Okay! Time for a new set of reading notes for a new book, Lingua Fracta: Towards a Rhetoric of New Media. (I have to admit that the title made me giggle a bit).
So, this week’s post is actually in regards to the whole book rather than divided into the two halves of the book since I missed posting last week’s reading notes. >.< I’m going to combine what I had previously in a draft, along with my new understandings. Anyways, let’s begin.
One of the first things I want to sort out for myself in terms of this book is Brooke’s re-envisioning of the rhetorical canons (the classical ones are invention, arrangement, style, memory, and delivery) through ecologies – “ecology of code,” “ecology of practice,” and “ecologies of culture.” These three ecologies definitely threw me a bit when I first read them, and continued to do so until we worked through a few examples in class. **There has been another attempt through CHAT to remap the rhetorical canons, which were a part of my reading notes for the spring semester’s Networks course.
“Ecology of code” – “is [Brooke’s] designation for the varied communicative and expressive resources we draw on when we produce discourse, regardless of the medium. In other words, both the rules and objects of grammar are located within this ecology, but language is one among many media whose elements participate in it” (48). In a sense, these are the underlying tools upon which ecology of practice is grounded, not just as binary codes, but can also be language components for speech or the digital tools used to create video games. Brooke elaborates on this when he clarifies that, “I suggest that an ecology of code is comprised not only of grammar, but also of all of those resources for the production of interfaces more broadly construed, including visual, aural, spatial, and textual elements, as well as programming codes” (48).
It can be thought of as this:
But, it can also be this:
“Ecology of practice” – “Practice implies conscious, directed activity, the explicit combination of elements from the ecology of code to produce a particular discursive effect” (49). *this ecology gave me the most trouble, especially when we were asked to choose images of what each of the ecologies would look like (I may have blanched a bit in-class).
As an early example in chapter 2, Brooke uses the ideas of a “Revitalized understanding of canons” as an insight into his idea of “ecology of practice” since the “canons supply a framework for approaching new media that focuses on the strategies and practices that occur at the level of interface” (28).
“Ecologies of culture” – “it is this category that operates at the broadest range of scales, from interpersonal relationships and local discourse communities to regional, national, and even global cultures. Any act of discourse is going to be constrained in various ways by cultural assumptions; similarly, such acts intervene simultaneously at several levels” (49).
So why attempt to revamp rhetoric into ecologies? What is wrong with the traditional canon? Brooke says that he is presenting these ecologies as a way to help “evolve” rhetoric and the aims of rhetorical scholars because “The elaborate dance of competition, cooperation, juxtaposition, and remediation that characterizes our contemporary information and communication technologies has rendered obsolete some of our most venerable models for understanding today’s rhetorical practices” (28). By drawing upon the canons, Brooke seeks to build a new vision of how they work within the digital world and within new media, rather than simply recasting the same terms. The metaphor of the ecology is also very interesting because an ecology is not static; it is organic and adaptive, something rhetorical canons need if they are to stay relevant to the needs of present day rhetoricians and their audiences.
One really interesting point made in the section regarding rhetorical canons was when Brooke alludes to Sven Birkerts and his prediction of the “flattening of historical perspectives” in the sense that “we will cease to exercise history because we will rely on that which is stored in databases” (31). In his response to this death-of-memory prediction, I think Brooke does a nice job of pointing out that digital databases enhance our cultural memory rather than merely threatening to wipe out our interest in historical perspectives.
So how does Brooke remap the rhetorical canons?
To grant the classical rhetorical canons (invention, arrangement, style, memory, and delivery) more relevance in a digital world, Brooke’s modified canons look like this:
Invention —> Proairesis
Arrangement —> Pattern
Style —> Perspective
Memory —> Persistence
Delivery —> Performance
Okay, so one at a time:
Invention as Proairesis
Brooke’s re-conceptualization of invention as proairesis makes a space for digital technology as part of the reading/writing/creation/distribution process, giving readers of digital content as it does to those who write the content. Much of his analysis deals the “difference between seeing media such as those listed [in the chapter] as spaces that enable peer-to-peer interaction and conversation and seeing them as media that transform the nature of conversation or even participate in it” (82), but more on that after some vocabulary words.
