No Closer to Understanding Whales

“A whale can injure another whale with its sonar. A whale can speak to another whale across sixty miles of ocean. A whale is as intelligent as we are, just in a way we can’t quite measure or understand. Because we’re these incredibly blunt instruments” (Vandermeer, Jeff, Acceptance, 81).

When I encountered this passage in Jeff Vandermeer’s conclusion to his ecological sci-fi trilogy The Southern Reach, it allowed this week’s readings to click in ways that they previously hadn’t once I realized the source of the nagging feeling in my lower back. Throughout his trilogy, Vandermeer explores how ineffectual any of our existing technologies have been at improving life for humans and non-humans, and in this quoted moment from Acceptance, it became apparent to me that this may not necessarily have to do with our technologies innately being blunt instruments, but that the motives to innovate remain fairly singular and determined by a microscopic minority of humans who prefer blunt instruments.

The readings this week both point out to the incredible imagination and ambition of Western scientists in the early to mid 20th century, but also the relatively limited scope of what they conceive of technology, and their optimism bordering on naïveté regarding its application. In light of Angela M. Haas’s article on ‘Wampum as Hypertext’, it becomes even clearer to me that in addition to all the many ways I have come to learn that hegemonic constructs choke the world, another that I’ve been ignorant to until this time is how Western hegemony has narrowed our conceptions of advancements in technology, reducing our innovations to merely creating new iterations of the same blunt instruments. We have continued to expand our technologies, preventing them from entering entropy, but what are we ultimately achieving through these advances beyond increases in efficiency and aesthetic variation? Well aware that this is a basic question, I also add: how can we, like Sequoyah, create a technology that does something different and operates from new ontological frameworks without unconsciously borrowing from hegemonic powers?

Continue reading “No Closer to Understanding Whales”

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Keeping Intentions Invisible

 

Response to Jody Shipka’s Towards A Composition Made Whole

 Mediation brings awareness in a manner by breaking down composition, a process often thought of as a singular sterile linear event, into its true form as a mess of constraints, environmental factors, and failed attempts. As I completed Jody Shipka’s Towards A Composition Made Whole, her framework’s focus on mediation started to clarify some of my thinking on capital-C Composition. Shipka’s framework works to bring greater awareness to the composing process for those enrolled in the course, “[making] the invisible visible so that it can be acted on differently” (Shipka 128), and this goal of greater awareness within an individual composing process has great potential for (re)inspiring student’s thoughts regarding the more complex composition of social systems.

Shipka argues that rather than a traditional focus on discreet skill-building, a composition course can instead offer people an opportunity to investigate their decision-making throughout the composing process, focusing on how composing is mediated by historical, social and technological factors. The responsibility placed on peopled enrolled in the course to generate their own products, operations, resources and appropriate conditions keeps the class rigorous, and dispels, at least my own, cynical presumptions about its inanity, a diversion on equal footing with adult coloring books. Remarkable about Shipka’s framework, and something she understates, is that the focus on historical, social and technological factors not only benefits students’ awareness about how they compose or what occurs while they compose, but also initiates questions about the way their bodies and the systems those bodies operate it in can also be mediated and considered with the same degree of rigor. And what I like about that is that it’s not something that needs to be stated in the course least it ends up configuring the course into one on social and political discourse. Continue reading “Keeping Intentions Invisible”

If One Made Writing, What Can We Do?

 

Response to Ellen Cushman’s The Cherokee Syllabary Intro to Chapter 4

When we talk about the craft of writing, we’re usually referring to how its reworked, expanded, contracted, crossed out, and amended on a page, in order to convey meaning in ways that feels satisfactory to the writer for whatever their imagine the writing’s purposes to be. Reading The Cherokee Syllabary however has expanded my notions of writing craft as well as the way I previously perceived the emergence of writing as a technology. Sequoyah’s work in creating the Cherokee Syllabary recalls the activity of Theuth described in Plato’s Phaedrus, but here that work takes on a political element absent in the Egyptian god’s divinely powered craft.

