Sunday, July 15, 2012

Meeting and Introduction to The New Media Reader

I met with Sid the other day to chat about texts I’ve been reading and ideas I’ve been trying to flesh out.  The meeting went well (I had thought the meeting would go half an hour and we chatted for over an hour) and was discursive, as I expected it would be (and wanted it to be).  What I'd like to do is recap some points that I may return to in the future, hence the reason why I’ve written a post (I’ve noticed how I’ve treated this blog for the last several weeks: as a way to take notes and summarize texts, to articulate and clarify ideas, to communicate with Jake, to record interesting quotes that may be helpful for papers, to familiarize myself with this form of writing for me).

I expressed to Sid my interest with spatiality and writing, even briefly discussing ‘homogenous, empty time’ and Live Homogenous, Empty Real Time and how I’d like to begin thinking about Space replacing the Time in this concept.  He suggested that I check out more of Georges Perec (Sid references Perec’s theories on space in Postcomposition).  He also recommended that I consider ‘use value,’ as well as always ask myself: is something usable space?  He brought up the idea that if space isn’t usable, it ceases to be space.  This leaves us with the assumption that space is dependent upon place, upon occupation.  I also asked Sid to define writing, and first he gave the disclaimer that this definition is very general, then gave the following: writing is the act of making, the concepts of invention (which he also stated are always spatial).  I didn’t have a chance to ask him if mouse clicks would constitute writing (e.g. “share” or “like” on facebook.  I am specifically thinking about writing our identities/identity writing in digital spaces) because I articulated some ideas I’ve had lately about objects having consciousness and agency, and he argued that an object wouldn’t per se have consciousness but would have agency.  He suggested that I look into Rubbish theory, Object-oriented theory, and Thing theory, as these theories may offer some insights.  All of these theories I am unfamiliar with, but I’m excited about exploring them. He also recommended I check out a short read called I am a pencil.  These recommendations also guided our discussion into how to approach my work.  Sid contends that I (and we rhetoric and composition scholars in general) should have theory be the focus and then surround the theory with cultural artifacts and examples to illuminate how the theory functions.  This approach is much different than my previous work as I was educated to consider theory as application (and "not as a couch" as one of my past professors once remarked). Many of my past professors emphasized the object of study and then work with theories (deconstruction, political economy, semiotic analysis, discourse analysis, et al.) as methods (if you couldn’t already tell by more utterances in the previous parenthesis).   Sid believes that too many times we have the inversion: cultural artifact as the focus and theories working around it.  What I believe Sid was pushing me to do is to be the inventor of new theories (which would make sense if we compositionists and scholars want to bring something new to the conversation), something that Greg Ulmer also suggests in our pedagogy with writing courses. 

This new approach for me, theory rather than a cultural artifact as the foci, will be a challenge, which gives me mixed feelings of excitement, nervousness, and confusion.  The rest of this summer, fall and spring will be a roller coaster of insights and frustrations as I begin to develop my thesis . . . find MY THEORY voice.

I told Sid that I’m still interested in the connections between writing and activism (Writing Acts(ivism), Writing Activates Activism, Writing Acts), specifically thinking about writing as activism, and he suggested I check out The Revolution will not be Tweeted.  He also remarked that four Cs has a section or panel specifically on writing and activism, so I will need to research past conversations and arguments.

The New Media Reader  Edited by Noah Wardrip-Fruin and Nick Montfort

I decided to begin The New Media Reader, a 2003 book complied of excerpts from various scholars in numerous disciplines.  I chose this text to read next in order to familiarize myself with some of the theoretical, philosophical and practical approaches to the digital humanities. The first excerpt is Janet H. Murray’s “Inventing the Medium” as she introduces how various scholars, writers, engineers and scientists from the last sixty years have considered new media and its potential. After discussing briefly some of their ideas about what computers might do for society, specifically in their relationship to information, Murray identifies two general camps through which to see new media: humanists and engineers, historically the former seeing “the contradictions and limitations of the great systems of thought” which “causes them to question the very project of systemized thinking” and the latter emphasizing “a vision of a meta-book, a navigable collection of books that will carry us gracefully to the next level of information control and systematic thought” (4). These two camps are not a definitive dichotomy as many arguments have often crossed into each other's camps (as well as into many other “camps”). But, in the last fifty years, scholars from these two and other camps have offered insightful ways to think about new media, about ways that we engage and produce new meanings with machines, and about how we continue to (re)define communication and communities.  As “we are moving toward a world of ubiquitous computing,” Murray remarks, our relationship with knowledge will take on new definitions, new properties, new forms and “the promise is that we will not be crushed by our own knowledge, as the writers at the beginning of this period anticipated, because we will organize it together in a vast distributed and synchronized effort” (10-11).  Murray ends her introduction with summarizing Tim Berners-Lee’s work and development for the World Wide Web and suggests that Berners-Lee took the admirable route with his invention: choosing an open Web standard and not commercializing it.

Murray suggests that the “representational power of the computer derives from its four defining qualities: its procedural, participatory, encyclopedic, and spatial properties” (6).  She claims that the encyclopedic property is the most obvious for the functional power of the computer because of people's desire to compile all of human knowledge into one place.  But the properties I’m most interested in right now are the participatory and spatial.  Murray highlights that spatial properties enable us to navigate actual (as registers within the machines) and symbolic (as on a Web “site” or in a dungeon under a trap door within a fantasy environment) spaces and argues that “this spatializing quality is based upon the other two properties [procedural and participatory]” as participatory “allows it [to] receive input, to allow manipulation of its processes and data by the user” (6).