hermeneutic model of invention – “relies on the relative sturdiness of a final object and the negotiation of meanings within it….When the final products of our invention are judged, in part, by their solidity or sturdiness, it makes perfect sense that we theorize invention to arrive at such goals” (68). It “operates through the establishment of an enigma, void, or mystery– an absence — that will be filled eventually, but is held in suspense… [and] marks the goal(s) towards which the reader (and the plot and characters) are headed” (75). Hermeneutics can be seen as “resolution or actualization,” and, when placed on the level of theory, “simply assumes systematic enigmas, such as the establishment of genre or the demonstration of a theoretical insight” (76).
proairetic model of invention – this term is used by Barthes “to indicate actions or events,” “empirics” (75). Seems to deal with possibilities, rather than resolutions. This term makes the most sense when Brooke brings up the example of a Google search: “One way we might treat Google proairetically is simply to resist the closure implied in search ‘results’ and to treat that page as a point of departure, even and especially when the results are mixed. The results of a given search provide users with pages and pages of links, of departure points, that bring potentially distant topics and ideas into proximity both with each other and the user” (83). He broadens this out to discuss social bookmarking websites that allow users to create bookmarks, but then also follow the threads upon threads of bookmarks created by ALL users on the site: “The addition of each bookmark changes the site, reinforcing certain connections, adding new ones, and expanding the network in small but important ways. It enables a process of associational research and exploration that resists closure” (85).
Brooke’s final definition of this term: “a focus on the generation of possibilities, rather than their elimination until all but one are gone and closure is achieved. Closure is no less important than it has ever been, but with the advent of new media and interfaces that resist closure, proairesis provides an important corrective to the hermeneutically oriented inventional theory that has prevailed in our theory to date” (86). It’s fascinating that the emphasis is on the inclusion of possibilities rather than slowly weeding them out.
**As a side note, I would not Google this word. I made that mistake since Brooke does not offer a concrete definition for this word (he focuses more on hermeneutic), and found that proairesis is not considered a Scrabble word, though it is worth 12 points in Scrabble and 13 points in Words with Friends.
kaironomia – “an inventional practice that locates itself not within repetition (the demonstration of topoi) or difference (the myth of the ordinary genius), but in the dynamic of the two,” which represents a “contradictory injunction” (77)
virtualization – Levy’s term for “the opposite of reading in the sense that produces, from an initial text, a textual reserve and instruments of composition with which a navigator can project a multitude of other texts” (qtd. in Brooke 80) <— Brooke notes that, “It is the human-machine interaction that makes for virtualization” (81)
Brooke works to decouple the vision of invention that scholars like Sven Birkert put forth an illusion that acts “of reading or writing can be fully divorced from [their] context” (73). Birkerts’ concept of the relationship between reader and writer with the text in the middle– “We might reach a more inclusive understanding of reading (and writing) if we think in terms of a continuum. At one end, the writer — the flesh-and-blood individual; at the other end, the flesh-and-blood reader. In the center, the words, the turning pages, the decoding intelligence” (qtd. in Brooke 72)– might look like this:
Such a model doesn’t quite hold up, even when viewed with print as the medium. In the age of hyperlinks and greater collaboration that comes with digital communications, Birkert’s model feels heavily lopsided, something that Brooke addresses by drawing, again, upon LeFevre: “invention is not simply the process by which a writer creates a text whose meaning is received by a reader. The ecology of invention includes the practices of writing and reading, but the relationships among those practices are not closed, idealized, and privatized transactions” (74). There is no bubble in which writers and readers exist, especially as the internet connecNetowts us all outwards to information and other people.
This site did a nice job with their video discussing Karen Burke LeFevre’s “invention as a social act”: http://ccdigitalpress.org/nwc/chapters/garrett-et-al/a1s3.html
Arrangement as Pattern
Brooke starts off the chapter devoted to Pattern by focusing on the claims by earlier scholars that the rhetorical canon of arrangement fell to the wayside during the advent of hypertext culture as hyperlinks did not privilege one path over another and the viewer’s decisions rendered any intentions by the author as useless. Brooke, though, counters this statement: “The links that allegedly demonstrate the irrelevance of rhetoric are rhetorical practices of arrangement, attempts to communicate affinities, connections, and relationships” (91). One of his aims is to move away from the “traditional understanding of arrangement as sequence” towards a conceptualization of “arrangement as pattern” and to reveal that “the issue is not whether arrangement predates our textual encounters, but rather what practices we might develop with new media to make sense of them” (92).
