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

reading/noting: distant reading, data mining, data visualization

Reading: “Graphs” from Graphs, Maps, Trees: Abstract Models for Literary History by Franco Moretti (New Left Review: 28 (2003): 67-93); Data Mining: A Hybrid Methodology for Complex and Dynamic Research by Susan Lang and Craig Baehr (College Composition and Communication 64:1 (2012):172-194) ; and Grasping Rhetoric and Composition by Its Long Tail: What Graphs Can Tell Us about the Field’s Changing Shape by Derek Mueller ( College Composition and Communication 64:1 (2012): 195-223)


quoting Polish philosopher and historian Krzysztof Pomian: the old historical paradigm “directed the gaze of the historian towards extraordinary events…historians resembled collectors: both gathered only rare and curious objects, disregarding whatever looked banal, everyday, normal” (67)

what would happen if focus was shifted from exceptional texts to the “mass of facts”? (67) – “what a minimal fraction of the literary field we all work on…” Moretti proposes a move from close reading to what he conceptualizes as distant reading.

“a field this large cannot be understood by stitching together separate bits of knowledge about individual cases, because it isn’t a sum of individual cases: it’s a collective system, that should be grasped as such, as a whole” (68) Poses question of “knowing” the field on the basis of its texts – there’s far too many to ever read closely, and even when they are read at a close distance, how can we gain perspective to their relationships within the larger history/discipline?

the “novel is an unreliable commodity” (70) – I believe he is referring to its form as in flux based on its relations to political/social/etc. status (makes me wonder – rhetorical situation (Bitzer) or rhetorical ecology (Rice)?)

“But graphs are not models; they are not simplified versions of a theoretical structure [in the ways maps and (especially) evolutionary trees will be in the next two articles], Quantitative research provides a type of data which is ideally independent of interpretations, I said earlier, and that is of course also its limit: it provides data, not interpretation” (72) – a data handle, a way of beginning to see

multiplicity of time: patterns in event, cycle, longue duree

  • event: circumscribed domain of the event and the individual case
  • longue duree: very long span of nearly unchanging structures
  • cycle: temporary structures within historical flow
  • so, all flow and no structure (event), temporary structures for some time (cycle), all structure and no flow (longue duree) (76)

cluster (80) – appearance and disappearance of genres “punctuated by brief bursts of invention” – does he imagine the data graphing/mapping/arranging/assembling in clusters? Are there no outliers? No strange texts? No anomalies?

“What graphs make us see, in other words, are the constraints and the inertia of the literary field – the limits of the imaginable” (82). When we see, we also don’t see – this is potential.

“I began this article by saying that quantitative data are useful because they are independent of interpretation; then, that they are interesting because they demand an interpretation; and now, most radically, we see them challenge existing interpretations, and ask for a theory, not so much of ‘the’ novel, but a whole family of novelistic forms. A theory-of diversity” (91). Does Moretti view these texts as heterogeneous? Heterogeneous as a collective whole vs. homogenous as a whole? Or does he see more grouping/categorization through these graphs?

Does Moretti see the novel in flux due to rhetorical situations – “an uncertain relation to politics and social movements” (73)? – “The causal mechanism must thus be external to the genres, and common to all: like a sudden, total change of their ecosystem. Which is to say: a change of their audience. Books survive if they are read and disappear if they aren’t: and when an entire generic system vanishes at once, the likeliest explanation is that its readers vanished at once” (82). What is the difference look like between a rhetorical situation and a rhetorical ecology? Do graphs fit? Or are they not distributed enough? Are graphs too singular from the network? Do they need to be connected? Are they a step toward composing networks? And what of metanoia? kairos? chronos? in these graphs, rhetorical situations, rhetorical ecologies, and actor-networks?

Lang and Baehr

opens with quote from John Naisbitt “We are drowning in information but starved for knowledge” – taking stock/inventorying our field

as a field, [composition] “we’ve often relied on lore, anecdotal evidence, or studies relying on small sample sizes to defend our assertions. Data mining won’t provide an instant or simple answer, since we still need to determine what data we have available, examine the data to see if any trends emerge, and then, most likely, ask more questions and turn again to the data, which offer us a new set of tools and strategies for research” (174) – calling for data mining to justify what composition does, and consequently, doesn’t do

compositionists “have rejected quantification and any attempts to reach Truth about our business by scientific means, just as we long ago rejected ‘truth’ as derivable by deduction from unquestioned first principles. . . .” (174) – we won’t reach “truth” by critique, but we won’t reach “knowledge” (of) by neglecting collecting/counting/sifting materials that constitute our field

working from Richard Haswell’s article, “NCTE/CCCC’s Recent War on Scholarship,” in which he “tracks the publishing trends of RAD (replicable, aggregable, and data supported) research in flagship journals. Haswell defines such research as that which may or may not employ statistics, but is “explicitly enough systematicized in sampling, execution, and analysis to be replicated; exactly enough circumscribed to be extended; and factually enough supported to be verified” (174) – an attempt at bringing “hard” data into the “soft” humanities? (we’re not viewed as a science, not even a social science…). RAD data-driven inquiries (174):

