Lecourt and Barnes – Writing Multiplicity: Hypertext and Feminist Textual Politics

Lecourt, Donna, and Luann Barnes. “Writing Multiplicity: Hypertext and Feminist Textual Politics.” Feminism and Composition :A Critical Sourcebook. Eds. Gesa Kirsch, et al. Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2003. 321-338. Print.

In this chapter, originally published in Computers and Composition (1999), Donna Lecourt and her graduate student at the time, Luann Barnes, explicated their theory of feminist textual politics and how hypertext has the potential to enact it in the writing classroom. They argued that “social transformation is best executed by disrupting the gendered nature of writing. Because of hypertext’s ability to express multiplicity and multivocality, the two asserted that it could be used in the classroom to achieve two interventions:

“(a) the disruption of the contexts and communities that force the author to accede to masculine ways of knowing, and (b) the deconstruction of the author as a single, unified self who suppresses alternative perspectives and gendered ideologies.” (322)

The key problem, for the authors, is the type of voice, authority, and logic that writing produces (322). The implicit argument here is that the textual form not only creates the content, but that it also shapes the identity of the author. Lecourt and Barnes cited Janis and Richard Haswell’s concept of gendership to further explain: “‘the image of a writer’s sex interpretable from text and context. It can be conceived of as the gender dimension of the ‘implied author’ imagined by the reader’ (p.226)” (322). In light of gendership, then, they asserted that academic genres are connected to masculine ways of knowing and knowledge production and work to silence the “feminine.” To counteract this phenomenon, they advocated for a textual politic: “a direct intervention into the ideology of writing spaces” (323) that allows for inquiry into specific acts of reading and writing as well as challenge narrowly focused practices writing and knowledge-making that they identified as being phallocentric.

To this end, the authors described Barnes attempt to create a hypertext that could call attention to the politics of textuality. In doing so, they of the limitations to working with hypertext, or any media for that matter, is the constant need for remediation and attention to genre. They wrote:

“Venturing too far outside academic and cultural acceptability risks not only not being read but also the material results of grades, authority with the graduate students with whom [Barnes] works as a programmer, and her colleagues, teachers, and supervisors within the department… As such, even hypertext cannot escape the mechanism of ethos orchestrated by academic context. Knowing that others would eventually read this text construct a concern that Barnes not be seen as inappropriate; such a concern for self-presentation is difficult to resist, particularly for students.” (333)

Barnes and Lecourt also concluded, as they has anticipated, that hypertext and rhetorical literacy are not sufficient to achieve the goals of textual politics, but that other interventions that fall under the category of critical literacies would have to be incorporated in their writing pedagogy as well:

“Our analysis highlights many limitations for hypertext’s ability to enact a textual politic, including its inability to escape the logocentricism of writing, its immersion within the discourse context, and the new mechanisms of reader control it introduces… As Barnes’ continual concern with reader dislocation reveals, the disruptive potential of hypertext alone will not create an awareness of multivocality in a reader.” (336)

One example they offered for how to work against some of these challenges is to engage student in continual peer review of the hypertexts they are creating.

The concluded that despite the challenges hypertext is still valuable in the composition classroom:

“Whether the texts produced for class actually enact a textual politic seems less important than what students may learn in the process – the need to interrogate the discursive grounds for achieving authority such that they can write differently in the other contexts which would silence both their alternative voices and the challenges those voices might make to the context’s idoelogy.” (337)

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Bolter and Grusin – Remediation: Understanding New Media

Bolter, J. D., and R. Grusin. Remediation: Understanding New Media. The MIT Press, 2000. Print.

As the title states, this text seeks to help readers understand “new media” by highlighting what is and isn’t new about it by using the theory of remediation. Bolter and Grusin placed new digital media, specifically visual media, within the contexts of older media such as photography, painting, television, etc. to demonstrate how by definition each medium is understood in relation to another.

“Digital visual media can best be understood through the ways in which they honor, rival, and revise  linear-perspective painting, photography, film, television, and print. No medium today, and certainly no single media event, seems to do its cultural work in isolation from other media, any more than it works in isolation from other social and economic forces. What is new about  new media comes from the particular ways in which they  refashion older media and the ways in which older media refashion themselves  to answer the  challenges of new media.” (15)

Their central argument was that more aggressive practices of remediation, the representation of one medium in another, is a defining characteristic of the new digital media (45): “Unlike  our other examples  of  hypermediacy,  this  form of  aggressive remediation does create an apparently seamless space.  It  conceals its  relationship  to earlier media in the  name of  transparency;  it promises the user an unmediated experience, whose paradigm again is virtual reality” (56).

The text is divided into three major sections: theory, illustrations, and implications for remediation and new media on American culture’s definition of self. The authors argued that new media, and technologies in general, must be understood in terms of their connection to other media, culture, and our social identities.

“The  World Wide Web is  not  merely  a  software  protocol and text and  data  files. It  is  also  the sum  of  the  uses  to which this  protocol is  now being  put:  for  marketing and advertising,  scholarship,  personal expression,  and  so on. These uses  are as much a part  of  the  technology as the  software  itself  For  this  reason, we  can say  that  media technologies  are agents in our culture without  falling  into  the trap  of technological  determinism.  New digital  media are not external agents that  come to disrupt an unsuspecting  culture. They  emerge from within  cultural contexts,  and  they  refashion  other media,  which are embedded  in the same  or similar contexts.” (19)

Their discussion of remediation opens up space for more nuanced discussions of human and technological agency in new media:

“Computer programs may  ultimately be human products,  in the  sense that  they  embody algorithms devised by human programmers,  but once the  program is  written and loaded,  the  machine can  operate without  human  intervention” (27).