For arrangement to be understood in regards to New Media, the division between spatial and temporal must be understood “that every technology gives us not only a different space, but a different time as well” (93). So let’s break this down a bit further.
An expectation, according to Darsie Bowden, that we have for print texts is “containerism, a set of metaphors that posit the discursive space of writing as a container into which we pour content (from the containers that are our minds),” which houses “an in/out distinction that corresponds to our notions of subjectivity and identity and, as such, appears quite natural to us,” though the text is considered “generic until it is filled with content and achieves some sort of meaning” (93-94). However, containerism fixes the concept of arrangement, seeing spatial elements in a print text to be linear and sequentially instead of seeing the space for possibilities of other arrangements (though we are not bound to read everything sequentially since we can skip around in a book: read the conclusion first, a middle chapter before a beginning chapter, and so on).
In order to explore how New Media and digital spaces help us to re -conceptualize the spatial, Brooke draws upon David Weinberger and the idea that the meat-space is a container from which web-space is then filled, though I think this relationship goes two ways now with the meat-space being transformed, in a sense, by the digital space.
In terms of arrangement, though, Weinberger describes the digital space with a “sense of place that creates its own space,” with it being active rather than passive (qtd. in Brooke 95). This reminds me of an example mentioned earlier regarding social bookmarking. For every bookmark created, the threads of the site expand outward as there is more content within the site. The same for this blog. For every post I write and publish, the “space” of my blog gets bigger as the posts create an extending line of content. The posts do not have to be read sequentially, especially since many of the posts are about different texts and only truly operate under an overarching theme (usually networks). And this is where the move from arrangements to patterns comes in. Brooke brings in David Kolb and his suggestion about “a number of intermediate forms (cycles, counterpoints, mirror words, tangles, sieves, montages, neighborhoods, split/joins, missing links, and feints), patterns that demonstrate a wide variety of rhetorical effects that are possible if we think beyond the container model” (96). For Brooke, to understand how the rhetorical canon of arrangement can blossom in New Media and the digital era, we have to not limit our perceptions within boundaries, even if it seems the most convenient; instead, he turns towards Manovich’s database as an “infinite flat surface” (97).
So how do databases play into arrangement as patterns?
Brooke looks at how Manovich compares narrative and databases, with the example being Amazon. The online shopping site’s way of showing consumers items that had been purchased by others who had also bought the same initial item, the browsing/purchasing history of the consumer, and similar items that are available for purchase are part of a database for the site, but can also be threaded together to make simple narratives. What is interesting is the description of databases that follows soon after: “Although databases may contain no predetermined order, they are useful to us the degree that they provide some sort of order when they are acted on by users” (101). With this in mind, Brooke expands on the Amazon example: “It would be hard to extend a user’s encounters with Amazon into something resembling a full-fledged narrative, but at the same time, the site is designed to respond accurately and meaningfully to such encounters — a response that is not accounted for in descriptions of database that stress its utter randomness” (101). Because the website services thousands and thousands of people, creating patterns out of their purchasing and browsing histories, much like an underlying web of code that sorts through the data.
How does arrangement fit as patterns? It is through associations: “The patterns that emerge are sets of associations among texts that the site reinforces through visibility, potentiality becoming less contingent or temporary as future visitors act on the recommendations generated at site” (103). As each person uses the Amazon site, more connections are made through the data being collected, building associations that return back to the site through algorithms to increase its effectiveness. These associations, though, also create relevancy, allowing a hierarchy of those patterns being chosen over ones that are being excluded through users’ choices. Exclusion is just as important as inclusion. To bridge the gap between narrative and database, Brooke uses the word collection as it is the “individual assembly of a large group of whatever items we might choose to collect” (109). These collections gain meaning for individuals but start to lose their context outside of that individual’s relationship to the collection, rendering that particular narrative insubstantial or altered to another individual: “The more intimately we are involved in the assembly of a collection, the more likely we are to perceive it incrementally and narratively, while different patterns may emerge in a casual encounter of someone else’s collection” (110). For instance, my anime collection has a history of which I know, with certain titles being picked up at different points in my life. To those who know me best, my anime collection means something beyond VHS and DVDs on shelves, but for those who know little to nothing about me, all they would see are a random collection of Japanese “cartoons.” The same can go for my research or my Amazon purchasing history. The patterns that appear, whether directly or subtly, are Brooke’s new form of the rhetorical canon of arrangement, but this remapping allows code and algorithms into the process, making it not just a human endeavor but a human-machine endeavor.
