ENC 6422 | Fall 2014 | University of South Florida
Dr. Marc C. Santos
Assistant Prof. of English
Office: Cooper Hall 301c
Email: marcsantos at usf dot edu / insignificantwrangler at gmail dot com
Hypertext. New media. Web 2.0. Web 3.0 Social media. Information technology. Digital humanities. New aesthetic. You know the buzz words. This class is designed to help you learn the tools that will be requisite for contributing to 21st century research, teaching, and citizenship.
Beyond tools, however, I want to explore the relationship between tools and critical/rhetorical theory. I chose the term “new media” for this class because of its (now largely historical) resonances. I read “new media” not only as a set of tools and practices, but also as a kind of theoretical-philosophical-rhetorical disposition toward knowledge, communication, and ethics–one that pushes against the metaphysical/ontological, epistemological, and ethical assumptions of literacy and print. And it is likely that the era of “new media” is already in the past tense, past its prime.
One can also wonder, however, whether a new mode of signifying is not necessary to critical lucidity itself, which, in order to think in according to its level in knowing, must also ceaselessly awaken: a vigilance that, before serving knowledge, is a rupture of limits and a bursting of finitude. Levinas, “The Thinking of Being and the Question of the Other”
While I want to engage in some theoretical reading this semester, I want to stress upfront that the goals of this seminar are more technical (drawing on the ancient rhetorical term techne). Our focus will be on production, on using tools to invent new things, and, more importantly, to invent new ways of inventing things. This is what I glean from the work of contemporary theorists such as Collin Brooke, Byron Hawk, Cynthia Selfe, Gregory Sirc, D. Diane Davis, Anne Wysocki, Jody Shipka, and others: the opportunity to attune ourselves to the new possibilities inherent in emerging technologies and ecologies. To set up this attuning, let me quickly present two views of “new media,” a short view and a long view, and briefly comment on how each resonates for me.
The short view might also be called the pedagogic argument, or the disciplinary manifesto. Put simply: our discipline has too narrowly defined composition in terms of [linear] writing. Words on a page or on a screen. Words arranged according to logos. The fetish of the alphabetic signifier.
We need to broaden and expand our definition of composition. We need to arrange otherwise. I say this not only in purview of composition, whose goal should be, as Cynthia Selfe once put it, “to help people express by all available means,” but also in purview of my background in critical theory and deconstructive ethics, which aims to expose people to and make them more comfortable dealing with alterity. Writing is a poor medium for this–at least, that’s what I glean from Ong. Writing objectifies. It homogenizes. It subjects and objects.It distances and divides. It lends itself to the universal at the expense of the particular. It prioritizes autonomy, permanence, abstraction, security (the digital, by contrast, bends toward plurality, transience, immediacy, and risk). It is ends with unity, and it is unity that I would end.
…the unity of all that allows itself to be attempted today through the most diverse concepts of science and of writing, is, in principle, more or less covertly, yet always, determined by an historico-metaphysical epoch of which we merely glimpse the closure. I do not say the end. Derrida, Of Grammatology
New media exposes. It connects. It disperses and juxtaposes. It affords heterogeneity. Well, at least it softens the demand for “decision” that Derrida, Levinas, Vitanza, or Davis would associate with Being/Written-the radical reduction and betrayal that occurs as the signified would be contained in a signifier. The digital signifier *is* transient/transient in a way the print signifier isn’t.
Given its still relatively new state, it allows for experimentation. Everyone knows what a “paper” is, what a “paper” does (except for a Thomas or a Luanne paper, but those are from the other seminars!). Not everyone knows what a web page is (yet?), what it might become (or has this moment of undecidability already passed us by?). Fewer will know what a MEmorial is. Or a Kalman. Or whatever thing will have been invented by you in our future to come. This positions new media as a potential playground for new forms of expression, new genres for thought and communication.
Anyone familiar with the early work in hypertext theory will be familiar with the almost limitless utopian optimism critical theorists saw promised in code and hyperlinks. And, instead, we got Gawker, and all kinds of linear writing. But this is what Katherine Hayles would refer to as the skeuomorphic transition, as we take our understanding and expectations for an old technology (literacy/print) and map it onto an emerging technology. Such mapping helps ease the transition. As Rhetoric and Composition theorists, it falls on us to push for a broadened definition of composition sensitive to the fantastic (and hyperactive?) technological transformations marking the turn of the 21st century. I think most of us would say that paper is obsolete. But what of linearity? What of the logos?
