home: worn void

I procrastinate leaving that doesn’t feel like going home

to come back won’t bring being and there might not even be imprint of her there

vacant looking at the ceiling, squint my eyes to see as she then, crying to know her thoughts her body

I try to hug myself as she, find her memory in soft spaces that are only indents impressed

packing with hands I wonder if are hers, home my body of her making

 

 

calling (up) my mother

Tomorrow is the start of the third year in my doctoral program. Typically, I am raw nerves mixed with a hollow stomach, pacing practicing introductions to the class I teach, and excited anxious energy resolute. Today I feel numb. It’s been a month since my mother passed. These days have gone without my noticing. They feel like stagnation. Like separation. They marked the thirtieth wedding anniversary of my parents and my return to Syracuse (after my mother has died). But a return suggests some sort of routine, a coming back into. These days (that feel as if only a blink and like the nonplace and nontime sitting beside her bed for) have drained me as I try to reimmerse myself. And I find myself questioning displacement: if I feel more empty, I will continue buoyant, listless, surface. I can’t bury myself in work if I don’t exist embodied on ground. (How can I submerge if I can’t come down?)

I just stopped myself from calling my mother’s phone to talk to her about school tomorrow. I can’t hear her, so I listen to her over and over in this short video my dad recorded of her at home. I don’t know the origins of this saying. Except that it is her. She said this to my brother and I every time we stepped out the front door, at the end of every phone conversation, and by text every morning. “Be good. If you can’t be good, be rotten and tell me about it.” I can’t think of a better capture of her: her smile, her playful nature, her absolute and open love and support.

This is the first part of my life that I can’t call for her support. But I call it up.

eye see: five diagrams of Graphis for Rhetsy

Recently, Collin circulated an invitation through Rhetsy (“A handcrafted gift basket of rhetorical miscellany, delivered promptly to your inbox on a weekly basis”) to share lists of fives—what people have been reading, hearing, watching, playing, waiting for, etc. in anticipation/dread of the new school year. Naturally, I’ve thought about trying to construct a unique list to the point of overthinking: total deconstruction. Lists I had started: five items I habitually buy that inadvertently lead to only eating tacos; five of my favorite objects from Tender Buttons; my five favorite female electronic music composersand five songs from Brian Eno’s Small Craft on a Milk Sea that make the perfect score/narrative to an rpg.

But for me, the start of the school year makes me think about how I think. The materiality of my thinking is still something I’m learning about and working to accept. Throughout my schooling, I have gotten feedback on being “spacey”, slow witted, and difficult to follow in the manifestations of my work/thinking and of my body/gestures [I have vivid memory of a professor making me speak while my hands were clasped underneath the table, looking directly in their stooped face, as they repeated “you’re giving us nothing to follow // you’re not making sense”]. I rely heavily on media/material juxtaposition and invocation; the use of referent, the act of movement. I think in exploded diagrams and in between associations. I can’t make eye contact when talking because I need to see to follow. It’s only recently that I realized it’s okay that I process in layers and associations and traces through diagrams. Each time I visit my dad I learn more about myself through him by way of looking at his hand drawn maps for directions; his diagrams of the placement of parts in cars he’s working on; and his illustrations of concepts like how joints in woodworking are fitted. From him, I realize I shouldn’t be surprised that I want to wallpaper my apartment in butcher paper and that I love visualizations.

One of my favorite collections of visualizations is a 1974 book titled Graphis Diagrams. Founded in 1944 to celebrate/promote communication design, this collection is the165th (special) issue of Graphis, edited by founder Walter Herdeg, The Artist in the Service of Science (almost as good a title to possess as Professor of Nonhumanities). In his foreword, Herdeg explains that the purpose of the book is

to show the designer how abstract facts or functions which cannot be simply depicted like natural objects may be given visual expression by suitable graphic transformation. It also reviews the means of visualizing physical and technical processes which are not perceptible to the eye.

The introduction, written by co-founder, senior vice president and creative director of Corporate Annual Reports, Inc. Leslie A. Segal, provides an interesting conversation about the synthesis of art and science in diagrams on the points of elegance, sincerity, complexity, and morality. My favorite pieces of the introduction:

In art as in science, a deceptively elegant statement may have value as a technical exercise; but as communication it is worse than no statement at all.

