More Kress

Another quote I enjoy:

The specificity is the same at one level: the affordance of the logic of time governs writing, and the affordance of the logic of space governs the image. Within that, there is the possibility of generic variation. And the generic variation of the ensembles, in each case, produce an overall difference of a significant kind (115).


In that new communicational world there are now choices about how what is to be represented should be represented: in what mode, in what genre, in what ensembles of modes and genres and on what occasions. These were not decisions open to students … some twenty years ago (117).

Perhaps part of the task writing teachers should be doing is helping students learn how to choose in this multimodal culture. Hmmm.

More Gunther Kress

We finished discussing Literacy in the New Media Age on the 15th, but I’ve just now had a chance to post about it.

We wrestled, at the meeting, with the question of what Kress’ ideas—particularly the teaching of design/digital rhetoric instead of more traditional kinds of writing assignments—would get us. I came from the “Of course we should be teaching this stuff” side of things, while another person at the meeting played the “I don’t see what all this gets us” role.

The most interesting objection, for me, was that electrate communication has yet to develop the kind of analytical significance/power that literate argument has. My response was that argument is the literate thing—the electrate is something else, something that plays more on affect. I suggested that the power of news media to determine political candidates was one such use of affect.

To return to Kress, I found chapter 10 particularly enlightening. He says a couple neat things (excerpted here for your convenience):

The notion of competence in use will give way to that of interested design. Competence in use starts with that which exists, shaped in the social history of the group in which the user acts. Hence competence in use is oriented to the past. It is also oriented to allegiance to the conventions of the group. Design, by contrast, starts from the interest and the intent of the designer to act in a specific way in a specific environment, to act with a set of available resources and to act with an understanding of what the task at hand is, in relationship to a specific audience. Design is prospective, future-oriented: in this environment, with these (multiple) resources, and out of my interests now to act newly I will shape a message. (169)

Kress, here, seems quite relevant to the recent discussion on WPA. The argument (mostly between Rice and Gordon), seems to rumble down the same old lines. What Kress brings to this discussion is a reasoned assertion (one of many, of course) about what/why we should change what we do. His use of the term design intrigues me. I like the idea of having students consider design (and have done so) because it seems to be an integral part of electrate rhetoric.

Another point he makes in this chapter again reminds me of things I’ve heard Ulmer say. Kress writes

The new forms of reading by contrast require action on the world: to impose the order of a reading path on that which is to be read, arising out of my interests. Ordering a message entity in the world in this manner is a different form of action—not contemplative but actional, not inner-directed but directed outwardly”(172).

So how do we teach students to write for these readers? I think one of Rice’s many points on WPA continues to be that students are already this kind of reader. We need to learn to teach writing for these readers.

One final point. As I write this, I’m reminded of Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock, in which Toffler suggests that as technology speeds up, we have less and less time to deal with it, something that affects us psychologically and bodily. He suggests that, like a tourist who is “culture shocked” when s/he enters a foreign country and can find no familiar cultural hooks on which to hang her/his mental hat, we will all become victims of “future shock,” people living in a world changing so fast that it constantly seems like another world. One answer to Toffler’s proposed problem might be that our students, people raised in an electrate world, might feel the sense of change as inevitable, their culture is one that must work at its pace. As such, their communicative strategies will have to be different.

Spam postings

Why do [name deleted to avoid spam] websites keep posting to my blog? I’ve left a few comments in the original post (which is where they keep turning up), but I’m stymied. The original post wasn’t so confusing, I guess, since they were just links to [words deleted to avoid spam] sites. I guess the spambot thinks Google will love ’em if Brendan links there. Then they started posting content, not just links. Jokes, poems (claiming to be from Stanislaw Lem), and such. Weird. I’m going to delete any new ones from now on, but I’m amused.

Dickens rolls over

So I watched Karrol’s Christmas last night, an amusing (if schmaltzy) re-telling of the Dickens that asks “what if the ghosts visted the wrong guy?”


    Two things amused me about the movie.

  1. When the main character and the Scrooge character appear and then disappear at the original nativity, one of the wise men sees them and is bewildered. “I’ve gotta lay off the Myrrh.” Drug jokes about the three wise men rock!
  2. When “Jacob Marley” comes to visit the main character, he’s a cheery Jamaican guy with dreadlocks (at the left side of the picture). The film suggests that he’s related to Bob Marley, who was one of the “original” Marley’s descendants. Dickens’ Marley apparently had a son who went on a trip to Jamaica.

This Week’s (Holiday) Music

    Now in my CD player:

  1. The Nutcracker Suite
  2. Swing N’ Jive Christmas
  3. Celtic Christmas III: A Windham Hill Sampler

Collages are more Blog-ish

In my Composition I course ( Mapping the Self), students are in the late stages of their third paper, a textual collage documenting a memory of an Entertainment text. (The students use collage techniques from Elbow‘s Being a Writer to conduct an experiment loosely based on Chapter 5 of Ulmer‘s Internet Invention.) The other day, we had a discussion about the characteristics and techniques used to create collages as opposed to essays or other more traditional writing forms. One of my more technologically savvy students commented that “collages are more blog-ish.”

