and effect. The Third Sophistic counts to many because it is interested in the chora of hysteriography—the (competeing) voices of many.

The Third Sophistic  is a view that is “post-structuralist” and “postmodern” in that it acknowledges an incredulity toward “covering-law models” or “grand (causal) narratives” of history (writing/ speaking), such as an Hegelian or Marxist dialectical view of history as leading to ethical and political “emancipation,” or to a resolution of the “unhappy consciousness.” It is a view of history (writing/speaking), instead, that dis/engages in “just-drifting.” Whereas the First and Second Sophistics are told metonymically as cause and effect, Vitanza states that the Third will be told metonymically as contingency; he states It is “effective” in that it “differs from traditional history in being without constants”; it is “‘effective’ to the degree that it introduces discontinuity into our very being”; it is ” ‘effective’ history [in that] it will not permit itself to be transported by a voiceless obstinacy toward a millenial ending”  (119 qting Michel Foucault).

The “voiceless obstinacy” is what Vitanza takes issue with when argument is the basis of production—what matters— in rhetoric. He explains that too often an argument is perpetuated based on its repetition, not on its semantic content (133). He describes that an emphasis on reason as method is detrimental to what is possible. He explains that what is wanted is dissensus or hetreologia/paralogia saying ”It is Humanism that I am against. The basic, insidious assumption of Humanism is that human beings are free to deliberate on public issues, that they “express” this freedom in and when achieving “consensus” (homologia, argumentation)” (130). Argumentation is the struggle against the realization that language is the result of purely rhetorical tricks and devices, or that language is rhetoric. Argumentation, after long use,  seems “solid, canonical, and binding to a nation” (131).  Argument can become a hindrance to progress because commonplaces ways of fostering, protecting, and maintaining only the status quo.

Instead of negation in production, Vitanza is provoking the idea of the contingent in production: “That’s just it: feeling that the impossible is possible. That the necessary is contingent. That linkage must be made, but that there won’t be anything upon which to link. The ‘and’ with nothing to grab onto. Hence, not just the contingency of the how of linking, but the vertigo of the last phrase” (qting Jean-Francois Lyotard 134).

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…the results are often startling and effective… Marshall McLuhan

In “Critical Sub/Versions of the History of Philosophical Rhetoric”, Victor Vitanza plays with the idea of contingency and vertigo as a spatial condition of reading ParaRhetoric. He  calls for a change in style in discourse—not argumentation but poetics of rhetoric. He opens with a quote from Michel Foucault, “I have a dream of an intellectual who destroys evidences and universalities, who locates and points out in the inertias and constraints of the present the weak points, the openings, the lines of stress; who constantly displaces himself, not knowing exactly where he’ll be or what he’ll think tomorrow…” Michel Foucault “The History of Sexuality: Interview”.

To Vitanza, this quote demonstrates an Anti-Platonic history that pushes views of history that are considered received to the limits of the carnivalesque which oppose the idea of history as recognition or reminiscence by stylistically sub/version; that systematically dissociates identity or  a single stable self which opposes history as continuity or representative of tradition by  practicing an expressive, literary rhetoric like the sophists who practiced dissoi logoi (new histories of rhetoric will practice dissoi paralogoi); and that all knowledge rests upon injustice, which opposes history as knowledge by moving from representative anecdotes to “mis/representative antidotes” to be “curative fiction” (not as opposed to nonfiction, but as constructing interpretive-fictions) (54). This is a Post-Philosophical Rhetoric, a Sub/Versive Rhetoric that need not borrow the methods or contents of history. Sub/Versive Rhetoric is not attempting to convince readers but provoke an alternative predisposition (44). Like Vitanza’s careful/playful conceptual work in developing the Third Sophistic, he explains that this Post-Philosophical Rhetoric distances itself from persuasion and identification (the domain of old and new rhetoric). Sub/Versive Rhetoric is paralogism; its vision is not consensus  but the searching out of instabilities as a practice of paralogisms to undermine from within the very framework in which the “normal science” has been conducted (52). Sub/Versive histories of Rhetoric are pro/claim themselves through intertextuality (53) that ispluralistic and anarachsitic and through dismemberment or creative undoing (from Mikhail Bakhtin) that uses “use of montage and quotation so one text is laced through with other texts scissor-like rhetorical figures as catchphrases, ironies, ellipses, metalepsis, aporias, parapraxis, parentheses, stylistic infelicities to destroy the Aristotelian order of propriety” (57).