This will be a rant here as I flush out my nascent ideas: I guess what I’m interested in is how people participate (specifically write) in the symbolic spaces of activism, both real (and real in the sense of the physical world and the digital world) and imaginary to ensure a desired identity.  A very basic example (and since I have wanted to consider the rhetoric and circulation of this text): the Kony 2012 video, a social documentary released on March 5, 2012 by the non-profit group Invisible Children.  For the moment, I’m going to set aside the issues of the “white man’s burden” approach, as I do see this video working as a neo-colonialism for the digital cultural that tries to perpetuate the U.S. military industrial complex (we also see Kony as a representation of the Kurtz figure). I’m also going to set aside any kind of commentary on the video's rhetoric, specifically with the visual rhetoric and Jason Russell (the co-founder of Invisible Children and narrator of the social documentary) and his son Gavin, elements that I do think would be essential in a analysis. What I’d like to consider briefly is how this text was able to disseminate and circulate (the Wikipedia “Kony 2012” entry remarks, “As of 30 March 2012 (2012 -03-30)[update], the film had over 86 million views on video-sharing website YouTube, and over 16.6 million views on Vimeo”) so rapidly.  The video was posted first on YouTube, but nearly simultaneously was presented on facebook for the obvious network capacity to bring it to users’ news feeds.  Facebook users watch the video, are emotionally (and rationally) inspired to participate in arresting Kony and bringing him to justice. A simple facebook user click on “share” facilitates the video to connect to other news feeds and we quickly see the proliferation of the video in the digital world (slacktivism has never been so popular).  On the one hand, this digital space, not only the Web, YouTube and facebook spaces, but more specifically the facebook news feed space, which has limitations (although dependent upon how many “friends” one has and how those “friends” participate in facebook, for example posting links to articles or music or writing “what’s on their mind” or getting “tagged” in photos or sending messages, et al., which will all determine the speed of the news feed scroll) in how quickly posts are observed, provides opportunities for those with internet access and a facebook account to what I would call “community” information about social issues, people, injustices, policies enacted or rejected, etc.  The digital space, when occupied with texts and transformed into place, enables users to develop a different kind of consciousness (place structures consciousness, paradigms, mythologies, agency, meanings) and conscience.  We become aware of numerous atrocities, corruption, and unethical activities (both historically and currently, but typically the latter). But it isn’t just that we are aware; these issues instill a sense of responsibility (whether that responsibility should be present or not is another issue to be dealt with in its appropriate philosophical branch). And the facebook news feed could also encourage them to research more on an issue (and, depending on what they research and how interested they are in “doing something” about it, they could be active in other ways, rather than simply reading information, such as writing a letter to their state representative or participating in a protest march (I’m thinking of the May Day march in Chicago)).  So, we could argue that facebook could (or does) improve social conditions, an often technological glorification that fits within the Enlightenment meta-narrative of progress and science.

Of course, when I say “community” information, I’m implying what McLuhan suggested in 1967: “’Time’ has ceased, ‘space’ has vanished. We now live in a global village” (63).  But, more importantly, it is apparent that the “we” (as both McLuhan and I have remarked) and articulation of this “community” information and “global village” is political: certain classes, races, genders, and sexes are included and others excluded.  Which brings me to the other dimension of the facebook news feed space: it suppresses voices, as well as (which may be appear with any suppression) includes and excludes certain issues.  In this article, Riyaad Minty suggests that “their [Ugandan] voices were getting drowned out by other people mass sharing/commenting on Kony 2012.”  What we see here is (more) limitation of the possibilities in not only the news feed, but in the space of commenting (even those marginalized peoples who may even have access to the Internet may find their voice buried).  Forget the hyper information of people’s opinions and feelings or the idea that engineers had in the mid-twentieth century about a confluence of information into one system as more sustainable and progressive.  As much as voices can function to subvert hierarchies, they also dislocate and subvert voices (and possibly sustain hierarchies) and overload systems of information, although it may be specious to consider it an overload (or rather we should be careful about how we approach and value an overload). Of course, I know I’m talking about voices as information, but what else constitutes information? Information is ideas articulated from a voice.  Voices, which are a culturally bound subjectivity, write information. Can a singular unit, such as the Web, offer all information to be available?  It appears that place, after being created from homogenous, empty space, has the potential to implode on a system.  McLuhan’s claim that “space has vanished” should be better articulated as “places work us over politically.”  
Questions: where and how are these two ideas of digital space that I just "articulated" challenged?  Does the distribution of, circulation of, and reaction to Kony 2012 invent other spaces that hadn't been considered before?  Obviously, we have people writing about and participating in social issues in digital spaces, which I have thought is productive.  Dialogue is a prime way to work through political issues. But did the dialogue disintegrate?  Did the dialogue destroy an important aspect (Ugandans' voice) of the issue?  Should dialogue be regulated, and if so, what would that regulation look like?
Obviously, I need to do more research into what folks were writing in the comment space that drowned out Ugandan voices, as I’d also be interested in what the writing says about the participants’ subjectivities.
I know I’m not saying much here, but my goal was to just write some thoughts and questions. In a way, I’m not sure what exactly I was trying to articulate or why I felt the need to write and post in the public sphere.

McLuhan, Marshall and Quentin Fiore. The Medium is the Massage. Produced by Jerome Agel. Germany: Gingko Press, 1967. Print.

Murray, Janet H. “Inventing the Medium.” The New Media Reader. Ed. Noah Wardrip-Fruin and Nick Montfort. Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2003. 3-11. Print.  

Friday, July 6, 2012

Mitchell's "The photographic essay" and other thoughts

In Picture Theory, I read the second section (Textual Pictures, which has three chapters ― Visible Language: Blake’s Art of Writing, Ekphrasis and the Other, and Narrative, Memory, and Slavery), and it provided some intriguing analyses of poetry, engravings, and fiction. But I’d like to focus this post on a chapter in the next section called “The Photographic Essay: Four Case Studies.”  This chapter was of particular interest to me because I have some ideas for my thesis that deal with apocalyptic photos and “visual essays.”  As the title of the chapter suggests, Mitchell looks at four cultural productions that exemplify a photographic essay.  First though, he discusses what constitutes a photographic essay, which typically consists of a literal conjunction of photographs and text, a form that enables viewers/readers to consider a cause or political issue (Mitchell notes that photo and text are “usually united by a documentary purpose, often political, journalistic, sometimes scientific”) (287).  In other words, those who produce, circulate, and consume the photographic essay often have the photo and text function simply as a medium.  

The photographic essay is labeled as such for three reasons: 1. “the presumption of a common referential reality,” created with the photograph, is able to connect to engender a non-fiction   2.  the personal and subjective dimensions of a written essay connect to personalization of the photo  3. partiality: essays and photographs are never complete, always including parts while also neglecting parts (often rhetorically)  (289). 

In the four case studies, Mitchell posits the photographic essay has various forms: classic collaboration with two or more people (Agee and Evan’s Let Us Now Praise Famous Men) and each produces either photo or text that clearly associates with the other; photography has “independence” and “co-equality” or what I would say “can speak for itself” (Barthes’ contention that photographs have “punctum” and not “stadium,” which I’ll discuss in a moment); seriousness: explicit confrontation (versus Barthes “implicit” confrontation with the picture of his “mother” as the centerpiece of a collection) with the “un-beautiful, the impoverished, the ephemeral”; and dialogical collaboration (exemplified in Said and Mohr’s After the Last Sky), in which photo and text are present, but situated differently than a classic collaboration, because of the seemingly disparate connection between photo and text (often addressing the context, both historical and present, as we see in Said’s exploration of exile).  What these four studies offer is an understanding of the relationship, or rather collaboration, between photos and text, producers and (sometimes) consumers (often a consumer will become a producer, as is the case with Barthes’ Camera Lucida), as well as the ambiguous genre of the photographic essay.

