I am an Associate Professor at Texas A&M in the English Department. My current research project focuses on the rhetoric of transhumanism, but I am broadly interested in the reshaping of rhetoric, discourse, and identity in the face of digital technologies. My research and pedagogical work touches on facets of digital rhetoric, digital humanities, emerging media, and technical communications.
This project develops the rhetorical mode of “evolutionary futurism” and the rhetoric of the transhumanist movement. While transhumanism is usually dismissed by scholars of rhetoric, technology, and culture as a fringe movement with limited scope, my project instead argues that “transhumanism” is a name for a much more pervasive rhetorical mode that considers technology as a vector for evolutionary change operating on society, consciousness, and biology. I call this rhetorical mode “evolutionary futurism,” and, in tracing this formation throughout 20th and 21st century culture, I suggest that transhumanism, rather than a fringe movement of renegade scientists and philosophers, is actually a postmodern form of Utopia in line with Fredric Jameson’s discussion of the concept in Postmodernism.
My book then traces the rhetorical, Utopian mode I call “evolutionary futurism” through a number of important moments in the 20th and 21st centuries.
View my CV.
Associate Professor of English
Department of English
Texas A&M University
|Associate Professor||Texas A&M University||2018-Present|
|Assistant Professor||Texas A&M University||2015-2018|
|Assistant Professor||Arizona State University||2012-2015|
|Fixed-Term Lecturer||Pennsylvania State University||2011-2012|
|Graduate Teaching Fellow||Pennsylvania State University||2005-2011|
|PhD, English||Pennsylvania State University||May 2011|
|MA, English||Pennsylvania State University||May 2007|
|BS, Computer Science||Georgia Institute of Technology||May 2005|
|BS, Science Technology & Culture||Georgia Institute of Technology||May 2005|
Immutability: The World According to Software Bugs
Six Chapter Manuscript, In-Progress – This project is a media archeology of the computer bug. While numerous works explore computer hacking, my project is interested in accidental computer failure: unintended consequences that can have dangerous and far-reaching effects. I uncover that the accident is integral to software while mitigating this accidental nature has radically altered the landscape of contemporary culture. Planned chapters trace the software accident through the early mathematical foundations of computing, the 1990s emergence of home computing and the Internet, the collapse of post-structural thought and the related rise of infrastructure studies, recent changes in programming practices resulting from big data, and current discussions about the programmatic nature of reality itself.
Humans at Work in the Digital Age: Forms of Digital Textual Labor
Edited Collection, Co-Editing w/ Shawna Ross, 13 Chapter Drafts Collected, 2 Additional Solicited, & In Talks with Publishers – CFP is online at: https://oncomouse.github.io/digital-labor-cfp/. This edited collection draws together interdisciplinary scholars working on the question of digital labor, its forms, and its histories.
Transhumanism: Evolutionary Futurism and the Human Technologies of Utopia
Six-Chapter Manuscript, University of Minnesota (2017) – This book explores the rhetorical history of “evolutionary futurism,” a twentieth century Utopian rhetorical mode associating advancing telecommunications technologies with biological evolution to suggest near-future radical shifts in human existence and cognition. Tracing this rhetoric of transhumanism, chapters explore the evolutionary futurism of theosophy, 1940s science fiction, Raymond Kurzweil, and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. In addition to a theoretical introduction, the book also contains an extended discussion of contemporary digital aesthetics as transhuman vectors of evolutionary overcoming.
“Life During Wartime: Science Fiction during and after World War II.” Chapter in The Cambridge History of Science Fiction eds. Gerry Canavan and Eric Carl Link. (2018).
“The Ethos of Mr. Robot.” Present Tense 7.1 (2018): n.p.
“Polynesian Paralysis: Tiki Culture and the Aesthetics of American Empire.” Chapter in The Year’s Work in Cocktail Culture: The Shaken and the Stirred. Eds. Stephen Schneider and Craig N. Owens. (Under Preliminary Contract with Indiana UP in “The Year’s Work: Studies in Fan Culture and Cultural Theory” series).
“Invoking Darkness: Skotison, Scalar Derangement, and Inhuman Rhetoric.” Philosophy and Rhetoric 50.3 (2017): 336-355.
