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August 29, 2006

Rickert, Thomas. "In the House of Doing: Rhetoric and the Kairos of Ambience"

Rickert, Thomas. "In the House of Doing: Rhetoric and the Kairos of Ambience" JAC 24.4 (2004): 901-927. [Special issue: Complexity Theory. David Blakesley and Thomas Rickert, eds.]

This is more a placeholder, with a promise to return, than anything else.

Thomas asks, "What would come to constitute the logic of composing in network culture is we push against the metaphors of connection to, first, metaphors of environment, place, surroundings, and second, metaphors of meshing, osmosis, blending?"

To which, "For a variety of reasons, many of which will become clear below, I offer the metaphor of 'ambience' to aid us in thinking through the full implications of a network logic that would be incarnational" (903).

There's also a suggestive line at the bottom of 904: "If the network metaphor captures the logic of the hardware of emerging network culture, ambience captures the 'software' logics of being and doing that arise from the network."

I should note that part of the cohort that is activated for me with the term 'collection' is necessarily Heidegger's notion of gathering, and so I want to return to this essay when I've got that work a little closer to the surface.

I should also note that it may turn out that this article is more notable for the fact that it presents an outside to what I'm interested in doing. We'll see.

Johnston, John. "Network Theory and Life on the Internet."

Johnston, John. "Network Theory and Life on the Internet." JAC 24.4 (2004): 881-899. [Special issue: Complexity Theory. David Blakesley and Thomas Rickert, eds.]

It's hard for me to imagine a better synthesis of network studies and its precursors than Johnston provides in this essay. The tail end of his essay is geared towards an exploration of artificial life, which is tangential to my own interests here, but the first part is a well-executed history. I can even forgive the phrase "network theory" considering its qualities.

Some highlights:

Stanley Milgram's original "degrees of separation" experiment and "small world problem" (882)
Erdos & Renyi on random graph theory (882)
Mark Granovetter on "strength of weak ties" (883)
Paul Baran on the security of distributed communications networks (884)
Bell curve v power law distributions (885)
(great ex from Barabási: highway v air traffic systems)
Barabási on scale-free networks (886)
Watts and Strogatz on small world networks (888)
Barabási: two laws of Web = growth and preferential attachment (890)
(means of accounting for both hubs and power laws in network)

I don't really have notes to add to this, because a lot of it is stuff that I'll be blogging here eventually. Johnston turns to the question/issue of the blurring of the machine/organism boundary when it comes to the Web, and eventually to artificial life. But if you want a capsule summary of much of the most important work in network studies in about 10 pages, this is probably the best I've seen so far.

Hawk, Byron. "Toward a Rhetoric of Network (Media) Culture: Notes on Polarities and Potentiality"

Hawk, Byron. "Toward a Rhetoric of Network (Media) Culture: Notes on Polarities and Potentiality" JAC 24.4 (2004): 831-850. [Special issue: Complexity Theory. David Blakesley and Thomas Rickert, eds.]

I'm going to try and whip through a number of articles from this special issue, to which I would/should have contributed (or tried, anyway) if only I'd had the time. I may gloss some stuff lightly when it's to be found in Mark C. Taylor's The Moment of Complexity, the text to which many of these articles are responding.


Byron's essay could be the seeds for a book, so widely does it range. He identifies "compositions or polarities between key terms" that govern the structure of the text (832):

Dissoi Logoi<--->Polarities
Rhetorical Situation<--->Complex Adaptive Systems
Ethos<--->Screen (Node)

For the moment, I'm mostly interested in the logos/network and ethos/screen pairings, because those are the places most directly networky.

network logic = 3 basic characteristics:
basic structure is set of nodes (or knots);
basic dynamics determined by strength of connections;
network evolves via the changing strengths of the relations that adapt to the nodes around it (839).

too few connections = network freezes
too many connections = network chaos

"If we want to understand the way language functions in complex (media) economies, we need a logic, a new image of logos, based on the network not as a static system but as a system in motion" (840).