Style as Perspective
Whew, on to the third remapped rhetorical canon: style as perspective. This seems to be one of the more popular canons for New Media as Brooke declares that, “to speak of media is to speak of forms of expression, the traditional province of the canon of style,” emphasizing the relationship of the visual and verbal, especially in regards to how this relationship changes when “consider[ing] what style might look like when we consider it in terms of interfaces rather than static texts” (113). To be honest, the first thing that pops into my head when reading the start of this chapter look like this:
Yes, yes I did just include that in my reading notes. And yes, it is time to move further into style as perspective. Now Brooke seems to have chosen the word “perspective” because it offers two means, which he quotes from Keither Moxey as being “either one point of view among many, or the point which organizes and arranges all others” (qtd. in Brooke 114). This is interesting because when we think of the style of a book, something that can be seen as a static text, and we see the style, whether linear in a traditional sense or multi-layered (like the book First Person) or even in a more random-seeming style (House of Leaves), there is a sense of permanency to the style of the text. Within a digital space, there is the feel of possibilities, though the more I work within digital spaces, the more I feel the constraints of the spaces within which I am working (a nod to WordPress and the limitations of the text box). Brooke calls for the readers to change the concept of “visual rhetoric” to “visual grammar,” and he “draw[s] on Friedrich Nietzsche to suggest that we restore style to its place in our ecology of practice, rescuing it from its classical banishment to the ecology of code” (114).
Mary Hocks, in her work “Understanding Visual Rhetoric in Digital Writing Environments,” lists three features for visual rhetoric in the digital media:
Brooke takes a step back to understand how we talk about style now, especially in terms of teaching students to write: “Our contemporary understanding of style treats it as sentence-level syntax, catalogs of tropes and figures, and commonplace injunctions (e.g., avoid the passive voice; use specific, concrete language), reducing it to a series of localized, conscious choices” (116). After much meandering through Aristotle and his influence on the reduction of style, Brooke returns to perspective, stating that it is “a method for displaying three-dimensional objects and/or scenes on a two-dimensional space. Much like the technology of writing exteriorizes the reader, perspective presumes a viewer whose physical position mirrors the vanishing point” (120). This gears style, in the digital era, towards transparency. To develop this further, Brooke links to Don Idhe’s “description of the physical, perceptual process of reading…distinguish[ing] between microperceptions, which are and/or sensual, and macroperceptions, which are hermeneutic and/or cultural. The structuring (or disciplining) of perception marks a transition from microperception to macroperception; in other words, the transparency of the printed word renders our physical perceptions of the text, as we are reading at least, minimal to the point of nonexistence” (121).
Moving from the transparency of writing, Brooke explains that, drawing upon Lanham, “Language on the computer screen, in contrast, is subject to many different kinds of transformation by the user (size, font, color, layout, etc.) that Lanham argues we are often encouraged to consider the textual form as expressive. With electronic text, he explains, we often toggle between looking through text and looking at it” (132). Transparency is no longer an issue, with the language being part of the experience instead of the backdrop. It was interesting (and quite within the scope of my research) that Brooke brings in an example of World of Warcraft and the interface the players’ interact with during gameplay, especially when players can customize the interface themselves, allowing them greater immersion into the experience if they so choose (there are options to render the game to basic elements, stripping the visuals down to necessities).
Memory as Persistence
And so memory moves to persistence. In this chapter, Brooke moves beyond seeing memory in the digital era as merely storage on our computers, as well as physical texts as extensions of our memories. Instead, he turns to Jacques Derrida (a.k.a. philosophical rock star) to help discuss archives: “[he] writes of the effects that changes in archival technology have on both what is being (and can be) archived, as well as on the people doing the archiving” (144).