“‘We twiddle…and turn into machines’: Mina Loy, HTML, and the Machining of Information.” Chapter in Reading Modernism with Machines eds. Shawna Ross & James O’Sullivan (2016).
“Insect Capital.” New American Notes Online (NANO) 8 (2015).
“Self-Help Supermen: The Politics of Fan Utopias in World War II-Era Science Fiction.” Science Fiction Studies 41.3 (2014): 524-542.
“Review of Technosystems by Andrew Feenberg”. Contemporary Political Theory (2017).
“Ethical Models for Nonhuman, Collective Rhetoric: A Review of Against Purity: Living Ethically in Compromised Times by Alexis Shotwell and Minimal Ethics for the Anthropocene by Joanna Zylinska”. Enculturation (2017).
“After ‘The’ ‘Text’: A Review of Comparative Textual Media.” Review of Comparative Textual Media edited by N. Katherine Hayles and Jessica Pressman. Enculturation (2016).
“Review of MP3: The Meaning of a Format by Jonathan Sterne.” Information Society 29.5 (2013): 316-317.
“Review of Slime Dynamics by Ben Woodard.” Itineration, 2013.
“A Review of The Breakup 2.0 by Illana Gershon.” Information Society 28.2 (2012): 126-127.
“Contagious Narratives: Towards a Global Epidemiology in Priscilla Wald’s Contagious.” Review Of Contagious: Cultures, Carriers, and the Outbreak Narrative by Priscilla Wald. BioSocieties 4.2-3 (2009): 326-328.
“What Does Flash Reason Look Like.” Textshop Experiments 5 (2018): n.p.
“When the Coffee Machine Is Just a Human.” An Object Lesson for The Atlantic (January 28, 2016).
Mina Loy Online. A collection of poems and manifestoes by avant-garde modernist Mina Loy, posted online in an open-access, typographically correct format. http://oncomouse.github.io/loy.
rake-and-pandoc, Lead Developer. Framework for writing books using the open source Markdown engine, Pandoc, and the task automation system, Rake.
The Goldilocks Approach SASS, Lead Developer. Open source port of The Goldilocks Approach (a CSS responsive design framework) to SASS (a CSS preprocessor used throughout the web development industry).
Co-author. “Toward a Digital Henry James.” With Shawna Ross, College of Letters & Science at ASU. ASU Institute for Humanities Research Seed Grant, Fall 2014. Awarded.
Co-author. “Toward a Digital Henry James.” With Shawna Ross, College of Letters & Science at ASU. ASU Institute for Humanities Research Seed Grant, Spring 2013. Revise and Resubmit.
SLS Faculty Summer Research Initiative, 2013 & 2014. (Arizona State)
Wilma Ebbitt Graduate Award in Rhetorical Studies, 2010. (Penn State)
Philip Young Memorial Endowment in American Literature, 2006. (Penn State)
“The What, Why, and How of Net Neutrality.” New York Times Café. ASU Downtown Phoenix Campus. 2014.
“Composition’s Mushrooms: Fungal Models of Sustainable Pedagogy.” The Conference on College Composition and Communication. Pittsburgh, PA, 2019. (Accepted)
“Frankenstein’s Monster vs Cthulhu!: Imagining the Monster at the End of this World.” “It’s Alive!”: Frankenstein’s Monster 200 Years Later, College Station, TX, 2018.
“Composition not Inheritance: Imagining a Functional Digital Humanities.” DHSI Colloquium, Victoria BC, 2018.
“Alien Megastructures: The Possibility of Extraterrestrial Life and the Rhetoric of Hope in the Anthropocene.” 18th Biennial RSA Conference, Minneapolis, MN, 2018.
“Events in Flux: Software Architecture and Rhetorical Subtraction.” 18th Biennial RSA Conference, Minneapolis, MN, 2018.
“Security Through Transparency: Minimal Computing in the Jungle of the Real.” 133rd MLA Annual Convention, New York, NY, 2018.
