Screen Rhetoric and the Material World

The debates we have about our relationships with the world (our questions about ontology) and the frameworks we make for understanding the world (our epistemologies) take on new meaning when cast through the computer screen. The screen begs for agile theories constructed around networks and systems. The screen becomes the essential composing space, the mediating surface where we find the exchange of what we used to call reading and writing.

Opening

The goal of this project is to enact scholarship through (rather than produce prose about) digital rhetoric. It's a huge challenge, given that we're meeting now through these words. The first task is to unlink words from the page, to see them as materials to be mixed, looped, arranged. As we liberate words from print, we're invited to link them instead to ideas and to shared constructions like science or gender or literacy. As we'll see, these words call forth the long enjoyed humanistic understandings that our representations correlate with material surroundings and/or constitute themselves the worlds we inhabit.

And then we need to see words as rooted in their materials, their inscriptions and instantiations! To see them not as marks for thought but as marks, instantiated as print on the leaves of books or here now on screen. Materializing as graphite or light, words as objects invite us to correct for the human bent and open the anticorrelationist possibilites of an object oriented world.

And we need to account for the aesthetic and rhetorical circuits of our words, for the ways they appear to our bodies and thoughts, for the ways we engage and produce them. And as we gather them together, we introduce temporal and performative movements into our thinking, reading, and composing. We see words in emergent circuits cast as networks or ecologies that include other texts, our ideas, other humans, animals, objects. . . .

So we need to account for the representational and aesthetic idea realm and recognize words as distinct from page or screen. And we need to consider the material instantiations of thought, the marks we encounter or create as objects in the world--and the composition that plays out during these exchanges through time. And we need to situate these exchanges within scalable (ideational and material) constructions that include people (and organisms), ideas, and things. We need a model that recognizes that conceptual and material levels coexist and overlap with one another. We need a layered conception. We need a multimodal scholarship. And so far we've only been talking about words. What happens our composing space features, among words, shifting arrangements of moving images and sound? Screen Rhetoric and the Material World explores that question.

Waves (Reponse to a Blog Post) : The Posthuman Turn and Discursive Return

On January 9th, 2012, Stanley Fish made a point of describing his New York Times piece as a blog posting. The posting offered a (mostly dismissive) overview of the digital humanities. The response in social media spaces, particularly on scholarly blogs, was intense and (mostly) critical. While examining the debate, I was overwhelmed by the flood of alphabetic text and struck by the irony of the extended debate about digital transformations taking place in longform prose. I spent a few days exploring the topic and planning my response, which I composed on the foggy evening of January 23rd. This video response forms the basis for this chapter:
Spillover

The Posthuman Turn

The Posthuman Turn We've always known our experience is mediated by the material world, but we've often viewed those engagements as emerging from our thoughts or choices, or at least as something that happens to us. Posthumanism considers what might follow if we take ourselves out of the equation. Object oriented philosophies represent a clear example of this turn in their focus on things. Graham Harmon explains that "intentionality will turn out to belong to every possible layer of reality, not only to human awareness" (23). Andrew Pickering says a machine can be a "balance point, liminal between the human and nonhuman worlds" (7). We're learning to acknowldge and defer to the agency of our machines. And we're learning as well to see our human behaviors and boundaries in a new light.

The Discursive Return

The Discursive Return There are so many words woven into this project, it's perhaps disingenuous to talk about printcentricity. Does it matter whether words are copy and pastable in word processor or composited here on screen? Yes. Yes and. Yes there is a level where consciousness meets words, where they gesture toward ideas and things (Nietszche). Whether through brain-based engagements (Hayles; Wolfe), or through linguistic performativity shaping our selves and our worlds (Butler; Taylor), we encounter all words at deeply constructive and personal levels no matter where they materialize in the world. Yes and. The composited image moving through screen differs from the word on page. Here you hear (and see) me flowing with the songs randomized on my iTunes library playlist. And here you read black marks on white space. We sometimes see that we're chained to meanings that once seemed natural but that are revealed as constructions; consider the collection of meanings we gather under the words, scholarly article. We're shaped, surely. Judith Butler says that "subversive practices have to overwhelm the capacity to read" (211). We need to be wary of words even as we renew our efforts to transform them.

