Digital Composition (Reid)

| May 20, 2012

The word “glitch” is interesting in itself. It was first used by astronauts in 1962, specifically John Glenn, to describe a sudden change or spike in voltage. There is some contention that the word comes from German and Yiddish words for slipping. Perhaps there is a onomatopoetic quality to the term. If you could hear a voltage spike in a circuit, maybe it would sound like glitch. Glitch was almost immediately both a noun and a verb, and today we also speak of glitching in reference to the gamer activity of taking advantage of programming glitches. I would like to expand that use. As in, I spend a good amount of my time as a WPA glitching university bureaucracy. My point is that glitches are everywhere, and they are features not bugs.

Perhaps the most significant philosophical glitch is that which Quentin Meillassoux characterizes as correlationism: “the idea according to which we only ever have access to the correlation between thinking and being, and never to either term considered apart from the other” 7. Also termed philosophies of access, correlationism describes the post-Kantian position wherein we are never able to access the world directly, but can only access it through language and thought. We can never know the world in terms other than our own, and as such we can never really know the world. Rhetoric operates within this correlationist frame, focusing conventionally on symbolic behavior with the premise that we do not have direct access to the world referenced by the symbols. And, to be clear, I am not here today to argue that we do have the kind of direct access that is imagined as lost. But, like Latour, I am unwilling to accept the premise that the natural, the discursive, and the social are separate realms. Instead, we might have a kind of hybrid or quasi access: a glitchy access if you prefer. Of course we cannot have access to some pure natural world of unconstructed, unmediated truths, because that world does not exist beyond our Modern imaginations of it. On the flipside, we cannot reside in some world of signs or a purely social milieu, because those worlds do no exist either. As such one might say that humans are glitchy. We lack perfect vision, perfect reason, and perfect communication. We identify our imperfections as the limits of our agency and build technologies to overcome those limits.

But what if we view these glitches as features rather than bugs? What if glitches were the source of agency and thought rather than their limits? If so, then we might also recognize the objections in composing as integral to the process. Cameras, GPS satellites, facial recognition software: we adopt such technologies as an extension of our sensorium. But as the New Aesthetic explores, in doing so we do not create a seamless expansion of our perception of a natural world but rather progressively build out another glitchy realm.

via digital digs: Composing objects: prospects for a digital rhetoric #cwcon.