&

A bar chart is nothing but the skeleton of a story until the designer decides that it’s a message that should be shouted or whispered, or giggled, or just admitted.

Of the 177 diagram filled pages, it is difficult to choose only five, but here are the five diagrams that always give me pause when flipping through:

front cover

front cover

the graphic visualization of abstract data

one

experimental digital map of Africa, layer one

experimental digital map of Africa, layer one

experimental digital map of Africa, layer two

experimental digital map of Africa, layer two

Experimental digital map of Africa. It consists of four transparent sheets…and one basic outline map of the continent. Taking as the centre the basic latitude and longitude, mesh patterns were spread out in all directions at intervals of 150 km, and the data which were previously prepared were indicated at the intersections of the meshes. This made it possible to discover constantly what changes were undergone by each of the sheets at the same point under the same conditions.

two

perceptibility of color

perceptibility of color

Diagram from an article on colour perception…The dots represent the degree of perceptibility of certain colours on a given background colour.

three

development of a thunderstorm

development of a thunderstorm

Three stages in the development of a thunderstorm: 1. Thermal imbalance in a thunderhead. 2. Build-up of electrical tension. 3. Equilibrium restored.

four

the particle belt of Jupiter

the particle belt of Jupiter

Diagram of a cut-out view into the invisible belt of charged particles that embrace the planet Jupiter. The planet itself is sectioned to show that Jupiter’s temperature rises towards the centre (indicated by colour) and also to show that it may have no detectable solid surface inside its atmosphere. The difference between the axis of rotation and the magnetic axis is also indicated.

five

the human circulatory system

the human circulatory system

Pictorial flow diagram explaining the functions of the human circulatory system.

These are a few of many visualizations that make me curious to see. That make me embrace what I used to understand of myself as “scatterbrain”. That make me think of my dad’s Post-It schematics and what my grandfather would design from the daily statistics he collects from newspapers if he had his own computer. That make me question vision, sensation, and how I know.

sorting the entanglement of assemblages and networks

I was fortunate enough to participate in the RSA Summer Institute, taking the New Materialisms workshop with Thomas Rickert and Byron Hawk. The company and conversation were extremely generative, both for my own developing project(s) and bringing new perspective to theory in the readings. We read/discussed the following readings under the concept headings of new materialism, agencies, things, networks, movement, and politics:

  • Introduction of New Materialisms: Ontology, Agency, and Politics // eds. Diana Coole and Samantha Frost
  • “The Agency of Assemblages” // Jane Bennett
  • “The Thing” // Martin Heidegger
  • “Object Lessons” // John Law and Vicky Singleton
  • “Against Space” of Being Alive // Tim Ingold
  • “On Touching—The Inhuman That Therefore I Am” // Karen Barad
  • “Ontological politics. A word and some questions” // Annemarie Mol
  • Interview with Karen Barad // eds. Rick Dolphijn and Iris van der Tuin’s New Materialism: Interviews & Cartographies

While I furiously tried to scribble/transcribe everything that was said, a note that I did make was beginning to hear a difference between network and assemblage (ecology and entanglement for another day/another post)—and when I say hear a difference, I mean I heard it in the language that was being used to talk about them (they themselves working as sort of conceptual metaphors that animate). While I know the concepts are different, I have not been able to really note what makes them differently able in their descriptive power (I’m resisting saying the difference is affect, but there’s some thing there—an opening on / in to…). I’m drawing primarily from the conversation we had about Jane Bennett’s “The Agency of Assemblages”. This is a mess(h).

