Seeing Ourselve(s) Through Technology

Jill Walker Rettberg’s book was a really interesting read and has a particular resonance for me as I move toward the summer working on my bibliography for affect and sentiment analysis, the cultural side of algorithms, and think/feel my way through the new punctum that data can provide. I really enjoyed Rettberg’s use of Roland Barthes’ studium and punctum, concepts (and a text) that I hold dear; in Camera Lucida, Barthes’ described the concept of studium as an average effect, a cultural connotation in figures, faces, gestures, settings, and actions and punctum as a sting, speck, cut, little hole, prick, a cast of the dice, the accident that pricks, bruises, and is poignant (CL 26-27). I paged back through CL for other descriptions of studium and punctum that I thought interesting in reading Rettberg’s text:

  • “the studium is always coded, the punctum is not” (51)
  • the punctum as revealed after the fact
  • the punctum as a subtle beyond
  • the punctum as a “detail”; a “partial object” (43)
  • “last thing about the punctum: whether or not it is triggered, it is an addition: it is what I added to the photograph and what is nonetheless already there” (55)

Rettberg’s idea that self/simple data (elements like location and time) as a new sort of punctum is intriguing, particularly in her discussion of it alongside N. Katherine Hayles’s concept of an active cognizer as a distributed cognition between human and machine. I’ve been thinking about quantifying myself and the way data can both speak of and for my experience this semester. Disclosure (though through media it has been exposed in slivers): at the beginning of the semester my mother was diagnosed with advanced stage v ovarian cancer. From a distance, my reaction was an impulse for documenting, collecting, gathering, expressing. Some of this has taken post in my blog with posts about my mother, or on Instagram with photos; but also unexpectedly through my iPhone’s locative capacities, and in apps I use for self tracking. I am dwelling in the active cognizer effects of my phone: looking at sleep apps that note my restlessness and insomnia and odd cycles; the most played tracks in my Spotify that show the repetition of two songs (Purity Ring’s “shuck” and The Microphones “my roots are strong and deep”); the geolocational data that follows the paths my parents take from home to around the hospital (or in odd moments, when the pictures taken there register as taken here) in photos my father sends me—this data is a beyond, not just a representation; to me it has affective, punctum qualities that reveal the partial object of my mother’s cancer. I’m interested in thinking further about Rettberg’s concept of filter: what is taken out of this experience and what colour is added in (I wrote this post in January about what it means to visualize disease; I’m interested in returning to it by thinking of what it means to visualize seeing ourselves).

What does this quote from Johanna Drucker

“Rendering observation (the act of creating a statistical, empirical, or subjective account or image) as if it were the same as the phenomena observed collapses the critical distance between the phenomenal world and its interpretation, undoing the basis of interpretation on which humanistic knowledge production is based.”

make available to us for thinking about human(istic) data? About the punctum of data gathered and visualized?

Sense and Sensibilia: Object Oriented Perception


“Without an image thinking is impossible.”

I want to linger in the Aristotle pieces—Sense and Sensibilia and On Memory (translated? by J.I. Beare)—to try to work through the language and ideas because something is there for me that I don’t quite have the senses to perceive (an object of my thinking).

Aristotle seems to commit himself to a claim to the effect that a sense organ in one way or another becomes like its object when it perceives—“what can perceive is potentially such as the object of sense is actually”. Aristotle questions if several objects can be perceived simultaneously (at once and individual to one another). After posing the question, he opens by positioning perception in the soul; if different things were being perceived, he questions if different parts of the soul would be perceiving by describing perception as “genus” or subdivided classes of perceiving. Using the eyes as anaology, two organs that function as one and perceive as one, he posits that the perceiving subject is one. He describes the senses as simultaneously one and many (I’m unsure if he’s explaining that we can use more than one sense at a time to perceive or if each sense is singular but heterogeneous in all that it is capable of perceiving with that one faculty). He states that there must be one resultant of perception “But there must be such one, inasmuch as the general sense-perception is one” but then questions on the next line what one object is perceived by one faculty. He states that “no one object arises by composition of these”, concluding that there is one faculty in the soul that perceives all precepts but that it perceives each “genus of sensibles through a different organ”. Although the faculty of perception is one and the same it is different in that “in genus as regards some of its objects, in species as regards others”; this leads Aristotle to the claim that although different objects can be perceived simultaneously with a faculty that is numerically one and the same, it is not the same in its account. He ends on a statement of impossibility that reminds me Graham Harman’s concept of withdrawal—that all objects are withdrawn such that they never touch; Levi Bryant explains withdrawal as

a protest against all ambitions of domination, mastery, and exploitation.  What withdrawal says is that all entities harbor– as Graham likes to put it –scarcely imagined volcanic cores bubbling beneath the surface that we are never completely able to master or control.  It is this from whence his profound respect for things– human and nonhuman –indeed his indignation against those that would try to reduce things to signifiers, concepts, sensations, lived experiences, intuitions, etc., arises

