my mother’s hair is falling out. she collects it in handfuls, remarking each one before laying it tenderly in the small trashcan beside her bed. i looked in there, it gathering her. i cried each night on my visit home at pieces of her lost, mourning the her that is lessening. but she is everywhere in the house: loose strands, used syringes, imprints of her form on pillows, and the rhythm of the bodies around her.
Janet Murray’s Hamlet on the Holodeck (which is nearing its 20th anniversary since publication—I wonder if it might be revisited through digital sensory extensions? Did anyone else sigh small sadness over the URL to the book’s resource page being a nonspace? Imagine this with a digital compendium!) has left me with much to think about as one of the first digital explorations we are venturing into as I carry forward my interest in possibility spaces, agency and materiality. Digital materiality—tactile and sensory interaction with digital materials—is something I’m captivated by in my own work/thinking. It is this interest in exploring sense and digital sensorium (extensions, amplifiers, interactions) that left me thinking about the video game the main character Theodore plays in Her while reading.
The game is of interest to me in its balanced blurring of boundary between Theodore’s apartment/life and the game—the game interacts with his actions (embodied/his body is read as the control) and speech in real time and is responsive (scripted, but still receptive), but it does not slip into a virtual reality (perhaps its more of a hybrid reality than a hyper reality). Thinking about this game while I read, I found an interview from The Creators Project with the designers of the two video games featured in the film; I’m drawn to the work of David O’Reilly, the creator of the alien child game featured in the clip above. It’s interesting to read about the creation process of the games themselves and fitting them into a reality that is removed from our current capability, but that does not seem too far removed in terms of completely foreign technology or environments.
To me, this game, as well as this narrative of this game within the film, represents some of Murray’s concepts of immersion, the liminal, and agency. Theodore is immersed through sensory interaction with the game medium and narrative/character, and this is broken and added to through interaction with his OS Samantha (something to explore as far as elements not part of the game/play but that are bounded within the player’s reality and environment). His game is mediated and mediates his external reality of his life and the internal reality of the game, allowing for interaction through the medium. His actions and inaction affect the game play and seemingly the narrative and character. But this is a fictional game on a fictional system/technology in a fictional future. I wonder, though, within our current technological affordances in the digital, how this medium interaction can be explored through games. I’m extremely curious if/what digital games treat the technology less as conduit and more as extension of self/senses and what the player can do within them—as a material component acting, interacting, and reacting. Murray’s articulation of agency/actor/player as interactor, I think, illuminates a space to explore digital materiality:
The interactor is not the author of the digital narrative, although the interactor can experience one of the most exciting aspects of artistic creation—the thrill of exerting power over enticing and plastic materials. This is not authorship but agency (153)
I’m not sure how this advances/adds to my seeming obsession with material possibilities in games, but through Murray’s interactor, I feel as if there is an ability to get a firmer grip.
(For my part, this is a messy first attempt at trying to relate: rhetorical ecologies, rhetorical carpentry, poeisis, materiality, techne and matereality.)
I: DIY Publishing/Practice
I am interested in materialities of composing—not just in crafting texts that are multimodal, but in the experiences of materiality. In Jim Brown’s “The Decorum of Objects”, he asks “is it possible to speak of rhetorical exchanges between objects?” (2). My interest in zines comes from their object potential – what their materials bring forth: they are compositions of assembled parts, intended to circulate, be taken up, and to be broken apart (sometimes to make other compositions). They are not texts unto themselves in structure or content. They juxtapose, de/recontextualize, subvert, enact kairos, radiate cultural and subcultural rhythms.
I see them as a space to explore the concept of rhetorical ecologies, which Jenny Rice considers a process that operates within a “viral economy” of social forces, “an ecological, or affective, rhetorical model that reads rhetoric both as a process of distributed emergence and as an ongoing circulation process. Ecologies work to make poeisis, the act of bringing something into being, articulable, traceable, vocal and visual.
I am currently teaching a research course, which is themed around a topic of inquiry of the instructor’s choice; mine being “The Alien Everyday”. The basis of inquiry is for students to make strange their encounters with objects – to look differently, to allow for the articulation of poeisis in their materials. Borrowing from Ian Bogost’s notion of carpentry, and the work of Nathaniel Rivers and Jim Brown [bringing this into our field] on rhetorical carpentry, students are creating research projects that articulate how things make one another and their worlds. This dwelling in materiality is an attempt at embracing the potential of objects, but what I want to better embrace is the potentiality of objects, between object, in dynamic interactions. I ask of students to interact with materials in direct contact and through tool extensions of eye, head, and hand: gathering objects, measuring, cutting, assembling, inevitably making errors and trying again, trying differently, with awareness of resistance, breakdowns, the simulation and evocation of objects that we cannot understand. What we care for is materiality: the affordances and constraints of materials, the contexts, histories, and technologies, that through combination and manipulation, make a composition. What I’m working to get at are methods for helping students encounter materials from a material, that is to say—a nonhuman, perspective—in material worldlings that open on to somethings – to see materials as potential. And while this may seems to stray from a DIY mentality of composing and publishing, I wish to explore how materials might persuade, communicate, and identify both with us and with one another in materially minded composing. I would like to explore materiality beyond the moments of composition, beyond person to object affective bonds in making, to potentiality in materials interacting with other materials (object, semiotic, contextual)—how they might compose, decompose, and recompose material worldlings (from Kathleen Stewart) – bringing new materealities into existence as they shift, fade out, break apart.
