the force of seeing

Metaphors of sight are overused, but when it comes to visualizing information, sight seems to aptly fit. I’m trying to account for a different sight or seeing that I’ve been thinking about as we read and discuss DH methods, conversations, and concerns that is more mindful of these and the scopes at which they are done. In reading for this week, I realize that this is a bit of an abstraction (and maybe a result of being prompted to talk about my research), but I’m thinking about the methods we have been discussing as means of remembering (and maybe, re-membering in terms of putting broken bodies back together, or even bringing individuals [ideas and people and things] back into sight). It’s odd to me that I haven’t explicitly thought of DH methods as doing memory work; I think I can dismiss it by saying that these methods are to uncover new patterns that weren’t noticed before, so they wouldn’t be how something was experienced. But in doing this work, at least on texts that are still contemporary (and even texts that have been “established” or experienced in a particular way as to have epistemological implications), conceptions of what is/n’t change. There are counterhistories in the field of rhetoric and composition to alter how the field constructs itself—what it occludes and includes (here I have a very flimsy connection between conception and memory that is in want of development). I don’t think that making texts visible is neutral work, void of intent, but making visible seems more passive than reconstructing what was visible. Making visible is positing a new perspective, perhaps different from what existed before, to materials that we have/not encountered (and differently).

I’m still working through these ideas, and to me they seem disjointed, but I’m noting a difference or perhaps a different degree (or nuance) in what is being done to and from seeing materials. I am reminded of James Elkins’ “The Object Stares Back” from his book On the Nature of Seeing; he says “ultimately, seeing alters the thing that is seen and transforms the seer. Seeing is metamorphosis, not mechanism”. He is working to move beyond a concept of sight as “just looking” to one of intent, to one that is not singular, on that multiplies and changes because there is no fixity—looking has force. I’m left with questions on the nature of seeing, constructing, and remembering and the matters of concern they raise in using these methods. What is their force in seeing? Are they too scattered to notice and focus? What is/are the scopes of this work—not in how closely or distantly materials are looked at, but where their gaze is cast? Is there a connection between sight and memory in this work? What comes with and from new ways of seeing?





an end to stagnation

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

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

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

Johanna Drucker, Graphesis: Visual Knowledge Production and Representation


visual vision



Not sure if it’s the visual rhetorics course, jumping back into my MA project, contemplating visuals for my conference presentation next week, or designing a web space, but I’ve noticed a growing affinity for seeing color combinations and patterns.

Image: Color Wheel, Moses Harris 1766 – the first full color circle

The Object Stares Back

This week’s reading for ENGL 527: Visual Rhetorics with Dr. Derek Mueller

Citation: Elkins, James. The Object Stares Back: On the Nature of Seeing. San Diego: Harcourt, Inc., 1996. Web.

Summary: We imagine seeing as objective, as removed from it while existing within it – we open our eyes and see it; but we are so involved in the world, so dependent on it (the observer is object), that we have to pretend we are removed to create distance in order to go on at all  (from 33).


  • (seeing) metamorphosis vs. mechanism
  • looking/ seeing /searching
  • vision vs. sight
  • object (human or nonhuman)
  • inaudible urgings of seeing (24)
  • inaccessible/unapproachable (32)
  • multiplying/changing object (39)
  • observer-objects and object-observers (hybridity 44)

Passages to keep:

“The first thing to be said is that this informal notion of just looking will not do, since the eyes never merely accept light. Instead, there is a force to the light: it pushes its way into our eyes; and conversely, there is a force to the eyes: they push their way into the world.” (18)

“The proof of this is the way that absentminded looking becomes contaminated with stray thoughts. If I’m just looking around while thinking of something else, every object that comes into focus will remind me of my life: the calendar reminds me that I haven’t changed it this week; the old file folders remind me of the work not yet done; the black architect’s lamps reminds me I don’t like architect’s lamps; the coffee cup reminds me again that I am thirsty. Even when I am not thinking of the use of objects, they remind me of use. And there is a curious thing here that easily passes unnoticed: I do not focus on anything that is not connected in some way with my own desires and actions. I fail to see the stretches of wall between the lamp and the coffee cup, or the manila paper of the file folders, ore the black plastic calendar holder. My eyes can only understand desire and possession. Anything else is meaningless and therefore invisible.” (22)

