4C14 Cut, Copy and Compose: DIY Publishing and Rhetorical Ecologies of Materiality

Here is my talk I gave at 4Cs with Jason Luther and Becky Morrison. We created/circulated a zine to accompany our panel. We divided our panel into two sections, each taking turns.

(For my part, this is a messy first attempt at trying to relate: rhetorical ecologies, rhetorical carpentry, poeisis, materiality, techne and matereality.)

title slide

I: DIY Publishing/Practice Screen shot 2014-03-24 at 9.32.13 AM
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.

II. Theorizing

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.

poeisisThis 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?


writing as a productive art

(qtd. Bruno Latour The Pastuerization of France) “Standing by what is written on a sheet of paper alone is a risky trade. However, this trade is no more miraculous than that of the painter, the seaman, the tightrope walker, or the banker. [Knowledge] does not exist…despite all claims to the contrary, craft holds the key to knowledge” (Bogost 110).

Reading the end of Kelly Pender’s Techne, particularly “Why Techne? Why Now?” unexpectedly caused me to return to Ian Bogost’s Alien Phenomenology, or What It’s Like to Be a Thing, a book that a small group of students and faculty read in the summer of 2012 as part of a reading series. While the work explores object oriented ontology as a call to philosophy /philosophers to reconstruct their craft as practice as theory, his chapter entitled “Carpentry” allows some connections to be established to Pender’s emphasis on teaching writing as writing through techne (more specifically poesis).

Pender writes

“Historically, we have valued techne because it focuses our attention to external goals; or to put it more precisely, we have valued techne because it allows us to align writing with particulalr external goals” (142).

As poesis, or a bringing forth, techne allows students to write as writing to achieve an external goal.  And while she is careful not to easily dismiss using techne to achieve external goals (something like problem solving), she explains that such an emphasis on goals of writing have caused us to overlook the thingness of writing, “the ability of writing to engage us in a process of bringing forth that is more aimed at doing something than knowing something” (143). This stresses the teaching of writing as a means of textual interpretation over a means of textual production – we aren’t using techne to make (techne as theory vs. techne as methodology).

This called to mind Ian Bogost. In “Carpentry”, he writes

“Like mechanics, philosophers ought to get their hands dirty. Not just dirty with logic or mathematics…but dirty with grease and panko bread crumbs and formaldehyde. I give the name carpentry to this practice of constructing artifacts as a philosophical practice” (92).

This signifies a shift from knowing about to doing with/from. He lays out the frame of carpentry:

“‘carpentry’ borrows from two sources. First, it extends the ordinary sense of woodcraft to any material whatsoever—to do carpentry is to make anything, but to make it in earnest, with one’s hands, like a cabinetmaker. Second, it folds into this act of construction Graham Harman’s philosophical sense of “the carpentry of things”…to refer to how things fashion one another and the world at large. Blending these two notions, carpentry entails making things that explain how things make the world” (93).

I can envision reactions to this approach as dismissive, a sort of hyperbolic aside of giving students in freshman writing courses a hammer with their writing handbook, but what might it make available? We already use metaphors and theories of process and construction to talk about writing to draw attention to the act of putting things together and taking things apart. What might writing that incorporates making (beyond focus on alphanumeric texts or “creative” projects to accompany alphanumeric texts that aren’t viewed as texts on their own) do?

Bogost works to destabilize writing as the sun in our academic universe, and hile I’m not making such a move, I do find scraps of carpentry, as tied to techne, of interest to discover what writing might be/do.

I’m left wondering

  • What would a methodology of techne in teaching writing look like?
  • How can teaching writing as writing allow for the entanglement of writing and making?
  • What composite definition of techne (from chapter one) would this approach make use of?
  • Does this something, or a way to make some things, fit in the writing classroom – techne as method?