  • Data results from a set procedure of observation, elicitation, and analysis  – illustration that it doesn’t lose its human-centric tendencies as illustrated by our common methodology of collecting data – ethnography?
  • Description of a system of text analysis or a research method or a research tool, application, and report of results
  • Establishment of a descriptive or validation system and then application to text, course, or program
  • Textual analysis with report of application, using a systematic scheme of analysis that others can apply to different texts and directly compare

quoting Chris Anson from his piece “The Intelligent Design of Writing Programs: Reliance on Belief or a Future of Evidence”, “Ultimately, changing the public discourse about writing from belief to evidence, from felt sense to investigation and inquiry, may help to move us all beyond a culture of ‘unrelenting contention’ (Tannen) and toward some common understandings based on what we can know, with some level of certainty, about what we do” (175). – the point is to be able to discuss what WPA and WP do with the public, motivation to turn to data-driven methodology/inquiry

“Data mining is loosely defined as the process of finding interesting information in large amounts of data” (176) – not “numbers” out of context

“It can also help us conduct research of a more exploratory nature, providing windows into the data that we can use to determine what questions to ask of that data” (176) – working against the bias that numerical data comes from a pre-determined hypothesis – or what is expected to be found

“Data and text mining, then, can be exploratory and, consequently, more descriptive, or they can serve a predictive function” (177) – working to explore, or working to illustrate (these aren’t mutually exclusive either)

“knowledge to be gained is implicit in the data. Data mining might be predictive, in that it seeks to forecast future actions or behaviors through examining patterns in the data, or descriptive, in that it attempts to explain those patterns and the implications thereof. It can be used to classify information or cluster it into groups according to similar characteristics and represent that information in more concise ways. Data mining can also be used to detect anomalies or outliers in a data set” (177-178) – separates it from other statistical methods

another mention of “cluster”, as in Moretti, – “Clustering involves the grouping together of similar data items; unlike classification, the labels of the clusters are not preset” (178) – what do these clusters look like? How do they surface in the data?

“Associations and patterns further assist with the understanding of data. Associations refer to relationships among data items that might predict behavior of a user group” (179) – determined from the clusters? That would be a logical progression – clusters to associations to patterns

“Data mining can also be inductive, unlike data analysis that often begins with a hypothesis that is to be proven or disproven by examining the data. Data mining allows for the fact that the relations between factors that will tell the user that the most interesting, nontrivial information may come from variables that do not initially seem to have any distinct relationship” (179) – what happens in these associations that we don’t otherwise see (?)

RAD based study types according to Chris Anson: foundational research and syntheses, replications and extensions, graduate research, connections with the general public, increased scrutiny and critique, and improved research communities (180) – the first two apply to data mining, while the other four, with some work, can as well according to Lang and Baehr (180-183)

toward foundational research and syntheses and replications and extensions, data mining makes available:

  • revisiting these foundational works can help validate their findings or uncover how these accepted or ”given” approaches have changed over time
  • the ability to enable researchers to examine the ever-increasing number of studies published and posted online and build connections and syntheses from those that can expand or contract in scope as most appropriate to answer a particular query
  • In addition to including larger sample sizes, artifacts could be examined through a variety of different lenses that might shed additional light on the core research questions of the study,
  • Follow-up studies

The remaining four, graduate research, connections with the general public, increased scrutiny and critique, and improved research communities, Lang and Baehr connect them to the public by examining “key questions or issues of popular interest or sustained issues over a period of time” (183). They quote from Kelly Ritter’s article “Extra-Institutional Agency and the Public Value of the WPA” to point out that:
First-year composition is a public enterprise historically. It’s no secret to WPAs that their necessary public defense of student writing—and the myths that require such defenses to be launched—are a result of this perceived communal ownership. Composition, unlike other academic disciplines, is perpetually at the mercy of cultural conceptions of literacy, whether through various levels of community “sponsorship” and that sponsorship’s accompanying costs (Brandt, “Sponsors of Literacy”) or complicit institutional structures, fueled by culturally skewed no- tions of “correctness” in discourse, all of which keep composition at the bottom of the academic hierarchy (Crowley) (183) – the exigence for their data mining. If we can show processes, theories, habits, ideas, practices in a more “concrete” (as in what the sciences show/do), then we can better account and demonstrate (prove?) what we do in composition studies. Or, what we have done, have done poorly, have done better, and what we have yet to do. 

They call for a “stronger culture of research”by using the Graduate Research Network (online) as an example: “the Graduate Research Network (GRN) has thrived as a part of the Computers and Writing Conference since 2000. However, its listserv (founded February 2007) and its blog (founded February 2011) have met with less success. The listserv currently has thirty-five members and has circulated forty messages since its founding, and the blog has a single entry” (184) – yikes! Part of data mining, finding/connecting, is not only looking for these spaces, but looking at how they are living on the web. It is not enough that they exist.