Form A directs sound channels—Continuous operation in such convenient Life Form B—Final Switching off of tape cuts “oxygen” Life Forms B by cutting off machine will produce cut-up of human form determined by the switching chosen—Totally alien “music” need not survive in any “emotion” due to the “oxygen” rendered down to a form of music—Intervention directing all movement what will be the end product?—Reciprocation detestable to us for how could we become part of the array?—Could this metal impression follow to present language learning?—Talking and listening machine led and replaced—

William S. Burroughs, “Two Tape Recorder Mutations”, Nova Express


Byzantine Art: Perceptions of Dimension

The most notable aesthetic  feature of byzantine art was its “abstract” or anti-natural character, in contrast to classical art’s attempt to create representations that mimicked reality as closely as possible.

byzantine mural


When we read, our first instinct is to ask what the text is about, to determine our understanding of it. What would it mean to claim the form of texts as Byzantine art?



In Edmund Abbott’s novel Flatland describes a two-dimensional world occupied by geometric figures. One of the figures, Square, dreams about visiting the one-dimensional world, Lineland, attempting to convince the world’s monarch of a second dimension. Square is then visited by a three-dimensional sphere, which he cannot be convinced of until he sees Spaceland. Each millenium, Sphere visits Flatland to introduce a new being to the idea of a third dimension in hopes of educating the population of Flatland to its existence. Once Square sees Spaceland and his mind is opened to new dimensions, he tries to convince Sphere of the possibility of the existence of a fourth, fifth, and sixth spatial dimension, but Sphere returns Square to Flatland perturbed. Square has another dream in which Sphere visits him once again, this time to introduce him to Pointland wherein the Point (sole inhabitant, monarch and universe) perceives any communication as originating in its own mind. Sphere and Square leave Point and Pointland because of its ignorance in omniscience and omnipresence, labelling Point as incapable of being rescued from self satisfaction.


Imagine someone from our world of three-dimensions orienting themselves  in a two- dimensional world—being accustomed to perception in three-dimensions but only having two available.

Katie Rose Pipkin’s presentation of her webtext “selfhood, the icon, and byzantine presence” at this year’s Bot Summit—a meeting of Tiny Subversions—of various bot makers. Rose Pipkin began her webtext/presentation with a discussion of the tenants of Byzantine Philosophy: that person is ontological rather than substance or essence; that the creation of the world is by god and the limited timescale of the universe; that the process of creation is continuous; and that the perceptible world is realization in time perceptible to mind. She transitioned from discussing iconography of saints in Byzantine murals to computer icons—both symbolic representations.

byzantine mural-glitched-a65-s100-i47-q50

She discusses digitization using the works of Walter Benjamin thus contrasting mechanization with digitization explaining “ digitization is not mechanization, and duplication within this space is not autonomy”. Mechanically produced objects begin as identical in their construction and are placed in the world as unique entities of individual existence. Digital objects appear in multiplicity at once and forever and are not individually manipulatable. In this space, a copy is not a manipulation, as in a mechanical reproduction, it is a recreation; “like mitosis, a copy has the capacity for individual mutation but does not intrinsically affect its parent. a retweet of information is not a duplication nor a shift in scale; a retweet impacts the structural bridge of a networked idea, not the intrinsic idea itself.” Recreations in digital space exist both inside and outside of accumulated time.

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Making In Spatiality: Invention by Bot and in the Margin

Twitter bots are Twitter accounts that compose tweets based on computer algorithms that generate content from mining other text sources. The results can vary from comedic to poetic as bots create new text from anything from Craigslist advertisements to museum catalogues. The tweets work in the space of juxtaposition and the form of the tweet (140 characters and an image). The form of the spliced tweet makes space for invention.

Jim Brown has a project called Making Machines that he describes as “an attempt to create new machines for the digital rhetorician” as a new form of machine for generating and interpreting arguments that the rhetorical tradition offers. Brown has created a Twitter bot that chooses at random two works from Patricia Bizzell and Bruce Herzberg’s anthology The Rhetorical Tradition which he then has to create a mashup text of. The mashup texts take the two texts to create a concept in a 3,000 word essay that is accompanied by a digital object that makes use of that concept.

The Twitter bot creates a new space for reading, a new perception that works in the abstraction of materials in spatial relations to one another.

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In R. Eno’s edition of the Analects of Confucius, Eno remarks that “scholars generally see the text as having been brought together over the course of two to three centuries, and believe little if any of it can be viewed as a reliable record of Confucius’s own words, or even of his individual views”. Instead he draws analogy to the biblical Gospels as offering “an evolving record of the image of Confucius and his ideas through from the changing standpoints of various branches of the school of thought he founded”. Further, due to the materiality of the original texts—ink drawn characters on strips of bamboo that were tied together with string— “all of the books bear the traces of rearrangements and later insertions, to a degree that makes it difficult to see any common thematic threads at all”.

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Eno’s edition also includes a number of appendices that call attention to the speculation of reconstructive and translation work. Eno explains the numbering of the books in the as “speculative because we don’t know the original order of the bamboo slips; moreover some slips are clearly missing, many sections are fragmentary and difficult to reconstruct. In some cases, a passage number stands by a single orphan character, signifying that we can infer that a passage including the character existed, but it is otherwise lost (there may be other lost passages for which no remnant characters survive)”. Eno’s edition of Analects, in its design/layout, draws attention to how difficult reading is and just how much need be done to/with the text so that it can be read. This edition seems to demonstrate some of the critical considerations we have discussed in doing historiographic research—making the processing of the text more visible to the reader to consider and engage with.