Facilitator, “Commonsense Information Security for Academics.” 133rd MLA Annual Convention, New York, NY, 2018. (Cancelled Due to Weather)
Roundtable Participant, “Hacking the Scholarly Workflow.” 133rd MLA Annual Convention, New York, NY, 2018. (Cancelled Due to Weather)
“The Jungle of the Real: Hacking Infrastructure After Baudrillard.” The Society For Literature, Science, and the Arts 2017 Conference, Tempe, AZ, 2017.
“Rocket Into Darkness: Accelerationism, Space, and the Future of the Future.” The Society For Literature, Science, and the Arts 2017 Conference, Tempe, AZ, 2017.
Roundtable Participant, “Working Out Loud: Online Identity Building, Digital Networking, and Professional Development.” 132nd MLA Annual Convention, Philadelphia, PA, 2017.
“Lachrymator: Persuasion’s Tear Gas.” 17th Biennial RSA Conference, Atlanta, GA, 2016.
“The Rhetorical Future of the Soul at Work.” 17th Biennial RSA Conference, Atlanta, GA, 2016.
“‘The sharpest part of my skeleton’: Digital Surrealism, Weird Posthumanism, and Performing Theory.” Computers & Writing 2016 Conference, Rochester, NY, 2016.
Chair and Organizer, Critical Informatics and the Digital Humanities. 131st MLA Annual Convention, Austin, TX, 2016.
“Worlds Without Us: The Horror of Indifference in The Southern Reach Trilogy” The Society For Literature, Science, and the Arts 2015 Conference, Houston, TX, 2015.
“Interpretation Comes Alive” The Conference on College Composition and Communication, Tampa, FL, 2015.
Roundtable Participant, “Approaching The Peripheral: First Responses to William Gibson’s New Novel” 130th MLA Annual Convention, Vancouver, BC, 2015.
“Sex and the Singularity: On The Reproduction of Software Objects” 130th MLA Annual Convention, Vancouver, BC, 2015.
“Coffee Futurism” The Society For Literature, Science, and the Arts 2014 Conference, Dallas, TX, 2014.
“Posthuman, Nonhuman, Inhuman: Toward An Eldritch Rhetoric” 16th Biennial RSA Conference, San Antonio, TX, 2014.
“Polynesian Paralysis” Cocktail Culture: A Conference, Louisville, KY, 2014.
“How Did I Get Here?: GPS, Surveillance Culture, and Personal Narrative” The Conference on College Composition and Communication, Indianapolis, IN, 2014.
“Shooting at Agency” Western States Rhetoric and Literacy Conference 2013, Salt Lake City, UT, 2013.
“‘I am afraid of a draught of cool air’: Lovecraft, Air Conditioning, and Autophagic Modernity” The Society For Literature, Science, and the Arts 2013 Conference, South Bend, IN, 2013.
“When Writing is no Longer Writing: Institutions, Objects, Disciplines” Computers and Writing 2013 Conference, Frostberg, MD, 2013.
“Thinking Different: Primitive Accumulation, Cognitive Economies, and the Quest for a More Perfect Mind” 15th Biennial RSA Conference, Philadelphia, PA, 2012.
“Becoming Object: Facebook, Life Writing, and Tool-Being” The Conference on College Composition and Communication, St. Louis, MA, 2012.
“As Study or As Paradigm?: Humanities and the Uptake of Emerging Technologies,” 127th MLA Annual Convention, Seattle, WA, 2012.
“Remixing ‘Technical Communication’: Design, Techné, and the Production of Documents,” The Conference on College Composition and Communication, Louisville, KY, 2010.
“He Called It ‘Utopia’: Jameson’s Social and Vedic Transhumanism,” The Society For Literature, Science, and the Arts 2009 Conference, Atlanta, GA, 2009.
“Utopia.com: Fredric Jameson and Piracy Online,” The Society For Literature, Science, and the Arts 2007 Conference, Portland, ME, 2007.
“Revising Tomorrow: the Historical Present, Telecommunications, and Capitalism in Nova and Neuromancer,” Samuel Delany: A Critical Symposium, University at Buffalo (State University of New York), 2006.
Independent Study (1 Section; 1 Student) – Taught in Fall 2018 as “Writing About Science,” a pilot for a new course in the English major.