“A picture is not only a view onto the world or onto someone’s imagination: it is a peculiar kind of object that sets us thinking about desire. If I see a mermaid, a silk shirt, a snapshot, a gorgeous landscape, a picture of bread and butter, or photograph of a eunuch, those images are not just passively recorded in my mind. Looking immediately activates desire, possession, violence, displeasure, pain, force, ambition, power, obligation, gratitude, longing…there seems to be no end to what seeing is, to how it is tangled with living and acting. But there is no such thing as just looking.” (31)


Accepted claim: “I don’t really exist apart from the objects I see – what a strange thought. I am neither independent observer nor object in someone else’s eyes. Whatever calls itself I must always move, as Martin Heidegger said, in the between, between man and thing. (44)


Claim of some doubt: “I need to think that I am the one doing the looking and sifting one version of an object to the next. But what if I were changing along with the objects? What if the sentence were The observers – the multiple moments of myself – look among the objects?” (39)


3 sources to aid in reading: No bibliography attached, so hypothetical sources are Camera Lucida by Roland Barthes, Martin Heidegger, the remainder of The Object Stares Back


i am a liar and i am a lier.

i wake up to the sound of the cat chewing paper (rising with the dawn, not to work beyond the setting sun).

it’s sunday morning [(how is it already sunday morning again?] the weekend is not over).

it’s chilly outside but I open the window for the cat anyway because sometimes i like to extend this tiny apartment through space by the open window extensions too. i make her a blanket window seat to equalize the sensations of in/out. i wrap up in a blanket too, mug of coffee, equalizing alertness with a mind that tends to wander. within two minutes the heat is coming on to equalize temperature, and she is on my lap (we are comfortably occupying inter-spaces).

i keep wondering what it means to be an artist. and what i can replace that term and its associations with by my actions. as a compositionist i am bringing together, cutting, layering, juxtaposing, prying into in-between spaces, and looking to word debris and word dust and word created and left in unintentional time capsules. this word is not just word. this word is not just text. this text is not just text (i am a compositionist in a field of writers, scholars, and artists).

i wrote a list in class the other day while the students worked at computers (i have fits of creativity):

a pond

a mirror

a prism

a magnifying glass

a pair of glasses (spectacles)

a pair of binoculars

a telescope

a microscope

a television

an omniscient narrator

it was/is a questioning of what i was/am valuing in the classroom/education and the role i had/have as the role students look to for guidance to what is important to know and in what ways this knowing should be demonstrated (“students should be able to______________________”). i have been privileging metaphors of seeing and observation, but then what am i neglecting? in illuminating one, the other(s) lay in shadow. what i want to know is, how can i see sounds? train the ear to see like we teach our eyes.


i want to work with sound more. my captivation with imagetext is not/never will be over, but i want to show students compositions like this (warning: noisy and dischordant to many – i am on a liars bender lately):

it has/does small-t truth tellings, soundbite sized experience and communication, layers, creates happening spaces in between juxtapositions and pairings, doesn’t care for musical “mastery” but exploration of the spirit of trying things and being unapologetic about the composition its creativity has assembled.

maybe composition in parts is more easily seen when it is heard?

what can i listen/see from here? following my ear and eye.

it’s now sunday night and i’m still thinking in flipping frames and freezes. flash animations. remixes and remediations. compilations of composing of pieces and pieces (composites). after listening to burroughs, negativland, and (more) liars, i want to spend my winter break composing a digital cv with video/animation.

mind moves in flits and fits.

the act of seeing

Seeing. I wash the dishes and begin to deconstruct the sound of the water flowing from the faucet. The pan in my hands no longer has weight, I can no longer feel the water over my hands. Steam. I don’t blink. My gaze down the drain and the guttural noises feel as if they are emanating from the back of my head, the first shelf in my mind.

Writing. Translate this to paper. Be sure to get the shift of eyeballs rolling in their sockets. The feeling of a gaze that extends from this plane to another and back through the head and the eyes. Map this prewriting practice of losing and leaving and somehow coming back into the body to stiff wrists and eyes that feel like tissue paper. And an idea.