CTW Response: Clemens/Nash and Rizzo

“Since the very concept of media by definition presumes that there are media, plural (for example, differentiated media), and since the digital converges all media into a single state (that is to say digital data), then by definition the concept of media simply disappears. In other words, data is the Great Leveler” (Clemens and Nash).

In their piece “Being and Media: digital ontology after the event of the end of media,” Justin Clemens and Adam Nash discuss their ideas of digital ontology. Clemens and Nash argue that the digital age has unified our media into a single medium, data, and that data is simply modulated into the various forms that we recognize today.

In “Television Assemblages,” Teresa Rizzo speaks on the multiplatform nature of modern television and how it has transformed the television viewer. She calls into question the traditional mass audience of television and uses three modern functions of television as evidence of this shift: “pay per view,  search and retrieve, and and upload and share” (Rizzo). Additionally, she analyzes assemblage theory and discusses how it disrupts typical social (and therefore, rhetorical) constructs.

The Emergence of Digital Rhetoric

The emergence of rhetoric in the digital space has disrupted the way we think about rhetoric. In their article, Clemens and Nash argue that instead of having multiple mediums, data has become the one true medium through which we communicate. This is an interesting way to think about rhetoric’s emergence because it shifts our previous conceptions of rhetoric and composition studies.

“For anything to appear in the digital realm—here, in the usual acception of ‘digital media’—it must first be digitised to data, then modulated between storage and display in an endless protocol-based negotiation that both severs any link to the data’s semantic source and creates an ever-growing excess of data weirdly related to, but ontologically distinct from, its originating data source” (Clemens and Nash).

Modern rhetors seem to be torn between two worlds: the print and oratory world of ancient Greece and the digitalized world we live in today. Perhaps, though, the two worlds need not be separated. Digital rhetoric disrupts our perception of rhetoric because it acts as a conglomerate. It allows us to gather and publish everything from Plato’s Phaedrus to YouTube videos. Is it possible that we have trouble defining the parameters of digital rhetoric because we have been “programmed” to think in terms of the binary?

Though it does not directly deal with rhetoric, this video provides a brief summary of the questions and assertions of “digital ontology.” 

The idea of the binary is something that has troubled rhetoric for centuries. Plato differentiated between writing and oratory, and even in today’s world we find ourselves separating the “real” and the digital. The problem with this thinking, though, is that it fails to account for the many forms that the digital sphere occupies. Coding, in itself, is composition. It is a form of writing, and it has the power to create various forms of media.

How do these pieces interact?

In her article, Rizzo speaks on today’s multiplatform television and how it transforms the position of the viewer into the position of a user. This thinking can be applied to Clemens’ and Nash’s idea of a digital ontology: much like users interact with services like Netflix and Hulu, modern audiences have the opportunity to interact with rhetoric in the digital sphere. Rhetoric is embodied in the digital, It is no longer confined to the written or spoken word,  and instead of simply listening or reading, users navigate through websites and interactive articles that have been rhetorically designed for a modern audience.

Much like multiplatform television, Clemens’ and Nash’s digital ontology blurs the definition between producer, sender, and receiver of content. Clemens and Nash use the example of a Facebook post, asserting that digitization “places the emphasis on a plurality of modulations of the same material. . .” (Clemens and Nash).  Digitization skews our ideas of traditional roles and operations within composition, and therefore within rhetoric.

The Assemblage Theory

Like television, the digital is a multiplatform ‘being” that allows for writing, listening, singing, moving… The digital acts as a conglomerate for our previously binary states of thinking, but it does it through 1’s and 0’s (a binary).  It is an assemblage.


Thinking of the digital as an assemblage allows us to consider modern rhetoric without having to transform it. There is a tendency to think of rhetoric in a new, reinvented sense when speaking of digital rhetoric, but rhetoric is still fundamentally the same. The canons are still relevant today, and the audience is still at the root of our rhetorical endeavors. Rhetoric has not transformed; rather, its medium has.

