post/past threading an echo: affect theory presentation

I’ve wanted to share the paper I delivered at the Affect Theory Conference in October for some time now. I had the idea to record audio for the entirety of the paper; something doesn’t seem quite right that it’s disembodied from voice and body and delivery…but that would be a long recording. I don’t know if it was the death of David Bowie this week, or finishing Roland Barthes’ Mourning Diary and being hellbent on this idea of mourning writing or writing mourning, or if it’s because it’s the year anniversary of finding out about my mother’s diagnosis, or that in wearing this old denim shirt of hers with the sleeves rolled up that the backs of my hands look a lot like her hands before she started working in the factory [warehouse]. Whatever the reason, today feels like the day.

[end of audio]

instruments of intensity

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Hello. My name is Jana Rosinski and I’m a doctoral student at Syracuse University in the Composition & Cultural Rhetoric Program. This project is part of a larger constellation of work that takes interest in developing practices of reading for affective patterning and representing data as sensory shimmers made accessible and affectable by dynamic visualizations. I want to explore how quantitative instruments help rhetoricians understand something as complex as affect of a text by capturing/constructing attention.

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This is a shimmer, a capturing of my attention as I tried/try to work in between data of an individual body, that of my mother’s with cancer, and the broader experience of ovarian cancer in the bodies, discourses, and environments it exists within. It is labor to make representable two sets of data: that collected from differentiated reading methods, particularly sentiment analysis, and that gathered and annotated as experiential. Outside from my own experience, but not without it, I am working toward a techne of affective reading that is both conventionally quantitative and qualitative—not one or the other.

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Techne cannot be reduced to any kind of action or practical performance that results in a product; it is knowledge that provides an opening through which the being of a work can come into appearance in a world. My field of rhetoric and composition is embracing computer assisted differentiated reading methods and data visualization as possibilities to transform the study of textuality and writing, but I am interested in the development of not just a perhaps a modeling of but a modeling for. In ​S/Z​, Roland Barthes describes a textuality where

the networks are many and interact, without any one of them being able to surpass the rest; this text is a galaxy of signifiers, not a structure of signifieds; it has no beginning; it is reversible; we gain access to it by several entrances, none of which can be authoritatively declared to be the main one… (5)

There is no exterior to the text but that the text itself doesn’t form a whole. The text is not an object that we approach (or produce) from the outside; it is already a part of our ecology, and our engagement emerges regardless of any conscious action on our part. Our texts are extra-textual; ecological, emergent, affective. But often our depictions of them through visualization cannot grasp the “thicket[s] of connections between vague yet forceful and affecting elements”. What would it mean to see knowledge/scholarship as shimmers? Not as subject or object but as event? From Brian Massumi, the dynamic form of the event is perceptually felt, not so much “ in ”vision as with vision or through vision: but as a vision-effect. It is a lived abstraction: a virtual vision of the shape of the event, including in its arc the unseen dimensions of its immediate past and immediate future. The lived abstraction of the event is an amodal perception—a space that enfolds both qualitative and quantitative ways of knowing.

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In Graphesis, a work by Johanna Drucker that works to articulate the creation of visualizations of data in humanities research, Drucker explains that how we know what we know about any given concept, is based on our models of knowing—our models, our visuals, “mediate our experience by providing conceptual schema or processing experience into form” (15). I think this is a provocative and durable statement to hold on to because it both captures the essence of intrigue in the work—the desire to look at something differently to look for things we have not yet seen—as well as the relationship between how we represent data as visual constructions of patterns that exist within the texts we care for and research from.

Drucker compares data versus capta explaining that capta is “taken” actively while data is assumed to be a “given” that is able to be recorded and observed. The difference Drucker sees arising is that humanistic inquiry acknowledges that its knowledge is “situated, partial, and constitutive”—this is the recognition of knowledge as a construction, “not simply given as a natural representation of pre-existing fact” (“Humanities Approaches to Graphical Display”). Drucker calls for a rethinking of data as capta that better expresses its ambiguity over certainty—which gets at what she describes as interpretative complexity. Drucker calls for data that shimmers.

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In the introduction to The Affect Theory Reader— An Inventory of Shimmers”— Gregory J. Seigworth (Seag-worth) and Melissa Gregg explain that there is no “originary state” for affect; instead it arises “in-between-ness” in the capacities to act and to be acted upon in a perpetual “becoming”. Affect theory is a matter of composing as unfolding; or as Seigworth and Gregg describe it, an inventory of shimmers.


