Sensing Exigence: A Rhetoric for Smart Objects

Critical Writing
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Abstract (in English): 

This essay argues that the sensing activities of smart objects and infrastructures for device-to-device communication need to be understood as a fundamental aspect of the rhetorical situation, even in the absence of human agents. Using the concept of exigence, most famously developed by Lloyd Bitzer, this essay analyzes the asymmetrical rhetorical dynamics of human-computer interaction and suggests new rhetorical roles for reading machines. It asserts that rhetorical studies has yet to catch up with electronic literature and other digital art forms when it comes to matters of the interface and the sensorium of the machine. It also claims that the work of Carolyn Miller epitomizes the conservative tendencies of rhetorical study when it comes to ubiquitous computing, even as she acknowledges a desire among some parties to grant smart objects rhetorical agency. Furthermore, when traditionally trained rhetoricians undertake the analysis of new media objects of study, far too much attention is devoted to the screen. In the logic of rhetorical theory, cameras are privileged over scanners, optics are privileged over sensors, and representation is privileged over registration. However, new forms of rhetorical performance by computational components may be going on independent of human-centered display. By interpreting works of electronic literature by Amaranth Borsuk, Caitlin Fisher, and Judd Morrissey, it posits a possible framework of sensing exigence.

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Jill Walker Rettberg