Imagine marginal space that isn’t marginal, but can provide space for choral construction.


The first Octalog (1988) was a panel of eight historians of rhetoric—James Berlin, Robert Connors, Sharon Crowley, Richard Enos, Victor Vitanza, Susan Jarratt, Nan Johnson, Jan Swearingen and James Murphy— who held differing positions on the nature, purpose, and methods of doing research in the history of rhetoric, the nature of interpretation, and issues concerning the belief in objective knowing (Richard Enos, Octalog II). The scholars had no agreed upon field or base for debating historical work, with matters of concern ranging from the questioning of the agnostic patterns in rhetorical argument and dialectical exchange as an inscription of gender and the implication on literacy and rhetoric  (Jan Swearingen), the necessity of  openness and attention toward new sources of evidence and methodologies for analysis for a more sensitive understanding of the history of rhetoric instead of one rooted in conformity and tradition (Richard Enos), to proposing an alternative position of redefinition contrary to the primary historiographical trope of rediscovery and possession of forgotten treasures in doing historical work (Susan Jarratt). The goal was not consensus, but the space of allowing ideas to interact, contradict, and leave pregnant pause for further discussion. In reading the linear transcript of that exchange, imagine someone from a world of three-dimensions orienting themselves in a two- dimensional world—being accustomed to perception in three-dimensions but only having two available.



Forming Historiographic Texts as Weak Theory

How did you read this text? Was it something taken in holistically? Or taken in as parts—some emphasized and others overlooked or overshadowed. The spatial construction of this text is demonstrative of historiographic work in that it is not bound or concrete. What I hope to have demonstrated in this spatial text of associations is that it can be taken apart. Some elements of this may be taken and reworked, while others may be left to become detrius. Kathleen Stewart’s “Weak Theory” builds from the weak theory concept of Eve Sedgwick, which she describes as “theory that comes unstuck from its own line of thought to follow the objects it encounters, or becomes undone by its attention to things that just don’t add up but take on a life of their own as problems for thought” (72). Stewart draws attention to the cultural poesis of forms of living whose “objects are textures and rhythms, trajectories, and modes of attunement, attachment, and composition” (71). The point is not to cast value to these objects or somehow get their representation right, but to wonder what potential modes of “knowing, relating, and attending to things” are present in them and their relations to other objects (71). Poesis is a mode of production through which  something throws itself together; Stewart explains poesis as an opening onto something that “maps a thicket of connections between vague yet forceful and affecting elements” (72). There is something waiting to become something in disparate objects, people, circulations, publics because “a moment of poesis is a mode of production in an unfinished world” (77). Historiographic work is meant to be weak, to break, to be combined with other world elements as it is (un)formed.




Abbott, Edmund. Flatland. Seeley & Company, 1917.

Baliff, Michelle. “Writing the Event: The Impossible Possibility for Historiography”. Rhetoric Society Quarterly. 44 (3) 243-255.

Barthes, Roland. “The Third Meaning: Research notes on some Eisenstein Stills”. Camera Lucida. Hill & Wang, 1980.

Bennett, Jane. Vibrant Matter. Duke University Press, 2010.

Borges, Jorge Luis. “The Aleph”. Collected Fictions. Penguin Groups, 1998.

Burroughs, William S. Nova Express. Grove Press, 1964.

Eno, R. Analects of Confucius. An Online Teaching Translation. Version 2.1.

Hawk, Byron. “Toward a Post-Techne Or, Inventing Pedagogies for Professional Writing”. Technical Communication Quarterly. 13 (4) 371-392.

@makingmachine Brown, Jim. https://twitter.com/makingmachines

Mao, LuMing. “Thinking Beyond Aristotle: The Turn to How in Comparative Rhetoric”. PMLA.

McLuhan, Marshall. The Medium is the Massage.

Octalog. “The Politics of Historiography”. Rhetoric Review. 7 (1) 5-49.

Pipkin, Katie Rose. “selfhood, the icon, and byzantine presence”. ifyoulived.org/bot

@Rhetbot Brooke, Collin. https://twitter.com/Rhetbot

Stewart, Kathleen. “Weak Theory in an Unfinished World”. Journal of Folklore Research. 45 (1) 71-82.

Vitanza, Victor. “Critical Sub/Versions of the History of Philosophical Rhetoric”. Rhetoric Review. 6 (1), 41-66.

Vitanza, Victor “Imagine A Re-Thinking of Historiographies (of Rhetorics)”. Rhetoric Society Quarterly. 44 (3), 271-286.

