Reid, Alex.  “Composing Objects: Prospects for a Digital Rhetoric.” Enculturation. 10/10/2012.

  • R. begins by recognizing that composing is an excellent encapsulation of a “bifurcated ontology,” one that recognizes composing as something we do (a process) as well as something we know (an object).
  • R. notes that “objections” and “aesthetics” have long been the domain of subjectivity . . . which is to say that from the Enlightenment forward, objections and aesthetics have been the domain of the human/social realm while the realm of objects belongs to the natural/technoscientific (think Latour’s classic bifurcations here).
  • Using a classic line from Faigley’s Fragments of Rationality, [1. Faigley writes, “many of the fault lines in composition studies are disagreements over the subjectivities that teachers of writing want students to occupy”] R. highlights how the discipline of composition has long considered discourse, culture, ideology and subjectivity as supreme, and how technology has been introduced to try and mitigate the problems/conflicts that arise due to tensions in any of those domains.  Unfortunately, when technology fails to mitigate those tensions, it is criticized.
  • Turning to Latour, R. notes that composition has “discussed materiality and material conditions to no end” but only in the context of discourse and ideology.  As Latour points out, it is impossible to practice humanism as long as the object is abandoned to a humanist epistemology.  Reid’s work is to reintroduce that object.
  • R. argues that computers and writing is representative of Latour’s wish that science, nature, and language be brought together in the production of what Latour calls “quasi-objects.”  Unfortunately, computers and writing has tended to describe its work in terms of ideological social forces or subjective, psychological effects.
  • R. explores Latour’s comments on “composition” to highlight the artificial bifurcation between truth/objective and opinion/subjective, noting that the construction of any representation includes quasi-objects and must be constructed well . . . not truthfully.
  • R. sees composition – and especially computers and writing – in much the same way as Latour views compositions – as “utterly heterogeneous parts that will never make a whole, but at best, a fragile, revisable, and diverse composite material” (474).  In other words, composing isn’t a future-looking enterprise exclusively, but backwards-forwards-looking, hybrid, and always in process.
  • R. introduces correlationism as glitch – a substantive feature of ontology, not a bug.  In fact, Reid contends that rhetoric exists inside the correlationist frame, raising up symbols and symbolic behavior as the only way to access the real that exists somewhere between perception/reception and enunciation.
  • Reid makes an interesting comparison between hammer/nail and writing/discourse.  From Bogost’s perspective, perhaps writing does see everything in the world as discourse in much the same way that hammer sees everything in this world as nail.
  • R. explores agency in terms of the virtual (think the virtual potentialities of D&G) spaces between and among objects.  He states that, “Now perhaps this might be taken as some form of panpsychism, but we might also recognize agency as a product of relational capacities rather than strictly inhered characteristics.”
  • There’s some nice overlaps between distributed cognition and the virtual potentials of agency in Reid’s discussion.  He notes that, “since humans do not exist in a vacuum, at least not for very long, human thought and agency is almost always produced out of capacities that we develop in relation to other objects.  And humans are not special in this way.  The capacities we produce may be singular, but our development of capacities is not.”
  • R. claims that rhetoric – or “minimal rhetoric” – operates in all the situations and contexts that have the capacity to generate cognition and agency.  R. goes on to note that he sees digital rhetoric as a site where new investigations into the “rhetorical operation of objects” might reveal how “democratic, scientific, and cultural discourses develop” in the context of objects as participants.  Doing so means recognizing that rhetoric has always been object oriented . . . and never simply a human province.

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