Introduction: Tours & Detours
K. A. Wisniewski
Textshop Experiments, the journal, was founded on a simple premise: to create a space where individuals and groups could freely think through and work with and in the apparatus that Gregory L. Ulmer named Electracy. Our first issue, The Textshop (T)issue, was an effort to find ourselves, as students and artists and scholars; as editors curators, and publishers; as a journal and a collective. The issue collected samples that tugged of the threads that Ulmer has modeled for over thirty years.
Our namesake borrows Ulmer’s vision for a Humanities laboratory that fosters the reproduction of experiments in the vanguard arts (see Ulmer “Textshop”). In this setting, practitioners not only learn about ideas but also experience how they are invented. Ulmer explains, “In the textshop, the student has an opportunity to discover the epistemological assumptions at work in culture and in one’s own thinking. Textshop is ‘epic’ in that its shares with Brecht’s epic theater the desire to show people that culture (or society) is not natural, given, but is made, invented, and hence changeable” (117). If one goal of the textshop is to develop rhetorical practices that allow individuals to develop as producers of discourse, the Textshop is one forum documenting and preserving these productions.
By referring to our first issue’s work as “tissues,” we evoke Ulmer’s call for generating “felt” from “text” (Ulmer, Internet Invention 35-37). Ulmer weaves Beuys’ demonstrations on how to do theory as sculpture and Deleuze and Guattari’s description of felt as “anti-fabric” to illustrate how memory acts as a channel for crafting associational connections and realizing “felt” networks. The metaphor is the method, “a strategy for exploring new dimensions of thought or experience” (37). But perhaps it’s best for visitors to tour this metaphor—and this felt factory—for themselves.
In the textshop sense, the tour is not merely an offer “to turn” and click through pages as a tourist (although anyone familiar with Ulmer's work will catch our reference to model theoria (theory tourism)). Here, the tour signifies a shift, one’s turn to do/make something. A tour in the medieval guilds signaled one’s enrollment into that guild. Our editorial call for tours for this special issue of Textshop Experiments describes both a critical/creative practice and an emerging interdisciplinary network of scholars and artists. The detours are a necessary part of our apprenticeship, while we still find ourselves in the midst of things.
Working with this motif of tours and detours, the critical and creative works selected for this issue highlight a broad range of approaches and applications, some deeply embedded in the realms of electracy while others implicitly showcase or perform elements related to the apparatus: the mystory, heuretics, monumentality . . . Although electracy studies is often housed within English Departments or situated within the field of English Composition and Rhetoric, this issue houses work operating on a much larger scope, hopefully triggering polylogues on the apparatus within in the academy and beyond. The pieces published here engage in (or, better, blend) history, literary studies, new media, art, performance studies, popular culture, education, sociology, anthropology, ecology & environmental studies, architecture, urban design, and politics—and thus reflect on and expand the ((applied) theoretical) implications of electracy itself. Perhaps we are not too far from time when electracy is housed in Public Policy programs. The issue is divided into three sections: Designing (De)tours; Diversions, Disasters & Developments; and Personal Excursions & Pedagogical Practice.
Designing (De)tours features works that, in one way or another, interrogate Ulmer’s concept of electronic monumentality and the ways in which sites perform, expose, or debase real-world problems (and their relationships to personal and collective identity). To begin their experiment, Barry Mauer and John Venecek identify and appropriate the General Jubal A. Early SCV Camp #556 Confederate monument. Mauer’s subsequent mystory begins with childhood memories of The Band’s song “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” and Buster Keaton’s film The General. These memories are then weaved into some societal problems currently burning in his mind (and heart), including the practices and ethics of meat industry its relationship to climate change. The result works as remix, modeling citizen curation via a comic on repulsive monuments. Comics also become the vehicle for inventional consulting practice in Sergio C. Figueiredo’s “Geo-Graphic Storytelling and Kónsult Comics.” After introducing Rudolphe Töpffer, father of the comic strip, and translating selections from his travel journals, Figueiredo engages in his own experiments, which, in part, re-enacts and re-envisions some of Töpffer's own innovative pedagogical practices and, in part, borrows from Scott McCloud's concept of the infinite canvas (among others). Translation and remake are also visible in Félix Burgos' "transmutation" of Ulmer's essay "Metaphoric Rocks." Here, electracy (and its concepts of critical tourism and the Popcycle) are introduced to the Spanish language, which, Burgos admits, requires some redesign of terms (and geographies). The result is an bi-lingual cyberpidgin text/image hybrid composition that inserts and interrupts Ulmer in a tour of Bogota, Colombia.
The meanings of policies, political events, and historical sites are always subject to rerouting, and the next set of works demonstrate how electrate performances allow negotiations and re-writings to emerge. Vûkasin Nedeljkovic’s article “Asylum Archive” is based on his online archive of the same name. The archive collects photographs, interviews, reports, and related ephemera to the Republic of Ireland’s Direct Provision, the system managing asylum seekers. In his essay here, passages from his own childhood diaries are jammed into and juxtaposed with the history of these centers to expose the atrocities of this system. The video essay “Legacies of Fort Hill” from April O'Brien, Eric Stephen, Stephen J. Quigley and Brian Gaines dissects the narrative constructed around their university, a story that omits some of its most historic buildings and its connections to slavery. Through archival research and on campus interviews, the team creates a space where multiple stories and histories can co-exist and Fort Hill's painful past can be recognized, taught, and remembered. Finally, in his essay “Cycling as Prisoner’s Dilemma,” Matthew Newcomb uses the 2016 Tour of Italy cycling race as a metaphor to examine rhetoric as negotiations. Making connections between game theory and rhet-comp, Newcomb exposes the enduring tensions extent in relationships between cooperation and competition.