Peforming Composing

The Making of the Video It's important to theorize the castings of language and thought, to analyze the meaning-making artifacts we encounter. And it's important to cast the artifacts, to learn through making meaning. Matthew Crawford notes that "a mechanic's perception is . . . an active process, bound up with . . . knowledge of patterns and root causes" (95). The compositional arrangements and movements of multimedia call for similar workings with mechanic's hands. We favor artifacts but new modes of reading acknowledge as well the making that informs them. And these makings illuminate our understandings of composing, revealing the importance of time spent with tools and materials, serendipity (Johnson), and improvisation (Sawyer).

Responses to Waves (Response to a Blog Post)

FLOWS (Response to Waves) by Virginia Kuhn Making Waves Making Ways: A response to Dan Anderson's Tooling an Ambient Response by Jason Loan

Alt Scholarship

In a recent bit of commentary on directions for scholarship, Kathleen Fitzpatrick advised digital humanists to "do the risky thing." It's good counsel, though not, I think, for any reason specific to work in digital realms. Education is about risk and trust, so to learn anything requires taking chances, reaching out. This project is built around examples that enact small risks related to recalibrating the mix of words and other materials in scholarship. As artifacts, the video texts challenge our conventions for reading and writing. The point is not for them to serve as evidence in some additive scholarly layer that exists outside of their frames. (Though it's fine if they emerge there as well.) The point is that the pieces themselves are asking to be accounted for as scholarship.

The pieces also speak to composing built around modes of performing. The suggestion is that the artifacts reveal our familiar boundaries and behaviors, which favor the expected in form and finish. There are no natural shapes for scholarship other than the ones we have constructed. The point is that performative modes reveal unrecognized realms where knowledge can flow in invigorating ways. The idea is that recalibrating our behaviors and attitudes to include the emergent movements of composing may be one way of responding to the limitations and boundaries that threaten to make what we value for it's rigor into something lifeless.

Postscript

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Truing

It's tough to discuss an artifact like Truing. I want to say, it's beautiful. It's an argument. It's an arrangement of online vidoes. It's tough to discuss since the text of Truing is meant to be experienced through live collaging of the Youtube clips--moving improvisationally between windows while typing the text of the piece with the screen projected in front of a crowd. Repeated endlessly. And never the same. Truing is difficult to describe because the text is performative (Taylor; Hawhee). And yet the text is captured here. It's beautiful. It displays the rhetorical and material moves of the screen. It carries forward the traces of its social composition. It embodies affect as mp4 file. "I like to think that the colors are a map, showing you that the film is thicker in some places and thinner in other places."
Truing

Screen Performance and Embodied Aesthetics

Truing For more recent performances of Truing, I've taken to turning the Web cam on the laptop and incorporating the feed into the video. The movements of the body while performing this composing are linked to nondiscursive materials--sound primarily. The music in the piece enacts the temporal dimension of performance, and so requires process to be a part of our aesthetics. And the role of the body offers a helpful corrective to casting the digital as immaterial. On the contrary, from the tactile touching of keyboard to the light striking photoreceptor in the eye to inscriptions as marks or electrons--all the way down, even to our ontological underpinnings--the material instantations of screen composing reveal the physical nature of making.

Screenshots

Screenshots Discuss arrangement and aesthetics. Discuss dynamics of space and movement. Discuss the role of space and movement in metaphysics.

Slow Combers

Slow Combers How text blends with other materials. The role of IP in screen aesthetics. The role of mood in aesthetics.

