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WEBS OF RESISTANCE:
NEW MEDIA, ECOCOMPOSITION, AND RESISTANCE THEORY
SCOTT G. REED
A THESIS PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
MASTER OF ARTS
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
Scott G. Reed
This thesis is dedicated to Sara, my partner in "agonistic discourse."
I chiefly thank my parents, for their continued support. Thanks go also to
Professors Sidney Dobrin and Terry Harpold, for taking time out of their summer to
attend to my bizarre ravings. Finally, my gratitude goes out to Sid Homan, Phil Wegner,
Greg Ulmer, and the rest of the faculty and staff of the UF Department of English, with
whom I've been privileged to work for the past six years.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
A C K N O W L E D G M E N T S ................................................................................................. iv
ABSTRACT ............... ................... ......... .............. vi
WEBS OF RESISTANCE: NEW MEDIA, ECOCOMPOSITION, AND RESISTANCE
T H E O R Y ...................................................................................................... 1
"Ground"-ings: Ecology, Resistance, Media......................................................
Problem s in (C yber)Space .................................................. .............................. 9
Cyborg Eco-Subjects ........... .. ..................... .......... ....... ...... ........ 17
Performing Resistance in n-Dimensional Space.............................. ............... 25
N iche@ Ideology.W riting.W eb ...................................... ................ ... ............ ............ 35
N otes ......................................38............................
LIST OF REFEREN CE S ............... ..................................................... .................. .....40
B IO G R A PH IC A L SK E TCH ..................................................................... ..................43
Abstract of Thesis Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts
WEBS OF RESISTANCE:
NEW MEDIA, ECOCOMPOSITION, AND RESISTANCE THEORY
Scott G. Reed
Chair: Dr. Sidney I. Dobrin
Major Department: English
This thesis is an investigation, linking a trio of strange participants within the
discipline of Rhetoric and Composition studies: New Media, Ecocomposition, and
resistance theory. The combination of Ecocomposition and resistance theory is not
terribly hard to swallow; both follow out of disciplinary attempts at situating writers and
their writing within social contexts and, in the case of Ecocomposition, extended material
and semiological frameworks. What is novel, and certainly deserves bearing out, is the
introduction into the fold of a strange conversational perspective, that of New Media
studies. Throughout the thesis, I frame much of my analysis in terms of "apparatus
theory," the descendant of Derrida's grammatology that claims connections between the
technology of writing and various social and semantic structures.
Laying the groundwork of this triple-move, the thesis investigates various
competing notions of space, particularly notions of "place" and "cyberspace." The goal
is to account for the disparities in the uses of these terms and to wrangle over the extent
to which any "cyberspace" can be considered a meaningful "place." What helps to
resolve the issue is the notion of contingency: that, while cyberspace are unstable and
open to reinterpretation, they can still serve as temporary places-where-I-happen-to-be.
The thesis then looks at theories of subject formation, and how we can look at various
ideas, especially "cyborg theory," as a way of anticipating the subject of electracy.
Again, the notion of contingence helps me to argue that, although fractured and
dispersed, critical consciousness is a real possibility for students and teachers alike
working in this technology.
The remainder of the thesis argues for a new kind of resistance theory, which I call
"quantum resistance." Quantum resistance is inherently contingent and unstable, based
upon the experience of multiple spaces and voices. While linear reading gets abandoned
in cyberspace, I propose a model by which resistance can continue to function by casting
it in the form of a temporary, subjective performance. Like space, and like the subject,
performance is contingent, but carries with it the possibility for meaningful resistance to
the ideological values of electracy, even if the resistance takes a new and unexpected
form. The thesis concludes by tying "quantum resistance" back into the ecological model
of discourse, in order to provide a comprehensive model for considering the dynamic
interactions of discourse.
WEBS OF RESISTANCE: NEW MEDIA, ECOCOMPOSITION, AND RESISTANCE
The purpose of this thesis is to strike up a conversation. The achievement of
discourse theory over the last quarter of a century has been to demonstrate that all
knowledge and understanding proceeds out of conversations, out of interactions between
disparate positions, approaches, and ideas. What I propose here is one such conversation,
linking a trio of strange participants within the discipline of Rhetoric and Composition
studies: New Media, Ecocomposition, and Resistance Theory. The combination of
Ecocomposition and Resistance Theory is not terribly surprising; both follow out of
disciplinary attempts at situating writers and their writing within social contexts and, in
the case of Ecocomposition, extended material and semiotic frameworks. What is novel,
and certainly deserves bearing out, is the introduction into the fold of a strange
conversational perspective, that of New Media studies. Many New Media theorists
(prominently Stuart Moulthrop, whom I will be discussing at greater length later on) have
already been skeptical of the capacity of New Media technologies to allow for
meaningful resistant behavior. What is even more unusual about this conversational
match-up is the seeming disparity between the green, earthy, locally-situated discourse(s)
of Ecocomposition and the (stereotypically) sleek, digital, globally-situated discourse(s)
of New Media theory. New Media and Ecocomposition share important affinities,
despite their important differences, and our understanding of the potential of New Media,
particularly towards the ends discussed in Resistance Theory, can be enhanced by
bringing conversations about hypertextuality into contact with the discursive models and
methods proposed by the Ecocomposition endeavor.
"Ground"-ings: Ecology, Resistance, Media
This project starts with the endeavor of Ecocomposition. What Ecocomposition
starts me with is a set of ideas and practices for launching an inquiry into New Media
studies. This may seem a strange move; as a discipline, Ecocomposition is founded upon
an ongoing investigation into the relationships between writers and natural, physical
environments. It provides a move that supercedes social-constructivist views of language
and discourse by incorporating into the fold the concerns of the physical, material,
"natural" world. Ecology, in this sense, is (still) a matter of investigating material
environments and the interactions of the matter there, but it also concerns the semiotic
construction of that space. Dobrin and Weisser offer this definition:
Ecocomposition is the study of the relationships between environments (and by that
we mean natural, constructed, and even imagined places) and discourse (speaking,
writing, and thinking). Ecocomposition draws primarily from disciplines that study
discourse (chiefly composition, but also including literary studies, communications,
cultural studies, linguistics, and philosophy) and merges the perspectives of them
with work in the disciplines that examine environment (these include ecology,
environmental studies, sociobiology, and other "hard" sciences). As a result,
ecocomposition attempts to provide a more holistic, encompassing framework for
studies of the relationship between discourse and environment. (6)
This move is certainly sensible. Indeed, the wisdom of social-constructivist views lies in
its having situated individual writers within greater social contexts, to situate the role of
writing in greater frameworks: of academic discourse, of alternative and home
discourses, of the structure of the academy itself, of the very ideological structures that
inform work in the academy. Hardly limited to the world of "natural environments,"
Ecocomposition sets out to investigate the relationships between many discourses (not
just environmental discourse) and "all environments: classroom environments, political
environments, electronic environments, ideological environments, historical
environments, economic environments, and natural environments" (9, authors'
emphasis). Ecocomposition provides a model that, at its base, serves as a heuristic for
investigating "the diversity of writing and the patterns that emerge across different
discursive systems," and it is just that notion of diversity across different systems that I
hope to investigate further here (Dobrin, "Writing" 23).
What Ecocomposition centrally foregrounds is the importance of "place" in the
composition endeavor. Every space (and I switch terms deliberately here, needing to
maintain a distinction between "space" and "place") is multiply constructed by the
forces) of language and discourse and by the forces) of its material physical presence.
Spatiality, a concept which I will be dealing with later on in more significant depth, is
foundational to most of the conversation on the practices of composition. Writing "takes
place" in the class-"room," in cyber-"space," in "writing environments" (Dobrin,
"Writing" 11). Writing, in its early rhetorical conception, was described in terms of
topoi, of topics, of the places where writing "happens." Crucially, these places/topoi are
not static; to write from topoi is to always be reinscribing those topoi. Volumes of theory
devote themselves to conversations about "reproductive" theories of writing, writing that
spawns more writing, that self-propogates. Some writing alters the course of the
environment; it challenges and competes with those topoi, eventually altering the shape
and course of the environment. Some changes have been good, some have not, but the
observation stands up. The strength of"place"-ment in the ecological model of writing is
that it offers some sort of concrete foundations: the interactivity of discourse can be seen,
studied, measured. An ecological approach to writing understands, for example, the
relationship between racialist discourses and real-life colonial practices; and it also
understands that this relationship has real "place"-ment in the world:
In a sense, humans occupy two spaces: a biosphere, consisting of the earth and its
atmosphere, which supports our physical existence, and a semiosphere, consisting
of discourse, which shapes our existence and allows us to make sense of it. We see
these two central spheres of human life the biosphere and the semiosphere as
mutually dependent upon one another. Where a healthy biosphere is one that
supports a variety of symbiotic life forms, a healthy semiosphere is one that enables
differences to coexist and to be articulated. (Dobrin and Weisser 13)
One only need look as far as the Native American reservations of the Midwest to
understand that writing is intrinsically linked to a real political place, the semiosphere is
inherently yoked to the biosphere. This is the "nature" of writing. Writing is, in this
sense, "natural." Writing is from a place. Writing is for a place. Writing is of a place.
