Part III of CCCC09 on historiography, code, and the face

This is likely my last post from SF, unless I'm bored with time and access at SFO tonight, and I have one last panel to discuss from yesterday, "The Waves Not Taken" with Michelle Ballif, Victor Vitanza, Diane Davis, and Cynthia Haynes. If you are familiar with their work, then I don't think you would have found anything particularly surprising here. If you're not then you would have likely struggled with what was going on. This was not exactly pitched to a general C's audience, which was fine b/c there wasn't a typical C's audience in the room.

Anyway, I won't attempt to account for the whole matter. Ballif took up the trope of zombies to account for the way that our profession has avoided or domesticated the implications of post-structural thinking for writing. In many ways this was a familiar argument for me, but I did appreciate the zombie metaphor, particularly the linking of zombies and consumerism (which we have seen in the classic Night of the Living Dead). The desire to consume and turn everyone into zombies is reflected in the rhet/comp drive to teach and produce consumable texts with fungible characteristics. It is the pharmakon potential for otherness in consumption, for unexpected mutation, that we seek to domesticate through discipline and pedagogy.

Vitanza declared a "re-beginning" in addressing the concerns of writing histories of rhetoric, picking up on, among other things, the Latourian concern with the idea of "being modern" that drives many historical impulses. Is the truth of history true or rather a rhetorical figure? As we know, r/c seems to have a particular fascination with writing its history. I have been particularly interested in Byron Hawk's counter-history in this regard. Derek Mueller and I were discussing this historicizing impulse in the context of the "long now" project. What histories do we write of ourselves when we eye a future 1000 years or even 10000 years from now (as the long now project seeks to do)? Or more importantly how do we investigate the inclination to think in such terms?

I think I was most enaged with Davis' talk, which addressed the idea of community through the concept of the face. She made several references to Levinas and if I was sitting here with A Thousand Plateaus I might turn there in thinking about faciality. But I'm in an SF hotel, so I'll just wing it. What I got from Davis was this idea of how the call of the other that grabs our attention obliges the construction of a face and a subjectivity. In this sense, the self exists for the other as a site, a condition, of interaction and community. I think this is familiar idea, within certain theoretical circles anyway. In fact, it got me thinking about some of my own conceptualization of the subject as an interface (drawing on Ulmer, among others), as something that bears a relation to interiority that might be analogous to the relation between the computer desktop and the inner workings of the machine.

Haynes' talk was likely the one most relevant to my own presentation (which I ought to rehearse one more time). She talked about code and the role of code/computers in the Holocaust and Nazi Germany. Again, I don't think there is any surprise in the connections between computation, efficiency, optimization, and fascism. In fact, one can go further and look at relations between new media aesthetics and fascism as well. This connects with my discussion of Hayles and the "regime of computation." Of course we must not only critique and "look out for" technofascism, we must directly engage with such potentials. Certainly Deleuze and Guattar have offered us a way of thinking about anti-fascist machines, but also always with an awareness of the possibility of reversal. As the regime of computation begins to enter our professional thinking, we must keep this in mind, but we also cannot simply reject computation as means or metaphor. Instead we need to take it up productively.

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