I’m intrigued by a couple things there:
1. That my student is so familiar with blogs that they become a descriptive form–he conceives collages as a sort-of remediated blog. Of course, the characteristics of the network culture that blogs propegate don’t work so well on ink-and-paper assignments, but the same rhetorical moves occur. Nonetheless, my electracytometer (measures how strongly electracy appears in a context) buzzed high. I like that he sees the digital as the primary mode for this kind of work.
2. That many others in the class had no idea what he was talking about. I had to explain what blogs are, and where they might have seen them. Does this constitute another kind of “digital divide”? One based less in access (most of these students have the same opportunities for access) and more in education and appetite?

Miracle on 34th Street

Watched my favorite holiday movie again last night. Things that struck me this time:

  • “Madam! I’m not in the habit of substituting for spurious Santa Clauses.”
  • It sucks that Mrs. Walker makes Cleo work on Thanksgiving: what does Cleo’s family do? And why don’t we use shoelaces to tie up turkeys anymore?
  • “I speak French, but that doesn’t make me Joan of Arc!”
  • Fred Gailey cooks. What an awesome modern guy.
  • Macy’s banner over Kris’ chair says “santa claus” instead of “Santa Claus.”

The Song of Roland

More ruminations inspired by the train. I noticed a Borders books price sticker stuck on the wall of my Green line train this morning. The sticker was from my favorite medieval poem, The Song of Roland. I read it for a class as an undergrad, and enjoyed the story. Roland, Charlemagne’s number one fella, is ambushed by a bunch of Basques and killed at Roncesvalles pass. Charlemagne comes back and slaughters everyone. A nice story.

A buddy and I decided that the temporary Basque victory over the French money train deserves some sort of commemoration. Thus, we designed (but never made) this T-shirt:


We drew on Gary Larson’s cartoon about the Alamo, of course. Alas, I’ve never had the gumption to make the T-shirt because I’d never wear it. I just can’t bring myself to wear rude shirts. Even pseudo-rude shirts. I never wear my “Make 7-up Yours” T-shirt either. Sigh.

This week’s music

Goin’ mainstream this week.

    In the CD player:

  1. Five for Fighting, The Battle for Everything
  2. David Gray, White Ladder
  3. The White Stripes, White Blood Cells

Music, serendipity

1. As the train pulled into the Clark and Lake station yesterday morning, I was pulled out of my reading-trance by someone’s earphones. The music was just loud enough that I could make it out; the song blended the speedy first notes of “Chorus of the Bells” with a hip-hop rhythm that I found pretty fascinating. The sounds blended pretty well. Glancing to see who was listening to the music, I realized that it was not, as I’d thought, a clever hip-hop Christmas song, but rather two separate passengers, each listening to his own music.

My musical interlude brought to the surface my PCA proposal for this Spring. The idea of randomness producing interesting/useful meanings seems like a key way to understand electronic media and the logic of the internet.

2. I’m listening to Crash Test Dummies’ Give Yourself a Hand this week. It took me a while to like this album, in part because it’s different than CTD’s other albums. I’ve come to appreciate the album for its different approach to lyrics, which seem to be more about how they sound than what they say. Reminds me of Soul Coughing.

My favorite line is from “A Cigarette Is All You Get” Brad Roberts growls:

I want to listen to EL-VIS
I want to shake my PEL-VIS

Reminds me of Ulmer’s Internet Invention and of Jeff Rice.

Kress and Semiotics

From Literacy in the New Media Age:

It is no longer responsible to let children experience school without basing schooling on an understanding of the shift from competent performance to design as the foundational fact of contemporary social and economic life.(37)

Give the governor a ‘harrumph!’ When Kress writes passages like this, my inner choir he’s preaching to stands up and cheers. He supports this statement with many of the same kinds of arguments I’ve heard elsewhere. His particular take is that the move from page to screen accompanies/affords a move from alphabetic writing (which is based on speech in its temporal glory) to design-as-writing (based on image). Of course, these are useful formulations of ideas I already like.


…[S]ings are always meaningful conjunctions of signifiers and signifieds; it means that we can look at the signifiers and make hypotheses about what they might be signifying in any one instance, because we know that the form chosen was the most apt expression of that which was to be signified. . . . It entails that all aspects of form are meaningful, and that all aspects of form must be read with equal care: nothing can be disregarded.(44)

I can see why this distinction is useful/necessary for an image-based writing system, but I get stuck making the leap (back?) to speech. Pierce’s notion that the sign is arbitrary reigns so strongly in the semiotics I’m familiar with that I can’t get my head around the notion that spoken signs are significant in their form. A colleague suggested that Kress doesn’t refer here to the sign in its inception, but its use at a given time–when I say tree, it’s the most apt way to express ‘tree’ in a given situation. That helps, but I still don’t see why “all aspects of form are meaningful” in that situation. How does the single syllable become meaningful in itself? Is there something in the combination of ‘tr’ and a long ‘e’ that embodies ‘tree-ness?’