This week we read “Carpentry” from Alien Phenomenology, or What It’s Like to Be a Thing by Ian Bogost (I almost typed Alien Bogost…) and “Composing the Carpenter’s Workshop” by James J. Brown Jr. and Nathaniel Rivers, which have left my brain in a state of

in a good way! (gif shoutout to the Rhetoric of Craft Collaborative) Having read Bogost before with the Optatio Reading Group at EMU, it was a lot to think about. I took interest in his “Carpentry” chapter before, even making attempts to work with it, but I feel like this revisiting in the context of a seminar on rhetorics of craft, and in relation to the Rivers and Brown piece, brought new possibility to the work (that I would like to turn into a project…) While I don’t see carpentry as synonymous with craft, there’s a relation there that I am deeply curious about (in relation to rhetoric and composition).

Bogost begins his carpentry chapter by calling attention to the dominance of writing as the work of philosophers, which I would extend to academics, by explaining that its unquestioned dominance comes from convention (89); “writing is only one form of being. The long-standing assumption that we relate to the world only through language is a particularly fetid, if still baffingly popular, opinion. But so long as we pay attention to only language, we underwrite our ignorance of everything else” (90). This is reminiscent of conversations we’ve had about craft  and it’s difficulty communicating knowledge – the knowledge that is embodied in making something doesn’t necessarily render well to written accounts, thus the struggle in legitimizing craftsmanship (making objects) as valuable. 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). He borrows carpentry from woodcraft (perhaps a bit too easily) and extends it to any material – “to do carpentry is to make anything, but to make it in earnest, with one’s own hands” (93), and combines it with the philosophical sense of “the carpentry of things” (from Graham Harman and Alphonso Lingis) that refers to “how things fashion one another and the world at large” (93). To Bogost, making things (with things) remakes us in the making by opening a “non-human, alien perspective onto everyday activity” (106) (maybe this is where his use of carpentry becomes odd). This is his work toward representing practice as theory – moving beyond putting theory into practice (111).

While I think there are some issues with how Bogost utilizes carpentry (even though it is smartly done), I see this chapter as material potential for situating rhetoric and composition in objects, which Rivers and Brown take up.

Rivers and Brown look at how rhetoric and composition (“R/C”) have taken up ecologies in scholarship that have focused on human to human relationships or human to world relationships, as compared to object oriented ontology’s consideration of ecology. But by highlighting the work of Collin Gifford Brooke, Marilyn Cooper, Jenny Edbauer, and Jody Shipka, they demonstrate “that R/C can be hospitable to various projects that take up the agency and existence of objects” (1). They state “the composition classroom presents a promising space for what we call, by way of Ian Bogost, rhetorical carpentry. The field’s recent focus on ecology is one that is mostly concerned with making and with production. This is in keeping with R/C’s long tradition of focusing on rhetorical invention (1)”. Building from Bogost’s carpentry, which they summarize as both a description of how objects make one another and a practice of doing philosophy (2), they extend carpentry one step further “suggesting that such making can be undertaken in an effort to do rhetoric” (2). 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’” (quoting Brown) (2). Rivers and Brown carefully work to show R/C as not only a hospitable space for carpentry, but a vital space –

“The field’s interest in ecologies of writing and its pedagogical commitment to making strongly indicates that it can be yet another place to explore how objects carpenter one another and the world. An ecological approach to rhetoric and writing can fold together the work of making and relating, while keeping in place the withdrawn actuality of all objects” (3).

material scraps

audience as object (working from Graham Harman’s Guerilla Metaphysics) because “rhetoric is always speculative” (3) – shifting our scale to “in media res, in the middle of the thing and things” (3)

what this looks like/does in the composition classroom: While I can say that my pedagogy is an attempt at employing this theory as methodology, I have much room to improve. Rivers and Brown end their article with a description of a classroom as carpenter’s workshop from the view of an outside observer – “Part of what throws visitors and colleagues alike is that the class is not about the objects; the objects under composition are part of the class (they are what the students work on, of course), but, more importantly, the objects are also what the students work with” (5). I realize in the FYC classroom I inherit certain burdens (not all necessarily negative) about what I am expected to engage with in terms of textual materiality. But what I keep returning to is what makes the concept of working with/against objects in making material texts that account for and acknowledge their ecological situatedness so alien? What keeps us lingering in the theorizing about something that they are not doing in earnest?

