RESEARCH

past
present and
projected projects

Prospectus & Dissertation


The Instance of the Post in the Digital Unconscious: Rhetorical Subjects after Posthumanism

Joining an active conversation within rhetorical theory and beyond about the agency, boundaries, and conditions of possibility for contemporary subjectivity within online environments, my dissertation project—"The Instance of the Post in the Digital Unconscious: Rhetorical Subjects after Posthumanism"—aims to articulate the transformative capacity of digital media for contemporary rhetorical subjects. Positioned at the intersection of rhetorical studies, media ecology, and poststructuralist criticism, this project attempts to break with rhetoric’s abiding humanist inheritance, including many of the foundational presuppositions about a writer’s autonomy, being, and consciousness that have historically subtended rhetorical theory. Couching my argument within the evocative wordplay and enigmatic lexicon of Lacanian psychoanalysis, this research complements work by a growing number of rhetoricians from various other-oriented vantages who contend that the conventional belief in a rational and independent human mind at the center of communicative practice is no longer tenable in the face of emergent ecosystems of online presence and digital rhetoric. Technological developments such as these not only have not only threatened the accustomed priority of human being, but can moreover provide novel ways of inventing and enacting an original posthumanist subjectivity, I argue, especially when approached from a psychoanalytic standpoint that emphasizes the convolutions of anfractuous signification, indestructible desire, forged onto-epistemology, and a tropical unconscious. To this end, I suggest that Lacan’s reconfiguring of the classical Freudian unconscious as a cybernetically structured symbolic network of signifiers that he characterizes as the extimate Other provides one avenue for rethinking how modern media affect the means of communicating with and conceiving of one another (as well as ourselves), helping rhetoricians to theorize a compositional practice that embraces rather than represses the various ways technological developments disturb and displace customary notions of solidified and singular human being. From a position that grounds rhetorical subjectivity not according to static sovereign selfhood but in the precarious disruptions of the Other and taking the figure of the social media post as my model for posthumanism, this project opens a way for rhetoricians to reconceive pedagogical practice from a perspective that would relinquish customary commitments to raising consciousness and objective reason in favor of the jocose and allusive contingencies of a hybridized digital unconscious..

Digital Writing & Research Lab


As a member of the Digital Writing & Research Lab at the University of Texas-Austin, my work has explored the ways in which digital technologies have altered the production and consumption of texts—practically, pedagogically, and theoretically. Situated at the intersection of rhetoric, writing, and technology, the computer classrooms at the DWRL has allowed me to engage students’ imaginations using technology relevant to their day-to-day experience, deepening their literacy of those communication tools and the social forces surrounding them. Using my background in audio production at Berklee College of Music, I have contributed to the DWRL’s podcast, Zeugma; additionally, I have lead a group of fellow graduate students in creating the Excitable Media website, a multi-author online text that seeks to probes and pushes the rhetorical limits of social media platforms; most recently for the DWRL, I have designed an online writing tool that interrogates the archival praxis of digital composition by suppressing a computer's capacity to erase its own traces.

UT's DWRL

Zeugma | Excitable Media

Connect in the Etherwhere


School Office
Department of Rhetoric & Writing
The University of Texas at Austin
1 University Station, B5500
Austin, TX, 78712
P: 832.283.4329
Email
jake.cowan@utexas.edu
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