To start his remapping, Brooke discusses Plato’s resistance to writing, believing that reliance on written texts would break down the strength of people’s memories because they could then use writing as a kind of crutch (as compared to orality when they would remember longer speeches and poems), while also raising the question “of whether knowledge is located inside or outside of the knower” (145). Within this framework, a presence/absence dichotomy arose. Plato’s belief still lingers, but we have moved far beyond oral culture, with our collective memory finding its place across various forms of media (written, visual, audio, film, and now into the digital spaces like the Cloud). One of the most fascinating points in this chapter is in regards to what we archive: “The binary of presence/absence reduces memory to a question of storage, with little thought given to the effects that various media might have on what is being remembered” (147).
Brooke explains a shift away from only using the presence/absence binary by N. Katherine Hayles in her book How We Became Posthuman: “Hayles suggests a ‘semiotics of virtuality’ that maps phenomena along two different axes: absence/presence and pattern/randomness” since presence/absence cannot capture the essence of online activity for both the user and his or her avatar(148). To develop this further, Brooke brings two Greek words, Chronos and Kairos, to understand why his drawing upon Hayles’ patterning and randomness:
Chronos “is the artificial patterning of time, its divisions into equal, measurable segments — the time by which we set our clocks and watches, conduct our classes, and organize our history…[and] represents our triumph over time as a cultural achievement” (149)
Kairos “is the time sense at the other end of the spectrum [from chronos], the opportunities that emerge to be seized in a particular situation, unrepeatable and unsystematizable…It is the unwillingness of the kairotic moment to submit itself to our control that has led to its ‘neglected’ status in rhetorical theory” (149)
With pattern and randomness, there can be randomness (kairos) until a pattern begins to emerge (chronos). However, the reverse is also possible, with moments of chaos occurring in the midst of a pattern. These two happenings alter the perceptions of the the events, the data, the images, and so on. When a pattern emerges out of chaos, it is hard to return to see the chaos again, but the same can be true for when a pattern is disrupted.
Brooke looks at the canon of memory as pattern to build the conclusion that pattern is an ecology of practice, granting it a new space in the digital era beyond merely being relegated to storage. It here where Brooke justifies his reason for transforming memory into persistence with the “construction (and dissolution) of patterns over time” (151). This persistence becomes increasingly important when users are faced with the overload of data that is presented by others and constructed by them on the internet, especially with the Cloud becoming an integral part of how people handle and store data. In the final section of the chapter, Brooke discusses how websites deal with this issue through feed readers or aggregators, which “check weblogs and keep track of whether a particular user has accessed the most recent content. They check our blogs so that we do not have to, in the same way that most mail programs can be set to inform a user when there is a new mail in the inbox” (158).
So how do aggregators feature into memory as persistence? Brooke identifies two types of aggregators that he personally uses: Google Reader (GR) and the memory practice of persistence of cognition. For him, Google Reader provides a “centralized portal” that “distributes [his] memory, freeing [him] from the need to remember each site individually” as well as tracking basic information trends in his viewing/reading (160). Persistence of cognition is his phrase for a reading and memory practice that springs out of the connection between smaller pieces (such as keywords): “Skimming requires a reader to be able to piece together information in ways that are good enough to gauge a text, perhaps without arriving at a full representation of it” but also “names the presence of particular pieces — certain themes persist across a set of texts” (156; 157). My favorite quote from this chapter, though, comes at the end when he describes our relationship to memory and information: “We take in information, sometimes without being aware of it, and only notice when the information connects with other data to form a pattern worth investigating…Our minds are not simply sites of storage; they perceive connections and patterns that may only become present to us in the later stages of their construction” (166).
Delivery as Performance
Woot! Woot! Last rhetorical canon to be remapped: delivery as performance. Brooke lists two ways in which delivery is defined that are relevant to rhetoric: 1) as a transitive process, and 2) as a performance (170). With this remapping, Brooke brings up terms like DeVoss and Porter’s “economies of writing” and Trimbur’s “circulation of commodities” with regards to delivery of content and how aggressively some companies/organizations will try to restrict the distribution of their content (172-173): “It is difficult to imagine that corporate producers are particularly worried about audience production of content, for example, when we consider the heavily embedded technological, cultural, economic, and medial advantages that the various culture industries possess. If reflect on how heavily these corporations are invested in distributive control, both directly and through the management of consumer attention, it is difficult to see their aggression in prosecuting ‘bad users’ as anything other than an overreaction” (172). This makes me think of people who create fan-made anime music videos (AMVs) on YouTube (much like the one I have linked at the bottom of this post) and how their videos are sometimes (not always in a majority of the cases) removed despite the creators attributing ownership of both the songs and the clips/artwork to the rightful owners. The creators of the AMVs are not receiving compensation for their work, nor are they claiming ownership of the original content. Their videos are purely for entertainment and are a large part of fan culture’s tributes to a series, a character, a couple, and so on, yet some companies see them as violations of copyright.
