Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Rhetorical Theory/Bruno Latour

A very short video outlining why I think the work of Bruno Latour is important and necessary for rhetoric and composition. I'm going to try multiple versions of this. I'd like to have several possible "elevator pitches" for Bruno Latour.

Having Your Day Made

RSA Twitter Feedback

Posting this mostly for myself. RSA 2012 was a great time, and the Twitter scene was very much a part of it.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Alien Ontography

@betajames and @sophist_monster tweet the finer points of Alien. Those finer points all turn out to be objects, which are crucial to the film and strange within it. What follows is a brief ontography of the film. Of ontography Ian Bogost writes,
The simplest approach to such recording [of objects] is the list, a group of items loosely joined not by logic or power but by the gentle knot of the comma. (38, Alien Phenomenology)
I used Storify to collate the tweets. Enjoy!

Monday, May 14, 2012

RSA 2012: Reframing Deception

RSA 2012 is but two weeks away! Here is a preview trailer of my talk, "Reframing Deception: Rhetorical, Psychology, and Agency." It's a version of a paper I have recently co-authored with a colleague in psychology, Maarten Derksen. The talk is part of a panel on Reframing the Brain: Indentification and the Rhetoric of Neuroscience chaired by Jordynn Jack. It's a loaded panel, and I am excited to be a part of it. The panel (H.12) is on Saturday, May 26, 2012 at 11:00am.


Speaker #3 frames deception through the combined lenses of rhetorical theory and experimental psychology, thus performing an important interdisciplinary gesture: to study the human experience culturally and scientifically. It introduces a specific strain of rhetorical theory to experimental psychology in order to make claims for the emergence of human agency, and to rethink and recast a term common to both rhetoric and psychology, namely deception. Speaker #3 argues that agency is emergent in experimental conditions as it likewise is in moments of rhetorical encounter. It reads this understanding of agency through psychological experiments in priming, which attempt to demonstrate how subtle context cues unconsciously shape human behavior and in so doing reveal the bare mechanisms of the human mind. Examining work on rhetorical ecologies (Edbauer), identification (Burke), and ambience (Rickert) on the one hand, and experimental social psychology on the other, this presentation argues that deception cannot simply be identified as something that one person does to another, but rather is an emergent phenomenon within and across moments of encounter, whether they be complex rhetorical interactions or tightly controlled psychological experiments.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Shape of the World to Come: Toward an Object-Oriented Environmental Rhetoric

Short talk given at Saint Louis University. To celebrate our outgoing chair, faculty were ask to give short presentations on research made possible or supported by our chair. Here is my talk, which I think is a fairly succinct description of my current research project.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Outwitting Squirrels

Mostly, this makes me laugh, but I do like the idea of this as a textbook akin to How To Argue and Win Every Time. It presents squirrels as equal partners in a rhetorical enterprise.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Transitional Objects

I've been thinking more about carpentry and my son. Yesterday I blogged about the book When Air Moves and a few days ago about his "collection" of twigs, leaves, chunks of brick and stone, and pines cones. This line of thought is motivated, of course, by fatherly affection, but also by the argument, which emerges from the work of Jane Bennett and Ian Bogost, about the importance of a certain kind of naivete and wonder when it comes to approaching objects as objects. And then Ze Frank told me about transitional objects (or "comfort objects"). In this brief post, I want to make a case for transitional objects as a form of carpentry and so amenable to OOO. I also want to briefly use transitional objects to attend to the affective elements of carpentry and OOO.

To Wikipedia (big deal, wanna fight about it):
In human childhood development, the term transitional object is normally used. It is something, usually a physical object, which takes the place of the mother-child bond. Common examples include dolls, teddy bears or blankets.

Donald Woods Winnicott introduced the concepts of transitional objects and transitional experience in reference to a particular developmental sequence. With "transition" Winnicott means an intermediate developmental phase between the psychic and external reality. In this "transitional space" we can find the "transitional object."
Will's transitional object: Reindeer, his tiny stuffed reindeer. By my rhetorical carpentry-infused reading of Winnicott's transitional object theory, Reindeer is a specific object that attunes Will to the withdrawal of objects in general.

