I am an Assistant Professor of English in Arizona State's faculty of Interdisciplinary Humanities and Communication. 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.
Book In Progress
My current book project explores the rhetoric of the transhumanism movement with regards specifically to its Utopian content.
Book In Progress
Transhumanism: Evolutionary Futurism, Technical Rhetoric, and Digital Utopia
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.
- The relationship between theosophy and evolutionary biology in the 1920s and 30s. This connection suggests that more than just a theory of genetic evolution, transhumanism authors a theory of cognitive and spiritual evolution.
- The role of evolutionary futurism in the "superman" boom of American science fiction during the 1930s and 40s. From these tales of genetic supermen, I discuss how writers of this period, including AE van Vogt and Isaac Asimov, inspired a host of utopian communities dedicated to the evolution of human consciousness.
- The shape of the contemporary transhumanist movement, as exemplified by Raymond Kurzweil, technologist and author of The Singularity is Near. This chapter specifically considers the relationship between Kurzweil's singularitarian philosophy and Ayn Rand's objectivism. In doing so, I highlight the selfishness problem present in contemporary evolutionary futurism.
- The importance of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, the paleontologist and Jesuit theologian who first coined the term "transhumanism," as a thinker of contemporary Utopia. In Teilhard's transhumanism, the suffering of a "cosmic Christ" becomes the model for individuals' struggle, on behalf of all mankind, with evolutionary advancement.
- The role of aesthetics in actualizing contemporary transhumanism. This chapter considers both "high" and "low" online art, in the form of The New Aesthetic and meme culture, as tools designed to visualize and focus an emerging cosmic consciousness.
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 dissertation, 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.
View my CV.
Assistant Professor of English
Interdisciplinary Humanities & Communications
Arizona State University
44 W. Monroe St. #2203, Phoenix, AZ 85003
PhD, English Pennsylvania State University, May 2011
Transhumanism: Evolutionary Logic, Rhetoric, and the Future
Committee: Richard Doyle (Director), Jeffrey Nealon, Mark Morrisson, Robert Yarber.
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
Assistant Professor Arizona State University , 2012-Present
Fixed-Term Lecturer Pennsylvania State University , 2011-2012
Graduate Teaching Fellow Pennsylvania State University , 2005-2011
Awards & Grants
- Wilma Ebbitt Graduate Award in Rhetorical Studies, 2010. (Penn State)
- Philip Young Memorial Endowment in American Literature, 2006. (Penn State)
- “The Persistence of Degler: The Cosmic Circle, Fan Utopias, and Superman Narratives.” Revise and Resubmit from Science Fiction Studies.
- “Review of Slime Dynamics by Ben Woodard.” Itineration, 2013. Online at: http://itineration.org/book_reviews/pilsch/index.html.
- Review uses an exploratory hypertext framework to rethink the possibilities of the book review.
- “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.
- “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.
Teaching Experience (18 Sections; 7 Courses; 584 Students)
Arizona State University (2 Sections; 2 Courses; 60 Students; 2 Online Courses)
- Introduction to Contemporary Fiction (1 Section; 30 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.
Pennsylvania State University (16 Sections; 5 Courses; 644 Students)
- 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.
Arizona State University
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.
Pennsylvania State University
PhD Representative, EGO: The English Graduate Organization, 2007 – Organized the first Statement of Purpose writing workshop for MA students applying internally to the PhD.
- PhD Representative, EGO: The English Graduate Organization, 2007 – Organized the first Statement of Purpose writing workshop for MA students applying internally to the PhD.
- 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
References Available Upon Request
Article In Progress
Copyright and Canonicity
What role has copyright played in shaping the literary and scholarly reputation of American postmodernism?
Article In Progress
Copyright and Canonicity
Target Journal: College English
This work explores the impact of America's draconian copyright laws on the shape and understanding of literary canonicity, particularly w/r/t the canonization (or failure of canonization) of the post-World-War-II American novel, aka the postmodern novel. While not explicitly an argument about postmodernism or its legacy (or lack of legacy), this article instead considers the role of copyright in both shaping a post-War American canon and also, more importantly, erasing a potentially broader canon of the postmodern, American novel.
In the course of this argument, I consider the percentage of Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winners still in print. Additionally, I consider similar percentages for the examples used in canonical works of postmodern literary criticism (by Fredric Jameson and Brian McHale). Ultimately, I establish that the narrative of postmodern failure may actually have more to do with publication rights than any issues of artistic merit.
Article In Progress
Fan Utopias and Self-Help Supermen
Drawn from my current book, this article suggests that superman fiction, often dismissed as fascist and naive, had certain interesting political ramifications during the late 1930s and early 1940s.
Article In Progress
Fan Utopias and Self-Help Supermen: Utopianism in WWII-era SF
This article draws on research conducted for my current book project on transhumanism, and explores the relationship between fans and pro writers during the late 1930s and early 1940s. This period, which I call the "superman boom," was a transitional one for both fandom and the culture of professional writers. As an autonomous fan culture began to articulate itself, John W. Campbell's rise as the editor of Astounding also gave shape to the idea that SF could be taken seriously as an artform. This superman boom, an almost endless stream of stories and novels varying the themes of a genetically superior but persecuted elite taken from A.E. van Vogt's hugely popular 1939 novel Slan, suggested a number of interesting political engagements, including early involvement by SF writers in Alfred Korzybski's General Semantics program and the creation of a number of fan-organized Utopian communities. These movements, oddly, coincide with the dawn of World War II and borrow heavily from the fascist rhetoric of America's enemies, culminating in fan Claude Degler labelling, in all seriousness, this period as the moment of "fanationalism." Inevitably, the ethical tensions this association with Nazism provoked proved unsustainable, but the also point toward the potent moment of emergence for what we now recognize as SF fan culture.