Potentiality in materiality cares for what becomes available when the connections that exist between ourselves and materials, and between materials are considered and perhaps estranged. The form, or materiality, of the composition may vary based on the at-hand circumstances, variances in contexts, but what is established is potential in its assemblage, its combinatory capabilities, its ability to break, its capacity to be cared for differently. Envisioning composition with interest in materiality troubles the artificial boundaries that separate what Jody Shipka describes as “the mental and the material, the individual and the social aspects of people and things interacting physically and semiotically with other people and things” (Jody Shipka). Composing becomes more action based: the looking for objects, the collection of materials, the tracing of resources, establishing connections, and crafting — text that leaves space for composing, recomposing, and decomposing in rhetorical ecologies. Texts move from passive or invisible intermediaries between ideas, to compositions of composites, of parts, that mediate further composing, that illuminate the fluidity, dynamism, and contingency of our complex web of activity-relations between us and other materials. Our means for making meaning and texts begin to fit our in flux material conditions, of which we are a part.
In “Weak Theory in an Unfinished World”, Kathleen Stewart cares for this flux, this dynaimicism of the cultural poesis of forms of living – objects as textures, rhythms, trajectories, and modes of attunement, attachment and composition. The point is not to think of materials as objects of value or understanding their meaning and representation just right but to wonder where they might go and what modes of knowing, relating, and attending to things are present in them. She describes potential as some thing throwing itself together into some thing. I wonder what does it mean to think of composition as the potential in some things thrown together into something?
I am asking my students to consider materealities in doing research as rhetorical carpentry. How might constructing a Rube Goldberg machine out of items common to a college dorm room make visible the complexity of things interacting in the clicking of a computer mouse to open a new tab on a web browser? Instead of reading an overview of the mechanics and technology and writing about what happens, students are simulating the experiences of the some things thrown together. In doing so, an inquiry of how a mouse works has elicited considerations of the necessary technologies and their design, questions of the relationship between human and nonhuman, and questions of the historical development of the mouse in relation to other technologies have arisen. For other students, how a clock works has unfolded to questions of how metaphors of time and devices of time influence us socially and culturally; and for yet another, creating a composite advertisement of an assemblage of found advertisements and cultural depictions of diamonds as emblematic of love in contemporary Western culture have juxtaposed money with demonstrations of emotional and ecological effects. These are research wordlings in which students are not only engaging with materials as a means of composing, but are uncovering and following traces of rhetorical ecologies that these materials—semiotic and object—exist with.
This work, for me, is getting at means of considering materiality unto itself; estranging the way we consider the wherewithal of materials. Relating materialty to rhetorical ecologies and carpentry are methods of letting materealities articulate themselves. What is materiality as some things thrown into relation with some things? In your hands you hold a something – an assemblage of things found, made, and remade, thrown into this some thing of a zine, a panel, of a conference, of hands and bodies that will disperse in their journeys in planes and vehicles back home to indeterminate and unfinished worldlings. I would like to make visible the ecologies that made this zine possible with the composition efforts of my comrades. To explore how a text was assembled to circulate in a dynamic space, a world of many wordlings as we are representatives of many institutions, interests, and networks. Matter in an unseen world is indefinite (Kathleen Stewart); what if we pause in materiality? What might we notice in these emplaced materials, tracing their into being, some thing different for each depending on the some things they encounter in simultaneously mundane and possibly complex material domains?
For my midterm project, I would like to make a small book. The idea is that it would be a mashup of a zine, a DIY guide, an account of the process of making and breaking (with asides, witticisms, and maxims), and research that brings together theory with praxis in concepts of craft and materiality. The idea of making a book appeals to me because it is something that I am making that will account for making (a made thing on making?). While it won’t necessary be beautifully bound (a new craft endeavor), I would like to print my own cover, incorporate photos of the process and products, as well as prints that showcase the process of screen printing that make it visible (not pictures of it, but prints in the book) and tactile to communicate through the materials of printing. This will also be an exploration in what it means to make texts, with considerations for application in scholarship and pedagogical potential, and questions of material affordances and limitations.
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.