Wednesday, April 23, 2014

A Rhizomatic Snow Crash

I had a real snow crash this evening. Given that I was walking through a balmy twilight beneath an ultramarine south Florida sky, a snow crash was the last thing I expected, but there it was:

I have profoundly misunderstood cMOOCs.

Yes, that's a bit dramatic, but that's how it felt, dramatic, and judging by how often I read others complain about the low participation and completion rates in MOOCs, I think they misunderstand cMOOCs as well.

The feeling has been swelling in me for sometime now, almost like the first whimpers of a baby from another room, before you have even heard it, though your body is already aware. You aren't yet awake, but your feet are kicking off the covers. You can't yet say to your other what it is, you don't even know if it was a sound, but you're getting up, your mouth searching for mumbles as much for yourself as for the other. Then the cry and clarity. It's that sudden. A long, slow sudden. A snow crash.

Ideas have been accumulating as strange as snow on South Beach: spaces, noise, emptiness, lurking, flow, complexity, defining from the inside, soccer, complexus, a complex, a weaving, an embrace.

I have minimized cMOOCs, trivialized them, and missed their importance. I did it for good reasons, mostly because I was having such a fine time. As I've said before, several cMOOCs, including Rhizo14, have been among my richest educational experiences. I have delighted in the connections and conversations, but they distracted me. Rather, they focused me too narrowly. cMOOCs are complex, multi-scale systems, and I was treating them merely as a class, as my class and a fine class, but they are so much more. It's time for me to expand my head. Just now I have only hints and shadowy figures, but I think I can add flesh.

A few things precipitated, now that I think about it, though this could just be hindsight. Still:

Just two days ago, I read a blog post It is my own messy chaos: on a new understanding of learning spaces and connecting by Peter Bryant, in which he discusses how students are basically creating their own learning spaces to meet their own needs, and institutions can fit in, or not:
The new learning spaces exist inside and outside the academy. They provide an environment where learners can engage with faculty and then link with connected others and sources of information, contrary and advocating those coming from the curriculum. These learning spaces are being formed now, because of the needs of the learners to interact, share, vent, collaborate, understand and vindicate. They happen in cafeterias, Facebook pages, IM groups, happy pics in Snapchat and in text conversations. They don’t need flip top desks, they need Wi-Fi and devices, and most importantly they need platforms to connect. And in most cases they are outside of the academic or the academy. In fact, if they are owned or setup by the university, they are often turned into ghost towns. The learners own these new learning spaces, quite happy in the knowledge that they are the product for these sites and platforms. But they are in control of who accesses it, who sees it and whom they share it with. They choose what gets put on the walls and whether everyone can see it or just their closest friends. They choose if it is a site of rebellion, of collegiality, of relationships or of creativity.
This was inching toward crash, but not quite there. Then tonight I was reading Michel Serres' marvelous book Genesis (1995), in which he writes of the noise at rugby matches:
Background noise is the first object of metaphysics, the noise of the crowd is the first object of anthropology. The background noise made by the crowd is the first object of history. Before lan­guage, before even the word, the noise. … Sporting events are not entirely what we think. … Contrary to what you see, there is no audience at a rugby match, there is no distance between the group and its team. … The traces of the most deeply buried archaisms are not in the places we think, they are here, in front of us and in us, terrifically live. … Listen to what is shouted in the clamor of the stadium. The secret lies in that noise. That chaos-noise is primitive, like the wind of violence, unleashed, mastered, lost, retaken, delirious, and disciplined. It subsides and swells like action, but it is noise like action: disorder and danger to be controlled. … To say that the experience, the regulation that ensues, are cultural, means nothing, it is the source of culture. Just listen to these cries: they are the echo or the encore of the most deeply buried of archaisms. This ceremony is a religious one, by religion I mean the things forever forgotten, barbaric, wild things, for which we have lost the words and which come to us from far, far away, without a text. From bodies to the collective, in a lightning short­ circuit, without language, through the groundswell of violence and pandemonium.
I would say soccer match, but no difference, rugby will do. There is no audience at a rugby match [soccer match, cMOOC], there is no distance between the group and its team. I have been thinking and acting as if the cMOOC, the class, was merely those players on the field—the ones who talk on the Google Hangouts, chat in the back channels, tweet, blog, and discuss in Facebook, complete the assignments, even make up new assignments—those who play the ball. All the others are audience, lurkers, or worse, dropouts. This is such a sad view, so small, so trivial, that I am ashamed. Really. Ashamed.

