A Short Post of Updates, Readings, and Goings-On

I have been very busy reading for my dissertation prospectus and preparing my two College Writing II classes for the Fall. As a result, I haven’t had much time to update dynamicsubspace.net. Also, the mysterious shrapnel in my right pinky finger from helping Masood and Jenny load up their moving truck has made it until now impossible to type (pressing right return and shift would trigger whatever was in my finger to press against a nerve that would make me howl with pain). I think I dug out all of the fragments, and it doesn’t hurt too bad with bandaid padding, so I can get some typing done tonight.

Since I got back from my visit to the South, I have been doing a fair amount of reading. Eric Rabkin’s speech convinced me to read A.E. van Vogt’s Slan–a novel that I would characterize as an adventurous Golden Age science fiction adventure. Had I read Slan when I was much younger, I think it would have ignited my love for science fiction much earlier than when I did get started reading the genre at 16 (my much earlier love of science fiction film began with I was 3 or so, however).

I spent some time with Nietzsche and read Tanner’s Nietzsche: A Very Short Introduction. I love Oxford’s Very Short Introduction series. They give you a quick and dirty immersion into a topic or author that makes it so much easier to find where to go from there in your reading.

I enjoyed reading Steven Johnson’s Interface Culture: How New Technology Transforms the Way We Create and Communicate (1997). Johnson is prescient and a little wrong about the future of interfaces, but his work is very lucid and informative from a less rigorous perspective.

I also worked through Bruce Mazlish’s The Fourth Discontinuity: The Co-Evolution of Humans and Machines (1993). This was another excellent book to read. My ideas about humans and computers mesh with those of Mazlish very well. Lisa Yaszek suggested that I pick up this book, and I’m glad that she did.

Barry Brummett’s The World and How We Describe It: Rhetorics of Reality, Representation, Simulation (2003) was a less than enjoyable encounter compared to my other recent readings. There are elements of what he has to say that I agree with and others that I don’t. I will need to go back through my notes to sparse things out, but the one thing that I wonder about has to do with the way he writes about rhetoric and novels. Brummett analyzes William Gibson’s Sprawl Trilogy in relation to the way reality, representation, and simulation are used in the novels. One problem that I had with what he said in regard to Gibson’s work was: “[Gibson] wants his reader to think of cyberspace as real, and thus invokes the categories of rhetoric of reality that we have seen expressed through permanence and change, commodification, subjectivity, and aesthetics” (122). In other places, Brummett says that Gibson argues for ‘this’ or proclaims what Gibson’s rhetoric is. It seems to me that there are more than on interpretation of the rhetoric within a work, but the invoking of the author as promoting a particular kind of rhetoric seems to go against the death of the author. It seems like interpretations of rhetoric are just that: interpretations. We don’t know what Gibson’s rhetorical intentions were, and it doesn’t really matter. Could a reader not interpret Gibson’s rhetoric differently in the Sprawl Trilogy? I haven’t read much rhetoric oriented scholarship, so I don’t know if everything is like this when it comes to fiction or works of culture. What say you, my rhetoric friends?

Published by Jason W. Ellis

I am an Assistant Professor of English at the New York City College of Technology, CUNY whose teaching includes composition and technical communication, and research focuses on science fiction, neuroscience, and digital technology. Also, I coordinate the City Tech Science Fiction Collection, which holds more than 600 linear feet of magazines, anthologies, novels, and research publications.

2 thoughts on “A Short Post of Updates, Readings, and Goings-On

  1. Glad to see other people are reading van Vogt. I just finished a diss chapter on A.E. van Vogt, Dianetics, and Golden Age SF. _Slan_ is not my favorite of his. I think _World of Null-A_ is probably his best, but _Voyage of the Space Beagle_ is very good, as well. The two novels published as _Empires of Isher_, though, are van Vogt at his surreal, totally insane best. That’s probably my favorite of his.

    As to the question about rhetoric, I’ve noticed that a lot of rhetorical scholarship (esp. in rhetoric and composition) is still deeply committed to the ideals of humanism, such that rhetorical themes in texts are talked about as the products of individual desires (rather than as functions of The Logos). So, yeah, that is a problem, and it happens a lot.

  2. Hey Andrew,

    Thanks for the recommendations on van Vogt. World of Null-A is the next on my list once I parse through some more dissertation planning material. I will eventually thread my way through the other novels, too.

    Your comments on rhetorical scholarship are enlightening, too. Do you know of any other cyberpunk/cyberspace narrative analysis from a rhetoric perspective?


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