Occasion 23 Apr 2014
Just before class, seeing an exhibit outside the building upon approach: one of the “displays” of CU Denim Days, on North Quad “in front of Old Main” and near the Eaton Humanities building where my class meets. Stopping only briefly to glance and receive a flyer, to examine later. Before and shortly into the start of class, one student (also from New Jersey) upon arriving vents his disgust at the display, visibly and audibly agitated at the explicit language painted on the denim clothing items and hung on display. The instructor (having planned to incorporate the display in the discussion) allows the disapproving expression to no one / anyone / him / the room, without comment or response...
The spring course “New Media & Civic Engagement,” my first time teaching the class and my first full year at a new institution, was nearing its conclusion in late April: completing Electronic Monuments and preparing to begin the final project, this particular week was designated by the university as “Be Boulder week”; Wednesday was “Community Day”—with the generalized instructions “Be involved. Be united. Be Boulder.” As we were still in the exploratory/learning phase, preparing to begin the final MEmorial project, I incorporated the Official Discourse (Institutional Signification) as reflexive example and reminder for the students’ in-progress “assemblage testimony” (choragraphic consulting): a peculiar and inviting question of overlap between Discipline (Major/Career Field) and Community (social, local, relational) spheres or “personal databases.” Although I’d refrained from offering a personal topic as project example to that point, the coinciding of CU Denim Days and “Be Boulder week” inspired (The Call), if not my “professing” then at least my quilting/felting on the class website to demonstrate the method partly: a problem emanating from the Community sphere, presenting “in-person” and online by the Gender Justice League as well as members of CU Women and Gender Studies (Institution). Posting two stories, one local and one national (Brown University), the titular phrase “That’s college” of the college newspaper story brought closer the designation April being “Sexual Assault Awareness Month.” Moreover, online I speculated the Denim Days Display might serve as potential “relay” for the class’s composing their digital media MEmorial—perhaps offering a model or inspiration, by analogy, for the components witness-testimony, concetto, or peripheral (Project).
By this point, we knew the instruction was not direct: composing “wreckwork” and “abject genre” (EmerAgency) in favor of Argument and Documentation/proof (the latter Classic Literacy tropes, merely digitally enhanced). On one hand the angle of approach was deliberately oblique (anamorphic perspectivism); however, although I sketched a “choral map” as model to inspire their work, I left incomplete the result of what the Denim Days Display as Relay could generate for a multimodal webtext project (e.g. as MEmorial Peripheral). Because the Display was explicit and direct, which we needed to avoid, the analogy process was challenging: Tweets (social media) with photographs (document) were already twice removed from the artifacts—themselves publicly political, while slipping into regimes semiotic (legible) and rhetorical (utterance) due to protocols mostly social and partly technological. Cautious of this transformation and implication, I avoided the Commentary Imperative (institutional role) and strictly Retweeted while adding the class hashtag, to contribute another instance of visibility to the collective Feed organized by the hashtag #cudenimdays. In a similar performance of protocols (Institutional), and worse still, I incorporated the Display into the class session’s discussion in fashion and gesture further abstract: recalling excerpts from the Critical Art Ensemble we’d read earlier, I asked if the display were “Aesthetic” or “Political” being in (semi-)Public Space; and what of social-media posts or photos, their implications or capacity for Digital (Civic?) Engagement.
Concurrent with the 2pm class section that day, I later learned, was the Denim Days session “Alternative Masculinities in Action” (location: Hazel Gates Woodruff cottage). This phrasing incidentally called attention to my performance as University Instructor, scripted by protocols for what can be said, done, thought, felt. Like social media platforms, designed roles and spaces: a year later, in the same room I asked a Visual Arts writing class “what stops us from making this a gallery? a performance space?” and generated sagacious discussion demonstrative of personal recognition and investment. By contrast, on “Community Day” 2014 I performed (conditioned by dispositif) a role within the collective identity and experience of “Be Boulder”: not only abstracting to Theory Discourse in academic framing (devoid of intimacy, vulnerability); also, first allowing silently a single student to exclusively express his myopic judgment about the Denim Displays, which had been created by victims of and/or advocates against sexual assault. Both acts failure by designed detachment—but not unaffected, rather stung.
déCommemoration? (Problem/Objective — Method — Target)
The subsequent Testimonial will have resulted from detours and détournement of Scripted Spaces and Roles both in-person and “online” (digitally mediated and networked). The composition is not “theoretical” but theoria; both discovery and invention via attunement—Stimmung, resonance, affect; deeply invested in the capacity to be affected and to affect others.
