Creating Meaning Multimodally
To begin, I looked at sites briefly after class on the 9th. Inklewriter was most appealing after a very unthorough run-through. I’m not quite sure why yet.
Jump ahead a few days, and I began by checking out the sites — just an overview to get a sense of them. Nothing too committal.
The first I checked out was Medium. It seems like WordPress with a few more affordances. Text moves from the top of the page to the bottom like we’re used to. It’s not reinventing the wheel, but offering more possibilities of what one can do with the wheel. There’s also a good deal of space available — one’s artifact commands most of the attention and space on the page. In terms of a medium with which one can create meaning, this seems like a decent outlet for that. It’s on my radar.
Inklewriter — “We believe it takes great writers to tell great stories.” (Does that mean it takes bad writers to tell bad stories? If so, this might be the place for me). I dig that the information I wanted to know was right there on the homepage before I had to go searching for it or even scroll down the page. Boom. If I wanted to start right away, or check out an example, it looks like it’s right there. Checked out an example. “The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual” by Sir ACD. The affordance of choosing which way to go with the presentation is piquing my interest. Right off, it reminded me of “These Waves of Girls” from Digital Lit last year in the sense of how a piece can move in some degree of linearity, which might make for an interesting way of organizing/segregating notes and talking points. I am, though, wondering if the aesthetic affordances might take too much attention away from the meaning-making affordances — if navigating might end up being more trouble than is necessary for this particular project.
Prezi — I’ve experienced a Prezi presentation before (the only one of these sites in which this is the case). Clicking on Gallery to see how some other projects look, I’m met with a new page beginning with “Endless Prezibilities.” Cute. Looking at an example (“Typography” by Travis Hitchcock (tl;dr, btw)), it strikes me as a fancier sort of PowerPoint. I’m wondering if the bells & whistles might distract from the meaning-making, or how they might enhance it. It’s on my radar, but not as intensely as Medium. Checking out another example (“Thesis Statements and Argumentation” by Jada Williams under the Education template), I’m digging how the entire map is visible, and moving back and forth among points seems fairly easy. Not much to be lost in the quagmire. Navigation with respect to the big picture seems like a major plus for Prezi, especially considering it has option of arrows to move point-by-point, as well as a navigation bar to make further leaps.
Storify — Watching the intro video, I’m digging how info and posts from social media sites can be brought into a Storify presentation with seemingly relative ease. Strikes me as a potentially powerful way to help create meaning, especially considering the topic of multimodal composition. The concise run-through of how it works seems pretty simple, even for me. Lots of potential to create meaning, though I’m wondering how I might actually go about doing so.
Checked out the example “Burning Man: Text Adventure Game,” which makes good on its title. A collection of tweets from four people (presumably) at Burning Man. Pretty accessible. Entertaining, if nothing else.
At the end of the brief self-guided tour of each site, I’m leaning most strongly toward Medium, followed by Storify, then Inklewriter, and Prezi has gravitated to the bottom. The plan for this project is to have a conversation between George’s and Marback’s essays and to incorporate images, and while each site offers affordances different from each other and different from what we may be used to, I’m trying to keep the aesthetic allure at bay. So it’s between Medium and Storify, and I’m leaning more strongly toward Medium.
(Update: Medium is the winner).
Looking at the texts again, I’m drawn to George’s and Marback’s essays. I think in particular, George’s beginning to her essay caught my attention with the explanation of her student’s use of image as rhetoric, and the sociopolitical meaning a recomposed flag of an African country as a way of creating meaning. The meaning that the visual argument makes is certainly different than an argument in words would be, and both have their advantages and disadvantages.
But if we rely strictly on words, we lose the opportunity to explore different avenues of thinking and meaning.
One of the possibilities from George’s assignment is to create a new cover a book that she and her students read in that class (229). The multiple designs of Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart comes to mind, and this includes covers to books that were printed in languages other than English.
The same could be said (for example) about some images from/about the Vietnam War. One in particular is the iconic picture of 9-year-old Kim Phúc being burned by napalm and the seemingly duty-like indifference of the soldiers behind her. The intensity of that photograph can potentially be explained in words, but the picture itself creates an awfully strong argument about war (though whether for or against, I suppose, depends on perspective).