"For Taylor, 'In a network culture, subjects are screens and knowing is screening'" (841).

A set of screens comprises a node, a point of connection in a network.


I'll have more response when I turn back to Taylor, undoubtedly. At this point, it's hard not to feel a certain metaphoricity in Taylor's use of these terms, when my baseline reference is Watts. Not that I can see a whole lot of conflict in their accounts, but there's something a little more concrete in the latter.

As little as I like ELP discussions, I would almost have rather seen each of these sections really extended, and integrated a little more. Combining the screen/node stuff of ethos with the logos section raises questions about whether movement or stasis is the base of network logic, not that it has to be either/or, but it connects up for me with Virilio's analysis of cities and roads (cities as the places where roads intersect rather than roads as the things that connect cities).

A second issue is that I need to think on "network logic" and "network culture." There are places where, for me, Taylor isn't saying much that differs from, say, Vygotsky or Bakhtin, for all that it is couched in fairly contemporary language. But it's also possible that I'm being unfair to him--it's been too long since I looked at MoC for me to be sure. Network logic in particular up there feels pretty vague to me--there's a lot to unpack in each of those nouns.

That's all for now.

August 27, 2006

Elfenbein, Andrew. "Cognitive Science and the History of Reading."

Elfenbein, Andrew. "Cognitive Science and the History of Reading." PMLA 121.2 (March 2006): 484-502.

I don't plan on spending a great deal of time plumbing the archives of PMLA for material, but I happened to come across this essay recently, and include it here for what will be obvious reasons.


Concerned with developing translation across disciplinary boundaries of cognitive psychology and literary criticism (484).

Citing Paul van den Broek and Kathleen Kremer (485):

When reading is successful, the result is a coherent and usable mental representation of the text. This representation resembles a network, with nodes that depict the individual text elements (e.g., events, facts, settings) and connections that depict the meaningful relations between the elements.

Discussing specific models by which these representations are generated (486-7).

"Concept activation"-- moving from text to mental representation:

  • text being read (unit called a cycle)
  • previous cycle
  • "episodic memory representation"-as network is built, it reinforces and is reinforced
  • background knowledge

Last two activated through "cohort activation" (groupings) and "coherence break" (gaps that need filling).

Repetition not only form of activation; causality, emotional sympathy, personal experience (489-90).

Essay turns on 490 to an attempt to translate these ideas from cognitive psychology to the examination of historical readers. Goal "to analyze how their aesthetic positions affected their microprocesses in reading" (491).

"The vocabulary of cognitive science enables us to rewrite the Victorian dichotomy of the good, active reader versus the bad, passive reader as a contrast between divergent uses of cognitive resources, guided by varying standards of coherence" (496).

"The vocabulary of cognitive psychology may be most compelling to literary critics, therefore, in making visible aspects of literary criticism that exist now largely as widespread tacit knowledge" (499).

"comprehension as an activity through which the texts we read acquire cognitive materiality" (499).


This essay may ultimately be valuable to me more in its works cited than in the essay itself. There are a number of terms that it uses that I'm interested in following up on. In part, this is because I'm not especially concerned with literary criticism. Elfenbein spends time early in the essay defending the vocbulary from charges of mechanistic reduction, but that's not an issue for me.

I'm actually interested in the uses to which we put these textual representations, the ways that we visualize them in the form of indices, tables of contents, and bibliographies, and the ways that we deploy them in discussions and considerations of disciplinarity. Reductive? Yes, but necessarily so. I think his discussion of the sophistication of expert readers, as those who are able to quickly and accurately build textual representations, resembles Gladwell's thin-slicing, although it's not quite the same thing.

My sense is also that there may be some value to be had in comparing some of this material with the descriptions of discourse and language from Saussure, Barthes, Derrida, et al.

Is it possible to pin down ideas like coherence or "success" in a way that doesn't tautologize them? Elfenbein seems conscious of this limitation on the cog side of things. It's successful because it's usable? (485) Is there a connection here between coherence and small world networks?