This withdrawal, this inability to pinpoint sense, is described by Aristotle through distance and contact, visibility/invisibility, and perceptibility/imperceptibility. He explains that every sensible object is a magnitude and that the distance at which an object is visible is determinate, while the distance at which an object cannot be seen is indeterminate (the same applies to all sensibles not discerned by actual contact). He sets up the object in an interval of distance “the last from which it is invisible, and the first from which it is visible” that is indivisible—this place, he describes, is where imperceptibility ends and perceptibility begins. This place, this perception, is impossible.

This is a fruitful place of im/perception for me, but for now, a few questions:

What does it take for a sense organ to become like its object in perception? What parallels can we draw to our constructed sense organs (tool and technological sense extenders and registers)?

This is perhaps a little too playful, but I can’t help but read Aristotle alongside speculative realism (the inability to perceive/access a thing, especially as a human alone). I am thinking of Ian Bogost’s provocation in Alien Phenomenology that language is only one way of knowing and the challenge to make things other than texts. Instead of thinking of perception and memory as captured (or not) in oral language or in imprinted language (both focusing on the human symbol systems), what might we be afforded if we looked at the objects of perceiving and remembering—not the ideas expressed as what we know/don’t know, but the objects expressing?

Thinking is made im/possible by the objects through which we perceive.

the blackbox of technological determinism

In “Three Faces of Technological Determinism”, part of the Does Technology Drive History collection of essays, Bruce Bimber distinguishes between three interpretations of technological determinism: normative, nomological, and unintended consequences.

He opens: The idea that technological development determines social change has a remarkably tenacious grip on the popular and the academic imagination. In spite of the best efforts of historians and others to show the relationships between technology and society are reciprocal rather than unidirectional, claims for the autonomous influence of technology on societies persist (80).

He explains the reason for this is that the concept is so flexible, meaning it is used to describe more than one phenomenon. Without nuance, or clarification as to what is meant by this concept, Bimber explains that we are unlikely to determine whether or not technological determinism is a useful lens through which to interpret history (81).

Bimber establishes a base technological determinism against which to test his accounts with emphasis on semantic clarity of technological determinism. Citing the work of Cohen, Bimber lays out that to compare these accounts, the concept of technological determinism must be both technological and deterministic. The phenomena must be determined by preceding events or laws, not human will/agency and technology must play a necessary part in the way that preceding events determine the future (86-87).

Bimber then lays out the framework for his three accounts of technological determinism:

normative account (cultural/attitudinal claim): technology is autonomous and deterministic when the norms by which it is advanced are removed from political/ethical discourse and when goals of efficiency/productivity become surrogates for value based debates over method, alternatives, means, and ends.

nomological account (ontological claim): technology rests on laws of nature rather than on social norms; technology exercises causal influence on social practice. there are two implicit claims: technological developments occur according to some naturally given logic which is not socially or culturally determined, and that these developments force social adaptation and change.

unintended consequences account (no underlying logic): willful, ethical social actors are unable to anticipate the effects of technological development. technology is at least partially autonomous beyond human control.

Against the definition of technological determinism he posits, only the nomological account stands up. Because normative accounts attribute causal agency in the history of technology to human social practice rather than to technology, it fails. The unintended consequences account fails because it amounts to indeterminism; unintended consequences do not justify social outcomes to technology. The nomological account  makes the strongest claim about social change as directly influenced by technology (87-89).

Before apply the nomological model to Karl Marx, Bimber recommends replacing technological determinism with the concept technological momentum (from Thomas P. Hughes) or “the increasing capacity of technological systems to influence societies as those systems grow in size”—there is a reciprocal relation (89).

A Latour detour (making progress without marching forward)

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In “an attempt at a ‘compositionist’ manifesto” Latour argues that we should replace the practice of critique with that of composition. Composition here does not mean to write, but rather to compose or build out of heterogeneous actors. In this connection, the question becomes not whether or not something is constructed, but whether it’s well or poorly constructed. The abstract reads (emphasis mine):

In this paper, written in the outmoded style of a “manifesto”, an attempt is made to use the word “composition” as an alternative to critique and “compositionism” as an alternative to modernism. The idea is that once the two organizing principles of nature and society are gone, one of the remaining solutions is to “compose” the common world. Such a position allows an alternative view of the strange connection of modernity with the arrow of time: the Moderns might have been future-centered but there is a huge difference between the future of people fleeing their past in horror and the “shape of things to come”, that, strangely enough, now appears suddenly in the back of humans surprised by their ecological crisis.

