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Rhetoric’s Algorithms

Workshop Leaders:

Jim Brown, Rutgers University, Camden
Annette Vee, University of Pittsburgh

When rhetorical studies has addressed computational machines, it has generally focused on the affordances of computer software as a tool for rhetorical expression. The digital computer can simulate any number of other machines, from a composition notebook to an SLR to a reel-to-reel tape recording device. Given the push to theorize rhetoric beyond the written or spoken word, this ability to simulate is an important dimension of what we might call “digital rhetoric.” However, computation itself is a rhetorical medium. More than just tools to produce text, image, or sound, computational procedures are persuasive and expressive. In this workshop, we'll dive deeper into the machine: we'll consider the rhetoric of computation by examining code itself as rhetorical. By annexing code into rhetoric, we can reconsider both the rhetorical possibilities of algorithms and the the algorithmic possibilities of language production and persuasion. Thus, in this workshop we will aim to see how both rhetoric and computation change in light of the other. Given the ever-expanding role of digital computers in our various rhetorical ecologies, it is essential that rhetoricians build theoretical tools for grappling with computation’s various rhetorical dimensions.

The workshop will take up emerging work in rhetorical theory that addresses computation (including a forthcoming special issue of Computational Culture edited by the workshop leaders). However, attendees will also undertake algorithmic re-readings of foundational rhetorical texts. Beyond reading and discussing texts, we'll also read and run code, and we’ll craft writing machines - computational mechanisms that algorithmically generate text. The workshop will take place in the UW-Madison Media Studio, a space that will allow workshop attendees to collaboratively tinker with hardware and software. Applicants are not expected to be expert programmers, but will benefit from some prior familiarity with computational processes and language.

Questions should be directed to  Annette Vee,

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