Monday, January 31, 2005

Retromediation and Novelty

Cross-posted to Network(ed) Rhetorics.

Frankly, as I read "Remediation, Genre, and Motivation: Key Concepts for Teaching with Weblogs," by Brooks, Nichols and Priebe, all of NDSU, I wondered about the consequences of framing weblogs as remediations of older forms--the journal, the notebook and the filter.  What results from a setup of weblogs that calibrates their potential in terms of paper-based corollaries?  It's difficult to know exactly how this was framed beyond the evidence we find in the article (the framework, the research narrative, the questionnaire, the data-sets, the conclusion) and in the related links (the weblogs themselves, a syllabus, a reading list, adjacent assignments) so I'm reluctant to respond to the essay with firmly resolved skepticism, especially considering that it reflects some of the earliest uses of blogs to teach writing. Yet through this limited lens, I have doubts about why we need to liken blogs to paper counterparts.  What's gained?  Is it a way to legitimate composition pedagogy adventurously (inventively, imaginatively!) straying from long-recognized forms, forms often occupying the lion's share of weight in the event-oriented syllabus or program-wide curricular design?  Is it a way to call up, for students, a sense of the familiar?  Although it is, perhaps to a lesser degree than resonates in this article, necessary at times to present students with a grounding in the familiar, when Brooks et. al. tell us, "we wanted to balance the novelty of the activity with a grounding in familiar literate practices," my initial thought is that a high stakes flattening/deadening/adequation is inevitably brought about.  And this, I think, must bear on motivation, if only subtly, tacitly.

What do I suggest instead?  Well, it depends on the broader aims of the course. For collective course blogs, I'm less and less inclined to model exemplary entries for the whole class, and rather than talking about what blogs enable by connecting them to the written forms they (more or less) resemble, I prefer to introduce blogs to students in terms of their impact on how we think (sure, paper variations impact thought, too), develop and write with/about ideas and so on (more to this, but I'll let it rest here).

Bookmark and Share Posted by at January 31, 2005 10:29 PM to Networks,On Weblogs

"why we need to liken blogs to paper counterparts"

There you go Derek, sounding like me!
Seriously, it's the right point to make (with nothing against the NDSU folks). Familiarity must be a lens through which we view new media (or, at the least, the unfamiliar), but it can also be a very cripping lens ("hey, that won't work!") and restrictive one as well. Often, it takes too long to understand the impact of new media (which, let's say, a weblog is one kind of representation), from printing the Bible to net art. We look for immediate use-value in place of understanding overall impact.


Posted by: jeff at February 1, 2005 8:20 AM

Yeah, you nailed the influence. You and Collin have primed my antennae for this sort of thing, and now I find it all over the place. I'm not against paper (virtual origami's a waste); I'd just say (like you often do) that when we talk about remediation, what's gained/lost in conceiving through the blinders of an old medium resemblance? I didn't want to undermine the work of the NDSU folks either, and yet there are moments in the essay when I had to work hard to understand why we I would want to describe note cards as a genre or transpose note cards onto blog entries.

Posted by: Derek at February 1, 2005 9:24 AM

And yet, new media do not appear whole cloth out of nowhere.

Reading Walter Ong last week, I've been thinking of the tension between the views that

  • there are "natural" impulses inside of us that cause us to resort to certain forms of expression, and

  • the way we express ourselves is strongly influenced (determined?) by the available technologies.

In other words, we could argue that there is a genealogical connection between, say, diaries and weblogs, and that the impulse the causes us to write and read them is the same. We can find historical antecedents for many forms of expression. For example, the eighteenth-century Methodists I study shared their diaries with each other and commented (orally) on them. Obviously not the exact same things as weblogs, but there's an affinity.

I cannot disagree, however, that viewing new media only in terms of the old will inevitably make much of the possibility of the "new" invisible.

[By the way, check out Timothy Clark's critique of Ong in "Technology Inside: Enlightenment and Romantic Assumptions of the Orality Literacy School" (PDF, 600K, will disappear in a little while) part of a special issue of Oxford Literary Review on "Technologies of the Sign."]

Posted by: G Zombie at February 1, 2005 11:21 AM

The stuff we're not yet figuring out is how to understand the new not as familiar (the rear view mirror effect McLuhan draws attention to), and not as an abandonment of the remediation project (all new maintain something from the old), but instead as possibility/chance/encounter. What is this thing doing that we weren't already doing? I think when we ask that, and then we we listen to various responses, we open up possibilities and encounters we wouldn't already have.

I'm reminded of a MOO panel of Jane Love, V. Vitanza, and B. Dilger at C&W at Ball State. I don't remember the specifics of the talk, but each theorized a new approach/usage/rhetoric of the MOO. All the responses were: you can't do that in the MOO.

Point missed completely. Too much familiarity drowns possibility.

Posted by: jeff at February 1, 2005 11:22 AM

Bonus added when the blogosphere starts assisting with research--the Clark bit is definitely helpful, GZ, i.e. the stuff on psychic/technic "What is properly human is inherently unstable, a changeful function of plural networks and forces." Works directly with several ideas/projects on my mind right now.

Re: you can't do that
The "can't do"/"won't explore" rationale speaks for itself, and I suppose there are pitfalls in working through such inhibitives, but I can't fathom the alternative to asking, pushing, experimenting and so on. Break from the script and, at times, you'll have the Pedagogy of Oops! we talked about.

Posted by: Derek at February 1, 2005 9:21 PM

Thanks to the Zombie for posting the Clark piece.
But I think Clark gets Ong and McLuhan wrong (wrong? eh, can't think of a better word) when he places their overviews of media/rhetoric/writing in terms of Englightenment narratives. I think this is a typical misunderstanding of McLuhan and Ong - that they see in media a liberation. Probably the opposite, particularly for McLuhan who did not admire media as much as work to understand its impact. That work often translates into attempts to reproduce its logics in his efforts to theorize (i.e., puns, collages, hyperbole, etc.) There is no yearning for orality either in Ong or McLuhan that I can think of.


Posted by: jeff at February 1, 2005 9:57 PM

I'm not well-read enough to critique Clark (need more reading Ong and McLuhan before I could add much in that regard), but a couple of points near the end, especially the stuff on technic/psychic and Ong's developmental view connect in interesting ways with a course I have now with Louise Phelps on cognition and meaning making. When I met with her yesterday to plot a project, we talked through a few related questions about new media, composition's responses to the image, and some of the early (late 70s) cognitive science concerned with whether thinking derived from the sub-verbal or the image or a mix.

Posted by: Derek at February 2, 2005 9:57 AM

Derek... Cool class site re: Network (ed) Rhetorica. I left a couple of comments. I think I will find it interesting being a lurker there :-)

Posted by: acline at February 2, 2005 4:58 PM

Yah, Andy, definitely lurk or post comments as you see fit. Lots of interesting discussion in class today, and I think we're all working hard on the questions about whether and when student writing should be accessible online. I tend to align with your way of thinking about this, but that's surely a reflection of our conversations on this very thing. Anyway, it's a discussion that I expect to grow at NR, and your note about civic engagement is helping to push many of us in thinking about what it means to *not* prefer student writing that reaches an audience beyond teacher.

Posted by: Derek at February 3, 2005 10:34 PM