Reid, Alexander. The Two Virtuals: New Media and Composition. West Lafayette: Parlor Press. 2007.
Introduction: The Two Virtuals
- There are two virtuals. The first is the virtual reality with which many of us are familiar. This is the virtual reality of technology – cell phones, MMORPGs, etc. This virtual reality has created anxiety for higher education by raising anxieties about the diminution of humanistic education. The second virtual is part of the “minor” philosophical tradition that works itself back to folks like Duns Scotus, Spinoza, Leibniz, Bergson, Deleuze and Guattari. This “minor” tradition views the virtual as equivocal with the actual in that there can only be one plane of being (the “virtual-actual” 4). Dividing that plane up into virtual and actual means disassociating the two and making the virtual never possible. . . which is an impossibility because the virtual is made actual all the time. In this sense, the virtual is the pure, transcendental being that stores up all possibility. When actualized, the virtual is made to function as difference. As Hardt notes in Gilles Deleuze, “Virtual being, as unity, unfolds and reveals its real multiple differences” (16). This tradition is intensely materialist and empirical in that the work of thought cannot be separated from the materiality that initiates it.
This contradicts the “major” tradition of philosophy that Western metaphyisics has elevated throughout time. This tradition is teleological and privileges the order of the sequence, thereby creating origins and end points for every thing.
- Reid claims that the second virtual – the minor tradition in European philosophy – can provide folks with “a theory of materiality and thought, a theory of composition (of the way in which thoughts compose as media and media composes as thought), that allows us to approach the first, the technological virtual, in critical and productive ways” (3).
- Reid notes that he is really discussing composition or the process whereby knowledge is constituted by writing (writing isn’t transmission) and that writing increasingly takes place in interfaces that push mind and “first-virtual” technology together (5).
- Reid is taking a posthuman position in this text, emphasizing how the “cyborgian” nature of human-technology relations makes cognition possible. Said differently, consciousness is the product of an individual body’s intersections with technology (5). Reid claims that by recognizing the posthuman composition of consciousness we can begin to investigate how composition practices can actually push beyond the limits of ideological control . . . which can lead to new, emancipatory modes of “embodied experiences” and new potentials for thought.
- Reid sees the potential for a “hybrid New Media education” taking to trajectories: 1) In the first model technology is ancillary to human thought – in other words, technology is merely a mediator of action that transmits informaitoin. In no way is the computer something that contributes to cognition or the creative process. This allows proprietary information distribution to be the primary charge of computing. . . thus reproducing the structures of economic relations that constitute the basis of brick-and-mortar economies (READ: Deleuze’s concept of “control” [Postscript on the Societies of Control]) ns “rent” as the logical outcome of this movement); and 2) the virtual-actual composition approach that sees technology as integrated with the processes of composition pushes against proprietarian conceptions of technology (though Reid isn’t ready to chuck copyright out the window) and ensures that the “legal fiction of authorship” doesn’t interrupt the creative process of New Media creation (processes that are distributed across technology and culture [database driven data access meets internal creative juices for composition) (8).
- Reid’s work uses three terms (cognition, consciousness, and subjectivity) to sketch the ways that the “subjet” or thinking agent interfaces/acts with networked, symbolic information systems both consciously and unconsciously (10). How is he using these terms?
- Cognition: “the embodied processes that result in a thought of which the conscious becomes aware” (10). Reid attributes cognition to the material processes that initiate it. . . in other words, cognition is “distributed” over networks of activity. This means that all cognition is mediated by different assistive/productive technologies, expanding and shaping cognition in a wonderful mixture of organic and artificial technologies and biologies (10). But, following Hayles, Reid notes that this condition isn’t new. . . We have almost always been posthuman. 🙂
- Consciousness: the interface that mediates the distribution of cognition across brain/smart environment. In other words, consciousness is the “interface for symbolic behaviors” (11). When locating consciousness outside the body it is subject to “material, cultural, and historical development” . . . consciousness becomes a product of its context (of course, but Descartes would cringe!). But consciousness is never fully articulated – as awareness – through language. This means that when something is comprehended from the virtual (the virtual of the virtual-actual dyad) it is pinned down into a “grid” of thoughts that represent themselves as subjectivity. According to Reid, this means that consciousness “sits on the hinge between the material processes of cognition and the ideological, referential processes of subjectivity” (12).
