Collamati & Agential Realism

Sorry for the delay! This is my post which discusses a part of the individual readings presented last Tuesday. I’ve tried to provide a brief review, plus something we didn’t get to in class.

Anthony Collamati is the first of our authors to name agential realism as a theoretical framework for his work. This post briefly discusses the relationship between Karen Barad’s agential realism and Collamati’s photonic rhetorics.

Agential Realism & The Rhetorics of Light

For Collamati, techne (the use and practice of technology) is not equivalent to the image text it produces. Collamati regrets the loss of techne in the humanities and seeks to re-introduce it to the field of rhetoric and composition. He wants his students to be able to understand how to use technology so they can then test its representational limits. Collamati doesn’t necessarily think mastery is required for knowledge-making, but he wants his students to have a know-how that at least allows for informed improvisation (34).

Turner’s “Light and Colour” via Wikimedia Commons

Collamati uses J.M.W. Turner’s painting Light & Colour (Goethe’s Theory): Morning After the Deluge as an illustrative text. Using Jonathan Crary’s model of Turner as “artist-observer,” Collamati contends that the painter does not simply “contest the regulatory drive of empirical vision,” but, like the scientist, sees “through the apparatus onto other materialities” (37). In the case of Light & Colour, the light constitutes more than one subject but simultaneously exists “outside of a subject-object relationship” (38). It is at once “sun and eye, people and pupil,” but also the thing which also creates division and sameness—shadows and washes of light. “Light,” contends Collamati, “reveals and conceals the boundaries of surface” (28).

In this way, light (and, importantly, light as it exists outside of the control of human manipulation) produces meaning and objects—but only in terms of its relationship to other objects (human and non-human). In a sense, Collamati presents light as a maker in its own terms. Taking his cue from Barad, he writes, “Each agent, including the apparatus, is brought into being through the other” (40).

Understanding these different discourses of light, officially “phototonic rhetorics,” is imperative to understanding how light mediates our world and the meaning we produce from it.

Photonic Rhetorics

Collamati’s photonic rhetorics are borrowed from Richard Kelley’s “three types of light effect: ‘focal glow,’ ‘ambient luminescence,’ and the ‘play of brilliance’” (54).

Focal Glow: “light as division” (55) – object’s difference and/or importance demonstrated by its relationship to the light source
Ambient Luminescence: “light as sameness” (69) – results in equalizing and/or neutralizing effects
Play of Brilliance: light in its moment of unknowability / unnamability – “the sparkle” (128)

Extracted from Collamati's Camera Creatures; Photograph via Basetrack: One-Eight, May 30 2011

Example of “The Play of Brilliance” from Collamati’s Camera Creatures; Photograph via Basetrack: One-Eight, May 30 2011

Collamati explains these rhetorics using the examples of Hipstamatic war photography that we looked at in class. Though he argues that the technology is always distinct from its operator—in contrast to Donna Haraway, for example, who talks about the human-technology relationship in terms of hybridity (26)—Collamati presents the Hipstamatic app as a perhaps quintessential example of the process in which light acts independently of its technology and the human user, while at the same time existing and creating meaning because of them.

Parting Questions

  1. In Camera Creatures, the image (as the “text” of the techne) comes to approximate the written word. I’m wondering if there is there a parallel to light in the rhetorics of language? (I don’t think Collamati would say that light is analogous to words–though maybe in terms of written poetry? Or do visual compositions ultimately function fundamentally differently than written texts?)
  2. Collamati makes a pedagogical intervention in the last chapter and advocates proficiency in various visual techne. Is this argument ultimately a political one? (That is, if we know we are subject to the manipulation and mediation of light in its various production, we might as well understand how we are being manipulated? There seems to be some link here to Barad’s agential realism (yes, I am shamefully linking to the Wikipedia entry) that I haven’t quite figured out–perhaps re-situation / re-organization of relationships as a re-situation / re-organization of agency. There appears to be some Marxian element to this as well, but I’ll leave it there for now!)

One thought on “Collamati & Agential Realism

  1. Jessica — early modernist that I am, I respond to your first question by thinking of Milton, in particular some passages in Paradise Lost. It’s a critical truism that light gets a lot of play in PL, but given what Collamati sketches for us in photography, and the question you pose, I’m wondering if we can gin up some idea of a poetic “photonic rhetoric.” The things that stick in my mind immediately are Milton’s uses of light in unexpected ways in order to achieve some sense of grandeur. For instance, when the fallen angels rise from the lake of fire and observe Hell, they see

    A Dungeon horrible, on all sides round
    As one great Furnace flam’d, yet from those flames
    No light, but rather darkness visible
    Serv’d onely to discover sights of woe[.] (I.61-65)

    In Milton’s use of “darkness visible” I think I detect some of the visual elements Collamati seems to link to the Play of Brilliance, in particular. Of course Milton marks it specifically as “not light,” but if we think through this in Collamati’s terms, we actually have no choice but to imagine this as light of some sort, because we have no other available mediator.* It is fundamentally impossible, so far as the human sensorium is concerned, to have an actual “darkness visible” that reveals the landscape in the same (but different?) way light would. In processing Milton’s paradox, where we have to imagine something we cannot see as something we can, we encounter a form of light in its “unknowability” or “unnameability” — though perhaps, since we are in Hell, it is a dark obverse to the more angelic qualities the example photo suggests.

    *It’s maybe worth noting here, for those not in the period, that Milton was blind by the time he wrote Paradise Lost, and thus had very Complex Feelings about the relationship between light, darkness, and sight.

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