A shimmer can be seen, but how can affect be made seen? How can affect be captured?

data visualization constructed not as representation (data: given) but as capta—a partial look, a shimmer experience of acting on and being acted on

What is the affective residue of a text? I draw from the forms and intensities of others to construct a means of seeing affect. As a technique, Byron Hawk’s post-techne allows for the seeing through constellations of relations, often as inventio fitting specific occasions. It’s affectively attuned to kairos, ambience, and emergence to compose in the perpetual becoming. Shimmers like flashes remind me Roland Barthes’ punctum from Camera Lucida; his exploration of a new science for every object, a mathesis singularis. Barthes explained that part of what he was after was a way to articulate something beyond language, a project that embodied his “desperate resistance to any reductive system” (8). Barthes questioned how to work in the space between two languages—one critical and the other expressive— ultimately agreeing to compromise with a power—affect; saying “affect was what I didn’t want to reduce; being irreducible, it was thereby what I wanted, what I ought to reduce the Photograph to; but could I retain an affective intentionality, a view of the object which was immediately steeped in desire, repulsion, nostalgia, euphoria?” A necessary but difficult implication of textuality, for Barthes, was that there is no exterior to the text but that the text itself doesn’t form a whole. I tried applying Barthes’ affect—an in-between-ness of critical and expressive language—as practice for reading texts affectively.

In January this year, I found myself in between critical and expressive language as I struggled to read and write about ovarian cancer.

visualizations of disease: data embodied // January 26, 2015

As someone interested in visualizations of information and composing image texts, I have been thinking about what I would create to illustrate (make visible) the cancer that consumed/s the women in my family. It seems morbid, or at least uncomfortable, to want to depict the disease without emphasizing narratives of overcoming or resilience, that letting it be seen as it is disembodies the bodies that have nurtured it. I have watched videos of surgeries on women that exist only as torsos or of cartoon monster cells sneaking throughout the body, and images that are illustrations of tumors forcing tissue into distorted asymmetries and photographs that look like alien fruit. I can see my own diagnosis as typeface and an exercise of balance and white space on the page, as calendar tickmarks taking inventory of days and anomalies in patterns of pain, and as Rorschach bloodblots that I am too fearful to interpret. I could show my family tree with attention drawn to deep bark carved, extending back, to the bough my mother and I share. I could show each type of cancer with its corresponding woman/body: breast ___________, ovarian _____________, uterine ______________, cervical _________________. Not to forget the nodal tissues connected to these networks of disease as they thrived and spread: pectoralis major, kidney, colon, liver, fallopian tubes—trace the intra-actions. I could create charts that depict the age of diagnosis, comparisons of treatment undergone, or the duration of the disease. Or perhaps an archive of the women (of which I am living materiality), or poems and paintings of the affective dimensions of the rhetorics of silence and pain and disembodiment. Of strength and resilience. Or faces of women I love.

That was a blog post I wrote a few weeks after finding out my mother had stage four ovarian cancer. I’m not sure there’s a method to researching living with a loved one living with this disease, but over the spring and summer I collected hundreds of pages of data about ovarian cancer in sites and materials found and spaces and materials lived. There were first hand accounts and observations; images and writings from myself and my father and mother; scraps from texts from the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition, World Ovarian Cancer Day, Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, Susan Gubar’s Living With Cancer New York Times blog, and from the wellness interface my parents used to manage my mother’s information at the University of Michigan Hospital where she was treated. I tried to match my feelings of dis/embodiment with close and distant methods of reading ovarian cancer: through situating myself within sensory ethnography from Sarah Pink and unfolding texts through sentiment analysis. Through enfolding quantitative and qualitative data to express cancer.

My understanding of cancer was constructed culturally through stories of overcoming: triumphant, brilliant, radiant. There aren’t those kinds of stories for ovarian cancer; seventy percent of women who are diagnosed with ovarian cancer are already at stage three or four. Beyond early detection in the first stage, there is no #SURVIVOR for the disease. Stage four ovarian cancer in my mother was visiting my childhood bedroom now a supply closet of every bandage, gauze, sterile glove, and size of cotton swab. The harsh contrast between the 50s peach bathroom tile and the hospital grade shower/bath stool protruding out of the tub. A three-tiered metal cart in the living room littered with near fifty prescription bottles where the coffee table used to be. Cancer in my mother was embodied, it was becoming in her body unfolded.