“The process of data mining, an often iterative one, involves identifying problems, data sources, and heuristics; establishing a formal procedure; and interpreting results” (185). The process, in detail, is outlined below:

Selecting information resources…may be based on a number of factors, such as access, relevance, availability, or possibly the nature of inquiry. Once problems and sources are selected, heuristics, or what measures or criteria should be used to systematically probe data, must be decided. This may involve developing categories (clustering), classification (or classes), variables, or other methods that will be used to sort data. When these methods have been selected, developing a formal, systematic procedure, a repeatable process, should be used to sift through the data. A process involves a number of logistical details such as data collection, reduction, formatting, and storage. In developing a documented process, the researcher can help ensure replicability, so in future studies, methods used can be transferred elsewhere… Finally, addressing results, interpreting data, and identifying trends and conclusions are the last part… (185) – what data mining “looks” like (perhaps this is just making a case for the methodology? One table that came from their study to explore the cause of “seventeen sections out of the sixty-four sections offered by our first-year writing program that had a failure rate of 30 percent or more (defined as students earning a D or F in the course or withdrawing from the course) Access to sources of data captures my attention, particularly because if this isn’t a widely adopted practice, and if its goal is to find/locate/collect data, where does one start? This is where my interest in Latour’s networks comes in, but perhaps the process of assembling networks can happen at the same time as data mining, meaning that there isn’t necessarily delineated steps in a chicken or the egg type scenario. Can these explorations/discoveries happen simultaneously?

“as a methodology, data mining typically requires longitudinal data collection in order to ensure stronger validity in findings. Without an existing source of longitudinal data, a significant time investment may be required to collect data, to front-load the project” (191) – Bold added by me. This ties into the previous long quotation about the process of data mining. It is my hunch that the data is assembled based on inquiry/exploration. A holy grail of longitudinal data doesn’t seem likely/possible/desirable. I still question what network looks like through data mining and visualizing – something like CUNY’s Writing Studies Tree? Where does this data go? How can it be found? And by who?

“Composition studies, not unlike other humanities research, must continue to re-examine and re-evaluate foundational studies and findings, as part of its evolution and body of knowledge” (191) – what is composed can decompose, but it still must be accounted for for future compositions.

Gives a short list of data mining software currently available (but how many are free? This seems to impact who is/can do this work…) in a handy appendix – my annotations added as a curious/interested graduate student:

  • Any Count: Character, Word, and Line Count software: http://www.anycount .com/ – a purchase of 49 euros. Produces “automatic word counts, character counts, line counts, and page counts for all common file formats”.
  • Clarabridge Text Analytics: – advertises “free trial” which then leads to a purchase. Does “High-fidelity NLP with Semantic Analysis, Advanced Classification, Advanced Sentiment Analysis, Sentiment Tuning & Scoring, Standard Reports & Visualizations, Automatic Structured Data Linking”.
  • Crawdad Text Analysis Software: – $95. Works as a “generator, visualizer, browser, finder, comparator, classifier”.
  • Eaagle Full Text Mapper: – “Plans and Pricing” lead to “404 Error : File not found”. Does “Relevant words and topics identification through mapping, Weak or emerging signals identification, 3D Mapping, Reporting”.
  • MorphAdorner: – could it be? Free. Works as an “annotation” and “tagging” tool.
  • NVivo Research Software : .aspx – full license $670.00; student license $215.00. Works as a “coding” tool.
  • Predictive Data and Text Mining: – Must purchase book. Amazon listing $57.81. Does “(a) data preparation including tokenization, stemming, vectorization, and dictionary compilation (b) prediction by methods such as naive Bayes and advanced linear models (c) information retrieval by k-nearest neighbors and document matching (d) document clustering and (e) information extraction of named entities.”
  • SAS Data- and Text-Mining Software: – Call for price. Performs “predictive and descriptive modeling, data mining, text analytics, forecasting, optimization, simulation, experimental design and more”
  • SPSS Data Miner: data-collection/ – Page requested cannot be displayed.
  • Tableau Visualization Software: – Personal edition at $999.00. Creates “data visualizations” that work from spreadsheet like forms. “As powerful as a freight train. As user-friendly as a kitten.” “Create maps, bar and line charts, heatmaps, dashboards and more”
  • VantagePoint: – “VantagePoint helps you rapidly understand and navigate through large search results, giving you a better perspective—a better vantage point—on your information. The perspective provided by VantagePoint enables you to quickly find WHO, WHAT, WHEN and WHERE, enabling you to clarify relationships and find critical patterns—turning your information into knowledge.” Differentiates between literature and scientific literature. Need an account.


