“It only does everything”: On CHAT, Challenge, and the Archive – A Reading Connections Synthesis


Because I was out for a family emergency and other family responsibilities last week, and classes were cancelled the week prior – resulting in some activities being moved in or out of the course period – I’ve been having some trouble reassembling a viable schedule of assignments that approximates the experiences of my classmates.

As such, I am going attempt to synthesize the readings from the last two weeks into a much larger general Reading Connections activity (at least twice the standard length) in order to attempt to make the connections I would have been expected to make in-class last week.

Because I was not able to previously select a CHAT reading, I have selected the secondary reading of “Remaking IO” by Paul A. Prior – the only reading not assigned to another student.

I have created a digressive exploration of my contextualization of our ability to “know meaning” through the study of rhetoric, titled “An Anecdotal Digression on Knowing, God, Rhetoric, and CHAT” – I feel it may provide an interesting (if controversial) context to my following argument.

I will also create an additional blog post responding to two fellow students’ works from previous weeks, a third post with my upcoming rubric assignment, and a Reading Connections post on Latour, Joyce, and Johnson-Eilola which resolves the questions I intend to raise in this week’s RN activity.

The general theme of this extended explanation, I suppose, is “don’t miss class if you don’t want to do make-up work.”


Mediated activity involves externalization (speech, writing, the manipulation and construction of objects and devices) and co-action (with other people, artifacts, and elements of the social-material environment) as well as internalization (perception, learning). As objects and environments are formed and transformed through human activity, they come to embody the goals and social organization of that activity in the form of affordances for use. Affordances do not determine how an artifact is used, but do make particular uses easier or harder. Mediated activity also means that action and cognition are distributed over time and space and among people, artifacts, and environments. Distributed activity inevitably crosses social and historical boundaries so that activity, people, and artifacts are always heterogeneous. Activity is thus also laminated, as multiple frames or fields co-exist in any situated act. (“What is CHAT”)

Prior et al. provide a challenge to the typical representation of the rhetorical argument, largely through the recodification of “delivery” (4-6) within the context of medium, rather than as a product of traditional rhetorical/oratory forms revised into new literacies. However, this challenge is also a reclamation of previous rhetorical knowledge; in recalling an anecdote from Plato’s Phaedrus, for instance, the authors note that “it is important to recognize that rhetoric was already multimodal for the ancient Greeks” (5).  As such, the re-application of (“re-distributing”) delivery serves to demonstrate the blind spots in rhetorical/theoretical approaches based upon the leaner dependencies of written rhetoric in the current-traditional mode of the modern academic discourse.  The challenge I would issue to Prior et al. here, however, would be to go further, and to demonstrate through the investigation of re-capitulated delivery the blind spots of their own knowledge/conceptualization of production, as well.  In searching for a meaningful lens for interpreting delivery, the authors argue that it encompasses “mediation and distribution” by illustrating methods of delivery, presentation, circulation, diffusion, formatting, encryption, and intermediation (e.g. print/screen/speech, read silently/aloud/recorded, delivered digitally/by mail/by hand) – but in doing so, a scholar with a historical interest in methods of literary and data production might note that each of their methods of construction and dissemination had preexisting, functioning corollaries within the current-traditional period.

Were the dependencies of rhetorical knowledge under the current-traditionalists so lean?  Or were the assumptions of production simply that – assumed as clear and delineated according to the course of most progress in the field at the time?  Latour would warn us that to append the label of “social” to a process or product is to play at a doubled meaning (more on this in the next Reading Connections), and that to explore this meaning one must be careful not to equate the challenges of the two.  What is social is not Social, and what exists in society is not societal.  Similarly, the challenge of exploring rhetoric “adapted to new modes” (4) may be the dual meaning of that exploration: new to who? New in what sense? Newly studied, newly created, or newly published upon?

Figure 1: A modified representation of the current-traditional expression of rhetorical canons. This model is argued against by Prior et al.
Figure 1: A modified representation of the current-traditional expression of rhetorical canons. This model is argued against by Prior et al. (12).

I would argue that the functional “newness” of these “new modes” may be no more that “newly combined”: the exploration of mediation and production as well as mediation and distribution within the same platform – for the first time, a text is digitally designed, digitally produced, digitally distributed, digitally consumed, and digitally interpolated on the same platform (See Figure 1).  Does this create new knowledge within the void of prime movement?  It’s not clear. Prior et al. would further revise this model through the application of “cultural-historical remapping” of the canons of the “synchronic rhetoric” of classical production (17-25).