What I’d like to discuss briefly is when Mitchell discusses Barthes’ punctum and stadium (something that my friend Jake brought up in a comment in another post).  I have not read Camera Lucida, but I’m going to see if I better understand what these two terms mean.  Barthes suggests that stadium, as a rhetorical device, enables “the photographs to be “read” or that would allow a scientific theory of the photograph to emerge.” But what interests Barthes more is the punctum, a “stray, pointed detail that ‘pricks’ or ‘wounds’” a beholder. These ‘pricks’ are caused by “accidental, uncoded, nameless features,” such as “a necklace, bad teeth, folded arms, dirt streets.” The punctum “open[s] the photograph metonymically onto a contingent realm of memory and subjectivity . . . [something that] is often remembered about a photograph than what is seen in its actual presence” (Picture Theory 303).  In Mitchell’s summary, and what I presume is in Barthes’ articulation (as Jake had mentioned too), is that something innate in the photograph enables a particular…emotion? sensation? idea? belief? for the beholder.  Yet, Barthes also suggests his self-reflexivity in engaging in as a beholder, an engagement that “adds” to the photographic.  What does Barthes mean here?  What exactly constitutes punctum?  Barthes does say that he cannot find a language to describe such a phenomenon, but does this mean that he suggests a reality outside of (written) language?  One may find echoes of Jacques Lacan here and the Real (and possibly the object petit a?  A Wikipedia entry notes, “objet petit a is defined as the leftover, the remnant left behind by the introduction of the Symbolic in the Real.”  Yet, the objet petit a is the desire within the Other, or at least what we hope is within the Other).  But Lacan is dealing with the psyche, not with an intrinsic nature of “things.”  I see the struggles Barthes has in identifying certain dimensions of photographs and pictures, but from an academic position, this uncertainty (to use the word “uncertainty” is problematic as we are dealing with language here).  I am interested in Camera Lucida and the ideas of punctum and stadium, so I may need to add the book to my reading list. 

I would also like briefly to discuss my other post and Jake’s comment (see Barthes' The Photographic Message post).  I had postulated, or rather offered, an idea about the nexus of objects, memory, and consciousness.  In other words, I was curious as to if/how objects absorb or develop consciousness (or have something innate in them that enables consciousness) and  what that consciousness would look like.  I had briefly described an example in which I was given a painting by my friend Sandy and developed ideologies (friendship, gratitude, value of listening) that induced a memory(ies). I suggested that I actually did not have the memory(ies), but that the painting held the memory(ies) more than I did (when I saw the painting, the memory(ies) flourished, or at least were much more prevalent to reality than if I thought about the exchange of the painting without the painting around).  Of course, we see here Barthes stadium where the context produced particular ideas and memory(ies).  And I further suggested that when the painting saw an unforeseeable accident that required me to dispose of the painting, it still retained this memory(ies) even outside my possession (even if someone else “rescued” and re-possessed the painting). If punctum were to be a “theory” (being that theory always needs articulation, and hence part of Barthes' issue) that we could work with, I would need to identify particularities in the painting (let’s say, the words “Las Tres Preguntas del Diablo Enamorado” painted or the positioning of the nine figures marching) that communicate certain transcendental ideas.  But wouldn’t this suggest that particular ideas are essential, leading us to a dualistic paradigm of culture? 

I realize that this painting is different than what Mitchell discusses in this chapter.  It is a painting, not a photograph, so (presumably) the brush strokes, coloring, lines, the written text, etc. are intentional by Sandy.  But, are there certain ideas in these brush strokes, coloring, etc. that are not signifiers?  Could we remark that beauty can transcend time, space, culture, politics?  Could we ever look at a rotted corpse and see beauty (something I’ve been working on is reconfiguring definitions of the beautiful and ugly, trying to deconstruct the beautiful/ugly binary, identifying the ugly as access to truths)? Barthes’ punctum looks more and more like an aesthetics, something that I’m skeptical about (I typically position myself in the New Historicism camp as I see decontextualizing a cultural production neglects identifying how power functions). 

Shitty picture of the painting, but I figured I'd have it available for you.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Chapter 2 and 3 in Picture Theory

Metapictures (chapter two)

In this essay, Mitchell wants to move away from picture aesthetics and identify a representation that is inherent in the picture, which he would call a metapicture: pictures that reflect upon themselves.  He proposes to observe these pictures in a context he calls “ordinary language” (the disciplinary name is iconology) (36).  His method is ekphrastic: give “a faithful description of a series of pictures that seem to be self-referential in various ways” (38). In my next post, I hope to elaborate further on ekphrastic because I think it is more complex than this definition (and Mitchell suggests seeing Chapter five for clarification of ekphrastic). Nevertheless, Mitchell begins by exploring several drawings from “The New Yorker Magazine” that reference or represent themselves, often enabling boundaries, such as “outside” and “inside” and first- and second-order representations, to disappear. I’m a little confused in how Mitchell discusses what these metapictures do to capture their “metapictureness”:  First, it sounds like Mitchell posits that when a metapicture conflates or blurs the structures of “inside” and “outside” and first- and second-order representations, it appears to cease its “metapictureness.”  He remarks, “an image of nested, concentric spaces and levels is required to stabilize a metapicture, or any second-order discourse, to separate it cleanly from the first-order object-langauge it describes” (42). This remark, as I read it, suggests that distinct boundaries structure the picture to be a metapicture.  Yet, simultaneously, it is the reading of two different views (in the example of Saul Steinberg's The Spiral, are the views Steinberg’s and ours? or clockwise and counterclockwise) and a “dissolv[ing] [of] the boundary between inside and outside, first- and second-order representation, on which the metapictorial structure depends” that enable such a picture to be a metapicture.  I feel as if Mitchell is contradicting what exactly constitutes a metapicture. 

Mitchell continues his argument in the next section in which he interrogates Alain’s “Egyptian Life Class” and concludes that two readings are offered: the Egyptians are inferior in the range of visual knowledge  and the Egyptians have a “sameness” about themselves as much as Westerns do about themselves (44-45).  Both of these readings function dialectically and enable the drawing to be a metapicture.

“Metapictures are pictures that show themselves in order to know themselves: they stage the “self-knowledge” of pictures” (48). 

A slightly different kind of metapicture is the multistable image (such as the duck-rabbit, the necker cube, double cross, and my wife and mother-in-law), which creates explicitly ambiguous boundaries of ordered representations.  What multistable images do is flip the lens of the observer back onto itself, ultimately resisting a formal metapictureness (and rather becomes a “discursive or contextual self-reference”) (56).  Mitchell remarks, “they do not refer to themselves, or to a class of pictures, but employ a single gestalt to shift from one reference to another” (48).  This shift, specifically in the duck-rabbit picture as Mitchell’s analysis suggests, creates a “nesting” in which picture self-references itself (its representations, identities, narratives).  “Pictorial self-reference is . . . not exclusively a formal, internal feature that distinguishes some pictures, but a pragmatic, functional feature, a matter of use and context.  Any picture that is used to reflect on the nature of pictures is a metapicture” (56-57).

An explicitly formal metapicture is Las Meninas by Diego Rodriquez de Silva Velaquez, a picture that epitomizes its own self-knowledge and engenders self-knowledge of the observer.  As a viewer, we shift identities: we are classic observers of the painting; we are the king and queen as we watch our royal child posing for Diego to paint; we a mirror reflecting the royal child image or a reflection of ourselves (as royal child).