In an interview with theguardian on Oct. 25, 2015, Kim Phúc and photographer Nick Ut recount the napalming. According to the article
Ut remembers the girl screaming in Vietnamese, “Too hot! Too hot!”
[Ut] put her in the AP van where she crouched on the floor, her burnt skin raw and peeling off her body as she sobbed, “I think I’m dying, too hot, too hot, I’m dying.”
Which is certainly powerful, but what is gained and what is lost when words are used instead of image?
In the same article, Phúc describes the laser treatment she’s receiving to alleviate the pain and reduce the scars from the napalm. Forty-three years after the napalming, the effects are still present.
Phuc tells Waibel [the doctor] her pain is “10 out of 10” — the worst of the worst.
But again, what is lost with words as a way of creating meaning? Phúc’s description offers the reader a sense of the torment she lives with, and that could go on to say something about war, the horrors of it, and remnants of its aftermath, but a rhetorical effect through another medium creates a different way to understand (or an attempt to understand) the effects of war and what someone who has been directly affected by its violence lives with.
Despite this being something of a deviation from George’s essay, in that these examples are not student-created images, these images nonetheless create meaning, and are amalgamated into one artifact, in which they produce rhetorical messages in their own right.
I’m also still thinking about album art from Rice’s essay. Specifically, what I have in mind is the juxtaposition between rhetorical effect and not jazz albums, but rather, heavy metal albums. The meaning created with these instances of album art might play into the stereotype of metal being “that crush-kill-destroy stuff,” or something indicating more substance and depth than that. It might be visual noise to accompany auditory noise, or it might be a taste of what the album is all about, or some combination of the two. (Or something entirely different). If you’re willing, consider the sound of Lamb of God’s song “512” compared with the lyrical heaviness of the song, which has to do with singer Randy Blythe’s time in a Czech prison while awaiting trial on manslaughter charges. The outlet to create meaning takes a different rhetorical role than it otherwise might due to the context.
Because the meaning created with album art, lyrics, and music can’t be nailed down into one solid answer, it moves toward Marback’s argument about wicked problems. To explain the concept of wicked problems, Marback quotes Melvin M. Webber and Horst W. J. Rittel — “[T]he wickedness of design problems derives from the fact that they are not the tame problems solvable through greater command of more information. Wicked problems are wicked because they are never finally solvable” (259).
Getting into the text
This process began by rereading George’s and Marback’s essays and writing notes/talking points/points for further elaboration in the book. As I went through the essays again, I transposed quotations and notes into a Word document, usually revising or adding new stuff to my notes, then copying and pasting it into the text box on this website, and formatting (and editing again, if necessary) and adding images. If I didn’t have anything to add to a quotation from the text that I marked during either reading, (that is, if I just underlined a passage in the text but didn’t add any notes) I didn’t incorporate it into this project, on the basis that if I didn’t/couldn’t meaningfully elaborate on what George or Marback wrote, I’d leave their ideas be. It seemed hollow to throw in a quotation simply because I liked it.
Too, to help navigating and differentiation, I changed page numbers and quotations from the textbook to boldface, whereas my notes and elaborations are in plain old regularface.
Unless stated otherwise, page numbers are references to Multimodal Composition: A Critical Sourcebook
Diana George — “From Analysis to Design: Visual Communication”
p. 212 George draws on John Trimbur’s influence in exploring the possibilities for students to create meaning through “visual communication in the composition class”
p. 213 “some tug of war between words and images or between writing and design can be productive as it brings into relief multiple dimensions of all forms of communication”
-multiple dimensions and perspectives to better understand a topic, yes. I’m not sure I’m sold on all form of communication, though — that might be too encompassing in this context. All forms of communication includes braille, dance, body language, MAD fold-ins (which are available for the iPad now — another example of multimodality), etc.
-despite my pedantry, words and visuals both have their advantages and disadvantages as modes to create meaning.
p. 213 “Even so, there remains much confusion over what is meant by…the visual and where or whether it belongs in a composition course”
-seems to be addressing common conceptions among composition teachers. Many of us adhere to the written/printed/typed word, and when the visual does come in, it’s often in the form of analysis of someone else’s visual artifact, rather than a student-created artifact in which he/she seeks to make meaning.
p. 213 “the visual is…a form of communication worth both examining and producing.”
