Paul Muhlhauser 2

In addition to his question about Patty’s granddaughter’s memories, Paul is concerned about what happens when experiences and memories are digitized. He is concerned about how digitized communication technology detaches and replaces embodied experience.


"We’re imitations or shadows using a few modes of digital communication and are in danger of forgetting about more immediate modes of communication that haven’t been digitized yet (i.e., corporeal modes like tactile modes, olfactory modes, and even modes of taste). And though communicating with these imitations is a real experience, it is not the whole representation it seems to be. It is not a place shared and experienced by bodies together in whatever it is or means to be with people in a space. Instead, I feel like we are experiencing things in ways that are pod-like or modular. I feel like I can only be aware of the rhetorical representations people give to me. For instance, what happened to those grimy pink slippers I couldn’t bear to touch that my mom wore when she exercised to Richard Simmons?"



While reading Muhlhauser’s response, those familiar with Donna Haraway’s work may have thought "Aha! The cyborg!" from her famous A Manifesto for Cyborgs (2004a). Haraway defined the cyborg as "a cybernetic organism, a hybrid of machine and organism, a creature of social reality as well as a creature of fiction" and clarifies "social reality" as "lived social relations, our most important political construction, a world-changing fiction" (p. 7). Haraway claimed that the "boundary between science fiction and social reality is an optical illusion” (pp. 7-8).  Poe’s response in this section is as haunted by the spectre of the cyborg as Muhlhauser’s.



Is digital communication changing the rules of the game? Mark Federman, a McLuhan scholar, claimed in 2005 that

We touch and are touched by those with whom we form relationship [sic] in the age of instantaneous communication, regardless of where, or when, they are. And it is only through involvement in depth that we create the sort of relationship that creates this discarnate tactility. (para. 10)

Rather than terms like "disembodied” and becoming "cyborg," we’re inclined to favor a concept of "discarnate tactility” in which we still touch, but it’s not (as William Gibson might call it) a meat touch. It’s different.


Federman argued that "a medium has meaning only in relationship to its ground, or context, that may be another medium, or the environment of dynamic processes created by a multitude of interacting media” (para. 10). This dynamic environment, Federman claimed, is continually being re-created through relationships of involvement” (para. 11). The digitally dynamic, ever-changing environments in which we compose, in which we teach, challenge our notions of composing, of teaching composition. No longer can we harness the environment, the page upon which we compose for an embodied audience. There are no easy answers, no fixed answers. Our work argues for a rhetorical understanding of composing (even in the digital environment); we harken back to rhetoric to ground us in this dynamic environment.