Mitchell soon shifts to the relationship of metapictures and words, offering Rene Magritte’s Les trahison des images as an example to illuminate how “metapictures elicit, not just a double vision, but a double voice, and a double relation between language and visual experience” (68).  A strictly metapicture functions on two levels of order ― first and second ― but when words enter a visual experience, they create a third-order metapicture, one in which “the very identities of words and images, the sayable and the seeable, begin to shimmer and shift in the composition, as if the image could speak and the words were on display” (68).

In order for pictures to be identified as metapictures, there needs to be a dialectic with the first- and second-order (as well as third-order when written words are presented) of representation. 

In the final essay/chapter three, “Beyond Comparison: Picture, Text, and Method,” of the first section, Mitchell discusses the methods of analyzing visual and verbal representation, particularly in disciplines.  In the disciplines of literature and art history, scholars typically approach visual culture comparatively, sometimes for aesthetic purposes, developing a master-narrative that reinforces the humanities as a universalism, and sometimes for structural purposes (deploying semiotics).  This method often connects to the “pragmatism” of the disciplines and ensures, what I consider, bureaucratic safety.  Mitchell suggests three limitations in the comparative (or interartistic comparison) method:

1. presumption of the unifying, homogenous concept (the sign, the work of art, semiosis, meaning, representation, etc.) and its associated “science that makes comparative/differentiating propositions possibl, even inevitable

2. the whole strategy of systematic comparison/contrast that ignores other forms of relationships, eliminating the possibility of metonymic juxtapositions, of incommensurability and of unmediated or non-negotiable forms of alterity.

3. ritualistic historicism, which always confirms a dominant sequence of historical periods, a canonical master-narrative leading to the present moment, and which seems incapable of registering alternate histories, counter-memories, or resistant practices (87).

Mitchell posits that we ought to shift from comparative analysis (this poem and that painting) because “comparison itself is not a necessary procedure in the study of image-text relations” (original emphasis 89) and approach visual arts with a “literalness and materiality” (90), a method that identifies the dialectics of both image and text. He also highlights “purist” scholars, those who seek the “pure image” and “pure language” and reduce imagetexts to issues of morality rather than empiricism.  These utopian fantasies only underscore, as Mitchell contends, language as a medium (rather than a system).  Although Mitchell pushes aside historicism in the comparative method, he doesn’t simply want a formal description, but “to ask what the function of specific forms of heterogeneity might be” (100).  The function of these forms will inherently connect an imagetext to its historical context, although the “image/text is neither a method nor a guarantee of historical discovery; it is more like an aperture or cleavage in representation, a place where history might slip through the cracks” (104).  What I see here is history amd pictures/images/written text as created in dialectics in which some ideas are perpetuated and others are suppressed. This sounds an awful lot like Barthes’ “anchorage,” in which the text directs the reader through signifieds of the image, causing him to avoid some and receive others; by means of an often subtle dispatching, it remote-controls him towards a meaning chosen in advance” (40). Ultimately, Mitchell’s method for visual and verbal culture is dialectics and situating an imagetext within a larger political and cultural context (although it appears he continually attempts to identify an innateness of pictures).  

In this “method” chapter, Mitchell discusses briefly films to highlight how the visual and verbal arts function as imagetexts.  I do not have time to delve into deep critiques (and I apologize in advance for my unjust treatment of the following two films and Mitchell’s argument in connecting them), but I wish to highlight two film examples that came to mind about metapictures: Adaptation (written by Charlie Kaufman and directed by Spike Jonze) and Synecdoche, New York. In both these films, we see fictions constructed that reflect upon themselves. In the former film, which is an adaptation from the book The Orchid Thief, Charlie Kaufman (the actor played by Nicolas Cage, but also the actual Kaufman), disabled with writer’s block, begins to write himself into the story’s adaptation and script.  This leads Charlie, with his twin brother Donald (fictitious brother to the real life Kaufman), to seek out Susan Orlean (played by Meryl Streep), the author of The Orchid Thief, in hopes of accessing more ideas for completing the script. Long story short, the film concludes with scenes not from the short story (and cliché scenes that Charlie/Charlie Kaufman had not wanted in the script/film: sex or guns or car chases or great epiphany or moral message).  The film is a/has metapictures: the real Charlie Kaufman begins to write an adaptation of The Orchid Thief, only to believe that there is no story and so writes himself to the script; Susan Orlean began writing The Orchid Thief about a subject (Laroche and his plan to mass produce the Ghost Orchid), but also writes herself (and finds her passion, a passion that Laroche exemplified) into the narrative; the film simply reflects on its own production (the script it has to follow/the script Charlie is writing); et al. This brief synopsis and these ideas obviously need further elaboration, but I think it would be fascinating to develop a paper that uses Mitchell’s metapicture as a theoretical framework to discuss Adaptation.

Another film that exemplifies a metapicturenss is Synecdoche, New York (again written by Kaufman, but also directed by him). Caden Cotard (played by Philip Seymour Hoffman) is a theater director who receives a grant/fellowship to develop an artistic endeavor to his choosing.  Caden constructs in a large warehouse a replica of his life: buildings, his apartment, et al., as well as casting actors to play him and his partnerships.  Synecdoche, New York is a much different kind of metapicture as Adaptation, for example because the latter explicitly has the script writer (a representation of the script writer) in the film, but offers viewers a play upon a play (the film blurs our distinction of Caden’s real life and the play’s life) and a theater director’s self-referential in his work. 

“all arts are ‘composite’ arts (both text and image); all media are mixed media, combining different codes, discursive conventions, channels, sensory and cognitive modes” and so the “medium of writing deconstructs the possibility of a pure image or pure text, along with the opposition between the ‘literal’ (letters) and the ‘figurative’ (pictures) on which it depends.  Writing, in its physical, graphic form, is an inseparable suturing of the visual and the verbal, the ‘imagetext’ incarnate” (95).

Barthes, Roland. Image Music Text. Trans. by Stephen Heath. New York: Hill and Wang, 1977. Print.
Mitchell, W.J.T. Picture Theory. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994. Print.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Notes on chapter 1 in Mitchell's Picture Theory

Mitchell suggests that a shift in intellectual and academic inquiry and discourse is occurring (circa 1994) and he calls this shift “the pictorial turn” (11).  Beginning with Ludwig Wittgenstein, and residing in Peirce’s semiotics, Derrida’s “grammatology, Frankfurt School’s investigation of modernity, mass culture, and visual media, and Foucault’s power and knowledge contentions, philosophical inquires and discourses in the human sciences have noticed and interrogated how images and pictures play a fundamental role in the construct of social reality and identity. 