In The Power at the End of the Economy, Brian Massumi provides an understanding of body and bodying that is able to unfold between critical and expressive language. From Spinoza, Massumi describes a body as what it can do as it goes along, constantly changing as it affects and is affected. The body is one with its transitions—there is no body, but continuous bodying that presents itself as intensities. What I worked to capture were moments that captured me.

trying to communicate through sensory ethnography

In Sarah Pink’s Doing Sensory Ethnography, Pink outlines a process of sensory ethnography (rethinking ethnography through the senses, sensory ethnography in practice, interpreting and representing sensory knowing) that accounts for how multisensory experience, perception, knowing, and practice are integral to the lives of people who participate in research and how ethnography is practiced (1). While reading this book, I was struck by the beauty of the method Pink espoused. She explains:

Ethnographic places are the places that we make when communicating about our research to others. Whatever medium is involved, ethnographic representation involves the combining, connecting and interweaving of theory, experience, reflection, discourse memory and imagination. It has a material and sensorial presence…it can never be understood without accounting for how its meanings are constituted in relation to readers and audiences through their participation (42)

She sets up a sensory subjectivity and inter-subjectivity (53-56) that requires a researcher to reflect on their role in the production of ethnographic knowledge (sensitive to the contingency of identity in relation to environment). If identity is continually negotiated through intersubjective relations with material and sensory environments, it is too negotiated through sensory relationships with and between participants. The method/ology is multisensorality in its interconnectedness of the senses and their relationship to perception; is work of imagination or collective practice for collective memory carried out in social and material relations; and is self-reflexive in that it is ethnography that is also autoethnography.

Sensory ethnography allows for emplacement, Pink’s combination of space and place, that extends beyond limits of body-mind relationship (from embodiment) to attune to the sensuous relationship between mind-body-environment. I wanted to know how I there at home and I here at school was present and removed, coping and supporting, understanding and refusing. I took inventory of shimmers: texts about what my mother was able to eat; lists of medication times; photos of the hospital room mise en scene; maps that tracked my meditative afternoon walks like unraveled yarn knotted.

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I collected food tray items and object markers on slow walks, group message threads, and litanies: tropical atrium, leukocyte count, box of chocolate, Müllerian adenocarcinoma, “mom sends a big kiss”, epithelial tissue, “her spirit is high”, subcutaneous drain. At the same time I gathered narratives of diagnosis, clinical texts of symptoms and treatments, and tweets from World Ovarian Cancer Day and Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month from bodies not my mothers, but enfolded in cancer.

measuring sensory, measuring sentiment 

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Here are two (one read as negative and the other of the most re-tweeted tweets from the World Ovarian Cancer Day account:

  • negative: @OvarianCancerDY: How many voices does it take to raise awareness about ovarian cancer on #WorldOvarianCancerDay? Just one. Yours.
  • positive: @OvarianCancerDY: Submit your #unbreakblebond pictures with the women you love

The designation of positive and negative comes from a sentiment analysis program.

In the positive tweet, the use of the word love signifies “positive” feeling, even though many of the photos tweeted with the hashtag #unbreakable bond are of women who have died from the disease. I puzzle over the negative wondering what signifies a “negative” feeling. None of the negative tweet results explain what semantic features indicate the tweet as negative like they do for the positive tweet. Something like World Ovarian Cancer Day uses many negative terms, like “disease”, but as I skimmed the tweets, I wondered how the program read positive affirmations that use question marks; the frequent use of “NOT” as an affirmative declaration (as in “here’s an easy way to make sure ovarian cancer is NOT the most overlooked cancer”), and just the word cancer itself; and how might be able to better parse through personal narrative accounts from organization informative statements.

The program cannot parse through the semantic elements differently though. The tweets cannot be taken as given sentiment of positive or negative accounts of ovarian cancer. Nor can my personal account/archive. But both are sets of data, each with the capacity to capture experience and the captivation and addition of other people, spaces, purposes. They oscillate between cancer discourse of critical and expressive accounts; and of the cultural stadium and the personally wounding punctum. They provide space in their in-between-ness for the interpretation as performative, bringing objects/bodies into view through reading or other acts of intervention/intra-action, foreclosing the possibility that autonomous objects or phenomena exist within the horizon of human experience. Phenomena of human experience are constituted as interpretative acts. Our representation and access to data has to match in intensity in its collection, annotation, and representation.

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#crcon talk // (un)familiar faces: digital agential design

A panel (“The Situated Seen & Heard: (De)Constructing Digital Material Contexts”) with Albert Rintrona and Tessa Brown at MSU’s Cultural Rhetorics Conference


My name is Jana Rosinski and I’m a second year doctoral student at Syracuse. This is an attempt at articulating my interests in post humanism, new media, material rhetorics, historiography, and digital humanities to create more materially minded practices of research and research methods as mattered through interface design.

