CCR 634: Comparative (Cultural) Rhetorics

The tension between more “objective” knowing and more “subjective” knowing has often followed me around. Lately, I’ve been thinking about it in terms of filter bubbles, as this post explores, but I think it also has more general connections, including to the task of comparative rhetoric from the readings.

Before diving into the readings, though, I wanted to start a bit where I generally come from: essentially, Kant and the question of metaphysics. With Kant, I’m always preoccupied with his argument that most knowledge is “synthetic” and therefore arrived at through experience, and furthermore, we experience things as phenomena through the “synthetic a priori”of our experience, not as the noumena of the “thing-in-itself.” I think this basic framework–that we never experience “Reality” except in a subjective sense–is productive beyond Kant, as one can layer up more lenses between the thing-in-itself and our experience of it. Language, culture, our prior experiences, cognitive biases, our senses, etc., color our perception, making the sort of transcendental knowledge of the Rationalists impossible. As Nietzsche put it, in Kaufmann’s translation, there is no “immaculate perception.”

And as someone who is trying to think about the world and “produce knowledge” (though the phrase knowledge production has always felt off to me), I am constantly faced with the ethics of knowledge. A certain hubris can come from a transcendent view of knowledge, as well as a potential violence. Even if one isn’t actually trying to produce a totalizing model for stuff or a transcendent theory, the deductive and inductive dance of explaining and knowing in most Western models still has a certain tendency to want to stretch beyond individual contexts.

And I think that’s where the readings come in: trying to find ways to ethically and responsibly theorize across different contexts, particularly different cultural and rhetorical ones.

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CCR 633: Archives, Scribes, and History

Doing readings that draw from history, particularly history connected to literacy, always makes me more reflective about my own practices and assumptions.

In Trithimius’ “In Praise of Scribes,” he comments that parchment lasts longer than paper (35), that copying is a form of manual labor (49), that one who cannot write should still read (85), that books should be protected (93), and that the copyist gets some level of longevity and fame beyond the author alone (97). Many of these are things that I don’t really think about as my current print/writing culture differs.

As a teacher and scholar, I often glibly talk about literacy, particularly drawing from the idea of multi-literacies from the New London Group: the role of circulating languages, shifting modalities, new genres and materials, etc. I often get stuck in a contemporary tunnel-vision and forget the socio-technical systems that underscore literacy.

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CCR 633: Memory and Platonic Print

One of the main things I get from reading Walter Ong’s “Writing is a Technology that Restructures Thought” is his primary thesis: that writing–particularly non-oral alphabetic discursive literacies–not only offer tools for communication but change how we think and communicate in fundamentally “noetic” way. As he writes, “Without writing, the literate mind would not and could not think as it does, not only when engaged in writing but even when it is composing its thoughts in oral form” (24).

Ong’s point connects to the ongoing discussion of whether technology or artifacts have politics, though in this case, it focuses more on the way that technology affects our thinking.

One way writing changes us is through memory. As we noted from Rickert–who drew from Hayles–people have tended to build “smarter” technology to help with memory. This could include the early tokens of Mesopotamia, as Denise Schmandt-Besserat discussed, and their capacity to track goods. It could also include the various  reminder and calendar apps that populate smart phones and computers. All of these keep track of other things so we don’t have to.

On the one hand, this is positive. Answering a few Doodle polls this past week to schedule meetings, I’ve consulted the calendar on my smart phone. I also use a more low-tech near-daily inventory of general to-dos. All of these keep my working memory from getting too cluttered.

But Socrates, via Plato–whom Ong cites–criticizes these technologies, particularly the technology of writing. As Socrates says, in the apparent voice of King Thamus, “You have not discovered a potion for remembering, but for reminding; you provide your students with the appearance of wisdom, not with its reality.” The person who writes something down, he goes on, is relying on extrinsic things–an extrinsic system of signs, materials outside the body, etc.–and is only creating a later sign-post to return to an earlier thought. The writer is not actually holding onto and engaging with the thought. They can’t defend it either. The thought is orphaned, isolated, and silent.

This leads Socrates to characterize writing as something static, like a visual image. As he  says, “The offsprings of painting stand there as if they are alive, but anyone asks them anything, they remain most solemnly silent. The this is true of written words. You’d think they were speaking as if they had some understanding, but if you question anything that has been because you want to learn more, it continues to signify just that very same thing forever.” I find the turn to the visual to be an interesting shift, but it makes sense, as visuals are more static if we take an oral view of language.

This characterization made more sense as Ong took it up, connecting the static quality that Socrates ascribes to print to the static “being” of Platonic forms.  As Ong argues, “Platonic form was form conceived of by analogy precisely with visible form. Despite his touting of logos and speech, the Platonic ideas in effect modelled intelligence not so much on hearing as on seeing” (29). We see this with his discussion in the Protagorus, as they dissect a poem, which would be hard to do without a static referent.