Mitchell, it appears, sets out to explore various disciplines to show how pictures and images have shaken the foundation of their philosophies and methods.  In The Pictorial Turn essay (Mitchell notes that Picture Theory really feels like a compilation of essays), Mitchell focuses on Art History and (Marxist) Structuralism, first focusing on Jonathan Crary’s Techniques of the Observer.  In this book, Crary investigates Art History’s emphasis on the spectator (as proposed by Panofsky), particularly in thinking about renaissance art, and attempts to develop an essentialism and scientific approach to visual cultural experience.  Crary posits that artistic modernism in the 1870s and 1880s enabled a different kind of observer, one who is embodied with vision from discursive, social, and technological relationships (Picture Theory 19-20).  This relationship developed with the outset of the camera obscura (the modern idea circa 1820) and created a sense of objectivism of the world.  Yet, Mitchell points out that Crary’s claim that “there was no single nineteenth century observer, no example that can be located empirically” is flawed in that we do have access to what nineteenth century people liked to look at, what they thought about what they saw, and how they described what they saw.  In addition, race, class and gender were as important as ever to understanding how people engaged with images and pictures.  In other words, Crary reduces the spectator to a determined and universalism that engages with visual culture.

After showing that Crary does not offer a new lens through which to critique pictures and images and continues an essentialist approach, Mitchell returns to two critics and/or philosophers: Panofsky and Althusser.  Each critic suggested scenes in which epistemological approaches to visual experience offer a “science of images,” a way (as I think Mitchell is saying) to identify empirically where iconology and ideology function. In Panofsky’s example, the scene of one person greeting another, and, as part of recognition, tipping the hat engenders a way to read perspective.  In Althusser’s example, ideology as interpellation works in a (mis)recognition when one knocks on another’s door or identifies and shakes another’s hand in the street. In both scenes, we have recognition through “sciences”: “Panofsky’s science of images (iconology) and Althusser’s science of (false) consciousness (ideology)” (30).  Mitchell further elaborates, “the main importance of recognition as the link between ideology and iconology is that it shifts both ‘sciences’ from an epistemological ‘cognitive’ ground (the knowledge of objects by subjects) to an ethical, political, and hermeneutic ground (the knowledge of subjects by subjects, perhaps even Subjects by Subjects)” (33), and extends his point that he wishes to have a more critical iconology, a better way “to picture theory,” a different lens through which to see/read subjects and objects as they engage with each other and themselves. “It [iconology or critical iconology] does not rest in a master-code, an ultimate horizon of History, Language, Mind, Nature, Being or any other abstract principle, but asks us to return to the scene of the crime, the scene of greeting between Subjects―between the speaking and the seeing Subject, the ideologist and the iconologist” (30).  In revisiting such scenes like Panofsky’s and Althusser’s, and rather than proposing a metanarrative or a particular empirical Universalism, we might be able to explore further what it is that pictures do and how we can picture a better theory of visual culture and experience.

Interesting quote: “There is an ancient tradition, of course, which argues that language is the essential human attribute: “man” is the “speaking animal.”  The image is the medium of the subhuman, the savage, the “dumb” animal, the child, the woman, the masses” (24).

Mitchell, W.J.T. Picture Theory. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994. Print

Notes on Barthes The Third Meaning

I finished Barthes third essay on photography “The Third Meaning” (The Photographic Message written in 1961, Rhetoric of the Image written in 1964, and The Third Meaning written in 1970) and would like simply to highlight some points.  Barthes discusses messages and their functioning on levels by critiquing stills from Ivan the Terrible (directed by Eisenstein). The first image shows two figures who each pour a bucket of gold coins over a third figure (presumably the king) in what Barthes suggests has three symbolisms: (1) “the imperial ritual of baptism by gold,” (2) “the diegetic symbolism: the theme of gold, of wealth,” and (3) “Eisensteinian symbolism:” displacement and substitution (peculiar to S.M. Eisenstein) (52).  These three particular symbolisms coalesce to create the second level (the first level was informational) of meaning: signification (in the translator’s notes, Barthes remarks the difference between signification and signifiance as the former “belongs to the plane of the product, of the enounced, of communication” and the latter as “the work of the signifier, which belongs to the plane of the production, of the enunciation, of symbolization―this work being called signifiance”). But it is at the third level of meaning, as Barthes posits and is concerned with, that we arrive at signifiance (on the actors, the make-up, wigs, whiteness).  He further clarifies and proposes: signification is an obvious meaning, which “presents itself quite naturally to the mind . . . [and] endowed with a ‘natural’ clarity” (54); signifiance is an obtuse meaning, which “opens the field of meaning totally” and “extends outside culture, knowledge, information” (55).  In addition, this obtuse meaning “carries a certain emotion” (59).    Barthes also remarks that the obtuse meaning “is a signifier without a signified, hence the difficulty in naming it” (61).  What Barthes suggests is that this third meaning is able to escape language, unable to represent anything.  It is “outside (articulated) language while nevertheless within interlocution . . . and discontinuous, indifferent to the story and the obvious meaning” (61). Barthes appears unable to identify the contextual role in meaning-making.  I would argue that the larger context (for example, 20th century conceptions of beauty in France) enable signifiance from the actor’s make-up, wigs, bun of hair, beauty, et al.  In other words, the stills gain signifiance because they are contextual.  Barthes hints at this idea, but isn’t confident yet to argue for it. Barthes concludes his essay by calling for further critiques of signifiance and this third/obtuse meaning.

The obtuse meaning is rare (Barthes identifies only a few flashes in Ivan the Terrible and rhetorically asks how many other films have it?) and is part of what Barthes contends makes film filmic: “the filmic is that in the film which cannot be described, the representation which cannot be represented” (64). This level of meaning can be located, but not described.  Barthes’ reluctance to engage with film, primarily because of lack of interest and experience with cinema, limits him to simply the stills, and hence the essay feels “unfinished.” And what we see in this essay is Barthes’ move toward identifying signifiers that do not have signifieds (and he doesn’t seem to accept completely that signifiers shift to other signifiers), and ultimately his shift from structuralism to post-structuralism. It is interesting to read Barthes’ writing at a time when he couldn’t particularly identify the fact that the signified is another signifier, when he attempted to suggest that unrepresentable, (possibly) the aesthetic, the unnamed is simply an emotion. I don’t deny that some experiences and emotions cannot be articulated with a complete meaning, but that applies to all words (as post-structuralism contends): words always escape a definitive meaning, always contain slippage, always direct our attention to other words.  This obviously is my post-structuralist education, but I enjoyed reading Barthes in his transition to the new academic camp.  

        Obvious meaning: "Ivan's attitude, young Vladimir's half-wit foolishness
Obtuse meaning: "eroticism"

           Obvious meaning: "ugly"
          Obtuse meaning: "eroticism that is contrary to the beautiful . . . unease and perhaps sadism"

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Barthes Rhetoric of the Image

“How does meaning get into the image? Where does it end?  And if it ends, what is there beyond?”  In “Rhetoric of the Image,” these are the questions that Barthes attempts to address, focusing his attention on the advertising image.  Images produce signification and Barthes desires to understand better how this production happens, which he proposes arises in the delivery of three messages: linguistic, coded iconic and a non-coded iconic.