Using the concept of distant reading from Franco Moretti, looking at the work done by Donna Burns Phillips, Ruth Greenberg, and Sharon Gibson in “College Composition and Communication: Chronicling a Discipline’s Genesis” (1993), and the snapshot Janice Lauer produced in her Rhetoric Review essay “Composition Studies: Dappled Discipline”(1984), Derek works to update and further the ongoing inventorying of rhetoric and composition. From the article’s abstract, his exploration “In its focus on graphing, the article demonstrates an application of distant reading methods to present patterns not only reflective of the most commonly cited figures in CCC over the past twenty-five years, but also attendant to a steady increase in the breadth of infrequently cited figures” (195) – he is looking at citation frequencies in CCC to offer perspective of the changing disciplinary density (197). As a graduate student/newcomer to the disicpline, I take particular interest in ways of exploring the field in more focused ways than searching databases (if there is one) for keywords (only those familiar to me are available) or author (only those familiar to me are available). There is the process of referral by peers and professors, as well as reading about what others are reading on scholar blogs I follow (only those “of interest” to me – only those familiar to me). This usually amounts to many scraps of paper with scribbled names, open browser tabs that never get their due diligence, or IOUs in my Evernote mounting “things to read” notebook. Spending time with these pieces is difficult, if not unlikely. And these are only the ones I know about. Where are the others? Who are the others? How do I find (see) them?

using graphing/quantitative methods to “read” journals and the surrounding fields alters the scale to allow us to see aggregate patterns that link details and non-obvious phenomena and compiles replicable data that can represent impressions of changing conditions in the discipline of composition (196) – the field is in flux. its history not easily traced. what represents it? is it oil paintings or marble statues of “the greats”? are these greats established by adoption/circulation of ideas? does notice come to the offbeat? the counter? the on the fringe? Becoming an active participant in the field requires me to contribute, but how can I compose if I do not know what has been (de)composed?

reading tends to be local, a direct encounter with a focal text – words, sentences, paragraphs, but reading across, from a distance, allows us to zoom out, to see patterns that are unrecognizable when we’re reading at the level of the article (198) – a means of orientation, a handle. or an oar for orienteering.

as the field continues to develop/mature, there is a growing demand for theoretically sophisticated scholarship. From where (what materials) does this composing draw from? The past? Does it trouble? Refute? Reimagine? Does it stray into other disciplines to borrow? Keeping track of these sources becomes critical. While I don’t fully understand the  “complicated politics of citation”, I imagine it has to do with who is/isn’t given credit and for what. Creating something “new” only to realize it’s been composed/proposed before. Or, not realizing. And the process of composing, assembling materials, draws from the materials of composition – its texts. Graphs allow us to grasp non-obvious trends (200) – and I think non-obvious is flexible, perhaps, to the individual. Some theories will be more easily aligned/identifiable with established ideas in the field than others. And within/without those, juxtapositions, borrowings, and revisioning from the well worn and off the beaten paths.

heuretic discipliniography (Derek Mueller) “writing and rewriting the field by exploring the intersections across different scholars’ bodies of work as well as the associated pedagogical, theoretical, and methodological approaches they mobilize” (201). – This is a rich term, borrowing from Gregory Ulmer’s heuretic – the use of theory for the invention of new texts, -ography – a field of study that brings to mind geography, cartography, tomography, and so on, and discipline – as activity. It is action (re)search.

In graphing the works cited entries from the data set, the articles/works cited/name references published in CCC, Derek raises poignant questions: “What is at stake in knowing or not knowing any of the figures shown here? What presences and absences are most striking? To what degree are new scholars…overshadowed by well-established ones?” (201) – It seems odd to me, at this point, to realize that heavy hitters shape the field, but do not necessarily “make it” entirely. My own interests should make me aware of this, but I liken it to the field of “scientific knowledge” that most common people know of. There are only a handful of scientists/theories that I can explain/know of, but these are not the entirety of science. There are many in betweens, smaller composites that make a larger composition/contribution, there is borrowing, reshaping/recomposing, and the potential for something like dormancy in an idea’s circulation until a “eureka!” – “So while quantitative studies of authors cited in a well-known journal may offer a reasonable indication of the “common knowledge” of the field, this approach must not appear to produce a definitive roster of influences on the discipline.” (206)

Derek illuminates the (changing) practice of citations. He explains a conventional list creates a reduced record that affirms the presence of a source but makes no distinction/explanation of how a sources was used and from what parts it was used (location in a text). This downplays the scope of the reference/author – production, reception, and circulation (205). This is flat. Nothing to see here. Until we gain a little distance (perspective).

Looking at the top hits of composition studies through the graph, these figures do not tell us what was happening across the entire sample of the names in the citations. The names are indicative of currents in conversation in the field (206) – but who was left out of the Burkean Parlor? (214) The room is full, loud, standing room only. And some invitations got lost in the mail.

Quoting Chris Anderson in The Long Tail “We have been trained, in other words, to see the world through a hit-colored lens” (207)

Anderson’s long tail is an inquiry into niche music interests in online markets (vs. store-shelf retail giants) – the long tail is thin and demonstrates the deviation from the head of the graph, or the high ranking hits commonly available on shelves in stores, to less popular albums/artists selling online (208.) Applied to composition scholarship, the long tail provides an “abstract visual model” to potentially illuminate new insights, raise new questions, and explore the continuing maturation of the field. It allows us to engage with large scale data (209).

