critical making: play and procedural rhetoric

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

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

From Persuasive Games dot com “About Us”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rivers and Brown end with a description of a composition classroom

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cornell box as tabletop game

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

I started with this Cornell Box

Joseph Cornell, Untitled (Solar Set)

Joseph Cornell, Untitled (Solar Set)

and created the game Mission: Perilous Planet 

Overview: For 2 players

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

Game Contents

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

Eclipse Event Bar

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

Solar Phase Marker and Lunar Phase Marker

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


Gravity Force Rings and Gravity Die

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

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

1     move one notch backward; cannot be used on opponent

2    move two notches forward

3    move three notches backward; cannot be used on opponent

4    move four notches forward

5    move five notches backward; cannot be used on opponent

6    move six notches forward

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



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

rolls and resulting actions:

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

Collect/Refine Resources (green die):

numbered 1-6 to be allotted across actions:

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

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

Projects (blue die):

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

  • build shelter
  • build processing or refinery plant

Hardship (red dice):

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

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


Habitus Orb

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


Status and Inventory Card

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

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



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

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

Water: Aquater and Hydralus

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

Desert: Nomadian and Orelian

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

Forest: Taiga

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

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

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



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


Game End

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

Comparative Rhetoric Without Binary Inducing/Excluding “Non”

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

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

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

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

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

Screen Shot 2014-11-17 at 7.33.54 PM

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

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

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

alien games: gamer theory as phenomenology

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

Wark differentiates gamer theory from game theory by stating:

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

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

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






Analects of Confucius

As is customary to many of my weekends, I cook while reading and listening to podcasts. One of the more recent episodes of Radiolab called “Translation” struck me as significant to many of the conversations we have been having about doing historiographic work, translating texts, and what bearing the reading/research methods we bring to the text have on what we can and cannot see/read. The synopsis of the episode:

How close can words get you to the truth and feel and force of life? That’s the question poking at our ribs this hour, as we wonder how it is that the right words can have the wrong meanings, and why sometimes the best translations lead us to an understanding that’s way deeper than language. This episode, 8 stories that play out in the middle space between one reality and another — where poetry, insult comedy, 911 calls, and even our own bodies work to close the gap.

One of the stories within the episode, 100 Flowers, chronicled Professor of Cognitive Science Douglas Hofstadter’s captivation with the translation of  a short French poem. He compiled translations of the poem from different people he knew to examine whether or not people stuck to the original narrative (a poem to a sick young girl o get better), what details changed, how the rhyme scheme and length varied, and what words were chosen. I was struck by how complex just reading a text is—any text. We talk about context and circulation as matters of concern, as well as mindfulness in approaching a text. This becomes all the more salient when the text is decontextualized from its origin/time/place/impetus and further culture and language.

Reading through R. Eno’s edition of the Analects of Confucius, along with Arabella Lyon’s “Writing an Empire: Cross-Talk on Authority, Act, and Relationships with the Other in the Analects, Daodejing, and HanFeizi” and Xiaoye You’s “The Way, Multimodality of Ritual Symbols, and Social Change: Reading Confucius’s Analects as Rhetoric” I was curious as to how the texts themselves were laid out, particularly the Analects.

Eno structures the text as almost a double-entry journal, placing the translation of the text on the left with notes on the right.

Screen Shot 2014-11-10 at 12.14.26 PM

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”.

Screen Shot 2014-11-10 at 1.06.50 PM

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, signify- ing 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.

Lyon and You’s texts aren’t structured like Eno’s, but work methodologically to draw attention to the situatedness of texts and what reading them as decontextualized from this original context may do to the text. Lyon works to replace comparative rhetoric with Steven Mailloux’s term cultural rhetoric, which he defines as “a rhetorical reading sensitive to the sociopolitical contexts of cultural production and reception”. Lyon is careful to note the usefulness of comparative rhetoric, along with cultural and transnational approaches, while drawing attention to what is most important for the “understanding and competent engagement with other cultures is learning the primary and secondary texts of a particular culture” (351). Lyon explains “As we situate our scholarship and its relationship to particular cultures and eras—as we approach global education—the purposes, limits, and outcomes of our writing should be more clearly articulated and connected with its effects” (353). Lyon doesn’t just discuss approaching research, but applies this frame to examining three models of rhetoric: the early Confucian traditions as developed in the Lunyu (􏰃􏰄) or Analects, a set of dialogues and assertions presented in small excerpts, composed or layered between 479 and 249 BCE; the Daodejing (􏰅􏰆􏰇) or Laozi (􏰈􏰉), a layered poetry series found as early as circa 300 BCE; and the argumentative essays of Legalist Han Fei (􏰊􏰋), circa 289–233 BCE (353). [Note: I left the squares intentionally as they should be Chinese characters that my Western language settings on my keyboard do not recognize). Lyon’s goal in looking at these three texts is to demonstrate how understanding one moment in one culture requires a significant investigation of earlier texts and traditions. She argues for scholars to need to know at least one culture beyond their own, to “study and teach a specific culture, recognizing its history, complexity, and diversity more fully” instead of rushing to understand through a transnational lens (through which to see/not see)—Translation between cultures is never easy or total, but it can be “more than the mirror of our minds” (qting Richards 86) (364).