Vitanza, Victor. “Other of the Ear”. http://tracearchive.ntu.ac.uk/frame5/sophist/eartrace/index.html

Vitanza, Victor. “‘Some More’ Notes, Toward a Third Sophistic’”. Argumentation (5) 117-139.

Digital Cornell Box

Hamlet on the Holodeck Cornell Box

For my material rhetorics independent study, Collin gave me an assignment to create a Cornell box out of any text or game. I selected Janet Murray’s Hamlet on the Holodeck to create a digital Cornell box that illustrates the “protean environment” of the computer as a representational media for multiform stories told by the agency of the interactor: “The interactor is not the author of the digital narrative, although the interactor can experience one of the most exciting aspects of artistic creation—the thrill of exerting power over enticing and plastic materials. This is not authorship but agency” (153).

<behind the screen> This was the first composition I have created using Pixlr, and I’m embarrassed to say only the second project I have made using photo editing and layering. </behind the screen>

critical making: play and procedural rhetoric

Reading Ian Bogost’s “Procedural Rhetoric” from Persuasive Games and Mary Flanagan’s “Designing for Critical Play” from Critical Play reignited conversations we had in class last week about McKenzie Wark’s Gamer Theory, in which we contemplated what it meant to do gamer theory—is theorizing hacking? Making games to understand mechanics? Critically playing games? Making critical games (games that critique serious subject matter)?

Games communicate differently than other media; they not only deliver messages, but also simulate experiences. While often thought to be just a leisure activity, games can also become rhetorical tools.

From Persuasive Games dot com “About Us”

My question shifts a bit this week from what does it meant to do gamer theory to considering what makes a game a rhetorical tool. In Flanagan’s “Designing for Critical Play”, what I am aligning with games as rhetorical tools based on the desired outcome of critical thinking and change in opinion or action, she explains that

Critical play is not about making experts, but about designing spaces where diverse minds feel comfortable enough to take part in the discovery of solutions. Derived from artists’ creative processes, investigations, and practical work, critical play is to popular computer games what performance art once was to the traditional, well-made stage play.

She proposes a revised design schema for making games that “demands a new awareness of design values and power relations, a recognition of audience and player diversities, a refocusing on the relational and performative as opposed to the object, and a continued and sustained appreciation of the subversive”. For games to be rhetorical tools, they must be designed as such; she seems to be mostly directing the creation of situation for critical play (emphasizing human values and concerns as fundamental to the design process) and the representation of a more diverse spectrum of voices and experience to designers of games, not players. While this is undoubtedly a worthwhile endeavor, I wonder what might involve the player in critical play—to more explicitly work in the space between player and game (the disconnect between reality and game—even if the game represents events, people, and places of reality). Does simulation work in this space? Could the process of simulation be opened up more for the player to understand their actions and the consequences of action? Critical play evokes critical thinking, a sort of simulation of taking on perspectives to engage with a concept/situation/action to work through understanding cause and effect, affect, action and reaction. But that simulation, that critical engagement, seems limited to language as the symbolic system for engaging/communicating meaning (even though the player is performing actions).

Bogost’s procedural rhetoric seems to carry the concept of critical play further because it makes process matter—it is not that actions in the game are carried out, but how. procedural representation takes a different form than written or spoken representation; it explains processes with other processes—not language. Bogost explains that “Procedural representation itself requires inscription in a medium that actually enacts processes rather than merely describe them” (9). Procedural rhetoric entails persuasion to change opinion or action, as well as expression, making its arguments through the authorship of rules and behaviors and the construction of dynamic models, not through words and images. Bogost’s engagement with games as rhetorical tools is not that players have to be able to make games to understand, but that players should learn to read processes as a critic—playing the game as a “procedural system with an eye toward identifying and interpreting the rules that drive the system” (64). He states that “procedural rhetorics afford a new and promising way to make claims about how things work” (29). But how does one learn the rules that drive the system? 

I found myself wondering in reading this week: how does procedural rhetoric or critical play engage the engagement with the media itself? “Media are not simply vessels for human meaning” (Nathaniel Rivers and Jim Brown Jr., “Composing the Carpenters Workshop”); I find myself still mulling over Bogost’s notion of carpentry from another of his texts (Alien Phenomenology) as I continue to take interest in the rhetorical affordances of making.

