The Rhetoric of Flash Drives and Archives

Check out this excellent piece by Lance Richardson on the difficulties of digging through the hard drives and digital files of Peter Matthiessen. Apparently he had over 39,000 files on one flash drive. As someone who is madly in love with flash drives and someone who admires Peter Matthiessen greatly, this piece could not have made me happier.


Flash drives are so cool. I love the idea of the terminal versus the portable computer, where you move around all your stuff on a device to other computers to work on it. The chromebook is really special to me because of this infatuation with moving around my stuff to different computers. The chromebook is a twist on that, moving the computer around but your stuff stays all in the same place, somewhere in California or Iceland? Who knows.

Several thoughts here - currently people use Google Docs for a lot of writing and it tracks every single change you make and keeps it indefinitely. Freud regularly burned his drafts and discarded papers to keep his idea - psychoanalysis - on track, “pure,” etc. Future Freuds will not have that option. Imagine how different psychoanalysis would be if we had access to all that destroyed stuff. I like the idea because I like the idea of uncertainty as a productive presence but you probably know that by now.

Secondly wouldn’t it be so cool to have a life like Mattheissen’s? Now I don’t know much about his personal life and whether he was horrible to anyone - I’m sure the biography will cover all those aspects when it comes out - but I love the idea of writing away on things that interest you, having an audience for those writings who really likes those things too, and also being involved deeply in Zen and not really having many boundaries or barriers between all these things. I think it would be pretty great to teach and write and think and interact with audiences. I think that last part is the ironic kicker for anyone trained in rhetoric and communication at an R1 these days: No need to think about audience as your audience is always going to be your peers in the field, and also we know better about audience than anyone else, so why reach out? This might explain why people in the field don’t like Perelman & Olbrechts-Tyteca. Too much reliance on audience, not enough on knowing special things. “Let me tell you all about what audiences want and need,” says the NCA scholar to 5 people in a Hilton hotel ballroom on a Saturday afternoon in November. I think it’s much more within the practice of rhetoric to be addresing as many audiences as you can, whatever that might mean. Maybe all together. Anyway, I have clearly not figured this out yet and probably never will, but I think about it all the time.

Also I do know I overuse that trope, but I just can’t help myself. I love it. Poor NCA. Really taking a beating all the time.

Finally when my grandfather passed away my dad found some drafts on his computer titled something like “autobiography” - there’s some good stuff in there and some insights that follow this paradox: I”m drafting for someone other than myself, so this is meant to be read, but we will never know if this version of the thing is the one meant to be read. Best case scenario: He was thinking about his audience and creating text, but it’s always going to be hovering in this draft-space. Is this Schrodinger’s argument? Both meant for an audience and not meant for an audience at once? The difference is that with digital trails we can look into the cat box whereas physicists cannot. I’m sure they’ll be jealous.

I still use flash drives a lot and now with the announcement that iOS 13 for the iPad Pro will allow you to plug them in, there’s even more options for using them. I should post a picture of my whole collection. Or better yet, a video of them all.