-understanding how someone else uses the visual for its rhetorical effects, and how one can use the visual for rhetorical effect, like her students did in redesigning maps of Africa with a specified meaning, or recreating the flag of Congo to represent an idea of what colonization actually provided.
p. 213 “How does the visual both promise and threaten to change the composition course?”
-and it certainly sounds like something many composition teachers reject. But is it necessarily a bad thing? It’s a challenge to the power structure many of us believe in, and it’s never easy to confront a challenge to a deeply-engrained belief. But is it necessary, if not only to better understand our adherence to the written/typed/printed word?
p. 213 “’Remember that graph-and-chart reading is not one of the three R’s’ –Rudolph Flesch”
p. 214 “Instead I [George] would argue that if we are ever to move beyond a basic and somewhat vague call for attention to ‘visual literacy’ in the writing class, it is crucial to understand how very complicated and sophisticated is visual communication to students who have grown up in what by all accounts in an aggressively visual culture”
-to understand the how and why images can work, how they can be used to create meaning, and how an understanding of that can help students better understand phenomena and ideas in their lives in and out of the university.
p. 215 “Literacy means more than words, and visual literacy means more than play”
-getting at the idea that there is rhetorical power in images that can be manipulated by students to create meaning. Sometimes images equate to coloring books. Sometimes they’re Basquiat.
pp. 215–6 “The points of concern are explicit: Television is what our children are watching.” “It [television] was a ‘literary experience’ that threatened to replace those forms more common (and more comfortable) to the English class”
-Television becoming a major factor in students’ lives. What to do about it? Fight it or guide it? Currently, we’re seeing how Netflix, YouTube, and social media play a role in students’ lives, and to reject these phenomena is equivalent to putting on a pair of blinders.
-This seems to speak to the myth of transience from Mike Rose’s essay “The Language of Exclusion: Writing Instruction at the University.” It’s as if this response to television as a threat is what some teachers saw as a critical problem, and if it could just be removed, “higher education will be able to return to its real work” (355).
-something of the fear factor, too — the challenge to power that English teachers held so dearly.
From the block quotation on p. 217 “Magazines employ vastly different visual grammars according to their social and cultural content”
-this is one medium in which it is not too far of a stretch to argue that it embraces discourse communities comfortably and willingly. This particular medium often has an established audience and caters to the wants/desires/interests of that audience.
p. 217 “What these scholars urge, then, is…the use of mass media to encourage the use of multimodal designs”
-We’re starting to see the push toward multimodality in the classroom. The more media available to students, all the more modes are available, which means more affordances, which means more opportunity to create meaning.
p. 218 “The 1976 edition [of Writing with a Purpose]… is filled with photos, cartoons, illustrations, all meant to add spice to the text”
-“add spice” referring to different rhetorical effects and another way for meaning to be interpreted.
p. 218 “Primarily, these [visual assignments] would be assignments that use visual images as prompts for essay writing”
- more geared toward analysis, like with advertisements, political ads, Banksy’s art, PSAs, etc. Write an essay interpreting the constituent parts and how they work together to create a whole. It may not be a bad assignment, but that’s usually as far as the assignment goes — interpret the visual and respond with writing.
- -p. 219 “Though these early texts commonly used pictures…the aim of each exercise was to bring students to a more vivid or accurate use of written language.”
- -often, the authors made an elaborate case for the advantage or superiority of words over pictures.
- -despite how rhetorically powerful pictures can be, the idea that words are the primary force of meaning is still king.
- -again, juxtapose the effect of an essay about war with the picture of Kim Phúc covered in napalm. One is not necessarily better than the other, but they afford different ways of offering a message.
- p. 219 “‘What can a picture tell you about the wind or heat…about the feeling of roughness or moisture? Nothing directly; it can only suggest’”
- on the obverse, what can words tell about how painful napalm is?
