Making Waves Making Ways: A response to Dan Anderson's "Waves (A Response to a Blog Post)" by Justin Hodgson

In "Serial Composition," Geoffrey Sirc asks us to rethink the conditions of the composition classroom, to consider modes and types of writing beyond the (traditional) essay, and to seek other aesthetics and even rhetorics in relation to the kinds of writing our students do or should do or want to do. Particularly, he turns to the avant garde artists and sculptors of the 1960s and 1970s, pointing out while the rest of the world embraced the aesthetic and philosophical shifts ushered in by the art world, composition lagged behind. For Sirc, what seemed vital in the new works of the avant garde, particularly of artist like Carl Andre, was a focus on the materials of expression. For Andre, what was central was not simply juxtaposing different material elements, but bringing them into relation without combining them: as Sirc tell us, Andre wanted to "preserve their quality as pure cut as much as possible, rather than transmute them through an arbitrary, predetermined combinatory logic" (63). We can see, I think, this same kind of preservation in Dan Anderson's "Waves (A Response to a Blog Post)."

As a video production, it would have been relatively easy for Anderson to combine the text with the visual elements—to type the text right on top of the "Postcard" video, for example. Or he might have compressed the visual/video elements as well—putting the movie elements inside other movies, flattening the visual plane. But Anderson chose to retain each element's box—making his production a game of boxes in boxes, so to speak (perhaps a different-yet-same kind of box logic). Meaning, while Anderson's final production is still a flattened kind of video creation, the techniques involve point not to the activities of video recording/editing, but rather to screen capture: to a live recording of a performance of screen-media elements. Further, while each of these screen-media may be reduced to a shared material base—"it's 1s and 0s all the way down"—they maintain their distinctness (despite what Friedrich Kittler may have wanted us to believe).

Not only is Anderson's project composed with an attention to the kind of expressive-materiality of each screen-media element, and not only might it embody a different kind of writing style that Sirc might find appealing, but by maintaining the distinction in each element Anderson prevents us from being able to let go of the particular acts of mediation of each and the ways in which each mediation sets upon us. That is, because of the kind of boxed-performance here (using the windows on the screen to maintain separation, while simultaneously layering them on top of one another), we can never fully rid ourselves of the imposition of the mediating act—i.e., the particular ways each medium mediates. As such, there is a perpetual tension in Anderson's piece as we try to render the fragments together, not only in terms of content and occurrence but in terms of media as well.

For me, this speaks to the heart of the matter in this kind of work, which asks us to consider two dynamics: 1) our relationship with digital media and 2) that digital media is meant to be made or performed, not written (about). To this end, Anderson's project not only creates a kind of perpetual tension with how we relate to the media, but nearly demands a kind of doing or making from its viewers (rather than merely responding, which, I must add, was difficult to do only in text). In fact, even this kind of textual response feels wanting because digital media like Anderson's project demands engagement—asking not that we understand, but that we make: i.e., what can we make with this project, of this project, from this project? In what sense (and by which senses) does this project hold meaning for me?

Sirc quotes sculptor Richard Serra as saying, "We evaluate artists by how much they are able to rid themselves of convention, to change history" (63). I think Anderson's performance turns convention over as he renders his computer or laptop and its screen as instrument. He not only makes with the device, but he composes and performs as well, and in so doing introduces a different kind of aesthetic for how we think about expression. Andre said that the artist is one who is responsible to "the values of craft—a process of making and selecting—and to the task of making that craft intersect with contemporary life as it is felt and seen" (40; cited in Sirc 72). I think Anderson's project shows this responsibility to craft not only in the fact that he uses the craft as a fundamental part of how he is calling attention to our mediating acts, but also in the fact that he grounds his production in very real, felt moments in life. Anderson crafts an impossible engagement for us, and we are left wanting to make something in return.