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This is a mattering of concern. What matters?

I recently had the opportunity, through a graduate seminar in game studies, to immerse myself in Oculus Rift, for those unfamiliar, it’s a virtual reality headset for 3D gaming.

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For this experience, I wore the OR headset and a pair of headphones to be surrounded by visual and aural sensoria that demanded my engagement. Through the Rift I interacted with SightLine, a game described as “a surreal experience designed as a demoing tool. Crafted to throw users into the world of VR, and show off its full potential both in creating a variety of worlds that feel real and creating realities that behave unlike anything you might know.”

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SightLine begins with a body, your body or at least a placeholder or placement, seated at a desk about which are books, papers, glasses, a picture frame, a plant—materials unremarkable. Within the picture frame a video of a man speaking begins to play. SightLine doesn’t need directional input from a controller or keypad because the direction in which you are looking with your head, your looking, is the mechanical input for action. The man explains that seeing is believing, but that you shouldn’t believe what you saw. He calls your attention back to the unremarkable materials of the desk to ask whether or not the plant that resides there is the same one from moments before. Everything out of your SightLine is subject to change.

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My purpose today isn’t to talk about SightLine or 3D gaming technology, but in what it calls my attention to. What interests me about SightLine and the Oculus Rift is its direct engagement and even betrayal of sight as a mode of understanding. My looking was what oriented not only my spatial presence and affect in and on the materials of SightLine—that which I illuminated with my attention—but what obscured my noticing or knowledge of other materials that surrounded me, what my looking did and did not encounter.  I say encounter because the effects of my attention are indeterminate: was I causing affect in my presence and absence of materials? Or was I bearing witness to the inherent potential of materials? Everything out of my line of sight was subject to change, but for what purpose? And what of the materials that I was trying to see?

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I liken these questions, this experience, to my interest in digital humanities methods and tools and the complex consideration of their effect on what can be seen, heard, felt.  In “Humanistic Theory and Digital Scholarship”, Johanna Drucker 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? A humanistic approach, she explains quote

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.

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The interface is not a lens through which we see—it is not transparent; what is there is as significant as what is not in showcasing and obscuring what we can and cannot encounter and how. What might be possible if we imagined interface as an access point to material—as methods that are audible, tactile, visible in accessing materials? In Lingua Fracta, Collin Brooke explains that the interface can show us that what we think of as products (books, articles, essays) are but specialized instances of an ongoing process at the level of the interface. Those products, or materials, are a temporal and situated binding of thoughts at a time. Quoting Paul Miller, a.k.a DJ Spooky, “At the end of the day, it’s all about reprocessing the world around you”. What would it mean to imagine interfaces as encounters, recontextualizations, and reprocessing of the worlds around us? To be able to articulate our sight line, our focus, and engage it with those of others looking at the same materials to process and reprocess materials differently? What follows is a practicing of reprocessing the  potential of materials at the level of the interface that make visible, alter, and construct reflexive interfaces to collections of digitized and digital materials that attend to the multitude of individuals, institutions, contexts, and ideologies that determine accessibility to materials. There are more projects that we might discuss that engage interface as method for exploring materials and more complex concerns than need be addressed about the rhetoric of the interface, but In this space I will focus on three  digital projects as interfaces for material potential—that is, in the potential to make matter material considerations in research through interface design.

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HyperCities is a space for collaborative digital mapping of cultural, historical, and social dynamics. The project describes itself as “Born out of Web 2.0 social technologies, That represents a new digital media environment that links together cultures, languages, generations, and knowledge communities, mobilizing an array of technologies (from GPS-enabled cell phones to GIS mapping tools and geo-temporal databases) to pioneer a participatory, open-ended learning ecology grounded in real places and real times.” The impetus of the project is to answer the question: where are you from? Using Google Maps and Google Earth, a city becomes a digital research site for creating layered and interactive histories of place from the material input of users, connecting digital archives, maps, and stories with digitized renderings of the physical place with the goal of creating a “geo-temporal human web”.

While the concept of ecology is not unfamiliar to rhetoric, creating ecological texts that materialize the dynamics of thriving and potentially dying is less so. What is afforded by an interface constructed as participatory and open ended? How does this process or reprocess our concepts of knowledge production and circulation? Who or what become material record?

