Category Archives: Rhetoric

McLuhan on the Headline

Head Line: a primitive shout of rage and fear

  • Wares and rumors of wares in a time of Trump.
  • The story content becomes the merchandise.

[T]he headline is a feature which began with the Napoleonic Wars. The headline is a primitive shout of rage, triumph, fear, or warning, and newspapers have thrived on wars ever since. And the newspaper, with two or three decks of headlines, has also become a major weapon. …

Any kind of excitement or emotion contributes to the possibility of dangerous explosions when the feelings of huge populations are kept inflamed even in peacetime for the sake of the advancement of commerce. Headlines mean street sales. It takes emotion to move merchandise. And wars and rumors of wars are the merchandise and also the emotion of the popular press.

From The Mechanical Bride

Update 11 Dec 2017: Any kind of excitement.  In a post-simulacrum world, the quote itself is verification enough.

“Think of each presidential day as an episode in a television show in which he vanquishes rivals.”  

Trump, as reported, in the NYT



digital image as interface for viewer production of the real

Or Image for semiosis.

As interface or instrument, the image does not comprise a representation of a pre-existent and independent reality, but rather a means for the new media user to intervene in the production of the “real,” now understood as a rendering of data. “New media,” Manovich concludes “change our concept of what an image is – because they turn a viewer into an active user. As a result, an illusionistic image is no longer something a subject simply looks at, comparing it with memories of represented reality to judge its reality effect. The new media image is something the user actively goes into, zooming in or clicking on individual parts with the assumption that they contain hyperlinks….”

[W]e must fundamentally reconfigure the image. Specifically; we must accept that the image, rather than finding instantiation in a privileged technical form (including the computer interface), now demarcates the very process through which the body, in conjunction with the various apparatuses for rendering information perceptible, gives form to or in-forms information. In sum, the image can no longer be restricted to the level of surface appearance, but must be extended to encompass the entire process by which information is made perceivable through embodied experience. This is what I propose to call the digital image.

Hansen, New Philosophy, 10.

Hansen’s conception becomes a basis for aesthetics as epistemic AND a basis for a rhetoric of experience. The viewer becomes a creator influenced by material context of the perception. This conception does not neutralize rhetorical aims and moves but disperses or distributes them between context, object, perceiver and makes them cognitive or material operators or procedures that shape the making of perception. “Enframe something (digital information) that was originally formless” 11.

This is “a fundamental shift in aesthetic experience from a model dominated by the perception of a self-sufficient object to one focused on the intensities of embodied affectivity. ” 12-13.

This is social semiotics from another angle. The artifact primes the viewer and provides the resources for creating semiosis. v Kress

rethinking threadmode – it’s not for fedwiki

SCRABrrRRrraaNNG. Filipo Marinetti. 1919.

I confess: I don’t care much for ThreadMode (aka discussion) in wikis. When I first brought the traditional wiki into the classroom, I embraced the strategy. I embedded it into our StyleGuide. I saw it as rhetorical invention – a way of collecting ideas to be developed further. I saw it as foudational to using a wiki: pages develop from threads to documents. Right? Right? Not right?

The idea behind a wiki is to collectively develop ideas over time, which requires that participants revisit pages, making changes and revisions as they go. They turn from readers one moment into writers the next. That’s the idea, anyway. And ThreadMode seems to serve that idea pretty well because it lets a drive-by user jump in and add something quickly. Other users, who are more engaged in the wiki or invested in a particular page, are supposed to then synthesize the thread into a DocumentMode, which is what we’re really interested in getting to. The movement is from ThreadMode to DocumentMode by way of RefactoringPages.

