20,000 Years of Virtual Composition: Computers and Writing 2010

Looking forward to the Computers and Writing conference in May. Here's my abstract.

As media networks alter social relationships, they also rework the relations within scholarly communities. The single-authored monograph or journal article, whether text-only or multimedia, makes less sense with each year. These practices make less sense in terms of economics and the overproduction of scholarly publication. They also fail to recognize that we are perpetuating a narrow conception of composition and communication built on print technologies and nineteenth-century conceptions of rhetoric.

I will discuss the “virtual” as a philosophical and technological concept that offers insight into potential future directions for scholarly composition. Virtuality is neither outside reality nor a separable segment of materiality. Instead, virtuality is the interpenetration of materiality and symbolic action. When we view the history of symbolic action as virtual composition, we develop different theories than those informing legacy scholarly production. This does not mean seeing the world through a computer metaphor. To the contrary, the computer is one technocultural application of a virtual philosophy.

Rather than trying to imagine a particular digital media genre for rhet/comp scholarship, my presentation is more interested in reimagining compositional practices as an extension of theories of networked communities and distributed cognition. That is, future digital genres will emerge from setting aside our legacy practices of imagined solitary authorship. In doing so, I will draw on philosophical interventions into community, such as those of Agamben, Nancy, and DeLanda. I will also draw on new media theorists such as Manovich, Kirschenbaum, and Hayles, and scholars within rhet/comp such as Ulmer, Rice, and Hawk.