While I am trying to sort out two concepts/terms, I begin with want of more explanation the descriptive difference in material as compared to object. I’m not sure what impact the distinction would have fit within the larger categories of human and nonhuman (and inhuman), but I wonder how something like Levi Bryant’s quasi-objects, which are neither quite natural nor quite social (see his post on Of Quasi-Objects and the Construction of Collectives) but draw people together into relations with other humans, as well as nonhumans. I think my fixation on these terms at the time being is to understand if use of material or object influences whether one concept is invoked over another—network, assemblage, ecology, entanglement…

Comparing, or rather trying to untangle, networks and assemblages, isn’t as simple as looking across/between two definitions. Both assemblages and networks introduce the concept of actants as entities and forces to move away from anthropomorphic constructs of agency (and Bennett specifically invokes Bruno Latour to frame her use of actant). Jane Bennett advances agency of actants alone to the capacities agency has in groupings, or assemblages “of somatic, technological, cultural, and atmospheric elements” (447). Bennett draws from Deleuze and Guattari to construct assemblage, describing the force field of the assemblage as “a milieu”, “‘Thus the living thing…has an exterior milieu of materials, an interior milieu of composing elements and composed substance, an intermediary milieu of membranes and limits, and an annexed milieu of energy sources and actions-perceptions'” (461). She aligns assemblages with a materialist ontology, which she describes as a kind of vitalism or enchanted materialism.

Within this materialism, the world is figured as neither mechanistic nor teleological but rather as alive with movement and with a certain power of expression; by power of expression I mean the ability of bodies to become otherwise than they are, to press out of their current configuration and enter into new compositions of self as well as new alliances and rivalries. (447)

Bennett explains that the active power of assemblages is “concealed under the rubric of (social) structures, (cultural) contexts, (religious) settings, (economic) climates, or (environmental) conditions” (455). Bennett’s work in “The Agency of Assemblages” is to detach ethics from human constructed moralism in order to produce guides to action appropriate to a world of vital, crosscutting forces (464). With a nod to the Nicene Creed (“We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible.”) Bennett states “I believe in one Nature, vibrant and Overflowing, material and energetic, maker of all that is, seen and unseen. I believe that this ‘pluriverse’ is continually doing things, things that bear upon us…as forces upon material beings. I believe that this ‘generative mobility’ resists full translation and exceeds our comprehensive grasp. I believe that to experience materiality as vital and animated is to enrich the quality of human life” (448). She explains that “there was never a time when human agency was anything other than an interfolding network of humanity and nonhumanity” (463).

An assemblage is an interfolding network?

The way Bennett uses the concepts of pluriverse and vital materialism, I think of constant actant activity affecting and being affected and I question how the assemblage is noted/boundaried if it is an interfolding of exterior, interior, intermediary, and annexed milieu. How do assemblages come into being? I find myself thinking about it as a poesis (from Kathleen Stewart) from fog (what does affect look like? fields? layers? static?), but again, I think this is coloured in part by Bennett’s writing, which I think is beautifully constructed. For networks, or at least actor networks, there is no pre-existing activity system either; it is established through thick description in media res, as Latour explains. And even though I know networks aren’t static in structure, it is hard to disassociate from the structural history of network as lines of connectivity. In Reassembling the Social, Latour sets out to reconstruct social because:

  • problems arise when “social” begins to mean a type of material (wooden, economical, biological, organizational)—trying to stand for two different things: a material from other materials and a movement during a process of assembling
  • Latour wants to show why “social” cannot be construed as a material or domain and to dispute providing a social explanation to a state of affairs
  • “social” is not a homogeneous thing (5) but a trail of heterogeneous associations between elements (5)

Latour’s networks describe relating to a group as an ongoing process of fragile, controversial, and ever shifting ties (28) that starts with the controversy, not the group interested (because he’s working from a sociology of science studies frame); this allows for groupings based not on social aggregate but elements (human and nonhuman actants) present in controversies (31). Latour’s networks are not fixed, nor are they singular, but I find myself wanting a similar description of vital materialism in Latour’s ontology—is Latour’s ontology a pluriverse too? I wonder if this has something to do with the association of networks with systems/systematically and symmetrical relationships, or the need of the human to establish/do the work of articulating through description. Latour provides a gloss of the social:

  • the question of the social emerges when the ties in which one is entangled begin to unravel
  • the social is further detected through the surprising movements from one association to another
  • those movements can be suspended or resumed
  • when they are suspended, the social is bound together with already accepted participants (social actors who are members of a society)
  • when the movement is resumed, it traces social as associations through non-social entities which might later participate
  • if pursued systemically, the tracing may end up in a shared definition of the common world (collective)
  • but if there are not procedures to render it common, it may fail to be assembled
  • sociology is best defined as a discipline where participants explicitly engage in the reassembling of the collective