Responses to Screen Aesthetics

Response 1 Response 2 Response 3

Transaction Happening

Vine and vimeo, aesthetics in social spaces
Transaction Happening

Digital Materials

The core videos each chapter is built on are listed here. Each chapter contains additional videos.

[Chapter One] Waves (Reponse to a Blog Post) : The Posthuman Turn and Discursive Return

Waves (Reponse to a Blog Post)
Spillover
The Posthuman Prince Succumbs to the Discursive Turn
The Posthuman Prince Succumbs to the Discursive Turn
Quickstart Guide for Dismantling the New Aesthetic
Quickstart Guide for Dismantling the New Aesthetic

[Chapter Two] Watch the Bubble : Screen Rhetoric

Watch the Bubble
Spillover
Flickering Frames
The Posthuman Prince Succumbs to the Discursive Turn
Late November Sun through Window
Quickstart Guide for Dismantling the New Aesthetic

[Chapter Three] Truing, Screenshots, Slow Combers : Performance and Aesthetics

Truing
Spillover
Screenshots
The Posthuman Prince Succumbs to the Discursive Turn
Slow Combers
Quickstart Guide for Dismantling the New Aesthetic

[Chapter Four] Sediment : Metaphysics

Sediment
Spillover
Works with Materials
The Posthuman Prince Succumbs to the Discursive Turn
Now I Have Everything I Need
Quickstart Guide for Dismantling the New Aesthetic

[Chapter Five] Casting Learning into Flowing Streams : Pedagogy

Wheels
Spillover
Some Notes on Process
The Posthuman Prince Succumbs to the Discursive Turn
Casting Learning into Flowing Streams
Quickstart Guide for Dismantling the New Aesthetic

[Chapter Six] I'm a Map; I'm a Green Tree : Alt-Scholarship

I'm a Map; I'm a Green Tree
Spillover
Additional alt-scholarship videos will be included from respondents
Additional alt-scholarship videos will be included from respondents

Description

This project collects a number of videos that I have created over the course of the last few years. These range from pieces previously published in online venues to improvisational screencasts composed in response to a conversation or creative exigence. The central tension in the project results from the status of these videos as scholarly compositions that must be further situated among prose discussion for publication here. In many ways, the project is a response to the perennial question we ask (or ought to ask) upon reading about digital transformations in books or in longform prose on the screen: Why write about multimedia through alphabetic text? The videos themselves are examples of alternative scholarship, opening questions about academic knowledge creation: the roles of words, images, sounds, and movement; the possibilities for immersive, ambient, and responsive modes of reading; expectations of format, scope, and citation; attitudes about genre, voice, formality, and aesthetics; and related questions about scholarly recognition and rewards and the role of the academy in the world.

Conceptually, the project explores this tension through the lenses of screen rhetoric and through theories of knowledge that feature networked and ecological approaches. The rhetorical and theoretical threads woven into the project also include an emphasis on composing strategies and knowledge models represented with layers, tracks, response, immersion, and ambience as well as an emphasis on performance (both as a metaphysical concept and as ongoing activity). The prose within the project speaks to these concerns, and the hope is that the video materials enact them.

Each chapter is built around a significant video piece. The chapters also include several related videos as well as artifacts from the composing of the multimedia pieces. A series of prose explorations recast the videos through discussion of the project concerns--rhetoric, metaphyics, performance, pedagogy, and scholarship. Chapters also include responses from artists and scholars. These contributers will respond through a range of modes including prose and video. These responses are meant to open up the process of articulating the possibilities for screen rhetoric and alternative scholarship.

The project is deliberately resistant to familiar approaches. It calls for a composing kiltered toward the performative with emphasis on making and a healthy wariness of critique. It is also deeply concerned with representation, but committed to enacting that representation through compositions that see words as merely one among many modes for making knowledge.