College Writing might not care that both the production and reception sites for text are changing so rapidly, but the rest of the world does. Sirc, “Serial Composition”
There’s so many new possibilities once we free ourselves from print’s expectations. As scholars, we want to be able to step back from these expectations and see technology as it might otherwise be.
Seeing as it might otherwise be, in the way that Heidegger steps back from art, work, and the thing to see it otherwise than from the traditional (Greek) Western perspective. This brings us to my second view of the term new media–the long view one might call it. Or the metaphysical hypothesis. Ong sets the table for this argument-demonstrating to us the extent to which the invention and development of literacy fundamentally impacted the ways theology and philosophy framed existence and subjectivity. I do not merely use tools to communicate. The “I” who communicates is at least in part produced (dare we say determined?) through the means used to communicate. So long linear causality, egocentric agency, ethical humanism (by which I means an ethics rooted in the primacy of the human I/eye). Literacy, with its emphasis on the individual, determines a Cartesian philosophy. I read, therefore I think, therefore I am. Those familiar with Levinas will already see how Cartesian philosophy brackets the relation with the Other, others, neighbors, and world–like a reader, old and grey and full of sleep sitting by the fire. A fire that casts shadows on the wall of the cave that tricks the eye and traps the I. Literacy. Print. Ontology. Transcendence. The signifier. The signified. Ontology determined.
The essence of truth, that is, of unconcealment, is dominated throughout by a denial. Yet this denial is not a defect or a fault, as though truth were an unalloyed unconcealment that has rid itself of everything concealed. If truth could accomplish this, it would no longer be itself. This denial, in the form of a double concealment, belongs to the essence of truth as unconcealment. Truth, in its essence, is un-truth. Heidegger, “The Origin of the Work of Art”
No where is the attunement of new media as metaphysical as strong as it is in the work of Gregory Ulmer, whose concept of “electracy” very much guides the direction of this course. We will open the course following Ulmer’s MEmorial project. Ulmer playfully (all resonances to Derridean “play” intended) (un)writes the genre conventions one would normally associate with a memorial–interrogating them while offering them as a “relays” for rethinking identity, society, and memory under the affordances of electracy. How can we invent an electrate MEmorial?
Ulmer’s style matches what I have elsewhere defined as postpedagogy: often explaining assignments chapters after giving them, introducing neologisms as a way of (un)defining complicated terms, and calling upon students to invent methodologies for identifying and solving problems (heretics) rather than presenting them with formulas to be learned and deployed (heuristics). In short, Ulmer’s text aims at becoming a choratic/kairotic gymnasium for learning how to cope, and better yet, productively cooperate, with the streams of information saturating 21st century life.
When it became apparent in the work of the sophists that artistic presentations could persuade in the absence of truth, philosophy broke with literature, the consequences of which are still with us today and whose history may be traced in the fortunes of the two styles–the plain (scientific) and the rhetorical (literary). Ulmer, Applied Grammatology
What I am proposing, then, tentatively, is that new media might provide us with a new mode of communication, a new mode of signifying, one that potential contributes to the emergence of a distinctly different metaphysics (one other than the presence/absence of the signifier and its signified(s)), one that attunes us to the noise, rather than tunes it out, one that embraces the complexities of un-truth rather than deifying the utterly, essentially unconcealed. A fusion of the scientific and the literary. Testifying to neither a return to orality nor the death of literacy, but rather to the emergence of electracy.
We are part of the noise. Lingis, The Community of Those Who Have Nothing in Common
- Electronic Monuments. $22
- Kalman. And the Pursuit of Happiness. $15
- Bogost. Persuasive Games. $18
- McGonigal. Reality is Broken. $11
- Shipka. Towards a Composition Made Whole. $23
- Duckett. HTML and CSS: Design and Build Websites. $17
- Reynolds. Presentation Zen Design 2nd Edition. $20 There is a cheaper kindle edition, but I don’t know how well the book’s layout and design will translate to the kindle
- The Walking Dead Season 1 Video Game (this is available on a number of platforms, generally 14.99 – 24.99)
All prices above are from Amazon.com
Students not already paying for server space and a URL will have to register a URL and purchase server space-specifically one the with a WordPress install. I am strongly recommending Blue Host this semester (which costs 4.95 per month). We will use this server space both for posting class projects and for establishing your professional web presences.