You explains the attention that Analects has gotten over the last several decades, attention that is well deserved to such a text. But You brings our attention to how the text has been read by comparative rhetoricians “both within the ‘‘deficiency’’ model as well as ‘‘in its own terms,’’ thus leading to markedly divergent interpretations of the text. You questions: ” The unsettledness of the various readings makes me wonder, What can we derive about classical Western rhetoric from the complexity of reading the Analects?” (427). The goal of You’s text is to demonstrate through reconstructive reading “what kind of reading of the Analects would evidence an effective move ‘‘from the etic approach to the emic approach’’ (7), or shifting our focus from categorical concepts to materials and conditions native to the text itself” (427). In looking at both the deficiency model and the in its own terms model, You articulates “assuming the verbal suasory framework articulated by the Greeks and Romans is universally applicable to reconstructing non-Western rhetorical traditions has proved unsatisfying in the case of the Analects. On the other hand, the assumption that non-Western rhetorical traditions share different or even opposite ideological values with Western traditions seems to be a faulty impression, lacking sufficient evidence” (430).

I’m left wondering how historical texts might be differently presented so that this matters of concern are more visible/audible/discernable to how we are reading a text. What would be afforded to editions that position side by side many translations/interpretations of a text like Hofstadter’s re-reading of the poem? Or is it something afforded by being digital like Ben Fry’s visualization process “On the Origin of Species: The Preservation of Favoured Traces” in which the changes across six editions of Charles Darwin’s text are made visible/traceable?

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tracing vectors//games of multitude

Perhaps this is colored by our field trip to the Strong Museum of Play and its archives//library, but reading Nick Dyer-Witheford and Greig de Peuter’s Games of Empire: Global Capitalism and Video Games brought about questions//considerations of virtual games (and the ecologies of their creation and circulation) as artifact. On our field trip we saw archives of games (functional and broken//accessible through filters of restoration—and does that change the game?), materials of conceptualization, failure, imagination, production (notebooks, sketches, texts, scraps and scribbles that exist in de/re contextualization), and processes of classification and curation (matters of concern—how can play be captured?).

how can games be treated as serious artifacts? (not serious games, but objects in complex contexts with other objects—technologies, counter/movements, cultures, norms/deviance, ideologies, novelties, viral tendencies, systems, traditions)

tracing vectors//accounting

“Games of multitude are, in (Felix) Guattari’s conceptual terms, a ‘molecular revolution’ involving ‘the effort to not miss anything that could help rebuild a new kind of struggle, a new kind of society’. Not missing anything includes virtual games. ‘Strange contraptions, you will tell me, these machines of virtuality, these blocks of mutant percepts and affects, half-object, half-subject,’ Guattari mused, perhaps (who knows?) contemplating a video game console—yet potentially, he insists, such ‘strange contraptions’ were ‘crucial instruments’ to ‘generate other ways of perceiving the world, a new face on things, and even a different turn of events” (214)

Games of multitude are a capacity to not only resist Empire but also to develop, protect, and propose alternatives through new forms of subjectivity and new movements opposing global capital (186-188). Reading this text brings my attention to what is typically unaccounted for in my thinking about games—the experience of playing and the materiality of the game—the complex ecology the game exists within. The concept of Dyer-Witheford and de Peuter of the game as multitude accounts for the discourses surrounding games, constructing games as vectors of contending interests and agendas and as instilling skills that can serve and subvert norms (“Introduction”). My desire to ask about classification in the archives and the conversation we had with our museum guide about capturing play (in video game/console play as a means of documenting for curation) I think were really attempts at accounting for these vectors—what standards exist for categorizing digital and nondigital games? Who/what are they according to? What is the balance//struggle in accounting for cultural phenomena//affect? How is the experience of play accounted for vs. the construction of play to be experienced? How is production for play, not of it as experience, not lost? // What does it mean to capture play? Whose body/ability is imagined? Is the emphasis mechanics, material environment, narrative? And what of the race for preservation before degradation, decomposition, and death? Of bringing back through materials not of the original ecological design?