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Florida State University houses a postcard archive, but what I’m looking at is the Kairos webtext on developing a digital archive for multimodal research from this archive by Michael Neal, Katherine Bridgman, and Stephen J. McElroy. They frame their project by asking “How researchers visiting this archive make meaning from within the infrastructure that they have constructed” and “How we continue to curate a digital space designed to enable growth over time at the same time that it hopes to reflect the voices and perspectives that are engaging the archive from both within and outside of the academy”. They explain that the digital and physical spaces of this archive emerge at the interstices of borders that reflect multiple and overlapping contexts in: university and community; modality and materiality; print and screen; time and geography; and positionality and hierarchy which they use as interface or access for their work. Their interest is in making visible the ways in which we always reconstruct the subjects of our research through the production of scholarship, which grows out of ongoing conversations on archival methodologies that focus on building collaborative relationships with archivists and strengthening research through constructing archives of artifacts that deserve scholarly attention. They posit that the intersections of modalities and materialities that weave through the meaning that researchers and browsers take from this postcard are acknowledged in the digital representation of the postcard in three primary ways: through digitization of the actual card, Dublin Core metadata standards, and Postcard Item Type metadata. The metadata makes matter the published words on the cards, the handwritten words on the cards, the visuals other than the front image, how the card is laid out, color, and technological and/or material features of the cards (such as nontraditional materials like wood or ways of reading like hold to the light cards).

Instead of privileging any one material aspect of the postcards, they worked to conceive of a site that is more conducive to studying the relationships between and among the modalities represented through the cards. The different metadata tags with each postcard are a way of flattening a Dewey Decimal style hierarchy for browsing nested categories of postcards in order to afford researchers of the archive to determine arrangement as the most salient point for research based on geographical location, topic of the card, or even temporal chronology when the cards are entered into the archive. Visitors who are not registered can only view content. Once the visitor becomes a registered user, they can begin adding to and editing the materials in the archive. As a “researcher,” a user can begin tagging images. As a “contributor,” users can create an exhibit as well as add and edit only the items that they have contributed to the archive. As an “Admin,” users can edit items already entered into the collection as well as the preset vocabularies that appear for archivists in pulldown menus. Finally, the “Super” user has permissions to do all of this as well as edit the general “settings” for the archive.

This project extends beyond researchers in the academy to consider materials digitized and categorized by interested persons; what can this distributed model of creating an archive do differently than one that is more tightly bound? While archives don’t come with predetermined ways of making meaning, what is the potential in constructing an archive of materials that emphasizes the spaces between materials as a material itself?

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Darwin’s On the Origin of Species evolved over the course of several editions he wrote, edited, and updated during his lifetime. The first edition was approximately 150,000 words and the sixth is a much larger 190,000 words. In the changes are refinements and shifts — increasing emphasis, adding details, or even a change in the idea itself. Ben Fry, using the evolution of the six editions as guide, developed an interactive visualization of the text over time, His fascination guided by the ability to make visible the change over time in a person’s thinking. Hovering over the text, the viewer can see the removal, addition, and change in text.

What would become available in the digitization and juxtaposition of oft-cited texts? What if the evolution of ideas, of history, could materialize; how might we read texts and ourselves differently?

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Composing digital texts and making use of digital humanities tools as methods for research don’t make research more mindful of material, but we can make research that does—that makes materials matter not just in our attention to them, but our attention through them, with them. In ”Humanistic Theory and Digital Scholarship”, Johanna Drucker explains that we can cast an interpretive gaze on instruments of digital technology from a humanistic perspective and we can build humanities content on their base; but rarely have we imagined computational protocols grounded in humanistic methods. She states

if we are to assert the cultural authority of the humanities in a world whose fundamental medium is digital that we demonstrate that the methods and theory of the humanities have a critical purchase on the design of platforms that embody humanistic value.

I am interested in developing interface design as matter of concern in research, not just a rhetorical attention to interfaces, but interface as material method, as intermediary, as reprocessing. I return to the Oculus Rift experience through SightLine, the simultaneous engaging and obscuring of my looking and its effect on engaging materials. What could become available to digital and digitized materials if interfaces were responsive to action, that is interacting with them? What if our interfaces mattered to us and us to them?

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4C14 Cut, Copy and Compose: DIY Publishing and Rhetorical Ecologies of Materiality

Here is my talk I gave at 4Cs with Jason Luther and Becky Morrison. We created/circulated a zine to accompany our panel. We divided our panel into two sections, each taking turns.

(For my part, this is a messy first attempt at trying to relate: rhetorical ecologies, rhetorical carpentry, poeisis, materiality, techne and matereality.)