Derek looks at unique names of well known figures like Maya Angelou, Bill Gates, etc. invoked just once in the data set of name references. The figures at the top tell us something about citation practices and the scholarly conversation, but the long tail of unduplicated references allows us to begin to assess how broad based the conversations in the field have grown (211) and raises the question “How flat can the citation distribution become before it is no longer plausible to speak of a discipline?” (215). Being too fixed in the head of the graph, the frequently cited/evoked, has implications just as an absent-minded tail of strings of specialized references has – we have to mind where we stand, head and tail.

“Graphing provides a partial readout of the field’s pulse with respect to compactness and diffuseness, which complicates speculation about where the field stands at any given moment and where it is headed” (217) – what has changed over time in the relation between the head and the long tail? (215)

vantage point – “disciplinarity in general”: depending on one’s vantage point, the head or the tail, the field can appear highly focused or as a loose amalgamation. Recognized and shared principles vs. pocketed enclaves of unique interest that ignore disciplinarity. Both vantage points, generalist and specialist, are involved in seeing/shaping. Niche enclaves (specialized) negotiate a shared disciplinary frame, they contribute to the field’s shape. Graphing can help us better understand the ways specializations negotiate and cohabit (inter)(intra)disicplinary scenes (218-219). Bolded words added. Now what do we see?

morning bites

Superstition says itchy palms means money; the left means money paid out, and the right money coming in. But what if your whole body is itchy? I think it’s time to buy a humidifier for this dry apartment. //

I had the thought upon waking that my absence from home would not be such an issue for my cat if I could have constant laser pointer beams going at different intervals, heights, and directions. //

There is a non-place outside of the graduate assistant office that I have been paying increasing attention to. It is not quite a room, but a space with two tables and four chairs that leads forward to a room, or to a hallway of many rooms. I assume it is meant for meeting with students because entering the doorway to it will place you right outside the door for the GA office; take a slight left, and you are headed into English faculty offices. Some of the graduate assistants hold conferences with students there because our common space can get crowded. A few GAs or adjuncts use the tables to work at because desk space is at a premium. Lately, I’ve found students hanging out there before classes alone, in pairs, or in small groups. This week I watched a small group review materials of a presentation that they had due in class. Another student sat quietly reading while eating his lunch; he subsequently left his book on the table (I wonder how long it will be there?) as well as his lunch garbage. A pair of students that had the same class remarked that they didn’t want to walk home just to walk back before their next class, so they sat eating. One potato chip was left on the table. I suppose what interests me the most is that it is not designated as any place, but the outside of the doorway that leads to it has signs about the upcoming space being GA offices. But the furniture there is not occupied, it shows no signs of use as office space. It has no personal touches or person objects there. The furnitiure is of a different design than the desks/chairs in the classrooms, the desks/chairs in our office, and the tables/chairs in the cafe downstairs. I wonder what is signaling students to use this non-place as a space? What are the cues that invite them in? //

Books for composition that are capturing my attention: 642 Things to Write About, 642 Things to Draw, Listography: Your Life in Lists, How to Be An Explorer of the World. I am increasingly drawn to the possibilities in short form noticings, collecting, archiving, and inventorying. Composition as action.

composition bits/bytes

After talking with Chelsea in class today, I was reminded of (remembered) Googlism. I searched technical before, a word that I am working with/in/through, but this time, at a saturation point in my work, I searched composition to see what it is:

composition is depicted as a filled diamond and a solid line
composition is often used interchangeably with various
composition is not rhetoric
composition is expressed as a percent by
composition is expressed as a percent by? mass
composition is the term used to describe the different components that
composition is ‘harmony’ of jewish
composition is key « photobird daily
composition is the key element for great photos
composition is sio2
composition is top dog
composition is everything
composition is that it is more flexible because behavior can be swapped at runtime
composition is influenced by
composition is influenced by cultivar
composition is broken?
composition is performed by the desktop window manager
composition is about things i did and things i will
composition is about things? this spanish composition is about things i did and things i will
composition is one worth trying
composition is associative
composition is related to
composition is related to hydrochemistry and biodegradation in an iron
composition is a good way to develop movement in
composition is apparent in monet’s painting
composition is functional?
composition is functional? 129 i i
composition is committed when a conclusion is drawn about a whole based on the features of its constituents when
composition is influenced by prey brain
composition is influenced by prey brain size
composition is associated with develo
composition is
composition is recording
composition is influenced by cultivar selection
composition is straight
composition is encoded by the rod1 gene of arabidopsis
composition is essential in photography
composition is “buried under guitar
composition is thought to be an important determinant of acute cardiovascular events
composition is difficult in panoramic formats like
composition is a function of the photographer

And so it is. It is a fragment, an incomplete thought, a thought once complete but later broken, thoughts lost to be traced and found, buried under, functional?, related to, associative. It is parts, composites, sites of action. It is

WIDE-EMU 12 (or 2?): (post)post-(un)conference

Last Saturday (October 20) was the second happening of WIDE-EMU – an (un)conference on writing in digital environments. I attended and presented last year when it took place at EMU, and presented again this year at MSU. The framing question for the talk, make, do sessions was What is composing today? How do people learn (and teach) it?