What might the vectors of the games on exhibit at the Strong look like in a different context? What might be accounted for? What accounts might play out?



Cicero’s De Oratore

In this first reading of Cicero’s De Oratore, the concept of delivery in rhetoric seems to be locus.

From the texts of Cicero, rhetorical scholars have learned the story of the Greek Demosthenes. When Demosthenes was asked his opinion of what constituted the most important element of rhetoric, he three times repeated one word: “delivery, delivery, delivery” (Duncan, 2006, p. 84). Nothing additional has survived regarding Demosthenes’ thinking on delivery, and his answer remains a mystery in terms of what may have informed his conclusion as to the critical nature of delivery. In De Oratore, Cicero meditated on Demosthenes’ assertion; Cicero noted that he had observed how“many poor speakers have often reaped the rewards of eloquence because of a dignified delivery, and many eloquent men have been considered poor speakers because of awkward delivery” (p.347). Based on Demosthenes’ observation, Cicero theorized that:“If, then, there can be no eloquence without this [delivery], and this without eloquence is so important, certainly its role in oratory is very large” (p. 347). In this work, delivery is clearly of foundational importance to rhetoric. Composing for Recomposition: Rhetorical Velocity and Delivery by Jim Ridolfo and Danielle DeVoss

I am curious about comparing Cicero to Aristotle on how they describe delivery and its impact on rhetoric. I focused in on two sections—”The Requirements of an Orator” and “Conventional Oratorical Training” due to an interest in Cicero’s discussion of delivery both in terms of a natural talent and something resultant from practice.

rhetoric as natural gift

  • natural talent is the chief contributor to the virtue of oratory
  • on the art, not the principles and method that are wanting but inborn capacity
  • intelligence and talent: invention, exposition and embellishment, recollection
  • cannot be bestowed by art but must be granted by nature
  • art can give polish – through instruction one can become better
  • “any blunder that may be committed eclipses even those other things that are praiseworthy”
  • “we have to picture to ourselves in our discourse an orator from whom every blemish has been taken away, and one who moreover is rich in every merit”
  • “the greater an orator’s capacity, the more profoundly nervous he was” due to
    • fate of a speech not in accordance with wish sometimes
    • orators judged harshly; out of sorts interpreted as stupidity (compares to orators receiving harsh judgment than actors)
  • characteristics of orator: demand the subtlety of the logician, the thoughts of the philosopher, a dicition almost poetic, a lawyer’s memory, a tragedian’s voice, and the bearing almost of the consumate actor
  • “For attributes which are commended when acquired one apiece, and that in but modest degree, by other craftsman in their respective vocations, cannot win approval when embodied in an orator, unless in him they are all assembled in perfection”

rhetoric as skill from practice

  • requires enthusiasm and something like the passion of love
  • “Yet assuredly endeavours to reach any goal avail to nothing unless you have learned what it is which leads you to the end at which you aim”
  • described as habitual method
  • described training or rehearsal (embodied performance)
  • duty of an orator is to speak in a style fitted to convince; that every speech has to do with the investigation of a general question (no persons or occasions indicated) or with a problem (concerned with specific individuals and times); inquiry into a deed done, its character, its classification, whether it was done lawfully, whether there is ambiguity or contradiction
  • prescribed commonplaces to deploy in courts
  • all activity and ability of orator falls into five divisions: hit upon what to say; manage discoveries not merely in order but with “discriminating eye for the exact weight as it were of each argument”; adornments of style; keep guarded in memory; deliver with effect and charm
  • five divisions: invention, arrangement, style, memory, delivery
  • must secure goodwill of audience
  • must state case
  • must define dispute
  • must establish allegations
  • must disprove other side
  • “and in our peroration expand and reinforce all that was in our favour, while we weakened and demolished whatever went to support our opponents”
  • “there is a certain practical training that you must undergo…learn beforehand and practise, by a training like that for games, what will have to be done in the fighting-line, so to speak, of the courts”


A Bubblines visualization from Voyant Tools that represents the frequency of indicated words in the text by bubble radius. I read Cicero’s text for: practice, invention, delivery, style, arrangement, memory, style, habit, talent, art, gift, skill, education, training with curiosity in perhaps visualizing how delivery was described (something as natural gift or talent or learned skill) as well as how often the five divisions of rhetoric appear.