The capacity of Ecocomposition to sustain a conversation about the dynamic,
interlocked nature of discourses and composition practices is what, in my opinion, makes
it indispensable as a tool for studying the emergence of a new set of "systems" on the
scene. New Media, defined very broadly, represents the emergence not of a single, new
"place," but of an entirely new ecosystem: a set of multiple interlocking concerns
involving the material presence of digital technologies in the physical environment and
the ways in which meaning is constructed in those environments. As Dobrin says,
"writing takes place." The digital turn now means that there are more "places" than ever
before, and the role of any ecologist of writing is to study and attempt to understand the
forms and functions of these new places. "Ecocomposition," as Dobrin says, "must
grow," and it must grow to include the concerns raised by the new places of digital
discourse ("Writing" 14). For the purposes of my discussion, I will try as consistently as
possible to use Greg Ulmer's term "electracy" as the label for this emerging bio/semiotic
"ecosystem," using "literacy" as the counter-point term for the apparatus of print-based
culture and institutions. Apparatus theory provides an interesting frame for the
discussion; the term itself defines "an interactive matrix of technology, institutional
practices, and ideological subject formation" (Ulmer, Heuretics 17). "Place" is a natural
and necessary facet of the apparatus, existing interactively with the technologies of
writing. Apparatus theory is ecological, insofar as it is concerned with addressing the
dynamic relationships between, on one hand, the material "spaces" in which writing
occurs (i.e., the inhabited "biosphere") and the ideological institutions and subject
formations which both sustain and are created by those "spaces" (i.e., the "semiosphere"
of ideological systems).
The founding moment for Ecocomposition is in Marilyn Cooper's "The Ecology of
Writing," where she proposes a model for writing that seeks to take into account not just
the relationship of the individual writer to his/her social environment, but also the entire
range of interactions that exist to structure, effect, and to be structured by that writer's
work. Her model for writing is the "web":
One can abstractly distinguish different systems that operate in writing, just as one
can distinguish investment patterns from consumer spending patterns from hiring
patterns in a nation's economy. But in the actual activity of writing-as in the
economy-the systems are entirely interwoven in their effects and manner of
operation. The systems reflect the various ways writers connect with one another
through writing: through systems of ideas, of purposes, of interpersonal
interactions, of cultural norms, of textual forms.... The metaphor suggested by the
ecological model is that of a web, in which anything that affects one strand of the
web vibrates throughout the whole. (7-9)
Cooper's Web1 is a dynamic system. It does not dogmatically insist on any one single
dominating factor that influences the ways in which writers produce writing; webs are
constructed of various strands. Even more important, though, is the process by which the
individual writer comes into contact with the web, the process by which "vibration"
occurs. To paraphrase Dobrin, vibration is the force of change; any writer (ideally, as
Cooper is also quick to note) can affect any strand of the web, producing discourse that
alters cultural norms, or textual forms, or both, or more. The writer enters the web, and
the web "shakes," which hopefully produces some sort of change in the web's
construction, moving a strand or two. Dobrin continues:
However, more often than not, as Cooper notes, writers do not create enough
motion to vibrate the web. Often, the web doesn't shake, but it always accepts the
new writer into the web. Context seems passive at times, a backdrop to the writing.
Thinking of context from an ecological point of view, we are never separate from
context: it reverberates within us and we reverberate in it. There is no way to not
affect the environment and be affected by it, though such effects are not always
evident. Writers become a part of the web, just as organisms become part of an
ecosystem. ("Writing" 21)
The ecology of the "web" contains within it the potential for change. In this theory,
change is an inherent possibility in writing, although the metaphor expands easily to
include an understanding of hegemony as a counter-vibration. The web is large, loud,
and messy. It is the field across which writers, discourses, and ideals act, transact, and
counter-act. Ecocomposition provides a foundation precisely because of this sense of
dynamism rooted in the handy image of the "web"-an image both rich in discursive
theory and "grounded" in the very stuff of our human biosphere.
The turn to the digital, though, casts some substantial doubt on the continuing
applicability of this model. While Ecocomposition does provide an inclusive model
indeed for thinking about the various operations of discourse, the "web" it proposes can
seem like a rather empty idea, a mere ideal that does not reflect the material realities of
other discourses. This is certainly a valid argument. When Cooper discusses "writing,"
she is referring to a very specific kind of writing; her "ecology" is the ecology of literate,
written, academic discourse. While Dobrin has argued at length for the benefits in
pursuing Ecocomposition, he has also addressed the problems that are likely to come up
when trying to address the efficacy of what could be called "alternative" or "hybrid"
discourses. Applying Cooper's Web to the issue of alternative and hybrid discourses in
the academy, and with the contribution of Thomas Kent's work in paralogic rhetoric,
Dobrin concludes that most forms of hybrid discourse interact differently with the web:
they don't shake it so much as they add to it:
[A]n academic discourse allows for in fact, invites ("come sit by me," said the
spider to the fly)-other "parent" languages to enter the web; it will absorb those
discourses into what is and can be called academic discourse. In doing so, those
parent discourses become lost in the web, no longer identifiable as having
originated outside the web; they are merely a part of what the web has become.
Traditional academic discourse is capable of getting to the center of things, of producing
shakes, ruptures, change. What this addition to the Ecocomposition lexicon points out,
however, is the manner in which alternative, mixed, hybrid, and all forms of non-official
discourse stand to be neutralized and appropriated by contact with the apparatus of the
academy. Dobrin illustrates, using Helene Cixous's ecriture feminine as a model of a
truly alternative discourse: "It cannot, that is, exist as an alternative to academic
discourse because it cannot be represented in relationship with or to academic discourse,
yet at the same time, it serves as an example of a truly alternative discourse because it
resists and refuses such a relationship" ("Problem" 49). This is the ecology of academic
discourse, of scholarly work in the university setting. As valorous as the project of
hybrid discourse is, in its desire to bring to the table various unheard voices, its good is
ultimately neutralized once it is mainstreamed into the University system, once it is given
an official "stamp of approval." This is the "nature" of written discourse(s) in the
academy: official discourse can shake the structure somewhat, but other voices, while
accepted, tend to be absorbed and co-opted by the "web" as a whole.
Where does this put the matter of electracy, and the range of hypertextual and
multimedia forms that we call New Media? Viewed from this angle, "hypertext"2 seems
to function most often as a hybrid discourse. Most forms of online writing, whether a
MOO conversation or an HTML page, are based in the grammatical and semantic rules of
written language. From this angle, hypertextuality could be viewed as a mere alteration
to the existing rules, or, as Jerome McGann and others suggest, a reaffirmation of the
hypertextual quality of print itself.3 The mixing-in of images and icons, the novel
methods for distributing textual "lexias," and the frantic, collaborative pace of MOO
conversations still suggest a place for "electra"-textuality that exists somewhere outside
of the linear, print based, argumentative, and overwhelmingly verbal character of
academic discourse. If, then, we seek to situate hypertext within the discursive model
provided by Ecocomposition, then we can see how the fundamental alterity of this new
writing poses some problems for the project of resistance. As an alternative discourse,
the incorporation of hypertext into the web is not likely to cause much of a shake; the
hegemony of the academic discourse "environment" works here as a neutralizing force.
