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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.


Hey, thanks for dropping a nod to the article. It really was meant to be just a sketch for future research, and I really do think it will ultimately become book #2. Gotta get book #1 done first though :)

I figured as much, although I didn't want to seem dismissive. Some of these pairings are really suggestive to me, even if they're outside of the scope of what I think I'm doing...

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