Approaches to English Studies (1 Section; 25 Students) – Taught in Spring 2018 as “Cyberculture,” which introduced the English major through topics such as humanities computing, science fiction, and speculative design.
Graduate Seminar: Topics in Rhetoric and Composition (1 Section; 8 Students) – Taught in Spring 2018 as “Infrastructure Tales,” which explored the intersection between infrastructure studies and narrative as a key site for future and emerging theories of rhetorical practice.
Digital Authoring Practices (1 Section; 10 Students) – I developed and first taught this class for A&M. The course is designed to introduce students to the technologies of digital writing while asking them to formulate artifacts using computational artifacts.
Rhetoric of Style (3 Section; 80 Students) – Course documents the relationship between style and persuasion, with an emphasis on sentence analysis, tropes & figures, and classical rhetorical style exercises.
Graduate Seminar: History and Theory of Rhetoric since 1800 (1 Section; 6 Students) – Taught in Fall 2016 as “Rhetoric’s Avant-Garde,” which focused on the intersection between avant-garde writing practices and developments in rhetorical theory during the twentieth century.
Graduate Directed Study: History and Theory of Rhetoric (1 Section; 2 Students) – Graduate directed reading focusing on the history of rhetoric from ancient Greece through the Enlightenment and contemporary articulations of those concepts in rhetoric of science, rhetorical historiography, procedural rhetoric, and minority rhetorics.
History of Rhetoric (2 Section; 50 Students) – Focus on the history and development of rhetorical concepts from the ancient Greeks through the Enlightenment.
Modern Rhetorical Theory (4 Section; 100 Students) – Course focuses on the developments of rhetorical theory in the 20th century. Course emphasizes mutations in media and globality as preconditions for the flowering of rhetorical thought that mark our world.
American Literature From 1860 (1 Section; 24 Students) – In this born-digital approach to the literary survey, students learn the history of American literature since 1860 while exploring digital methods of textual analysis.
Frankenstein and His World (1 Section; 30 Students; Online Course) – In this course, students will read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein in conversation with the texts that both influenced it and were influenced by the novel. Students also complete projects and papers on this cultural legacy.
Major American Novels (2 Section; 46 Students) – Course covering major works of the American novel. Additionally, students will complete assignments deploying thematic, stylometric, and mapping-based approaches to the study of literature in a project-oriented exploration American literary history.
H.P. Lovecraft: Style, Science, Myth (2 Section; 60 Students; Online Course) – In this course on the horror fiction of H.P. Lovecraft, students use digital humanities methods to complete projects dealing with Lovecraft’s unique style, interest in science, and contemporary mythology.
Introduction to Contemporary Fiction (3 Section; 90 Students; Online Course) – Course introduces students to the current state of American fiction by focusing on novels published by living authors within the last three years.
Popular Cultural Issues: Apocalypse Now? (1 Section; 30 Students; Online Course) – Course asks students to think critically about the continuing popularity of post-apocalyptic and end-of-the-world narratives in contemporary literature, film, and television.
Rhetoric & Composition (6 Sections; 144 Students) – This first-year composition option at Penn State introduces students to college writing, critical thinking, and basic rhetorical theory.
Effective Writing: Technical Writing (7 Sections; 168 Students) – Advanced composition class for students in science and engineering fields. Focus on document design, readability, and technologies of communication.
Effective Writing: Business Writing (2 Sections; 48 Students) – Advanced composition class for students in business fields. Focus on effective and ethical communication, document design, and branding.
Science Fiction (2 Sections; 200 Students) – Course focusing on the history of science fiction in the 20th and 21st centuries. This large lecture class, composed mostly of non-majors, highlights the ongoing relationships between science, literature, and imagined futures.
Introduction to Critical Reading (1 Section; 24 Students) – Introductory class focusing on research methods and critical approaches within the English major. Specifically, instruction focused on media theory and critical appraisal of cultural texts.
Member-at-large, Executive Committee, The Society For Literature, Science, and the Arts, 2015-2017.
Program Committee Member, The Society For Literature, Science, and the Arts Conference, 2013.