August 24, 2006

On Networks

Okay, let's get it on. This is an entry I may return to a few times, as I hone the ideas. But I want to lay out a few ground rules as they occur to me right now. First, it may change as I get into the project, but the idea that I'm beginning with as the Question is this:

What happens when we consider rhetoric, discourse, and/or language in terms of network studies?

Sounds like a very basic question, but there are a lot of directions that I'll be taking it. My first clarification is one that I've been making for the past 2 years or so, usually in person to various audiences. I think it is a misnomer to speak of "network theory," at least in the context of "theory" as it has been deployed in our field. I'm much fonder of "network studies," which captures for me the sense that all those who work on networks are looking for observable behaviors and patterns that might be located across disparate phenomena. To me, theory suggests an abstraction that I don't find present in this work.

My take on "theory" is that it involves adopting a coordinate position outside of a phenomenon, one that may very well shed light on the phenomenon in question, but which is not necessarily intrinsic to it. If anyone remembers Robert Scholes's Textual Power, he distinguishes among reading, interpretation, and criticism as three modes of textual approach. While the word "theory" probably has etymological roots closer to interpretation, it's been appropriated on behalf of criticism. There are a lot smarter people than I who can tell you about the rise, fall, virtue, and/or vice of theory, particularly as it's played out in this country, so I'll stop there. Except to say that Scholes characterizes criticism as the generation of "text against text" (as opposed to the "within" of reading, or the "upon" of interpretation).

Network theory, then, to me, would imply that there's some sort of imposition of network-ness being made upon language, discourse, a text, etc., that it's a perspective that can be brought to bear on my objects of study. And this doesn't feel quite right to me. I don't feel like this is controversial, but it may bear some proof at some point, and that's that while the value of network studies may come from the de- and re-familiarization that it involves, from its epistemological impact, the fundamental claim that it makes is an ontological one. For example,

  • A language is a network of words and rules.
  • A text is a smaller network of words, rules, and codes.
  • A discipline is both a social and a textual network.
  • A bibliography is a network of texts and influences.
  • A scholar is a network of texts and influences.

I don't think that any of those statements are particularly challenging, or difficult to demonstrate for that matter. The question, though, is whether any of those statements, when the implications of network studies build off of them, can offer us compelling accounts (or competing accounts) of discourse, disciplinarity, knowledge-making, etc. I think the answer's yes, yes, yes. But I'm also prepared for the answer in some cases to be no. There are situations where the observation of network behaviors results in curiosities, but nothing that I'd describe as having lasting practical value.

One more observation, and then I'll stop for the moment. One of the terms that I'm going to take up in the near future is collection. I've been coming across it in a range of places, and it's beginning to drift towards the center of my mental network. I bring it up here because it figures prominently in the definition of network that I'm going to work with, at least initially. This is from Duncan Watts's Six Degrees (a book that I'll probably need to review chapter by chapter):

Stripped to its bare bones, a network is nothing more than a collection of objects connected to each other in some fashion (27).

When I first came across this definition, two obvious questions suggested themselves to me. Objects: what are they? some fashion: how does this work? But lately, I've come to think of collection as a third, equally important part of that equation. There are some distinctions between collection and connection worth retaining, I think. And I'll talk about that in another entry, I think.

How it works

I'm going to prestamp some entries momentarily, with the idea of moving them off the recent posts sidebar as quickly as possible. When we built CCC Online through a Movable Type Installation, one of the things we did was to add a number of static, "template" pages for those places where comments were unnecessary.

On this site, I'm going to want some pages that are relatively static, but still retain feedback possibilities, the ones that will be linked out of the About section. Right now, I'm thinking about pages for an overview of the project, an ongoing book proposal-like document, a tentative table of contents, and a working bibliography that will house not only the texts I've reviewed, but the ones I've yet to get to.

So that's why there's a bunch of new entries that are relatively empty.

A quick assist?