Indeed, print is a visual medium, a series of squiggles carried through some medium–captured through handwriting, type-faces, or pixels. It is silent, like a fresco, and in a Platonic sense, it’s non-material. But this silent, non-material Being of writing, as Ong notes, “assures its endurance and its potential for being resurrected into limitless living contexts by a limitless number of living readers” (31). It gets “spoken” in our heads or through bodies and machines, but as the word-iself, it feels permanent.  Parmenides has triumphed over Heraclitus.

This non-material sense of writing brings me back to one of my teachers in Classical Philosophy who drew a triangle on the board. “What is this?” he asked. “A triangle,” we said. “No,” he replied, “it’s some chalk dust smudged a certain way.” He then wrote out the definition; we fell into the same trap. “No,” he replied, “it’s the definition of a triangle.” The triangle-in-itself is only mediated into existence, never actually existing as a material being.

With this Platonic view of writing, I think we are somewhat trapped in all the distancing that Ong ascribes to writing. It’s a somewhat long litany, but he often focuses on the growing divide between the “lifeworld” and the abstract, as writing makes our own thinking more abstracted from everyday life. We discuss more the idea of things than the things in themselves. Time and space also distance. We become more artificial in out being, though, as Ong paradoxically notes, it’s natural for humans to be artificial through technology. Technology, itself, is natural.

But I don’t think we need to be Platonic. As Heidegger argues–and Rickert–regarding the fourfold, dwelling assumes a lifeworld of both matter and meaning. “Hammer,” as word, is deeply stitched into the material of the hammer-object and the action of human-hammering, and in-turn, this layered ontology of the object, withdrawing and presencing as the situation changes, fits into the broader world of relations. So, to me, there is nothing Platonic about a hammer or the word hammer.

The same for visuals. I think here of Lauri Gries’ work. Following the Obama Hope image with a New Materialist underpinning, she highlights the “vital materiality” of the image. As she writes, “rhetoric transforms and transcends across genres, media, and forms as it circulates and intra-acts with other human and nonhuman entities. Rhetoric also moves in nonlinear, inconsistent, and often unpredictable ways within and across multiple networks of associations” (7).  Seeing the networked and networking threads and ripples of beings–both human and nonhuman, concrete and nonmaterial–something that feels “distant” or “dead” is very much alive.

IST 700: Next steps and Research Muddles

Project update: I’ve heard back from all of my core research participants and have been able to ask a few follow-up questions over the course of the past weeks. While some aspects of e-mail interviews have been tedious, as noted, I feel largely happy. I have a decent amount of stuff to work with and think through future problems.

I haven’t had much time to “do” next step stuff, as I’ve been trying to get a paper in this Monday, but that may be good, as I have time to think through the next steps.  I’m not sure whether I’ll do coding or not. I think I may go through and read the data a bit, trying to get a general sense of things, before making more specific moves. I also want to print out copies. Something about looking at a paper copy, instead of a screen, feels more appealing, like I may catch more or be less inclined to skim. On screen, I tend to have such an F-style reading pattern, which would not be good for research.

At this point, too, I’m trying to remain somewhat inductive in my approach, as noted in my last post for this class. I have my focus: intertextualtiy and the tensions created by openly intertextual work. I want to see what people are saying about this.

Shifting gears a bit, I’ve been thinking a lot this semester about presenting research in different ways. I think I often tend to “think” better in a PowerPoint setting sometimes. The way it breaks down units of thoughts into discrete slides helps me think more clearly about what those units are. In my head, they often get muddled. And though more long-term, free-writing thinking (much like this blog) helps me think through ideas, I have had trouble transitioning from that thinking into the presentation of thought in a paper. I can’t quite straighten out, simplify, and de-muddle.

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IST 700: The Research Life

After a productive spurt this past week, this weekend has been a bit of an up-hill trudge. But one continues. I have my favorite tea and a door open to a sunny spring day. This is good.

First, an update on the current fanfic project. I’ve started hearing back from people. Just two for now, though one asked for a more set deadline for responses. I probably should have given an earlier day, like this weekend, so that I could reply, but I feel odd about imposing, as these questions are an intrusion I’d imagine. Like a lingering survey, stuck in an inbox because you may do it and win the free gift card–one day.

Only, I don’t have any gift cards.

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IST 700: Interview Angst

When it comes to interviews, I come back to my journalism background. My first interview was as a freshman writing a profile piece about a tennis player for the sports section–a mysterious assignment, as I don’t really like sports.

