I'm a Map I'm a Green Tree
by Daniel Anderson

I'm talking about the ways we represent ourselves and our world. I've put some thoughts on the topic together here—a gathering that enacts new media creating and takes up conceptual layers like metaphors, models, and composing. The primary sources are videos from the Get a Mac campaign, aka I'm a Mac; I'm a PC ads. Posthuman concepts blending people and machines are also tuned into the mix.

The video performs the essay. The topic buttons load short explorations of some of the concerns.

Earlier versions of the video were presented at the 2010 Conference on College Composition and Communication and the 2010 Computers and Writing Conference. Thanks go out for all the feedback, especially the pointers toward Nietzsche and the advice about access.


We depend on metaphors. In metaphors we find mediations between things and ideas. We can take this way back, all the way to the cave. Or Nietzsche is a good place to start. We find that images or sounds must be abstracted to form concepts. We lose something. But we gain metaphors and the opening of connotational space where transformation happens.1 This is a shout out, with beat and rhythm. A small offering meant to channel current away from abstractions and toward moving sounds and images.

We say we live in a network among gatherings of people, ideas, and things, but always this saying emerges from a metaphor—the web, the wetlands, the wheelbarrow, colored with feelings like passion or white petals unfolding as paper flowers on dogwood boughs.

Or we take metaphors forward to wranglings with the materiality of language. Think of those formal readers2 who zoomed in once on metaphors, irony, symbols, and words. They saw the slippage between ideas and things but still felt the language of transportation, of metaphors performing meaning. The tree. The green tree. The map. The road. The bird. The bee. Composing. The boom sound. The word and the world.3

  1. "We believe that we know something about things themselves when we speak of trees, colors, snow, and flowers; and yet we possess nothing but metaphors for things" (Nietzsche 82-83). Metaphors are foundational and allow us to speak of models like networks or webs to represent culture. They allow us to "[pile] up an infinitely complicated dome of concepts upon an unstable foundation, and, as it were, on running water. Of course, in order to be supported by such a foundation, [our] construction must be like one constructed of spiders' webs: delicate enough to be carried along by the waves, strong enough not to be blown apart by every wind" (85). back

  2. New Critical conceptions of metaphors as vehicles evoke a process of transportation. And thinking about metaphors and words reveals coemergence akin to what we find in models of knowledge and culture with "terms continually modifying each other" and translations and mediations of meaning that are "always indirect" since "paradoxes spring [from poetic] language" and create transportations through connotational space (Brooks). We now know that all language, even the scientific, bubbles with such connotational springs. The point here is to conduct meaning through the material of words, helping us move beyond print/non-print binaries to an understanding of words as moving substance like sound, or light, or water. back

  3. At stake with metaphors is the self, the social, and the material world. Sarah Kofman, examining Nietzsche, explains that, when creating

    the artist . . . must first have been metamorphosed and stripped of his [sic] individuality himself. He must have identified himself with the human race, with the very being of nature. In this state the artist expresses himself in unity with the whole. . . . The artist becomes a metaphor for the world and, as such, he is a medium which reflects eternal being. All authentic art involves intoxication, and with it the loss of the "proper" as one is transported out of oneself in a way which alone gives the power to symbolize. (12) back


With models, we extend metaphors, assemble them together into collections of entities and account for temporal processes. Cast as networks or systems, these models depend on collections of people (or creatures), ideas, and things. We also trace the movements between and among entities when models are put into motion. Linked through stabilizing circuits of action, we find entities and processes together in coemergent clusters or autopoietic systems.1

Performance flows through both metaphors and models. With metaphors we find performance in the mediations between things and ideas; like birds (or bee pollen magnified 1000 times in a microscope), words move from our ears and eyes to our thoughts, intuitions forming like petals in the process. And performance flows through models of knowledge and culture. We see in actor-network theory performance in the figuring of mediations among entities as travel, in treating emergences in a network as vehicles, modes of transportation.2

And we find that models rely on metaphors of circulation. Latour's models of culture suggest that the social "may circulate everywhere" (107). In metaphors and models we find "the resource [that] can bring . . . the solid objects of today into the fluid states, where their connections with humans may make sense" (82). Even buses and wheelbarrows get wet when "links have to be traced by the circulation of different vehicles" (36).3

  1. Autopoietic systems were first described as living systems with the qualities of machines by Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela. The concept has been refined by Niklas Luhman, who explains that these machine-like systems are both open and closed and coemerge with larger environmental systems. Such systems "have properties such as dynamic stability and operational closure (770). And autopoeitic systems rely on time and performance, as Luhman explains when responding to the paradoxes that arise when constructing world models: "Only time can help. Time can teach us that there is no end, everything goes on and systems continue to operate as long as they are not destroyed" (770). back