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I am interested in materialities of composing—not just in crafting texts that are multimodal, but in the experiences of materiality. In Jim Brown’s “The Decorum of Objects”, he asks “is it possible to speak of rhetorical exchanges between objects?” (2). My interest in zines comes from their object potential – what their materials bring forth: they are compositions of assembled parts, intended to circulate, be taken up, and to be broken apart (sometimes to make other compositions). They are not texts unto themselves in structure or content. They juxtapose, de/recontextualize, subvert, enact kairos, radiate cultural and subcultural rhythms.
I see them as a space to explore the concept of rhetorical ecologies, which Jenny Rice considers a process that operates within a “viral economy” of social forces, “an ecological, or affective, rhetorical model that reads rhetoric both as a process of distributed emergence and as an ongoing circulation process. Ecologies work to make poeisis, the act of bringing something into being, articulable, traceable, vocal and visual.

I am currently teaching a research course, which is themed around a topic of inquiry of the instructor’s choice; mine being “The Alien Everyday”. The basis of inquiry is for students to make strange their encounters with objects – to look differently, to allow for the articulation of poeisis in their materials. Borrowing from Ian Bogost’s notion of carpentry, and the work of Nathaniel Rivers and Jim Brown [bringing this into our field] on rhetorical carpentry, students are creating research projects that articulate how things make one another and their worlds. This dwelling in materiality is an attempt at embracing the potential of objects, but what I want to better embrace is the potentiality of objects, between object, in dynamic interactions. I ask of students to interact with materials in direct contact and through tool extensions of eye, head, and hand: gathering objects, measuring, cutting, assembling, inevitably making errors and trying again, trying differently, with awareness of resistance, breakdowns, the simulation and evocation of objects that we cannot understand. What we care for is materiality: the affordances and constraints of materials, the contexts, histories, and technologies, that through combination and manipulation, make a composition. What I’m working to get at are methods for helping students encounter materials from a material, that is to say—a nonhuman, perspective—in material worldlings that open on to somethings – to see materials as potential. And while this may seems to stray from a DIY mentality of composing and publishing, I wish to explore how materials might persuade, communicate, and identify both with us and with one another in materially minded composing. I would like to explore materiality beyond the moments of composition, beyond person to object affective bonds in making, to potentiality in materials interacting with other materials (object, semiotic, contextual)—how they might compose, decompose, and recompose material worldlings (from Kathleen Stewart) – bringing new materealities into existence as they shift, fade out, break apart.

II. Theorizing

Potentiality in materiality cares for what becomes available when the connections that exist between ourselves and materials, and between materials are considered and perhaps estranged. The form, or materiality, of the composition may vary based on the at-hand circumstances, variances in contexts, but what is established is potential in its assemblage, its combinatory capabilities, its ability to break, its capacity to be cared for differently. Envisioning composition with interest in materiality troubles the artificial boundaries that separate what Jody Shipka describes as “the mental and the material, the individual and the social aspects of people and things interacting physically and semiotically with other people and things” (Jody Shipka). Composing becomes more action based: the looking for objects, the collection of materials, the tracing of resources, establishing connections, and crafting — text that leaves space for composing, recomposing, and decomposing in rhetorical ecologies. Texts move from passive or invisible intermediaries between ideas, to compositions of composites, of parts, that mediate further composing, that illuminate the fluidity, dynamism, and contingency of our complex web of activity-relations between us and other materials. Our means for making meaning and texts begin to fit our in flux material conditions, of which we are a part.

In “Weak Theory in an Unfinished World”, Kathleen Stewart cares for this flux, this dynaimicism of the cultural poesis of forms of living – objects as textures, rhythms, trajectories, and modes of attunement, attachment and composition. The point is not to think of materials as objects of value or understanding their meaning and representation just right but to wonder where they might go and what modes of knowing, relating, and attending to things are present in them. She describes potential as some thing throwing itself together into some thing. I wonder what does it mean to think of composition as the potential in some things thrown together into something?