And I knew better, somewhere. I have been to games large and small. I've been in the stands with the hundreds or thousands of others, and I have felt the energy that ripples through the stands, through all those people, and I know that energy is as much a part of the weave of the game as anything that happens on the field. And the larger that crowd, the more energy it has. I have been part of the chants and songs. I have watched the WAVE ripple around a stadium, feeling the percussion as it sweeps through me. That spectator energy is woven into the game, it IS the game as much as the energy of the players. I am not minimizing the players here; rather, I'm broadening my view to include the stands, and I insist that some of the most important things happen in the stands, on the sidelines. This is where the energy on the field is first pushed out, stored, processed, and amplified, and eventually carried beyond the stadium to the city, to everyone else. If the game (cMOOC) is to be successful, it is the spectators, the most valuable spectators—the ones who watch, who drop out for a bathroom or beer run, who come back, who murmur, yell at a good play, groan at a bad one, cheer and sing songs because their neighbors are doing it—it is those spectators who roll up the energy of the game, give it meaning, and push that meaning out into the wider world. It is those spectators who feed the energy from the wider world back onto the field itself and the few players. Without the spectators, the players would be silly boys kicking a meaningless ball. Without the players, the spectators would be a confused mob.

I have been putting all the value on the players and none on the spectators. This is an abomination. I really can't speak too strongly. It's as if we put all the emphasis on the mitochondria and none on the cellular membrane, but what are the mitochondria, the players, the active students, without the cellular membrane? It's the membrane that forms the space for the players. It's the membrane that shuttles energy onto the field and back off the field and into the wider world. If a cMOOC is to succeed in challenging and changing its ecosystem, it must do it through the spectators, the membrane, the lurkers. I thought that the boundaries of the game were the sidelines and end lines, but this isn't so. The spectators form the boundaries of the game. The field sidelines merely distinguish the zone across which the spectators and the players exchange energy and information. The game includes them both. The cMOOC includes them both. Without the mass of people on the boundary, a cMOOC would be nothing. A cMOOC, like a soccer match, is truly a body without organs, a smooth space, one assemblage, and that includes the spectators. It includes the students in Maha Bali's classes who did not attend one online session in Rhizo14, but who hear about it from Maha.

Listen to the noise of the crowd. We like to think that MOOC lurkers are silent, but this is not so. They are a murmur, a drone, a background out of which the players emerge and perform in relief, against which the players achieve some kind of meaning, without which the players would be meaningless. The players, in turn, provide focus and meaning for the spectators, a point on which to direct its attention and energy. The spectators and players are not symbiotic, they are one. We can separate the players from the crowd about as well as we can separate our hearts from our skin—a really bad idea. Distinguish, yes. Disjoin, no.

cMOOCs are large and open. Much larger and more open than I have thought, and I refuse to accept any longer the denigration of spectators in a MOOC. A cMOOC can't survive without them, and the more the merrier, hundreds or thousands. I say we try for a million registrants with only 20 completing the course. That's something to aim for, and it will have more impact than we can imagine.

I also say that the auto ethnography must find a way to engage the spectators more, including those fine presenters who quoted Rhizo14 without ever attending it. Our cellular membrane is deep and rich and textured, and ultimately most of what emerges from Rhizo14 will necessarily be filtered through it.

And this, I think, is the problem with traditional education: class walls do not a membrane make. Students hear the murmur, the noise from beyond the classroom walls, and they are drawn to it, as they should be. We keep them from it. We try to focus them on the drill and practice, when what they really want is to engage the show, play in the game, merge with the spectators. That's where all the fun is.

Who's Writing Rhizo14?

Well, I stole my own thunder. It happens.

I wanted to answer here the second of two questions about membership in Rhizo14, but instead I mostly addressed the question in a comment on Frances Bell's blog. You'd think that at my age I'd have more control, but Frances' post Ethics and soft boundaries between Facebook and other web services is such a fine read and engendered such a rich discussion, that I couldn't stop myself.