To situate the rhetoric of hypertext, to give it some sort of "place" in our
conversations about academic discourse, I'll be providing a more in-depth look at the
features of New Media using the methodological outline provided so far, which means a
dual emphasis on not only the semiotic and ideological ("semiospheric") conditions of
these media, but also a look towards the material ("biospheric") conditions with which
these other considerations must interact. I'll start with a look towards the spatialityy" of
web discourse, a consideration is usually relegated to the domain of simple semantic
rhetoric.. Having considered the spatial "environment" of electorate discourse, I will
move towards a consideration of the "organisms" in play, by which I mean a
consideration of subjectivity, and its redevelopmentt in relation with the emerging New
Media apparatus. By dealing with these various facets of the "ecology" of electorate
discourse, I will develop a fuller ecological model, one that seems to both fracture and
grow out of the established, literacy-based models, in the hopes of proposing a means to
engage the concerns of all these varying discourses (to see the "patterns that emerge
across [the] different discursive systems," as Dobrin has put it). Finally, my discussion
will return to the question of resistance, and whether a full-fledged resistant will come to
inhabit the new spaces of electracy.
Problems in (Cyber)Space
As Ecocomposition helps us see, space is a fundamental element in the composition
equation. As important as race, class, and culture, the position of the writer in a specific
place has meaningful consequences for the ways in which we consider the production and
interpretation of discourse. The spaces of literacy, organized by Marilyn Cooper's web
metaphor, serve as much more than mere contextual backdrop: the spaces of discourse
co-exist dynamically with the systems that produce, distribute, maintain, and interpret
that discourse. The issue before us now is a matter of redefining and rethinking our
notions of space in a hypertextual age. I have maintained so far that "writing takes
place." This is true; but how will the advent of a new writing apparatus change the
shapes of those spaces? Will the changes in those spaces effectively nullify the project of
resistant rhetoric? Arlene Plevin argues for the importance of place to the project of
resistance; she quotes Freire, saying that the purpose of resistance is "reflection and
action upon the world in order to transform it" (Freire 33). Place is the sine qua non of
resistance, but without a sense of where the category of "place" exists among the
seemingly-disembodied networks of electorate writing, such a project is doomed. To help
solve these problems, I point my discussion towards a consideration of the ways in which
scholars and practitioners of hypertextual rhetoric have been (re)conceiving the idea of
spaces and places, both on- and off-line.
From Jay David Bolter's breakthrough work on hypertextual theory Writing Space
(1991) to the present, much of the critical conversation in New Media studies has been
directed towards considering the new spatialities of electorate discourse. The space of the
web site, with its combination and distribution of textual and visual elements; the
conversational, text-based virtual spaces of the MOO; the nodal spaces of networks; even
considerations of the flat space of the computer screen: all are important to our still-
developing sense of electorate "space." What is a great deal more boggy, however, is the
question of "place." Couched in spatiality though it may be, the work of Dobrin and
others in the Ecocomposition field tend to arrange their discussions not around the rather
blank, conceptual domain of "space," but rather on the more vibrant and robust concept
of "place." Nicholas Burbules is careful to distinguish the two ideas; "place" is a
"socially or subjectively meaningful space" (78). This definition combines both the
"navigational" (it exists at a specific location) and the "semantic" (meaningful, however
subjectively). Burbules's distinction, it should be noted, resonates nicely with Dobrin's
sphericc" concept of Ecocomposition: that the world is composed of both material
"biosphere" and discursive "semiosphere." Ecocomposition bridges this definitional gap
by an understanding of the dynamics of space, dynamics rooted in the scientific
observations and investigations of ecology. The organisms in any given space shape and
define that space to their own purposes; "space" becomes "place" by the operations of
writing itself (Dobrin and Weisser 1-13). Semiospherically, the issue of alternative
discourses raises questions about the ecological role of electronic discourse;
biospherically, we know that computers, telephones, and other technologies are
composed of radically different material stuff than the human/embodied/biological
subjects of academic discourse. The difference in the material composition of our
biosphere resonates necessarily with the construction of the semiosphere. So what
happens to place now?
The very subjectivity which necessarily structures place may fall casualty to the
transition to a new writing apparatus. In a very persuasive argument, Pamela Gilbert
argues for the abandonment of spatial metaphor all together in discussions of New Media
in "Meditations Upon Hypertext: A Rhetorethics for Cyborgs." Identifying space as a
"dominant metaphor," she faults the bootstrapping of electorate discourse in spatial terms,
terms reminiscent of "colonial narrative" (258). The problem she sees in Bolter's notion
of "topographic" writing is the way in which that very topography is (over-)determined
by the "global elite," by the few of us in the world who have access to the technology and
are beginning the process of defining the discursive practices of its spacess, a process of
mapping "virgin territory," to use inappropriatelyy colonial phrasing. "The rhetoric of
democracy and access often seems to be more about the future inclusion of Others in a
preexisting space already mapped than about the inclusion of Others in a process of
creation" (259, my emphasis). Space is political-political insofar as a certain injection
(pardon the metaphor) of discourse is required to make the space into a meaningful
"place." Gilbert's ultimate move is a move away from the category of space and place
altogether, calling for a re-conception of hypertext where the user "must assume that s/he
is not moving through a space or across a unified topography, but between and through
different voices" (263). This point is well and passionately argued; but is the post-
literacy move, the move into a world of discourse not bound by the printed page or the
institutionalized classroom, really and truly a move beyond space itself? The fear that the
apparatus of electracy may recapitulate the phallogocentrism of the literate apparatus is
well founded, but Gilbert's move to disavow space itself seems to trip itself up. Defining
the hypertextual self as "both internalized from the 'outside' social world of voices and
narratives... and synthesized 'within'," Gilbert's subject sounds distinctly like the
variously-constructed subject hailed by Ecocomposition (266). Even her rhetoric cannot
ultimately undo the inherent place-ness of discourse; to "move between and through
voices" still denotes motion through a kind of space. This problem reveals a need for a
redefinition of space, rather than simply dissolve the idea all together. The new machines
of the new apparatus means a reconfiguration of ideology, but not the death of ideology
all together (Ulmer, "Grammatology" p3). Space, Ecocomposition reminds us, remains
part of our material and semiotic existence; so long as we are (em)bodied, we are in
space. The death of space will no more mean the utter dissolution of space no more than
the "death of the author" stopped people from writing. What any discursive move like
this does is to shake that web, to hail a reconfiguration of the way in which we consider
The language of the Internet is already saturated with the language of placement,
and Gilbert's fears are certainly well-founded with regard to the emerging dominance of
this rhetoric. Internet users initiate contact through "homepages," they "bookmark"
spaces, "surf" through web "rings." Burbules points to these phenomena as the ways in
which users craft "subjectively meaningful" places out of the flat, uninteresting surfaces
of the Internet (78). He calls for a rigorous emphasis on mapping and website
architecture to create the foundations for a web-rhetoric grounded in place (79-80).
While his intentions are admirable, they are significantly bootstrapped by notions of
space that prefer depth to surface and place to space. Gilbert traces this tendency to its
primal source: "the cartological musings of those who would turn hyperspace into a
landscape are precisely efforts to create an Edenic 'garden' within which reading moves,
away from linear narratives of loss toward an oceanic polymorphous perversity" (265).
Is this the end of place? Gilbert's argument adds this valuable contribution to the
conversation; the creation of any sort of cyber-"place" and the very language we
currently use to define, delimit, and structure those places all lead, naturally, back to a
notion of a source. Burbules's hypertextual subjects are not constructing their own
spaces so much as they are transferring their language into a new environment, creating
comfortable and familiar cyber-places through an injection of the same old discourse.
Welcome to the new place; same as the old place, except with some neat new tricks. The
language of mapping leads, almost invariably, to the creation of "unities and identities
across space and time that are meaningful first of all because they are mapped that i0 a"
(Harpold, "Dark" p17, author's emphasis). The discourses of space that have shaped the
dominant popular and scientific models of the "spaces" of the New Media often naively
recapitulate the spatial regimes of the oldest narratives of person and place. Unity and
identity, no matter where crafted, lead back to Eden.
I suggest an alteration to this strategy of placement, a sort of pedagogical
imperative that would move the language of placement away from phallogocentrism to a
vocabulary that embraces the evolving material and semiotic conditions of cyberspace.
Rather than attempting to build deep structures onto flat discursive spaces, we can
"grow" a discourse that accepts the flatness without disavowing the capacity of the
individual to be discursively linked to that space. This is the doctrine of Ecocomposition,
that all spaces are variously constructed by their material (biological, physical) properties
but also by the presence of discursive subjects, who (variously) construct those spaces
(Dobrin and Weisser 13). A redevelopment of our spatial vocabulary based on a
"sustained engagement" with the material properties of the medium can help us not to
simply "place" ourselves in cyberspace, but to, "grow" new places in the gap between the
fragmented experience of hypertext and our experience of placement in the real world. In
cyberspace, "place" is the space of the isolated lexia, of the place-where-I-happen-to-be.