In Composing the Carpenters Workshop, Brown and Rivers take Bogost’s concept of carpentry into the rhetoric and composition classroom. Bogost defines carpentry as the “practice of constructing artifacts as a philosophical practice” (92) that “entail making things that explain how things make their world” (93). Brown and Rivers summarize Bogost’s carpentry as both a description of how objects make one another and a practice of doing philosophy, they extend carpentry one step further “suggesting that such making can be undertaken in an effort to do rhetoric”. In doing rhetorical carpentry, we would be engaged with “how we might ‘construct objects (and conversations among objects) in order to demonstrate approximations of the strange, alien conversations happening around us’’. To demonstrate the alien (or unknown—silenced or without agency) and what might be encountered in the construction of objects, they explore work in rhetoric and composition that expands a rhetorical situation to a network or an ecology (a rhetorical situation being a response to an issue directed toward an audience). They look at the work of Collin Gifford Brooke (among others); Brooke’s book Lingua Fracta: Toward a Rhetoric of New Media develops a rhetoric of new media, but does not see rhetorical theory as another way of looking at texts after their production. To Brooke rhetoric is not a mode alongside literary criticism or cultural theory, but is a way to think through “what might still be done with new media” (Rivers and Brown 31). Brooke explains

A rhetoric of new media, rather than examining the choices that have already been made by writers, should prepare us as writers to make choices our own choices. Such a rhetoric cannot be achieved through the reactive lens of critical/theoretical reading

By understanding the rhetorical situation as networked and complex, Brooke illustrates that the human is not the center of situation; “The takeaway for us is that for Brooke the work of rhetoric is not to impose or discover meaning within some (new media) text (as object), but to invent new ways of producing meaning through an attunement to the constraints and affordances of new media” (Rivers and Brown 31). Making is at the heart of rhetoric. Rivers and Brown explain “rhetoric needs to remain actionary rather than reactionary”— “As actionary, a rhetoric of new media should prepare us for sorting through the strategies, practices, and tactics available to us and even for inventing new ones” (Brooke). Like Bogost’s philosophical carpenter who works with things rather than observing them, an “actionary rhetorician cobbles together strategies, practices, and tactics in order to address engagements to come” (Rivers and Brown 31).

Rivers and Brown end with a description of a composition classroom

It is November 2015, and you are visiting what you thought was a college composition classroom. However, something seems to be amiss. In one corner, a group of students pass around a long wooden cylinder that they constructed using a lathe (they were able to get help from a professor in the Art department to gain access to the equipment). In another corner, a group huddles around a 3D printer as a strange looking blue plastic object emerges (it looks like a helmet). You find out from the professor (an excitable, bespectacled man with curly hair and a wry smile) that a third group is not present; they are across campus working with a group of architecture students and blowing glass. This happens a lot in this particular class. The English department has not yet approved the professor’s grant proposal for a workshop that would offer students the ability to work in various media. The proposal has been met with curious stares thus far, but the professor is undeterred. He tells you and anyone who will listen that these students are merely taking advantage of “the available means of persuasion” and attempting to gain insight into the “vacuum-sealed.”

The go on to explain that the blue object is not a helmet, but a puzzle:

The grooves on the inside of the sphere allow users to place and re-place dividers to create a series of self-contained compartments on the inside of the sphere. Users are first asked to pour a certain amount of water into the sphere (proportionally representing the amount of fresh water in the world). The challenge is to evenly apportion the water in all of the compartments by sliding open and close the dividers inside the sphere. The object of the object is to foreground water itself as a political actor.

Through making and playing with the puzzle “environmental rhetoric becomes something other than the task of
shaping human hearts and minds to “save the world,” and instead becomes something more akin to the recognition that the “world itself” is likewise populated by a plethora of nonhuman political actors”.

In “Procedural Rhetoric” Bogost explains “If persuasive games are videogames that mount meaningful procedural rhetorics, and if procedural rhetorics facilitate dialectical interrogation of process-based claims about how real-world processes· do, could, or should work, then persuasive games can also make claims that speak past or against the fixed worldviews of institutions like governments or corporations” (57).

“Media are not simply vessels for human meaning”.  How are games rhetorical tools that do rhetoric—not containers or objects for rhetoric?

Cornell box as tabletop game

I’m working on a material rhetorics independent study with Collin Brooke this semester which quickly turned from a reading list to a constellation of which gaming, hypertext, Peter Elbow, bots, byzantine art, and a world of 4D are all a part. For one of my projects, Collin asked me to locate a photo of a Joseph Cornell box and to invent the game for which that box/contents are the pieces. This was one of the most challenging|captivating things I have ever made.

I started with this Cornell Box

Joseph Cornell, Untitled (Solar Set)

Joseph Cornell, Untitled (Solar Set)

and created the game Mission: Perilous Planet 

Overview: For 2 players

Earth can no longer sustain the human population. Extreme storms and unstoppable blights wreck havoc on what little crops are still able to grow in the barren ground. Inhabitants who have not been stricken by the pandemic of flu strand X, are starving. Mission: Perilous Planet is sending two teams of explorers to investigate a group of five biospheres they have deemed fit for settlement to flee the destroyed Earth. Your mission: give humanity a fighting chance.