Anyway, the second question is "Who belongs in the group writing the authoenthography of Rhizo14?" I said much of what I wanted to say, but I think I'll repeat it here. In time to come, I may forget where I put those thoughts, and this blog has become as much my memory as my sandbox, and as it happens, I am addressing a slightly different question here than there, so even if you read this post, you would do well to read Frances' post and all the wonderful comments. It's what is so good about open, online spaces, even when they aren't so massive.

In my comments to Frances' post, I was addressing mostly the issue of power, and here I want to talk about membership, but power is implicated in membership. As in my previous post about who belongs in Rhizo14, membership in the Rhizo14 autoethnog group is a boundary issue, and complexity thinking views boundaries quite differently than reductionist thinking. Reductionism posits all agents as independent with discrete, clear boundaries between them, similar to a rack of billiard balls, with power arising in the interactions (the bumping and bouncing) between the balls. And note that all the relevant interactions can be observed, measured, and described objectively by an observer who is not on the table, who is not affected by and who does not affect the interactions.

Complexity thinking is different. The interactions among agents are matters of flows of energy, matter, information, and organization throughout a complex, multi-scale system. An agent is not merely acted upon as in the reductionist view, but an agent is formed and informed by the flows of energy, information, and organizational structures of the systems within which the agent lives and functions. And while we have some, restricted abilities to choose which systems and which energies and informations we will engage, we are not discrete entities, independent of an enclosing ecosystem. We must be part of the flow of some energy, matter, information, and organization, and those flows all implicate power. Power is the weave of the fabric we are all woven into, and it is difficult, often impossible, to isolate any single flow and to trace it back to a single source. Moreover, there isn't anyone observing outside the table. Whoever observes is part of the weave, and both they and the weave are changed as they are woven together in the observation.

So what does this mean for how we should decide who is in the Rhizo14 autoethnog group? First, let me point out emphatically that I am not denying the efficacy of the Classical views of interactions with their clear interactions between and among independent agents. The clarity of a reductionist epistemology has great affordances, but it also has its blindness, and I want to expand my view to see beyond the limitations of reductionism. I’ll try to illustrate this point by referring to Dave Cormier. I referred to Frances in my comments on her blog, so I'll pick on Dave here. I trust he will forgive me.

Dave has not declared himself part of the Rhizo14 autoethnog group, and if I recall, he expressed some misgivings about joining the group. This is a fine example of a clear, classical social contract. Independent agents agree on boundaries and behaviors between themselves: Dave outside the group and others inside. The result is that if and when the group produces a document of some kind, then Dave’s name will not appear on it as an author or in it as a participant. This understanding assumes discrete agents with clear boundaries, a simple view of group membership, power, and reality. This is all straightforward and simple, an easily understood arrangement, but for me, it's just too damned limited.

A complex view of power and reality—my view—says that Dave is already part of the autoethnog group and the document, even if he isn’t named in it. In whatever form that document eventually emerges, it has already been shaped by discussions that Dave started and engaged—flows of energy, information, and organization that in/form the document, the writing of it, the flow of it. Likewise, I suspect that Dave has himself been in/formed by the Rhizo14 discussion, so we have an instance of circular causality, a core mechanism of complex systems with their complex flows of power. Flows of energy, information, and organization have already woven us together in ways that I do not know how to disentangle. Yes, of course, the group can leave Dave out of any formal document—that is easy to do—but the formal document is really only a very small part of the Rhizo14 auto ethnography. From my point of view, most of the real work has been done on tweets, blog posts, Facebook discussions, and so on. Dave's voice is transcribed on some of those texts and informs most of the others.

So for me, it is a fiction to say that Dave Cormier is not part author of the Rhizo14 autoethnog. It may be a useful fiction for him and for others, but it is a fiction none-the-less. And of course, what is true about Dave Cormier is true about many others who have engaged the conversation about the autoethnog. They are all part of the authorial assemblage. This is problematic, but it cannot be addressed for long by simply returning to a traditional view of authorship. That view is breaking down. It is not unusual these days to find scholarly articles (especially scientific articles) with hundreds of authors. What the hell does that mean? What is happening? How many scholars can fit on the head of a pin?