Chapter Summaries

Waves (Reponse to a Blog Post) : The Posthuman Turn and Discursive Return
This chapter serves partially as an introduction by foregrounding the tension between digital composition and alphabetic modes of meaning making that have traditionally materialized in print or longform prose. The chapter focuses on a video created in response to a Stanley Fish blog posting on the digital humanities. The video argues that scholars may be translating what were once paper-based blind spots into the digital realm, missing opportunities to establish more subversive or transformative modes of reading and creating. In exploring the video and the questions it evokes, the chapter details concerns that might be grouped under the term posthumanism, with a particular emphasis on the relationships between humans and machines.
Watch the Bubble : Screen Rhetoric
Here, we explore screen rhetoric through the lens of the published video, Watch the Bubble (Kairos). The video traces movements in digital composing over the last two decades, offering reference points like early hypertext conceptions of screen rhetoric and their humanistic bents. The video also prompts discussion of multimodal initiatives in education over the last decade, including the foregrounding of visual rhetoric and the paradoxical analytical bent found in discussions of multimedia. The video also serves as a case study for exploring aspects of screen rhetoric that extend this earlier work. The temporal dimensions of screen rhetoric (manifest both in video artifact and composition and reception processes) are revealed through readings of the text. The material and rehtorical situations and affordances of using digital capturing as a mode of inscription are explored. And strategies for encountering and creating digital texts are extended through concepts of ambience, layering, sequencing, looping, and arranging.
Truing, Screenshots, Slow Combers : Performance and Aesthetics
As these materials occassion discussion of aesthetics, they yield further strategies for reading and composing on the screen and establish a link with creativity. The discussion examines the ways that cinema has been and can be used to illuminate screen based composing. The videos here are treated as aesthetic objects, and screen concepts of ambience, layering, looping, etc. are deployed through readings of the materials. This section of the project also takes up the performative idiom in it's multiple aspects. Performance is linked to its metaphysical level, evoking a range of approaches that respond to the problem of time. And performance is taken up for its theatrical dimensions through discussions of the screen as a performing space and the role of delivery in creative and scholarly texts. And the social dimensions of performance are addressed through examination of the exhanges through which the chapter videos circulate in the world.
Sediment : Metaphysics
This chapter examines in more detail the ontologies and epistemologies associated with the rhetoric of the screen. The focus is on understanding the material and temporal interplays represented in screen artifacts as well as the metaphysical models evoked by these exchanges. Using the seesaw moment where present becomes past, the discussion argues for conceptions that account for both things and events, objects and activities. Exploring the video, its composition, and its metaphor of sediment, the discussion brings together both event-driven and object-oriented philosophies, arguing for a definition of multimodal composing that accommodates the emergent moments when performance yields to representation. The video further serves to illicit discussions of scaling, layering, and boundaries, offering rubrics for gathering and casting metaphysical approaches using these and related metaphors.
Casting Learning into Flowing Streams : Pedagogy
Here, we revisit the concerns of the project through the lens of screen compositions created by students and the author. Reflections on the videos speak to the performative dimensions of the composing process. A focus on processes reveals the benefits that derive when improvisation and creativity are integrated as components of the classroom experience. A studio model for teaching is articulated, a model that foregrounds shifts in authority, emergent genres, and the social dimensions of communication. The model is also linked with DIY and craft approaches to knowledge production, particularly as they relate to aspects of mentorship, shared exploration, and motivation. These models and approaches recommend a multimodal composing approach that relies on a learning environment built around organized movements of risk and trust.
I'm a Map; I'm a Green Tree : Alt-Scholarship
This video initiates a discussion about multimedia scholarship. The video is perhaps the most traditional of the screen-based materials collected for the project. It speaks to continua of expectations concerning and framing devices for scholarship. The history of the video is traced, including its shared vetting as part of a 2010 Computers and Writing Conference Town Hall Meeting and its place within a trajectory of published multimodal scholarship. The chapter then enacts a conversation by collecting the reactions, exchanges, and last thoughts of the respondents who have contributed materials to the project.

Implementation

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