I've looked at this site on Safari and Firefox for Mac, but I don't have immediate access to various PC browsers, so if anyone's looking at it that way, could you tell me if it looks all right. Below is a snapshot of the site as it shows up on my screen--I know that the color will be a little different, but I'm most concerned with layout, alignment, etc., not getting too botched across platforms...


a screen shot of this site

Update: Thanks for the quick reply, NK! I should also note that, for some reason, this new blog, even though it's on my cgbvb installation, is starting from scratch with respect to comment moderation. So even I wasn't a "trusted commenter" yesterday, and had to approve my own test comment. So please don't take offense if your comments here get held up for a bit. It just means I'm away from my machine...

August 23, 2006

Brooke, Weblogs as Deictic Systems

Brooke, Collin Gifford. "Weblogs as Deictic Systems: Centripetal, Centrifugal, and Small-World Blogging." Computers and Composition Online Fall 2005: (23 August 2006).

For the moment, this is simply a sample entry, to test out the recent reviews feature. I've set this up so that, when I am taking notes on specific texts, I'll categorize those entries as "h&g" (for hunting and gathering), and they should show up both in the recent posts sidebar as well as in the recently reviewed, the big difference between that non-review posts won't show up in the latter.

Make sense? I'm going to make sure it works first...

(and yes, I realize that I have to lay out my archive pages better. Soon, soon, soon.)

On Titles

For now, as the title of this blog trumpets, the title of the manuscript that I'm working on is Rhetworks: An Introduction to the Study of Discursive Networks. I'm not totally sold on this name, however. For one thing, it sounds like Scooby Doo saying the word 'networks': "Rhetworks, Raggy!"

For another, though, I did get kind of used to the phrase "Network(ed) Rhetorics" while I was teaching a graduate course of that name. Rather than doing the explicative subtitle then, I'm thinking instead about Network(ed) Rhetorics: X, Y, Z, with at least one of the variables being "scale." Part of the trick here is that I'm not sure what the others are yet.

But there is a certain amount of voodoo involved in having at least a tentative title sketched out. For whatever reason, it helps me set the scope and tone of my project in ways that prove important both for my focus and my motivation.

For all I know, I'll be posting each month with a revised title, though. We'll see.

August 20, 2006


This is a placeholder for a page that will explain the project in more detail.

Table of Contents

This is a placeholder where I will work out an annotated table of contents. Although I'll eventually fold it in with the book proposal, it's really a different genre, so for the moment, I'm separating the two.


This is a placeholder that I will start adding to, shortly. Once it's begun, feel free to suggest additional texts in the comments. I'll add your name to a thank you list, add the work, and delete the comment. So please don't think I've simply dismissed your comment...

[Sorry about the repeated "updates." I've been experimenting.]

Elfenbein, Andrew. "Cognitive Science and the History of Reading." PMLA 121.2 (March 2006): 484-502. [entry]

Hawk, Byron. "Toward a Rhetoric of Network (Media) Culture: Notes on Polarities and Potentiality" JAC 24.4 (2004): 831-850. [Special issue: Complexity Theory. David Blakesley and Thomas Rickert, eds.] [entry]

Johnston, John. "Network Theory and Life on the Internet." JAC 24.4 (2004): 881-899. [Special issue: Complexity Theory. David Blakesley and Thomas Rickert, eds.] [entry]

Lynch, Clifford. "Open Computation: Beyond Human-Reader-Centric Views of Scholarly Literatures." Open Access: Key Strategic, Technical and Economic Aspects. Neil Jacobs, Ed. Oxford: Chandos Publishing, 2006. [entry]

Moretti, Franco. Signs Taken for Wonders: On the Sociology of Literary Forms. London: Verso, 1983. [entry]

Rickert, Thomas. "In the House of Doing: Rhetoric and the Kairos of Ambience" JAC 24.4 (2004): 901-927. [Special issue: Complexity Theory. David Blakesley and Thomas Rickert, eds.] [entry]

Stevens, Anne H. and Jay Williams. "The Footnote, in Theory." Critical Inquiry 32.2 (Winter 2006): 208-225. [link] [entry]

Book Proposal

This is a placeholder that will eventually contain a draft of the book proposal.