Often when people imagine Native American resistance they conjure up images of violent retaliation or solemn protests most regularly shown in stark black and white history book illustrations. Sequoyah disrupts that narrative by using writing, a technological system, to simultaneously unite and enhance the diversity of means the Cherokee people were able to communicate and develop their culture in the face of stolen geographic spaces. Exceptional to me about Sequoyah’s work was his amazing perseverance in spite of his lack of support from family and friends in crafting a writing system from trial and error despite a lack of traditional literary or linguistic education (Cushman 34). This trial and error component of his crafting of the syllabary makes me question the source of a technological system like writing. Continue reading “If One Made Writing, What Can We Do?”

Horner & Shipka Against Stasis

Response to Bruce Horner’s Rewriting Composition Chapter 4, Value, and Jody Shipka’s Towards a New Composition Intro and Chapters 1 and 2

In response to Bruce Horner’s and Jody Shipka’s ideas about a composition coursed based in translingualism and mediated action, respectively, Alexandria Janney, a colleague, asks “if the general population of faculty and staff in Composition is on board, where is the best place to start with enacting these [curricular] changes?” Initially, this was also the question I was left with at the conclusion of these readings, understanding that such a sea change in Composition would necessitate its embrace by all human agents involved. Should it be the responsibility of WPAs to enact such a curricular change, or would that merely engender a paternalistic tone that’s been to the potential detriment of programmatic coherence? If not them then, what about Composition instructors themselves working towards process-centric approaches in an effort to empower themselves and their students? Or would their efforts solely be seen as avoidance of the real work of Composition classes, and soon enough squashed?

Once I started thinking that maybe the answer is all of the above simultaneously, I started to ask a different question. How would the tension of external relevance (Horner 52) impact attempts at removing product-based ideas of the Composition course? And in thinking of external relevance, I’m not thinking of some tyrannical opponent of these changes in the form of either the university institution or Western neoliberalism incarnated as multinational corporation (although I imagine both may take issue with what Horner and Shipka think). Instead, I wonder how people enrolled in composition would respond to a course that exists outside the realm of static, product-oriented views of composition. Continue reading “Horner & Shipka Against Stasis”

Intent Has Nothing To Do with It

I already thought that this whole writing thing likely didn’t have its origins in wonderfully performed plays or some divine force prior to reading Denise Schmandt-Besserat’s How Writing Came About even despite my lack of familiarity with much linguistic history theory. Perhaps I’m too distrustful of humanity since I didn’t expect much less of us than to have writing, this beautiful wondrous communication technology responsible for all the art and communications I’ve experienced, have as its origin story a situation where people wanted to more efficiently count goods without having to continue dedicating warehouses to an ever-expanding system of tokens. However, the implications of the argument made by Schmandt-Besserat leave me feeling a sense of unease as a result of some of the factors that led to tokens’ increasingly complex system and the eventual formation of writing. Namely, I couldn’t move beyond the idea that increasing concerns for centralized spaces of redistribution, and therefore taxation to maintain and build new state buildings and infrastructure, largely factored into the evolution of abstract counting and then writing.

According to the archaeological research of Schamndt-Besserat, trade actually played very little into the developing of counting technology. Early on, exchange of goods happened face to face. A person with a sheep met a person with some rice, and they exchanged their goods without any need to measure out the fairness of the transaction against an external standard other than perhaps the work required to nurture the animal or grow the crop. We also learn from the tokens that the creation and exchange of manufactured goods such as perfumes and oil were not what drove tokens’ increased complexity, but rather the state’s taxation of both farmed and manufactured goods requiring that people begin to account for them in order to have on record the transactions they made (Location 1907-1908). And here, I’m going to give these ancient states the benefit of the doubt and believe that they were not acting with any malicious intent in spurring tokens’ greater complexity, but were simply trying to ensure they got the goods necessary for redistribution as well as provisions for state officials working to keep oil lamps on. And how would such malicious intent even be possible since tokens evolved over 700 years? Yet, and a lot of the rest of this is now just conjecture, that increasing need to account for things had to have some impact on the way people conceived of both ownership as well their sense of individuality, and over millennium since has perhaps facilitated the transformation of many languages into communication systems that renders people from one another. Continue reading “Intent Has Nothing To Do with It”

Composition As Language Excavation

Horner’s suggestion of a translingual approach to composition functions as a means of decolonizing the composition classroom, and reifies people’s opportunity to collaborate on a composition course that’s coadaptive to the needs of students, educational institutions and language itself.

