digital rhetoric


Though he does’t mention it in his post, Collin’s recent discussion of Mecology has me thinking about Greg Ulmer. “Mecology” (elsewhere mycology) is a shortening and personalization/localization of the notion of media ecology (a la Kittler I suppose), as Collin writes “the various ways that I manage and organize my space, time, resources, memory, information, etc.” The problem he and others are discussing is the effect of blogging and other social software on the ways we spend our time and energy and the sites from which we receive our knowledge. Blogging, as most bloggers know, can be a huge time suck, at least as seen from one perspective.

But how does this relate to Ulmer?

Well, mycology is actually already a word, it is the study of fungi. Ulmer discusses mushrooms, technically saprophytes, in his late 80s essay, “The Object of Post-Criticism” (in a collection titled The Anti-Aesthetic). Ulmer dicusses John Cage (who had his own book on mushroom-hunting), but primarily focuses on Derrida.

As recall, the crux of the argument is something like the following: the act of quotation (and nowadays linking of course) creates a wound/rupture in the apparent unity of text. From that cite/site, meaning/interpretation proliferates. The saprophyte serves an important ecological function, decomposing dead trees (i.e. texts), in the wild. The quotational saprophyte is hence a de/compositional process.

The mycological processes on information networks do not work solely on texts, however, they also de/compose subjects. When we ask the personal question “what is happening to me through my interaction with new media?” or, more engineer-like, we ask “how do we design information networks to interact with humans?” we produce problems that “shield us” (see Derrida on this in Aporias) from the aporetic (de)formulation breaking down the boundaries between “tool” and “subject.”

The process of becoming in the saprophytic intersection of new media and modern subject thus becomes conductively linked to the mycological becoming of consuming particular mushrooms. As Deleuze and Guattari write in ATP:

One of the things of profound interest in Castaneda’s books, under the influence of drugs, or other things, and of a change of atmosphere, is precisely that they show how the Indian manages to combat the mechanisms of interpretation and instill in the discipline a presignifying semiotic, or even an asignifying diagram: Stop! You’re making me tired! Experiment, don’t signify and interpret! Find your own places, territorialities, deterritorializations, regmine, lines of flight! Semiotize yourself instead of rooting around in your prefab childhood and Western semiology.

The underlying principle of HCI is one of domestication: “nice,” domestic, essentially flavorless mushrooms grown in large piles of shit under careful management: MS-blogging/McBlogging.

Curiously the closest “real” word to mecology (at least in my dictionary and memory) is meconium, which most parents will remember is the nasty, dark green crap that comes out of your newborn soon after birth. It is the feces that has accumulated prior to birth. However meconium also refers to a reduction of opium used as a sedative and analgesic.

So perhaps mycology births us into a new subjective space where the mushrooms that grow from the meconium excesses of our passage serve as both opiate and perhaps psychedelic: a new world and new post-subject.


2 replies on “mecology-meconium-mycology”

Dworkin has a piece in College English early this year on mycology and Cage – an attempt to rethink teaching literature. Worth a look if you haven’t already.
Nice new design btw.


(Please note that I haven’t read Collins discussion on mecology…) Regarding mycological references in saprophytic behavior is only a half-truth. Mushrooms are also symbiotic, as mycorrhizal fungi (those living symbiotically on the roots of plants) transfer nutrients to their host plants in exchange for plant sugars derived from photosynthesis. I prefer to think of the process of blogging as a mycelial web, a healthy network a la Paul Stamet’s philosophy. Granted, this insight is more Castaneda than Derrida…As for meconium, ask a doctor what happens if the child deposits that substance in the mother before birth…meconium after the birth process is a good thing…


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