The concern for and focus upon Network Ethology—our capacity to be affected and to affect, ecology mediated— is motivated by the correlative link between the contemporary condition of Information Overload and Compassion Fatigue.
“The dromosphere requires a new approach to policy consulting, to supplement conventional approaches, especially those that rely on the use of scenarios, story or narrative form, to aid decision-making, because past-present-future are simultaneous now. We need a consultant’s report that evokes thought at light-speed.” (Ulmer, “Quale Morphics” 144)
Partly, this approach recognizes that my engagement and relative distance (intimacy range) with a Public Policy problem is both mediated and networked: consequently, both the “space” explored and my role undertaken are Scripted, by protocols technological and social. Additionally, the experiment undertakes the challenge not only rhetorically, but ethically. Composing stages a scene, not simulation, for encountering information made material (embodied) and testing my capacity for witness and testimony: undergoing through digital rhetoric using strategies of Choragraphy and detour circuitry (conduction logic) for commemoration. The detour encounter of the territory (topos) deliberately seeks to explore alternative possibilities and generate outcomes unforeseen (“unforeseeable”?): in another sense détournement—“rerouting” (detour), toward a “new ensemble” expression (SI 1959)—of Territorialized space, roles, and protocols for response.
A considerable challenge of mediated engagement with a public problem is inherent in these networked technological conditions, with the speed (Datastream) and Information Overload (excess) of digital media impacting my capacity for memory and for being affected. As countermeasure, circuitous writing in both senses: elliptical, by design, and writing circuit(s) with which to ThinkFeel. Rather than deploying digitally-enhanced Literate praxis (Contrast), the composition does not offer Argument (proof) except in its performance; the materials do not function to document, signify, nor represent (Regime of Legibility). Instead, the following undertakes the instruction of Ulmer’s Electronic Monuments (Theory): attempting Theoria and Choragraphy (method) to interrogate Monumentality for a Group Subject (networked Identity Experience), the relation of Sacrifice and Values (abject) to our Identity and Ideals. Exploring “the Internet as living monument” (xv) and the “group subject” of electronically-mediated networks: “a primary site of self-knowledge both individual and collective, and hence a site supporting a new politics and ethics, as well as a new dimension of education” (xxi).
As eGent, I undertake the challenge (Call) as Network Witness in the role of “Digital Bystander” to sexual assault generally, and specifically on or around college campuses. Although incomplete, more performing the détour(n) choragraphic composition that generates the consultation, this project does propose the components for a MEmorial—Testimonial, Impresa/Concetto, Peripheral (located and networked)—toward a “MEMEmorial” (Arroyo & Carter 2011) as well. In this way the Target is twofold, additionally creating (discover + invent) an alternative to my scripted protocological function and overcoming compassion fatigue, déTour-ing a rhetorical-affective role for the Networked Public Sphere.
With this latter goal in mind, the project is organized purposefully, détouring (not choreographed) in movement: although able to be read “in any order” desired, the three segments progress from “more theoretical” to more Memespheric (multimodal public rhetoric). Choragraphy (method) composes with and brings together several spheres, proto-Electrate if not formally then at least availing and demonstrating the thinking-feeling supported in the new apparatus. While composed for legibility (Public Pedagogy), in favor of strictly MemeMorial design, the segments attune & gather rhythms, frequencies, associations (conduction logic); resonance across all personal databases (Popcycle), brought into this critical-aesthetic praxis: Autobiography, Career Discipline, Pop Culture, Community. Attempting this method thoroughly, I resist the easy recourse to Discipline, strictly “theorizing” (abstraction) via discourse on Public Space, Mediation, Network Documentation, Digital Commemoration, Participatory Engagement; the composition reflects this approach, formally and rhetorically.
The Call to the network witness emerges between Discipline (Institution) and Community, siren emanating from the Memesphere—Buzzfeed.com linked both for its emblematic feature and transitional status—in the form of the Stanford Sexual Assault Case, which concluded summer 2016 with Brock Turner’s sentencing and release 3 months later (September 2016). To undertake the task of commemoration and undergo the challenge for network ethology, my détour(n) first revisits the memory scene of 2014 disciplined by Career (“Media Theory”)—in order to explore the Choral Map, toward an Obscenario (mediation) and consequent MemeMorial proposal as kinÆsthetic consultation for networked Group Subject.