“In this class, you’ll talk and write English.” That was a common refrain from composition instructors throughout my Belizean tertiary education at a junior college, locally referred to as 6th form. In Belize City, the country’s commercial capital, the common vernacular is Kriol, a Creolized English (whether it qualifies as a language or dialect is continuously debated) traditionally based on British English, but now mostly influenced by American English. By taking these courses, I was able to experience the problem of monolingualism within composition courses as described by Bruce Horner in chapter 2 Language’ in his book Rewriting Composition: Terms of Exchange. Continue reading “Composition As Language Excavation”

RhetTech Log: Finding The Ambience in Urban Design

 

 

“Rhetoric is intimate with the environments in which it emerges. intimacy is not solely human-based.” (152)

“For ambient rhetoric, connection is already given as possibility by the world itself.” (103)

 

Q: What fields concerning technology, in addition to music and writing, may we benefit from in employing an ambient rhetoric framework?

 

Ambient Rhetoric is primarily interested in reorienting the way in which we [scholars] traditionally conceive of rhetoric, and disrupt several of the binaries that have become cornerstones of rhetorical teaching. Among those binaries, Ambient Rhetoric highlights in chapter 5 the subject object divide in the act of persuasion. Through exploring notions of agency and language-making from Kenneth Burke, Debra Hawhee and Heidegger, Thomas Rickert makes the case that persuasive control ultimately rest not in the hands of the rhetor in an attempt to persuade an audience, but that all agents within the ambient environment operate alongside each other to allow for persuasion to occur. What most excited me about this chapter was its utility in discussing relationships between states and its citizenry that are generally accepted as both hierarchical and static, relying on underlying assumptions of subject-object between states and citizens. Specifically, I found persuasion within an ambient rhetoric context a productive means of exploring contemporary urban design since it ideally considers “place, language and body into coadaptive, vital and buoyant interaction,” (107) much like ambient rhetoric.

In Unpleasant Design, a book I originally heard about on the wonderful 99% Invisible podcast, the contributors [urban designers and artists, sociologists, and architects] explore different means by which states have reformed urban spaces to make them unpleasant to [mis]use in a manner other than what is intended by the state. A prominent example discussed throughout the book being the installation of arm rests on public benches in order to deter people from sleeping on those benches, a design solution that most effects marginal groups such as the homeless. Examining this scenario from a traditional rhetorical perspective, we can recognize the linear subject-object manner that the state sees as their role in controlling the use of urban space. In the case of the public benches, the state as subject sees that the presence of homeless people in public spaces negatively impacts the space, perhaps by deterring other people and decreasing the commercial activity occurring within those spaces. Continue reading “RhetTech Log: Finding The Ambience in Urban Design”

Long Live Print, Brick, and Mortar (Part 2: Buy The Guilt Away)

[This is the second installment on my blog posts about why I buy print comics weekly. You can read the first one here. I wrote this post a week ago, but never managed to save it. It was pretty eloquent and heartfelt too, so sorry if the version you’re reading doesn’t seem to have the urgency generated by quick consumption of chai lattes.]

Being raised Catholic, you learn quite a few things very early on, things like touching yourself is BAD, touching other people before marriage is BAD, and feeling guilty for failure to prevent any calamity, regardless of scale or your agency in the situation, is quite natural and a well-deserved feeling. Even after mostly putting the Catholic thing behind me, I’m still prone to intense bouts of guilt, and if I’m honest it’s commonly a major motivating force behind the majority of actions I do on any given day. Like nonsensical spider powers, or the ability to become a dotted line version of yourself though, I decided to put this energy towards good use when possible, such as caring for others even when they’re being immense assholes or telling the truth in situations where the other person isn’t likely to find out by other means.

It’s this same guilt that also results in my inability to occupy coffee shops without purchasing at least one item every other hour. And it’s for that reason I haven’t been to Interzone, my favorite Corvallis coffee shop in over a week as I wait in the limbo between paychecks. In the past whenever I’ve tried to simply hang around while waiting to meet a friend or burning time between classes, my brain would start screaming,

“THIS PLACE WILL SHUT DOWN BECAUSE PEOPLE LIKE YOU COME HERE, USE THEIR WIFI TO READ MOVIE REVIEWS OF MOVIES YOU’LL LIKELY NOT SEE, AND STICK AROUND FOR SEVERAL COFFEELESS HOURS.”