From the block quotation on p. 220 “The relation between what we see and what we know is never settled…. The way we see things is affected by what we know or what we believe”
-perspectives shaped by social and historical factors. Probably political factors, too.
p. 221 “breaking down the barriers that separated high art…from low art”
pp. 222–3 — The Influence of Design. -the current ways in which we format essays is pretty standard. George refers to this as “a sign of academic decorum”
-Many comp teachers abide by MLA or APA formatting, which prompts essays to look a certain way. The influence of design permeates through revered organization down to the low-level comp classes throughout the country (and possibly (probably?) the world). How many teachers would mention something to a student, if not deduct points or reject the essay entirely, if he/she turned in an essay in sixteen-point Comic Sans? Or crayon? Or an essay handwritten with blood on vellum?
p. 224 Lester Faigley, in reference to student-created websites compared to the dryness of websites for popular companies, “seems to be asking, instead, why it is that we (their teachers) don’t seem to understand how sophisticated these literary practices actually are”
-these students are, apparently, flourishing in a specific kind of literacy, but it’s not the literacy many teachers understand or want to teach. A challenge of power and authority, and some teachers resist instead of embrace, promote, and challenge students further.
p. 225 in reference to George’s students’ visual arguments “Not one of these students seemed to think that their visual argument was any less complicated or took less research or thought than the typical argument essay that they were also assigned in the course”
-creating meaning ain’t easy, especially if it’s something one is invested in, wants to learn and understand, and communicate something profound and thought-provoking
-Her students, by means of creating visual arguments, shed new light on a common perception in an established context.
-This project, for example, was no less rigorous than an essay — just rigorous in a different way.
-Make it new
p. 228 “Teachers who have been interested in using the visual in writing classrooms have generally limited their discussions to analysis because there were few ways of doing otherwise”
-not know what/how else to do limits teachers’ and students’ options to engage in other media for rhetorical and meaning-making purposes.
Richard Marback — “Embracing Wicked Problems: The Turn to Design in Composition Studies”
p. 258 “”the field of composition studies became more diffuse and further divided, somehow less capable of accounting for the activity of composition itself”
-like we’ve seen with digital humanities, rhetoric, etc., we’re not sure how/where to situate it all. For example, not everyone will agree that William Poundstone’s “Project for Tachistoscope” belongs in the English department.
p. 259–60 “Wicked problems are wicked because they are never finally solvable; they are contingent problems of deciding what to do that requires resolution ‘over and over again’”
-even something like assigning an essay to a class results in everyone receiving the same requirements and everyone resolving the issue differently (different topics, sources, ways of incorporating sources, ways of defining, methods of revision, levels of seriousness, and others differences I’m not considering)
p. 260 “Never reducible to an unambiguous formulation, wicked design problems are ‘vicious’ (like a circle) or ‘tricky’ (like a leprechaun) or ‘aggressive’ (like a lion, in contrast to the docility of a lamb)…Wicked design problems are problems of deciding what is better when the situation is ambiguous at best.”
-the challenge is to consider what sort of rhetorical and meaning-making approaches are best suited (and acceptable in a given discourse community) to address a problem.
-by “acceptable,” I’m specifically getting at whether a teacher might accept a multimodal work in a composition classroom (to keep this specific to the task at hand), but it’s certainly not limited to that. I also think it’s important to add that qualifier because one rhetorical way to address a problem is to simply not address it.
p. 260 “[E]very genuine design task is unique and irreducible, a matter of inventing a solution rather than discovering an answer”… -It’s not like math where there is a definite right and wrong solution to each problem. With wicked problems, each solution will be different from each person addressing it. Too, social and historical contexts shape how we approach and solve the problem. …“ultimately less about the constraints of subjectivity and more about the productive interactions of designers and their clientele.” -it’s not so much how one interprets the problem and solution, but how meaning is understood and appreciated in a social context (however small that social context may be).
p. 261 “A science of the artificial is a study of productive activity, a study of the individual planning and devising of specific artifacts such as buildings, machines, and texts, things only designed once that could always have been designed otherwise. There are many buildings, many machines, and many texts, all of them singular artifacts. Any building or machine or text that is made, that is artificial and so artificial, only gets composed or designed once, in response to the demands of the specific situation then and there, and through the immediate purpose brought by a composer or designer to the creation of that artifact in that situation.”
