Michael Meeder ENG 500: Research Methods November 1, 2010
Such disruption can be destructive, but creativity can also occur at the edge of chaos… M ark C. Taylor Introduction: Diving into Complexity
With recent advances in communication technologies that have given rise to new
affordances of connection, our current cultural situation—or the contemporary “network space” we find ourselves negotiating—is a marked shift from the past, and this implicates the need for a new model of rhetoric that is culturally-‐aware, adaptive, and consequently, quite complex. The emerging affordances from truly communicative mediums such as the Internet, as opposed to previous one-‐way transmission models like television and radio, help unveil the networked complexities of our social world, making visible the intricacies and interconnectedness of everything in our universe as a complex adaptive system (Manovich). A shift in focus from the “casual forces at work on individual elements to the behavior of the system as a whole” has been happily taken up by the sciences. Rhetoric as well as composition studies can be included too, as long as we can all shift our paradigm— together. As complexity theory deals with the “language of dynamic systems” (Lansing 189), it is reassuring to find some new scholarship from the field of rhetoric and composition deliberating and adapting the models of classical rhetoric to this emerging “post-‐human”
landscape.1 Cutting-‐edge works from a handful of rhetorical scholars have tackled “the role of technology in redefining rhetoric, writing, and ‘the human’” (Worsham and Olson ix). As the topic has provoked such reexamination of rhetorical theory, new pedagogies for teaching writing in a cybernetic world as well as new ways of thinking about the emergence of public ideas are some of the more promising outcomes. Below I will briefly address the exigency of a complex, network rhetorical theory. I will review literature from rhetorical scholars who have tipped their hat towards technology and those who have written the books on complexity theory. My research accounts for a newly emerging theory of rhetoric based on this theory of complexity and network space, amounting to a series of polarities initiated by Mark C. Taylor and Byron Hawk. From there, I seek to instantiate this emerging theory’s most salient and rhetorical elements through the visual art I found, simply, on my wanderings about my own strange loops on the Internet—and therefore my process of finding the art will be implicated, as well as the sites (networks) traversed. Review of Literature Part I -‐ Problem “The desire for simplicity has haunted rhetoric and composition for most of its history, from stock forms for producing oral speeches in ancient times to simple processes for the production of written texts in contemporary times” begins Byron Hawk at the opening of “Toward a Rhetoric of Network Culture: notes on polarities and potentiality” (2008). An historian of composition himself, he admits that rhetoric and composition have been seeking the most refined, simplest explanations on how to compose. “On the one hand, expressivists responded to writing’s complexity by abandoning system altogether. On the other, rhetoricians of various stripes have tried to produce simple systems that make
1 This term does not entail the end of humanity and will be dealt with in the below. Taken out of context, it seems frightening, as do computers to compositionists.
writing teachable” (145). Hawk finds value instead with the backbone of Mark C. Taylor, having penned a clearly understandable, non-‐schizophrenic work called The Moment of Complexity: Emerging network culture. While it is not my intention to retrace the history of composition here, I will summarize by saying the “general model” precedes any notions of complex adaptive systems as an integrative approach to rethinking rhetorical theory and praxis. However, if we look to art, as does Manovich (“What is Visualization?”), we see that a notion of complexity goes as far back as the late 19th century. The strain continues to the present day, evoked in the systems movement especially, and now with the affordance of computers, a digitally, data-‐driven form of art has emerged. I am getting ahead of myself here, so I shall return to my discussion of systemic art and visualization in my methodology. However, one figure remains salient and that is the triange. Hawk invokes the image of the “triangle model” repeatedly when choosing to elucidate a division between older, outdated theories, and the complexity of emerging notions of networks and media. The symbol of the triangle (borrowed from communication studies) refers to a static non-‐complex system that is over-‐ simplified (and yet horribly confusing when graphed). The triangle asks: Are rhetoricians/compositionists stuck in a paradigm? At a time when such provocative work dealing with networked and multimodal compositional practices is being theorized and written about by authors like David Sheridan, Jim Ridolfo, Anthony Michel, Kristie S. Fleckenstein, Barbara A. Biesecker, Jenny Edbauer, and many others, the "cultural strangeness [towards computers and technology] is off-‐putting" to those who deal comfortably with technology such as Cynthia Selfe (1163). The problem is reflected, and begins with, as Cynthia Selfe describes, the way "computer technology and its use in teaching composition…seems to be the single subject best guaranteed to inspire glazed eyes and complete indifference in that portion of the CCCC
