digital rhetoric

The network and English Studies

Jeff has a great piece, soon to appear in College English, on the network. I say to it, yes and yes. I see it as a rhetorically-effective piece that has the opportunity to challenge its audience without missing the mark. Good work. I am interested to see responses and how it will relate to its sister pieces in this special issue.

My thoughts are the typical, I suppose, drifting, mutating, proliferating, etc. Latour’s own critique of "his" network concept is familiar: the network in ANT came about before the popularization of network as in internet, before networking as the careerist, yuppiefied activity, and certainly before the social networking of MySpace, etc.  Such notions reterritorialize the network in ways that are make the term less interesting for ANT, I guess you could say.

When one inverts the network, one potentially uncovers the holey space, the n-dimensional space between, and the Nietzschean force of free action (as alternative to the recursive resentiment-like force of "work"). The intellectual danger is to mistake these as competing, dialectical concepts: network vs holey space. It’s a similar misdiagnosis to the one that lies, readymade, in Actor-Network. It is tempting to see the network as a force of striation or reterritorialization. However, as Jeff points out, networks might be understood more generally as connectivity.

I see here two virtuals: the virtual-topological space from which materiality unfolds and the virtual-technological space of media and networks. It is within the context of the former that one can investigate multiplicities as non-deterministic "networks;" here is the potential for connectivity. In short the metaphor of the network is apt and accessible, but it falls short if it becomes solidified in our familiar notions of connection.

Jeff writes

English studies maintains a fixed point of view through a singular  notion of writing as static, fixed, and individually composed (typically via the essay or the exam), taking place in a unified realm of thought deemed “English.” The definitions of “writing” produced in this economy of thought (response essay, analytical paper, personal essay) no longer serve the media society of networks and connections contemporary culture generates as these definitions of writing are now performed. The time has come to rethink the metaphor of writing because its image is too structured around fixity.

I couldn’t agree more, and the network is a good place to begin dislodging this fixed position, as a site for further growth, connection, and proliferation.


One reply on “The network and English Studies”

Thanks for the kind words, Alex. This is the kind of stuff my interest has shifted to – and it mirrors a lot of what you discuss in this space. I have another piece that touches on similar ideas that (hopefully) will make it to print next year.


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