Why Ulmer? Why Internet Invention? Why now?
As to the first question, “Why Ulmer?” the answer is pretty simplistic: I find Ulmer’s unique breed of pedagogy to be exciting, insightful, bold, challenging – and fantastically quirky and intelligent. Scholars who dare to be as avant-garde, original, and elusive as Ulmer are what motivate learning – the risking, the mastering, and, given time, the enhancing of our studies, pedagogies, lives- at least this is how I see it.
My answer to the second question, “Why Internet Invention?” can be traced back to my Contemporary Rhetorics course at USF, in which – in the spirit of postmodernist pedagogy – we were “allowed” to select our own reading assignments (this occurred during the second half of the course, in which we focused on the present legacy of contemporary rhetorics; our “Postmodern Freedom Rock” section). As to “Why now?”, I’ve decided that because Ulmer will be visiting USF in a few months (March 25) and because I want to be able to use this opportunity to engage with him about the nuances of his theory and pedagogy (i.e. it’d be nice to be able to say something smart) I thought that it would be wise to revisit Internet Invention as a means of re-immersing myself in the pedagogy that so excited me not too many months ago.
So, what does Ulmer want?
One of the first and most general distinctions between Ulmer’s revolutionary (?) pedagogy and that of the traditional institution is the distinction between connecting versus cultivating. Whereas the traditional institution seeks to cultivate, Ulmer’s pedagogy – Ulmer’s “electracy” seeks to connect. To connect, for Ulmer, essentially means that a student must disconnect him/herself from the inherent obsession (for cultivation; the breeding of “good” and “obedient” students who seek an absolute, defined truth/answer/”right”) of education: i.e., Ulmer would ask us, “Why does everything you learn have to immediately show its utility?” (quote adapted from a 2010 lecture by Dr. Marc Santos).
Why connect? Because connecting achieves the “subject-ification” of things (versus the objectification of things, like words, students, realities). In connecting via the electracy – specifically, with images (analogous to haiku … more of that in a moment) “electracy extends poetic and art imaging into a general practice of language, used by all citizens for quotidian, personal, and specialized thought and expression” (Ulmer 47). What about haiku? What does haiku have to do with images (in this case, photographs of things) and the way in which photographs of things can enable us to think about how to elicit moods and alternate meanings? Why do this?
Ulmer explains that haiku – like the photograph – is undevelopable. He writes, “A trick of vocabulary: we say ‘to develop a photograph’; but what the chemical action develops is undevelopable, an essence (of a wound), what cannot be transformed but only repeated under the instances of insistence (of the insistent gaze). This brings the Photograph (certain photographs) close to the haiku … because the haiku is undevelopable: everything is given, without provoking the desire for or even the possibility of a rhetorical expansion. In both cases we might (we must) speak of an intense immobility …” (Ulmer 45).
So how is it that the image and the haiku extend … into a general practice of language … specialized thought and expression”? These electrate equivalents are so diminished – so brief – so fleeting – so simple – that they open up … in a way that intensely complicates, in fact completely eludes, meaning. (Ulmer explains that “punctum” – that which stings or pricks one emotionally – (Ulmer 44) is what is to be felt, what is to cause disturbance – that which is disequilibriating – what is extended and added to “a new dimension supporting a new order of thought and expression” (Ulmer 47). Latour calls this “lengthening the list”. Ulmer calls “electracy” and “extension” and “connecting” with electrate identities in which we learn first about ourselves and then about how we can be re-purposed, reinvented – better connected – free to invent the future of W~R~I~T~I~N~G – and of ourselves.
Concerning “connections,” the break-down can be articulated as the difference between utility and resistance – or, even more simply, the difference between what you know and how you think. Whereas the culture of school, the culture of the traditional institution, is concerned with what you know (a standard methodology of “learning”) Ulmer’s pedagogy – electracy – resists the pressure to conform by proposing a new approach to learning, one which focuses on ME and how I can reevaluate ways of thinking, and apply that thinking to broader cultural situations and ideas. To make Ulmer’s point more clear, I’d suggest that what Ulmer ultimately wants is for education to speak to the broader experiences we face in life. Ulmer’s concern with how you think (versus what you know) means that my responsibility to participate in the solving of public and community problems begins with ME; it begins with understanding the “why” and “what” of my stories (the discourses of my career, family, entertainment, community) as they always have – and will always continue to – invent and re-invent my self. Essentially, electracy is concerned with making a self-portrait – a pleasurable experience – a practice “… as old as the humanities itself: the unexamined life is not worth living” (Ulmer 8)