What needs to happen is an evolution of the discourse that brings about change in the
phallogocentric discourse of placement by bringing it into contact with the emerging
discourse of electracy. After all, a great deal of already-established New Media discourse
would love to do without place; theorists like Brenda Laurel and Janet Murray have
devoted much of their attention to theorizing the move beyond the "body," beyond the
material constraints of place. The great phantasy of digitality is the move beyond the
body into the realm of pure signification, into the unproblematic and flawless "holodeck"
of simulation. The rhetoric of the all-inclusive, seamless, hypertextual global community
"openly acknowledges faults of distribution and access within the current state of the
global network, but only as engineering problems-'bugs'-which will one day be
corrected by technical mastery and/or entrepreneurial initiative" (Harpold and Philip p2).
Terry Harpold and Kavita Philip, in analyzing the prevailing popular discourses of
"cyber-cleanliness and cyber-squalor" see shades in discursive practice of what Gilbert
glimpses in theory:
Within the imaginary of the cleanroom-as-technologically-perfect-cordon sanitaire,
subjectivity is constructed by occluding and repelling barriers, and human agency
is confined to a definite idealized space of production, from which every trace of
abject materiality-literally, the unproductive leavings of organic life-is excluded.
The move towards the (essentially Edenic) conception of cyberspace in the popular
imaginary is also a move away from the messy, biotic "embodiedness" of the subject.
My goal is to suggest a process by which our discursive practices can come into a more
profitable kind of symbiosis with cyberspace, not in an attempt to dominate or assign
language to the space itself, but to allow for the growth of practices that acknowledge the
material, embodied placement of the subject. The way to do this is to suggest an
engagement with the various contingencies of electorate text, to consider an electorate
ecology based on the contingent place-where-I-happen-to-be. Contingency is not
dissolution, but rather an unfamiliar pattern of discursive growth.
The critical piece of vocabulary which can help us sustain this move is that of the
rhizome. Literally referring to a "creeping, horizonatally-growing underground root," the
rhizome provides an (appropriately ecological) model for (re)defining the spatialized
movement of hypertextual discourse. Stuart Moulthrop, working from Deleuze and
Guattari, defines the rhizome discursively as a "chaotically distributed network" in his
essay "Rhizome and Resistance" (301). Far from making a move towards the placeless
subject, rhizomatic culture "proceeds not from logos, the law of substances, but rather
from nomos, the designation of places or occasions" (300). The rhizome is centerless and
horizontal, more a "grass than a tree," to use Deleuze and Guattari's notion of the
function of the brain. Rather than a vertical, tree-like structure (with Edenic,
metanarrativized roots), the rhizome spreads tropically, a sort of "textual promiscuity,"
creatingn] linkages not sanctioned by the culture and discipline-idiosyncratic
mysteriess'" (304). I like Mouthrop's example here, which invokes Greg Ulmer's
neologistic notion of"mystory," the pedagogical use of personal websites. What Ulmer's
mysteries allow this model to do is to allow the individual composing subject to
"designate" his/her own "places or occasions," not through the use of tortuous mapping
or architecture, but rather by engagement with (and, in Ulmer's view, "invention of") the
image-oriented and modular materiality of the Internet itself (Heuretics xii). This is a
perhaps-too-subtle designation, but, rather than engineering online "places" (same as the
old places), rhizomatic mysteriess" create something different by engaging the material
structure of electracy: spaces that are flat and contingent, but still "fleshed out" by the
constrained subject. We should consider the "mystory" technique as the first wave of
electorate Ecocomposition, a way of getting neophyte electorate subjects a chance to
consider their own "placement," not through a critical analysis of other online places (an
attempt to build understanding hierarchically through engagement with a "master" text),
but through the discursive creation of limited, bound, but still proliferating rhizomatic
The rhizome works as an appropriate model for describing the "ecology" of
electorate discourse, for producing a way in which we can engage the new-ness of New
Media without abandoning our messy, biological selves at the door. This is a powerful
dual move, both rhetorical and ethical in nature. While I have suggested an alternative to
some of her ideas about space, Pamela Gilbert has already anticipated this hybridization,
calling for an "electronically literate" (I've been saying electorate" ) "rhetorethics" (263).
A rhetorethical stance would, in my analysis, come to an understanding of the rhetorical
necessity of place, while maintaining a "constant discursive critique," which is the very
essence of postmodern ethics (Hardin 67). Greg Ulmer proposes the notion of the "relay"
as a way of helping students "invent" the practices of electracy as they go, to
communicate across the crucial gap between embodied place and cyber-space. Seeing, as
Gilbert and Harpold also do, a connection between "the destroyed and dispersed scenario
of Internet design and the [colonial] conditions of the slave trade," Ulmer uses the
resulting cultural discourse, creole, as a "relay," not as a re-planting of the hierarchical
ideology, but as a way of projecting its rhetorical results (Internet 157-8). If colonialism
problematizes placement, Ulmer responds not by getting rid of "place," but by re-creating
it through a conscious engagement with previous history, an understanding of its faults
and results, through an ethical engagement with place itself. Within the process of an
ongoing reflexive critique, we see gaps form in the promises of electracy. Between the
ecstatic fantasies of the loss-of-body, and the pessimistic retreat-from-space, there is a
fissure, an opening where we might create an alternative. To explore cyberspace
rhetorethically is to maintain a constant awareness of the gaps across which one must
operate, to neither elide the material difference of surface-ness nor to be seduced by the
horizontal fluidity of the rhizome.
The move towards a new understanding of rhetorical space necessarily calls for a
new sort of subject for composition theory. "Subject formation is as much a part of an
apparatus as are technology and institutions," so it is certainly necessary to give some
attention to the "rhetorethical" subject being hailed by this ecological approach to
discourse (Ulmer, Internet 7). The gap in discourse and discursive formations that seem
to result from our ongoing transition between grammatological apparatuses have been
anticipated by scholars in composition studies for quite some time. Lester Faigley's
Fragments ofRationality devotes a good deal of discussion to the varying ideas of
subjectivity advanced by theorists, and their formative roots in the debate between Jean-
Francois Lyotard and Jurgen Habermas. Their discussion set the stage for a battle royal
of theory over the relationship of rhetoric to the individual. While not advocating a
return to Enlightenment rationality, Habermas favored a discursive model based on
"communication... movement towards consensus." Lyotard countered by questioning
Habermas's desire for a unified, homogenous discourse ("a grand unified theory of
human experience") that would injure the homogeneity of language games blurring the
"multiplicity of differences" (41). This makes sense-Habermas's "universal consensus
in a dialogue of argumentation" seems to endorse academic discourse, the "ideal"
discourse of Cooper's web that would enable all participants to be accepted into and
effect their environment. Lyotard places his faith in "the inventor's parology," the
process of preserving autonomous, heterogenous discourses; in other words, creating a
range of hybrid, mixed, and alternative discourses with the goal of expanding the web
rather than creating change through it. Both theories, crucially, are ways of resisting
hegemony. Habermas wants to resist postmodernity's nihilism, which he fears will
recapitulate fascism, while Lyotard wants to resist the exclusion that results from the
standardization of discourse (Faigley 41). In this gap, situated between rigor and
multiplicity, between utopia and parologia, sits the subject of cyber-ecology.
Nearly all the wonderful and varied attempts at theorizing what you could call the
electoratee subject" deal in the currency of hybridity. Perhaps no theory does this more so
than Donna Haraway's notion of the cyborg: the political/technological/psychological
being "resolutely committed to partiality, irony, intimacy, and perversity [wherein] nature
and culture are re-worked; the one can no longer be the resource for appropriation by the
other" (175). The cyborg, whom Gilbert identifies as the "ideal hypertext narratee," is a
living anti-hegemonic force, a creature who, in her "irony [and] perversity" does not
merely embrace the "gaps" between the biological and the semiotic; she seeks to actively
inhabit them. It is not my intention here to analyze Haraway's work, nor to provide a
summary of the interesting "informatics of domination" that accompany the development
of a cyber-culture. I will be using the figure of the cyborg as jumping off point, looking
at it as an attempt to hybridize (and thereby neutralize) the disparate positions cited
above. My goal in doing this is to produce a re-reading of the cyborg in a way that makes
sense for the Ecocomposition project, a reading based not only around place-ment, but
also around the centrally-important gaps figured by the discourse of placement.