Well, in virtual spaces, hundreds of thousands of scholars can fit into a single document. Consider Wikipedia as a single, coherent document. Who wrote it? Silly question, no? Consider the Linux operating system as a single, coherent document. Who wrote it? Another silly question, though we like to use Linus Torvalds as the place-holder author. It eases our mind to have a single, authoritative author (do you see how author is nested in authoritative?). We desperately need a single person—a Steve Jobs, or Bill Gates, or Barack Obama—to blame or credit for a thing, though Jobs didn't write the iPod, Gates didn't write Windows XP, and Obama didn't write Obamacare. We really need our fictions, and I agree that these fictions have been useful. However, I think they are becoming less useful.

I watched a TVO lecture by Douglas Thomas on A New Culture of Learning, in which he notes that students today view authority (read: authorship) differently than we scholars did when we were in school. We looked for the authoritative source of information. We wanted the man (yes, it was usually a man). If you wanted the news, you watched Walter Cronkite—he was the man, the source of authority. Today's students don't regard authority as a single source. Rather, they view authority as a process of triangulation, a process not a person. They browse the Web for many sources, including Wikipedia, and they triangulate opinion to form their own opinion, and they keep an eye on their Twitter streams in case some new info emerges. As my son, Cory, said recently to me: "Dad, don't trust anyone; trust everyone." A new concept of authority and authorship is emerging, a concept that absolutely depends on the information overload of one hundred thousand scholars on the head of a pin. I want to understand it. It's part of the DNA of rhizo-rhetoric.

This brings me to my own motivation for joining the Rhizo14 auto ethnography group: I’m interested in learning how this emerging assemblage will write this document, what authorial assemblage will actually emerge and how it will emerge. I think I can learn most from within the group, by helping to write, even here on this blog, and by being part of the assemblage. I want to define the process from the inside (a complexity point of view) and not from the outside (a reductionist point of view). I want to be part of the emergence of an authorial assemblage, and I want to feel what that is like. I just hope I am alert enough to recognize it when it happens and articulate enough to describe it.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Who Belongs to Rhizo14?

I have been edging up to this post for the past few weeks, but a Rhizo14 Facebook discussion today (Saturday, 2014 April 12, -5:00 GMT) and a comment to my last post by Frances Bell have pushed me into it. The Facebook discussion was kicked off by Sarah Honeychurch asking, "How do we feel about others who were not part of rhizo14 using our autoeth? Somebody asking yesterday on Twitter Interesting question." In the thread, Frances Bell asked, "what does it mean to belong to rhizo14"? In a comment on my previous blog, Frances also said, "although I consider myself to be part of rhizo14 and did write a few words on the collaborative auto-ethnography, I do not consider myself to be part of the rhizo rhetoric writing group. Is that the only way to write rhizo14 without being considered to be 'writing about'? That was 'Frances' rhetorical question because I am going to be writing rhizo14 without permission ;)" Go, Frances. I can't wait to read what she, Jenny, and Maria have to say.

Anyway, I see two issues emerging in this conversation that I want to address in this post (maybe in two posts, depending—I haven't finished yet so I don't know):

  1. Who belongs in a cMOOC such as Rhizo14, and
  2. Who belongs in the group writing the authoenthography of Rhizo14?
I'll start with the first question. (By the way, I live next to a nature preserve in south Florida, and a raccoon just walked along the fence outside my balcony. I am also having an expensive Canadian whiskey and a fine cigar (I control my bad habits by having only the most expensive) under a brilliant south Florida sky. This will make all the difference in what I have to say.) I find nested parentheses so fractal and rhizomatic.

The first question: who belongs in a cMOOC such as Rhizo14?

For me, the short answer is anyone who shows up at any time (even after the cMOOC is officially ended) is in. But it's more rhizomatic, or complex, than that.

My discussion here will be highly informed by James Gleick's book Chaos, which discusses the rise of chaos theory, which I consider to be part of the emergence of complexity, along with relativity and quantum theories, in the 20th century. I think that complexity will come to inform almost all serious thought of the 21st century and most popular thought, but that remains to be seen. At any rate, it informs my thought at the moment, so you know where I'm coming from.