“This range of compositions enacted ecologically introduces students to a multiplicity of composing skills, moves them to many scholarly activities across campus, weaves in an object-oriented approach, and positions rhetoric not simply as humans changing the minds of other humans, but as the work of relations, relations that remain strange and sometimes strained” (6) [bold emphasis my own] The idea of the alien or made strange-d classroom is something I’m thinking about…”rhetorical carpentry is focused on how we might “construct objects (and conversations among objects) in order to demonstrate approximations of the strange, alien conversations happening around us” (2)

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.

Waxing Alien Phenomenology

Tomorrow is the second meeting of the Opt/ORG Optatio Reading Group series on Ian Bogost’s Alien Phenomenology, or What It’s Like to Be a Thing. Last week we discussed chapters 1-3 and tomorrow we’re on to tackle 4 and 5. I haven’t written about the text yet because I still find myself wondering what it illuminates (and eclipses) in composition/rhetoric, and so my thoughts are only half-formed and somewhat mutant.
Here are some things that I’ve noted during my reading:

humans are non-human: an interview on the microbial make-up of healthy humans from a Talk of the Nation interview with the Human Microbiome Project. “Each of us carries around about 10 times as many microbial cells as human cells and that they have about 100 times as many genes as we do. So not only are we outnumbered, we’re outgunned. They’re able to perform a lot of biological functionality that we don’t get to do, necessarily, in our own genome.”

While driving in the car listening to NPR, a routine test of the Emergency Broadcast System became alien when it it lost association with the place/time it was programmed to take place within. “Silence” played on the radio for thirty seconds. White noise radio transmission. Later, the program was interrupted by the test. A dissonance of (dis)association.

While driving (different trip, “same” route) I thought about how much time I have spent in the car commuting this past year. At night my mind feels like it drives itself, disassociated from my body, hovering without aid of vehicle. I first find myself thinking of Marshall McLuhan’s “The wheel is an extension of the foot”. He explains in The Media is the Massage that “All media are extensions of some human faculty-psychic or physical”. In thumbing for that quote in the graphic text, I came across a white page I didn’t remember that read “Environments are invisible. Their groundrules, pervasive structure, and overall patterns elude easy perception.”

I look for (and how does this differ from seeing?) things that seem out of place in their environments, which could be most any thing. What do/can these associations mean? For example, in leaving the hair salon I get my hair cut at and entering the parking garage across the street, I came across a pair of black latex gloves that are used to color hair. They sat on a windowsill in the stairway that faced the salon’s front.

After the first meeting, I found myself thinking about:

  • Rhetorical agency
  • Material considerations – what is (un)available in compositon, or material rhetoric
  • Re-reading Lakoff and Jonhson’s Metaphors We Live By – particularly the idea that examination leaves things unexamined, which to me, and perhaps erroneously, elicits contemplation of use(ful)(less)ness
  • If the practice of theory is theory, or theorizing, what is the practice of rhetoric? Of composition?
  • The difference between medium and material in composition
  • Ways of thinking about object relation other than Bogost’s metaphorism. I’m interested in his use of metaphor and  “phenomenal daisy chains”, but I’m uncertain as to what this looks like/acts like/does. I keep putting it in relation to Latour’s Science in Action; framing composition as in the making
  • What happens with these things? What effect does time have? And, what happens when we encounter the alien everyday, and do consider what it’s like to be a thing?

“The point is this: things are not merely what they do, but things do indeed do things. And the way things do is worthy of philosophical consideration” (Bogost 28).