Like Bennett, Latour’s project is a political one (even though his work is often described as lacking politics, and I think, unfairly). Reassembling the Social ends with a conclusion that is a question that opens onto itself (and interfolding?): “From Society to Collective—Can the Social be Reassembled?” as a search for political relevance. Latour states “Once the task of exploring the multiplicity of agencies is completed, another question can be raised: What are the assemblies of those assemblages?” (260) And follows/ends with this statement:

In a time of so many crises in what it means to belong, the task of cohabitation should no longer be simplified too much. So many other entities are now knocking on the door of our collectives. Is it absurd to want to retool our disciplines to become sensitive again to the noise they make and to try to find a place for them? (262)

Which I find resonance with in Bennett’s closing paragraph:

These claims need more flesh and even then remain contestable. Other actants, enmeshed in other assemblages, will surely offer different diagnoses of the political and its problems. It is ultimately a matter of political judgment what is more needed today: should we acknowledge the distributive quality of agency in order to address the power of human-nonhuman assemblages and to resist a politics of blame? Or should we persist with a strategic understatement of material agency in the hope of enhancing the accountability of specific humans? (464)

I’m still a mess(h) over trying to delineate these concepts. What is the difference between a collective (Latour) and collectivity (Bennett)? What is the difference between cohabitating with nonhumans as humans (Latour) and existing in a living grouping (ad hoc, circumstantial) whose coherence coexists with energies and countercultures that exceed and confound it (Bennett)?

 

recording sensation: the experiential typewriter

The Experiential Typewriter. Image: NYPL Manuscripts and Archives Division

The Experiential Typewriter. Image: NYPL Manuscripts and Archives Division

In the 1960s, Timothy Leary collaborated with a Harvard physician and an engineer at MIT to develop a device called the Experiential Typewriter, which was intended to help get around a common obstacle in psychedelic research—the impossibility for an individual in a psychedelic experience to describe what is happening/what they are experiencing. The typewriter had a keyboard that could be customized/manipulated (to the individual) to record bodily sensations, hallucinations, or a sense of entering spaces/voids.

Below is a brief overview of how the Experiential Typewriter is set up (primarily focusing on the keyboard or input/recording system for the psychedelic experience). I am quoting from Leary’s publication on the typewriter in The Psychedelic Review.

Screen Shot 2015-03-21 at 3.10.37 PM

Timothy Leary's "The Experiential Typewriter"

Timothy Leary’s “The Experiential Typewriter”

Timothy Leary opens his article with the limitations of language to communicate all that the brain can come to know through a psychedelic experience. He states that “There are, at present, no linguistic systems set up to distinguish between internal and external, or to distinguish various levels of consciousness” (75); the familiar typewriter is coded in terms of the alphabet, and while it can make any word in the language, it is of little use in experiential studies. In experiential studies there aren’t words, so more detailed categories must be created in order to record experience. Leary explains that the experiential language should be able to cover all terms used in our denotational, or as he calls it “external” language, as well as experiences beyond present vocabulary (75). There was no set experiential language; each trial had an ad hoc language for the area of consciousness to be explored.

The keyboard was designed for both the right and left hand to have input. Each of the broad areas of experiences could be subdivided into numerous categories. Bodily sensations could be referred to as each sensory organ or zone of the body and game designations could be made—stomach ache, dizziness, erotic feelings, etc. For both sets of keys, each key could be expanded and when more elaborate forms of the experiential typewriter became feasible, other rows above the keys could be added for specific self categories (76).

The right keyboard was devoted to transcendental and transitional states of awareness; the right hand attempted to define new language for ecstatic experiences which stood outside of current modes. While the left keyboard attempted to summarize modes of conventional awareness for which there now exists a vocabulary (77).