My presentations:

Do with Derek Mueller and Joe Torok: “Clocking Composition: Exploring Chronography with Timeline JS”

We explored/experimented with Timeline JS in a workshop like session and had an idea exchange of (pedagogical) use of such a tool. We were coming up with cool ideas, including playing with the units of time and leaving time signifiers, which makes more available/possible/potential. I’m not sure what that is yet, but i know I want to use this way of composing/(re)presenting a text.

Do with Joe Torok: “Composition’s Objects: Taking Stock Through Tiny Ontology”

We had a smaller session that was more of a conversation, which fit well with what we planned. We didn’t necessarily want to pinpoint ontology, especially in relation to OOO, but to explore what it makes available when brought into composition (more akin to OOR). We each came with an idea/activity we had worked with in our classes that we designed to help students think about things. Joe’s was creating a list with what is used to compose/what makes up the composing space for this attention to small things we neglect to see within the larger and assembled process of composition. Mine was more of tracing of materials/things associated with the (un)conference:

conference (de)compositions: creating lists/tracings for how far we can (de)compose the things of this conference.

  • Into what can some thing be broken apart?
  • To what connections/relations can some thing be traced?

There are plenty of things around us here (and our paths to here). Select a thing to appreciate in its thingness – the things of which it is composed.

  • words from the session titles/program
  • landmarks/things you passed coming to Bessey Hall
  • the highway/road you traveled here by
  • what you are going to eat for lunch
  • what you consumed/used already today
  • things in this room
  • things in your pocket or bag
  • the history of WIDE-EMU
  • people/schools presenting today


Plenary Session by Bump Halbritter: “Teaching/Learning/Knowing Writing as Symbolic Action”

I find Bump’s work with video a motivation to make more with video and to implement its process/potential into the classroom. It works really well not only for a metaphor for composing, but for working through composing – planning/story boarding, filming mass amounts of footage, reviewing and selecting small portions from the footage, assembling/arranging the footage, adding transitions and effects and sound/music, publishing. I have/continue to think that visual composition, from video or imagetexts, makes more space for awareness of/attention to rhetoric and design than alphanumeric text; so, a note for myself to read more about composing with video/sound.


Talk with Becky Morrison and Chelsea Lonsdale: “Student Writing Made Visible: Questions About Publication” and we were joined by Cheryl Ball “Editorial Pedagogies: Who’s bringing publications into the classroom?”

Becky, Chelsea, and I made zines (need to scan one and post as a PDF) that were filled with our questions; our talk session was more of a forum. We were/are really proud of our zines, our DIY publication of scholarship, that interactors (audience) could add to and take away with them. More questions were raised, which is exactly what we hoped for, and Geoffrey Carter and Cheryl Ball, and our/EMU’s Steve Benninghoff made contributions to our work that we are all still discussing/working with/through/from. Our session transitioned into Cheryl’s session of her creation/implementation of editorial pedagogy, which sounds incredible/exactly like a class I would like to teach. Her vibrant attitude/personality and knowledge of the field and the publication/circulation of its scholarship was incredibly illuminating. Now, to make sense of my scribbled notes and make this type of approach/methodology in my own way.


I presented in three of the four sessions, and actually spent the fourth session talking with my comrades Becky and Chelsea with Cheryl Ball as an: extension of our session, a trail of breadcrumbs to return to, a perspective on what’s going on in the field in digital spaces, a confidence and morale boost, rallying cry/cheer to try things on our own terms. The three of us left that conversation with her on the verge of skipping/fighting the urge to dismantle (politely, of course) some of the constraints we work within. I didn’t realize it until talking with her that I have lost connection to some of the ideas and scholarship that got me excited to make/do this work in the first place. She was an (un)expected catalyst, a happening I did not anticipate happening. spark. take/make a happening.

The (un)conference was followed by #beerrhetorics at Beggar’s Banquet, which was a delightful opportunity to talk over beer (or through beer?). Aside from enjoying the company of my EMU comrades, I had the pleasure of talking with Alex Myers, an Assistant Professor of Game Studies at Bellevue University. He had my attention at his casual mention of Bruno Latour, and while I don’t have much of a connection to game studies beyond reading Ian Bogost’s piece on procedural rhetoric, what he is doing/creating is captivating (as can be seen on his site). Cheryl was kind enough to let us continue picking her brain/ask her an assault of questions because she is a wonderful human being, and I had a chance to somewhat re-connect with Geoffrey Carter, who presented in the same session as I did at the (un)conference last year, who is doing/making scholarship with YouTube that I want to know/experience more about. Among others! The (un)structure of the (un)conference makes these opportunities for engaging in conversation/exchange available, something I value tremendously as a doe-eyed novice to the field of rhetoric and composition.