- Subjectivity: the valuation of consciousness within a specific ideological framework. In other words, subjectivity is the situatedness of consciousness in distributed systems of cognition. Subjectivity – in this sense – is political whereas consciousness is merely perception of elements of the virtual and the actual.
- What is the possibility of Reid’s triad (cognition, consciousness, subjectivity)? The possibility of new media creating new opportunities for experimenting with symbolic behaviors across networks of distributed cognition. The danger? The commodyfiying logic (for example: in technology as ancillary to thought model of education) of capitalism to rationalize and managerialize the first virtual. Reid claims that we must develop understandings of the ways that New Media technologies effect Writing Studies by attending to the reciprocal relationship between material composing processes and the communities that deploy technologies of composing. Said differently, we must attend to how “media technologies shape and are shaped by the discourse communities that employ them” (13-4).
- One main argument of the book: writing, media, and cognition are intertwined material processes working through a shared network of symbolic information (15).
Chapter Two: The Evolution of Writing
- In this chapter Reid discusses how developments in evolutionary psychology during the 1990s pinpoints the emergence of human consciousness. He uses this information to consider the development of symbolic behavior in humans and relates them to classical understandings of phonocentrism (or the notion that thought is speaking in mind later translated into writing). This chapter also discusses writing technology via Plato (and again via Derrida via Plato). Reid does this to demonstrate that “writing, media, and cognition” are interwoven processes that function because of a shared “network of symbolic formation” (15). Finally, he argues that because we have long considered individual consciousness (in the mind) as the beginning and end of thought, we are missing out on all the ways that media and technology also contribute to that composition.
- Reid grounds the move away from coginitivism in rhetoric and composition in the 1980s – the same period wherein the postmodern turn moved meaning-making away from the individual toward the social. As such, cognitive science was abandoned on the individual level in Writing Studies. Reid wants to reinstroduce cognition; however, he does so with influences of the social (distributed cognition, CHAT, etc.).
- The role of the virtual-actual in the development of cognition – both 20,000 years ago and today – is it’s recognition of “continuous materiality” that intimately demonstrates the costructuring role that technologies, embodied cognition, and consciousness play in constituting one another (23). In advocating for this triad, Reid is consciously bring science studies and the humanities into discussion with one another, marrying the metaphysical function of ideology and discourse with the materiality of technology and distributed cognition (24). Said differently, “it is our ability to store and process information in spaces outside our body that allows us to engage in the complex thoughts on which consciousness is founded” (25).
- Reid takes Writing Studies to task for turning the subject toward postmodernism but still reifying the Romantic subject in explaining the writing process (25).
- Reid draws attention to the ways that early man differed from Neaderthals in that he was capable of abstracting – disassociating particular activities from the body itself. Usually this took the form of tools that bore no attendant representative function to a body part (for example: a needle). This process of abstraction allows for symbolic behaviors that vastly expanded the social networks individuals inhabited as they were able to communicate through abstractions with individual from beyond their immediate social context (26-9).
- Speech and gesture developed contemporaneously for the Paleolithic man. If this is true, it means that speech didn’t develop as a means to communicate what’s “inside” the individual; rather, it means that the process of “externalization” or abstraction of external information is articulated through symbolic action (gesture/speech) (30). There is also a connection between symbolic action and “representational meaning” or the idea that objects have meanings in the world outside of their immediate local context and use. Finally, the symbolic actions and representational meanings of any Paleolithic late hominid (Man!) must also rely on a social landscape or network to remain viable – to be able to be interpreted. This broader context of consubstantial humans constitute a “cybernetic network, a system of distributed cognition, a smart environment” (30). Though he hasn’t said it yet, I would imagine that this development in the human cognition that allowed consciousness is exactly the moment when the virtual-actual dyad comes into existence through the jump to abstraction (and the potentials of those abstractions).
- Turning to Derrida’s reading of Phaedrus (“Plato’s Pharmacy”), Reid highlights how Derrida’s argument about the pharmakon (both medicine and poison) attempts to problematize the artificial? distinction between writing and thinking by noting that no evidence exists to separate the cognitive process of abstraction (immaterial process) and the materiality of abstraction inscribed (material writing). What Reid is more interested in in this example is the role that the external environment plays in the coming to consciousness. Writing/thinking are the products of responses to the external environment – they are called forth by external factors (35).