Now that I am done with my tangent, rewind back to the discussion about circulation and distribution as part of delivery. Brooke links this discussion to Timbur again with Timbur’s comment on “how the act of translation necessarily participates in and shapes the circulation of biomedical discourse in ways that go beyond simple information transfer” (qtd. in Brooke 174). It is here where Brooke pulls in “delivery as medium” to stop the perception of circulation to be aligned with the perception of simple transmission (rhetoric should not, in this view, remain static between media) (174).
But that is delivery in the terms of a transitive process, so let us take a look at delivery as performance. What does this mean in a digital era? Brooke turns towards the concept of ethos (character, or credibility) in regards to a person’s work (for example, a student like me who is trying to create content online in a public space not just for my teacher and peers, but also for anyone who visits the blog and lingers long enough to read this far). There is the understanding that information from the interwebs must be evaluated deeply to be sure that the information is accurate, the source is credible, and the author is not some hack (and there are plenty of sites where such concerns seem to the lowest priority). However, Brooke pushes forward a little further with his comment about technology’s role in the process: “The underlying assumption of these evaluation checklists, however, is something that we should find more problematic. Put simply, much of the advice for evaluating Web-based information posits credibility or ethos as a quality that is decontextualized from the technology, an attitude toward delivery that sees it simply as transmission” (184). Brooke notes that the credibility of websites is based on their connections to the “real world” (or meat space), which is what I am doing here by citing from a physical book being held in my arms as I type this sentence; anyone could pick up a copy of Brooke’s book and check the passages that I am citing.
To push back against this notion of credibility as tied to how we have evaluated books, Brooke uses Wikipedia as example as it is open to users to edit and add content, even if those users are not certified experts in their fields. The content being added is evaluated for its content and actions taken against users who prove to add false information or prove less than credible as sources, but the openness of the adding/editing process is changing how we perceive and understand encyclopedias, even though Wikipedia is not free of criticism (188).
While Wikipedia is not to be seen as a site for pure credibility, Brooke looks to it as a site of discourse for issues of authorship and credibility. The site offers what a place where credibility becomes a performance, a practice, messy as that can be at times “represent[ing] the kind of opportunity that traditional encyclopedias can never dream of providing — an ethos that is interactive, democratic, public, and, at times, contentious” (191). It is interesting to think of credibility as a performance, but his example about the credibility of Wikipedia as burgeoning with its members really strengthens my understanding of the concept.
And so ends this round of reading notes. Fare thee well, Brooke and your remapped rhetorical canons for the digital era.
Skipping Along through New Media
Update: As part of our reading notes assignment, my classmates and I are to make comments on two peers’ posts every week. So, here are mine:
Chvonne’s post did a really nice job of dealing with the second half of Brooke’s text, especially the way she brings him to task for not fully delving into the messiness that comes with the ecologies of culture. I think Chvonne raises a good question (one that made me stop and think for awhile) about whether or not there are practical ways to apply Brooke’s remapping of the rhetorical canons. The conclusion that I finally came to was that for the generation of students who are now entering college, it may benefit them to use their foundational knowledge of computers (since this is a technology they have grown up with) as a way to understand rhetoric, rather than to approach them first with rhetoric to understand how the digital era is changing our perspectives. These students are growing up with connections through Facebook, seeing first hand how social spaces like Twitter are sites of social activism as well as sites of public shaming, and approaching archives not as physical spaces but as data that can be accessed anywhere at any time with the advent of Cloud computing. For them, rhetoric of Socrates and Plato is an archaic past compared with how rhetoric is now being reshaped to fit the needs of a digital era (just as it had changed for television and film).