2.10.13

As I was reading Delagrange’s Technologies of Wonder, I was bothered by this question: Why is that that I am LESS able to interact with digital texts than with print texts? Why is that OK? Why is interaction / access so passive online? And by passive I mean that the text is my BOSS. It says I can only (generally) look at it one screen/frame at a time, I can’t turn it or tilt it (I am left-handed and that leads to me reading with my papers at a slant), I can’t write across it, and I can’t crumple it when it makes me angry. That, I guess, is an issue that comes up for me almost anytime I have to read something online. It may be that I have to relearn how to interact with texts–re-learn to read. I have an incredibly hard time processing information on the screen. Why? It’s hard to explain. I have this urge, while I read digital texts on a computer screen to pull the screen towards me–but I can never get it close enough (I guess because I can’t sit it in my lap?). Maybe this would be alleviated if I was reading on an ipad or some such device. But it’s not just that–I feel so limited in the ways I can interact with the text. Sure, I can make it bigger or smaller. I can watch videos–if I really insistently poke and tap my computer’s mouse and buttons. But I can’t trace my finger across the words, I can’t write in the margins, or circle, underline or star things at my leisure. I like to write snarky comments. I like them to be at a slant to the original text. I just do!

Which, I guess is kind of a point that Delagrange makes. . . She writes: “Stafford (2001) makes the same point about visual technologies, which she calls “media machines”: “they not only constrain what it is possible to see but also determine what can be thought” (p. 1). When I first read this, I thought BAH! I’d just finished a reading for linguistics which considers whether or not LANGUAGE has a shaping influence on what we can or cannot think (verdict: probably not.) So Delagrange / Stafford’s argument that visual technologies DO have this influence seemed a bit dubious. It discounts the creativity and imagination of the readers and producers (Deborah Cameron’s idea, not mine). It says: Because you write in alphabetic text, you can’t think these things. From a standpoint of a producer, I still am unconvinced that this is true. But, from the standpoint of a text’s consumer, they may have a point. The configuration of text in digital spaces confounds me. I can’t think the way I’d like–the way I think (I think) best.

But this isn’t the larger point of Delagrange.  She is calling on scholars to bring visual representation and production back into the composition classroom. She argues that privileging text (and thereby logic?) silences some voices–and some ways of thinking about and experiencing the world. I really like this question. I would agree that its important to help students learn to navigate the visual / multimodal landscapes of the internet–both as consumers and producers of these texts. But, for me, it comes back to what is practical and possible–in an earlier post I talked about meeting with a ‘tech guy’ to figure out how to have my students ‘do’ a visual rhetoric project. Moral: I don’t know enough (anything?) about creating, teaching, or critiquing this sort of work. Nor do I really understand what she means by ‘visual.’ Which is probably a crucial understanding to have, if I am to bring it into my classroom.

I don’t know if lightening bolts will strike me dead when I say this next bit: I have reservations about the “visual” generally. When I hear “visual rhetoric,” I think of paintings. I think of photographs. I think of dance. I think of clothing, architecture, and movies. But of course each of these are also distinct rhetorics with unique affordances. I think you can say things through dance that probably couldn’t be expressed through a print text. But I think the same is true in reverse–we speak and write with an alphabetic language because it is an essential communicative tool. Because there is precision in language. *** I erased and rewrote the previous sentence four times. *** Maybe there isn’t precision in language? Maybe that’s the trouble that Delegrange is pointing to–> even with alphabetic text / speech, meaning is never static or even totally determinable. But there is an illusion–perpetuated by the ‘authorities’– that meaning can be determined, and that’s why we need to look for other modes of expression that wear their ambiguity, their range-of-meanings, on their proverbial sleeves . . . Is that the point? But I still think there is something to be said for the fact that Delegrange made her argument (primarily) through text. And I understood her (more or less) because she used that text. I am writing in text now, because in a couple weeks, if I want to look back at this, I will have a good sense of what I was thinking, because I ‘thought’ in text.

Maybe for my next post I’ll try to “say” everything visually–and then I’ll try to see if anyone (Chris?) can decipher it. Hmmm.

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CONSTRUCTION ZONE: Deborah Cameron — Verbal Hygiene. Is she trying to invoke the image of a mother washing out her kid’s mouth with soap? It works. I don’t know because I only read chapter 4 (for class), some day I’ll read the rest . . . I have to post a question on piazza–so I am going to try to make this as brief as possible (so, you know, no more than 2,000 words). :). Anyhow, I think the essential question she is exploring in chapter 4 is the question of how language change happens. She says that, so far (in the early ’90s), we’ve been told that change happens because prescriptivist efforts worked OR because language change mirrors social change (and arose out of it ‘quasi-organically). Cameron says that these views are too simplified. She believes, instead, that we can look at prescriptivist efforts and see how these are negotiated, fraught, and often unsuccessful  On the other hand, we can see that change in society sometimes lags behind changes in language (which can reflect what people perceive to be a ‘better’ reality than the one represented by old lexical items). She also makes it clear that words ACT — I think the phrase is ‘words are deeds.’ And the most helpful example she offered, for me, was when she said that when perscriptivists (as in radical verbal hygienists) establish an association between a certain signifier (say the pronoun ‘he’ as a neutral) and a particular ideology (sexism) which prevents/disrupts the use of this term even by those who hold certain beliefs. The new signifier (say ‘they’) once spoken–even by a bigot–acts in the world as a model, as something repeatable–in other words, it becomes codified through use. Cameron also points out that language conflict arises less out of the social issues which might have prompted verbal hygienists to call for change, than out of a desire to ‘protect’ or  ‘preserve’ the language–ultimately calling into question who ‘owns’ any particular language, and who has the right to change it. She says we claim to want to make changes to promote civility, accuracy, or fairness–but that these reasons are often contradictory in practice. (Still no question . . . ) She writes, “It does seem that many radicals of my generation and succeeding generations attach more importance to linguistic and other representations than their predecessors did, so that words and images are treated as useful material with which to work for social change. . . It is a matter of political strategy in a society where out chief agenda-setters are the mass media” (141). There it is! Okay, so I think it’s likely that she knows–certainly better than I would know–if radicals are more focused on words / images (though I wonder: What were they focused on before?) tools for social change. She is writing in ’95, and though the internet was, at that point, a fairly well-established agenda-setting force (I think) . . . It’s probably not in her purview to think about the primacy of words and image in the age of the internet, but I wonder if there is a similar focus now (I think the concern about labels has been scaled back some), despite the fact we are bombarded by words and images in an ever-increasingly connected world.  But maybe the other thing I wonder is about the idea of fragmentation–is this why focus on words and labels has decreased, because we live, increasingly, in communities of our own making online–communities where ‘normative’ can be determined by the in-group. Communities where meanings can be negotiated within a group of like-minded individuals? I know it can also be argued that the internet can also re-constitute power structures and bigoted ideologies in very subtle ways. She writes, “Considered in its totality, the debate on ‘political correctness’ is most obviously a debate about how democracies made up of diverse populations subscribing to a variety of beliefs and customs are to preserve a common culture. . .” ‘[I]dentity politics . . .is destroying the sense people once had of belonging to a larger polity . . . For conservatives, this spells the end of tradition; for liberals, the end of civility; and for the Left, the end of effective mass politics” (160). But here’s the question: Does language matter less in a fragmented society? 1) Is society more fragmented? 2) Does language have less power, less sway, in a fragmented society? 3) Will changes in language become more and more mirco, as the internet (and other social / philosophical forces?) continue to encourage our division? Is this the reason why we see less attention to labels? Labels matter less in a society where everyone is a part of a micro-society that can determine meaning independently?

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