Anne, and Johndan Johnson-Eilola. "Blinded by the Letter: Why Are
We Using Literacy as a Metaphor for Everything Else?" Passions, Pedagogies, and 21st
Century Technologies. Eds. Gail E. Hawisher and Cynthia L. Selfe. Urbana, Ill.: NCTE, 1999. 349-368.
Literacy is storied in a host of distinctive ways, yet as a singular
term, it plays so loosely and is so heralded that it becomes a god-term of
sorts. Wysocki and Johnson-Eilola begin with two questions: 1. "What are we
likely to carry with us when we ask that our relationship with all technologies
should be like that we have with the technology of printed words?" and 2. "What
other possibilities might we use for expressing our relationships with and
within technologies?" (350). These lines of inquiry could be characterized as
residuum and openings or as inertia and acceleration. Basically, the article
alleges (a probability) that "literacy," given it’s prevailing connotations to
print text, infects non-print "literacies," constraining them conceptually and
practically by way of strong alphabetic-linear associations: "When we speak of
‘literacy’ as though it were a basic, neutral, context-less set of skills, the
words keep us hoping–in the face of lives and arguments to the contrary–that
there could be an easy cure for economic and social and political pain, that
only a lack of literacy keeps people poor or oppressed" (355).
"Literacy" won’t do. We need more models or metaphors to account more
precisely for the "wide range of skills and procedures and practices," (360) the
differentiated dynamics involving discourse, rhetoric, and technology.
"But. When we speak of the relationship we hope to establish–for ourselves
and our students–with newer technologies, do we want to carry forward all these
particular attachments and meanings and possibilities?" (360).
"When everything is all at once, what do we do?" (365). ^ We reintroduce
Barthes’ punctum in its temporal sense.
"No single term–such as ‘literacy’–can support the weight of the shifting,
contingent activities we have been describing" (366).
"With the notion of connection, in articulation, comes the notion of
potential disconnection. Literacy here shifts away from receiving a self to the
necessary act of continual remaking, of understanding the ‘unity’ of an object
(social, political, intellectual) and simultaneously seeing that that unity is
contingent, supported by the efforts of the writer/reader and the cultures in
which they live" (367).
"If the first bundle that comes with ‘literacy’ is the promise of social,
political, and economic improvement, it is because the second bundle is the
book, which covers who we are and what we might be and the institutions in which
we act" (359).
"When we discuss ‘technological literacy’ or ‘computer literacy’ or ‘[fill in
the blank] literacy,’ we cannot pull ‘literacy’ away from the two bundles of
meanings and implications we have described" (359-60).
Terms: "bundle of stories" (350), "technological literacy" (352), Graff’s
"literacy myth" (353)
- Related sources:
- Birkerts, Sven. The Gutenberg Elegies. Boston: Faber and Faber,
- Hall, Stuart. "Ideology and Communication Theory." Rethinking
Communication: Vol. 1. Paradigm Issues. Eds. Lawrence Grossberg, et.al.
Newbury Park: Sage, 1989.
- Illich, Ivan. A B C: The Alphabetization of the Popular Mind. San
Francisco: North Point Press, 1988.