membership which does not immediately sink into snooze mode” (Selfe 1163). Her humanist-‐minded colleagues eschewed the computer—a symbol they did not see as fitting within their paradigm of books and print. "[T]echnology is either boring or frightening to most humanists [in the field of composition]" writes Selfe. "[A] preference for the non-‐ technological still pervades our community" (1164). Selfe herself is one notable exception, as her work continues to deal with multimodal composition methodology in networked environments. The tendency to rely on print, and not develop rhetorical modes of analysis based on networked complexity and working with/in newer media holds back scholarly interests. Several scholars have also implicated that not adapting to a complex system of analysis in emerging network culture could very well be the end of rhetoric and the beginning of semiotics, which has been waiting to replace rhetoric (See, for instance, the treatment of Roland Barthes’ “The Old Rhetoric: an aide to memoire” in Don Paul Abbot’s “Splendor and Mistery: Semiotics and the End of Rhetoric”). "When we use the more familiar technology of books, for instance, it is mostly within a familiar ideological system that allows us to ignore the persistence of print and our role in this persistence....as a seamless whole" (Selfe 1165). “We think of computers as a simple tool that individual faculty members can use or ignore as they choose, but also one that the profession, as a collective whole—and with just a few notable exceptions—need not address too systematically. And so we have paid technology issues precious little focus attention over the years” (1165). By using the words whole and systematically, Selfe invokes a language that is evocative of not just the technology she is talking about, but also the larger environment that models of rhetoric and pedagogies of composition have also ignored. Similarly homologous is my extensive quotations here, which serve to function more as a whole than mere words taken briefly out of context.
Hakim Bey confronts this avoidant mode of reasoning in “Seduction of the Cyber Zombies.” Agreeing with Selfe that technology, which has been embedded in culture so well and for so long that it appears to be natural and therefore blends in with our environment (Selfe; Hawk 2004), Bey scourns those who choose to dismiss newly emerging technologies, further contributing to what Selfe calls “isolated pockets” of the composition community who do actively discuss issues related to technology in composition (1165). Bey questions the reasoning for consciously disengaging from the idea of network space: "Luddites who deny this are simply making themselves look uninformed-‐-‐-‐and badly disposed toward good causes. The original Luddites were no indiscriminate machine-‐smashers-‐-‐-‐they intended to defend their hand-‐looms and home labor against mechanization and factory centralization. Everything depends on situation, and technology is only one factor in a complex and many-‐valued situation. Exactly what is it here that needs to be smashed?" (Bey “Seduction of the Cyber Zombies”) Bey is not trying to isolate a situation, hence his terms complex, everything, and many- valued: he is speaking to an audience that perhaps has not developed a new paradigm, one which, Hawk elaborates calmly: sees cognition, thinking, and invention as being beyond the autonomous, conscious, willing subject... A writer is not merely in a situation but is a part of it and is constituted by it. A human body, a text, or an act is the product not simply of foregrounded thought but of complex developments in the ambient environment. Hawk tries to move towards a conception of post-‐techne, where there are different things that operate differently in different contexts but that bodies, technologies, and texts are their context. There is no separation. From the perspective of
ambience, there is no communications triangle with autonomous but connected points. There is only relationality. (Hawk:2004, 378).2 Bey questions the “Net to further the purpose of communicativeness” in his conclusion (parenthetics and underlining his own): Ultimately it seems there's no escape from technology or alienation. Techné itself is prosthesis of consciousness, and thus inseparable from the human condition. (Language is included here as techné.) Technology as the obvious melding of techné and language (the ratio or "reason" of techné) has simply been a category of human existence since at least the Paleolithic. But-‐-‐-‐are we permitted to ask at what point the heart itself is to be replaced by an artificial limb? At what point does a given technology "flip" and begin producing paradoxical counterproductivity? If we could reach a consensus on this, would there still exist any reason to speak of technological determinism, or the machinic as fate? In this sense, the oldtime Luddites deserve some consideration. Techné must serve the human, not define the human. (Bey 1997) Bey’s questions remain something for rhetoric to contend with. Yet, he brings up the word techne, which he states is a component of technology. Therefore, we can begin to see the logic developing around a working definition of technology, techne, and skill as the term post-techne emerges in Byron Hawk ‘s treatment of the classical word techne in “Toward a Post-‐Techne—Or, Inventing Pedagogies for Professional Writing.” This piece in particular ties together aesthetics, art, human relativism, and rhetorical/compositional studies. It also predates his 2008 “Towards a Rhetoric of Network Culture.” Quoting Heidegger in his