  2. For network models in motion we can learn from Pickering who posits performance as an idiom though which "the world is filled not . . . with facts and observations, but with agency. The world . . . is continually doing things, things that bear upon us not as observation statements upon disembodied intellects but as forces upon material beings" (6). For more on performance, see Anderson (2009) and Fishmen et al. (2005). back

  3. Circulation (and liquid vehicles) transfigure boundaries when models deploy fluid metaphors:

    [T]here are social objects which exist in, draw upon and recursively form fluid spaces that are defined by liquid continuity. Sometimes fluid spaces perform sharp boundaries. But sometimes they do not—though one object gives way to another. So there are mixtures and gradients. And inside these mixtures everything informs everything else—the world doesn't collapse if some things suddenly fail to appear. (Mol and Law 659)  back


The Get a Mac (aka I'm a Mac; I'm a PC) ad campaign speaks to posthuman conceptions of the organic and the mechanic. Here, the mac and pc characters serve as metaphors for the posthuman bluring of person and machine.1 The ads offer examples of nonstandard agency, what Pickering paints as an agency that "resides in nondualist—explicitly posthumanist—cultures where our distinctions between the human and the nonhuman are eroded, if not entirely effaced" (244). Like metaphors, the figures in the ads mediate between ideas (the cool guy, the geek) and things (the mac, the pc).

This blurring of human and machine poses problems, clearly, when we lose track of the slippage, the metaphoric play, and take the alignment of human and machine as solid truth. The performance of the figures in the ads reinforces ideas, feeding systems that become what Luhman calls "products of their own operations" (771), systems that themselves become machine like and human at the same time, but that also become binding and controlling.2

But the organic mechanic blurring also yields transformative power akin to that found in metaphors. A machine can be a "balance point, liminal between the human and nonhuman worlds" (Pickering 7). Here, our engagement with machines, and with macs and pcs particularly, offers promise. Machines make the best metaphors, bring transportation, when they participate with humans in the liminal business of engaging the material world. When they provide layer palettes for blending images, timelines for sequencing sounds, text editors for arranging words, machines become about the making of meaning, amplifying their already human attributes.3

  1. As Cary Wolfe (2010) puts it "what was previously a rigid, uncrossable ontological boundary between two sides of the distinction—between nature and culture, between the biological and the mechanical, and so on—is now made dynamic and as it were portable in the sense that the same formal mechanism may now be used to think, and link across what were in the past discrete ontological domains" (206). As Wolfe also points out, these crossings include boundaries between humans and "nonhuman animals . . . between the living and the mechanical or technical" (6). back

  2. The challenge is participating in blendings of humans and machines (or other elements of culture) without having our own agency overly bound by the network or system. Neitzsche tells us, truth becomes "a movable host of metaphors, metonymies, and anthropomorphisms: in short, a sum of human relations which have been poetically and rhetorically intensified, transferred, and embellished, and which, after long usage, seem to a people to be fixed, canonical, and binding" (84). To say, "I'm a Mac" is to agree to participate in what Latour might call a panorama, "a powerful stor[y] [from which] we get our metaphors for what 'binds us together,' the passions we are supposed to share, the general outline of society's architecture, the master narratives with which we are disciplined" (189). back

  3. When machines become part of our making activities, our relationships with them shift, as when we fix things in the material world. Matthew Crawford explores this making and fixing in terms of mechanics:

    Rebuilding a motor, then, is more humanly involved than assembling one on an assembly line. It is a craft activity. But what does this mean, exactly? We have seen that a mechanic's perception is not that of a spectator. It is an active process, bound up with his [sic] knowledge of patterns and root causes. Further, his knowledge and perception are bound up with a third thing, which is a kind of ethical involvement. He looks for clues and causes only if he cares about the motor, in a personal way. (Crawford 95)

    Our relationships with computing machines take on similar ethical, personal involvements. We become companions in an effort to create transformations in the material world. back


The great thing about rehashing debates over whether writing programs should be teaching multimodal composing is the way it swings our focus back on the word. Metaphors and models of the world combine to bring our attention to the materiality of words. Written or spoken, phrasings and stylings with words make the earth say grass or give the rhapsodist and actor paths down which to follow their intuitions.1

But we can't imagine some special foundational status for words and written texts. We can't pitch debates about the appropriate priorities for composition instruction as choices of terminology. Figuring either writing or composing as labels for creating meaning does privilege the word.2 Words are fine, but we need "a new realm and another channel for [our] activity" (Nietzsche 89). We need now to rescue the word from all those who would save it.