The contributions in the Diversions, Disasters & Developments section continue my idea of "tissues" from the previous issue, pulling electrate threads and using various media to perform critique. Christopher Davenport uses the catastrophe of clear-cutting and deforestation as a starting point (heuretics). His appropriation of the annotated bibliography builds on the "wide image" to intervene on this ecological disaster area and to reconnect with its/our lost conditions, times, places, and memories. While Davenport looks at the natural environment, Lauren Mitchell focuses on the built environment. In "Bearing, Witnessing, and Standing," Mitchell investigates tourism's role in national and cultural identity formation and invents libidinal infrastructure, a term that connotes those designs and modes of inquiry that point "to human impulse and desire as a viable place to begin design and design research processes." Her designs demonstrate the (new) intersections and applications to theory. Curt Cloninger seeks his own intersections in "Cones Interesting Planes." In his diagrams and anecdotes, Cloninger illustrates how philosophers and scholars have conceived processes of remembering and forgetting. His cones signal the fixation on how the plane of experience intersects with the funneling of (re)collected memories (in contrast to disposal—oblivion). matthews and allen's "A Collaborative Diversion" concludes the section with an exercise in and sample of uncreative writing. They attack the citation, the quote, and offer a Derridean game and present an outlet for polysemic, multi-vocal presentations in a literal—literate—monovocal tradition.
The final section Personal Excursions & Pedagogicial Practices presents four works reflect on personal discovery and experiences in and out of the classroom. In "Waters of the Past," Tracey Benson begins her own mystory by confronting her family's history and her own identity. Part blog, part-travelogue, part-history, Benson assembles local histories, genealogical records, archival materials, and her personal touristy photographs and experiences to trace her Norwegian ancestor. As Benson attempts to separate family stories and "facts", Michael Loadenthal's personal essay brings these threads in conversation to each other. Food becomes a vehicle to examine his own relationship with his father. The narrative explains how what you eat and how you eat are intricately tied to how you work, love, and live. A reflection on these memories is a jolt to the present, leading Loadenthal to ponder what it means to be a man and what kind of father he aspires to be. In "Practical Theory," David Prescott-Steed discusses his recent work in teaching theory to art and design students. In response to some of the reoccurring challenges he faced in past semesters, Prescott-Steed developed the "Theory in Practice Excursion" into his curriculum. Incorporating the practices of the Guy Debord and the Situationists, the program takes students out of the classroom to identify, record, experience and interact with critical theories in practice. The author describes selected exercises and records student responses and reflections. Student reflection is also the focus of Megan M. McIntyre's deliberation of postpedagogical practice. She highlights the uncertainty inherent in postpedagogical approaches and argues that creating reflective moments is critical for students to make connections from a particular project to a broader understanding of their processes, themselves, and the rhetorical practices at work in the systems surrounding them.
The issue closes with an Interview with anthropologist Kinga Pozniak conducted by poet and translator Piotr Florczyk. In their talk, Pozniak and Florczyk discuss the changes facing the Nowa Huta district in Kraków, Poland, and its residents. Pozniak and Florczyk are both Kraków native who have emigrated to North America. As Pozniak shares her academic research on the constructed narratives (and counter-narratives) that inform the community's contested identities, the interviewer and interviewee also confront their own identities and memories of this changing place. Simultaneously, there is another dialogue at work here established by the photographs shared by both parties. Although the interview's content is not directly associated with electracy, it can be argued that in these ways it shows signs of how seemingly unrelated contexts operate in its realm. As we continue to transition into the apparatus and established disciplines and specializations no longer meets the needs of the new epoch, scholars and artists will reach beyond their disciplines and discover new approaches and collaborations such as these, thus creating—or uncovering—new shared languages and identities.
Electracy's proposed method of invention comes from the ancient concept of chora. For Ulmer, choragraphy is described as "a rhetoric of invention concerned with the history of 'place' in relation to memory" (Ulmer, Heuretics 73). Choragraphy is a kind of memory art and method of discovery for engagement with a particular place. The projects in this issue seek to use new experimental methods that may be studied, reproduced, and expanded up to shape what the new post-literate epoch will become. They are models of how to tour/detour; they are markers to help us navigate what's next.
Ulmer, Gregory L. Heuretics: The Logic of Invention. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994. Print.
- - -. Internet Invention: From Literacy to Electracy. New York: Longman, 2003. Print.
- - -. "Textshop for an Experimental Humanities." Reorientations: Critical Theories and Pedagogies. Ed. Bruce Henricksen and Thais E. Morgan. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1990. 113-132. Print.
K. A. Wisniewski is the Editor of Textshop Experiments. He is the editor of the anthology The Comedy of Dave Chappelle: Critical Essays (2009) and the author of the poetry collection Making Faces (2016). Among his forthcoming projects is a translation of Belgian surrealist poet and art critic Marcel Lecomte's Demonstrations and an edited critical edition of Francis Hopkinson's allegory A Pretty Story. He lives in Baltimore.