- Reid spins out the anthropological/sociological account of cognitive development toward consciousness in parallel with Derrida’s consideration of writing in Phaedrus to demonstrate how human consciousness, symbolic behavior, and technology all develop together and the thought-as-first, writing-as-second (from Phaedrus ) binary is artificial. To overcome these binaries Reid will turn (in Chapter 6) to the virtual-actual.
Chapter Three: Nineteenth-Century New Media
- In this chapter Reid turns to past technologies to demonstrate how machines create a new level of “cognitive exteriorization” that creates many of the problems of the contemporary moment. He does this to “trace the symbiotic relationship between theories of the mind, media/information technologies, and our understanding of compositional processes” (15). Said differently, he is tracing these technological developments to show how they anticipate the first virtual – the virtual of computing. In so doing, Reid also highlights the steps taken by Academia to preserve the hegemony of the Romantic male subject against the “dehumanizing” effects of mechanical media.
- Central claim of the chapter: If consciousness emerges in networked smart environments through the use of symbolic behavior then the development of particular technologies – especially mechanical technologies that further exteriorize thinking – will create attendant changes in cognition (thinking in symbolic, distributed networks) (39).
- Reid traces out how the mechanization of exteriorized thought (through the typewriter) was a threat for the white male. . . as such, the development of the female typist disassociated this man from the dehumanizing aspects of media production; furthermore, he also highlights how “literary studies” develops as a way to insulate the Romantic author from the dangers of mechanized industrialization (40). Reid also turns to film to demonstrate how the simulation of the real includes consciousness.
- The period that saw rapid technological development that replaced/altered traditional hand-based methods of production also developed new discourses (in the human sciences) designed to articulate the optimal conditions for interactions between humans and machines (42). Reid argues that for the women typists of the world an attendant cultural rearticulation of the process of writing on machines reified the gender inequity and delegitimized the feminine “author” or technical inscriptionist: from the connection of the continuous handwritten line communicating an intimate knowledge of the author’s mind and soul to the discrete signs of the typewriter translating electric signals, with the typists body at the center of the network” (43).
- Reid highlights how the typewriter fundamentally altered the relationship of writer to text by changing the “style” through mechanizing the writing process (46-8). This has numerous repercussions: first, as Nietzsche notes, the technology has a direct effect on the thoughts produced. This means that writing isn’t merely transmission, but actually operates as articulation/transformation. Second, it also draws attention to the ways that “pure thought” transformed to “pure electronic memory” (a la Bush) creates a realm of pure thought that is technologically mediated and produced. In other words, here we see the first articulations of the idea of a “virtual” in the first sense – the virtual of the computer.
- Reid uses Benjamin and Sergei Eisenstein to highlight how the use of film has been theorized as a means to unveil false consciousness (Marxist propaganda films) while at the same time instantiating a new form of false reality/consciousness (through reality TV programming) (50). So, in short, Reid takes up film to demonstrate that cinema and TV create a “continuous materiality” that is only partially communicable and partially viewable; however, our experience is of seamless continuousness. This particular compositional method is exactly the same for texts – writing can only represent a portion of consciousness and can only be received as a portion of the completeness from where it originated; however, this doesn’t stop us in believing in its totality (52).
- In other words, compositional processes (like the product of the typist writing or the filmmaker shooting) only partially apprehend and transmit a continuous materiality. The partial elements of that composition call forth thoughts and symbolic structures (virtual-technological) that represent or simulate that material space (55). This is the usual indictment against writing in all it’s forms from Plato on through to Arnoldian Humanism. This is the charge against technologies of representation; however, this perspective also assumes a coherent, singular mind as the originary site of conscious thought.
Chapter Four: Cybernetics
- This chapter highlights how information science drew attention to the ways that meaning isn’t transmitted as much as it is produced in the moment of reception. In other words, cybernetics was the first field to consider communication not as replication of reality but as articulation of reality. This chapter also highlights how cognition of information is often an unconscious process, distributed across the entire site of the body through sensory data. Finally, this chapter sketches a model of distributed cognition that considers technologies and embodied, unconscious cognitive functions play in constructing conscious reality and experience (16). Reid will also address the concerns of humanists over distributed cognition by considering free will and creativity in distributed cognitive systems (or at least he will pose questions about them).
- How is modern computing different from previous technological developments that hinted toward the virtual? Computers embody a relity that isn’t just a replication/representation of the real; rather, they are real-time, fully interactive virtual spaces that are scrawled over our own material realities (56).
