Watson Session E.6: Bodies-of-Sensation: Future Entanglements with Queer, Transfer, and Digital Rhetorics


Presenters: Rich Shivener (University of Cincinnati), Cynthia Johnson (Miami University), Zarah Moeggenberg (Utah State University), and Dustin Edwards (University of Central Florida)

The panel, while coalesced around digital rhetorics, was themed around the entanglements of bodies, sensations, and actions with digital and physical materiality. The ideas of entanglement, especially the inextricability of physical affects/effects and digital production, rhetoric, and composition are the through line of the four presentations. I’ll admit when I first read the titles and saw the progression from web-text composing practices to rhetorical ecocriticism about the anthropocene, I could not clearly see how the panel cohered. However, the presenters found the connective tissue to argue not just their individual points but for an overarching consideration of these entanglements as digital rhetoric production and analysis continue to evolve and permeate the field more broadly.

Rich Shivener, “Recomposing Pain”

Rich Shivener lead off the session’s discussion of bodies-of-sensation with “Recomposing Pain,” a talk, born of case studies and interviews, that interrogated the unique pleasure and pain of web-text composing and recomposing. Shivener does not call it revision, because feedback about the form and function of a web-text requires a new round of composing: new code, new functions, new platforms, new designs, new compositions. Theoretical frameworks for the talks come from rhetorical theory like history of rhetoric ideas about invention, delivery, and circulation with a focus on more recent circulation scholarship (Aristotle, Cicero, Gries, and Ridolfo). Shivener’s affect theory frameworks for the entanglements of bodies and objects: pain and pleasure (Aristotle); mental, embodied sensations (McLeod, Murray); and socio-cultural (Amed, Micciche). Ultimately, Shivener positions affective entanglement as both a potential reward for new media scholarship and a potential barrier to producing new media scholarship based on case studies of new media authors.

Shivener found that pain points for new media authors “stem from reception practices . . . that flow back into drafting practices.” He went on to highlight that feedback that requires or needs further drafting is more than the kinds of substantive revision necessary in traditional text-based scholarship. Rather, new media practices that require new drafting, might also require further coding, troubleshooting, and, in some cases, learning new skills. Some of the pleasures Shivener identified were a sense of community in drafting and revising when new media authors have the opportunity to work if not with others at least in proximity to others. Implications from both the pain-point and pleasure findings include a need for recognizing the often invisible “layers of feelings and practices embedded in digital media scholarship.” Immediately actionable implications include increasing the time for and amount of invention at multiple places in new media practices. To address both the pain of recomposing and the pleasure of working in proximity and in collaboration with others, Shivener proposes mentorship both horizontally, amongst authors, and vertically, amongst the author and the editors of journals and collections of new media scholarship.

Cynthia Johnson, “Transfer as (Post-)Techne”

Cynthia Johnson followed Shivener with her presentation “Transfer as (Post-)Techne.” Johnson offers techne as potentially more productive than transfer, because techne is concerned with “knowledge and/or being that can be adapted, situated, reoriented across contingent situations.” While writing studies scholars have been attempting to rehabilitate transfer as “transformation of knowledge, learner, and context,” rather than simply applying static knowledge in different contexts. Johnson posits techne offers further nuance that even the rehabilitated transfer does not account. According to Johnson, techne has a history of accounting for bodies and embodiment and cites Plato’s understanding of techne as a material engagement like “carpentry or smithing,” as proof of this early entanglement of bodies and objects. From there, Johnson tracks the evolution of techne scholarship by attending to criticisms of techne for reproducing normativity to Rhodes and Alexander’s discussion of “techne as ‘paying attention to the world around us.” Johnson moves into focusing on post-techne as dependent on human and non-human embodiment.

Johnson then walks through case studies of students who describe their writing practices as post-techne experiences: writing and listening to music, writing and listening to music and co-creating with technology, and collaborating with a group to attend to concerns of discrimination in a class project they expect to experience in the workplace. Johnson argues that each of these practices represent a transformation of work practices and affective practices that the students feel augment their material practices. Each of the students do seem to be working with more traditional print scholarship, but Johnson’s merging of transfer and techne accounts for materiality and the entanglements of bodies and sensation.

