This video was performed at the 2014 Computers and Writing Conference as part of a panel on new media and scholarly criticism. It brings together several video clips, scanned images from scholarly articles and books, live typing, sound effects, and scrolling quotations. The version here was recorded on June 10, 2014 and adds thumbnail footage of the author performing captured by the laptop camera.
While the piece contains traditional academic excerpts, its points are, for the most part, implicit. Often passages are placed on screen, and then a cursor spotlight is used to draw attention to some aspect of the excerpts. There are also segments that show live typing in a text document. The primary approach is to deliver claims related to affect through performance by cycling among video clips that contain music, imagery, and sonic elements.
00:00 The video opens with media items arrayed in four quadrants of the screen: in the lower left, a video clip shows a live concert performance by the band Ducktails; in the lower right, a clip of an owl on a tree limb; in the upper right, a clip of a train waiting to cross a highway; in the upper left, a browser window with an excerpt of a scholarly article. A small window that shows the narrator, filmed sitting somewhere outside, appears in the bottom right corner. The sound of owls can be heard. The cursor clicks the play button on the Ducktails live performance video and the band prepares to play. The cursor clicks play on several other videos. The sound of a shaker can be heard. The sound of owls can be heard. The sound of train-crossing bells can be heard.
00:43 The cursor turns into a spotlight and highlights a phrase in the article: "Digitality provides new haunts, new places for the spectral traces and strands of communication, figuration, and affect to circulate." The band, beginning to perform, eases into the song; a shaker can be heard beneath soft keyboards. Owls hoot. A steady ringing bell from a train crossing can be heard softly. Train horns can be heard.
01:09 The cursor clicks the right side of the screen and a long, thin video jumps to the front of the clips. The thin video is partially transparent and contains text that scrolls from right to left: "Engelbart's demo included the first public use of a mouse, and the sight of its pointer . . . sweeping across the screen instantly collapsed the stark input/output rhythms of batch-process and . . . command-line computing into a single, continuous sweep of user activity." A train horn can be heard.
01:35 The cursor moves to the top of the screen and brings forward a window with a text file. The transparency of the window is increased so that the typing is opaque and layered over the video of the train. The cursor begins to type: "The train is on the tracks. / But look how slowly it pulls from the station." The train in the video finishes crossing a highway and begins to pick up speed. The band in the performance video eases into the song. Soft keyboard sounds can be heard. A bass drum and a bass guitar are heard occasionally.
02:04 The cursor moves to the left side of the screen and brings forward another video of a train, and then selects play. The cursor brings forward the browser window containing the excerpt from a scholarly article. Owls can be heard. The sound of train wheels rolling slowly over tracks can be heard. The band continues to ease into the song. The browser window is reloaded with a new excerpt from another article. The cursor turns into a spotlight and highlights several terms in the text of the article: "interface, map, contact zone, borders." The cursor highlights a segment of a file path in the window with the Ducktails video, revealing the word "desktop."
02:48 The cursor moves to the top right and brings a new video clip forward, and then selects play. An image of an approaching train appears, followed by footage of an empty train track in the snow. The sounds of owls can be heard. The sounds of trains and the band can be heard. In the upper left, a new excerpt from an article is loaded into the browser window. The cursor turns into a spotlight and highlights a phrase: "That is why uncomfortable people can often change a system. They can see it" (126).
03:29 A voice over a radio can be heard calling out information about an approaching train. A train horn can be heard in the distance. In the clip in the upper right, the image is zoomed in to show an approaching train. Owls can be heard. The cursor moves to the lower right corner of the screen and brings a video clip forward that shows a highway train crossing in heavy snow. The intensity of the band playing picks up with the addition of a saxophone.
03:44 In the upper left, a new article excerpt is loaded into the browser window. The cursor spotlights a phrase: "What performs a critique cannot also compose." The cursor brings a video forward in the upper left. In the video, two trains on parallel tracks move quickly past a platform. The sound of their wheels rolling fast can be heard. In the lower right, the gate on the highway train crossing is lowered. The sound of clanging bells can be heard.
04:10. The cursor grabs the browser window in the upper left and moves it to the lower right of the screen. A new excerpt has been loaded into the browser window. It reads: "Rhetoric has a material dimension, and it is an embodied and embedded practice. Rhetoric is an emergent result of environmentally situated and interactive engagements, redolent of a world that affects us, that persuades us prior to symbolicity." The sound of a train horn gets louder. Guitars are now playing steadily in the song the band is playing and a voice is softly singing. A human voice can be heard mimicking the train horn. The sounds of several sets of train wheels rolling fast over tracks can be heard. In the upper right, the approaching train gets closer. The sound of the train horn gets louder (and closer).