Cicero appears to bring anxiety, doubt, and poor performance (means don’t achieve end) into his discussion of delivery, something that seems absent in other historical texts we have read on performing rhetoric. What effect does this have on rhetoric as oration? How does this impact rhetorical training? Does this make space for rhetorics that aren’t hinged on oral/language performance alone?

Craft Games: Connecting the Head and Hand

Reading: Digital Play: The Interaction of Technology, Culture, and Marketing by Stephen Kline, Nick Dyer-Witheford, and Greig De Peuter

Digital Play’s thought provoking exploration of the interaction of the technology, culture and marketing of digital games through the proposed theoretical model of three circuits—the circuits of technology, culture and marketing—embedded within the all-encompassing circuit of capital brought up questions and interests for me regarding a craft culture of digital games, particularly in the third “Critical Perspectives” section on “Workers and Warez: Labour and Piracy in the Global Game Market”. Last semester I took a class on the Rhetorics of Craft in which we had similar conversations of the effects of mass production and marketing and Fordist models of making on craft and craftsmanship. In this class we read (Centennial Professor of Sociology at the London School of Economics and University Professor of the Humanities at New York University) Richard Sennett’s The Craftsman—a cultural studies text that looks at how individuals and groups of people “make sense of material facts about where they live and the work they do”. His main argument is that craftsmanship—dedicated,  skilled, good work for its own sake (20)— focuses on achieving quality to standards set by a community (25) has come to be organized in three troubled ways (52):

  • attempts of institutions to motivate people to work well (issues of individual competition, charades of cooperation)
  • developing skill, a trained practice, in environments that deprive people of repetitive, hands on training (a separation of head and hand)
  • conflicting measures of quality in products – one based on correctness and the other on practical experience (pulled between tacit and explicit knowledge)

In that class I raised question of what was possible as an available means of production that reorients itself as craft in a time and global economy of automation and mass production beyond small enclaves of artisinal and craft counter-movements. I realize that it is complicated to equate handcraft products with digital games, but if some game are considered “art” or indie (to counter the mega and mass), and the work of coding can be described as “craftsman’s pride” (Digital Play, 200) and a “digital labour of love” (200), I am curious about how some of the labour and production issues raised in Digital Play might be resonate with similar matters of concern in the history of craft production in terms of issues of economy, gender, skill, exploitation, and technology. I am interested, and this seems to align with the cultural studies emphasis articulated in Digital Play, how digital games as craft (or deeper exploration of indie and its alignment with historical work on craft) could afford some nuance in looking at the design and production of games, the comparison of indie and big title games in consumer behaviors, and establishing an ethics of care/concern/consumption in gaming (the pride in local, small scale). My knowledge of indie games is limited, but I wonder what the rhetoric of production or craftsmanship is in the making of these games and if the communities that create them and grow from them can serve as a space to attend to their materials (their matter, their means of production) and material effect/affect.

Aspasia: Re-membering History

In reading about Aspasia this week, I was curious how these works, which work to remember, return, and regender rhetorical history, affect scholarship on the premise of their methods. Without much of an account on method (but some discussion of methodology), I wonder what it means to re-read—not in terms of a valuation of it, but in how it can be done to look at a text/s differently than before. Further, I was curious about how the claims/findings are written and their influence on how we can know (especially if methods are not made visible). Our conversations in class continue to make these paths of interest to explore, not just in historiographic work, but in reading scholarship differently with an attention to how texts are read and presented in research to be read by others.


  • from Plato’s Menexenus: names Aspasia his “excellent mistress in the art of rhetoric”
  • only know of her through Plato, Cicero and Plutarch
  • credited with authorship of Pericles’ famous funeral oration for those killed in the Peloponnesian War, which she could not deliver as a woman and non-Athenian
  • funeral oration (condensed):
  • set out to praise the goodness of the dead men’s birth, their nurture and education, the nobility of their actions, and their worthiness of such education they received
  • praises country as nurturing mother – mother (woman) is an imitation of mother (earth)
  • discusses equality of government based on natural equality in birth giving power to those most deserving
  • what are we to make of this oration from Aspasia “who is only a woman” (Menexenus to Socrates)? what is the rhetoric of its rhetoric?
  • how and in what/who has Aspasia been studied? What are the research methods and materials?