2 This reminds me of an unknown quote on one of the tumblr sites I will later turn to, which states simply: “We are here to soften the edges of life for each other” in between the artwork. Another quote: “no words, only perspectives.” And yet another: “Activate the light spaces within.” http://synapticstimuli.com/
discussions on techne and art, Hawk states that “[b]oth technology and aesthetics are connected and viewed as art, as techne. As techne they produce ways of seeing and ways of being; they produce constellations, which in turn produce possible ways for humans to be in relation to the world,” (2004:376). Turning to Rutsky’s conception of high-‐techne, Hawk describes it: “as an artistic practice that emerges from a constellation of humans, technology, culture, and the world that ‘continually breaks things free of a stable context or fixed representation, representing them instead as part of an ongoing process or movement.’ “The key point in Rutsky is that being human in the contemporary context is not reduced to exerting human will through technology; it is not about intervening through technology but about dwelling with/in technology, with/in a culture that is intimately intertwined with technology in multiple, complex ways. (376-‐7) This salient point from Rutsky gives shape to the discussion of “polarities” we receive from Hawk’s adaptation of Mark C. Taylor’s theory of complexity, which is (according to Hawk) almost a complete rhetorical theory, yet not fully realized as such because Taylor does not address the concept of affect (pathos) (146). Hawk works around this by citing another Taylor—Charles Taylor—as well as Brian Massumi regarding pathos/affect. But, again I am getting ahead of myself. Let me back up a step. Part 2 – Network Culture & Rhetorical Theory: Polarities of Key Terms
Below I will briefly re-‐enact the polarities that Hawk and Taylor revolve around in
“Toward a Rhetoric of Netowrk (Media) Culture.” As polarities, Taylor’s theory and Hawk’s response can be conceived of as “initial linkages [which] cannot provide a fully fleshed out rhetorical theory in a short response [to Mark C. Taylor], but instead enact strange loops, set[ting] ideas in motion” (146). The first part he discusses is the grid.
Heuristics : Schemata (Grids) Heuristics are (simplistic) sets of orders/questions that one can use to formulate an idea or ideas. However, these “grids” can become locked, resulting in all too often the same outcome. Schemata, Taylor revises, “change in response to input” (146). Hawk concludes that “(1) students needs to develop their own schemata to fit their particular topics/situations, and (2) if we give them a schemata first, their goal should be to revise those schemata as a part of the invention process rather than follow them prescriptively” (147). Gregory Ulmer, in Heuritics: the logic of invention, comes closest—summates Hawk— to applying Taylor’s work. Instead of using Aristotle’s heuristic, “invents his own and asks his students to do the same” (147). My idea of heuristics and their failure is the never-‐ helpful “Help” FAQ or Troubleshooting steps on a computer. “Did this answer your problem?” I can tell they are trying to make these questions lead to a helpful answer, but they never do for me. With greater depth and flexibility, perhaps they could. Using the painting by Chuck Close as an instantiation of the grid, Taylor and Hawk offer a different sort of grid, one whose individual tiles are entirely separate abstract paintings, a network logic where the whole extends beyond the sum of its parts. This feeling, this recognition, unlocks one from the rigidity of the grid.
Dissoi-‐Logoi : Polarities (Strange Loops)
The old technique of arguing the oppositional side to make one’s original argument
stronger, dissoi-logoi, is not in fact a battle of opposites. Each side needs the other in order to exist. They are “nodes caught up in co-‐producing systems” (148). Taylor calls these polarities “strange loops” or what Sosnoski and McAllister would term “circuitous subjects.” Kirstie Fleckenstein re-‐enacts this loop as well: The words and images that materialize on the screen are statements about the loops nested invisibly within them, subject to the discontinuities permeating the
languages and the pathways by means of which those languages constitute themselves. The differences that matter at one level becomes messages within the sytem (that is, create new relationships) at a different level, feeding into the system to change it or reconfirm it, maintaining the system by the process of its own self-‐ constitution. (7) The image of a mirror held up to another mirror comes to mind. It is such visualizations that I hope to instantiate below and expose the “invisible” so that we may all begin to think in these culturally appropriate paradigms. I also do not wish to merely repeat what the authors above have said, for that is not even possible. “Strange loops are self-‐reflexive circuits, which, though appearing to be circular, remain paradoxically open” (Taylor, qtd. in Hawk 148).
Rhetorical Situation : Complex Adaptive Systems
A rhetorical situation changes from one minute to the next, given a variety of factors.