Remediation as a theoretical framework is helpful in understanding this phenomenon because we can see how, in attempts to achieve transparency and immediacy, programmers intentionally seek  to remove the traces  of  their presence  in order to give  these programs the greatest possible autonomy (27).

The authors defined two major concepts in remediation, immediacy and hypermediacy, and explained how the two are simultaneously in tension with one another and interdependent. In short, the two can be understood through the “window/s” metaphor:

“Where immediacy  suggests a  unified visual space, contemporary hypermediacy offers a heterogeneous space, in which representation is conceived of  not  as a  window on to the world, but rather  as ‘windowed’ itself-with windows that open on to other representations or other media” (34).

Examples of hypermediacy in modern art include collages and photo-montages.

Hypermedia  and  transparent media are  opposite manifestations  of the  same desire:  “the desire  to get past  the limits of representation  and  to achieve the real.” Not “real” in a metaphysical sense, but “real” based on the viewers experience; “it is that which would evoke an immediate (and therefore authentic) emotional response” (53). This appeal to authenticity of experience is what brings the logics of immediacy and hypermediacy together (71).

The authors argued that this desire for immediacy is neither new nor neutral. One of the most compelling examples of this desire is the image of a draftsman drawing a picture of a nude woman from Albrect Durer, Unterweysung der Messung, Nurenberg, 1538. Bolter and Grusin suggested the image shows the desire for immediacy in viewing the female body with a clinical gaze “to analyze and control, if not possess, its female object” (79). They argued, “The  woodcut  suggests  the  possibility  that  technologies  of transparent  immediacy based on linear perspective, such  as  perspective  painting, photography, and film, or  computer graphics and virtual  reality, may  all be enacting the  so-called  male gaze, excluding  women  from  full  participation  as subjects  and maintaining  them  as objects” (79). At the same time, this example shows how media can be used to deny female desire and subjectivity, the book also offers numerous examples of human bodies are mediated as well as how immediacy and hypermediacy are employed to express new identities and subjectivities in new media.

Ultimately, Bolter and Grusin contended that because all media are understood in relation to other media, the only thing brand new about new media are the unique ways that we employ them in particular contexts now, and this will continue to be the case with any other new media: “The true novelty would be a new medium that did not refer for its meaning to other meaning at all. For our culture, such mediation without remediation seems to be impossible” (271).

Brooke – Lingua Fracta

Brooke, Collin. Lingua Fracta. Creeskill, NJ: Hampton Press, Inc., 2009.

Lingua Fracta starts from the premise that there is a technological dimension to rhetoric, but as a discipline we have become fixated on the print context of rhetoric. As a result our understandings and practices of rhetoric are steeped in print media and do not appreciate any other dimensions, least of all new technologies. Instead of technology being the enemy and impending doom of print media and rhetoric, as some have predicted, new communication and information technologies can in fact go beyond offering new sites for rhetorical practice and prompt us to rethink our traditions. At the same time, in moving toward a rhetoric of new media, Brooke urged scholars not to try and reinvent the wheel, but to look to our traditional canon and trivium for the basis of this transformation.

Brooke’s underlying argument is that criticism and critical frameworks are inadequate and unsuitable for the study of new media because it requires a stable and fixed text: “New criticism simply because criticism or “close reading,” a species of analysis that survives to the present day in the form of rhetorical analyses for instance, that urge students to locate instances of ethos, logos, and pathos in particular texts” (9). Brooke stated that new criticism is not intrinsically wrong, but they are not suitable because they render “new media” as objects to be studied and “[n]ew media ‘objects’ lend themselves neither to close reading nor really to demonstrating the broader values represented by the theoretical concepts that Landow deploys” (14). Instead, Brooke asserted that a rhetoric of new media should view new media and texts as interfaces instead of objects:

“A turn toward the interface as our unit of analysis would be an acknowledgement that it is not necessary that these processes culminate in products (which can then be decoupled from the contexts of their production), but rather that what we think of as products (books, articles, essays) are but special, stabilized instances of ongoing process conducted at the level of interface.” (25)

furthermore…

“…we must begin to move from a text-based rhetoric, exemplified by our attachment to the printed page, to a rhetoric that can account for the dynamics of the interface” (26).

Brooke argued that while a rhetoric of new media requires us to rethink our fixation on textual objects, we do not have to invent this rhetoric wholesale. To this end, in chapter 2, he explicated how we can revamp our traditional rhetorical canons in light of an ecological framework, highlights scholars who are beginning to do such work, and lays out his model of rethinking the trivium of grammar, rhetoric, and logic into layered ecologies.

In this ecological approach the trivium can be rethought as:

  • grammar —> ecologies of code
  • rhetoric —> ecologies of practice
  • dialectic/ logic —> ecologies of culture (47)

“One way of describing the relationship among these three ecologies is to see practices as combining various elements of code to produce a statement or action, one of many such that then combine and contend to produce a particular culture” (52).

Brooke also described each of the five rhetorical canons as an ecology: “a complex system of people, sites, practices, and objects” (52) Taken together, Brooke used the canons to form an ecology of practice within which the canons operate.

In chapters 3-7, Brooke refashioned each of the canons as ecologies that work to expand not only our notions of rhetorical possibility for new media, but “traditional” rhetoric as well.

“This framework is particularly useful in the case of interfaces, those imperfectly bounded encounters where users, technologies, and contexts intersect. Instead of describing a process that culminates in the production of a textual object, the trivium and canons help us envision a discursive space that is ongoing – one that is shaped both by the intentions of individual users and contextual constraints.” (200)