Are machines rhetors?

One problem that I’m having with this theory of assemblages is the concept of agency. Are machines rhetors? They process information, and we write for them, but can they study and practice rhetoric?

“These processes also affect how agency operates within an assemblage. Firstly, agency cannot be attributed to any one component or actant, human or non-human but emerges from the association of different parts. ” (Rizzo).

Although data is modulated through machines, I cannot bring myself to assign them agency. Everything that exists digitally was initiated by a human, even if that human simply entered code into a webpage. Instead of thinking of machines as rhetors, I would like to consider them rhetorical interpreters. Clemens and Nash touch briefly on the idea of the digital being performative


Digital rhetoric disrupts our perception of rhetoric because it is an assemblage. This assemblage, if embraced, has the power to distance human thinking from a binary existence and bring it to a more cohesive, cooperative state. Rhetoric as an assemblage is embodied through the digital sphere, and it emerges through modulations of human-generated ideas (code). Although digital rhetoric is an assemblage of media and agents, I believe we cannot jump to the idea of machines as agents; rather, they simply interpret and modulate performances of the human experience.


Clemens, Justin, and Adam Nash. “Being and Media: Digital Ontology after the Event of the End of Media.” The Fibreculture Journal 24. Web. 20 Feb. 2016.

PBS Idea Channel. “Is the Universe A Computer?” YouTube. YouTube, 12 June 2013. Web. 22 Feb. 2016.

Photo: Popescu, Adam. “Coding Is the Must-Have Job Skill of the Future.” Mashable. 30 Apr. 2013. Web. 22 Feb. 2016.

Rizzo, Teresa. “Television Assemblages.” The Fibreculture Journal 24. Web. 21 Feb. 2016.


CTW Response: Plato and Hunter

“The nonverbal is typically poised as an extension of hearing culture rather than a fundamental expression of an embodied human experience, capable of infinite articulation” (Hunter). 

In  Plato’s Phaedrusthe audience is entertained with colorful dialogue between Socrates and Phaedrus. Phaedrus reads Lysias’ speech on the downfalls of men in love, which prompts the two men to enter into dialogue regarding the soundness of the speech. Socrates then recreates Lysias’ speech, but after speaking, he feels compelled to recant his argument and make a case for love. His argument features the famous horse-drawn chariot metaphor: he uses two horses, one pure and one irrational and carnal, to illustrate the battle between good and evil that rages within man. After his speech, he and Phaedrus begin to converse on rhetoric, writing, and speech. Socrates argues that rhetors must be armed with as much knowledge as possible: especially knowledge of the audience and the subject matter at hand. Socrates also uses the myth of Theuth to argue against the value of writing, in which he states that words cannot adapt to audiences like oratory can.

Leeann Hunter’s essay, “The Embodied Classroom: Deaf Gain in Multimodal Composition and Digital Studies,” describes her experiences as a Child of Deaf Adults and how those experiences shaped the way she teaches her students–specifically how she has learned to use the physical space of her classroom as a part of nonverbal communication. Her background forced her to reevaluate how she viewed nonverbal communication and the use of classroom space. She emphasizes the importance of visual rhetoric and how expanding beyond the typical classroom lecture allowed her to truly engage her students. Hunter also spoke on the importance of embodiment in the digital classroom, where she used modernist literature to put data in conversation with the “complexity of the human experience” (Hunter). In conclusion, she argues that the hearing community has much to gain from pedagogical practices in what she calls “Deaf Gain.”

How do these pieces interact?