- In each artifact, there are social and historical factors of a discourse community at work, but artifacts are created by the specific [constraints] of the discourse community (or some aspect of it) — the sense of urgency of the “then and there” serves both as an impetus for creation as well as a restriction-setter. How one might go about creating an artifact is important, but how one doesn’t go about creating an artifact is also worth attention. To bring this argument up again, it comes back to the situation of writing an essay in crayon, which is in the same rhetorical vein as typing an essay in Cambria vs. typing an essay in Comic Sans, or writing an essay the way we typically think of it now: typed and printed in ink on paper vs. other possibilities, like handwriting an essay in food coloring with a quill pen on a giant piece of plywood.
p. 261 “According to Rittel and Webber, wickedness rests in the fact that the context-boundedness of planning problems makes those problems value laden, problems of deciding what ought to be done here and now.”
-values are determined by social factors
-this also related to the previous quotation — “the demands of the specific situation,” whether they are then and there or here and now.
p. 261 “The question of what artifact it is right to create is never, as Rittel and Webber put it, ‘exhaustively describable’ because it is always contingent on interests that are themselves changeable and always changing.”
-For example, if you were given the same prompt for an essay right now as when you were in first-year composition, you’d write/compose/create a different essay than you did X years ago. It’s likely that some processes would be the same in the creation of the artifact, but it would not be the same artifact.
p. 261 “[A] designer cannot fully know in advance the responses people will have to any artifact of design”
-this hearkens back to Ong’s essay, “The Writer’s Audience Is Always a Fiction.” One can imagine the audience and craft an artifact to the audience while having an idea of how the audience will react, but the creator can only anticipate the reaction until it actually happens. As Ong states, “Such special cases apart, the person to whom the writer addresses himself normally is not present at all” (57). (Though as pertains to multimodal composition, the artifact creator need not necessarily be a writer).
p. 262 “Design in rhetoric is a responsibility for response because design is the making of a meaningful thing, an artifact that means in the world independently of the meaning created for it by the designer”
-teaching/guiding/demystifying can’t guarantee that someone will interpret an artifact a certain way. I’m thinking back to Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase from DigLit last year. It was explained to me and I get the concept, but I still can’t make the visual decipherment — I see it, but I don’t see it.
p. 263 “Sorting through values and information and decisions as we design, we learn not only how wicked it is to make design decisions, we learn also the kind of decision makers we are and what matters to us in making decisions”
-how we interpret/respond to the created meaning
p. 263 “Technologies have a structure and a pulse beyond our representations and in this way we have an impact so immediately and deeply felt that we cannot express it”
-we simply don’t have the words, which is one of the limitations of the mode
p. 264 “The reintroduction of design thinking to composition studies at least since 2002 has been driven by growing use of computers in first-year writing.”
-it’s pretty common to associate “write an essay” with “type an essay on Word or some similar program and follow formatting guidelines.” Design, in part, comes into the picture with formatting, like with the standard double-spacing, one-inch margins, specified font and size, etc.
p. 264 “‘We are both inheritors of patterns and conventions of meaning and at the same time active designers of meaning. And, as designers of meaning, we are designers of social futures — workplace futures, public futures, community futures”
-Ideas and artifacts are constantly being produced and redesigned, and that’s not happening in a vacuum. Consider, for example, how memes have become a popular, accessible form of meaning making.
From the block quotation on p. 265 “We propose to treat any semiotic activity, including using language to produce or consume texts, as a matter of Design involving three elements Available Designs, Designing, and The Redesigned.”
-in this, the focus is deviating from strictly a focus on writing and encompasses a wider range of ways to create meaning. If it were pertinent to just writing, the three terms could easily be “previous written work,” “the act of writing,” and “revision.”
p. 266 “[T]he single, exclusive, and intensive focus on written language has dampened the full development of all kinds of human potentials”
-There’s quite a bit we can do with words, but there’s also quite a bit that we can’t do, and those instances might be better suited for other modes of meaning-making.
p. 266 “Print may seem more conceptual, yet our perception of the printed word is primarily a visual experience.”