I am asking my students to consider materealities in doing research as rhetorical carpentry. How might constructing a Rube Goldberg machine out of items common to a college dorm room make visible the complexity of things interacting in the clicking of a computer mouse to open a new tab on a web browser? Instead of reading an overview of the mechanics and technology and writing about what happens, students are simulating the experiences of the some things thrown together. In doing so, an inquiry of how a mouse works has elicited considerations of the necessary technologies and their design, questions of the relationship between human and nonhuman, and questions of the historical development of the mouse in relation to other technologies have arisen. For other students, how a clock works has unfolded to questions of how metaphors of time and devices of time influence us socially and culturally; and for yet another, creating a composite advertisement of an assemblage of found advertisements and cultural depictions of diamonds as emblematic of love in contemporary Western culture have juxtaposed money with demonstrations of emotional and ecological effects. These are research wordlings in which students are not only engaging with materials as a means of composing, but are uncovering and following traces of rhetorical ecologies that these materials—semiotic and object—exist with.

poeisisThis work, for me, is getting at means of considering materiality unto itself; estranging the way we consider the wherewithal of materials. Relating materialty to rhetorical ecologies and carpentry are methods of letting materealities articulate themselves. What is materiality as some things thrown into relation with some things? In your hands you hold a something – an assemblage of things found, made, and remade, thrown into this some thing of a zine, a panel, of a conference, of hands and bodies that will disperse in their journeys in planes and vehicles back home to indeterminate and unfinished worldlings. I would like to make visible the ecologies that made this zine possible with the composition efforts of my comrades. To explore how a text was assembled to circulate in a dynamic space, a world of many wordlings as we are representatives of many institutions, interests, and networks. Matter in an unseen world is indefinite (Kathleen Stewart); what if we pause in materiality? What might we notice in these emplaced materials, tracing their into being, some thing different for each depending on the some things they encounter in simultaneously mundane and possibly complex material domains?

c&w catch all

I struggled to write a post that encapsulated perhaps what cannot be so tidy/condensed: conference happenings. The shortform blog post was turning into an epitaph as soon as it was being written. If I could break the rectangular confines of this textbox, this list would appear more scattered. Perhaps on a seismograph, as constellations with varying intensity, as electricity passing through conductor points, as a comic with thought and dialogue bubbles, as areas of increasing/decreasing temperature on a heat map, or as a map of a territory in the making…As is, though, it is a [nested? network? worknet?] list:

thinking about the price of participation in the field (as the typecast poor graduate student)

search the Twitter conversations

attended: Resonance, Refinements, and Rip-offs (an awesome session by Jody Shipka and Mary Hocks) – condensed as keywords/phrases: sonic literacy, (social) resonance, thing power, agency as affectivity, embodied knowledge, auditory imagination, traces/tracing found artifacts, opening blackboxes through multimodal composing

attended: Multimedia and the Teaching of English, 1920-1970: A Distant Reading of English Journal and CCC (an awesome session by Jason Palmeri and Ben McCorkle) – condensed as keywords/phrases: pre-history of computers and composition, long history of multimedia and multimodality through technologies terms, distant reading sees field emerging, “what can we learn about new media by studying past moments when media were new?”, bar graphs, word clouds as “dated”, distant to close reading through data as heuristicScreen shot 2013-06-12 at 11.09.42 AM





attended: Archives and Other Multi-Literate Practices (an awesome session by Claire Lauer and Colleen Reilly) – condensed as keywords/phrases: Digital Methods Initiative (DMI – coming from sociology and interest in Bruno Latour) and their tools wiki – particularly Issue Crawler (makes networks), take ownership over terms as a field, bar graphs, clusters of influence, MLA job info lists as data to mine/visualize

noticed (in the sessions I attended):

  • distant reading and data visualization trending (?) – what is the exigence?
  • prominence of bar graphs as data visualized (+/-: what is made visible/what remains unseen) – there were moments when the bar graphs felt like a gate to me (in my position); instead of making visible, they made me aware of that which I can not/do not see because I don’t know enough
  • questions about what becomes of these visualizations/data sets – focus is on making visible and connectivity, but heard gestures toward “edited collections” (slow, black and white paper renderings) of work which seems counter-intuitive to the nature of the methodology

place/space/time re-presented:

ethernet glitch luckycat pepsipepsipepsi troncar



Computers & Writing

Re-presentation of my presentation materials from the Computers & Writing Conference: slidedeck | audio

I presented “with” (I say “with” because Joe was actually in Vermont for his summer job and was there in form of a video he created) Joe Torok on slices of our MA projects that share an interest in distant reading, data visualization, the materials of the field, data mining, “the” field, access, connectivity/networks, disciplinarity, and academic activity as graduate students/newcomers to the field. Our session: #h6 “Regionalism, Heterotopoi, and Circumferences: Rethinking Distant Reading” was better attended than I expected, and I’m glad for it because I think this might have been my best presentation to date (no small feat for someone trying to craft an academic identity for themself(s)). While I’m not sure these venues will ever be comfortable for me based on my personality, I can see growth in the structuring of my talk, in timing/interplay/juxtaposition with my slidedeck, with retaining some consciousness in the blackout that always seems to shutdown my brain in presentations, and with discussion/exchanges. I think this might be attributed to me accepting myself and my position in the field: I don’t know what I’m doing, and that’s okay. Curiosity, exploration, and enthusiasm are working in my favor. I hope this doesn’t read as negligence or defiance, because the mindfulness to what I’m doing/not doing is there; it’s just a (silly perhaps) realization that I can’t compare myself to individuals who have been doing this longer than I have – I’m not there (yet).