Cheryl Glenn’s “Classical Rhetoric Conceptualized” from her book Rhetoric Retold: Regendering The Tradition from Antiquity Through the Renaissance

  • uses concept of harmonia as a “fitting together” or “perfect fit” as a way of describing how women understood and “accepted their measure of domestic power and acted on their responsibility for creating the conditions under which harmony, order, law, and justice could exist in the state and in the home” — the social responsibilities of men and women are different, but are equal in harmonia in both the public and the private
  • discusses Gorgias, Isocrates, and the development of the polis before discussing Aspasia as a means to establish when and why rhetoric developed socially and politically to uphold moral values (virtue)


  • “brilliantly educated by means that have never been fully explained”
  • brought up in a transitional society of Asia Minor and was thus an outsider to Athens and free of the role brought about by the rigidity of traditional marriage
  • not being an aristocratic Athenian woman, Aspasia could rupture enclosure of the female body in the private/domestic sphere
  • only woman in classical Greece to distinguish herself in the public domain
  • coupled with Pericles through a romantic relationship that is described as more equal in his affections for her, his intellectual exchanges with her, his presence with her in public, and his living with her in the same home and entertaining men and their wives as company
  • established herself as a rhetor of teaching virtue/citizenship  instead of passing it on through childbirth from father/husband to son
  • worked to demonstrate that truth and belief are not inherently the same, which put her in the company of Plato and Socrates
  • Glenn closes with “Few women participated in the intellectual life of ancient Greece. Aspasia has emerged as an exceptional hero in a new rhetorical narrative”; what are the consequences (+/-) of such an assertion?
  • How (methods) is Glenn rereading these textual accounts of Aspasia? How does this in turn cause for a rereading of history?

Susan Jarratt and Rory Ong’s “Aspasia: Rhetoric, Gender, and Colonial Ideology”

set out to explore:

  • did Aspasia exist?
  • can she be known?
  • is that knowledge communicable?

Aspasia left no written remains/artifacts

like Glenn, Jarratt and Ong discuss Aspasia’s not fitting in with roles of women in Athenian society, but they move beyond wive/mother to also include slaves, concubines, prostitutes and hetaerae

credit her as teacher of rhetoric and perhaps inventor of the Socratic method

Jarratt and Ong end:

Aspasia, perhaps the first female orator in the Western tradition, attracted not only the admiration of Pericles and the fascination of Socrates but also the critical attention of  Plato intent on rereading the rhetorical world to which she gave voice. If we cannot recover the lost voice of Aspasia, we can set the echoes of her speech reverberating again for an age with its own concerns about democracy and political participation, production and reproduction, gender and citizenship

While Jarratt and Ong set out to answer three research questions, but claim that their “Reconstruction of ‘Aspasia’ will no more accurately recapture the ‘real’ woman” than do the character in Plutarch and Plato’s texts or artist captures of her figures (the traces of existence), but will rather “reflect back to us a set of contemporary concerns”; what does it mean to use a figure, history, or text in such a way? This seems different than re-gendering or re-membering (a body); what does it mean to re-claim history?

How can we study something/someone when material traces are not readily available? How does this/should this impact method?

Xin Liu Gale’s “Historical Studies and Postmodernism: Rereading Aspasia of Miletus”

  • reads three historical studies of Aspasia done by feminist historians to call attention to the difficulties of doing history and to help develop a sensitivity to the complexities of writing alternative histories and to provoke feminist scholars to seek more productive and convincing ways of reconstructing rhetorical histories of women in the male dominated academy
  • looks at Glenn’s study of Aspais, Jarratt and Ong’s study of Aspasia, and Madeline Henry’s study of Aspasia
    • Glenn: turns to historiography, feminism, gender theory, and postmodernism
    • Jarratt and Ong: utilize sophistic historiography and feminist sophistic
    • Henry: employs a synthetic historical method that combines philological method, a feminist perspective, and postmodern wisdom of situatedness of the text and researcher
  • critique of Glenn:
  • critique of Jarratt and Ong:
  • critique of Henry:
  • Gale discusses the limitations with each historical approach and its bearings on what we can/not claim from the work
  • Gale ends on “one more word on the need for a debate over historical methods”; quoting Foucault, she explains “history is a form of knowledge and a form of power at the same time; put differently, it is a means of controlling and domesticating the past in the form of knowing it”.
  • Gale questions how to do historical work that strays from male perspective and method and expresses desire t seek what is possible in postmodern and antifoundational methods
  • How common are re-readings of historiographical work? What does research/the field gain from these in term sof method/approach?