Game Contents

  • Eclipse Event bar
  • Solar Phase marker
  • Lunar Phase marker
  • Habitus orb
  • Touchdown Timeline
  • Gravity Force Rings of small and large intensity
  • Terrestrial Biospheres: two water, two desert, one temperate forest planets to play as
    • water: Aquater and Hydralus
    • temperate forest: Taiga
    • desert: Nomadian and Orelian
  • Dice: gravity (black), eclipse (white), collect and refine resources (green), project construction (blue), and hardship (red)
  • Status and Inventory card

Eclipse Event Bar

Play space to determine effects of gravity and eclipses with each turn. The Eclipse Event bar has 13 spaces for Gravity Force rings to be moved across both forward and backward based on the roll indicated by the Gravity die. When a small and large Gravity Force ring meet over a planet, no actions can be taken on that turn by the player in control of the planet as a Flux Event has taken place. Each player controls a small and a large Gravity Force ring to keep from coalescing, but may also influence the occurrence of a Flux Event on the opposing player and planet.

Solar Phase Marker and Lunar Phase Marker

Located on the Eclipse Event bar, these two markers are used to indicate what type of Eclipse a planet is experiencing during a Flux Event. The Lunar Phase marker (depicting phases of the moon) brings about natural disaster on the planet by disrupting planetary levels of gravity. The Solar Phase marker (depicting the sun) impacts the player’s ability to collect and process resources by disrupting the balance of night and day.


Gravity Force Rings and Gravity Die

When Gravity Force rings meet, a Flux Event occurs. During a Flux Event, the player must roll the Eclipse die to determine the effects of Gravity on their planet. Located on the Eclipse Event bar, these four rings (two large and two small) are controlled by the Gravity die. Each turn, the players roll the Gravity die to determine how many spaces along the Eclipse Event bar the Gravity Force rings are moved.

Rolls and resulting moves to be divided between small and large Gravity Force Rings:

1     move one notch backward; cannot be used on opponent

2    move two notches forward

3    move three notches backward; cannot be used on opponent

4    move four notches forward

5    move five notches backward; cannot be used on opponent

6    move six notches forward

Each roll can be split between the small and large rings. If roll is being used to move opponent’s rings, only even rolls can be applied in an amount half the total.



Eclipse (white die)  controls the Lunar and Solar Phase markers

rolls and resulting actions:

  • blank (2 side): no effect
  • partial solar eclipse (half yellow circle): cannot collect resources this turn
  • partial lunar eclipse (half black circle): lose last resource or food collection
  • full solar eclipse (yellow circle): cannot collect or refine resources or begin or complete projects this turn
  • full lunar eclipse (black circle): lose all uncompleted projects

Collect/Refine Resources (green die):

numbered 1-6 to be allotted across actions:

  • collect food
  • collect resource
  • refine resource
  • process food

Each number indicates one food or resource action. For example, rolling a 3 might be divided across the actions: collect 1 food, collect 1 resource, process 1 food. Refining and Processing can only be performed on food or resources in inventory from a previous turn and cannot be applied to food or resources collected in that turn.

Projects (blue die):

numbered 1-6 to indicate phases of completeness in a structure’s construction (6 being complete)

  • build shelter
  • build processing or refinery plant

Hardship (red dice):

Icon die is type of hardship to affect player, while corresponding number die is intensity of hardship in play

  • blank (3 sides) : no effect
  • blight/parasite of food (bug icon): roll 1, 3, 5 lose last food collection; 2, 4, 6 lose ½ of food inventory
  • natural disaster (fire icon): roll 1, 3, 5 lose last resource collection; 2, 4, 6 lose ½ of resource inventory
  • desolation (skull icon): both natural disaster and blight/parasite roll 1-5 lose ½ of food and resource inventories; 6 lose food inventory and processing plant at highest phase of completion


Habitus Orb

Mission: Perilous Planet only has eight weeks to establish living conditions for Earth’s resettlement. At the end of each round, the habitus orb is moved up on space on the Touchdown Timeline.


Status and Inventory Card

When the Habitus Orb reaches the end of the Timeline, each player must take stock of the state of their biosphere.

  • Each completed shelter: + 2
  • Each completed processing/refinery plant: + 4
  • Each refined or processed food or resource: + 3
  • Each unfinished project: -2
  • Each unprocessed or unrefined food or resource: -1



Players roll to decide who goes first; highest roll earns first turn and the choice of location for their biosphere in the orbital cups.

Each player gets to select a biosphere for resettlement. Each biosphere has strengths and weaknesses for its lifeforms that are affected by gravity and solar and lunar eclipse phases.

Water: Aquater and Hydralus

  • resources: fishing and algae materials
  • environmental instability triggered colossal high tides

Desert: Nomadian and Orelian

  • resources: mining and stone materials
  • environmental instability: obliterating wind storms

Forest: Taiga

  • resources: hunting and lumber materials
  • environmental instability: mass plant eradication

To set up the Eclipse Event bar, both Solar and Lunar Phase markers are pushed to the center. Each player takes a small and large Gravity Force ring and places them above their orbital cup that locates their biosphere. Each player gets the following dice:

  • gravity (black)
  • eclipse (white)
  • collect and refine resources (green)
  • project construction (blue)
  • hardship (red: one icon and one numbered)



Each turn, the player rolls each of their die except the Eclipse die, which is only rolled to determine the effects of a Flux Event when Gravity rings coalesce. After both players have taken their turn, the Habitus Orb is moved one space forward on the timeline.