In attendance (among other wonderful individuals) were Jason Palmeri (!), Doug Eyman (!), and Ben Miller (!) who are also interested in distant reading, data mining, and visualization, as well as Amanda Wall and Gwendolynne Reid (happy to see some other ladies interested in this stuff). Much of our session was left to conversation, which was awesome. I left humming with electricity. An aside: I would really like to record my future presentations so I can sift back through them later. Here is a reduction of the conversation:

  • a question about this focus (I’m assuming the size of my data set or my project’s scope) as fractal in relation to what could be done with this methodology
  • a question of whether Moretti’s distant reading is the proper term/lens for this work (perhaps because of the set sizes or because of the sliding scale of interaction)
  • concerns with the tools available to do this work: cost (money, time, and labor)
  • making this work public – making data available for others to work with
  • questions of what can be “given away” through these data sets (like the entirety of a journal article as plain text) – to which Doug had an answer I wish I could recall that dealt with the XML file itself, I believe
  • Google APIs
  • connecting/collective collaboration on this work
  • making visualizations that move/interact

There was much more, and this is where I wish I had the aid of an external brain in form of av equipment. For instance, there was a gentleman who is more in industry/software/programming with interest in sentiment analysis who suggested I write Python script for a visualization I ultimately imagined for my data set (which I so eloquently called a “blip map”: the fading/prominence of keywords over time from my set of Braddock essays that might make more visible trends in care/questioning of the field) that I had questions for but not the language to do so. (this feels like a missed connection…)

I’m left thinking:

  • I want to learn more about programming/coding
  • I want to discover more free tools for building visualizations
  • I want to find other people doing this work and find ways to put my work into conversation with the field
  • I want these visualizations to be interactive/animated to live up to their use(fulness)
  • I want this to keep going


MMLA 2012 and conference parlor invitations: RSVP

Last weekend I presented at the 54th Annual MMLA Conference in Cincinnati for the first time. I delivered a paper from my developing MA project in the Teaching Writing in College section, on a panel themed “(Re)Defining First Year Composition” – a variation of debt, the conference’s theme. A hearty thank you to Andre Buchenot for chairing the panel. I enjoyed the opportunity to discuss my work to a representative sample of “outside” folks. It was sort of novel to be the sole student (re)presenter from EMU.

lone student presenter

Spending the weekend with literature folk. I left with questions of disiplinarity and where/when/through what we converse and share ideas, especially having given a paper on conceptual borrowing and imagining through metaphor. Where are these inbetween spaces? Intermedias and intermediaries? Is the new Burkean parlor the conference venue – the hotel or convention center lobby and hallway? Or is this “unending conversation” metaphor unbegun? Sometimes I wonder, as I scan the faces that (don’t) populate the room. Not to crash the literature party, or be a party pooper, I will note feeling this way at 4C’s as well, and even more so not getting accepted to present at 4C’s next spring. Who is on (gets to be on) the conference guest list?

Imagine that you enter a parlor. You come late. When you arrive, others have long preceded you, and they are engaged in a heated discussion, a discussion too heated for them to pause and tell you exactly what it is about. In fact, the discussion had already begun long before any of them got there, so that no one present is qualified to retrace for you all the steps that had gone before. You listen for a while, until you decide that you have caught the tenor of the argument; then you put in your oar. Someone answers; you answer him; another comes to your defense; another aligns himself against you, to either the embarrassment or gratification of your opponent, depending upon the quality of your ally’s assistance. However, the discussion is interminable. The hour grows late, you must depart. And you do depart, with the discussion still vigorously in progress.

Is this parlor: a waiting room, an oil painting, a haunting echo in mahogany paneling, a members only clubhouse, a conversation in an elevator, a paperbound journal, a divided department, a history, a mythology, a snapshot, a missed connection?

répondez s’il vous plaît

Please, as notice of attending, or as regrets.