Article In Progress
The Possibilities of an End
Account of the rhetorical life cycle of a meme, specifically accounting the origins, history, and death of the idea of the 2012 Mayan Apocalypse.
Article In Progress
The Possibilities of an End: The Rhetorical Life and Death of The Mayan Apocalypse of 2012
Target Journal: JAC
This article argues that cultural memes, idea viruses, have a kind of rhetorical life-cycle that mirrors and comments upon the nature of contemporary argumentation in a multidimensional media ecology. In tracing out the contours of this media ecology, this article specifically follows the development, spread, and ultimate decline of the popular millenarianist moment: the idea that the world will end on December, 21 2012.
Read about my use of podcasting in the humanities classroom ...
I have been recently using podcasting in online classes at ASU for some of my English literature and digital humanities classes. This technology facilitates an engaged discussion forum within the context of an asynchronous classroom format.
You can view an archive of on of my recent class's podcasts by clicking here.
ENG 204: Introduction to Contemporary Literature
An online course allowing students to gain an introduction to recent publishing trends and artistic developments in the novel, primarily in America.
ENG 394: H.P. Lovecraft: Style, Science, Myth
An online course exploring the life and work of American horror writer, H.P. Lovecraft. In addition to reading a large chunk of Lovecraft's fiction, we will consider Lovecraft in terms of his unique style, his interest in science, and his role as a myth-maker for the twentieth century.
Some resources I've used in past courses.
Classroom Resources Gallery
- Technical Communications Syllabus (PDF)
Class for a recent technical communications course to be taught at Penn State. This class continues the work that can be seen in the web class linked on the web gallery . The class stresses the role that form and content both play in the process of communication. Moreover, assignments that include the use of Powerpoint and in-depth exploration of design features in MS Word, reveal to students the fact that both form and content have specific rhetorical tropes and figures that they must master to become successful technical communicators.
- Business Communications Syllabus (PDF)
This syllabus is for a proposed business communications class. It is designed to get students thinking about the relationship between written communication, online media, and identity. Students will face a number of multimodal assignments, including a semester-long assignment in which they engage in hands-on exploration of various social media technologies as a means of exploring the ways in which media help shape our rhetorical possibilities.
- ENGL 202C Spring 2009 Homepage
A class website for a section of ENGL 202C (technical writing) taught at Penn State in Spring 2009. This particular class was part of a pilot project that explored the use of blogs in the composition classroom. Students were asked to blog three times a week and submit their assignments on their personal blogs.
- English Composition Wiki Homepage
As an instructor in the first year composition program in Penn State's English Department , I was able to take part in a pilot program exploring the use of wikis in the freshman composition program. In the early days of such technology's adoption online, we were able to experiment with the affordances of the technology and the possibilities that exist for creating a community of writers in first year writing classrooms.
- Technical Communications Design Slides (PPT)
This is a set of slides designed to teach basic design principles to non-designers. I find, in teaching business and technical communications, that students often need to understand the rhetorical principles of form as much as they need to understand the rhetorical principles of the words they write. These slides are intended to begin a semester-long conversation about design and form.
- Business Communication Presentation Style Slides (Google Docs)
These slides, created in Google Documents are intended to teach students about the various possibilities for conveying meaning through Powerpoint. The goal of these slides is to show students how to create effective slide presentations using both principles of form and content.
About This Site
Software used in development.
About This Site
The whole site was designed and written by Andrew Pilsch.
Emailing Files to Myself
Presentation for "Apps and Affect" at the University of Western Ontario that explores the dialectic tension between collectivity and radical individualism online that has been highlighted by the emergence of cloud computing.
Emailing Files to Myself: Boxes, Clouds, Rhizomes
Presentation At: Apps and Affect, University of Western Ontario, London, ON, 2013
As Randall Munroe, the author of influential comic strip XKCD, points out in the above strip, sending and moving files is one of the main problems with an app-centric model of computing. With the iPhone and iPad's model, each app stores its necessary information in a closed box that is difficult for other apps to access. Beyond Turing completeness, a general purpose information store is, I argue, one of the key components for general computing. This kind of file storage, utilized by the classic model of computing, creates a total flow of information, in which it is easy to work on a file in one program and then work on it in another. I argue that the app model of file storage breaks up this total flow into a series of closed spaces in which the main problem-solving challenge presented by a mobile device is how to move data around. Of course, there is a certain irony to this, because as our data moves into a "cloud" of ubiquitous and distributed computing, it becomes less and less "ours" to process as we wish. I conclude by using this irony to argue that the trans-personal, communitarian, and Utopian rhetoric of the Internet in the age of general computing was actually facilitated by maintaining a tight control over our file storage systems and that sharing data in the cloud troubles this communitas.