Things I’m taking/carrying/absorbing/connecting with(in or to) me:

  • I need to get subscriptions to Computers and Composition and the Rhetoric Society Quarterly
  • I am lucky to have such supportive faculty at EMU that are happy to/make a point to let us grad students try/explore. My work wouldn’t be possible/visible without them; which makes me think about how important connections within scholarship are – to whom, from where, to where, from whom. This is where I am situated.
  • Check out in greater depth the work of Cheryl Ball and Geoffrey V. Carter (both of which I graciously thank for their attention and conversation).
  • Read more. And then more: Jeff Rice, Jenny Rice, Victor Vitanza, Thomas Rickert, Cynthia Selfe, Anne Wysocki, William Burroughs, Gregory Ulmer (and then…)
  • I want to make more (of) myself. Let this be a part of my scholarship. craft/connect/compose myself into an identity I want to circulate/connect.
  • Sound. Make noise within composition. soundtext to accompany my library of imagetext.
  • Perhaps a PhD is possible.
  • Find time. Use time. Make time. Create time.
  • Shake the static. I have become docile.

I left feeling like a conductor of energy. Now, where am I going to transfer this energy? For every action, there is an equal but opposite reaction. Push/Pull.

This second (un)conference was made possible by: Derek Mueller, Steve Krause, and Bill Hart-Davidson. Thanks!

tiny composition ontology: a heterogeneous history for WIDE-EMU 12

I am working with my colleague, Joe Torok, to take stock of composition’s objects, its materiality, in order to illuminate possibilities otherwise in the shadow of capital W Writing or out of focus to our too set gaze (blink. look again. look outward). What happens when composition is viewed as an exploded diagram? Sources as assemblages of composites? As worknets of objects both material and semiotic? Flatten our ontologies; see composition not as woods, or even trees, but roots, leaves, temperature, increases in the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, excess of nitrogen in the soil that year, the growth is insect populations that fancy this tree in particular, or the rise in demand of IKEA wooden furniture. What happens when composition is produced through carpentry, juxtaposed with geography, illuminated based on its materials and not the human hand that created them? What happens when composition is a field, a scrapyard, a breathing timeline?

This is thinking of composites in and as such. This is composing as such. This will be teaching as such: heterogeneity, to compose as to assemble,

This conference presentation didn’t start as such; it began as a reading done in a class over a year ago through Anne Wysocki’s awaywithwords: On the possibilities in unavailable designs (2005) from Computers and Composition.

awaywithwords: from Notes, “Oh heck, let’s see: see almost anything by Donna Haraway or by Derrida, for starts.” Count Gunther Kress ten times . Keywords: Affordances; Available design; Image; New media; Space; Visual representation; Visual rhetoric. “unavailable designs” comes from the New London Group’s “available designs”…

…Computers and Composition online “Theory Into Practice” : “Composition as a discipline is constantly evolving, changing its teaching practices in keeping with innovations in theory and technology. Therefore, Theory into Practice strives to illuminate these evolving connections between theories, computer technologies, and pedagogical practices” (Kerri Hauman)…

…Anne Wysocki–new media studies–Geoffrey Sirc’s “Box-Logic”–small t truths–the material of the everyday–Ian Bogost “the alien everyday”–wonder in the wondering about–composites of compositon–Bruno Latour “compositionism”–seeing–tracing–worknets…

And not lastly nor leastly, scholarship through scholarship on scholarship (thinking thoughts about thoughts thinking about thinking thoughts), from Reassembling the Social (Bruno Latour) through the selection of Toward a Composition Made Whole (Jody Shipka):

“If action is limited a priori to what ‘intentional’, ‘meaningful’ humans do, it is hard to see how a hammer, a basket, a door closer, a cat, a rug, a mug, a list, or a tag could act” (71) but nonhumans play a role in shaping and determining action (Shipka 119) because they “might authorize, allow, afford, encourage, permit, suggest, influence, block, render possible, forbid, and so on” (Latour 72) certain actions and outcomes over others (Shipka 119).

These are only part of the looking, of the attention to things.

Student Writing Made Visible: Questions About Publication (WIDE-EMU 12)

(mis)conceptions of (un)expected student writing

enter: chorus of trepidation, consideration, and action. sing from the homogeneity of what writing is. listen closer, the notes hum discord. breaking from the chorus, we can hear a line: what does it mean to publish student writing?

Breaking from the chorus,  Chelsea Lonsdale, Becky Morrison , and I, graduate students and instructors invested in the teaching of composition, desire to amplify this, gain volume with the addition of voices. We question, what does it mean to publish student writing, pulling threads to follow in inquiry: audience, what  (student) writing (what it can(not) look like/sound like) is, and what publishing is/isn’t/can/can’t be.

I am unraveling what it means to publish (verb. action?):

1. prepare and issue for public sale

2. print in a book or journal so as to make it generally known

3. prepare and issue the works of a particular writer

4. formally announce or read

There are further threads, to publish as an adjective (descriptor?) too: publishable, from the stem of Old French puplier; from Latin publicare, to ‘make public’; from publicus, a blend of Latin poplicus ‘of the people’ and pubes ‘adult’. At a public university, how is the action of publishing envisioned? And where does that definition come from? HowWhy does(n’t) student writing become published?