- Reid will be considering two points in this chapter: 1) the erasure of distance between subject and object; and 2) the fragmentation of subjectivity (59). He does this in the hopes of drawing the virtual-technological forth as a way of understanding the possibilities of the virtual-actual.
- Homeostatic transmission systems: systems used to transmit information between sender and receiver without interpretation. This insures internal stability of information and a stable relationship (because of lack of interpretation) with the environment. This stands in opposition to considering information as process wherein the external, environmental factors effect the transmission (a reflexivity occurs here between senders and environment). In other words, homeostatic transmission stands in opposition to communication of information as articulation (60).
- Reid does some heavy lifting on 60-70 discussing the ways that cybernetics exterorized the self in such a way that the conscious mind was dislocated from the solitary subject and distrubted across environmental systems of cognition. He makes this claim by highlighting how the “phonocentric metaphysics of presence” (the complete subject whose thinking is spoken and transcribed into writing) is replaced by a cybernetics of decontextualized information (the removal of human beings/interpretation in the transmission model of communication), thus information production becomes “external” to human beings at all – especially to their speech as cybernetic signs are “unpronounceable” (63). The result of this process is the development of paranoia in humans as they see their unitary selves reproduced through homeostatic communication in machines. Presence isn’t a part of the communication system.
- Autopoiesis – the concept that for all living creatures reality is assembled through an interactive process determined by representations of the world transmitted to our brains that sync up with our own interests in maintaining self-organization (67). In other words, we assemble the world through perception in a way that ensures our own subjectivity remains coherent and whole. This also means that our knowledge is a “function of systematic self-interest” at the unconscious level of perception (67). Pushing this theory farther means that autopoeitic systems exist independently because of their connection to other systems. . . all autopoeitic systems are interdependent and have ethical obligations to one another because both autopoeitic systems are “structurally coupled” or coinvolved in the construction of an anarchic utopia.
- Human consciousness is an “epiphenomenon” or an emergent psychological effect of the intersection of multiple cognitive routines functioning throughout the body and into the external environment (73). Reid uses numerous examples to draw out this idea – most notably, he turns to Hayles treatment of Searle’s “Chinese Room” to demonstrate how environments know things and assist in thinking processes of human beings. In other words, our context has gotten smarter (through autopoeisis), not us (75-6).
Chapter Five: Into New Media
- This chapter attempts to bring together New Media technologies and cybernetics to draw attention to the fragmentation of the subject. This new subject is criss-crossed inside and out with information patterns that construct the virtual-technological. In this discussion Reid turns to the simulation as a way to describe how the “surface” level representations of computer applications and digital film act as simulacra for information and material systems that don’t exist as such (17). Reid argues that this understanding of the virtual-technological is a nice way to understand the function of subjectivity – a surface of consciousness that isn’t whole and merely interfaces as a way to exchange and access information (17).
- Reid claims that New Media and simulation “constitute the final and complete deconstruction of the abstract, cohesive, internalized subject of traditional humanism” (78-9).
- Manovich’s five “principles” of new media: numerical representation (all data is numbers in binary code), modularity (data is represented as collections of samples a la pixels, polygons, characters, scripts, etc. that are assembled into larger images), automation (because all data is programmable [b/c in modules made up of binary] the process of creation can be automated using more math), variability (b/c of #’s 1-2 and principle 3, any New Media object can always be something else. It also means that New Media can be customized to meet our expectations in various ways. It also allows interactivity), and transcoding (the translation between the code of the computer and the “cultural layer” where human beings experience media).
- What is the materiality of the digital? The digital exists as a system of abstract sign systems (algorithms, code, etc.); however, when experienced by human beings it can only do so in analog (in circuitry, through screen and speakers, and as image and sound). As such, the digital is material in that the interface – a structure that produces a simulation of the material through the immateriality of code – is experienced in the analog. As Reid notes, “In as much as such simulacra display traits of intelligence, they are exteriorizations of a consciousness that does not exist internally” (91). The exteriorization of consciousness (via digital film) requires a similarly exteriorized consciousness of a user (via an interface) to make the act of composition possible. Put differently, our “consciousness” – as a narrative-spinning, whole-making cognitive process – masks the realities that cognition is occurring through a mutually structuring, discrete series of processes between human and non-human/technological agents. The “multiple interlocking cognitive and technological mechanisms” that produce digital texts/consciousness act as interfaces that authorize us to interact and communicate with smart environments (discourse communities, intellectual marketplaces, telecommunication technologies) (93).
