Thursday, November 8, 2012

Object Analysis: The Chores

It is with great pleasure that I post one the many quality Object Analyses produced this semester: The Chores

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Object Analysis: Taste Buds

It is with great pleasure that I post one the first Object Analyses produced this semester:

Taste Buds in Your Earbuds

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Welcome to English 404

Welcome to the course site for ENGL 404: Problems in Rhetoric: Animal, Vegetable, Mineral* (Fall 2012 at Saint Louis University). I am your professor, Nathaniel Rivers.

Rhetoric is typically viewed as people getting other people to do things by means of speech, writing, and other forms of symbolic action (e.g., music and math). But what about the rhetorical work of nonhumans? And what about persuasion that isn’t based in language? The problem in rhetoric that this course explores, then, is the place of the nonhuman (plants, animals, environments, and technologies) and the non-symbolic (body language, emotion, and the sensual) in the work of persuasion. Course projects thus entail exploring and documenting, in a hands-on fashion, various nonhuman rhetorical agents and non-symbolic forms of persuasion. We call these object analyses. For instance, a student might first analyze a pet in terms of how it shapes the family dynamic. Next, a student might observe a campus environment, documenting how that environment shapes its inhabitants (and how it might have been designed to do so). For their final object analysis, that student might then do the same for a technological device such as a toaster or a smart phone. Students also have opportunities to make things that persuade: cook a meal, redesign the living room, or build a piece of furniture.

Feel free to explore the site for more information about the course. The Introduction describes the goals and guiding principles of the course. ENGL 404 is grounded in the critical methodology of rhetoric, which students will hopefully come to value as a productive method for negotiating, constructing, maintaining, and reshaping their personal, professional, and technological lives.

*This course also is cross-listed in Medical Humanities.

A Way In

In a round about and intentionally naive way, this is sort of what the course is about and what it is after:

Another Way In

From Mishka Henner's
Dutch Landscapes" series.
"The New Aesthetic Needs to Get Weirder", by Ian Bogost (the author of Alien Phenomenology, which we'll read this semester), is a good place to start thinking through the implications of putting the nonhuman and the nonsymbolic front and center.
"I've suggested the term ontography as a name for creating lists, groups, or other collections of things for the purpose of documenting the repleteness under one tiny rock of existence. Ontography is an aesthetic set theory: it can take the form of lists, photographs, collections, even tumblrs, perhaps, with enough practice. Collection is aesthetically productive, but a collection that strives to trace an asymptote toward infinity creates obligation instead of clarity."

Friday, April 13, 2012

Yet Another Way In

New Media scholar and producer Nathanael Bassett has recently produced what he calls Proslambanomenos, "after an archaic term for low notes, the lowest note in the Greek musical scale."
The sounds are taken from NOAA’s Vents Program index of unidentified sounds, very low frequency recordings captured by autonomous hydrophone arrays throughout the Pacific Ocean, including SOSUS (which was designed to detect Soviet submarines during the cold war). Although a researcher speculates some of the sounds are the movements of ice, its also very likely they’re biological in origin. The original recordings were sped up to 16x and 20x their original speed to make them listenable – I have restored them to their original speed (for the most part). Nobody really knows what made these sounds.

Bassett writes, and here is the way in for this course, "My thought behind this involves intentionality and non-human agency, or biocentrism (as opposed to anthropocentrism)." Furthermore, he writes,
I wanted to explore truly unintentional sound which is not given over to anthropocentric classification, since we often use natural sounds as acoustic symbols (a volcano explosion is powerful, a dog howl is mournful, etc). How can we divorce the sign from the signified? It’s a good start if we don’t understand the sign.
Part of what this course is after is to make the nonhuman present by making it strange. What we take for granted quickly becomes what Bruno Latour calls "the missing masses."