Asking who is in Rhizo14 and who is not creates a boundary issue, and as Gleick explains, boundaries are problematic in complexity thought. Boundaries are trivial in reductionist, mechanistic thought, either/or propositions: one is either inside the system or outside, and there is a clear line between the inside and outside, usually with a gatekeeper or social contract to manage the exchanges across the boundary. This concept, perhaps best expressed by John Locke but encoded in most of our Western laws, is clear and legible. It manages most of our thinking: social, economic, political, religious, educational, and more. A student is either a junior or a senior, but not both. Both is confusing and messy (read: complex), and we don't like confusing and messy.

Complexity, on the other hand, sees boundaries as problematic, non-trivial structures. We want discrete boundaries where all on this side is red (or any other characteristic you can think of) and all on that side is blue, but as Gleick illustrates in his book, nature doesn't seem to work that way. In the 1970s and 80s, scientists exploring turbulence with the new fractal geometries of Benoit Mandelbrot, non-linear mathematics, and new computers found that the boundaries within complex, dynamical systems are never discrete: some red always mixes with some blue at the boundaries of even the simplest of systems. I think this is the case with complex systems such as Rhizo14. Let's use an analogy to see how.

Think of a single-celled organism, an amoeba, which is about as close to simplicity as complex systems can get. At a certain scale, it appears that the amoeba has a distinct, discrete boundary, a membrane, between its inside and its outside, but if we zoom down a couple of scales, we find that the cell membrane is not so distinct or discrete. It is textured. It has thickness. It has pores where it can, and must, exchange matter, energy, information, and organization with its surroundings. Bacteria move through and across this boundary, doing helpful things and harmful things. Are the bacteria in or out? Are they part of the amoeba or not? We humans have more bacteria in our bodies than we have cells. Are they in or out, part of us or not? Neither the amoeba nor we can survive without the bacteria. We cannot survive without the membrane, either, and while clearly some things are on the inside doing much of the hard work to sustain the system, we cannot overlook the things at the boundaries that are moving information and energy in and out.

For me, most people in a MOOC are at the boundary. Our skin, after all, is our single, largest organ. We on the inside, including me, unkindly call those on the boundary lurkers, and we imagine that we on the inside are the hard-working, privileged heart of the MOOC, but it's at the boundary where most of the interesting things happen as energy, matter, information, and organization flow in and out of the system—in and out of amoeba, humans, and MOOCs. The boundaries are where our connections are formed. It seems to me that most of the people at the boundary of a MOOC don't even know they are in the boundary of the MOOC, but they are, and the heart of the MOOC should rejoice that they are there, for without them we would cease to beat.

So I want a fuzzy boundary where it's hard to tell who's in and who's out; I want even the bacteria. That is a fortuitous term because it carries a negative connotation, and I think many of us at the heart of Rhizo14 have negative feelings about those bacteria that take our treasured information and use it in other systems. But that, after all, is what is supposed to happen. We want our information out there, and once it is out there in the wider ecosystem, we lose control over it. I think of how the early MOOC pioneers must feel about how their treasured concept is being used in the wider higher education ecosystem, but the only way to prevent that would have been to trap the concept, if that was even possible, and then it would have died. The best response to what is happening to the concept of MOOCs is to continue to express it as well as you can, and I think that is what the Rhizo14 ethnography group should do: use our information as well as we can, put it out, and trust that our interpretation will add value to the larger system. And we must remember that whatever we write will be an interpretation even if somewhat privileged by proximity. We should also be mindful that proximity can be a disadvantage. The scale from which we observe anything affords us some information and blocks other information.

Some might argue that while we should allow the good bacteria in, we should guard against the bad bacteria. I agree, but I confess that I don't have a good sense of who is good and who is bad. As of yet, I do not feel injured by any use of the information by anyone.

Finally, I want to note that openness is the spirit of cMOOCs such as Rhizo14. All of us were invited in, entitled to rip, mix, and burn whatever we found, and enabled to take the information outside the MOOC to use in other systems, such as I'm doing in this blog. I want to remain in that open spirit, which makes me wonder: is this blog part of Rhizo14? What about part of the Rhizo14 auto ethnography? That's a complex question that I'll address in a second post.

