Kathie Gossett, Andrea Davis, and Carrie Lamanna (unfortunately, John Walter was unable to make it) began their panel with a quotation from Winifred Bryan Horner’s introduction to John Frederick Reynolds’ book Rhetorical Memory and Delivery: “We need to re-think rhetorical memory and delivery as pertaining to new media.” Their panel explored some of the ways in which memory and delivery could be re-thought in relation to new media.
Kathie’s presentation title was “Remembering When: the Temporal Mechanics of Multimodal Composing.” We’re familiar with the traditional modes of composing, Kathie asserted: visual, textual, aural. However, she proposed a perhaps previously underconsidered mode of expression: the temporal.
The visual, the textual, and the aural are interrelated, but also all connected to time, and time is connected to the canons of arrangement, delivery, and memory. Many multimodal compositions are based around a timeline, of course, and we should understand that with Manovich’s assertion that new media is derived from cinema, and cinema’s linear relationship to time, many new media compositions may be similarly bound to a linear timeline. However, she proposed, new media compositions also offer the possibility of being alinear in their relation to time: they can discard conventional conceptions of sequence. As an example, Kathie showed the Flash workspace of one of her students, and called attention to different components of the workspace, including the timeline window and the Actionscript window. Layers are stacked on the timeline, but the Actionscript code also controls the timeline, wherein the student put a randomizer, to randomly sequence the elements as they take place in the timeline. Kathie then related this workspace and its possibilities of non-linearity to an analysis of the non-linear sequence of Beowulf, noting the contrast between cyclic timelines in medieval narratives like Beowulf and the Song of Roland and the linear timelines of later literate narratives codified by the canonical hours. In their texts, Kathie said, medieval composers contrasted cyclical and linear timelines, exhibiting shifts between literacy and orality, and we’re seeing that phenomenon again today with new media. (I know I’ve just done a crudely reductive injustice to Kathie’s argument, and mangled Ong’s work as well, so I hope Kathie or John will set me straight.) Memory, Kathie continued, is important in the deployment of the temporal as a compositional element, and she illustrated this point by returning to the example of her student’s autobiographical Flash piece. The student’s goal was to never show the same message sequence twice; to make the text memorable, in offering multiple variations of memory. In that sense, the student effectively coordinated the visual, verbal, aural, and temporal aspects of her new media composition, with the randomizer Actionscript determining the sequence of the appearance of autobiographical keywords and thereby offer multiple differing autobiographical narratives. Medieval conceptions of time, Kathie suggessted, are remediated into the new ways we’re engaging time in new media, and she argued that temporal mode wasn’t available to us in textual compositions. (In the question and answer session, I disagreed a little bit, pointing to the effects of meter and enjambment in poetry, and to how the hypertextual nature of rhyme heightens our awareness of time: while I think Kathie put together a highly compelling case in most of what she had to say, I’m not sure whether I’m convinced by that portion of her conclusion. I’d be curious to hear what other folks think.)
Andrea’s title was “Rhetorical Delivery: Multimedia and the Ethics of Display,” and the central idea of her presentation was that the revival of delivery as a rhetorical canon gives multimodal composers new rhetorical power, which carries new ethical obligations as well. Andrea cited as touchstone texts the NCTE Guideline on Multimodal Literacies, the CCCC Position Statement on Teaching, Learning, and Assessing Writing in Digital Environments, Kathleen Blake Yancey’s 2004 CCCC address “Made Not Only in Words: Composition in a New Key”, and Dànielle Nicole DeVoss, Ellen Cushman, and Jeffrey Grabill’s 2005 CCC article “Infrastructure and Composing: The When of New-Media Writing.” The exigencies of multimodal composing, Andrea argued, make newly relevant decisions about designing and displaying information; about what to foreground and what to hide, and how to constrain the reader’s attention. Such decisions have moved beyond the document boundary to other media, and selective processes of display constrain possible meanings, and so require ethical consideration of rhetorical decisions. In support of this contention, Andrea offered examples of rhetorical display strategies from the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC. The entry into the gallery physically positions visitors in a place of origin, and uses multimodal presentations of creation stories to introduce visitors to contextualized objects as parts of a larger historical whole, foregrounding diversity and attempting to counter the stereotypical representation of the singular and homogenous American Indian. The exhibits draw attention to striking differences among the various creation stories by establishing entrances to eight different tribal areas, foregrounding the traditional in the present day and pulling together ancient and contemporary objects and practices to represent, across time, their continuing and continuous significance, rather than relying on the fixed time frames and frozen history model of older forms of exhibit: in that sense, the multimodal effort was to foreground the continuous over the fixed and reinforce that concept of continuity. In so doing, Andrea argued, the museum usefully illustrated the ethical implications of the rhetorical choices associated with design, delivery, and display in multimodal environments.
Carrie concluded the panel with her presentation on “Delivery in the Digital Age: Research, Identity, Representation, and Audience Participation.” Carrie’s understanding of the rhetorical canon of delivery, she noted, is influenced by feminist theories of identity and representation, and in particular by Judith Butler’s theory of identity formation and the question of “How is it that a position becomes a position?” The ways we present our research positions our research participants, ourselves as researchers, and our readers, and those positions all influence one another. Carrie’s research informants, she observed, are members of her own academic “family,” and she used Michael Renov’s notion of the domestic ethnography to investigate the power of the familial metaphor, offering examples of photographs that positioned her in complex and familial ways. New media presentations and texts can allow for these complex familial relationships, Carrie suggested: they allow for a new interactivity that puts delivery at the center of the rhetorical process. That interactivity exists on James Porter’s continuum that stretches from access to usability to critical engagement to co-production, and for academic and artistic purposes, we’re today interested in co- production. Carrie’s focus on users of new media coming to individualized and user-specific conclusions in their co-productions illustrated the way that true interactivity requires a balance between user and author: part of good games, she suggested, is making invisible what a player can and can’t do. If we lack control over a new media space and our own representations in that space, then we understand it’s within a world, rather than being the world: our consciousness of the degrees of control offers users critical reflexivity. As an example of how this complex interactivity functioned, Carrie offered a description of how she moved through Joyce Walker’s text on a white woman’s experience of race and racism in Southern Illinois. According to Carrie, Walker needed an associative composing space for herself to put her experience of racism into conversation with the critical race theories she was reading. The text Walker composed works both with and against control, and users were asked to interact with text in movement and reflection, to the point where Carrie felt overwhelmed by text, and so wound up focusing on Joyce’s personal stories, and how Carrie identified with those stories. That led to a desire on Carrie’s part to add to Joyce’s text: Joyce’s text allowed for interactivity and exploration, but no space for response, which Carrie found frustrating. As an alternative space, Carrie concluded by showing her own research filespace; a space, she proposed, that might be usefully expanded by other participants uploading their own files.
Reader, I love Carrie’s idea. I think it’s a fine, fine notion. And it’s an idea that people are expressing in various ways all over composition’s field, from Carrie’s filespace to Charlie Lowe’s (and others’) OSDDP to John Logie’s Edster to my own Clickstream. So I wonder: how might we begin building such a thing on a large scale?