Blog Post

From Pittsburgh: My Project on Composing Murder

From Pittsburgh: My Project on Composing Murder

Hi everyone,


I thought I'd share a little glimpse into my project:

For the past two years,  I have been gathering the digital remains of those murdered and murdering in Pittsburgh. I have been building a repository of digital remains. This started out as a simple obsession; I had just moved to Pittsburgh when I lay restless (as usual) one night, and in the silence I heard 4 distinct gunshots, then a pause, then 2 more.  The next day, I searched the internet for evidence that someone other than me had heard the same thing. Nothing. I couldn't find one word about gunshots or anyone being shot. I started to wonder about the illegibility, the hiddenness, of crime / murder in forgotten neighborhoods. 

In the throes of my obsessions, I would check the news every hour for new murders, and then spend the next three hours locating thier facebook pages, usually having to translates obscure names like Strizzy Banger into legible names like Dane Smith. The news often only reports thier legible name, but their facebook pages are under street names, nicknames, etc.  

Two years deep into the project, I am beginning to see murder as networked--in a Latourian sense and a digital sense--where sometimes those murdered and murdering are long-time facebook friends, with long-time facebook histories, and other times, the connection is more obscure and has to do with neighborhoods, streets, brothers and fathers. As I gather the digital remains, I notice retalliation murders committed in revenge for a lost brother the year before.  I am currently building a digital project for this repository, which will help track the connection and bring the illegible into the public. 

This kind of project takes patience and a tracking and tending of the speculative. I follow the actors, as Latour has suggested, to see where they might lead me in digital or analog space.  I see this work as an understanding of murder, which resists mappable narrativizing of murder. Instead, my project attends to the opaqueness of murder maintaining an emergent quality for a larger understanding of the act between many materialities. 

My inquiry here is concerned with how we make knowledge, and, in this case, how we make murder. Our current composition of murder is built upon and made a particular way, without regard for re-assembling or the method by which this information has been built up over time. My core question is simple: What if we understood murder differently? What if it were understood as a network of actors? What if we could build again—reassemble—each murder in order to gain a glimpse into the problem of murder? Into the problem of future? This is not a search for answers, nor a sociological experiment; in fact, I don’t know quite what to call this quest, but it is part practice, part ethical, and part creative-critical work. I want to say: I am interested in understanding murder in a more robust way, but that’s not what I mean at all. Instead, with the intervention of murder, I want to begin re-making past matter, dead matter, or ruins, where the objects we make—that is, the digital work/art or analog work/art—conjure thought (or spaces for onticology, Levi-Bryant’s word for thinking the being of objects—the gun, social networking sites, neighborhoods, etc) knowledge and experience in new ways.

Because I am in the field of Rhetoric and Composition, I see this project as a way of understanding method, futures, digital composing and rhetoric.  I am taken by ruins, by all the ruins that we inhabit and yet crave for the new and the more. Instead, I want to settle, here, in the ruins, and compose something out of them. Murder is the site at which I can do that. 

I go from this:           to this: (the murderer)   to Dane "Strizzy Banger" Smith's girlfriends page:




What a powerful project, on both emotional and intellectual levels. Thank you for your description here, and for your courageous journeying into ruins and their possibilities. I hope you will share more about your work.  


Hi Trisha,

This sounds like a very ambitious and provocative project, and I appreciate you sharing it with us. Are you familiar with the Homicide Watch D.C. project? It is very similar, and has been running for a few years now. I would imagine they would be interested in sharing resources and knowledge with you. I don't know the individuals involved personally, but I would hope a networked community of these types of projects could be created around the country. I hope it proves useful.

A word of note, please don't forget that these are human beings with families and friends who are dead from this network of murder that you speak about. I must tell you that I found your way of abstractly speaking of these very real deaths somewhat disconcerting. Perhaps it is just the electronic format, and I'm sure you practice the utmost sensitivity when pursuing this work, but I hope that you make honoring these victims a priority as you move forward.



I agree with the comment above. It can be difficult when writing about sensitive topics and other people's trauma to choose the right words, and yet, why else do we learn to write, and not just research? I am sure that I say inappropriate things about the traumatic incident (death of 129 in the Arctic in c.1845-50) that informs my research. Probably Arctic cannibalism is a "radical site" because British imperialist rhetoric insisted that it didn't happen, and somehow it was turned into sensationalist literature for entertainment. However, is it really true that "murder is the radical site," and not the site of conventional disaster, that is shocking in its inability to shock?  (And if these too are the wrong words, very sorry.)


Thank you to both of you. Part of my project does explore empathy, but I didn't include it here. I will try to post more about that in the future. 

As I mentioned, I am interested in forgotten murders in forgotten neighborhoods, but this isn't a project about honoring the victims. There are many outlets for that, I am interested in murder as a practice in digital and meet space. This includes a literacy of murder, culture of murder and a culture of ignoring these kinds of murders. We spectacularize some murders and forget the others. Why? As the project goes on, I want to understand the narrative of murder and upset it. Who else is repsonsible besides the one who committed the act? What other actors are involved? 

While I have visited the families, I think it is important to know that this is not a memorial--my project is after a re-assembing of the murders to gain a more robust of understanding as to all the actors involved, human and non-human. This is a creative and a critical project and it does ask some very ethical questions. 

As for radical, yes, you may be right. These are everyday occurences, quite normal in some communities and not sensationalized enough for the public to care. I only say "radical" to describe my own strange interest in it. 

Thanks again for reading and contributing your thoughts.