targeting computers and writing: some selections

Some notes and thoughts on the recently completed Computers and Writing conference…

  1. As I tweeted during the conference, the subject of gaming is a growing interest in the field. From rhetorical approaches to games studies to a pedagogical interest in serious gaming, there were many, many panels and presentations in this area. Perhaps we'll see a keynote speaker along these lines next year.
  2. Computers and Writing also continues to shift and become more specialized. That's my sense anyway. That is, increasingly I think the conference audience at C&W is different from that at CCCC, even in a Technology session. A keynote speaker who imagines a typical rhet/comp audience will miss her mark at this conference. It's not just games. It's social media, video, and other forms of digital composition. It's building our own applications. There's plenty of intellectual diversity within C&W, but I would say it is now as differentiated from the mainstream as technical writing or the ATTW conference.
  3. There were some good conversations about the role of digital scholarship in the field: the challenges of reviewing such material and the relation between our digital practices and the broader conversations in the humanities.

So I want to gather together these issues through a concept of "targeting," which struck me as an undercurrent in the presentations I saw. Targeting is obviously a process of selection. It's a regular feature of most video games, and I want to keep that analogy in my here as I stray from it. Targeting/selecting may appear as a fundamental display of agency, but we know it is more complicated than that. The selector and the selectee are both exposed to one another in a broader assemblage.  In many gaming situations both sides are hunter and hunted. But even in the cases where the hunted is seeking to avoid the hunter, there are some characteristics of the hunted that emerge in this moment of exposure that call the hunter's attention. Regardless, the point here is to investigate the assemblage of exposure where the event of selection emerges.

I saw this issue iterate in the following ways:

  • in our discussion of Dan Anderson's I am a map/I'm a green tree, an excellent video exploring object relations. The conversation circles around "is it a poem?" "is it scholarly" "but poems can be scholarly." How do we target the discourse of our digital work? How does it target us?
  • in Scott Reed's presentation on a game-based composition portfolio. He mentions Ulmer and references Heidegger's geschlecht.  We are stamped and targeted, which in turn shapes our own targeting. For Ulmer, invention lies in the investigation of and experimentation with these targeting apparatuses. 
  • in Joshua Hilst, Sarah Arroyo, and Geoff Carter's panel on virtual immersion(s) where we see the role of networks, YouTube, and game mechanics on selections of video remixing and bibliography.
  • when Collin Brooke, Doug Eyman, and Aimee Knight ask if we can spell new media without "me," and examine gamer networks, social media objects, and citational systems where it seems to me that we are looking at a series of bi-directional targeting systems. We search and are simultaneously searched for.
  • later Dan's deliverator presentation "Watch the Bubble" asks questions targeting in on computers and writing… its history of tinkering and experimentation and says "we are the lab discipline of the core humanities."

So we come to the point where we look at our relations with the humanities, with English studies, with rhetoric and composition, with the digital humanities. How do we target them? How do they target us? Are we, as I suggested in my presentation, drawing on Alan Liu, monstrous exo-disciplinarity? In his User's Guide to Capitalism and Schizophrenia, Massumi describes a series of tactics that begins with cherishing "derelict spaces." That's what Dan's bubbles are, or at least were, the skunkworks of composition computer labs where few wish to venture. However, if you are successful in your tactics eventually the state will seek to molarize you, to create a box for you in the system. And that's not necessarily a bad thing. On the other hand perhaps it is a case of being careful what one wishes for.

What does it mean for C&W to be targeted by the humanities or the digital humanities or rhetoric/composition? How do we or ought we target them in return? Or perhaps we should target new, less institutional assemblages. I would turn toward the heuretic, but then you likely knew that. That means breaking free of the hermeneutic questions of target that revealing meaning and instead turn toward production. Do not ask why I make these selections but rather what these selections produce. Rather than seeking selections that are meant to reify some illusory internal identity, why not experiment with the targeting assemblages themselves… maybe even turn them off. What happens then?

"Luke, you switched off your targeting computer! What's wrong?"
"Nothing. I'm all right.