Phaedrus and “The Embodied Classroom” both illustrate the importance of audience awareness. During his discussion with Phaedrus, Socrates says, “. . . he who would be an orator has to learn the differences of human souls–they are so many and of such a nature, and from them come the differences between man and man” (Phaedrus). With this quote, he affirms that audience knowledge is fundamental to the use of rhetoric–without it, persuasion cannot be practiced. Hunter speaks on audience knowledge in a unique way: she describes the benefits of bringing non-hearing pedagogical practices into the hearing classroom. She reflects on the “transformation” in her classroom after practicing nonverbal skits with her students: instead of looking at their laptops or phones during class, they focus on her and her lesson. She says that the classroom is “no longer a single place, but rather an interface. . .” (Hunter). Hunter’s skit was a multimodal performance that used spatial and visual modes to engage her audience. She was aware of her audience, which allowed her to find a new way to shift her students’ attention to her and away from their technology.

The Importance of Nonverbal Communication

While Plato and Hunter both speak on the importance of audience awareness, Plato fails to account for nonverbal communication and visual rhetoric. When discussing rhetoric, we must take all aspects of communication into consideration, including body language. Rhetoric doesn’t stop at language; rather, language is used as an arbitrary symbol for something human and concrete.

“When we transform our pedagogical practices in the face-to-face classroom to value the deep learning that comes with human interaction and embodiment. . . our students gain ethical knowledge that values human difference” (Hunter).


Although this video shows a prank, it illustrates the power of nonverbal communication and the divide between verbal and nonverbal communication. Source: “World’s Wildest Meme Prank.” YouTube.

Although Plato seems to forget the power of body language, his stress on the importance of audience awareness and knowing as much as possible can be transferred into the modern classroom. When Hunter changed her teaching style, she engaged her students. Her previous teaching methods had been effective, but she observed that her students had a tendency to lean on technology for entertainment. Her students began to engage with her because she changed her teaching methods based on her knowledge of her audience: she realized that the responsibility to be active in the classroom did not belong only to her students.

The Written Word vs. Visual Rhetoric

In Phaedrus, Plato also talks about his personal qualms with writing: how effective can writing be if the writer is not present to make sure his or her message is being received? How can a piece of writing adapt to its audience?

Plato seems to be forgetting the diversity of human communication. Writing allows us to read words from the past, and when we write, we take a risk knowing that our work may be interpreted differently than we interpreted ourselves. The problem with writing is that it does not reach a universal audience. For someone that has only communicated in body language, words hold less meaning. But, for someone that has only known words, the images that the written word can produce may not have their full effect. Plato favors oratory, but even the best speech would not reach a non-hearing audience (or any audience that speaks a different language) without an interpreter. Hunter addresses this problem with her emphasis on the visual, where she proposes that instead of focusing on what is “correct” in standard English, educators and students need to focus on the physical aspect of communication and how it can translate into writing.

Even without the text "Smoking kills," the audience would understand the correlation between smoking and premature death. Source: "Attraction and Persuasion in Advertising: A beginner's guide to visual rhetoric"

Even without the text “Smoking kills,” the audience would most likely understand the advertisement because of the visual illustration. Source: “Attraction and Persuasion in Advertising: A beginner’s guide to visual rhetoric”


As Plato argued, the use of rhetoric must be approached with as much audience knowledge as possible. But, as our world evolves, so must rhetoric. Hunter’s emphasis on visual rhetoric does not reduce the credibility of the written or spoken word; rather, it adds to the power that rhetoric holds.


Hunter, Leeann. “The Embodied Classroom: Deaf Gain in Multimodal Composition and Digital Studies.” The Journal of Interactive Technology and Pedagogy. CUNY Academic Commons, 17 Dec. 15. Web. 24 Jan. 2016.

It’s Going To Be A Wild Ride. “World’s Wildest Mime Prank.” YouTube. YouTube, 4 September 2009. Web. 26 January 2016.

Ly-Le, Tuong-Ming. “Attraction and Persuasion in Advertising: A Beginner’s Guide to Visual Rhetoric.” LinkedIn. 9 Aug. 2014. Web. 28 Feb. 2016.

Phaedrus by Plato. Trans. Benjamin Jowett. The Internet Classics Archive, 2009. Web. 24 Jan. 2016.