Manuscript Reviewer, Science, Technology, & Human Values, 2018.
Manuscript Reviewer, Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2017.
Manuscript Reviewer, PMLA, 2017.
Manuscript Reviewer, Journal of Digital Literary Studies, 2016.
Manuscript Reviewer, Rhetoric Society Quarterly, 2015.
Digital Projects & Tools Editor, Journal of Digital Literary Studies, 2015-Present.
Graduate Studies Committee, 2017-Present.
Strategic Planning Committee, 2016-Present.
Digital Humanities Working Group Convener, 2015-Present.
Multimedia Editing & Writing Ad Hoc Committee, 2015-Present.
Ad Hoc Writing Committee Member, 2015-2016.
Rhetoric & Composition Search Committee Member, 2015 – Successful hire for tenure-track assistant professor in History & Theory of Rhetoric.
First Year Review Committee Member, 2015.
IHC English Education Search Committee Member 2014 – Successful hire for tenure-track assistant professor in English Education.
Noösphere Reading Group Organizer, 2014 – Ongoing, informal reading group of SLS faculty reading works related to the topics of global consciousness and global awareness.
IHR Nexus Lab Advisory Group Member, Institute for Humanities Research, 2013-2015 – The Nexus Lab, resulting from the work of the DH Initiative at ASU, serves as a focal point and incubator for collaborative, digital research across the humanities at ASU.
IHR Nexus Lab Data Visualization Working Group Member, 2014-2015.
Digital Humanities Initiative Working Group Member, Institute for Humanities Research, 2013 – Created purpose document inaugurating an interdisciplinary research and pedagogy initiative for digital humanities.
Peer Promotion Committee Chair, Interdisciplinary Humanities and Communications, 2012 – Reviewed materials for colleagues seeking promotion.
Computer Programming – Thorough knowledge of multiple computer programming languages such as C, Java, Ruby, PERL, and LISP. Significant experience in building websites using advanced technologies such as PHP, MySQL, Ruby on Rails, and Apache.
The Modern Language Association
Rhetoric Society of America
The Society for Literature, Science, and the Arts
Available Upon Request
My goals in teaching classes in both rhetoric and literature are intimately connected with my research interests.
“His dream was not so much to give a lecture to humans as to provide a program for pure computers.”—Gilles Deleuze & Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus
My goals in teaching classes in both rhetoric and literature are intimately connected with my research interests. In my first book, I write about “transhumanism,” a discursive community aimed at grappling with humans as objects of ongoing evolutionary processes. Often, these evolutionary processes have, specifically, to do with the evolutionary pressures exerted by new and emerging, digital technologies. As such, my motivation as a teacher is to better equip my students to deal with these pressures. Overall, I view my teaching as a chance to direct students in ways of living in a digital media ecology and preparing them for a future of ongoing, accelerating technological change.
This goal expresses itself differently, depending on the class being taught. For instance, in teaching Technical Communication, which I have done four times so far, I made an interesting discovery regarding my students and their attitudes towards writing. In conducting classroom discussion, I found that, thanks to Penn State’s various internship and co-op programs, my students mostly had experience writing in a professional, scientific capacity. What they lacked, however, was basic knowledge of digital document production. As such, I’ve retooled my teaching of this subject to focus on combining content production and document design. In this fashion, students spend as much time focusing on how they write as on what they write. The class includes assignments in both report writing and webpage design. I find that students benefit more from this approach, as they can leave my course with marketable, new media skills in addition to a better understanding of the rhetorical stakes of technical writing. More importantly, I stress the importance of developing digital problem solving strategies, rather than specific tool use, so that students in my classes can be better prepared for a changing, evolving digital workplace.
My teaching of science fiction, which is a new experience for me, affords another opportunity for dealing pedagogically with the tenants of transhumanism. Where the technical communications classroom becomes a workshop for applied transhumanism, I view the science fiction classroom as focusing on the philosophical implications of this discourse. By focusing on close analysis of various texts that grapple with the nature of a radically altered future, I attempt to direct students toward thinking seriously about the ethical, moral, and philosophical issues raised by the rapid technological change experienced by the United States following World War II (which corresponds to the high point of American SF). Additionally, as many of these processes of change and acceleration are ongoing (especially with regards to emerging Internet technologies and mobile computing), I view science fiction pedagogy as an opportunity to raise my students’ awareness that the issues raised in SF are, increasingly, being raised in their lives and their futures.