I saw ThreadMode as a way for students to safely and confidently add to a page without tinkering with the document mode. Users can be timid as they enter a new writing space. Adding a comment or a response to a thread seems like a low-threat way of entering the space. And I still see ThreadMode as a way of gathering alternative perspectives which are then synthesized into DocumentMode. The idea of synthesizing alternative perspectives, it seems, lead to proposing set of rhetorical patterns to guide that synthesis. Things like DialogueMode, DialecticMode, even YesBut and IfSoButOtherwise. The list of patterns isn’t endless but it can be tedious – for general use. Disciplines have preferred discipline-specific patterns for abduction and synthesis and it’s good practice to make them explicit. Like showing your work.

The problem is that too many pages on the course wikis I work with never get beyond ThreadMode. Some pages do. Some students are interested enough in what we’re doing that they step back and synthesize a document from the thread. I’ll do it when I get a chance, or when I want to demonstrate how it’s done. But many pages are a summary of that might be on the page, followed by loose threads of comments that could be useful, if someone want to use them. No one comes running out of the bushes calling, “Let me! Let me synthesize that thread into a readable, useful document.” The work is too hard, it’s easier just to skim the thread for the comments, and move on. Students are more likely to start a new page and draft a document (typically following Wikipedia) than synthesize an evolving document.

Students say they don’t like “tinkering” with another’s prose – in part because they don’t know what to do with it. I take their reticence as a rhetorical deficit: they don’t have the rhetorical strategies to synthesize the ideas of others into their own prose when those others are acquaintances. Doing so requires not just synthesis of content but the rhetorical grace to not piss off your sources. My mistake: When all you have is a hammer …

Bill Seitz brought some clarity to my thinking with this observation:

Giving your “friends” the power to edit one of your pages to have a Thread Mode discussion within a page doesn’t smell right, as ultimately you want to converge that page in your own Sense Making direction, therefore comments another person sticks in there tend to get wiped/merged/edited by you, creating tension/conflict between you and them. Wiki Web Dialogue

The dynamic between acquaintances – students thrown together by little more than taking a course – probably has something to do with the threadbareness of ThreadMode, but Bill’s observation suggests that I was getting hung up on the dynamic rather than looking at the location of the ThreadMode. The confounding stuff is right there in the damn page, getting in the way, materially and emotionally, making hash of rhetorical concentration. (Comp/Rhet people might re-read Elbow’s “Closing My Eyes as I Speak: An Argument for Ignoring Audience”.)

Regardless of the dynamic, the presence of ThreadMode can confound the act of sense making (composing the document) at the wrong moment. Better to get a full, synthetic draft of a document on the wiki and revise it later, by way of discussion or comments or feedback hosted elsewhere – not in the page itself.

Wikipedia handles the problem of collective writing by designating a Talk page, where a culture of negotiation developed over time. During the FedWiki Happening #2, the subject of having a separate space for discussion came up. We used Twitter and an email list rather than thread mode in pages. I recall noting then that FedWiki didn’t make a good space for discussion: given forking, the thread mode discussion got even more in the way than in a traditional wiki. (Fork, then edit out the discussion). We were thinking traditional, centrally located writing space (wiki, blog, news site) rather than a federated, distributed space.

I’d have to Just Say No to ThreadMode in FedWiki. But then the problem is, if we don’t use ThreadMode as strategy for invention, what might we use instead? 

getting a start on rethinking composing in fedwiki

The cat, her chair, and her greenhouse.

I finally made a start on Composing in FedWiki, with Rethinking Composing in FedWiki. The premise: FedWiki presents a rhetorical context unlike that of traditional, commons-based wikis. So it’s an opportunity to rethink some of the compositional moves developed for the traditional wiki.

I have two ends here. One is to make wiki writing more substantive than it has been in the past:

Years of watching thread mode discussions go on at Weblogs and Wikis and the advent of FedWiki as a distributed system has encouraged me to re-think the old ThreadMode into DocumentMode pattern of composing. ThreadMode is an inventional technique – a way of locating and trying out the ways that an idea might be constructed and a document composed. But documents don’t get composed; contributors stay in thread mode. The reasons are complex, I’m sure, but little moves forward in thread mode.