The cyborg-figure incorporates many of the gestures I would make towards
developing the model of what I might call an "eco-subject." One of the reasons for
making these clarifications is that I want this project to maintain a working focus on
pedagogy. When we are theorizing about "subject positions," we are talking equally
about "student positions," about the habitats which we see our students, well, inhabiting.
After all, when we talk about "resistance" theory, we are talking about a domain of
discourse whose object it is to discuss methodologies for encouraging resistance, not in
ourselves really, but in others. To understand subject position, then, is to come closer to
understanding the full ramifications of the "habitats" within the ecosystem as a whole;
there's no ecology without accounting somehow for the organisms inside.
The resistant subjects of Freirean discourse achieve resistance (in whatever form)
by "discovering themselves as reality's re-creators" (51). Pamela Gilbert, writing in a
different context, posits the notion of a readerer" a composite reader-writer responsible
for a fluid shuffle between heretofore segregated textual processes (262). Michael Joyce,
writing in yet another different context, addresses the electorate subject as a "corporate
being... composite or composed" ("Then" 86). What all these perspectives have in
common is a notion, a possibility embedded already in the late age of print but rising into
view thanks to the perceptual filter of electracy, of the subject as variously and multiply
constructed. The electorate subject, scanned across these various conversations, seems
engineered for the purpose of resisting logical taxonomy, in the Kantian sense of
categorization. The cyborg subject is a consciously ecological subject, existing
symbiotically in both the biospheric and semiospheric senses. "Symbiosis," here, seems
to be a less threatening way of describing the aggressive and ironic transgressions of the
cyborg subject. Biospherically, the cyborg originates from Clynes and Kline's 1960
article, "Cyborgs and Space," in which a rat was fused with a "clumsy device attached to
its hindquarters" (Harpold and Philip p 1). Donna Haraway hails this moment for its
revolutionary potential, and looks to the growth of the biomedical field as sure proof of
the increasing symbiotic relationship being struck between the organic and the
cybernetic. While the technologizing of the body may have questionable ramifications, it
is in the complementary field of discourse that the advent of the cyborg becomes perhaps
more apparent. Seizing upon hypertext's capacity to realize the anti-taxonomical aims of
deconstruction (Jay Bolter has been among the many to claim this), both Gilbert and
Joyce posit a new sort of subject; no longer relying on stable identities, but insisting
rather ethically on "multiplicity" of multiple rhetorical topoi. After all, when we point to
the poststructural subject as being multiply and variously "composed," who or what
inhabits the active voice? Who or what does the "composing"? Unwilling (though,
crucially, not unable) to commit the phallogocentric gaffe of returning to a central Eden,
cyborg subjects construct themselves (and are constructed) environmentally through a
sustained symbiotic conversation with their placement. Without a central place, the
cyborg carries out multiple conversations with multiple dispersed spaces, being
constructed by those topoi even in the act of re-writing those topoi (Dobrin "Writing"
19). In short, whatever resistance we hope to encourage developsfrom a conversation
with place; cyborg theory, in this sense, seems to have proceeded out of an understanding
of the experience of rhetorical multi-placement.4
To return to the last section of my discussion, we have to be careful not to literalize
what I call the "multi-placement" of the subject. The "places" of cyberspace, after all,
are not truly places at all; they inhere only as abstract fields of data. There is a natural
sort of terminological sliding that goes on, and I take that to be a natural consequence of
using Ecocomposition as a resource. Still, the multiple places of our discussion right now
(the contested and nebulous online spaces of the Internet, MOOspace, television and
video, etc.) do have a positive existence, insofar as they exist at the level of the text. The
"textmass" (as Michael Joyce refers to it) imports a dual set of possibilities for reading,
which Joyce distinguishes as "slideshow" and "accommodating multiplicity" ("Then"
88). Once again, a familiar semantic gap insinuates itself, a sort of rhetorical difference.
The "slideshow," while maintaining an awareness of electracy's spatial flatness,
nonetheless connotes a linear process, of one image building on another to create a
systematic narrative thread. "Accomodating multiplicity," on the other hand, is the
Lyotard to the Habermas-slideshow; the idea of the accommodation of difference is
central to Lyotard's desire to "wage war on totality" (qtd. in Faigley 39). In a crucial
move, though, Joyce yokes both reading strategies together with one clarion call. The
importance of this move, to reconceptualize reading and writing (or is it readingng")
strategies, has profound effects on how we can think about approaching the cyborg eco-
subject of this discourse. "The call to post-hypertextual rhetoric," Joyce says, "is a call to
find purpose in surface" ("Then" 88). Part of my project to this point has been to do just
that, to use Ecocomposition as a way of interrogating the surface-spaces of electracy, and
not just the "deep" places of biological existence (the notion of "deep" borrowed largely
here from Clifford Geertz see Dobrin "Writing" 18).
A crucial move that Joyce makes though, and one central to our understanding of
not only electorate textuality itself, but of its imbrication in the electorate cyborg-subject, is
towards a balanced consideration of different ways of thinking (about) the "textmass."
After all, so much of this discussion has been about pointing to useful polarities, so it
seems odd that a straight-forward sanctioning of one kind of reading would be contrary to
the aims of producing a working cyber-eco-rhetoric. The notion of finding "purpose in
surface" does not, and should not, do away with the idea of finding purpose in depth.
Indeed, the postmodern "textmass" is about both association (parologia) and
accumulation (an idea more in line with traditional, "banking" models of education)
(Joyce "Then" 92). The notion of the cyborg as a dis-placed and radically dispersed
body/consciousness may simply not inhere. Harpold and Philip find in cyborg rhetoric's
insistence on the transgression of occludingg and repelling barriers" a mere reversal of
the super-clean fantasies of global informatics. The desire of the cyborg to become a
body of "irony [and] perversity" merely represents "cyber-squalor," a messy spreading-
out of the subject (p31-34). Crucially, we are positing a subject who inhabits both
spaces, and, therefore, has to engage in both kinds of reading. Elsewhere, Joyce notes
that the iterability of New Media5 represents a move "beyond attention span," but not in
the Attention-Deficit-Disorder sense heralded by most neo-conservative critics. In
calling for an emphasis on "expression and construction," Joyce is calling for a new sort
of pedagogical focus that addresses the student/subject by rejecting models of "banking"
education, although his focus on Peter Elbow-like "expressivism" could problematize our
attempts at theorizing resistance. Perhaps Greg Ulmer's notion works better: remaining
positioned in a more social arena, his pedagogy seeks to "move students from [being]
consumers to practitioners of image discourse" (Internet 6). In either of these
approaches, the difference boils down to rhetoric; both still posit strategies for thinking
around the gap between placed subject and increasingly-displaced writing.
As we gear up to take on the problematic notion of resistance, it helps to have set
up this discussion of how we go about thinking of the hypertextual subject. The cyborg
is a useful start, at least insofar as it suggests a kind of pleasure involved in exploring
previously abjected realms, such as human/machine interface and thinking in the kind of
cross-gendered, cross-racialized terms available through New Media. Despite its
attempts at thinking in terms of collapse, of transgressions and heterogeneity, cyborg
theory does seem prone to a totalizing power of its own, providing a narrative of pure,
undiluted anti-hegemonic force, which seems to reinstate and repolarize the very
boundaries it speaks against. However, I am keen to point out that this is not a project in
cyborg or posthuman theory; the compromise suggested in my theoretical reading here is
designed to point to the development of a more fully ecological theory regarding the
discourses of electracy. Primarily, I maintain the preservation of the "asignifying gap"
that seems to continuously insinuate itself at the heart of electronic composition, in order
that we preserve the possibility of movement around it. Our discourse must "grow,"
rhizomatically if you will, around the gap: not to colonize it or theorize it out of
existence, but rather to define it in greater detail. In doing so, we can come to a better
grasp of the nomos of electracy, the one who is "always between two points, but [for
whom] the in-between has taken on all the consistency and enjoys both an autonomy and
direction all its own" (Deleuze and Guattari 383).
The transactions (we must parse "transaction"-it is always a "trans" movement, a
movement "across") that occur over this gap are the transactions we want to be watching,
the patterns we see emerging there will define the ecology of electracy. What
Killingsworth and Krajicek say about the ethos of environmental literature applies still to
the ethos of the nomad: to think ecologically is to is to go "from solitude to society and
back again" (54). I see Michael Joyce picking up this strain of thought: "in this suffusive
gap both mind and age, both body and electron, feed each other" (Othermindedness 70).