We can begin by composing with words, images, and sounds, taking the tinkering approach of the organic mechanic3 and borrowing metaphors of circulation and transportation. Words are mixed. Voice is cast as textual and aural. Both are layered over moving images and sounds like water. The point is to celebrate words and engage the syntheses made possible by creative flows among modes of composing.

  1. The earth saying grass is from Thoreau, although he is talking about gardening when he writes to "[make] the yellow soil express its summer thought in bean leaves and blossoms [instead of grass]" (105). And I have Nietzsche in mind again when looking to words to help us toward intuition and the "creative pleasure" that comes from seeing "the stream as 'the moving path which carries [us] where [we] would otherwise walk,'" a vision that helps us throw away "the token of bondage" (90). back

  2. For more on the priorities of composition instruction, consider the exchanges between Cynthia Selfe and Doug Hesse in College Composition and Communication. Selfe describes a history of composition in which at one time "observations rendered in the visual medium of print revealed truth" (622) but which currently sits within a world where "communications [can] take advantage of multiple expressive modalities" (637). Hesse worries that selecting umbrella terms like rhetoric or composition over writing can represent shifting toward sound or image "the fundamental boundaries of our curricular landscape and our sense of its stakeholders, interests, and purposes" (605). Yes. Hesse also notes the linkage between such shifts and engagement, particularly that of students. (For more on engagement and new media composing, see Anderson 2008.) back

  3. Jennifer Edbuaer Rice makes the mechanic her "figure of choice when thinking about rhetorical invention and enactment," explaining that "[a] good mechanic does not simply change your brakes or fix your drywall; she prepares you to enact" (2008). Matthew Crawford also sees the mechanic as adept at discovering insights and at acting in the world. Crawford posits that the materiality of the mechanic's work translates into an embodied knowledge that "has implications for the way we come to know the world" (163). Paraphrasing Heidegger, he explains that "the way we come to know a hammer is not by staring at it but by grabbing hold of it and using it" (164) and that "things actually show up for us . . . as equipment for action" (164), helping us develop an "expert knowledge" that is materially situated. back


I'm here and I'm talking about how people, ideas, and things fit together. How we represent culture with maps or ecologies.

How we render something like flickr: people, gathered in groups, a network of connections.

Or we look to the living world for models. Of this image we're told, "microbes in the soil consume the leaf's soft tissue and leave only the celullose and lignin skeleton."

The flickr image suggests space; the leaf says time, the slow decay, paradoxically, revealing connections.

It's these connections we're about to explore. Let's start . . . with language.

I'm here and I'm talking about flowzones, those spaces where transformation happens, the in-betweens where we find . . . the breathing current.

This is old style the focus zoomed smack dab to the printed word:

"the truth which the poet utters can be approached only in terms of paradox."

We bring new focus now, but wow that's some hard commitment to the power of the written, or here the spoken . . . word:

"metaphors do not lie in the same plane or fit neatly edge to edge. There is a continual tilting . . . necessary overlappings, discrepancies . . . contradictions."

The edges of paradox emerge with words, arrayed and linked to new ideas. Like how the tenor of the metaphor makes way for its vehicle.

Words cross the connotational space, where one idea flows into another, where meaning develops. In poetry we call for vehicles, red wheelbarrows from which we borrow attributes, modes of transport that bring the associations of one element into circuit . . . with another.

I'm a mac I'm a pc. This commingling of human and machine reveals the back and forth coursing of attributes. Virus. Spyware. Glasses. Cool shirt. The machine and the human coinforming each other.

The mac or pc metaphors show how people, ideas, and things flow together in cultural networks. The currents circulate back and forth.

"A network . . . its the trace left behind by some moving agent. It has to be traced anew by the passage of another vehicle, another circulating entity." The red wheelbarrow depends upon the bicycle and the bus driver being on time.

Moving entities tracing and circulating. Fantastic detail. Wow . . . texture. Amazing focus. My favorite color. Relationships growing within flowing networks of red, umber, pencil. Powercords. Power chords.

What follows is we find ourselves awash amid entities that give and take shape among one another. The Shins. Kelly Clarkson. Mac mail. Mastodon, Web mail, copy, paste, copy, paste, powercords, empathy, celebrity, sharing, IP, music, text, text editor, Justin, John, Hannah, Lady Gaga, cheesy, ukulele, sun dust rolling thunder clouds crowding . . . circulating collections of people, ideas, and things.

"[We] depend on a flood . . . of entities to exist. To be an actor is now at last a fully artificial and fully traceable gathering."

The concern is that these networks constrain us, shape us and tell us who we are.

The gatherings threaten the human figure by binding us together, surrounding us with ideas and things.