Chapter Six: Waking Up in the Machine
- Reid begins by noting that the “virtual-technological operates within a materiality that unfolds through virtual-actual processes” (96). Unto this point the monograph has dealt mostly with the virtual-technological; however, Reid not turns to the virtual-actual (a la the minor materialist philosophical tradition) to consider how the materiality of the material even enters into being at all. Specifically, Reid is looking to the virtual-actual as the place where technology and cognition intersect in the context of media composition (96).
- First, the virtual-actual does away with any essences because essence is predicated on something outside of materiality itself (98). Multiplicities (the way we distinguish something based on its characteristics) don’t determine the nature of objects; rather, they simply establish conditions of possibility for the emergence of the processes or tendencies that produce objects (96) – (wait, what?). Let’s elaborate:
- Extensive multiplicity: a collection (quantity) of things whose total number is the result of observations of difference [you can remove one from the set by changing it’s color; however, the rest of the objects color determines it’s quantity]. In short, this multiplicity is constituted by its identity (in this case red). This is a “subjugated group” because it is subjugated to its definitional characteristic(s).
- Intensive multiplicity: a collection (quality) of things whose composition is determined by what it includes. The identity of this multiplicity is subject to change based on it’s composition (let’s say the nature of the group [red objects] would change with it’s exposure to different forms of light or other environmental pressures). In this way, the assembling of the group gives the group it’s identity. . . the identity isn’t determined a priori. This is a “subject group” because the identity of the subjects are constantly rearticulating the identity of the group.
- Singularity: attractors that draw in a range of potential fluctuations and bring them all to a single end point (101).
- Considering multiplicities, Reid wants to consider two things: 1) the process of continual transformation according to thresholds and doors; and 2) the inability of the multiplicity to be divided without changing its nature (101). Multiplicities aren’t bounded; rather, they intersect one another in “zones of indetermination” (103).
- Reid claims that Massumi’s work (103) demonstrates that consciousness actually isn’t the entirety of cognition nor even it’s origin; rather, consciousness (as the wrap of cognition that gives it coherence) responds to “shifts in intensity” that lead multiplicities toward change. That change is what is perceived by cognition. As Reid notes, Massumi’s work references the notion that “consciousness marks the moment when a multiplicity of potential, virtual intensive properties becomes specific material extensive properties: the thought to flex a finger becomes” (104). In other words, consciousness is simply the moment when though is recognized and articulated symbolically – differentiated from the virtual store of all possibilities (reference Deleuze’s notion of univocity: the idea that infinite difference exists in the virtual and that difference in play is the actual but that both virtual-actual exist on a plane of immanence. Existence is becoming actual; however, this means that we must rewrite the way we think about “being” in terms of subjects and objects and toward being as qualities (intensities) and actions from which we abstract beings. Re: assemblage).
- Reid next compares the referential grid of Cartesian geometry (the space of abstract determinacy) to the indeterminate, ever-unfolding topological space to highlight how thought moves from the virtual to the actual. [Proprioception: our (subconscious?) sense of selves in relation to our own bodies as opposed to some Cartesian external grid of coordinates (108). Best observed through the “embodied memory of spatial behaviors” that characterizes driving from point A to B and not remembering the process of driving.]
- Different forms of intensities: space (container or field of points), time (series of ‘nows’ or presents), and difference (relation between things). Deleuze and Guattari were interested reshaping the project of Western thought by shifting considerations away from “human interests” created for the single, normal image of “man” toward a micropolitics of difference (or the way we form what is important for human beings – human interests – from “prehuman collections of intensities”). Because intensities aren’t things but are actions (life is a “swarm of intensities”), human beings tend to reify collections of intensities (see intensive multiplicity above) into “characters” or assemblages of intensities. To get away from the subject, Deleuze recommends reconsidering our shared conception of “man” as an a priori object and instead revaluate the ever shifting construct through a sifting and organizing of our perceptions of intensities.