Like most ecological systems, our study here can focus on a subject who is neither
separate from physical environment, nor from discursive environmentss; the nomadic
subject lives in symbiosis with both. What is the result? The goal now is to point the
way towards the kind of dual, complementary reading and writing strategies that affirm
the sense I have of cyborg eco-subjects. They can find in the fragmented surfaces spaces
of electronic text a space for reflection back onto the "deep" world that surrounds them.
They can draw on both the material apparatus of literacy and the somewhat more
immaterial domain of hypertext, remaining aware of the discursive "gaps" that structure
the interface between them. Cyberspaces are in flux and contingent, but the multiple-yet-
literate cyborg-subject understands that they (both themselves and their places) are
always-already contingent. The coincidence of placement is precisely a co-incidence
Performing Resistance in n-Dimensional Space
To define resistance in the context of electracy is to always be embarking on an
ecological process. For me, a large part of that process has to be found in reconciling the
material spaces of these apparatuses with the writing practices and subjects they
construct. What's left is to come to some adequate sense of "resistance" itself. As a term
marked by political and institutional valences, resistance seems to belong to the
classroom, the sine qua non space of the literate apparatus. In Rhetoric and Composition
studies, at least, resistance theory is a matter of interrogating the various discourses of
exclusion and oppression coded into the practices of literacy-resistance is done from
within. Stuart Moulthrop, though, famously decrees that practicing resistance within
hypertext is a matter of futility. To couch his conclusions in my own terms, practicing
resistance would be a matter of closing off the fluid, extended, contingent nature of
hypertextual space. After all, the purpose of resistance in the traditional sense is to resist
the kinds of (colonial, racist, sexist, etc.) written discourses that promote what you could
call closure: closing people off from access to wealth and opportunity. Since hypertext
exists as a structure of openness, resistance becomes impossible: "in this medium, there is
no way to resist multiplicity by imposing a univocal and definitive discourse. Hypertext
frustrates this resistance because, paradoxically, it offers no resistance to the intrusion"
(Moulthrop and Kaplan 235, authors' emphasis). This is the inverse of the complaint that
Lyotard levels at Habermas-to create a unified, rational discourse would have meant
invariably a kind of exclusion, against the "heterogeneity of language games" (qtd. in
Faigley 41). Why? Because that's the nature of the apparatus; that's literacy. This is
how resistance theory comes so often under attack-there's the sense that teaching
resistance is simply to be teaching another kind of discourse of mastery; a dogma of non-
obedience is still a dogma. Since the material nature of hypertext as seen by Moulthrop
is such that it offers no form of definitive "closure," finding a target for resistance in the
traditional sense becomes difficult.
What, then, are we hoping to resist? First and foremost, it would still be ideal to
use the tools of New Media to think our way back across the gap that divides literacy and
electracy, logos and nomos, argument and association. Nicholas Burbules, despite his
aforementioned attempt at injecting "place" into cyberspace, still desires to use those
spaces to encourage a kind of "critical hyperreading" that moves towards "recognizing
the interpretive framework of ideology inherent in a literary work" (83). Moulthrop and
Kaplan conclude that "our resistance may come to focus not on prior texts or creative
precursors but rather on the literary institutions we have inherited... The subject of our
resistance may be print culture itself' (236). I'm not sure how they plan on divorcing
institutions from their textual instantiations, but that's a quibble for another time; either
way, the flow of resistant movement seems oddly linear: from electracy to literacy.
Resistance, in this sense, could also be directed against attempts by others to infiltrate the
"openness" of cyberspace in the name of closure. This is certainly a knotty suggestion,
closing off those who would champion closure, but the pedagogical efficacy of such a
move could open up a sustained conversation on the very idea of closure itself. This
move could furnish a space to consider, for example, the breakdown of "the classical
liberal firewall of word and deed" that occurs in a case like that reported in Dibbel's "A
Rape in Cyberspace" (Cooper "Postmodern" 154). Perhaps a more contemporary
possibility would be a discussion of the file sharing debate in relation to copyright law.
Either way, literacy is bringing its share of baggage into the digital world, which could
keep media students and theorists busy for quite some time.
Still, I have not answered the question. Despite suggesting ways of doing
resistance in cyberspace, what has remained largely unaddressed thus far is the concept of
resistance itself. Resistance, as it is, marks a particular form of textual closure, a way of
saying: "I see the ideology you're trying to foist on me, I know what you're doing, and I
am hereby resisting it." Theorist John Schilb notes: "true literacy means examining one's
society, not simply manipulating surface features of text" (187). If resistance-as-literacy
has no real need for surface features, then what good are the surface spaces of New
Media? Perhaps this calls for a revision of a previous formula. Resistance, as I've had it,
is not so much about a linear movement from electracy to literacy; instead, resistance
seems to be like bouncing a ball off a wall. Originating with literacy-minded goals
towards a literacy-minded end, using New Media as only a convenient "bouncing-off'
point. I could achieve the same overall effect by tossing a ball in the air to myself. It's
the new game; same as the old game. What I would theorize is a different sort of
resistance all together; a new kind of game that interrogates the ideology of electracy.
Joe Hardin establishes a foundation, working with Eric Miraglia's definition of
resistance: "This concept of resistance is usually taken to signify behaviors that contest
the acculturative forces of the academy and that 'interrogate dominant ideologies with
self-aware logic and creativity"' (37). "Self-aware logic and creativity" are the bread and
butter of our new media, and I will certainly not be so hamfistedly Utopian as to argue
that the coming apparatus will not be without its share of pernicious ideologies. The very
fact that electracy is bound up in what Moulthrop calls "the military-entertainment-
informational culture" should be enough to raise some suspicion. However, it does no
better to go after all popular entertainment than it does to go after the entire academy;
perhaps entertainment's increasing reliance on advertising represents an ideological move
ripe for critique, representing as it does the apotheosis of the multinational corporation.
(An interesting equation: the multinational Corporation is to electracy what the secular
State is to literacy, or what the Church is to orality.) Perhaps Moulthrop and Kaplan's
move to disavow resistance was a tad narrow-minded; the subject of our resistance is not
the open and varied material construction of electracy itself, but rather the range of
associative ideologies that would seek to exploit it, sap its potential, and, in a sense,
"close" off the range of options. Responding to the oft-debated condition of "secondary
orality" commenced by electronic media, Greg Ulmer's move is to transform students
"from consumers to practitioners of image discourse" (Internet 6). His move is to
"resist" what we increasingly perceive to be the artificial "closures" of media practices.
This strategy can at least serve as a generative model for teacher/practitioners of New
Media writing: resistance in our context can function not as a critical stab at literacy by
way ofNew Media, but rather an open-ended conversation that proceeds through
argument back towards the ideological conditions of electracy (an inversion of the
previous model). In either formulation, resistance stays true to a central idea: it's a way
of circling the "gap" between literacy and electracy.
Marilyn Cooper, writing in a different context, sees the potential of networked
writing conversations for resisting the traditionally univocal structure of the classroom,
and, in doing so, she furnishes me with a crucial piece of vocabulary that I would like to
use to solidify my position on the operations of resistance theory in electracy. Looking at
the tradition of networked collaborative conversations (the subject of much of Lester
Faigley's discussion in Fragments ofRationality), Cooper posits that the teacher going
through this kind of interaction is "is not giving or sharing power with students, but rather
is performing an action that sets up a range of possibilities for actions" ("Postmodern"
146, my emphasis). The more I consider bringing the literary practice of resistance into
contact with the material construction of hypertext, the more I find value in what Cooper
calls performance. The value of a performance lies in its action; it is fixed in space but
fluctuates with time. (Consider the brief life spans of many websites; the im-material
ecology of the media is that they can be razed and rebuilt without noticeable impact-
their comings and goings do not shake the web.) Writing in this manner allows
individual subjects (teachers and students) to "take up or refuse" a range of responses;
like proliferating spaces, writing-as-performance seems to reproduce by spore: producing
yet more writing. I will make more of this claim by looking at the example Stuart
Moulthrop uses to build his case against resistance, recasting it in terms of what I call the
performative resistant potential of electorate writing.
