Friday, February 17, 2006

Kress - Literacy in the New Media Age (2003)

I'm just eight pages into Gunther Kress' Literacy in the New Media Age. I've read the chunk before the preface (what is this thing, a superpreface, an antepreface, pre-preface?): "The Futures of Literacy: Modes, Logics and Affordances." This much is clear: image and text function according to distinctive logics. With text, word follows word. It's sequentiality involves a distinctive commitment, both for writers and readers, to paths and naming. Text inheres time, whereas image inheres space, Kress tells us. Image involves a kind of commitment to location, and while Kress hints at the importance of perceptual paths for readers of images, that point doesn't get extended early on. Next, Kress discusses media and affordances; these few lines are a sample of what he's got going here:

1. Multimodality is made easy, usual, 'natural,' by these technologies. (5)
2. The new technologies have changed unidirectionality into bidirectionality. (6) (i.e. with the email, you can send and receive)
3. Writing is becoming 'assembling according to designs' in ways which are overt, and much more far-reaching, than they were previously. (6)
4. The affordances and the organisations of the screen are coming to (re)shape the organisation of the page. (6)
5. It is possible to see writing becoming subordinated to the logic of the visual in many or all of its uses. (7)

That subordination concerns Kress, and I anticipate that it fuels what will ultimately play out as a beware-of-image argument for Writing conservation (pictures are preying on our dull-wit kids, sapping their Literacy, etc.). But you're right; to be fair, I should read more of it before leaping to cyniclusions. Here's an overarching statement near the end of the pre-preface:

What do I hope to achieve which this book? There is a clear difference between this book and others dealing with the issues of literacy and new media. The current fascination with the dazzle of the new media is conspicuous here by its absence. I focus on just a few instances and descriptions of hypertextual arrangements, internet texts, or the structure of websites. I am as interested in understanding how the sentence developed in the social and technological environments of England in the seventeenth century, as I am in seeing what sentences are like now. The former like the latter--in showing principles of human meaning-making--can give us ways of thinking about the likely developments of the sentences in the social and technological environments of our present and of the immediate future. In that sense the book is out of the present mould; in part it looks to the past as much as to the present to understand the future. It is a book about literacy now, everywhere, in all its sites of appearances, in the old and the new media--it is about literacy anywhere in this new media age. (8)

With his explicit attention to sentences, I'm not expecting much in the way of arrangement at a larger scale--the relationship of larger units of writing as perhaps both spatial and temporal commitments. And I am glad to know that LITNMA is catalogued in Google Books, so I can find that "arrangement(s)" turns up 39 times, and "rhetoric" makes just three appearances. I'll also have to read this review after I get farther along with my own reading. More notes before the weekend's up....

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