Linguistic: written text (title and caption that nearly accompanies every image), which has two levels: denotation and connotation (in Barthes’ example of the pasta advertisement, the name of the pasta company is denotation and “Italianicity” is the connotation)

Coded: all the messages of the image, the totality (in Barthes’ example, freshness, Italianicity)

Non-coded: what image we actually see (in the example, vegetables, pasta, grocery bag)

The linguistic messages direct readers, and in particular directions, as readers “choose some [messages] and ignore others in their encounter the “floating signifiers” (39).  “The [written] text [that accompanies an image] helps to identify purely and simply the elements of the scene and the scene itself; it is a matter of a denoted description of the image (a description which is often incomplete) or, in Hjelmslev’s terminology, of an operation (as opposed to connotation)” (39). In other words, readers can understand explicitly what the image wants to articulate.  At this point, the image and text operate at the denotation level. Barthes posits that one of the functions of the linguistic is anchorage, which allows “the text [to] direct the reader through signifieds of the image, causing him to avoid some and receive others; by means of an often subtle dispatching, it remote-controls him towards a meaning chosen in advance” (40). When the written text functions on the symbolic level, it “no longer guides identification but interpretation” (39).  The other function of the linguistic is relay, in which text and image are complementary.  What the relay produces is “story, the anecdote, the diegesis” (41).

Both text and image, as Barthes continues, are never presented in a “pure state” and “even if a totally ‘naïve’ image were to be achieved, it would immediately join the sign of naivety and be completed by a third ― symbolic ― message” (42).  Thus, even in the denoted message(s), images and texts are relinquished from their “literalness” and relegated to the symbolic order.  Again, we see Nietzsche’s position on language, although now not restricted to written language, but images as well, as all metaphorical.  Images (and really photographs) become metaphors, although unlike language, they appear much more naturalized.  What I see here is a rethinking of Nietzsche’s outline: nerve stimuli à images (as well as words) à concepts.  I forgot to highlight, a very important highlight, in my other post that Nietzsche does make a clear distinction that images and words are not given equal value (although I know my outline doesn’t make that apparent).  An image is the first level of metaphor, and isn’t necessarily Nietzsche’s interest, and the sound, as it imitates the image, is the second metaphor. It is only at this second metaphor that we begin formulating concepts. “Let us further consider the formation of concepts.  Every word instantly becomes a concept precisely insofar as it is not supposed to serve as a reminder of the unique and entirely individual original experience to which it owes its origin” (1174). So, Barthes explores the formulation of concepts in particular to photograph images, something that Nietzsche, although he identifies images as metaphors, either didn’t care much about or chose to ignore how images and their metaphors contribute to concepts.  

What I found particularly interesting in Barthes’ chapter, particularly in the “The denoted image,” is how he connects consciousness to the photograph.  He remarks, “the type of consciousness the photograph involves is indeed truly unprecedented, since it establishes not a consciousness of the being-there of the thing (which any copy could provoke) but an awareness of its having-been-there.  What we have is a new space-time category: spatial immediacy and temporal anteriority” (44). With this remark, I began to think about Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities and his appropriated concept of ‘homogeneous, empty time’ (Anderson borrows this idea from Walter Benjamin’s Illuminations, in which Benjamin suggests the idea is particularly important to the emergence of modernity, and applies it to the construct of the nation and national consciousness), which .  This ‘homogeneous, empty time’ provided a means for people to think of others who are active in the community as they are as well.  The concept emerged with the novel, which provided its reader with a ‘God-position’ or objective view of a social landscape.  This concept is one of two parts to Anderson’s ‘homogeneous, empty time’: the ability to see multiple activities and people all at the same time; the second part being the conception of people embedded in ‘societies’, where they are sociological entities with a reality that their members can be connected without ever becoming acquainted (Anderson 25-26). This same scenario can be, and was, repeated in the novel and newspaper.  As readers read these two genres, they begin to identify themselves with a community, within a nation.  The reader begins to understand that others are active in the same way they are and have a commonality.

In my undergraduate thesis, I further extended Anderson and Benjamin’s concept of ‘homogenous, empty time’ to what I called Live Homogenous, Empty Real Time: the ability to see live events unfold in real time.  Similar to Anderson, I connected Live Homogenous, Empty Real Time to images and discourse of the American flag around Sept. 11, 2001 as a way to illuminate a fixation of the flag and deployment of American nationalism.  In other words, I saw ‘homogenous, empty time’ happening at an accelerated rate for discourses, mythologies and narratives to be constructed.  I also believe that ‘homogenous, empty time’ could not fit with emergent technologies, especially at the mass level, as television and the Internet offered a reconceptualizing of national consciousness.  While I didn’t focus much on Live Homogenous, Empty Real Time as a dimension of postmodernity and postmodernism (I slightly hinted at it), I think the concept should consider its particularity as a postmodern condition, and possibly I could expound upon the connection in a paper or possibly in my thesis.   

But, coupled with Postcomposition and Sid’s assertion that spatiality ought to be appropriated in writing, I would like to begin, not necessarily in this post, to consider how images, writing, spatiality and the nation function together.  Both Benjamin and Anderson direct our attention to the novel and print culture in formations of national consciousness as temporal. We see, as Dobrin has underscored, the attention to temporality and writing (primarily because of literature’s influence on Rhetoric and Composition).  But what if we consider a ‘homogenous, empty space’ or something along the lines of my argument: Live Homogenous, Empty Real Space?  I’m so conditioned, I think, in many ways to think about time and cultural phenomena.  But what about space?  This is why I think Sid’s hitting on an interesting point with space, and writing studies neglect of conceptualizing it.  And Sid may already be articulating a ‘homogenous, empty space’ or Live Homogenous, Empty Real Space.  Of course, my interest would lie in what subjects write about the nation with spatiality, how subjects write about the nation with spatiality, where subjects write about the nation, why subjects write the nation in particular spaces, et al.  But I think I’m seeing some connections, although I need to flesh out more ideas.

Barthes also articulates a definition of rhetoric as a set of connotators and appearing as a signifying aspect of ideology (49).  Rhetorics vary in their substance (sound, image, gesture, et al.), but “not necessarily by their form; it is even probable that there exists a single rhetorical form, common for instance to dream, literature and image” (49).  With this definition and conception of rhetoric, Barthes shifts away from, or desires to rethink, ancient and classical rhetoric structural issues, thus focusing on how rhetoric functions with culture.  And it is here, with the connection to culture, that culture, whether national, gender, racial or class, attempts to naturalize itself and its ideologies. As Barthes posits that rhetoric is constituted by numerous messages and develops as a part of ideology, I wonder what he makes of formed narratives.  I, possibly mistakenly, have typically considered an ideology as part of a larger narrative (in other words, narratives are composed of numerous ideologies and ideologies are composed of numerous messages/connotators). And this is also where I often get confused with Barthes: In Mythologies, he tends to equate ideology with myth, whereas I see myth and narrative as synonymous.