What Moulthrop's student Karl Crary does in his hypertext critique is to mount a
critical taxonomy: he tries to define the bounds of hypertext in an effort to resist the
power of its expansiveness. In a sense, Crary stages a semantic raid: critiquing
hypertextuality from inside what he perceives to be a stable rhetorical "place," but which
is, in my vocabulary, a contingent place-where-he-happens-to-be (the eco-based image I
used previously as a way of describing the gap-crossing behavior of writers). In doing
so, he falls prey to a "fatal recursion: his taxonomy includes itself within one if its own
categories" ("Rhizome" 314). Crary-as-modermist-critic performs the discursive
equivalent of falling into a black hole; he starts by assuming the ethos (and, indeed, the
topos) of the critic, by assuming a kind of place-ment which falls out from under him in
the very act of speaking. Hypertext's lack of closure represents the event horizon from
which Crary's sure-footed criticism will not escape, despite his straightforward
confidence in the place-he-happens-to-be. Moulthrop states that Crary's move could be
just another "paralogical move"-since no screened space is deeper than any other, they
ought to maintain the same status. Instead, Moulthrop sees this event as a metalepsiss, or
jump outside the game, which allows us to perceive the constraints our writing systems
impose on us" ("Rhizome" 315). This is the vantage point from which I would
reformulate my idea of resistance. The rhetorical constructs of Ecocomposition return
here to remind us to pay attention to the "place" where Crary is writing; given the
contingent place-ment of hypertextual writing, it seems to me that Crary is very much
doing a kind of resistance, even if his attempt at doing so falls short to a logical pitfall.
Resistance takes on value in the form of metalepsiss, the jump outside the game"
("Rhizome" 315). When Crary performs his jump, he demonstrates the limits of
hypertext as a writing system; he tests the limits of the ideology of expansiveness that is
endemic to New Media theory.
It is a moment of much potential, but Moulthrop and Kaplan dismiss it, seeming to
believe that the poor, essay-bound Crary could not have known what he was doing. They
may be right, but let's assume that he did: the gesture outside the game becomes a way of
pointing to the construction of the apparatus itself, both for himself and for the person
reading his gesture. Let's assume that he, or another student like him, could make such a
leaping gesture, but while maintaining a certain awareness of the contingency of their
own move. We could readjust ourselves to see all hypertextual writing as "metaleptic,"
always a matter of jumping around, of moving rhizomatically across/through/around
spaces. This is not necessarily a smooth motion, but a sudden jumping off and a
sometimes traumatic crashing down. Crary's example is limiting here: his metalepsiss"
is a leap "outside" the game than it is ajumping-in-place. He jumps up enough for us to
see the contingent placement that underlies his discourse (the delicate topos underlying
and undermining his determined ethos), and lands back in the same supposedly-firm
place. Still, I propose a model for thinking about hyper-resistance that takes into account
first the jumping-across of multiple contingent places, and brings that model into contact
with the notion of the apparatus. Resistance is a matter of always going back; resistance
is always recursive because it, as a discipline, seeks to investigate place as the place-
already-constructed, constructed by the previous apparatus. We could re-read Freire
here-his move towards critical thinking was a move against the position of the subject
of oral discourse, a subject dominated by the monolithic state. Freire's workers brought
literacy as a way of re-evaluating locality, of placement. It is not readily apparent in the
logocentric spaces of the codex, but resistance in this sense still implies a "jumping
across" ideological boundaries. In our electronic context, performance is the formula
which allows a "deeper" understanding of one's "environment" precisely because
performance is a matter of understanding surface; performance may be to electracy what
sustained critique is to literacy. This approach does not necessarily translate into direct
political action, which becomes here another possibility that the individual may take up
or refuse. It does, however, set up a possibility for new ways of thinking, a possibility for
producing that precious Freirean commodity: "critical consciousness," an alive,
performed awareness of one's situation within hegemonic structures (Villaneuva 635).
Moulthrop's insistence that "hypertext leads back into the logocentric matrix" seem
to be working under the assumption that hypertext itself is following a linear trajectory
("Rhizome" 312). The "linearity and multilinearity" that create variable possibilities for
reading and interpretation are ideologically the same. "Lines are lines, logos and not
nomos, even when they are embedded in a hypertextual matrix" (310). Linearity itself,
remember, is the quality that electorate cyborgs resist, insofar as linearity is the strict
ideological norm of print culture. I retort by saying that practicing electracy is to be
performing it, to create it as you go. The idea of an inevitable falling-back-into the age of
print is simply the negative side-effect of bootstrapping our understanding of hypertext.6
(Perhaps the problem is that we move too fast by considering hypertext as simply another
form of written text, instead of considering, as Greg Ulmer does, the insistent importance
of imaging in this new medium.) We cannot go around assuming that hypertext will
inevitably do anything by itself-wouldn't that be just another way of (trying to) throw a
fence up around it, a way of trying to enforce an artificial constraint on its placement?
The contingent spaces of electracy are not so easily nailed down; indeed, Moulthrop's
entire argument points in this direction, which makes it even stranger to me that he
should try to make such a direct pessimistic gesture towards the end. Thinking about
written poetic texts while seeming to incorporate the "perceptual filter" of post-World
Wide Web textuality, Jerome McGann offers some perspectives on how to approach the
structures of variability and contingency in (hyper)text without simply giving a relativist,
postmodern shrug at it all. As we engage, critique, and resist texts:
[Our] objects themselves shapeshift continually and the points move, drift, shiver,
and even dissolve away. Those transfers occur because 'the text' is always a
negotiated text.... Aesthetic space is organized like quantum space... the identity
of the elements making up the space are perceived to shift and change. (181-3)
The alternative to a starkly linear conception of text is this move, a move towards a
"quantum space," a space of contingency. The alternative to a rigorous study of stable
textual bodies is to recognize their changing-ness, and to make the jump along with them.
My proposal, then, is a resistance based on metalepsis, a resistance of contingency
structured in unstable, "n-dimensional" space: a quantum resistance.
Quantum resistance is a matter of staging explorations into Other spaces, a matter
of "enjoying" (there's that interesting-yet-problematic cyborg term) the fluidity of
boundaries in order to pass freely among them. Quantum resistance is a performative act,
an exploration into other spaces, a process of accumulating awareness of the place-
where-I-happen-to-be, not because it has particular meaning in-itself, but because it exists
as part of a network. To engage in resistance is to be thinking about cyber-ecology.
Characterizing the act itself as a series of self-aware metaleptic leaps in n-dimensional
space, resistance is resistance only insofar as it is about a leaping over into different
spaces and discourses. Gilbert enacts a resistance by using her space to resist definitions
of "space;" hers is a series of jumps across the borders of the apparatus. Ulmer's
"Grammatology Hypermedia" enacts a resistance by spreading across multiple lexias a
variety of ideas about space itself; his is a series of jumps through multiple speakers and
perspectives. Quantum resistance is not about critiquing, but rather performing the
language of New Media. If I gain nothing else by performance, then I have used
hypermedia as a way of dissolving the hierarchical structures that tend to bind my place-
ment in the world. Performance runs that risk, of being only about "my" place, and
therefore becoming a recursion into solipsism; but it also connotes the (never guaranteed,
because it is never authorized) possibility of re-creating and re-evaluating multiple topoi.
Making these "quantum" leaps through the "textmass" foments a dual sense of
development: both association and accumulation, to return to Joyce's phrase, which itself
presents the possibility for a kind of critical consciousness ("Then" 92).
This development transforms the process of resistance from passive (the idea of
"learning" to resist), and makes it, much more problematically, a process of active
engagement. That active process may become a mere jumping up-and-down exercise;
still, in our moment, there may be an element of victory in itself of getting students to
start thinking in terms beyond their "home" apparatus, of getting them to consider the
"gap" between ideologies and forms of writing.7 The crucial idea of "empowerment" in
resistant discourse will fracture and disperse as it attempts to cross the gap into hypertext.
It will only be reassembled by traversing the gap back again. Resistance becomes the
quantum of energy released by jumping between energy levels ("Energy"). Resistance-
as-performance entails first, a new kind of subject, one emerging into being but
threatened by its precarious placement at the gap between the structured space of the
school-as-institution and the open-but-solipsistic space of entertainment (the institutional
formation of electracy).