But there is also an organic flow as we gather together in circuit with machines, an entity among entities, conduit for streams of meaning making and performing action, never powerless, full of awareness of layerings, knowing that categories (like worlds) can still bring us transformation.

I'm here and I'm talking about fitting in. PC goes to Pandora and types in Shins. The machine responds. The composition is one of mixing, but the zoom is way out. Choosing word over image or sound feels myopic. The composing here is one of entity in flowing network, not type cast but acting.

I'm talking about performing. The way the network is never hung up to dry but always in motion, always calling us to be . . . composing.

What is a text? What isn't? What is writing? The paintbrush. The poet. The CPU. The lungs. The organic mechanic typing song as worlds unfold in the streaming cast. Fantastic detail. What focus did you use? My favorite color. . . .

"[through circulation] [. . . we ] become, layer after layer, comparable and commensurable . . . human. The question is not to fight against categories but rather to ask: 'Is the category subjecting or subjectifying you?' . . . [F]reedom is getting out of a bad bondage, not an absence of bonds." All the world's a studio, and we are but performers and mechanics, transporting and fixing meaning through each lignin layer.

I'm here and I'm talking about the connotational flow, the liquid mixings of sound and light, felt-like, felt like the composing of self with words. I'm a map. I'm a green tree.


Anderson, Daniel. (2008). The low bridge to high benefits: Entry-Level multimedia, literacies, and motivation. Computers and composition 25(1), 40-60.

Anderson, Daniel. (2009). Yes and yes-and: Time in the compshop. Currents in electronic literacy, John Slatin memorial issue. Retrieved from http://currents.dwrl.utexas.edu/2009/yes-and-yes-and-time-in-the- compshop

Apple Computer. (2006a). Accident. [Advertisement]. Retrieved from http://movies.apple.com/movies/us/apple/getamac/accident_480x376.mov

Apple Computer. (2009). Legal copy. [Advertisement]. Retrieved from http://movies.apple.com/media/us/mac/getamac/2009/apple-mvp-legal_copy-us-20090419_480x272.mov

Apple Computer. (2007). Security. [Advertisement]. Retrieved from http://movies.apple.com/movies/us/apple/getamac/apple-getamac-security_480x376.mov

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Bair, Royce. Leaf skeleton network - macro photo - #4 of 4. [Photograph]. Retrieved from http://www.flickr.com/photos/ironrodart/4330069122/

Brooks, Cleanth. (1947). The well wrought urn: Studies in the structure of poetry. New York: Reynal & Hitchcock. Retrieved from http://books.google.com/books?id=bDXkK4C6CDAC

Crawford, Matthew B. (2009). Shop class as soulcraft: An inquiry into the value of work. New York: Penguin.

Edbauer Rice, Jennifer. (2008). Rhetoric's mechanics: Retooling the equipment of writing production. College composition and communication 60(2), 366-387.

Fishman, Jenn, Lunsford, Andrea, McGregor, Beth, & Otuteye, Mark. (2005). Performing writing, performing literacy. College composition and communication 57(2), 224-252.

GustavoG. mc-50: flickr's social network. [Photograph]. Retrieved from http://www.flickr.com/photos/gustavog/6575595/

Hesse, Doug. (2010). Response to Cynthia Selfe. College composition and communication 61(3), 602-3.

Irene gr. The crack. [Photograph]. Retrieved from http://www.flickr.com/photos/irenegr/4118878347/

Kofman, Sarah. (1993). Nietzsche and metaphor. (Duncan Large, Trans.). Stanford: Stanford University Press. (Original work published 1983).

Luhman, Niklas. (1993). Deconstruction as second-order observing. New literary history 24(4), 763-782.

Latour, Bruno. (2005) Reassembling the social: An introduction to actor-network theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Mercer, James. (2003). Young pilgrim [Recorded by The Shins]. On Chutes too narrow. Retrieved from http://www.pandora.com/

Metaphor. (2010, March). In Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metaphor

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Neitzsche, Fredreich. (1979). On Truth and lies in a nonmoral sense. In Philosophy and truth: Selections from Neitzsche's notebooks of the early 1870s. (Daniel Breazeale, Ed. & Trans.). New Jersey: Humanities Press.

Pickering, Andrew. (1995). The mangle of practice: Time, agency, and science. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Selfe, Cynthia. (2009). The movement of air, the breath of meaning: Aurality and multimodal composing. College composition and communication 60(4), 616-63.

Thoreau, Henry David. (1966). Walden and civil disobedience. New York: Norton.

Wolfe, Cary. (2010). What is posthumanism? Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

(If you have trouble accessing any of these materials, please contact Daniel Anderson— iamdan at UNC dot edu.)