Friday, April 11, 2014

RhizoRhetoric and Legibility

In a recent comment to this blog, Maha Bali linked me to Venkatesh Rao's post A Big Little Idea Called Legibility on his ribbonfarm blog, in which Venkat (Rao's blog name) discusses legibility, an idea developed in James C. Stewart's book Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed. Legibility has significant implications for rhizorhetoric—in no small part because writing is supposed to be legible. Illegibility is one of the core no-no's of good writing, especially academic writing such as most of the scholars in Rhizo14 produce.

Still, Stewart's concept of legibility goes far beyond penmanship to our need for clarity and simplicity, an issue that I've dealt with before, but I think Stewart's concept is—dare I say it?—clearer and broader in application. Stewart identifies legibility as a habit of mind to reduce the complexity of life to something simpler and more manageable. He gives the following recipe for legibility:
  • Look at a complex and confusing reality, such as the social dynamics of an old city [or Rhizo14]
  • Fail to understand all the subtleties of how the complex reality works
  • Attribute that failure to the irrationality of what you are looking at, rather than your own limitations
  • Come up with an idealized blank-slate vision of what that reality ought to look like [how a MOOC ought to behave]
  • Argue that the relative simplicity and platonic orderliness of the vision represents rationality 
  • Use authoritarian power to impose that vision, by demolishing the old reality if necessary 
  • Watch your rational Utopia fail horribly
Venkat adds that "the big mistake in this pattern of failure is projecting your subjective lack of comprehension onto the object you are looking at, as 'irrationality.' We make this mistake because we are tempted by a desire for legibility." We want things to be simple. We need it. We make things simple by dismissing all those messy details of complexity as irrational and irrelevant.

Though this drive for clarity and simplicity is not limited to Western culture, it is highly characteristic of Western intellectual life over the past 300 years, at least since the Enlightenment. In his book Chaos (1988), James Gleick notes that twentieth century scientists schooled in the reductionist, mechanistic science of Newton and Descartes "had learned not to see chaos", or what I am calling complexity. Any variations in scientists' real-world experiments from the expectations of their neat linear equations would usually be dismissed as "experimental error". In other words, when some piece of complex reality didn't fit the equations, they would chop off reality. One of the major realizations of scientific thought in the 20th century is that linear, simple processes in nature (there are some) are the exception and that non-linear, complex processes are the norm. As I understand it, then, Stewart's legibility explores how organizations in general and governments in particular try to twist complex and confusing reality into a simple and clear legibility that makes management and control much easier. Legibility is a basic human drive. We want clarity and the assumed control that results from it.

I want to argue here that scientists and government bureaucrats aren't the only ones blind to the complexity of reality—so are we liberal arts writing teachers. In fact, I think that most writing teachers lag far behind the scientists in accepting and coping with complexity. We teach legibility, and we teach our students not to see complexity, which tends to destroy legibility. I cannot think of a single composition textbook that I've used over the past 35 years that has not encouraged legibility. I turn to the three composition texts on my desk, and yup, they make the process and products of writing most legible: chopping up writing into a neat little process: prewriting/writing/rewriting, or some variation, yielding neat little products: description, narration, argumentation, comparison-contrast, and so on.  The texts have great advice: limit your topic (students who take this literally, as they are trained to do, simply stop writing at 500 words—that limits things), or identify a thesis which expresses your limited subject and point of view, or choose a pattern of development that best serves your purpose for writing. Hmm … if your purpose is simply to make an A and get out of this class, as it is for most students, then what pattern would work best?

Now, maybe this is the nature of textbooks: to make things explicit and legible so that students can learn, or at least pass the test, but it seems to work against a complex view of reality. This is important for me just now because I don't know how to approach the Rhizo14 MOOC as anything other than a complex, non-linear, multi-scale, rhizomatic event, and I believe in my heart that anything other than a complex, non-linear, multi-scale, rhizomatic document will not communicate to readers the dynamic reality of Rhizo14. The typical scholarly essay that I've been reading for the past 40 years, with its clear thesis and well-documented supporting detail, will not map so well to Rhizo14. The very form of traditional scholarly writing renders explicit and regular that which was/is implicit and irregular.