Moreover, resistance requires an aware act of deformation; as McGann points out,
"a true critical representation does not accurately (so to speak) mirror its object, it
consciously (so to speak) deforms its object" (173). Resistance-as-performance occurs as
a socially-situated process (no need to return to a completely process-dominated model of
composition) of negotiation: "every document, every moment in every document,
reveals an indeterminate set of interfaces that open into alternative spaces and temporal
relations" (McGann 181). Negotiation is a matter of jumping through socially-situated
spaces and not just performing critical acts of reading-and-writing, but also finding
spaces to listen. The potential results of this strategy are nebulous, and rightly so, but this
quantum model provides a sound, ecological prospective that will allow us to re-think
electronic composition in ways that interrogate its ideologies without losing ourselves
(and our students) in its daunting spaces of postmodern contingency.
I conclude my discussion with a return to the beginning, a return to the ecological
"web" that helped spawn (or is it spore?) this discussion on places, subjects, and the
weird jumping-around that I propose should go on there. To return to Ecocomposition is
to propose an expansion to the way that spaces and places get discussed and analyzed. I
have maintained throughout that placement is still crucial to the endeavor of New Media
studies, although I have proposed a sort of dynamic growth in what was heretofore a solid
notion, so that the idea of place may include a consideration of the materiality of
electronic and networked writing environments. Despite their seeming
incommensurability, Ecocomposition provides a vocabulary for aligning these spaces and
for developing discursive models that account for a writer's place-ment within them.
A notion I have found interesting throughout my research is the difference between
what Moulthrop, following Deleuze and Guattari, calls "smooth" and "striated" spaces.
Striaited spaces are the domain of "routine, specification, sequence, and causality," the
world of the coordinate grid, and of geometry; McLuhan and Ong associate these spaces
with conceptual breaks marked by the age of print. Smooth spaces subordinate points to
trajectory. They are spaces for "ad hoc political movements," constituted by "parataxis
and bricolage" of images in broadcasting. Smooth space is "mediated by
discontinuities... an occasion; Deleuze and Guattari call it a 'becoming'" ("Rhizome"
303). Despite their explicit differences, though, Deleuze and Guattari insist that these
two kinds of spaces exist not in isolation but always in "mixture" (474). Ulmer has
nearly the same stance: "it is important to remember, at the same time, that all three
dimensions of discourse [orality, literacy, and electracy] exist together interactively"
("Grammatology" p4). Cooper also agrees: "there is no reason not to oscillate between
the various media that operate to structure our transitional society" ("Postmodern" 142).
Mixture, hybridity, symbiosis: these are contingent properties that point towards the
potential efficacy of Ecocomposition for construct composite theories and pedagogies;
Ecocomposition is the "method that effectively constructs" the multiplicity of discourse
(Deleuze and Guattari 22).
The emerging apparatus of new writing practices and pedagogies is "regular and
reliable even in its vastness and randomness" (Moulthrop, "Rhizome" 310). The only
thing we know is that knowledge is always shifting, but that can be the beginning of an
effort that I've only sketched in this context, attempting to pin down and describe the
phenomena that are occurring in these gaps where our current apparatus cannot (and
shouldn't) take us, because they haven't been invented yet. Ulmer: "Electracy does not
exist as such, but names an apparatus that we are inventing 'as we speak"' (7). Some
New Media theorists take the path of ecstatic optimism about the Utopian dissolution of
hierarchy. Some, like Moulthrop, express a healthy skepticism about these claims, saying
that hypertext will not produce "liberated autonomous zones" or "pirate utopias"
("Rhizome" 317). This is partially right. Hypertext can produce such zones, but the very
idea of contingent space reminds us that zones exist only in contact with other zones.
Hypertext, and all the emerging writing practices of digital culture, may function
rhizomatically, like grass, and written discourse may function logocentrically, like a tree.
Ecology, however, accounts for all the formations within its habitats, including the
sizeable and persistent gaps across which our differences can synapse.
When we think in terms of gaps, we would want to address and offer critical
investigations of New Media rhetoric and the often-idealistic "gaps" they create between
theory and classroom practice. Another critical gap is the materiality of New Media
itself, and the extent to which our experience of its "new"-ness is mediated by hegemonic
notions of progress and change. Part of thinking ecologically is to be thinking in terms of
growth, change, and evolution; there's a powerful kind of revisionist history that we can
be encouraging at our unique moment of development by offering critical reckoning of
how technological rhetoric matches up to the realities of practice. Another goal
necessitated by the notion of this gap is the development of New Media pedagogies that
speak to the constructive processes that occur due to the advent of new writing
technologies. Some theory has already heralded the death of hierarchy and the
dissolution of racial and gender norms as we move increasingly towards a disembodied
conversational space; the contribution is valid, but we also see new kinds of hegemonies
emerging onto the scene, emerging out of the old institutional spaces and colonizing the
new ones. While we discuss pedagogy, we need to continue discussing resistance, how
to orient our classroom practices towards a more incisive conversation about the new
hegemonies being created by these new media. What does quantum resistance pedagogy
look like? The continuing challenge for composition theorists and practitioners alike will
be to consider the specific phenomenon that occur in the movements we and our students
make within, among, and around the coexistent spaces of discourse, and the
conversational processes of constructing and being-constructed that will continue to go
1. Clarification: Cooper's "Web" is a label for this discursive model, and is not
intended as a reference to the World Wide "Web."
2. Throughout the text, I will use "hypertext" to refer to the entire range of
electorate, digitally-based writing systems, including hypertext and other
computer-based communication regimes: HTML, MOOs and MUDs, chat
3. McGann advances this argument throughout Radiant Textuality, see specifically
pp. 167-72, where he notes the "fundamental misconception" that "a digital field
is prima facie more complex and powerful than a bibliographic one." Terry
Harpold's "Hypertext" has also addressed the issue, emphasizing limitations of
descriptions of print commonly promoted by enthusiasts of hypertext in support
of digital writing's "revolutionary" innovations.
4. D. Diane Davis provides an interesting formula for this experience in her article
"(Non)Fiction('s) Addiction(s)." Drawing on Derrida's notion of language as an
"excentric drug," she approaches the new subject as a "narcological" Being,
"under-the-influence-of-language" (273). The influence of language-technology
causes "Being [to go] rhizomatic in the cyburbs" (279). As a drug, electracy
causes a certain kind of perceptual "breakdown" in the "fluidfying border"
between flat screens and the spaces of "real-life homes and offices" (276). I am
hesistant to expand further on her drug-based tropology, but its combination of
bio- and semio-spheric terminology makes a useful addition to my discussion.
5. Much of Lev Manovich's discussion in The Language of New Media works
towards defining the structures of hypermedia in terms of the modular
construction of film. Two of his five "principles of New Media" are "modularity"
and "variability," emphasizing the media's emphases on discrete objects which
can often be repositioned and replayed at will (pages 30-2, 36-45).
6. From the materialist angle, perhaps the problem is that we move too fast in
considering hypertext as only another form of written text, instead of taking into
account, as Greg Ulmer proposes we do, the fundamental role of imaging in this
new medium. Jerome McGann, Johanna Drucker, and other theorists of the
spatiality and multilinearity of printed artifacts would also, I suspect, wish for a
more forceful emphasis of the visual qualities of the printed mark, page, and
7. This sets up an interesting multivariate sense of "home" discourses. I primarily
mean "home" apparatus to refer to the hegemonic force of literacy. Multiple
interesting gaps open up, not only when we consider the transition to hypertextual
forms of writing, but also the "hypertextual" powers of print itself, and how both
factors are exposed to co-optation by the hegemonic forces) of the academy
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I was born in Virginia, but lived a somewhat itinerant existence. My childhood
years were spent in El Paso, Texas, but I came to "maturity" in Jacksonville, Florida. I
attended Stanton College Preparatory School, where my interests included theater, Latin,
and Monty Python.
I came to the University of Florida in 1997, following an ill-formed idea of
becoming a scholar/practitioner of dramatic literature. Two years later, I found myself
outside the theater department, bobbing in the current without much direction. A course
in Scottish literature helped me re-negotiate my focus towards the more theory-driven
domain of Cultural Studies. Unfortunately, I knew nothing of theory, so my
undergraduate thesis (a look at professional wrestling as postmodern text) was an
interestingly fraught project from the start.
As a graduate student, I stayed at the University of Florida, hoping to continue my
Cultural Studies curriculum. A first-year seminar in theories of writing, however, piqued
my interest. I undertook to study the range of Rhetoric and Composition theories on my
own, starting with the domain of resistance and discourse theory. With much effort, I
parlayed my interests in New Media into the mix, producing a sustained focus on various
areas of composition theory and pedagogy. After completing my master's thesis, I will
be pursuing a PhD at the University of Georgia.