Zarah Moeggenberg, “A Bodied Knowing: Queering Hayles’ Distinction between Body and Embodiment”

In “A Bodied Knowing: Queering Hayles’ Distinction Between the Body and Embodiment,” Zarah C. Moeggenberg locates bodying in the body and its entanglements with meaning-making rather than common discussions of embodiment, the entanglement’s context, and culture with bodies. Moeggenberg opens, not with a declaration of her claim, but with a narrative of the bodying in which her students engage while listening to poetry, reading women’s writings for the first time, and realizing their instructor is also a human body with emotions and entanglements. Central to Moeggenberg’s argument is that women and queers engage in these corporeal practices. Moeggenberg in her anecdotes and her argument illustrates how women and queers understand gestures and affective behaviors as seamless rhetorical practices as essential as symbols or language to meaning-making.

As she works through what she witnesses in her students gestures, Moeggenberg discusses her surprise at how often students question whether their selves, their bodies, and their ways of making meaning are permissible in their work. The surprise emerges because our bodies seem the default entry point for our thoughts, feelings, and knowledge engagement. However, traditional paternalistic scholarship has systematically attempted to disembody scholarship. Moeggenberg cites William Banks assertion that the academic hegemony has disembodied scholarship to curb what he calls “solipsistic narcissism of knowledge production.” Moeggenberg wants us to re-embody, or to body, our scholarship especially as “multimodal and digital literacies become more integral to how we define composition.”

Dustin Edwards, “Feeling the Anthropocene”

Dustin Edwards closes out the panel with “Feeling the Anthropocene.” Edwards’s presentation is a call for rhetoric and composition scholars to “consider how we can individually and collectively make stories worth carrying into precarious futures.” Like Moeggenberg before him, Edwards is not concerned with story because it is somehow easier than academic discourse, but rather, because of the dearth of scholarship in rhetoric and composition theorizing the place of “digital rhetoric on a damaged planet.” Because the Anthropocene is the geological time period in which human action is the greatest factor in change to environment and climate, the Anthropocene itself is an illustration of the entanglements of bodies and objects that undergirds this panel. Work on the Anthropocene is limited across the humanities, and Edwards points out most of the cited scholarship in the humanities on the Anthropocene comes from Bruno Latour and Donna Haraway, neither of which are rhetoric and composition scholars. Haraway channels story in her work, and Edwards relates story as methodology to cultural rhetorics saying: “where Haraway teaches me that interruptive stories can lead to urgent thinking practices, cultural rhetorics reminds me to slow down, consider my relations, and . . . contemplate what I might be leaving out of the story.”

Edwards enacts the kind of storying he’s calling for when he talks of a specific incident affecting a specific place that extrapolates nicely to the Anthropocene as a whole. He calls them “stories” though acknowledges they are two parts of a much larger whole. In the first, he tells of himself and the feeling of leaving the desert of New Mexico to the edge of the Appalachia in Ohio. His story is about the entanglement of his body and water. The second story is about a Facebook data center in Los Lunas, New Mexico, and its entanglement with the water of the desert in which Edwards finds himself constantly dry and parched. Edwards cites how much water the data center needs to run smoothly and traces the implications of those hydro-demands on the rivers and the fauna of the region. Edwards closes theorizing as much about story and its all encompassing judgement of humanity in the destruction of the Anthropocene and he challenges us all to live in the discomfort of the damage we have wrought.


So far, I have wanted to stick to summarizing the points of each presenter in this panel. I tried not to insert myself and my analysis into their arguments, or to prematurely begin to develop my theory of the topical connectivity in the presentations. But I don’t think this review can be complete without considering the entanglements of the feelings and bodies and ideas that moves so subtly through the panel. Based on some of the commentary during the session, the panel was a proposed one rather than one constructed from individual submissions. Knowing that, I’ll admit I spent a good deal of my time listening to Shivener trying to determine how the panel was going to coherently end up at the Anthropocene and maintain the through line of bodies-of-sensation. The development is achieved more in the arrangement. Since Shivener begins by articulating what many who work in new media scholarship are comfortable accepting and theorizing—that bodies and emotions are inextricably tied to our products—Johnson asks us to reconsider transfer as post-techne and understand that what we think we know and how we tend to practice may need to be transformed in order to be useful as the panel progresses. When Moeggenberg reminds us to body, and the particular audience is particularly amenable to bodying and remembering our corporeality, she also sets us up to be implicated along with Edwards in the stories of our destruction during the Anthropocene. Each presentation delivers the audience at the threshold of the next until we are entangled with the theory, the practice, and the calls to action just as we are entangled in our own scholarship.

About Author

Kayla A. Sparks

Kayla is a 3rd year PhD student and Graduate Instructor in Rhetoric and Composition at Texas Christian University. She is interested in social justice, posthuman rhetorics, cultural rhetorics, and rescue dogs.

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