When Benoit Mandelbrot began looking at the coastline of England, he found that the regular shapes of traditional geometry were of little use in helping him calculate the actual length of that coastline, so he invented a new geometry (fractal geometry) which "mirrors a universe that is rough, not rounded, scabrous, not smooth. It is a geometry of the pitted, pocked, and broken up, the twisted, tangled, and intertwined" (Chaos, 94). I think that Rhizo14 is not rounded or smooth; rather, it is pitted, pocked, and broken up … twisted, tangled, and intertwined. I need a rhetoric that maps well to the twisted, tangled, and intertwined.

Deleuze and Guattari faced the same issue when they were writing A Thousand Plateaus and giving us the concept of the rhizome. In their first chapter Introduction: Rhizome, they speak of the book they are writing, but which I can easily extend to any text:
A book has neither object nor subject; it is made of variously formed matters, and very different dates and speeds. To attribute the book to a subject is to overlook this working of matters, and the exteriority of their relations. It is to fabricate a beneficent God to explain geological movements. In a book, as in all things, there are lines of articulation or segmentarity, strata and territories; but also lines of flight, movements of deterritorialization and destratification. Comparative rates of flow on these lines produce phenomena of relative slowness and viscosity, or, on the contrary, of acceleration and rupture. All this, lines and measurable speeds, constitutes an assemblage.
The first characteristic of this kind of writing (a book has neither object nor subject) does away with the dualism inherent in classical Western thought. It reintegrates the writer/s with the thing written about and the thing written, and I see this already happening in the Rhizo14 ethnography as the writers are part and parcel of the system they are writing about. The phrase writing about shows how difficult it is to avoid language that does not incorporate the subject/object dualism. The Rhizo14 writers are not writing about; rather, through their very writing, they are extending, perpetuating, informing Rhizo14 itself. Their writing, this post included, IS Rhizo14—it is not about Rhizo14. They are informed by Rhizo14, and they inform Rhizo14. And of course, this violates the tradition of objective academic writing in the 20th century, which still lingers too long in too many places. Most of the teachers at my campus, for instance, still restrict the use of first and second person (I, we, and you) in formal papers, as do the editors of too many scholarly journals. Teachers and editors are slowly accepting the presence of real people in academic writing, but the smell and noise seem to bother them. In short, academic rhetoric still has not quite accepted the reality of complexity thought that demonstrates the impossibility of separating the observer from the observed or from the observation.

Rhizorhetoric, on the other hand, insists that the observer is an aspect of the observed and the observation and that all together—the writer, the document written, the thing written about, and eventually, the readers written for—form a rhizomatic assemblage. Rhizorhetoric expects to find the thumbprint, accent, and notes from the writer/s on the document itself. It also expects to find the swelling marginalia from readers.

Rhizo14, then, does not fabricate a beneficent God to explain geological movements within the emergence of its text/s. It has no super-editor to excise the messy parts and to fit Rhizo14 into a simple, legible text. It has no lonely writer thinking his lonely thoughts. Rather, it has a collection of people looking at an assemblage from an incredible array of angles for many different reasons and different purposes and generating posts, tweets, marginalia, anecdotes, poems, sounds, stories, and more about what they see.

But do not be alarmed. I am not suggesting here that clarity, or legibility, are not welcome aspects of the Rhizo14 text, or of any text—they are—but they are not limits to that text. As Deleuze and Guattari note, the kinds of rhizomatic texts that emerge in Rhizo14 may have lines of articulation or segmentarity, strata and territories, but they also include lines of flight, movements of deterritorialization and destratification. The rhetorical space for Rhizo14, then, is enlarged to include legible territorializations (traditional scholarly essays) and illegible deterritorializations. And all this, lines and measurable speeds, constitutes an assemblage—a book, a Rhizo14 text.

And the lines of deterritorialization keep flashing. A former student of mine just linked me to a fantastic 3-D printed art installation that is reminiscent of baroque architecture, with all its texture. Rhizo14 needs a 3-D printer of words, images, and sounds. That just might print the document.