Anderson, Benedict. Imagined Communities. 3rd ed. New York: Verso, 2006. Print.

Barthes, Roland. Image Music Text. Trans. by Stephen Heath. New York: Hill and Wang, 1977. Print.

Bizzell, Patricia and Bruce Herzberg, eds. The Rhetorical Tradition. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2001. Print.

Sid Dobrin Postcomposition

Postcomposition Sidney I. Dobrin

Sidney Dobrin begins his book with asserting that composition studies will end at some point, if not very soon, or at least be redefined.  He makes clear that “it [the end of composition studies] won’t cause or signify the end of writing (or even writing instruction)” (1).  Early in the book, he defines writing and composition, stating that “composition (studies) [is] an academic discipline and composing [is] an act that is chained by that discipline to an understanding of student subjects performing that act (often only as academic performance). Writing is a phenomenon that requires the attention of intellectual and scholarly inquiry and speculation beyond composition. Writing is more than composition (studies)” (2).  Dobrin argues that composition studies needs to redirect much of its focus, specifically on writing instead of (writing) subjects and pedagogy, and calls for a disruption of the field, a particular disruption of epistemological and bureaucratic systems that perpetuate a neglect of the study of writing. He also discusses the historical lack of a methodology in composition studies, hence part of the reason why the writing classroom falls short on the purpose of teaching writing. This lack of a methodology connects to Sanchez argument too, in which Sanchez contends that epistemological and ontological concerns needn’t be addressed, but methodology ought to “be updated” (his proposed neo-empiricism) (“Outside the Text” 242). What I see here is the methodology will enable a disruption to the field.  As I see it (in connecting Sanchez and Dobrin’s positions), instead of “composition studies cast[ing] the classroom and the classroom compositionists as heroic figures and construe[ing] research as useful only if it reports on or has application to classroom practice” (9), the field can reconceptualize itself and its goals through methodological disruption. I, too, see this disruption important, particularly if we teachers desire to create a radical classroom and pedagogy.   

The first chapter, “Disrupting Composition Studies,” suggests a shift (student) subject to writing, which will in turn shift Composition Studies’ focus to writing theory and away from the realms of cultural phenomena ― ideologies, politics, subjectivities, agencies, identities, discourses, and rhetorics ― and how they exist before writing. “much of what is touted as composition theory is not theory about writing but theory about how writers write—or more often about writers themselves, issues of identity” (11). In addition, the field will shift away from an emphasis on writing pedagogies. Both these focuses ― student subject and pedagogy ― have limited the field’s borders and produced a conservative framework in thinking about composition, the classroom, teaching, and, most importantly, writing. In moving away from this focus and approach ― (student) subject, pedagogy and agency ― we, as he posits, develop a postcomposition (and actually a rethinking of what composition is), wherein we focus intently on the writing (although he also identifies the impossibility of concepts such as subject and agency). It sounds like Dobrin wants a balance of research on subject, agency and writing, which would enable a better understanding of subject/subjectivity, as well as the empowerment students have in writing ideology and culture (versus ideology and culture writing the students).  He is not the only proponent of this reconceptualizing of writing and subject, as he remarks, “Sánchez’s work and Susan Miller’s “Technologies of Self?-Formation” make clear that such an approach to understanding subject-formation is essentially the work of interpretation and that such approaches deny students—or at least deny that students have—the power to write the very artifacts of their own subjectivities” (14).

Dobrin contends that composition studies and compositionists resist theory for institutional (funding is available), as well as methodogolocial (the objects of study ― students ― are readily available) reasons, because of a lack of identifiable, tangible assessment of improvement (as the field is filled with teachers, bureaucrats, et al. who all believe in “improvement” of students’ writing).

The Space of Writing

The “post” in postcomposition that Sid calls for is a spatial, not a temporal, understanding of writing.  Composition, in continuing a literary tradition of reading and writing, has typically embraced the temporal, a conceptualizing that writing and texts function with and in time.  Dobrin discusses Gotthold Ephraim Lessing’s Laocoon: An Essay upon the Limits of Painting and Poetry (1766), a analysis of two strands of art ― poetry and painting ― and their relationship to time and space, to exemplify how composition has submitted to ideologies and methodologies that English departments, with their focus on Literature, such as poetry and fiction, function in progressive time.  In contrast, painting functions spatially.  What I see here is an interesting connection to images and the writing and composing of images.  If writing and composing comes to encompass something more than the written word, such as images, we can develop a different, and much more complex, understanding of what it means to write and what writing means.  But even if writing and composing doesn’t move beyond the written word,  the written word could continue to be performed spatially (as Sid exemplifies when he writes in the margins).

Dobrin identifies that composition studies have begun to accept spatiality in writing, particularly geographic and cartographic metaphors in which often space and place are conflated, as a way to explore student subjects (33).  But Dobrin quickly remarks on the limitations of metaphors, referencing Althusser’s position that metaphors limit theory and that theory, if one desires for a full development of it, requires a move beyond description and beyond theory (34).  Calling for a move beyond metaphors for describing writing will, a la Dobrin, break through the limits of compositions (as the current situation renders composition studies to continue to describe how students write or how teachers can best instruct students to write).  Yet, Althusser’s theory on metaphor and theory is only a beginning to understanding the relationship between space and writing. Thus, Dobrin explains Derrida and de Man’s positions on metaphors in which outside of metaphor is more metaphor, and asserts that “there is no linguistic, discursive, rhetorical, grammatical theory outside of metaphor; there can be no theory outside of metaphor” (35).  Hence, while he identifies the limits of metaphor and critiques the deployment of spatial metaphors in composition studies, he also agrees that it would be frivolous to dismiss metaphoric spatiality in the field. What he desires to work through is an approach to a “more-than-metaphor” in considering the “spatial properties of writing” (36).

At this point, I was curious as to what he meant by “spatial properties of writing.”  At first, I thought of a black alphabetic letter (letter “a”) inhabiting the white space of the page, filling “negative” space of the page, disrupting the potential of a consistency amidst the space of the page, working against and with the ideology of the space of the page (of course, Sid may slap me upside the head here for thinking about ideology), and transforming the space of the page.  I then began to consider when a word formed (the word “alphabet”), intensifying inhabitation, disruption and transformation. And, of course, when words formed (“alphabetic letter”) and how it continues to inhabit, disrupt and transform the space of the page as I string words along.  Yet, I’m still restricted by boundaries (the horizontal space between one line and another, the vertical space between the end of a line and the end of the page).  But I assume these boundaries are fixed (yes, I can change though the line spacing and margins), and this is the point, I think, Sid is trying to make: those boundaries are NOT fixed; we assume they are, but we have to disrupt the boundaries.