(André’s Brain, every damn day) Continue reading “Long Live Print, Brick, and Mortar (Part 2: Buy The Guilt Away)”

Long Live Print, Brick, and Mortar (Part 1)

Like a lot of post-grad English majors, I make very little money. Laughable amounts. Laughable as in if you laughed in the direction of the small stack of bills I make monthly, you could blow it all away with the sonic energy emitted from your vocal chords. Added to this problem is the fact that, like a lot of people, I like nice things. Food for instance. My wonderful housemate and I work up some pretty stellar meals, each of us spending about twenty-five bucks on average every week on groceries (half of what I used to spend when I lived in previous living situations), which keeps me out of junk food and crappy restaurants. In addition to said food, rent, beer, and five dollar thrift store trips, my major regular, and definitely luxury expense, are print comics: light of my life, and occasional fire of my loins.

I’ve been buying print comics weekly since moving to the small town of Corvallis, Oregon for grad school a little over two years ago. Before then, I had only occasionally made my way to a comic shop when I lived in Houston for four years, and before that my mom sometimes generously bought me a comic on trips to the grocery store, never experiencing the glories of having my very own subscription list. When I made it to Corvallis, and found Matt’s Cavalcade of Comics, the only local shop dedicated to selling comic books as well as other indoor kid keep stuff (cards, models, board games and the like), I felt like there was little excuse not to become a regular customer other than the fact that, again, I had very little money. Deciding early on to limit myself to two to three comics a week, the weekly bike excursions to the comics shop located in a shopping center next to an always busy nail salon became one of the foundations to diminishing grad school stress whenever term papers, conference deadlines, and boring committee meetings swirled around me.

Even though I have a great love of comics, and have only grown to love the medium more since becoming a regular visitor to Matt’s, the weekly purchase has continued remained a source of minor guilt for myself that required frequent self-justification as to why the expense was worth it. After all, at 6-8 bucks weekly for two comics, I’m spending a solid $416 a year on weekly comics, not counting trade paperbacks and the occasional hardcover collection or graphic novel. Therefore I’ve put my mind on overdrive to come up with a list of justifications for why these purchases are worth eating out infrequently, going on fewer day trips, and only ever buying three buck chuck wine. Every other day until I run out of reasons, I’ll be writing a bit on a reason for my continued comic purchasing habit in an effort to maybe open a bit of a dialogue on the pros of print comics, and hopefully source new healthy reasons to continue my addiction given that some of the ones I currently have are motivated by self-flagellating feelings, my specialty on the emotional spectrum. Continue reading “Long Live Print, Brick, and Mortar (Part 1)”

Comic Reviews for Week 1 in November

The Humans #1Humans-#1-11.6.14

It’s amazing how a second reading can change your opinion on a text. I recall reading Tom Sawyer in high school, and intensely despising it before coming back years later and realizing how genius and hilarious it was. Similarly, and Twain might spin in his white suit for this, the first time around The Humans read like nothing more than an escapist fantasy of misplaced nostalgia for a time and place that were not all that great, and to boot it just felt like sexist drivel thanks to one page early on.

Therefore when I got around to reading it a second time in preparation for this review, I was surprised by how much my opinion had changed. I still thought of it as lewd and intensely vulgar however I recognized that this issue isn’t even the beginning of the story of the Humans (confirmed in the issue’s stellar backmatter by creators, Keenan Marshall Keller and Tom Neely), serving only as the prologue before shit goes haywire for them, and the fantasy of their unrestricted life starts to fall apart (Read the complete review here).

Penny-Dora-#1-11.6.14Penny Dora and The Wishing Box #1

Funny how a comparison between two texts can be enough to compel you to read something. Such was the case with Penny Dora, which I had read somewhere that it’d appeal to fans of Coraline. While this first issue lacks the same level darkness that tinges all of Gaiman’s stories, it does merit the comparison thanks to its focus on telling a story about a kid that appeals to both kids and adults.

Winner in the category of most self-explanatory comic title this week, Penny Dora and the Wishing Box is about the titular Penny, and the Wishing Box that comes into her life on Christmas Day. Living in a cookie-cutter suburban neighborhood who’s only individualistic quality are the mailboxes that dot the streets, Penny lives with her mother in what appears to be a content household other than the absence of Penny’s dad due to her parent’s divorce. Continue reading “Comic Reviews for Week 1 in November”