-Marback is tapping into concepts of affordances, design, rhetorical effects, and interpretations that other media can offer. This tattoo-shop standard comes to mind.
p. 266 “[S]ynaesthesia [is] ‘the transduction of meaning from one semiotic mode to another semiotic mode, an activity constantly performed by the brain”
-sounds similar to the definition of multimodal composition via Kress and Van Leeuwen in the introduction of Multimodal Composition — “the use of several semiotic modes in the design of a semiotic product or event, together with the particular way in which these modes are combined” (2).
p. 268 “[T]he visual has served primarily as a prompt for writing, or as subject matter for essays — in other words, as a topic for analysis”
-which means that it usually isn’t utilized as a means for creating.
p. 268 “Any medium, whether visual or verbal, is simply ‘that which remediates. It is that which appropriates the techniques, forms and social significance of other media and attempts to rival or refashion them in the name of the real’”
-Context is a major factor in the intensity of the message via a certain medium
p. 268 “As [Diana] George puts it, ‘thinking of composition as design shifts attention, if only momentarily, from the product to the act of production.”
-which goes way back to Murray and Emig
p. 269–70 “Visualizations of argument, while grounded in words, are also something other than words and have an impact on our perception that words cannot adequately replicate.”
-which goes back to the first listed quotation from p. 266 — sometimes the word isn’t the best mode to create a meaningful artifact, because while each mode has its strengths, it has its weaknesses, too.
p. 273 “Embracing the wicked problems of design is to embrace the problem of responsiveness.”
-again, artifacts are not created in a vacuum. Whether an audience actually sees/experiences/interacts with an artifact, the point is that the artifact creator is, in most cases, envisioning (to some degree) an audience that will respond to his/her work, whether that person is Banksy or Duchamp or a student in a composition class.
Words can be powerful. We know that. Images can also be powerful. We know that, too. George is putting forth the idea that the visual surrounds us, and if we embrace it rather than shun it, we have one more medium available to create meaning. Marback is furthering this concept with the idea that wicked problems cannot be solved with a sense of finality. Wicked problems are contingent on response, and how one responds to an artifact can be assumed by the creator, but not known. To tie this together, when I began this project, my intent was to make a conversation between the two essays, and as it developed, it began to drift away from that original concept. I did not intend to spend so much time on images as meaning-making artifacts. But as that developed, the focus shifted, and it wasn’t something I necessarily wanted to fight.
In George’s essay, the focus is more geared toward student-created artifacts, and in Marback’s, the focus is on the problems of design and how a person/group of people respond to the artifact. Marback builds on George’s essay, and the two together create a whole of meaning-making within a social context.
This artifact exists, and how the audience receives it is indeed a wicked problem unique to this project, but would be different if the artifact existed as a project on Inklewriter, Prezi, or Storify. (Or another medium, for that matter — WordPress, an essay, a strictly visual argument, a video, etc.).
In the preface to his book, What Is English?, Peter Elbow states that “it might be more comfortable and convenient if we knew just what English studies is, but this very absence of comfort and convenience in the profession is probably a good thing. English is percolating at various levels, and I don’t think anyone can know where it’s going to end up. On good days I even say, ‘It’s about time we finally don’t know where we are’” (v). Elbow wrote the book as a reflection from the English Coalition Conference in 1987, and the book was first published in 1990. With the introduction of computers, the Internet, and other electronic technology in the composition classroom, we’ve seen/have been part of the acceptance and rejection of what these can offer and what we can do with them. It’s not just essays, grammar, and words in the composition classroom anymore, but a wicked problem of composition’s evolution is not knowing how teachers will respond to the changes/affordances/different modes and mediums of creating meaning.
Elbow, Peter. What Is English? New York: Modern Language Association of America, 1990. Print.
George, Diana. “From Analysis to Design: Visual Communication in the Teaching of Writing.” Multimodal Composition: A Critical Sourcebook. Ed. Claire Lutkewitte. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2014. 211–232. Print.
Marback, Richard. “Embracing Wicked Problems: The Turn to Design in Composition Studies.” Multimodal Composition: A Critical Sourcebook. Ed. Claire Lutkewitte. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2014. 258–276. Print.
Ong, Walter J. “The Writer’s Audience Is Always a Fiction.” Cross-Talk In Comp Theory: A Reader. Eds. Victor Villanueva and Kristin Arola. 3rd ed. Urbana: NCTE, 2011. 55–76. Print.
Rose, Mike. “The Language of Exclusion: Writing Instruction at the University.” College English 47.4 (1985): 341–59. JSTOR. Web. 5 Oct. 2015.