Archive for April, 2011

The Grammar of the Common-tude

Posted in Uncategorized on April 19, 2011 by iamgreatness

In addition to Commonwealth this week, I also read Grammar of the Multitude as I remembered a lot of similar concepts, etc., being discussed in that text from when we read it in Writing Machines all those years ago, and also to give myself a more borad understanding of the common and the multitude. As I read through these texts, at first I was plagued by the question of how do I separate the discussion(s) of the multitude and the common (for my purposes in thinking through this project) from the seemingly essential discussion(s) of capital and labor and production. However, halfway through Grammar it dawned on me that perhaps it would be better to think, instead, about my project in terms of capital and labor and production. Not necessarily as a project in economics now instead of the original rhetorical basis, but (and thinking of this specifically in terms of Virno’s discussion of the common topics/general intelligence, Hardt & Negri’s discussion of the common/bio-political labor, and Levy’s discussion of collective intelligence) perhaps this is what is different and really needs to be engaged with between the common topics of Aristotelian rhetoric and today’s common–this being the transition between rhetoric as political (persuasion/getting things done in the polis) and economic (a means of bio-political production in the economy of the network)–while still retaining the primary focus of rhetoric as use of language in communication.

So I found myself asking these questions and thinking abo all of our previous discussion in terms of updating the rhetoric for today and networked society in general. So we have a situation of collective intelligence where Levy imagines a relative utopia in which knowledge is created and distributed collectively across the networks and this works to unseat the dominance of the circulation of capital, yet this manifested in the networks serving as a means through which capital could circulate more freely and constant attempts to monetize the Internet–utopia banished. But the collectivity of the intelligence and knowledge created still exists. Next we turn to Virno and the need for the multitude to turn back to the common places/general intelligence because the special places no longer serve to orient the multitude in the disorientation caused by the post-Fordist economy. These common place for the contemporary multitude also point toward the World-Wide Web (43). Finally, we have the traditional means of capitalist production being replaced by bio-political production (ideas, knowledge, ways of life) that refuse to fit into the systems of quantification necessary for capital to appropriate and monetize them (Hardt & Negri).

Basically the question is thus: if we can look at the Internet as some type of material instantiation/ideological construct of the contemporary common, a digital agora for the multitude, in terms of the way we communicate (use rhetoric) in this medium, is it more economic than political (or at least as much economic as political)? Instead of communicating to “get things done” in the polis, are we really trading in the products of bio-political labor–exchanging ideas, knowledge, forms of life? And perhaps this is what is missing in turning to Aristotle’s Rhetoric as such–an emphasis on the means of persuasion and the turn to the common places to make this task (and thus participation in the polis) easier, when the focus now is more on exchange and the value (politically, ethically, economically) thereof?

Collective Collections

Posted in Uncategorized on April 5, 2011 by iamgreatness

Okay, to begin with Electric Rhetoric … um … what can I say except that it is an excellent illustration of what not to do. I appreciate the attempt to reread rhetorical history and revitalize previously forgotten figures (such as Diotima and Aspasia) and engage with the racial and gender issues present in ancient rhetoric, but I consistently found this engagement to be unsupported and without reason. For example, I still am not sure why we need to look to Diotima to understand electric rhetoric, nor am I sure even who Aspasia is. I am also in disagreement with Welch’s read of Isocrates and why his writing are more “oral/aural” than someone like Plato, when Isocrates was not an orator and Plato’s writings are actually in the form of dialogues. Confusion aside, I think Welch’s attempt to redefine rhetoric for the digital age is incredibly reductive and falls into the Ulmerian trap of trying to separate this “next” rhetoric out as something altogether new rather than looking at it as a continuum.  It also relies too heavily on critique for the sake of critique (e.g. all of her stabs at the literary canons). There is a passage in her last chapter that I will quote here at length to illustrate the dangers of this type of critique and then draw a line of connection to Levy’s text. This passage is in reference to a photo program installed on the IBM Laptop 755 CE and its scrolling gallery of stock images:

The photographs in this gallery include a close-up of raspberries, farm buildings, a head-and-shoulders photograph of a Black girl who look at the camera, baseball hats, a lighthouse, a head-and-shoulders shot of two parrots, a long shot of whitewater rafters (seven White people), a long-shot photograph of a mountain capped with snow, and a long-shot photograph of a seashore. The gallery sequence runs raspberries, farm buildings, Black girl, baseball hats, lighthouse, parrots, Whit rafters on whitewater, mountain scenery, seashore. The racism of this pictorial juxtaposition, aside from being breathtaking in its insensitivity, communicates volumes about the automatic responses of some anonymous software designers who equate Black girls with beautiful, exotic animals (exoticism) and who present a photograph of a child in a semi-erotic pose as if it were a phenomenon of physis (nature) and not of nomos, a convention of law or more. (202)

What Welch seems to be doing here is using a “revitalized” electric rhetoric to expose the objectification of the Other because of the juxtaposition possible in a digital medium–drawing what seems to be to me a completely off-base and unfair conclusion about how the software designers equate a Black girl with parrots and mountain tops. It seems much more reasonable to look at how this ability to juxtapose creates something new (such as what Rice suggests in Rhetoric of Cool) rather than something that instantiates the previous patterns of objectification. This connects with a concept I found particularly interesting in Collective Intelligence: the cosmopedia.

The new organization of knowledge in this fourth space [is] the cosmopedia. It is based largely on the possibilities made accessible to us through computer technology for the representation and dynamic management of knowledge … Because instead of a one-dimensional text or even a hypertext network, we now have a dynamic and interactive multidimensional representational space. Instead of the conjunction of image and text, characteristic of the encyclopedia, the cosmopedia combines a large number of different types of expression: static images, video, sound, interactive simulation, interactive maps, expert systems, dynamic ideographs, virtual reality, artificial life, etc. … Once they plunge into the cosmopedia, space reorganizes around them, depending on their history, their interests, their questions, their previous utterances. They are surrounded by everything that concerns them, which arranges itself within their reach. (216; 219)

This to me, seems like a much more reasonable and productive way to look at the abundance (and the possible juxtapositions of) information that the digital age (and the Internet) make possible–dynamic and interactive (constructive) rather than unwittingly racist and sexist (destructive). We can connect and create through our collective intelligence and the abundance of information provided.

In terms of a future project, with what we have been discussing thus far, I think that Levy’s (and Authier’s) conception of the cosmopedia might offer some insight into a revamping of Aristotle for the digital age. Welch talks a lot about the common topics, which seem to fall short of describing the way rhetoric functions today because it relies on a seemingly impossible standardization of information and excludes the concept of the collectivity of intelligence. Ulmer attempts to redefine this as chora, but runs into a problem where we can’t really define chora and thus can only talk about what it is not rather than what it is. Cosmopedia, I think, gets at the same idea, but in a more definable way. we place things (ideas, thoughts, information, etc.) into the networks of collective intelligence, where those things are circulated and juxtaposed, rather than placing them in specific locations (topoi) for later retrieval. Might the cosmopedia be a new lens through which to view rhetoric in a digital age rather than continuing to rely on topoi?