At first glance, this approach to objects looks correlationist. Objects are what they stand-in for, mean or represent for humans. One immediately thinks of evocative objects, the main feature of which is the argument that "objects carry both [human] ideas and passions" (although Graham Harman has argued that we can read evocative objects as amenable to OOO as well). OOO, in contrast, is interested in objects in and of themselves, distinct from what they might mean for us. Certainly, we can easily read transitional objects this way. But I think, for the moment, we might benefit from seeing them as more than this, and we can do that through the idea of carpentry. Again, I go to JB:
Rhetorical carpentry would construct objects (and conversations among objects) in order to demonstrate approximations of the strange, alien conversations happening around us. ("The Decorum of Objects")
It's in light of carpentry that "transitional objects" does real work for OOO. More from Wikipedia (listen, I just thought of this):
When the young child begins to separate the "me" from the "not-me" and evolves from complete dependence to a stage of relative independence, it uses transitional objects. Infants see themselves and the mother as a whole. In this phase the mother "brings the world" to the infant without delay which gives it a "moment of illusion," a belief that its own wish creates the object of its desire which brings with it a sense of satisfaction. Winnicott calls this subjective omnipotence.
Now, bear with me for a moment: could we not see "subjective omnipotence" as correlationism—the idea that the world is only ever what I am always able to make of it—in its most extreme form? What a transitional object does, then, is help the child break out of this subjective omnipotence, which is a powerful, painful, and necessary experience.
In a later stage of the development the child no longer needs the transitional object. It is able to make a distinction between "me" and "not-me," and keeping inside and outside apart and yet interrelated. This development leads to the use of illusion, symbols and objects later on in life.
So while transitional objects could easily be read as correlationist (and perhaps work will need to be done to make this less likely), what I see these objects as are objects that attune us to the strange withdrawal of all objects, including mom and dad, doggie, rocks, trees, and even Reindeer. What OOO/OOR needs and wants is for people to hold onto these transitional objects well after childhood, which some adults do. We always need transitional objects. What carpentry suggests is that we make transitional objects in the philosophical work of dismantling more sophisticated, adult, and dangerous forms of "subjective omnipotence."

Finally, and in a round about way, I also find transitional object theory compelling because it attends to the affective dimension of carpentry. Correlationism isn't just an abstract, disembodied idea that some (or many) people have; it is a whole way of being in the world. Carpentry, then, must surely provide not just ways of engaging the strangeness and withdrawal of objects but also ways of coping with the transition to an object-oriented ontology itself. Carpentry's objects must also be security blankets and stuffed reindeer.

Note: Eileen Joy, co-editor of O-Zone, has a short essay at In the Midde that dicusses transitional objects: "Willingly Playing the Role of Thing: The Hope of Persons as Transitional Objects"

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Missing Masses: For Kids!

My mom and grandmother came today to steal away our son for a few days of vacation. My grandfather recently passed away, and my grandmother is distributing to her children, grand-children, and great-grand-children many of the things he collected over the years. I have received many of his old books (more than a few gems), some ties, and a pocket knife. Today, my son received this gem of a book, published way back in 1968.

Here is the first page, which, I think, both gives air a lot of credit and suggests ways of making things that allow us to explore air:

Indeed, the whole book is rather a celebration of air that moves and how important it is. It is occasionally too use oriented, but given how hard it is to find Latourian children's' books about air, I'll gladly settle for this one.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

On Feeling Naive (as an Experimental Rhetorical Carpenter)

This post is an aside about feeling naive while doing the work of rhetorical carpentry.

Because we are colleagues, I had the pleasure of discussing my "Alien Relationships" experiment with Devin Johnston, whose Creaturely and Other Essays both partially inspired the experiment and provided the text I sampled in it. (Creaturely is surely an alien phenomenology.) Talking with him over a beer, I described how I felt composing the project and how anxious I was about making it public (and for more reasons than just fishing for a complement). I said that I felt silly and awkward. I felt like a naive sophomore enrolled in his first creative writing class.
My son's "collection" as he calls it. Full of sticks, leaves, pine cones,
and chunks of stone and brick, this collection is full of wonder. Ian
Bogost argues that wonder has two senses: "it can suggest awe or
marvel" and "it can mean puzzlement or logical perplexity" (121).
"The act of wonder," Bogost writes, "invites a detachment from
ordinary logics, of which human logics are but one example" (124).

As a successful creative writer, Devin's perspective is especially valuable. So I was rather pleased when he said how glad he was to hear that I was feeling that way: feeling silly and naive indicates productively (if not successfully) moving out of your comfort area. He then went on to describe his own process of writing the essays in Creaturely: how hard he worked to get the essays to approach, without appropriating, other creatures.

This conversation helped me a great deal and I share it because I think it might be helpful to others interested in experimenting with rhetorical carpentry. Carpentry is going to be hard, it's going to feel silly and weird: carpentry will be naive and full of wonder, which Bogost makes much use of in Alien Phenomenology (see the above picture taken of my son's "collection"). My conversation with Devin has also got me thinking about the possible value of team-ups or at least of leaning on our colleagues. I think carpentry might be an interesting, if not inherently, interdisciplinary venture. How might rhetorical carpentry be a good way to make things together?