- In the last portion of the chapter Reid uses the Matrix trilogy to: 1) Part I – false consciousness is revealed to Neo (corresponding to Jameson’s first phase of capitalism) and the Cartesian grid is imposed; 2) Part II – this new consciousness is revealed to be networked globally across systems of power – hence Neo’s anxiety and growing sense of entrapment (this can be remedied through a better grasp of the virtual-actual nature of materiality that isn’t overly determinate) that represent Jameson’s conception of space in the Modernist period as a relation that can’t be accounted for by individual experience and is conditioned by the nature of far-flung colonialist exploits; and 3) The virtual-actual is enacted through “topological consciousness” and provides a new postmodern articulation of spatiality. Said succinctly by Reid (and mapping H/N philosophical project): “The trilogy can be read as a mapping of subject production in which the subject moves from paranoid fears over his own rhizomatic and mechanistic production, through the mutation of the messianic individual into the postmodern singularity, to the multiplication of that singularity in a moment of becoming that dissipates the original paranoia” (111).
- Life is simulation: “our conscious experience of the material is always already a simulation. It is not the world as it “really” is but an apprehension and construction of the world through sensory data, embodied cognition, and technological-symbolic networks” (121).
- What happens when a state tries to control all topological space (the space of the virtual in the virtual-actual continuum)? Fascism, the desire to control what everything becomes (124). This drive toward fascism is, in D&G’s estimation – the logic of reason, a desire for uniformity in thought and symbol (124).
Chapter Seven: Virtual Composition
- This chapter takes up distributed cognition as a way to develop a different understanding of the intersection between body and technology in the compositional process (18). First, Reid explains a writing pedagogy in terms of “cybernetics and Cartesian space” as a navigation strategy for steering students toward a goal. He then flips the script, calling into motion the virtual-actual by considering rip,mix,burn as a familiar new media virtual-technological compositional method.
- Ripping (contagion): pulling on informational resources through sense, memory, or from pre-existing media. Mixing (proliferation): ripping data by connecting it to a “rhizomatic network” where each new connection also signals the possiblities of new mutation. Burning (involution): the mixture of data becomes translated and compressed into materials that are transmitted over networks of cognition (18). This entire process calls into question the current intellectual property regime and asks composition to consider it’s work in articulating originality and authorial ownership.
- Because the commodified logic of property in late capitalism insinuates itself into all creative domains, individuals are no longer able to pursue free culture because commercial censorship (via the Culture Industries) prevents creating culture from culture for noncommercial ends. Copyright is the commodification of thought. In this chapter, Reid is calling into question the intellectual property paradigm by highlighting how cognition is intensely derivative and as such independent authorial ownership cannot exist.
- Using the process/site of quotation as the space wherein the interconnectedness of texts slows down, Reid advocates studying the “process of exchange” between/among texts through citation. Citation operates as the payment/acknowledgement system wherein marketplace/proprietary logic enters the compositional process (133).
- The work of first-year composition is typically where most college students develop their perception of IP and copyright; as such, FYC acts as an enculturating mechanism for young students into systems of proprietary, protectionist, hyper-capitalist commodification. (Logie, Reid 134).
- Reid locates folksonomic tagging systems in the mix: they are informal, rhizomatic metadata systems that interconnect media in non hierarchical ways.
- Reid’s description of this whole process (with the vocabulary he’s been using throughout): Information is ripped from the network of distributed cognition (media, sensory information, memory, etc.). As these rips emerge through cognitive processes into consciousness, they spread their affects, their contagion, as thought unfolds. The rips, or their ripples, intersect one another, as tagged points of conduction, and form a rhizomatic, compositional network. They mix together to produce a heterogeneous accumulation of interconnected media. (139).
- Burning allows for distribution of media over networks due to a reduction in size. Reid uses the “burn” as a metaphor for the way that consciousness intakes cognition/perception and spits out the subjectivity that we all experience. . . it’s a condensation of all the possible intensities of multiplicities. Every word in a written composition is a burn made actual from the virtual/topological “event.”
- On what constitutes the “new” in new media composition: “the exponential increase in our information processing capacity, or access to data, and our ability to disseminate our compositions” (154). It’s here that we have an argument against copyright from the position of prohibiting creativity; however, Reid gets there in a lot different way (love the networked emphasis).
Chapter Eight: The Pedagogic Event
- Reid begins by highlighting how students in composition classes are enrolled in an allopoietic system – a system wherein they are subordinated to the functions of another system (our pedagogy) (159). This is recognized in post-process and cultural studies pedagogies wherein instructors recognize their institutional and ideological charge as the production of an academic student subjectivity.