In order to take this class, you will need some device that captures video and a tripod. It is perfectly acceptable to use a smart phone for this (and smart phone tripods can be purchased for under $30).
Project One: Electronic Monument
We will begin our exploration of electracy via Ulmer’s MEmorial project, the central focus of his Electronic Monuments. The deliverable for this project will be a series of html pages using a CSS style sheet. We will use the Duckett text to familiarize ourselves with coding, and the Reynolds text to get a handle on the basics of visual rhetoric.
During Week Four I will ask you to share your MEmorial projects in class.
Project Two: Kalman Project
Our second project will center around the use of digital video and the Pecha Kucha presentation format. We will use the work of multimedia writer and artist Maira Kalman as a relay for designing this assignment. This assignment attempts to communicate the experience and feel of a particular place. It involves researching the history of a particular place and juxtaposing the experience of this place alongside that research. In short, plan on going somewhere, and sharing with us (via a multimodal installation), your exploration.
Project Three: Electracy Made Whole
After reading and reflecting upon Shipka’s Composition Made Whole, and your experiences with the MEmorial and the Kalman project, I will ask you to develop your own digital assignment. You should specify the course for this assignment, and should develop a project that can be completed within 3-4 weeks. We will present these projects in class. You might check out my delicious feed for some inspiration.
Project Four: Rhetoric, Gaming, and the World
Our third project will be built around a series of readings including Bogost and McGonigal. Beginning in week 2, I will ask you to participate in sf0, the online Alternate Reality Game (ARG). Additionally, I will ask you to subscribe to (and, if possible purchase the mobile app) SuperBetter–McGonigal’s newest ARG project.
Project Five: Web Presence Project / MEmorial Remediation
During these final weeks we will focus our attention on your web presence. I will also ask you to remediate your MEmorial project into a video project.
As a graduate course, I expect you will be in attendance for every meeting. That said, things happen. The most important thing is to keep me informed so we can make arrangements.
I will excuse any absences for major religious observances provided I am notified of them within the first two weeks of the semester.
Students with a disability and thus requiring accommodations are encouraged to consult with the instructor during the first week of class to discuss accommodations. See Student Responsibilities: http://www.sds.usf.edu/. Each student making this request must bring a current Memorandum of Accommodations from the office of student Disabilities Services.
I am available via email at marcsantos at usf dot edu. I generally check my email twice a day–in the morning (around 9:30 am) and before I leave the office (around 4:30 pm). I try my best NOT to answer emails on the weekend.
I am also available on Twitter. Quick questions can be sent there. If you can’t ask it in 140 characters, chances are I don’t want to try and answer it in 140 characters either. My handle is @Oisin16. It is pronounced O-Sheen. It is the name of a Gaelic warrior from a Yeats poem. Yeah, I’m that guy.
I will hold office hours on Tuesday from 2:00 – 4:00. I am also available outside of this window by appointment (send an email or a tweet in advance to arrange a meeting). I highly encourage you to come to office hours, whether it is to discuss a particular project, the course readings, or Red Sox baseball. My office is 301c in Cooper Hall (look for the door with all the quotes on it).
Furthermore, since this is a grad class, I’ll encourage you to swing by and say “hi” anytime my door is open. Graduate school is about forging relationships and building networks. Don’t be an island.
Plagiarism is bad. Don’t do it. If you do, then I have to do all of this. Don’t make me do all of that. Remember to give credit anytime you use text, images, audio/video files, or even ideas that are not yours.
The University has a lot of official language about plagiarism on the Graduate School website.
The very existence of flamethrowers proves that some time, somewhere, someone said to themselves, “You know, I want to set those people over there on fire, but I’m just not close enough to get the job done.”
This Guy Won’t Teach Me Anything
A general statement: my approach to teaching is “postpedagogical.” In short, this means that I do not view teaching as a transmission of knowledge or expertise from teacher to student. I actually thinking the diea of “teaching” in this manner is impossible (even if, as the rise of standardization and assessment indicates, it is seductive). I do, however, believe strongly in the possibility of “learning.” In a postpedagogical model of learning, it is my job to create problems and your job to invent solutions. I assess you on the ingenuity and sophistication of those solutions. In short, the projects I design do not necessarily have “right” answers, but the lack of a right answer does not mean there isn’t wrong approaches. If this is already making your head hurta little, good.