Game End

When the Habitus Orb reaches the end of the Touchdown Timeline, the time for choosing the more hospitable biosphere is determined. The biosphere with the most stable colony conditions at the end of the development period receives the Earth population for resettlement. The conditions are determined by taking inventory of the environment on the Status and Inventory card.

Comparative Rhetoric Without Binary Inducing/Excluding “Non”

I continue to question how historiographic work might differently develop comparative rhetoric methods to not assert cultural values/reading/ways of knowing onto a text, but allow that text to establish its own rhetoric. How can two texts/object/ideas/persons be compared without the burden of binaries, “non”, the inheritance/weight of a Western historical timeline? How might comparative be developed as text design as a method of doing with/from texts? How might positionality move from a mindful stance to an action—doing within con/text?

Kermit E. Campbell “Rhetoric from the Ruins of African Antiquity”

  • “black Africa was not exclusively oral and not without recourse to a means of recording its use of language” (Abstract)
  • in 2006 (when this was published), the only extensive comparative rhetoric book of the time was George Kennedy’s Comparative Rhetoric: An Historical and Cross-cultural Introduction (1998); parts of Kennedy’s book describe rhetorical practices of various cultures in comparison with major components of classical (Greek and Roman) rhetoric so that other cultural groups are deemed “nonliterate” (256)
  • Comparative Rhetoric divides human culture into two main groups: “Societies Without Writing” and “Ancient Literate Societies”—such dichotomy assumes that societies are literate or oral and that literacy is non-transferable (258)
  • goal is not to codify African rhetoric, but to understand it as having rhetorical features different from those in ancient literate cultures (those based on alphabetic writing)
  • Campbell looks at Nubia, Axum, and Mali civilizations—acknowledges treatment as introductory and necessarily broad because knowledge of African antiquity is emerging gradually (258)
  • examples of rhetorical questions, metaphors, and proverbs according to Greek and Roman speech are not present, so “Samples of other kinds of speech or writing are needed to support or refute the claim” that there is explicit logical reasoning inherent that does not adhere to Western cultural practice/influence (274)

Keith Lloyd “Learning from India’s Nyaya Rhetoric: Debating Analogically through Vada’s Fruitful Dialogue”

  • truth-centered and rhetorically egalitarian method of analogical debate
  • “Though rhetoric was not identified as a discipline, India’s debate tradition clearly embodies rhetorical impulses: setting forth and testing propositions, analyzing and applying various perspectives, and convincing others through common experiences” (286)
  • the entire debate is not to find “a winner and a loser, but to tease out hidden assumptions that may lie in the background of some given position, so that there can be a clarification of what is at stake and what each party is committed to” — Nyaya vada as democracy and public discussion (286)
  • “most examples of Indian debate occur in recorded mythical-religious dialogues; inter-scholar debates are mentioned rather than recorded”…so most studies in Nyaya are theoretical, completely neglecting debate in action (286)
  • “Comparative rhetoricians describe Indian rhetorical context, but most, due to Greek biases, apply Western rhetorical terms to Indian texts rather than look to its own theoretical and practical debate tradition” (287, citing work of LuMing Mao)
  • examines the method’s rhetorical journey from “discussions of scholars and kings, to academic formulization, to popular dialogic expression”
  • Nyaya method:

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  • this idealized portrait (above)  says almost nothing about why Nyaya took shape as it did (291)
  • “dialogues are hierarchy-leveling, based in shared analogies, truth-centered, and proposed to encourage fruitful living and spiritual liberation” (292)
  • “the Nyaya method creates a hierarchy-leveling rhetorical environment in which interlocutors set aside social and ideological differences to share a ‘‘knowing episode,’’ offering a proposition tested by inference, perception, and comparison” (297)

Dominic Ashby “Uchi/Soto in Japan: A Global Turn”