The left hand keys were organized as conventional language concepts and depict broad categories of cultural games:

  • awareness in terms of body-maintenance games, including sex
  • awareness in terms of social-cultural games, including family
  • awareness in terms of aesthetic-recreational games
  • awareness in terms of intellectual-scientific games
  • thumb key: religious-philosophic games
  • The right hand keys are organized as hallucinatory, revelatory, and transcendental experiences:1.

bodily sensations (pain, itch, tickle)

  • moods and emotional states (safe-dangerous, pleasant-unpleasant, relaxed-active)
  • interpersonal feelings toward others
  •  cognitive modes of perception
  • thumb key (master key): modifies any other key to indicate a negative experience

The goal was to record immediate sensory awareness and loss of self-consciousness; revelation of a sudden intuitive insight into relationships previously never grasped; ecstasy-unity-liberation that comes from freedom of identity and social role but; and hallucinations that form new constructions — neo-symbolic patterns develop — of familiar sense modalities scrambled into synesthesia (79). Leary envisioned the typewriter to be used for recording:

  • the flow of experience: high speed, nonverbal methods of converting experiences into language
  • session programming: communication with subject to get feedback/provide intervention in the direction of the plan
  • extrasensory perception research: patterns of telepathic communication between two keyboards in separate spaces
  • physiological studies of consciousness: correlating experience patterns with neurological recordings through a secondary polygraph
  • detailed languages of consciousness: the alteration of the keyboard codes

Leary explained

The experiential language should be able to cover generally all the terms now used in our denotational “external” language as well as experiences beyond the present vocabulary. In addition, the experiential language should be based as closely as possible upon biological and physical processes. The language should also be capable of coding the broad range of experiences which jumble together physical sensations and mental constructions—which we call hallucinations.

Noting that, “There are, at present, no linguistic systems set up to distinguish between internal and external, or to distinguish various levels of consciousness” (75)

What interests me about the Experiential Typewriter is the move beyond established/external semiotics to account for (bodily/sensory) experience. Leary was trying to give language to things like hallucinations, bodily sensations, sick sensations, sense of place/space, and combinations across these categories as they were experienced in something like synesthesia. I’m thinking through his experiments with the typewriter as trying to create a system, both in terms of language and technology, that could make material affective.

I am working on a series of posts based on Leary’s Experiential Typewriter as a means of exploring non-linguistic sensory systems. In the next post, I will be tracing Leary’s work into the early web and virtual reality tools.

essential elements: particles of study

I feel like I’ve been at a lull as of late; too much thinking and striving for concrete or complete thoughts, which always results in stifled activity. My head’s at capacity and nothing is being created for anxiety over spark like thoughts (a flash | quick burn). So I turn to my creative catalyst: wandering the aisles of Meijer in flickering fluorescence and listening to Radiolab like voiceover narration to my daily activities.

Radiolab’s short Solid as a Rock, interviews Jim Holt on his book Why Does the World Exist?, and works to push on our conception of the universe as solid/physical matter to consider the material stuff of the world as less solid – what we can put our fingers on resembles something more like a thought, a mathematical equation, or an ethereal cloud instead of fitted blocks. Holt explains “whether, at its very base, the universe is made up of solid bits and pieces of stuff…or a cloudy foundation that, more than anything else we can put our fingers on, resembles thoughts and ideas.” He goes on “If you start slicing and sleuthing in subatomic particle land — trying to get to the bottom of what makes matter — you mostly find empty space. Your hand, your chair, the floor…it’s all made up of mostly of nothing. So what makes it all take shape?”

My mind sparked. I wondered if this might be a useful way of thinking/questioning disciplinarity (what defines the field/discipline of rhetoric and composition) – something I often find myself questioning as a newcomer. Thought embers:

Our world(s) as appearance – thought, not substance – so what is our truth/reality made of?

What is the most essential nature of a rock? A thing? Or something harder to pin down…a  thought? What makes a rock a rock? When you hear the word rock, what do you imagine? And why this thing with these characteristics? Where does thing material and thing semiotic end?

Cutting up the stuff of reality into such itty bitty pieces it can go no further – atoms (the work of atomists). Is this how we think of our field’s materiality? And if not, if we look at larger assemblages of these small atom components, what is lost?