Figure 2: A proposed laminar mapping model of CHAT rhetorical canons.
Figure 2: A proposed laminar mapping model of CHAT rhetorical canons.  Each facet of Activities, Systems, and Chronotopes might be combined iteratively with each other singularly, pluralistically, or totally – none is exlusive or exclusionary (18).

The challenge of the CHAT method of resolving rhetoric, then, might be that increased complexity does not inherently increase the probability of resolution of the rhetorical space.  In looking at the authors’ provision of a rhetorical model for consideration under CHAT (see Figure 2), we witness the creation of a factorial model of interpretation and interpolation which would yield for a single act of rhetorical production/distribution/consumption at least 126 different permutations of singularly-categorized meaning.  In reality and practice, the similarly-delineated functions of mapping approach irreducible levels of complexity even within the practical limitations of their own (restricted) model (factorially derived, a combination of mapped edges would yield over a quarter million interpolations of the rhetorical process).  Add a single chronotopic category to the Prior et al. CHAT model, and each act of rhetorical mapping yields over one million results.  Add additional sub-nodes of systems and activities, and the functional scope of the model yields infinite results.

As intriguing as solutions through mapped models of infinity might be (Hilbert’s Grand Hotel comes immediately to mind), part of the point of such models is to reveal fallacies of interpretation and paradoxes of mathematical proof – not to provide functional solutions to rooming shortages.

In theory, CHAT provides us a more nuanced context for exploring how works are created and distributed into meaning.  In practice, CHAT has made rhetoric omnipresent, omnipotent, infinite, and unknowable.

Does this help us?


The consideration of “challenge” (never directly named in such form, but hinted at in discussions of laminar, asymmetrical exigencies under Goffman, and of task-oriented actions under Sheridan-Rabideau) in mapping rhetorical meaning (10-11, 27) is perhaps CHAT’s major avenue of contribution to novel models of rhetorical inquiry – refining necessarily and significantly the notions standard within previous models.  Rhetoric, that is to say, not only occupies a need-based context, but a space, conditional restrictions, and cultural-historical context which cannot be reduced to a singular point of emergence – traditional exigence.

Figure 2: The current presentation of IO in Google Chrome Version 48.0.2564.116 m. Note the broken borders compared to Prior's illustrations, as well as the missing input frames, textual outputs, video outputs, and JPG slicing forms. Emulation of the current source code within the Netscape environment is similarly non-functional, due to the incompletely-linked BOB libraries.
Figure 3: The current presentation of IO in Google Chrome Version 48.0.2564.116 m. Note the broken borders compared to Prior’s illustrations, as well as the missing input frames, textual outputs, video outputs, and JPG slicing forms.  Emulation of the current source code within the Netscape environment is similarly non-functional, due to the incompletely-linked BOB libraries.

The challenge of “challenge,” of course, is knowing when it is differentiated from traditional exigence.  In “Remaking IO, Remaking Rhetoric,” Paul Prior effectively puts CHAT analysis practices to use in examining an art project titled IOIO is an interactive mixed-media site (which is remarkably technologically dated by any modern coding standard – a point I will return to momentarily) which functions as something of an interactive web-based pop-art photography installation.  Mapped through Prior et al.’s methods of Mapping Literate Activity (19-20) within a “multidimensional model” of (non)language function (due to the heavily image-centric nature of the current iteration of IO), Prior attempts to provide “insight into the visual, gestural, and filmic quality of the semiotic objects” of IO’s current presentation (as of the time of writing – the current iteration no longer performs correctly under current browser protocols and due to dependencies on the libraries for the pseudo-AI “Bob,” which no longer function; see Figure 3).

Does this reading of multimodal, digital texts actually present an exigent challenge within the frame of the semiotic objects presented in IO?  “Remaking IO” largely functions, especially before the conclusion, as a semi-ethnographic exploration of what the current-traditionalist movement would likely label a narrative of “revision processes.”  However, despite promises of an exploration of the meaning of multimodal artifacts, much of this meaning is lost to contemporaneous contexts of the link itself and the inability of the site to be meaningfully archived and explored by the reading user.