Without going too far into Latour’s essay (though I definitely suggest taking a look at it, particularly his discussion of progress and time), I wonder how his articulation of nature and nature could assist in further in opening up the blackbox of technological determinism, to really account for the actors that compose the two terms.

“What the Moderns called “their future” has never been contemplated face to face, since it has always been the future of someone fleeing their past looking backward, not forward. This is why, as I emphasized earlier, their future was always so unrealistic, so utopian, so full of hype.” (Bruno Latour)

How flat of an ontology is Bimber’s nomological claim? In saying that “technological developments occur according to some naturally given logic which is not socially or culturally determined”, how is Bimber accounting for the technological, the natural, the social, the cultural?

Latouracy: Using Latour to Construct a Literacy of Social Practice

I want to parse through Deborah Brandt and Katie Clinton’s “Limits of the Local: Expanding Perspectives on Literacy as a Social Practice”. In a future reading, I would like to compare it to Jenny Rice’s” Unframing Models of Public Distribution: from Rhetorical Situation to Rhetorical Ecologies” to look more closely at tracing local/global in an ecological frame, As someone interested in structures, systems, and models, Brandt and Clinton’s work to shift attention in how literacy is studied, that is, how it is accounted for and by who (and in this case, what). In literacy studies, Brandt and Clinton review scholarship that has brought research into the paradigm of literacy as contextualized.

“Rather than a brute consequence of a formidable technology, the achievement of literacy appeared as a delicate interplay of social, cultural, economic, political, and even geographic forces. In other words, social context organizes literacy, rather than the other way around.” (340)

“Generally, a literacy event is considered a social action going on around a piece of writing in which the writing matters to the way people interact. To this is added the more abstract concept of the literacy practice, usually treated as the socially regulated, recurrent, and patterned things that people do with literacy as well as the cultural significance they ascribe to those doings. Typically, literacy events are treated as discrete, observable happenings while practices are abstract, enduring, and not wholly observable.” (342)

But their goal in this text is to look at context with more nuance; instead of looking at local as a different sphere than global (though interconnected), they argue that the global is local.

“Context became associated with ethnographically-visible settings (the here and now), and the technology of literacy was demoted in relationship to the human agent who held power in assigning meaning to acts of literacy. But can we not recognize and theorize the transcontextual aspects of literacy without calling it decontexutualized? Can we not approach literacy as a technology – and even as an agent – without falling back into the autonomous model? Can we not see the ways that literacy arises out of local, particular, situated human interactions while also seeing how it also regularly arrives from other places – infiltrating, disjointing, and displacing local life?” (343)

Everything is local.

“With Latour’s insight we are no longer confined to thinking about “the local” as that which is present in a particular context and “global” as that which is somewhere else or as something that bears down on local contexts from the outside.” (347)

This divide between local and global is flattened into a more ontological rendering by the mattering of objects as mediators with (other) places and times.

“Bringing objects into play, according to Latour, allows us to understand that society exists nowhere else except in local situations but also to understand that, with the help of objects, lots of different kinds of activities can be going on in and across local situations – including aggregating, globalizing, objectifying, disrupting or dislocating.” (346)

“Objects are animated with human histories, vision, ingenuity, and will, yet they also have durable status and are resilient to our will. Our objects are us but more than us, bigger than we are; as they accumulate human investments in them over time, they can and do push back at us as “social facts” independent and to be reckoned with.” (345)

Brandt and Clinton replace the means of accounting for literacy, the literacy event, with a Latourian literacy in action.

from sponsors of literacy: We can think of sponsors as underwriters of acts of reading or writing – those agents, local or distant, concrete or abstract, who enable or induce literacy and gain advantage by it in some way

to agents of literacy: how things act as surrogates for the absence of others and in the multiple interest of agents; agency is multisourced

Brandt and Clinton describe how terms from Latour can bring new perspective to literacy as a social practice.

trancontextualizing moves of humans and nonhumans:

localizing moves: actions of humans and things in framing particular interactions

globalizing connects: the shifting out of individuals as well as the knitting together of interactions

folding in: expressing ontological relationships between people and things

“With these concepts, the literacy networks of individuals and social groups can be mapped. Maps of these networks (their density, reach, variety, stability, rates, and directions of change) can illuminate the processes by which diversity and inequity in literacy are actually sustained: the literal demarcations that separate the sponsoring or subsidizing networks of one locale from another.” (353)

I wonder how accounting for nonhumans informs the case study as textual model for literacy study—how tracing/mapping can become an ethnographic account(able) (and the literacy of reading/making Latourian diagrams – local/global joke).

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.

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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.

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”.

@Rhetbot Brooke, Collin.

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”.

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>