04:22 The train horn gets closer and louder. The cursor clicks in the lower right and brings the clip with the highway train crossing in snow to the front. A freight train zooms past at high speed, spraying snow. In the upper right, the approaching train also moves by at high speed. The cursor clicks in the upper right and brings forward another long, thin video containing a ribbon of text. The text scrolls from right to left: "The computer—or more specifically, the screen—had clearly become a much more complex representational space, an information space whose surface owed as much to modernist collage as it did to brute force calculation." The band continues to play with bass guitar, drums, keyboard, and electric guitar mixed steadily. The sounds of several sets of train wheels rolling fast over tracks can be heard. A human voice can be heard as the train races by, spraying snow: "Oh my god."
04:40 The cursor brings the text file forward and begins typing: "We need to ask, what comes before (or after) discourse." The band continues to play, with the sounds of guitars taking over as the vocals stop. As the trains in all windows speed by, the human voice continues: "Oh my god. Holy crap. Oh my god. Ohhaah."
05:05 The sounds of several sets of train wheels rolling fast over tracks can be heard. The band continues to play. A voice can be heard: "Oooaaaaaah. Oh my god. Oaaaaahhhhhh." The cursor moves over the text file, and deletes the word "ask." In all capital letters the cursor types FEEL, so the phrase now reads: "We need to FEEL what comes before (or after) discourse."
05:15 A voice can be heard: "Ooaahahahooaah. Ohhh." The train in the lower right finishes moving through the snowy crossing. The sounds of the speeding train diminish. A voice can be heard: "Ohhhaha. Nice!" The sound of owls can be heard. The cursor brings forward the text file in the top right of the screen, then scrolls down to reveal a list of sources. The train sounds diminish. Owls can be heard. The cursor moves to the top of the screen, opens a drop-down menu, and selects "Stop Recording." The video stops.
The bulk of the materials provide train imagery and sounds. Videos like "CRAZY FAST Eastbound CP & SOO Train in Finch," "SUPER RARE! UP Freights Race through Fremont," "Vermont Train Chase: Green Mountain Train 263 -- Fall 2013," and "(VERY VERY VERY FAST) CP Stack/Auto with Two Olympic Units!!" have been gathered from numerous "train sighting" postings on the YouTube website. Two videos that depict owl imagery have also been sampled from the YouTube site.
Trainsplaining also includes an excerpt from the video "Pitchfork Presents: Ducktails—The Flower Lane Release Party," which depicts a live performance by the band Ducktails. The "Intro" segment of the video creates the musical backing track. The video also includes scanned materials from scholarly books and articles. These are excerpted and displayed as a series of images in a browser window. Two quotations are also included in the form of right-to-left scrolling video tickers. These ticker videos also include owl sounds that are heard regularly as the quotations loop on the screen.
"CRAZY FAST Eastbound CP & SOO Train in Finch." YouTube, uploaded by moon47mars, December 21, 2008, https://youtu.be/HWttZrZCnMo
Ducktails. "'Intro' from Pitchfork Presents: Ducktails—The Flower Lane Release Party." YouTube, uploaded by Pitchfork, January 23, 2013, https://youtu.be/OOk5TiR88xs
Kirschenbaum, Matthew G. "'So the Colors Cover the Wires': Interface, Aesthetics, and Usability." In A Companion to Digital Humanities, edited by Susan Schreibman, Ray Siemens, and John Unsworth (Oxford: Blackwell, 2004), 523–42.
Kyburz, Bonnie. Cruel Auteurism: Affective Digital Mediations toward Film-Composition—The WAC Clearinghouse . Accessed February 2, 2020. https://wac.colostate.edu/books/writing/cruel/
Latour, Bruno. "An Attempt at a 'Compositionist Manifesto.’" New Literary History 41 no. 3 (2010): 471–90.
Manning, Erin. The Minor Gesture. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2016.
Manning, Erin, and Brian Massumi. Thought in the Act: Passages in the Ecology of Experience . Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2014.
Morey, Sean. Rhetorical Delivery and Digital Technologies: Networks, Affect, Electracy . New York: Routledge, 2015.
Murray, Jody. Non-Discursive Rhetoric: Image and Affect in Multimodal Composition . Albany: SUNY Press, 2010.
Rickert, Thomas J. Ambient Rhetoric: The Attunements of Rhetorical Being. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2013.
Selfe, Cynthia L., and Richard J. Selfe. "The Politics of the Interface: Power and Its Exercise in Electronic Contact Zones." College Composition and Communication 45, no. 4 (1994): 480–504.