The better way to look at it would be to treat it as a complex adaptive system. Borrowing much of this terminology from science is perhaps a paradigm-‐shift in itself for rhetoricians to contend with.3 Be that as it may, ‘situations generate discourse’ (Lloyd Bitzer). Answering this statement is Richard Vatz, who counters: “discourse is always already a part of the situation and can thus create or determine situations,” (Hawk 149). This polarity of “context-‐text operates as a strange loop, and the combination of multiple strange loops Taylor calls a ‘complex adaptive system’” (149). The systems produce effects much greater than their causes, feedback loops, and they also adapt. In fact, such great feedback amid “strange loops” can create a “qualitative change at the level of the whole” (Taylor 165).
3 The relevancy of scientific rhetoric is apparently surrounding us. For instance, Rational Rhetoric: the Role of Science in Popular Discourse by David Tietge, won the JAC's Gary A. Olson Award “for most outstanding book in rhetorical and cultural theory.” http://www.parlorpress.com/tietge.html
Generative schemata that notice regularities in the system and self-‐organize are needed for this type of complexity. Ideally, and this is used especially in the world of computers (Manovich), schemata (or models, theories) can identify these factors on their own—those which cannot adapt to the system fail to function and therefore disappear as in evolutionary biology. Hawk notes the meta-‐complexity that Barbara Biesecker rises to, as she questions “Bitzer and Vatz’ assumptions about the autonomous elements of the rhetorical situation and the causal logic that establishes the relationships among them” (Hawk 148). For Biesecker, “rather than an event or speaker initiating a relation, their emergent relation co-‐ produces each one through an ongoing development” and she uses Derrida’s Glas which enacts difference by placing two columns of text next to each other in the same book (150). The meaning is not from the left side or the right, but “in the absent space between them, in all the possible relations and connections between them that can arise during a reading of the text” (150). As we can see, we have networks that are part of other networks because they have generated other networks.
Kairos : Emergence
Following network logic, and Taylor’s complex adaptive systems theory, it can be
said that polarity between parts is always shifting, one side becoming stronger than the other, and the other side responding in such a manner (counter to Baudrillard, who claims that one pole eventually consumes the other) that the process generates a need for balance. Thus, emergence. “Speed increases the interaction among parts and increased interaction creates more diverse component—more diverse components move the system from linearity and stability to recursiveness and complexity” (151). Kairos can be said to be the “opportune moment” either on behalf of the speaker or the situation, argues Carolyn Miller. Susan Crowley, reviewing literature herself, shows the range of meaning in kairos. From “decorum, proportion, and appriateness to prudence, judiciousness, and practicality,”
(Crowley 2003) as well as “opportunity, occasion, crisis or urgency, measure, proportionality…concenience, advantage, profit, fruit, fitness, propriety, and ‘the right time to act or speak’” (Sipiora 116 qtd. in Crowley 83). Hawk notes that being able to adapt continuously to notice these moments of opportunity are would be a huge asset to the rhetor. The “productive tension” noted by Miller in the seemingly different definitions of kairos can be taken together as a whole. The following polarities will be discussed diminutively, for issues of time and space.4
Logos : Network
Logos can be broadcasted instead of a “narrow notion of logic that generally follows
the enthymeme,” to the aforementioned network logic of co-‐adaptive systems—that is, “not as a static system, but as a system in motion” (Hawk 153). Continuing on earlier themes: “the driving force is noise—that which the (static) system cannot account for but which forces the system to move, rearticulate, and reconnect” (153).
Ethos : Screen (Node)
The idea of Character is reconstructed, or perhaps already is, as a screen (or one
who screens out certain information, but retains some of her choosing). While “node” may refer to the link between two components, Hawk sees it as a screen, and this is connected to the body. So, the screen is part of the body as well, as it is being one with the body. The self—if, indeed, this term any longer makes sense—is a node in a complex network of relations. In emerging network culture, subjectivity is nodular. Nodes…are knots formed when different strands, fibers, or threads are woven together” (Taylor 251, qtd. in Hawk 154).
Pathos : Affect
4 These polarities can be extensively discussed in an actual Review of Literature.
The idea of Emotion, well that’s just it: it’s not an idea. It’s already there,
programmed into us. This is what separates rhetoric from logic. “Humans don’t just screen information logically, they respond to [it] emotionally” (Hawk 155). Affect is ‘the ability to affect and a susceptibility to be affected’—“it is a body’s capacity for relations within a network…emotion is simply ‘recognized affect’ (156). Yet, affect is not simply emotion. Affect moves us “toward relations among other bodies, which is critical to understanding discourse in network culture. Like language, new media make new affections and new relations possible” (156). This point echoes my availability through affordances in new, hyper-‐mediums, to even bother with trying to instantiate this ongoing theory of Taylor and Hawk’s. Without the Web, and the specific micro-‐networks within its larger context—like Tumblr—I would not have been affected to move towards the visual art that I find and can therefore immediately show you.