In both of these cases, I find focusing on the ongoing evolution of the human condition, by viewing my pedagogy from a transhuman perspective, both personally rewarding and hugely beneficial to my students in the classroom and beyond. While also helping them learn the course material at hand, my transhuman perspective allows students to step out of the classroom and the university with highly valuable “take-away” skills that can be applied in their future lives as students and as professionals. As such, I look forward to continue to explore this perspective in new and exciting pedagogical environments.
This article argues that the turn to new materialism in rhetorical theory, specifically when inspired by object-oriented ontology, actually fills a need to address what this paper labels “boundless agencies”: ecosystems, climates, pandemics, economies, etc. Our object-centric language lacks rhetorical strategies for dealing with these new inhuman agencies and, as they come to dominant our cultural rhetoric, we lack persuasive strategies to address them. Instead of a model of object rhetoric focused on rhetorical carpentry (Brown and Rivers), a strategy that proposes the enlistment of simulating objects to understand the nonhuman, this article nominates Lanham’s concept of skotison—deliberately obfuscatory speech—as a key figure for rhetorically invoking these boundless agencies. Rhetorical invocation provides a strategy for thinking about the rhetoric of the inhuman, rather than the nonhuman, which is the more salient object for an extra-human rhetorical theory in our current age of horrors.
Chapter on Loy, HTML, and the emergence of contemporary information.
This chapter argues that Mina Loy—avant-garde poet, fierce critic of Italian futurism, collage artist, and mystic—anticipates in her poetry written between 1910 and 1930 the turn from a concept of the machine as physical to the machine as information, a transformation also developed in 20th century Marxist thought. I base Loy’s informatic futurism on discoveries made in translating her typographic fractals into HTML for online consumption. Loy’s usage of an informatic machine critiques both the masculine ethos of her Futurist interlocutors but also interrogates the rational afterlives of this machismo in web design practices that inherits principles developed by avant-garde movements. Thus Loy’s poetic account of machinic being serves as a potent site for exploring and resisting informatic rationality in the present.
Collection is edited by Shawna Ross and James O’Sullivan and published by Palgrave.
Uses the pattern of insect imagery in William Gibson’s Neuromancer to talk about a theory of corporate culture informed by German Media Studies.
Tracing an inhuman theory of the corporation, this article uses Friedrich Kittler’s understandings of media (that they shape humans, not the other way around) to argue that the corporation in postmodern, cyberpunk literature is a media form for adapting the human to the inhuman registers of global data. I trace this through the repeated invocation of the wasp hive as a metaphor for transnational corporation in William Gibson’s Neuromancer. Ultimately, I show that, contra many readings of the novel, the book is actually a celebration of humanity’s inability to adapt to new technologies, a common theme in Gibson’s work.
This article discusses the presentation of anti-corporate resistance in Mr. Robot.
This article considers Mr. Robot as an important moment in the presentation of the outsider ethos in contemporary cultural texts. Specifically, the article doubly considers the show’s presentation of the hacker as a revolutionary outsider, co-opting the language and imagery of the collective Anonymous and it’s situatedness as part of USA Network’s successful corporate rebranding as an edgier network that appeals to millenials. By considering the show’s blatant commodification of dissent, the article asks after the true shape of anti-corporate ethos in the present and questions the revolutionary potential of popular entertainment in a network, globalized era.
A review essay of two recent works that connect nonhuman turns in philosophy to the practice of ethics. I speculate that these books form a possible foundation for a future, ethically-grounded set of nonhuman-engaged rhetorical practices in an age of extreme uncertainty.
Image Source: Lauri Heikkinen
Online edition of Mina Loy’s poetry and manifestoes formatted in HTML to be typographically correct, retaining the structural elements of Loy’s writing that is often not produced online.