"SUPER RARE! UP Freights Race through Fremont." YouTube, uploaded by PilotKev170, November 21, 2009, https://youtu.be/6kx8waeCRqU
"Vermont Train Chase: Green Mountain Train 263—Fall 2013." YouTube, uploaded by Central Penn Rail Productions, November 25, 2013, https://youtu.be/mA7aPrKe0H0
"(VERY VERY VERY FAST) CP Stack/Auto with Two Olympic Units!!" YouTube, uploaded by moon47mars, January 31, 2010, https://youtu.be/rSCSo3Uc7yM
This piece argues for the value of affect in scholarly communication. Affect can challenge traditional academic modes, calling for (or through) registers that open rather than close possibilities for meaning. Affective scholarship is linked to memory, the body, and creative expression. These possibilities can be amplified by media materials. Visuals, sounds, and movements that evoke emotions are fixtures of screen composing. Sean Morey tells us that "certainly print can evoke emotions, feeling, and mood, but not in the same way as visual or tactile forms of delivery" (107). Affective approaches add complexity to compositions through channels for "sense-data that appears in many digital modes, producing a mood, an emotion, but not always making this conscious to the viewer" (53).
Emotional flows vary with modes of delivery. Images, for instance, have an affective agency when it comes to moods and feelings. Morey calls on W. J. T. Mitchell to point out that "images have both lives and desires" (145). Images offer a posthuman placement of affective agency in visual materials, making representation through emotional layers an inherent component of video scholarship. The challenge is recognizing and balancing our expectations. If, as Jody Murray suggests, "images that are ambiguous, that defy translation into words, are precisely the kind of images that are themselves the most generative, the most non-discursive" (51), then values linked with abstraction, decipherability, and ambiguity will shift as we recast theorizing through the screen.
One challenge with such recalibrations is measuring affective flows. Bonnie Kyburz points out that scholars often turn to qualities of intensity to gauge affect. She links this turn to video composing through images that "render affective intensities in viewers and producers" (182). These intensities can translate into "rhetorical work that circulates toward [a new] sort of moving signification" (173). These affective circulations challenge our desires for closure as they "happen, glow, disturb, settle, brighten, flicker longingly" (159). Desires for closure are traded for emerging possibilities as meaning making is linked with physical response. At the same time, as Kyburz reminds us, "the fog of indeterminacy need not be theorized as lacking critical potential" (165).
In Thought in the Act, Erin Manning and Brian Massumi say we can "compose with concepts already on their way in another mode, in the mode of artistic practice, in the mode of event-formation, of activism, of dance, even of everyday perception" (viii). Composing, they suggest, can create "conceptual interference" that reveals unseen patterns. They call for performances that reveal "composing across the breach between philosophy and art, philosophy and dance, writing and painting, speaking and moving" (viii). These performances will span gaps between decipherability and uncertainty, deploying varying levels of ambiguity to move back and forth among the known and the new. With much of composition, such transformation emerges through the mixing of words. The video shows what happens when we try the intense eventfulness of speeding trains in heavy snow.
At several points, a video containing a short quotation that scrolls from right to left appears. This video snippet was made by typing the words into a text editor, and then filming a segment of the screen as the text is scrolled horizontally. It's an experimental technique that responds to the challenges of moving scholarly citation into video modes. How much text can be processed? How to mix language among images and sound? How to move between written, spoken, and visual inscriptions of words? So many questions for screen composers to consider.
The piece brings together four video clips of trains. These clips create affective layers punctuated by the sounds of wheels rolling over tracks and approaching air horns. Morey tells us that media can deliver emotions and feelings, and that these deliveries are ambient and embodied: "Feeling bridges a primary emotion with a cognizant recognition of context. Feeling can change based on situation or environment" (96). For Morey, emotional elements lead to feelings; affect is a kind of material for moving these feelings. "Affect provides the current that allows emotions to exist. Affective flows can become emotional which then can manifest into feelings" (99). "Holy crap," a voice exclaims at 04:45 in the video. The train speeding by is obscured by the snow blowing in its wake. Over the sound of steel-on-steel coming from the wheels, the voice continues, "Oh my God. Ohhaah. Oooaaaaaah."
Emotions, feelings, and affect lead to moods and even to the sublime in screen composing. Of course, the model, with terms like current and flows, returns us back to metaphor and calls for more language if we are to close out the concepts. (Or, perhaps, more media if we are to open them up.) The train horn in the performance links environments and moods with feelings, adding an element of velocity and situated sound that flows into the composition without words. It's what Manning describes as a "knowing [that] is incipient to the experience at hand, actively felt but often indecipherable in linguistic terms" (37). Affective speculation plays out as discursive limits give way to owls and trains.