Cheryl Glenn’s Response to Xin Liu Gale Comment: Truth, Lies, and Method: Revisiting Feminist Historiography

Susan Jarratt’s Response to Xin Liu Gale Comment: Rhetoric and Feminism: Together Again

The Counterintuition of Countergaming: Active Play

Reading Alexander R. Galloway’s Gaming: Essays on Algorithmic Culture (2006), I felt a moment of serendipity in his chapter “Countergaming” as a space to continue thinking about materiality in digital games/play, in troubling (or blurring or extending or making permeable) the magic circle (the place/time created by a game for the game to take place), and how play affects and is affected by the materiality of digital games. I found myself thinking back to notes I jotted during our class discussion last week on Juul and Wardrip-Fruin and our recounts of playing Agricola; much of our conversation was on the visibility of player agency in the game or the materials of the game—agency is registered by us, the player, when we can see effects on the environment/materials resultant of our choices or nonchoices. I found myself thinking of play, as a result of this conversation, as differing in its intent—play as doing (exploring possibility) play as progress (perfecting skill with mastery/winning in mind). I don’t necessarily think of these as mutually exclusive, in fact, I imagine they are happening as a sort of hybridity. This made me think of a similar distinction of the concept invention in rhetoric in which invention can be hermeneutic (for some thing, an end in mind; ends) versus algorithmic (ongoing; that which seeks possibility in the adjacent). This brought pause as I thought about how I was defining materiality and material to myself, wondering if my interest in the material wasn’t counter-productive to other material interests in game studies (lately I have felt as if my interest in making is actually one in breaking). I don’t know how to define materiality for myself yet, but I root it in the possibility to act/affect. Galloway opens his book with the following quote by Gilles Deleuze from “Intellectuals and Power”

Representation no longer exists; there’s only action.

Action: the capacity to act; the possibility in action, and with action comes the possibility for counteraction. Galloway begins his chapter on “Countergaming” by describing the different ways a game can be modified (or mode(i)fied: an action to come back to) to disrupt the intuitive flow of gameplay: at the level of its visual design (characters, maps, artwork); at the level of the rules of the game (what the repercussions of gamic acts are); at the level of its software technology (game physics, character behavior) (108). Borrowing from Peter Wollen’s seven theses on counter-cinema, Galloway lays out five formal differences between gaming and countergaming:

  1. transparency versus foregrounding: removing the apparatus from the image versus interplay of graphics apparatus displayed without representational imagery
  2. gameplay versus aestheticism: narrative gameplay based on a coherent rule set versus formal experiments
  3. representational modeling versus visual artifacts: mimetic modeling of objects versus glitches and unexpected products
  4. natural physics versus invented physics: Newtonian laws of motion versus incoherent physical laws
  5. interactivity versus noncorrespondence: predictable linkage between controller input and gameplay versus barriers between controller input and gameplay

What is of interest in exploring these further is that these need not fall stray from game/play into art, but can change the way in which materials can act and are interacted with/through.

Videos: Jodi SOD mod of Wolfenstein 3D (top) and Wolfenstein 3D (bottom)

How might mods modify what we think of as a game space? How might they influence the magic circle of play? Or mode(i)fy the space between player/environment and game/system/environment? Does Galloway’s countergaming allow for a more object oriented look at play—one that doesn’t create a new ontological status of materials that overshadow the player, but instead modify how we conceptualize players and space/objects? Does looking at materiality through a lens of counter- afford a different look at the action of play as algorithmic instead of hermeneutic?

I don’t have answers for these many questions, only possibility space. Galloway ends this chapter and his book with the possibility that countergaming can create:

Countergaming is an unrealized project…there will be a whole language of play, radical and new, that will transform the countergaming movement, just as Godard did to the cinema, or Deleuze did to philosophy, or Duchamp did to the art object. And more importantly, artist-made game mods will be able to resolve the essential contradiction of their existence thus far: that they have sought largely to remove their own gameplay and lapse back to other media entirely (animation, video, painting). This will be a realization of countergaming as gaming