I talked to the player and a few of his teammates for a few minutes, recording the conversations in a tape recorder and making meaningless notes in a spiral notebook.  I was terribly nervous, nervousness only matched by gawkiness, gawkiness only matched by social anxiety.

Overtime, I got good at interviews. I got better at putting people at ease with small talk, at taking short notes, quoting accurately. I built a whole ecology of interview practice–of ritual and method. Most of these interviews were face-to-face, short, with one or two meetings, often in a public place, and with largely innocuous conversations. For some stories, I did need to be careful, and often had long interviews that I transcribed. Some were outside and on the run. Others were behind closed doors. Some were relaxed. Others tense.

So when I started to prep for interviews this semester, I was confident. But, oh, experience is an unwieldy beast.

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IST 700: Sentiment, Affect, and Twitter

This week’s readings brought me back to my time teaching in Egypt, during the election of Morsi and the coup the following summer that put him out of power. Though my Internet access was limited both summers–largely relegated to communal computers and one dodgy PC in the prep room–I often tried to check in with Twitter.

My second summer, the day of the military takeover, a few tweets entered the stream about tanks in Cairo and the Presidential Palace. I saw journalists and activists positing frantically, while others were trying to get confirmation. No one knew what was happening. For a few days, protestors for Tamarod had taken to the streets against Morsi. Meetings both with and without Morsi went on amid these protests. For my part, the seminary where I was teaching was on lock down, preventing anyone from coming or going without approval. So beyond the nightly sounds of protestors gathering for nearby hot spots, Twitter was my only window–or “stream”–on the action.

I felt surreal during the take sightings. Seeing the news pour in on “real time.” None of the networks had anything, but across Twitter, people were mobilized and locked in.

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IST 700: Content Analysis and Learning Methods

I first ran into coding last semester in the methods class for our CCR major, a somewhat intuitive and exploratory method from Foss and Waters’ Destination Dissertation. 

In this method, basically, one works through the sample, looks for examples that connect to the research project’s focus and label them. Gradually, one refines the codes looking for higher-order conceptual connections.

From there, I got more into discourse analysis and critical discourse analysis. I also read through parts of Saldaña’s coding manual and tried practicing some of it in my own research–though I am still not very good.

I found myself exhausted by the time it takes and the slipperiness of interpretation involved with coding and content analysis, particularly the qualitative variety. As Herring (2004) notes, interpretation is both “art” and “craft,” but I often found this art and craft pervade the work more generally.

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CCR 711: Junius Wilson and “Being” on Trial

“Where was the judge he had never seen? Where was the High Court he had never reached? He raised his hands and spread out all his fingers. But the hands of one of the men closed round his throat, just as the other drove the knife deep into his heart and turned it twice.” -Kafka, The Trial

“Unable to elicit responses that suggested the contrary, staff and doctors concluded from the available court documents that Wilson’s alleged criminal behavior was the result of deviant biology— of a bad nature. ” -Susan Burch and Hannah Joyner, Unspeakable

Kafka’s writing displays a tension between an individual trying to  make his way in the world who gets marked or entrapped simply for being alive. In the Metamorphosis, Gregor Samson wakes up into the nightmare of being transformed into a “gigantic vermin,” often depicted as a beetle. In The Trial, Josef K wakes up to find himself on trial for no reason–though the narrator insinuates that “someone must have been telling lies.” In The Castle, K finds summoned by The Castle to work in a town, when the same castle, through a near-comical network of bureaucratic dysfunction, executes him. From “The Country Doctor” to “The Penal Colony” and “Poseidon,” Kafka’s characters face alienation, guilt, and bureaucratic bulwarks against basic freedoms. Their being gets sentenced, suspect and shamed.

Moreover, his characters try to fight these existential sentences as best they can. But this is to no avail. As “The Messenger” makes clear:

“he is still forcing his way through the chambers of the innermost palace; never will he overcome them; and were he to succeed at this, nothing would be gained: he would have to fight his way down the steps; and were he to succeed at this, nothing would be gained: he would have to cross the courtyard. . . and if he were to burst out at last through the outermost gate—but it can never, never happen—before him still lies the royal capital, the middle of the world, piled high in its sediment.”

Reading Unspeakable, like many of the readings thus far in 711, Kafka has been close by. Here, Junius Wilson is “guilty,” much like Kafka’s characters, for his own mode of being. He is guilty by being black in the Jim Crow South. He is guilty by being deaf, muted and uncomprehensible to many–a break further exacerbated by the limitations his Raleigh signs later play compared with ASL. Later, he is made guilty of a crime he never commits, it seems, by Arthur Smith. And still later, under the sterilization law, his misdiagnosis of being “a danger to himself and others” leads to his castration.

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