“A structure is defined by what escapes it.” Brian Massumi, as qtd. in Johnson-Eilola 175
A colleague of mine (a fellow composition instructor who has a fondness for old typewriters — as do I) posted the following video link to a FB thread today, and our recent readings immediately invaded my innocuous audience participation.
My first thought when I saw this was of our recent CHAT readings and the concept of remapping existing frameworks of meaning (i.e., the rhetorical canon). The text-based explanation is immediately reminiscent of Hardware Theory, with the overlaying or repurposing of one technology — and its associated rhetorical practices — with another. In some ways, it reminded me of this week’s readings by Joyce and Johnson-Eilola in terms of the way we approach hypertext and web writing; in others, I could see Latour‘s ANT at work (but perhaps that’s getting ahead of myself). I must say that of all the works assigned this week, Johnson-Eilola’s prompted the strongest connective potential for my MOOC work, while at the same time presenting me with new questions (such as the distinction she makes between geographical and geometric as ways of visualizing the spaces of hypertext and reading/writing). Her article — recalling as it does Foucault’s concepts of ecologies, Spinuzzi’s activity-based discourse communities, and genre theory — suggests to me it may well be a suitable Case Study Theory node for my next step.
The idea of borders and “border crossing” (which the above video seems to do on several levels — from repurposed technology and activity to (re)mixing genres) seems to be part of everything we comp/rhet (as well as literature) scholars write about, in one way or another. Quoting Giroux, Nostalgic Angels illustrates how the theory of “border pedagogy” (198) can be applied as a means of exploring hypertext reading as mapping the intersections of activity and even tensions — nodes. Yet Johnson-Eilola’s chapters from Nostalgic Angels seem to critique the postmodernist motives and interpretive activities as an undercurrent to her exploration of how hypertext has become a theorized object. From Popham‘s “Boundary Forms” to Miller‘s and Bazerman‘s exploration of genres as border-busting devices, “the difficulties of our border constructions” (Johnson-Eilola 3) become nodes of critical activity. However, these nodes — as hypertext — do not always function in idealized postmodernist ways. While Joyce’s chapters seem to laud, and even idealize, hypertext writing as a means of exploding and remapping existing texts, Johnson-Eilola’s critique of two examples of hypertext applied as literary analysis serves as a powerful rubric by which to test the theory’s promise.
The work of CHAT by Prior et al. advances an argument for remapping not just the borders but the geographic and geometrical spaces of that node and its related activities. Johnson-Eilola, as well as Joyce, have focused this conversation on the object of hypertext, whether as a creative power of activity that makes possible new nodes and new connections — enhancing agency (Joyce) — or as system that may actually be less utopian than advertised because it all too often is “constructed in a web of institutional forces acting as a form of nostalgia (Johnson-Eilola 7).
This concept of nostalgia struck me as a repeating theme for several of our readings. As I mentioned in an earlier post, Prior et al. write about remapping the canon in ways that made me question whether we can ever truly remove ourselves from the traditional rhetorical canon. Even their online theory-testing space at times renders this remap in traditional book-based layout or visual cues. This is a cautionary point made by Johnson-Eilola as well, as she states:
“We recognize the apparently radical enactment of nonlinearity inherent in the node-link structure of all hypertext; we proclaim in various ways that revolutionary potential; and then we immediately rearticulate those potentials in terms of our conventional, normal practices” (13-4).
Such pinpointing of nostalgia, and the tensions of contradiction exposed through critical assessment / applications, become a way to test such border technologies as hypertexts, argues Johnson-Eilola. I agree, finding that her critical analysis of applied hypertext examples recall Spinuzzi as well as Bazerman, Miller, and Foucault in that such a practice of juxtaposition of “the different discourses of hypertext can highlight some of the political, social, and technological forces constructing our lives” (14) — even our scholarly theorizing practices. But that leaves the question: what map do we use? Even Johnson-Eilola addresses this question, especially as a critique of the postmodernist views of truth and knowledge…views that remind me of Neo’s spoon dilemma:
I could go on for some time about Nostalgic Angels, but there is Latour to note. He too takes on this concept of borders — nodes and “geometrical shape[s]” (24) — as a means of making sense. However, I am not convinced he and Johnson-Eilola meet eye-to-eye on this subject. In an early chapter, Latour seems to push back against the use of borders as critical activity centers, preferring instead to focus on the “actors” and “movements” (25). It seems he is asserting that the most productive focal point is not the node-as-theory, but the tracing of connections, the patterns, and the relations “between the controversies themselves rather than try to decide how to settle any given controversy” (23). Essentially, this “Actor-Network-Theory” — a concept that reminds me of Foucault’s traces — asserts these disruptions and tensions are where we must look for clues to understand that network’s (or social group’s) construction, structure, and function (30).
And so, what might these chapters offer my Object of Study (composition MOOCs)? Clearly, the way readers move through online spaces — often by using hypertext or other socially-constructed navigational tools — reflect mediated movement. Recognizing that mediation leads frequently to theoretical tensions (a la postmodernist deconstruction), but may also be explored in terms of “border spaces” or nodes through which movement (activity) might be traced. In terms of composition pedagogy, such movement in an online space carries great significance, especially in terms of production and agency. I am looking forward to applying both Latour’s and Johnson-Eilola’s lenses in the next round of Case Study application.
Latour, Bruno. Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory. New York: Oxford UP, 2005. Print.
Johnson-Eilola, Johndan. Nostalgic Angels: Rearticulating Hypertext Writing. Norwood, NJ: Ablex Publishing, 1997. Print
Joyce, Michael. Of Two Minds: Hypertext Pedagogy and Poetics. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan Press, 1996. Print.
—. Othermindedness. Ann Arbor: U. of Michigan Press, 2000. Print.