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Collin Brooke.  Lingua Fracta:  Towards a Rhetoric of New Media – Chapter 4 “Pattern”

This chapter takes up the field of arrangement in rhetoric and composition studies in relation to new media.  Brooke begins the chapter noting how early hypertext theory heralded the death of arrangement on the part of the author as the reader/consumer of the text now determined (thorugh the process of choosing links/electronic paths) the format that the text would take.  This is certainly the kind of articulation we get in the work of Landow and Bolter.  If arrangement is taken up at all in early hypertext criticism, it’s usually to claim that it can be subsumed in the other cannons of invention and style.  Brooke pushes against this articulation of arrangement in new media by arguing for a conception of arrangement as pattern.  More on that in a minute.  Now, here’s the chapter trajectory:

  • The first part of the chapter takes up the definition of arrangement as sequence and argues for a new articulation of arrangement as pattern.
  • The second part of the chapter considers the false opposition that Manovich creates when he opposes database and narrative.
  • The third part of the chapter considers how patterning in database structures is a form of arrangement particular to new media that is situated in a practice on the part of the author/orderer thus reclaiming arrangement – via patterning – for the new media rhetorical cannon.

Because most articulations of digital writing rely on the metaphor of spatiality, Brooke argues in this chapter that the notion of “containerism” that both nourishes our notions of subjectivity and identity and conceptualizes the act of writing as “filling up” a container (the page) from the container of our minds is flawed because we do in fact create our own spaces in digital media environments that aren’t bound by sequenced trajectories; further, we also extend those spaces beyond specific places.  Or, as Brooke notes, “this means that we should be able to find some middle ground between the sequentiality of the printed page and the ‘confused heap’ that Quintillian warns us against” (96).

Extending the spatial metaphor and taking Manovich to task, Brooke works through the database as flat space in new media to explore it’s potential for systems of arrangement.  According to Manovich, the database is a cultural form that refuses order.  Because of this refusal, the notion of arrangement – and the broader project of rhetoric – is now rendered useless for new media objects dependent on database structures.  Specifically, Manovich contrasts the database (metaphorically Saussure’s langue) with the narrative (metaphorically Saussure’s parole) arguing that the database will refuse order because of it’s position as a system.  Brooke joins Manovich’s division by noting how the database does act as the langue; however, the narrative of the individual user orders that database to create individual speech acts of database manipulation – parole.  Most important, the act of creating the narrative through the self-selected ordering of the database means that the practice of manipulating the database is the actual act of arrangement . . . or at least patterning created by the reader.  This patterning – or data mining – can be extended outward or limited inward depending on the new media technology being used.  For example, the database ordering of a user on Amazon is somewhat determined by the user and by the large database structure of Amazon; however, if a user is creating their own database using tools like Delicious.com, the patterning that percolates to the top allows for a user-generated content specific to the users needs and extended inward for the users purposes.

As a way to bridge the gap between narrative and database, Brooke recommends the notion of collection.  Operating from a short essay by Benjamin entitled “Unpacking my Library,” Collin illustrates how the ordering of a collection by a user creates a narrative from the database thereby patterning or arranging new media information productively.  I do have one major question about this chapter:  How does the ordering of database information by users working to create narratives differ from the sort of user-centered ordering that 1990s hypertext criticism posited?  Isn’t this the same sort of arrangement?  If not, how is it different?

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