Online at: http://oncomouse.github.io/loy
This collection of Mina Loy’s poems and manifestoes documents the canon of futurist works identified by Janet Lyon as crucial to understanding Loy’s complicated relationship with avant-garde modernism. Additionally, Loy’s usage of typography contains clues to how to interpret the poems, but many of these innovative, concrete features are lost when the poems are translated online. This online edition rectifies this lack by using CSS 3, HTML 5, and advanced web fonts to format Loy’s poems in as close a format to their original publication as possible.
Edition currently includes:
Online at: http://oncomouse.github.io/loy
This project algorithmically generates an example of what Desiderius Erasmus called a copia. Specifically, it randomly iterates through copious versions of the famous excuse “My dog ate my homework.” You can also follow this flowing stream of eloquence at @HomeworkCopia).
In De Copia, Erasmus suggests practicing the “abundant style” by imagining copious variation on given phrases. Famously, Erasmus offers 195 variations on the sentence “Your Letter Pleased Me Greatly” as an example of stylistic abundance in De Copia. James J Brown, Jr. argues in “The Machine That I Therefore Am” that Erasmus’s copia are tiny rhetorical algorithms and, as an example, discusses @YourLetterBot, which produces further versions of pleased letter recipients.
Project source code: https://github.com/oncomouse/homework-copia
I couldn’t make MLA 2018 this year due to a “bomb cyclone” in NYC and multiple flight cancellations from DFW. Through the superhero efforts of presider Élika Oretga, I was able to participate virtually in my panel, #304 “Activist Infrastructures”. Below is the screencast of my talk and slides I made and then, below that you can find the transcript.
I am really excited to announce that I am on the schedule to teach at DHSI next year in Victoria. The class still has to make, of course, but otherwise it should be a go. According to Shawna, some people have been asking for the course proposal, so I thought I’d share it here.
Twitter bots, are great, right? Of course they are. People are talking about them at #cwcon in Findlay this weekend. I was talking about them with people at RSA. I run a few (here, here, and here). They are a really great way to get into the world of programmable rhetoric and to play around with some simple coding.
What can the way Facebook writes software—at the level of the code itself—teach us about how we argue online?
Presentation At: 18th Biennial RSA Conference, Minneapolis, MN
This presentation discusses the design of software platforms—emergent, commodified digital publics—through the lens of a “rhetorical code studies” (Brock 2013). (Srnicek 2017) defines a software platform as “a digital space for others to interact” that is also “an extractive apparatus for data.” Companies such as Facebook, Amazon, and Google profit from making and managing platforms. Specifically, I discuss Facebook’s Flux architecture as a programmatic detractio, the rhetorical figure of subtraction. Flux is Facebook’s standard pattern for state management. “State management” is the term for tracking user interactions with software, including what they have clicked on, what data is displayed, etc. Older, looser management patterns allow for a higher degree of expressive potential but become difficult to predict in complex applications as components may change the state without one another’s knowledge. Flux prevents unexpected mutations by using a unidirectional control flow that curtails free expression while preventing chaotic behavior. Thus I connect Flux to detractio, the rhetorical figure of discursive subtraction. Detractio encourages a compact style that focuses both rhetor and audience on important information. In this comparison, I provide a particular test-case for thinking about the convergence between rhetoric and code (Brock 2013) and computation and eloquence (Brown 2014). I conclude by suggesting that the work of digital rhetoric is best done by moving beyond screen essentialism. By considering the code of Facebook, I show how computational materiality is a crucial element—along with the uses to which users put platforms—of accounts of the affordances and subversions of the rhetorical platform.
Image Credit: “Facebook Press Conference” by Robert Scoble
Call to think through digital humanities practices using methods derived from functional programming.