And a second is to explore what federated composing can bring us:

Because each contributor owns her own iteration of the fedwiki, she – each of us – is responsible for her own refactoring – her own development of the argument, her own dissertation, which lives with her. A set of notes won’t do in this case. For a page to become part of the linked federation, the [[Chorus of Voices]] (an idea forwarded by Ward and now picked up by the community), it will need to be discursive. Or, put better, those pages that become part of the community will be discursive rather than threads.

What I’m doing in Rethinking Composing in FedWiki is looking at both street-level techniques and rhetorical strategies.

I’m setting aside some of the patterns from traditional wiki writing (ThreadMode, DocumentMode, the WikiWord, the fallback use of bullet lists) for patterns more aligned with the distributed nature of FedWiki. Even the pattern of moving from ThreadMode to DocumentMode goes away for a move from Dissertation to Discourse.

That is, we move [[From Dissertation to Discourse]] rather than from thread mode to document mode. In Radical Discourse, we place partially- or wholly-formed arguments in meaningful orders. This can be done as a set of paragraphs on a page, or as a set of links and stubs.

A few things are lost: WikiWords as topics, for instance, is a loss because it serves as such a quick way of creating a linked page, a quickness and facility that the wiki was named for. But that quickness is a feature of the new rhetorical context I’m addressing in Rethinking. Yeah, being able to create and link nodes with little effort is good. But what goes in the nodes needs some refinement to be valuable to one’s federation. We were taking the quick-to-create-a-node idea into quick and easy to create content. Rather than outside research and serious drafting, we would go onto ThreadMode-like freewriting. Even formatting is implicated in the drive for speed: bullet lists instead of formed paragraphs. We worked with the idea that someone else would come along and tidy things up.

The aspect of the commons also gets in the way of creating commonality. We were trying to negotiate all aspects and points of view on one shared page – a rhetorically difficult and sophisticated task. That difficulty is really worth working thorough, but the wiki, with its emphatic speed and shared commonality works against the task. Contributors leave pages in pre-draft states – pages of notes rather that of arguments and propositions that can be further built on. We never really get to enacting or presenting the multiple points of view.

I’m thinking about a different way of thinking about software tools. A move from valuing them for their Ease of Use to valuing them for their Augmentation. Using a tool for the augmentation of intellect is not easy to do, and it’s not easy to learn how to do it. In augmentation, at the very least the tool doesn’t get in the way of doing something new. At best, the tool changes understanding. I’m not looking at FedWiki as a typewriter-like tool, where work is selecting from a finite set of signifiers, so much as a painter’s brush and pallet, where work involves conceptualization and reconceptualization. Yeah, it’s an art rather than a transcription (which a lot of ThreadMode tends to be: a transcription of commonplaces).

The significant change in the rhetorical situation of writing with FedWiki is a move from a shared commons to a locally-owned federation. This move changes how we handle multiple arguments and points of view. It doesn’t eliminate them, but it seems they have to be more fully formed than a set of notes in order to work with them in a federation. The federated model is, perhaps, a more accurate – er, useful? – model of how knowledge is distributed in both its commonality and difference than the commons-based model. It could be more fragmented than the commons-based wiki seems to suggest, but it could also be that the commons is pretty fragmented already but tarred over to conceal the differences. The matter that interests me is the dynamic of local construction and public distribution. Each contributor architects her own iteration drawn from publicly shared elements – right down to the paragraphs! – and places that iteration in public circulation. There are rhetorical possibilities in these circumstances that are worth exploring.

Finally, to consider is the wiki not as an end but a space of creation and composition. A few weeks of The Teaching Machines Happening, and the articles, ideas, and posts that are emerging from that Happening (Hello, Audrey) made it clear that FedWiki needs supplementing by way of a blog, email list, twitter, or some other commons. The FedWiki might become a working space, where material is re-mixed and repurposed, until it is brought out of the shop and distributed.

So: Augmentation, Federation, Distribution. We’ll see where this goes.