Sid continues with identifying the difference between space and place, with the latter being a moment of inscription, of a function of writing.  After exploring the philosophical inquires of space historically, he concludes that “definitions within space, are formulated through occupation” (39).  And it is during occupation, and when space becomes place, that meanings are produced.  “The moment of possibility exists in the moment prior to space becoming place, the moment before arrangement and meaning . . . this moment in space, the moment prior to order and arrangement, emerges from the edge of chaos. This is where writing—not text, but writing—occurs. We write in that space and at that time” (40).  Ultimately, he contends, and I concur, that space, as well as occupation, is political, not simply social. “all occupations are political; all considerations of the spatial must account for the political. All occupations are discursive, rhetorical, hegemonic. Through its occupations, space is not merely social; it is political” (43).

“space, then, is ambiguous in that it is freedom; it may be bordered or identified by means of places within its borders, but space is unstable, uncertain because of the possibilities it contains for occupation. Space is yet-to-be written. It is potential; it is imagination; it is the possibility and means of every discourse to disrupt every discourse, to disrupt its own discourse” (41).

After theorizing space, place and occupation, Dobrin brings the conversation back to the field of composition.  As most scholars focus on establishing composition studies historically, again evidence of literature and literary studies influence in temporally conceptualizing its definition, scholars submit (my wording) to the bureaucracy that will eventually homogenize (my wording) the field.  It is composition studies’ neglect of its own occupation ― its focus in FYW courses, writing programs and subject formation/administration ― that has rendered instability of itself.  If the field so desires to continue to exist, it needs to move beyond the (artificial) safety it currently occupies.

“Composition studies is in need of spatial disruption” (56).

Interesting remarks with posthumanism (I haven’t formulated thoughts on them yet, partially because of my ignorance of Posthumanism and Posthuman):

I like this quote: “If there is, as Sánchez claims, too much writing, it is because the technologies of storage and circulation have exceeded the possibilities of production. Production has taken a backseat to circulation and storage. It is not that there is more space in which to store writing; it is that writing moves (or flows) in more efficient ways . . . Circulation, particularly in a new-media, computer-mediated enhanced system of circulation, shifts the focus of writing away from the producer of writing to the writing itself and the systems in which it circulates. Such a move allows us to sidestep the disciplinary trap of subject, allows us to begin to theorize writing neither as process nor product but as occupying circulating spaces within space” (57-58).  And Sid continues with his larger argument about subjects: “Without subject, we assume (perhaps incorrectly), writing cannot be produced, distributed, circulated, or consumed” (60).

And another quote: “The technology is the subject; the subject is the technology. Given composition studies’ focus on student writing-subjects and that those subjects are inseparable from technology—for composition students embroiled in the culture of corporate America, this is easily identifiable in the pervasiveness of wearable and integrated information technology devices—we can no longer address writing-subjects, student or other, —as subjects but instead must begin to consider the posthuman position (or at minimum transhuman). Such a shift, then, demands a realignment of focus not upon the individual as producer/originator of writing but upon the complex systems in which the posthuman is located, endlessly bound in the fluidity and shiftiness of writing” (72-73).

“we must first acknowledge that the primacy of the student subject in composition studies results not from a genuine disciplinary interest in students as subjects, in students as writers, or even in subjects in general but grows from the simple fact that subjects are the primary capital of composition studies” (74).  “composition studies’ adherence to economic models have forced the field to value academic pursuits—those that deal in the capital of the institution, the students—over intellectual pursuits that often ignore the confine of capital in favor of the movement of speculation and possibility. Of course, I should also note that composition studies’ adherence to economic models is less a composition studies problem per se than it is a condition of higher education in general” (75).

“The act of writing, for instance, is inherently an act of resistance; it does not require a subject; it does not need an identifiable outlet of transfer to the subject from the text. Disruption is inherent in the mechanism of writing (see Žižek; Badiou; Derrida); it is not the intent of the subject. Writing resists. Ultimately, though, the thing that probably matters least in understanding writing is understanding subjects. To be clear: this is not a claim that there are no subjects, that subjects do not matter, or that subjects do not affect what we know about writing. This is simply the claim that in order to develop more accurate ways of describing what writing is and what it does, the subject must be removed not just from the center of the stage but from the theater and perhaps the entire theater district” (76).  “seeing writing not as the product (or process) of a producing subject but as a never-ending (re)circulation in which larger producing/desiring machines generate and perpetuate writing throughout network, system, and environment” (77).  “What is more interesting/useful in studying writing is not the agency of the subject or even of the writing-subject but the agency of writing itself, be it identifiable agency of specific texts, the recurring agency of writing in multiple, networked formations, or the intellectual agency of a concept, idea, or theory” (78).  “Agency—what we have traditionally thought of as the power of subjectivity—moves free of the subject, gaining occupancy in space through circulation and through appropriation, remix, and recirculation. No longer does agency remain with individual agents; instead, it travels, shifts, and evolves through the circulation of writing. Agency gains power not in individual nodes or conductors within the circulatory network but through its movement/velocity in network space, what Ridolfo has called “flows of information.” (I take up “flow” and “information” in later chapters.)” (79-80).

“if humans have always been enmeshed with their technologies, as Hansen and Clark suggest, then we can say that humans have always been cyborg, hybrid, or posthuman. The degree to which humans become posthuman comes into question depending upon the level of technology and the scale of integration. This begs the question as to whether the technological interaction can be thought of as inherently part of the human or inherently what makes the human always already posthuman” (86).

Systemic reactions.  Three points: (1) Intellectual reaction- theory/thinking from which technology emerges.  (2) cooperate/material reaction- “the extraction of resources to make expressions of the technology, the production of any material demonstration of the technology, the distribution/circulation of the technology intellectually or materially, the consumption of the technology and the material representations of the technology, and the disposal of the technology and its material mechanisms” (89).  (3) energy reaction- “evolves from the agency the technology attains and its ability to sustain, reinscribe, and spread its agency—its rhetorical velocity. The energy reaction is political; it is not inseparable from the intellectual or the corporate. The energy reaction results not from the ubiquity of a technology but from its invisibility, its ability to naturalize itself as not-technology” (89).

I do wonder how Dobrin would account for new discoveries in the sciences.  In several moments, he uses physics, such as two objects cannot occupy one space at the same time and create a place, to support how he conceptualizes space.  Yet, what about possibilities when physics is turned on its head?  For example, quantum physics, which proposes that an object can be in two places at the same time.  How does writing spaces and places change here?

I plan to play today with a Greimasian square (complements of Phil Wegner) to try to understand better the potentiality that Dobrin desires composition studies to move toward.

Dobrin, Sidney I. Postcomposition. Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press, 2011.

Sánchez, Raúl. “Outside the Text: Retheorizing Empiricism and Identity.” College English 74.3 (2012): 234-246.