Gravity – what is the mechanism that mediates? Does a field need something that acts as gravity? Gravity created by the equation itself holds our matter together – but nature/reality has to be made of hard stuff, elements. Or at least an apparent solidity. What are the effects on what we can/can’t do?

(A connection, follow the link) Quantum Field Theory of Physics: a field is a stream of information through spacetime – where particles might be. We can’t see the thing itself, only the effect it has on other things – we can’t observe it, so how are we illustrating/understanding it to exist?

Micro/macro: big data and the minutia – what effects do they have on one another? What can we learn from them? What can be observed (and how)?

And what of time/situation? How do ideas shift, decompose, remain, fade?

In the field are little/big events, hiccups/hydrogen bombs of energy – stuff comes into existence. And then what? We need networks, energy transitions/traces (balanced equations?), shadows of ideas (Roland Barthes – that which has been). Structure without rigidity.

Reality is a flux of information.

The cosmos is ultimately a concept: the necessity and the difficulty in definition. I find myself thinking again of Lakoff and Johnson’s Metaphors We Live By and how we often conflate things/materials/matter with language/semiotics by metaphor or symbol referent.

Contemplating disciplinarity in terms of field, but in the sense of quantum theory: what are we terming field? What is this based on? Is this observable? Can there be individual (or small collectives) fields? Are these subfields?

What is the most essential nature of a field?

What remains to study: the materiality of thought, of concept, of construction and the drawing of circles and borders.

David Tong: Lectures on Quantum Field Theory, University of Cambridge

an end to stagnation

(if I state it, it becomes fact, right? …)

too much stasis of thought. brain like pond (man made) in need of churning, of percolation, of thought bubbling to the surface even if they go “nowhere” but pop and recombine with molecules in the air. brain like pond scum. (speaking of scum, this coffee is quite bog-like. more scoops in a single pot doesn’t bring on more energy, but more acid reflux). a snippet of morning re-reading to vibrate and make vibrant matter (it’s spring: things are looking up, or rather, down with the help of theoria):

“Graphics reveal data.” The conviction that information exists outside of – or in advance of – the presentation of data in graphical form is problematic, even inaccurate, from both a theoretical and a practical point of view. On a mundane level, certainly we can understand that information designers see their task as the creation of clear, legible, unambiguous presentations of data. But every graphic representation is a rhetorical device. Every presentation structures arguments — it doesn’t “reveal” facts in all their purity through the fallible, flawed system of graphical expressions. The relations between what is communicated and how have to be acknowledged. (23)

Johanna Drucker, Graphesis: Visual Knowledge Production and Representation

 

places I haven’t been

Reading for tonight’s class (focused on maps and mapping), I began to think of odd encounters I’ve had with maps. I was never in this house, but I’ve heard many stories about the home my great grandmother lived in that straddled the border of Canada and Montana – parts of the house falling on either side of the border. As a child, I imagined a line existing where the border was.

When I got my teaching job in Colorado, the school didn’t have an address; it used the highway number it was off of. Recently, I noticed it had an established address that didn’t name the highway, but the number only.

I don’t tag photos on Facebook with a location, but I have been tagged in a few. I wonder what this map of places I have been recently looks like and how it shapes a representation of me.

Gearing up toward moving in the summer to a place I have never been, I’m looking at pictures and Google maps to create a representation of the place and potential spaces to occupy. These are only what I construct from a distance.

Each time I go somewhere unfamiliar, my dad preps me with expedition tools, despite now owning a GPS. He typically talks through detailed directions, moves into sketching a more focused view of areas of potential problems (street view with directional flow notations), and equips me with a local map and an atlas.

Filling out applications, many required a specific address for campus beyond the building name. Street didn’t seem to match up in some cases, and there was a want for numerical input. Room numbers were inputted, but I wonder if anyone might look for 612 Pray-Harrold?

Not sure if it’s related to my migraines/chiari, but I have what has been described as a very strong sense of smell. Or at least one that focuses in on naming specific smells and combinations of smells. I am now imagining creating maps for areas I live based on the smells that are associated with them. Not permanent, but fleeting sensory maps of places one hasn’t fully been.