How can we negotiate the spaces of dichotomy in what is (un)/expected?

exeunt: notions of singularity, static frames, and temples of paper

enter (not to exit): questioning our ideologies, methodologies, (in)actions

flotation device when awash in critical conversations

With critique, you may debunk, reveal, unveil, but only as long as you establish, through this process of creative destruction, a privileged access to the world of reality behind the veils of appearances. Critique, in other words, has all the limits of utopia: it relies on the certainty of the world beyond this word. By contrast, for composition, there is no world of beyond. It is all about immanence.

The difference is not moot, because what can be critiqued cannot be composed. It is really a mundane question of having the right tools for the right job. With a hammer (or a sledge hammer) in hand you can do a lot of things: break down walls, destroy idols, ridicule prejudices, but not repair, take care, assemble, reassemble, stitch together. It is no more possible to compose with the paraphernalia of critique than it is to cook with a seesaw. Its limitations are greater still, for the hammer of critique can only prevail if, behind the slowly dismantled wall of appearances, is finally revealed the netherworld of reality. But when there is nothing of real to be seen behind this destroyed wall, critique suddenly looks like another call to nihilism. What is the use of poking holes in delusions, if nothing truer is revealed beneath?

Bruno Latour, An attempt at writing a “Compositionist Manifesto”

seismic design

(Thanks to my new Moleskine, I was able to scribble a note to myself about this interview at a stoplight on the way home from school Friday)

This a portion of “Designing a Bridge for Earthquake Country”, an NPR Science Friday Interview with Dr. Marwan Nader, lead design engineer of the new span of California’s Bay Bridge.


In the interview, Nader describes that the Bay bridge is built on a foundation of soil, not rock, which amplifies seismic motion – a problem in California. The new Bay Bridge has not just been designed, but seismically designed as a self-anchored suspension bridge, which differs from the ground anchorage of a typical suspension bridge. Nader explains that instead the cable is anchored to the deck of the bridge, so the loads the cable bears go to the deck. Another difference is that the cables are three-dimensional, instead of the vertical cables on typical suspension bridges, which satisfies the need for design equilibrium.

(images from Wikipedia: self-anchored suspension bridge) The above image is of a traditional suspension bridge. Note that the anchors are in ground.

Versus this self-anchored suspension design in which the cables are anchored directly to the deck.


FLATOW: …also, I noticed from the design is that the bridge is made in difference pieces so that parts can move independently of one another, correct?

NADER: That’s correct.

FLATOW: Doing so, so that when the Earth shakes, it all just sort of floats.

NADER: Right. The seismic design, the way we understand it, is basically there are effectively two ways to resist the motions. One is to really design a bunker, which effectively is very strong to take the forces…

FLATOW: So you’re fighting nature.

NADER: Yes. And what you’re doing there, is you’re really taking on whatever the motions are. And the earthquake has a very interesting characteristic to it. It’s like a musical, effectively. It’s got areas where there’s a lot of energy, which is at the frequencies that are very, very low or very, you know, very, very high. Excuse me. And then that’s where you’re getting the most energy. And then as you get the structure to be more flexible, that’s where the energy gets smaller. So if you are a little bit careful about it, you can actually design your structure to be in the areas where the earthquake is less damaging. And by making that structure tuned to what Mother Nature’s going to apply, you actually avoid that ground of the force.

The other aspect of it is designing components, if you will, that are made to take on the damage. Like when we drive cars. If you think about it, cars – we know we drive cars. We know that we’d like not to get into accident, but we planned for that accident. And the idea…

FLATOW: It’s like crumple zones.

NADER: Exactly. And the idea behind it, is you get the damage to occur in areas where you keep the car functional to the extent possible when it’s a midsized type of accident that you have. And the idea is that the fenders take all the damage. Very similar to that, is our bridge is designed that way. We actually looked at specific areas which we said that’s where it makes sense to have the damage occur. We designed those elements to take on that damage, and thereby protecting the more important elements to it.

FLATOW: So you can replace those damaged pieces later on.

NADER: Exactly. The idea is that, after an event, the bridge is still functional. We would go in – obviously, the engineers at that time would go in and do a, you know, an inspection, evaluate – there will be damage, but it will be in a form where you can actually make it available so that emergency traffic can be – immediately after that, go on it, and shortly after that go through normal traffic.

The bridge

Please don’t read this as writing is the bridge to ______________; I’m more interested in the design of the bridge itself. I don’t know much about the engineering of bridges, but this idea really struck me as something interesting for the design of composition, and as something that fit within/alongside my ideas of page tectonics: seismic design. Here is a new metaphor for conceptual use. Designs that are functionally flexible, that can withstand shifts and even damage when the larger body (composition) moves. Where would such a design allow us to go that we couldn’t reach before?