- Reid claims that it is possible to adopt a pedagogy wherein the “proprioceptive” (embodied memory of spatial behaviors?) process of becoming shapes cognition in non-deterministic ways. In other words, Reid hopes that by approaching a course as material unfolding (rather than Cartesian plotting) students can more fully engage in rhizomatic writing events.
- Function of the university: engage subjectivities in the production and communication of proveable knowledge. Yet, as the university moves toward a hyper corporatist-capitalist model critical pedagogies provide coercive pedagogies (think: Hawk) that move students toward a particular ideological perspective (163-4). Reid seeks a pedagogy that moves beyond the constative or performative toward another pedagogy. . . one that isn’t moving students from point-to-point but actually enables becoming in non-deterministic ways.
- Reid likens the work of institutional pedagogy to the plane of reference. . . the place where becoming is negated and already being (and not being more) is plotted out in teachable moments (points on the Cartesian grid – the “plane of reference”). The complexity of education [read learning] is that the entire process of learning is distributed through the environment. . . it is not inside the student. As such, the real challenge in teaching this form of pedagogy arises from developing strategies that push students to interface with the environment rather than complete finite “tasks” learned in teachable moments.
- Reid is arguing against critical pedagogy in this section because it teaches students to recognize their entrapment in ideology on the plane of reference. . . in other words, this pedagogy attempts to show students how they already are mired in systems of power and ideology from which they must escape (but, at present, are located on the plane of reference). Reid wants to go before that moment to develop a pedagogy that locates students on the plane of consistency (immanence, smooth space, virtual) in order to shape desire and cognition so that the unfolding of thought creates new locations on the ideological plane of reference (168). In other words, this is a pedagogy (Reid’s) that wants to move beyond representational/mediational understandings of ideology to form cognitive processes that result in an “event of consciousness” that occurs outside/against the constraints of ideology (169).
- Reid claims that cultural studies has been unable to engage this model because it posits the existence of an unmediated reality – pure materiality. Cultural Studies has long held that the text – and textuality – are the filter through which we experience the world. Hence, the material is not pure but already shaped by discourse and ideology. This means that Reid’s pedagogy doesn’t necessarily look to final products as “predictable thoughts and subjects”; rather, it focuses on the activities of learning (motion, activities, communication, cognition).
- Reid recognizes that new media classes are often pecieved (and perhaps rightly so) as instrumental, non-humanistic courses in technical instruction oriented toward career goals (171) (Reid likens this position to the idea that rhetoric is merely a communication skill, not a critical, philosophical method in and of itself); however, Reid argues that the incorporation of new media is actually a new rhetorical, compositional approach that draws attention to the ways that technological applications actually fit into their already existent information habits.
- Reid has a couple of recommendations for composition programs to facilitate this sort of pedagogy: 1) programs need a mentor system to encourage work with faculty; 2) programs need a “community of writers” to share work in performance; 3) “creative writing” courses in new media offer the opportunity to experiment; 4) courses in poetics and rhetoric as the core, underlying theories and philosophies of writing; 5) courses in technical communication that are taught in creative ways (not positivistic) (176).
- According to Reid, the rip/mix/burn pedagogy is a great way to get away from the positivistic, skills-based approach to teaching technical/new media writing because it encourages an anti step-by-step system. In other words, the goal of the curriculum is to provides students a material context for experimentation. This experimental material space allows for critical intervention and creation at the intersections of materiality, ideology, culture, information, technology, bodies, cognition, consciousness, and subjectivity (178) in the hopes that students will get a “big picture” view of the ideological components of media.
Chapter Nine: Whatever Discipline
- Reid begins by highlighting how proprietarian ideology is refiguring the university, pushing it toward a more corporatist model that devalues liberal education by adopting instrumentalist, positivist pedagogies. This includes a focus on teaching toward developing a corporate subjectivity by training students to operate in systems of intellectual constriction (through proprietary software training, industry-specific skill sets, etc.). Reid’s retelling of the historical shift of university support from state to corporation mirrors the larger neoliberal privatization agenda. . . this would certainly include the corporatocratic (or, even more specific, the oligarchic corporatism) hue of the Obama administration (and recent strategic moves like the healthcare industry’s composition of the health care bill, recent appointments of former RIAA/MPAA lawyers to head the FCC, free trade agreements, corporate welfare, etc.).
