Notes: Jacqueline Rhodes & Jonathan Alexander, “Orientations.” In Techne: Queer Meditations on Writing the Self

Rhodes, Jacqueline, and Jonathan Alexander. “Introduction.” In Techne: Queer Meditations on Writing the Self. Logan, UT: Computers and Composition Digital Press/Utah State University Press, 2015. Web.

Two dancers in Picasso's costumes: the costumes are an abstract mix of formal wear, pipes, and capital/industrialist landscape.

Summary:

In this chapter, Rhodes and Alexander explore phenomenology’s attentiveness to the subject and subjectivity as sites of inquiry into how technologies (re)orient and (re)mediate the subject.

Keywords: Queer, Queer Theory, Queer Rhetorics, Technology, Multimodality, New Media, Phenomenology, Actor-Network Theory (ANT)

Sources:

Dourish, Paul. Where the Action Is: The Foundations of Embodied Interaction. Cambridge, MA: MIT P, 2001. Print.

Kaptelinin, Victor, and Bonnie A. Nardi. Acting with Technology: Activity Theory and Interaction Design. Cambridge, MA: MIT P, 2009. Print.

Law, John. “Actor Network Theory and Material Semiotics.” The New Blackwell Companion to Social Theory. Ed. Byron S. Turner. Chichester, UK: Blackwell, 2009. 141–58. Print.

Quotations:

“As we touch our technology, we are increasingly reminded of how it touches us back, sometimes through the agency of others reaching out to us” (1).

“We surely want our composing technologies to help us move, to allow us to “follow something other than the lines” already laid down. But to do so, we need to know how those objects already orient us along particular trajectoriesand why” (4).

“The creation of such distance speaks to the fundamental power of the relationship, acknowledging the influence of the object on our subjectivities—in producing our subjectivities—in our felt need at times to curtail it, to introduce and make room for other influences and pressures. Perhaps what needs to be taught now is less the danger of devices than better ways of relating to them. What would studying the experience of working with machines as a set of embodied and situated relations (not just extractable acts, but live relations) tell us about our (post)humanity?” (5).

“In my embodied “coupling” with my technologies, to use Dourish’s term, mean-ing, be-ing, and other Big Concepts are constantly mediated and remediated, a dynamic process in which my technologies and I reach for (and beyond) each other. These acts of (re)mediation are embedded, or grounded quite specifically in the material, social, cultural, and historical settings in which they arise; a key part of that embedding is “a concern with the mundane aspects of social life, the taken-for-granted background of everyday action” (Dourish 96). The idea of “everyday experience” is key here. Dourish’s phenomenological framework takes as its center the purposeful, active subject, mediating his or her experience through technologies. At their simplest level, technologies such as Mood Map, Verbalucce, Lumo Lift, and Pavlok offer us a reductionist stimulus–response view of behavior and cognition. Pushing against that simple view, we can see such technologies (and, importantly, our purposeful use of them) as ecologies of orientation, or complex systems that push us to act in culturally “appropriate” ways. Stand tall. Be positive. Don’t waste time on Facebook. Get up earlier. Be efficient” (6).

“Bodies move to attract and capture attention, sometimes succeeding, sometimes failing. Such bodies, sometimes encased in rigid costumes representing concrete and steel, have become orienting objects, while also continuing to draw our attention to their difference—from each other and from their interaction with non-bodily objects, specifically the materials of industrial capitalism. Long before Latour,Parade enacts a dissolution of the subject/object binary to meditate on the interimbrication of not just self and other but the collapsing of subject into object, there and back again” (9)

“[T]here are key differences between actor-network theory and phenomenological approaches such as Dourish’s and Ahmed’s. As Victor Kaptelinin and Bonnie Nardi point out, phenomenology retains a commitment to subjectivity, and its interest in technological mediation is one of context, a way of reaching a deeper understanding of the individual subject (205). And, we might add, actor-network theory seems to presume a sort of intentional innocence among its nodes and has been “forcibly reminded of its non-innocence by Donna Haraway in her own much more explicitly political material semiotics. . . . We make realities, she said. They only question is: what kind of difference do we want to make?” (Law 154). We might add to that question another: How do we recognize in these webs possibilities for making difference, for making a difference? And how do we do so purposefully?” (10).

Questions, Reflection, Response:

Rhodes and Alexander touch on many of the conversations that rapidly circulate, bemoaning technology’s influence particularly in communication practices. I was reminded of the video above as I most often hear these discussions related to millennials. While this video captures a snapshot—an edited original post with a response—of the discussion of millennials, it touches on our generation’s relationship to technology in multiple spots In its medium, comments about the use of Facebook, and perhaps most interestingly in the flurry of updates from various social media platforms received at the end (a visual move that seemed vaguely reminiscent of a common drag move to layer sound clips and increase aural friction and end with a deathdrop) seems to address Rhodes’s discussion of desiring updates and the orienting force that engagement with these kinds of updates can have on subjects. Rhodes and Alexander discuss looking at the relationship between subjectivities and objects through moments of disruption, dissonance, and disorientation as these moments are times when we come in contact with the orienting force of those objects. Their queer phenomenological turn is one that meets technology, composition, and affect.

In their discussion of Mood Map, Verbalucce, Lumo Lift, and Pavlok and their orienting force—”Stand tall. Be positive. Don’t waste time on Facebook. Get up earlier. Be efficient” (6)—I’m reminded of my felt sense of being on Facebook and the ways in which people compose their presence on various social media platforms to highlight a positive (even wishful) best self and the tacit ways of being that these platforms promote toward cultural ideals of happiness and productivity, as well as the isolating/disorienting force these platforms are capable of for those that do not experience that, experience it differently, deviate from such ideals, etc. Even how these platforms police such orientations. I think about the community of creative writers I follow on twitter and #AmWriting and #WriterLife and the prevalence of martyr-complex, writers do x (stay up all night/every night, write don’t talk, are always stressed).

What I also hear in this conversation on orientations goes back to the introduction, in which Rhodes and Alexander ask of inquiry into technology and desire for an “opening up potential for disrupting flow, disorienting attentions, and redirecting desires in more pleasurable and sustaining ways” (10). A perhaps Ahmed-esque (2014) desire for willfulness; a refusal to reproduce the orientation of (re)productivity, of compulsory happiness.

I think there’s a great work with ANT provided here that I would like to see methodologically explored more; the presumed innocence between nodes that ANT may presuppose. I think about the directive flow of objects and the ways I am composed along them as I compose myself through them; Ahmed (2006) and Said (1978) remind us that direction is not neutral—the language we use to describe language, the spatial relationships we compose through cartography, all make proximate and more readily available objects with ease while making others othered. A queer noticing of how bodies move through nodes, are acted upon by nodes, that calls attention to the force (sometimes violent force) with which subjects are directed in these directions, along trajectories. This noticing requires a queer phenomenology. As subjectivities are projected/directed/sustained along/within/through networked environments they are composed upon.

In my reflections on the introduction to this book, I talked about some of the ways I have experienced or come in contact with the directive force of mediating technologies and the movement of my subjectivity in some of these networked environments. I’m still grappling with some of this in this chapter (as I imagine I will be throughout this book). I’m starting to think a lot about Khôra in terms of networks, technologies, subjectivities, and my lived experiences of being triggered. I might repeat the questions stated by Rhodes and Alexander “How do we recognize in these webs possibilities for making difference, for making a difference? And how do we do so purposefully?” (10).

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