As such, the value of CHAT for exploring a project like IO is not made clear at the present time by work such as Prior’s.  This reveals a more significant challenge to the exigent notions of multimedia, multimodal rhetoric – and one known to the Current-Traditionalists and Plato well before CHAT’s formulation – the loss of knowledge within the technological, social, and historical vagaries of canon.  The work of CHAT is, in a much more traditional sense than Foucault would argue for, a de facto creation of neo-archaeological processes.  From the Library of Alexandria to the Archimedes Palimpsest, from the relocated lost masters of Lang’s Metropolis to IO, the recapitulation of multimodal work is inherently reclamation more than illustration, and exists within exigent challenges which greatly overshadow the rhetorical certainty of any such analysis as CHAT might actually provide.

In reading Prior’s article, one can’t help but think of Barthes and Foucault.  Strangely, it is in the heterochronicity at the center of Prior’s study of the processes of refinement and revision that the author is least dead – permitting the reader and scholar the least authority to engage with the developmental process (and presentation) of the work on the work’s own terms.  The text is broken, and so only the author and the past can speak to the text in the present condition. This, I believe, is where the future of CHAT would be best directed – at its own blind spot, the deference to a rhetorically-cosmic authority which ignores the inherent challenge of segregating the author from the author’s meaning.


NEXT UP: CHAT, BOURDIEU, & LATOUR – A Match Made in Contexts

For Prior, the story of the (re)formation of IO is one of reclamation, lamination, and remediation.  Perhaps the moment of articulation most intriguing to me is when Prior notes that “both [professors] noted that the revised IO marked the first time they had completed an object that had elements they did not understand and could not reproduce or repair.  [The students] had areas of expertise that were basic to the revised IO and that [the professors] were unlikely to ever develop” (2007).

It would not be vogue to say this, but Prior has demonstrated in this sentence, I believe, the impossibility of ever tracing rhetorical associations in multimodal texts.  The languages of media are multifaceted in ways which prevent meaningful creation of meaning through analysis, and the specialization of the creator over and above the consumer, mediator, or analyst is an inevitability of the process of creation.  Social contexts are too multivariate to ever be successfully interpolated into texts.  As CHAT demonstrates, a meaningful mapping diagram for multimodality is effectively infinite in scale.  To map a path through it is to inflict an intentionality of process upon a developmentally reactive challenge which is lost in a web of technology, hardware, software, society, culture, meaning, purpose, exigence, audience, author, psyche, theory, and bodies and spaces which can never be reconciled.

How do we interpret an infinity of meaning, one which can be reduced and simplified infinitely and still yield a need for infinite further regression before being simplified to the point of meaning?  I would draw upon my discussion with Dr. Richards on the parallels between rhetoric and God – rhetorical “truth” is, quite probably, unknowable, ineffable, and prone to melting your face off if discovered, a la “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”

What, then?  I believe that CHAT’s primary contribution to my interpretation of networks – as pertaining to meaning, rhetoric, interpretation, et cetera – is that of my self-determined element of exigent “challenge.”  This (combined with the perpetuation of my belief that the more theories we generate for studying meaning, the more we prove the old adage of nihil novum sub sole est) produces a lens for recapitulating exigencies as the springboard for discovering contextual meaning in multimodal and digital rhetorical spaces – as an extension of past archaeological acts of discovery and meaning-making.

I will return to this in my next post.  It is my goal to consider the following week’s readings by Johnson-Eilola, Joyce, and Latour through the lens of this archaeological consideration, and challenge the assumptions of value from multimodal contributions as different by accentuating current-traditionalist parallels in artifact and argument structure.  I will do this through an integration of social theory, including practice theory by Pierre Bourdieu, as an extra-disciplinary reflection of practices laid out in Latour’s ANT contributions.


Prior, P. (2007). Remaking IO, remaking rhetoric: Semiotic remediation as situated rhetorical practice. In P. Prior, J. Solberg, P. Berry, H. Bellowar, B. Chewning, K. Lunsford, L. Rohan, K. Roozen, M. Sheridan-Rabideau, J. Shipka, D. Van Ittersum, D. & J. Walker (Contributors), Re-situating and re-mediating the canons: A cultural-historical remapping of rhetorical activity. Kairos 11.3.

Prior, P., Solberg, J., Berry, P., Bellwoar, H., Chewning, B., Lunsford, K. J., … & Van Ittersum, D. (2007). Re-situating and re-mediating the canons: A cultural-historical remapping of rhetorical activity. Kairos11(3), 1-29.


3 thoughts on “ “It only does everything”: On CHAT, Challenge, and the Archive – A Reading Connections Synthesis

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