- Reid argues that the “rhetoric of excellence” is emblematic of a shift from the Foucauldian disciplinary society into societies of control (185). In “Postscript on Societies of Control”, Deleuze notes that societies are moving away from discipline (the confinement and regulation of bodies ) toward “ultrarapid forms of apparently free-floating control that are taking over from the old disciplines at work within the time scales of closed systems” (178). Deleuze goes on to compare the factory (a symbol of systems of discipline) to the corporation (control embodied on an institutional/organizational level). The difference is fundamentally a move away from disciplining a mass of individuals toward control each individual through ever-increasing systems of competition. So, the capitalist bootstraps narrative underwrites systems of control, encouraging the cannibalization of fellow workers toward individual achievement and glory. Systems of control also implement what Haraway has called “deskilling” or the constant renegotiation of occupational skill sets (Deleuze calls this the move from individuals to dividuals or “masses, samples, data, markets, or ‘banks’). This absolves the corporation from remaining faithful to its workers (“Sorry, you can’t do the job because you don’t have the skill set. . . we’ll have to lay you off) while also catching the worker in an infinite loop of professionalization (which precludes any alternative, non-work related habits). Finally, the societies of control traffic not in products (b/c they don’t really make them anymore) but in experiences. As Deleuze notes, “It’s a capitalism of higher-order production. . . a capitalism for the product, which is to say, for being sold or marketed. . . . What it wants to sell is services”). Interestingly, Deleuze claims the future possible death of the unions as they are meant to push back on a disciplinary system. He notes: One of the more important questions will concern the ineptitude of the unions: tied to the whole of their history of struggle against the disciplines or within the spaces of enclosure, will they be able to adapt themselves or will they give way to new forms of resistance against the societies of control?”
- Reid draws out a lot of parallels between systems of control and the university. He notes that the ‘deskilling’ process of ‘dividiual’ production is actually quite synonymous with the inculcation of the student subject into multicultural awareness and the ability to ceaselessly cooperate with others (he terms this “limited flexibility”). This desire to work and sympathize with others only moves as far as professionalism allows, preventing folks from really thinking about working against the information economy in any real way (187).
- Reid’s thesis on control: “the university is transformed from a site of discipline, where students are molded into particular kinds of people, into a site of control, where students are matched to a series of modulates reflecting and shaping their desires. These modulations take the form of virtual commodities that student-consumers purchase” (189).
- Reid notes that the fundamental error in pedagogy (control pedagogy) is that it should never be about producing predictable results. In so doing, it overlooks “that composition and pedagogy are distributed, material-cognitive processes that unfold in fundamentally indeterminate ways” (190). In other words, we shouldn’t be teaching toward becoming-the-same; rather, we should be teaching toward singular becoming (into whatever) (193).
- Problems of ethics arise when we try to subordinate autopoietic systems (life-based systems) to turn them into allopoeitic systems (systems that have goals other than maintaining self organization – i.e., a car). But, if we believe that autopoiesis can include non-human actors (c.f., Latour, Bennett) then we have a real problem on our hands. In other words, how do we consider the ethics of autopoiesis if we include non-human and human agents? Can non-human agents ever be responsible for themselves?
- Reid’s quote on 93: “As Kittler’s critique of software indicates, the simulation ultimately relies upon an analog materiality that always exists in excess of the simulation’s cybernetic control”: seems to channel a similar idea from Hardt/Negri (who also practice an intensely materialist philosophy) that the potential of biopower to produce beyond the bounds of capital (an abstraction) means that revolutionary future possibilities are always possible in capitalist systems. In both texts, the existence of the analog materiality (and it’s inability to completely be captured by symbolic simulacric control) underscores the existence of human agency.
- Reid’s treatment of D&G’s “machinic enslavement” is a nice metaphor for the totalizing colonization of capitalism in postmodernity. What it does not account for (at least not yet – in Chapter 6) is the inability of capital to completely subsume all biopolitical production – specifically immaterial production – into systems of capital. H&N find this mode of resistance as the jumping off point for the calling into being of the multitude. Obviously this has a lot to do with property, intellectual property, and rent (what capital does when it no longer can capitalize on biopower and must confront the three-headed problem of biopolitical reason: 1) rationality in the service of life, not capital; 2) technique in the service of ecology (both humans and nonhumans); and 3) capital accumulation in the service of the common).
- What? : The event is the spatiotemporal hinge where the always already past of immanent non-being passes through the plane of consistency, with its intensive, affective becomings, and vergest toward its partial capture within a plane of reference as a subjective form (165). Actually, this is just consciousness. J