  • presents a method for reconsidering identities linked to place and the rhetoric used to construct them (Abstract)
  • Focus on particulars and use of thick description becomes even more important for comparative studies (citing work of Arabella Lyon and Jacquline Jones Royster)
  • Asby proposes a” theory of inside–outside positionalities for engaging the meaning-making potential within tropes of inside-outside, foreign-local, and traditional-modern” (257)
  • sets out to illustrate that spatial metaphors—of which inside-outside is but one—have a prominent place in rhetoric and composition scholarship
  • uchi (inside) and soto (outside): the dynamic involves an expanding and contracting sense of ingroup and outgroup, or inclusion and exclusion, which shifts in response to context (257)
  • the relationship between individuals and social order is mutually constitutive and contextual. It influences participants’ speech and other behavior, including topics of conversation; but, these latter things also shape the social setting, so behavior and context constitute one another. The social order shapes what is proper behavior while the relationship between members of the group shapes or determines the social order. (258)
  • the work of Kaori Chino in visual studies of gender in art describes a moment of meaning-making resulting from this interaction between inside and outside, generating a new sense of what Japan ‘‘is.’’
  • Chino “characterizes the relationship between Tang China (Kara) and early Japan (Yamato) as a ‘‘double binary’’ structure, although a ‘‘nested’’ binary may be a better description” (260)
  • this “highlights how inside and outside together contribute to the construction of a cultural ‘‘inside,’’ and demonstrates that not only people shift along a polar axis of inside and outside, but that the significance of practices, objects, and genres do as well” (260)
  • terms: Kara-within-Yamato and of Yamato-within-Yamato
  • but this leaves out other possibilities of the ways cultural borrowings may act, and loses much of the potential for negotiation of meaning presented by the back and forth shifting of uchi/soto.
  • “Chino’s model is flawed in that it favors the most inner category, Yamato-within-Yamato, at the expense of the dynamism of the Yamato-Kara whole” (261)
  • Ashby emphasizes positionality to make dynamic the relationships “that define inside and outside as shifting, contextual, linked to identity and relationships, and involving agency” (262)
  • gives the example of Christmas cakes in Japan as a “hybrid adaptation” that have not done away with Western Christmas iconography but have not made Christmas in Japan uniquely Japanese’ (263)
  • cake: roundness (unity), white color (sacred festival food), red strawberries (to repel evil spirits), with red and white together appearing as the national flag; it is not just a modification of a tradition to better fit locally, the cake is an ‘‘invented tradition’’ that draws from two cultures
  • Ashby posits, “By looking anew at symbols and discourses of inside and outside in place of blockages to transcultural-national communication and understanding, we find new ways of seeing, appreciating, and enacting commonality–difference as an indeterminate and interdependent, polar relations” (268)

alien games: gamer theory as phenomenology

Aristotle’s conception of knowledge includes theory (theoria—specifically looking at), practice (praxis), and art (techne). Praxis is complimentary to theoria, with praxis functioning as a tool or medium for theoria.  In reading McKenzie Wark’s Gamer Theory, I thought about what it meant to practice gamer theory instead of game theory or even a theory of gaming. How does play align with praxis?

Wark differentiates gamer theory from game theory by stating:

If game theory is objective, rational, abstract, gamer theory is subjective, intuitive, particular. If game theory starts with the self-contained agent, like a prisoner in a cell, calculating the odds against a disciplinary world, gamer theory wonders how the agency of the gamer comes into being as something distinct in the first place (124, emphasis mine).

I read Wark’s concept of gamer theory as something akin to Ian Bogost’s alien phenomenology—as the blurring of the line that separates subject and object, gamer and game and considers them instead as something more ontological in terms of agency. Bogost explains phenomenology through object oriented ontology by working in the space between nature and culture; “In contemporary thought, things are usually taken either as the aggregation of ever smaller bits (scientific naturalism) or as constructions of human behavior and society (social relativism). OOO steers a path between the two, drawing attention to things at all scales…and pondering their nature and relations with one another and with ourselves” (6). Gamer theory seems to be working in the gap erected in between games and everyday life/reality to “make the now rather familiar world of the digital game strange again” (225). This resonates with Bogost’s reminder that “The alien isn’t in the Roswell military morgue, or in the galactic far reaches, or in the undiscovered ecosystems of the deepest sea and most remote tundra. It’s everywhere” (Alien Phenomenology, 113).

What might it mean to look at games as playing with object oriented ontology? Imagine games as something posthuman—in which games don’t just exist for us or as something we create, master, abandon to gather dust, dispose of (to become…). Gamer theory seems to open up praxis/theoria as something akin to Bogost’s concept of carpentry, or the practice of constructing artifacts as philosophical practice (92)—practicing|theorizing how things fashion one another and the world at large (93). What artifacts could be constructed to theorize games (encompassing gamers and gaming which encompass even greater still)? Instead of making games (design and development practice|theory) and playing games (mechanics and culture practice|theory), we might be entangled with games in gamer theory. Wark poses—”The final question for a gamer theory might be to move beyond the phenomena of gaming as experienced by the gamer to conceive of gaming from the point of the view of the game” (223). What is gamer theory or play from the point of view of the game? What does this perspective make available to the gamer—as an entangling of game, gamer, gaming and all the objects in the ontologies that populate the space in between)? What if we treated our games as alien objects—as estranged, as practicing theory instead of an object of study—instead of as mirrors or departures from the real world? What if we moved beyond making our games and our games making us to consider the space/objects in between?