CCCC 2010 Recap: on being raised by (one or several) wolves

The Friday panels I saw addressed themes such as time, circulation, meshworks, loops, and channels, but I want to start here with a single image from Collin Brooke's presentation taken from an old cover of the magazine Field and Stream. It was a Rockwellian image of a father and his son sitting in a small boat, pulling a fish out of a stream. Collin used the image as a launchpoint for thinking about our disciplinary field and its relationship to the streams of information which pass through, over, and alongside it. 

However, I was also thinking about the patriarchal relationship depicted in the scene, the kind that leads to the reproduction of disciplinary progeny, the kind that takes you out into that field and says "one day, son, this will all be yours." And the stream? Well the stream has always been there as well. A natural boundary perhaps. You look at the field, and you see the possibilities: the logical, the thought-out. The stream, on the other hand, is perhaps potential (and here I am thinking of how Deleuze and Guattari parse the difference between these terms). The stream can be tapped, of course, for irrigation and so on. When it becomes larger, perhaps it powers a water wheel or facilitates travel. But I don't want to carry the analogy too far from this little scene of Americana, of field and stream.

I suppose I have always had a less than sanguine relation with "the field." No blood relation that mediates the field and stream in Collin's slide. Maybe this is the case for many/most of us? I don't know. In my case though, I believe it is, at least in part, because I was raised by one or several wolves. No one took me fishing in the disciplinary stream. No one ever showed me the field that would one day be mine. Please don't take that as a "pity me" or a romantic lone wolf scenario. The several wolves Deleuze and Guattari reference are multiplicities:

The proper name can be nothing
more than an extreme case of the common noun, containing its already
domesticated multiplicity within itself and linking it to a being or object
posited as unique. This jeopardizes, on the side of words and things both,
the relation of the proper name as an intensity to the multiplicity it instantaneously
apprehends.

So the goal is not to domesticate the wolf here, to create the loyal dog who patrols the field, but instead to investigate, and perhaps intensify, the multiplicity that goes here by many names: meshwork, loop, stream. 

If one comes to CCCC and feels as if they are standing in their own field, then, I don't know, maybe it does feel like a Norman Rockwell painting, like one has come home. But if not… well then, there are many loops and circulations. Spencer Shaffner, Collin's panelmate, focused on the looper, a digital audio looping tool, and asked about the potential of looping for scholarly composition.  I hear the loops every year. I suppose this could be a negative criticism (e.g. same crap with a new theme keyword crammed in), but that's not what I mean. Instead I mean the iterative, ambulant emergence of intensities emerging in different concepts. On a macro scale, the stream loops through the water cycle, but in the more immediate scene one finds the eddies and micro currents of flows that establish temporary orders. I hear talk of chronos, aeon, time, timing, rhythm. I hear autopoiesis, meshworks, embodied rhetorics. Circulations, linking, findabilty, viral potential. All loops and layers, at least as I encounter them.

As always, the struggle seems to be with taking such concepts far enough, with returning them to their intensive potentiality or even slipping into the virtual. And it is here that I know I have been raised by wolves, that I can hear the guttural, nearly unspoken tones of disciplinary warrants that I can recognize but simply do not share. These warrants keep us in the realm of the "pragmatic" or more precisely the realm of the possible: what can be grown in this field? These warrants hold us, gravitationally, to a particular scale and point of view, where the individual counts as "one" and there are no fractions.

For example, Laurie Gries, Gage Scot, and Kristen Seas presented on time, meshworks, and circulation (Jim Ridolfo was the respondent and posted his response here). I thought it was a very good panel exploring some slippery concepts. At the same time, part of the struggle is their efforts to apply such theories, to show what is possible. And such a gesture is warranted at Cs, perhaps even demanded, and perhaps in many cases specifically demanded in terms of pedagogical possibilities (i.e. how do I use this in my class?). If we look at meshworks (or assemblages), we cannot stop at the level of the individual as rhet/comp might ask us to (or at least warrant us to). It's meshworks all the way down. We cannot re/construct a chronology with assemblages. Similarly if we are examining virtual time, the haecceity, we cannot talk simply of possibilities. I don't mean that as a knock on this panel, which I found thought-provoking (obviously since I'm writing about it), but perhaps as a prod to take up Massumi's articulation of invention in Parables of the Virtual:

a true invention is an object that precedes its utility… With invention, the perceptual direction of travel between the poles of necessity and utility, between intelligence and instrumentality it, possibility and reason, is reversed. An invention is a sensible concept that precedes and produces its own possibility (its system of connection-cases, its combinatoric. An invention is an in situ plumbing of potential rather than an extrapolation of disengaged possibility. It is a trial-and-error process of connecting with new forces, or in new ways with old forces, to unanticipated effect. Invention is a plug-in to the impossible. (96).

So this brings me back to the problem Collin raises: how to understand the relation between the field and the stream. The "field" is the abstract, thought-out possibility of object relations. It is one limit-pole extending out from each event. The stream, on the other hand, points toward another limit-pole, one of potential moving toward increasing latency and virtuality, until it is virtually unfelt. In Massumi's formulation, then, we cannot ask the field to invent ways to address databases or streams of information or the perennial problems people see with the conference (check the WPA list and similar venues today; I'm sure you'll find this going on). Instead, we must look toward the other pole, the potential, even the virtually unfelt.