Presentation At: DHSI Colloquium, Victoria, BC
Taking a piece of advice from the 1994 software engineering classic, Design Patterns by Erich Gamma, Richard Helm, Ralph Johnson and John Vlissides, this talk imagines a digital humanities that favors composition over inheritance in the design of its systems. In object-oriented programming, inheritance is the design pattern in which objects that share functionality inherit their shared functionality from a common ancestor (e.g. guppies and goldfish both inherit the “swim with fins” behavior from a common fish ancestor class). Such a design pattern gives us big, rigid, and complex hierarchies of data and structure a lot of thinking about digital objects in text encoding and metadata-heavy projects. One source of anxiety in regards to future-proofing digital data can be traced to why Design Patterns recommends avoiding inheritance: if the needs of users change, the entire pattern of inheritance can be disrupted (in the fish example, how do you get the “swims with fins” behavior to a whale or a shark, both of which are not fish?). Instead, composition is the preferred pattern for designing complex systems. Rather than define what data is, in composition, object features are determined by what they do. This model of data focuses on function and behavior rather than ontology. It is more extensible and nuanced because arbitrary functions can be concatenated to describe novel behaviors (in the fish example, there would be a “swims with fins” class that could be composed into goldfish, shark, and whale regardless of what each type was). In this paper, I connect this idea of functional composition to Jacques Derrida’s “Signature, Event, Context,” which I argue is the only essay from the post-structual period that has anything interesting to say about computation. There, Derrida suggests that the primary importance of writing is revealing language’s iterability, the way it always repeats but always repeats in new contexts. Using these two concepts—functional composition and linguistic iteration—, I conclude by arguing that while many DH archiving projects and the infrastructure that supports them (such as TEI and Islandora) have done a very good job of getting digital versions of a variety of humanistic objects onto the Internet, but the ability to chain, play with, remix, manipulate, and cross-pollinate from different data-stores and through different media, which is after all the true promise of the digital, is lacking. By thinking about our projects less as future-proof ontological hierarchies and more as compositions of functional behaviors, I speculate that we may start to imagine a version of digital humanities practice that is more in tune with the affordances of the digital itself.
Considering recent announcements of the discovery of possible extraterrestrial “megastructures” as evidence for how we construct hope in an age of ecological crisis.
Presentation At: 18th Biennial RSA Conference, Minneapolis, MN
This presentation draws on popular press accounts of Tabby’s Star, officially designated KIC 8462852, to discuss rhetorical discussion of hope in an age seemingly dominated by cultural conversations of hopelessness. Tabby’s Star, first discovered in 2015, has been popularized in the press for its unusual behavior: light from the star has dimmed in ways that are highly unusual to astronomers. This behavior is so unusual that it is widely held (and widely reported) that the star might be an alien Dyson Sphere. First theorized by physicist Freeman Dyson, a Dyson Sphere is a megastructure that could be constructed by advanced, space-faring societies to completely encase a star and harness 100% of its solar energy, venting unusable infrared light as waste heat. Though debate about the nature of Tabby’s Star is ongoing, several proposed theories for the behavior do not conform to Occam’s Razor, ie. they are more complex than the solution of “aliens.” In this presentation, I use the popular press accounts of this possible alien megastructure as a model for what hope looks like in an age marked by human-caused climate change, mass extinction, and the general decay of capitalist society. Drawing on John Durham Peter’s account of alien communication as a model for radical community, Nathaniel Rivers’s account of wild objects and deep ambivalence, and John Poulakos’s assertion that sophistic rhetoric constructs futures based on desire, I construct a strange conversation about the nature of the future and the role the alien plays in constructing a hopeful future in a high technology, high crisis age.
Image Source: “Alien” by John Fowler
Does minimal computing mean minimal complexity in the age of the accident?
Presentation At: The Modern Languages Association Convention, New York, NY
Image Source: DennisM2
Software used in development.
The site was designed and coded by Andrew Pilsch.
This course studies the return of interest in rhetorical theory and rhetorical training in the 20th century. There are three units: 1) we explore various texts that situate modern life (cities, cars, and mass media, especially) as a problem that rhetoric can solve; 2) we look at some theories of persuasion that respond specifically to these various challenges; 3) we use these theories to explore a rhetorical case study.
This senior seminar explores the question of writing by exploring both ends of written culture: debates about writing in ancient Athens and the perceived decline in literacy brought about by computers. We will be reading a variety of works from both periods, exploring them from within the rhetorical tradition, and generally attempting to account for the way media, most prominently writing, structures culture and the transmission of knowledge.