Process : Evolution
Hawk and Taylor both compare the writing process to an evolutionary process that
yields adapted schemata, taking the process idea further than the process theorists have been able to.
I have reviewed rhetoric in the eyes of complexity theory, and I have done so
judiciously, not simply stringing together studies from Hawk’s essay. Instead, I have laboriously bitten off too much for myself to chew in an attempt to steer away from simply using Hawk’s roadmap. However, the above polarities are the continued progress made by Taylor and succeeded by Hawk. The ethos among those in network space is said to be mutually constructive. That is, we generally are linked up to help one another. Hawk himself would be proud, for I have perhaps come up with my own schemata, or at least I
have begun mapping out my own strange path. What follows will be even stranger, as I will attempt to persuade the reader to adjust her paradigm by looking at art. Methodology (in progress…) We do not listen closely enough to what painters have to say… Gilles Deleuze
Hawk’s mini-‐theory, influenced by his interest in “reassessing the concept of vitalism within a geneology from Coleridge through Nietsche, Bergson, Heidegger, Foucault, and Deleuze to complexity theory” (Hawk 158). Hawk himself speculates that such a project could never “fully be articulated…perhaps not even in a book” (158), and so to instantiate his theory, I will turn to visual artists, visual art, systems aesthetics, and John Dewey. To (net)work rhetoric in(to) network space, which is far ‘more complex than ancient civic space’ (146), we need to shift our own paradigms. This requires a fundamental persuasion that I will attempt below. I wish to instantiate the theory of complexity set forth by Mark C. Taylor and applied to rhetoric and composition by Byron Hawk. I will do this visually, with the help of some brilliant artists. I will not draw from computer visualization, but instead hand-‐made abstract visual art, complex systems theory, theories of aesthetics (according to American pragmatist John Dewey), Hakim Bey (an ontological anarchist), Lev Manovich (beyond media theorist), and Cynthia Selfe. (unfinished)
Works Cited Abbott, Don. "Splendor and Misery: Semiotics and the End of Rhetoric." Rhetorica 24.3 (2006): 303-‐23. Print. Bitzer, Lloyd F. "The Rhetorical Situation." Philosophy & Rhetoric 25 (1992): 1-‐14. Print.
Bey, Hakim. “Seduction of the Cyber Zombies.” Hakim Bey and Ontological Anarchy. New York: Aug 17, 1997. <http://hermetic.com/bey/seduct.html>. Chesebro, James. "Review Essays." Rhetoric review 22.1 (2003): 82-‐100. Print.
Gerbner, George. "Toward a General Model of Communication." Educational Technology Research and Development 4.3 (1956): 171-‐99. Springer Boston. Web. November 1, 2010.
Hawk, Byron. "Toward a Post-‐TechnOr, Inventing Pedagogies for Professional Writing." Technical Communication Quarterly 13.4 (2004): 371-‐92. Print.
-‐-‐. “Toward a Rhetoric of Network (Media) Culture.” Plugged in: Technology, Rhetoric, and Culture in a Posthuman Age. Eds. Lynn Worsham and Gary A. Olson. Cresskill, N.J.: Hampton Press, 2008. Print.
Lansing, J. S. "Complex Adaptive Systems." Annual Review of Anthropology 32.1 (2003): 183-‐ 204. Print.
Manovich, Lev. “What is Visualization?” Manovich.net. October 25, 2010. < http://manovich.net/2010/10/25/new-‐article-‐what-‐is-‐visualization/>.
Self, Cynthia. “Technology and Literacy: A Story About the Perils of Not Paying Attention.” The Norton Book of Composition Studies. Ed. Marilyn Moller. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2009.
Taylor, Mark C. The Moment of Complexity: Emerging Network Culture. Chicago; London: University of Chicago Press, 2001. Print.
-‐-‐. "Mark Taylor Argues that Creativity can be found at the Edge of Chaos." Architectural Record 191.5 (2003): 132. Print.
Worsham, Lynn, and Gary A. Olson (eds). Plugged in: Technology, Rhetoric, and Culture in a Posthuman Age. Cresskill, N.J.: Hampton Press, 2008. Print.