December 16, 2012

Aggregating MOOCs

Filed under: MOOC,writing — jrice @ 8:00 am

When we did Keywords in Markup, I wrote a chapter for our collection entitled ”English <A>”.  The move from Harvard’s English A to contemporary <A>, I wrote, rested with new media logics (as opposed to the print logic of English A), among them aggregation. Cathy Davidson writes recently that “We have a potential for a learning mash-up of the loftiest, most creative, learner-centered kind.”  Davidson is interested in a merger of logics: MIT’s highly productive Media Lab and MOOCs. “In the future, merging a Media Lab 2.0 with some form of MOOC’s might prompt traditional educators to think seriously about new learning models, methods, and audience.” Davidson suggests the mashup as focus of online learning, a new media logic that, in fact, has been with us for some time (only now highlighted by new media). In addition to mashup thinking, there is also aggregation.

Typically, I spend parts of my morning reading over aggregations. My RSS feed – where I browse sites’ posts, Facebook – where updates vary from the comical to public mourning, Twitter – where I catch a remark or two centered around my focused interests, Google News – where summaries are assembled from the day’s headlines. This morning, my kids are up – as usual – before 7 am. As part of their weekend ritual, they watch Arthur, the cartoon about an aardvark and his school friends. Today, Arthur begins with a scene that features Wagner’s “Flight of the Valkyries” and a bow and arrow allusion to Apocalypse Now. Mashup of two or more unlikely texts (cartoon and canonical movie scene)? Or aggregation (cartoon and canonical movie scene)? Both, more than likely.

Some aggregations, such as Facebook and Twitter, assemble the everyday into one space. A local brewery has new fermenters. A friend’s kid said something funny. Newspaper headiness. Local restaurant’s menu. Another friend’s daily recap. A sports update. Of course, these are my aggregations prompted by my interests and emerging worldview of the everyday.  There are writers who draw upon the banal or everyday for scholarly inspiration. Geoff Sirc is among our most notable figures – proposing the A&P and the Sex Pistols as inspiration for writing pedagogy. My career began with the proposal of hip hop as composition pedagogy. And long before us, Benjamin and de Certeau explored the everyday. In the Parisian arcades, we were supposed to find the allegories of contemporary life. Jameson thought The Godfather explained capital (as part of the larger project of cognitive mapping). Ulmer reminded us that popular culture sits at the nexus of identity formation (along with personal anecdotes).

The problem with the everyday in higher education is that  its study often is reduced to decoding. As James Berlin demonstrated for composition pedagogy so long ago, a popular TV show like Roseanne merely shows us the struggles of labor or class.  Stuart Hall really wasn’t interested in James Dean as heuristic; instead, he set forth a form of study whose focus was largely meant to reveal the way the everyday (ads, popular culture, politics) is meant to dupe or deceive.  Instead of aggregating Dean into a larger network of references and shows and music and moments, Dean is reduced to a decoded message that, when read, will allow us opportunity to resist future coded messages (Barthes never bought into such logic, recognizing that decoding does not provide enlightenment).

When I enrolled in the World Listening MOOC, I was completely bored. Any sense of aggregation was ignored by the pre-recorded vide lecturers and message boards. Blackboard, a typical university online CMS, resists aggregation as well; its gated course sites prevent the streaming of information by students, teachers, or the system itself. I would watch a lecture in World Listening, and when I wanted to click on a link in the video, I couldn’t. I’d have to stop the video, go to the syllabus site, find the lecture listed on the syllabus, and check if the link was there to either click on or copy into a browser tab.  There was no aggregation of course material with participants with current events with online media, etc. The awkwardness of the MOOC is not surprising. Any given course in the university typically treats its subject matter accordingly – the narrow lens through which to study influence, context, support, connectivity, etc. I once sat on a dissertation committee in which the director told the student to remove non-academic studies of hip hop (such as Nelson George’s work). “Not scholarly enough,” she said. And yet, those texts sat in a larger field of aggregation. To not read them would mean not participating in the larger network of meaning at play. The key to any moment of aggregation is the identification of patterns and points of connectivity among the assembled texts, sites, moments. Digital aggregation provides the site to do so.

Of course, a MOOC is not built on that logic, and there is no surprise there since most of our face to face courses are not either. I enjoy the keywords genre for how it aggregates a variety of meanings into one space (volume). Despite Williams’ legacy as a central figure in the cultural studies decoding methodology, his keywords has demonstrated how aggregation exists within any body of study. If I had done a better job aggregating disciplinary interets as a kid, I now might be able to take some of the more advanced MOOCs offering science and math courses. Unfortunately, I was the perfect product of public school education: I saw the world through the very narrow lens of one interest (in my case, that was English). It took me a long time to understand the value of aggregation. To take a MOOC now, I’m pretty limited to courses that don’t require math or advanced science. As a high school student, I never understood how to draw connections among subject matter (even if I wanted to remain focused on the study of English). Humans, by nature, are limited in their focus. They don’t aggregate well on their own. As McLuhan showed is in the 1960s, we see subject matter through very narrow bars. Digital media has provided a necessary prosthesis (and so has popular culture) for aggregation.  Yet, even with so much aggregation around us currently, we build even more narrow worlds through which to build academic study. Administrative love of MOOCs (from university presidents to Boards of Regents)  is confirming this claim.

Recently, my five year old daughter checked out Mary Poppins, the book, from her Montessori school’s library. As she flipped through the pages, she grew upset.  The text and pictures did not mesh with the film she watches at least once a week. “There aren’t four kids!” she yelled showing the book to me. “There are only two! And where are the penguins! And what’s this!” For her, aggregation has meant viewing the film and book in the same space, and then noticing the differences. I’m amazed that a five year old can do this (but, as her father, I’m probably amazed all the time at her – as is any father of his kids). And what she is doing should be familiar to any contemporary Humanities course – online or in person. She compares and contrasts an object in a space to decode it. The problem is, she’s five. It’s impressive that a five year old can handle aggregation as decoding. For a university course, it’s banal. It’s everyday. And in that, it’s not very impressive.


December 7, 2012


Filed under: education,imagination,invention,MOOC,writing — jrice @ 7:19 am

About a month ago, Clay Shirky posted a short piece on MOOCs entitled “Napster, Udacity, and the Academy.” Beyond his defence of MOOCs (and that defense critiqued in InsideHigherEd), Shirky writes:  “The possibility MOOCs hold out is that the educational parts of education can be unbundled.”  We might – beyond Shirky’s love of hyperbole and over enthusiasm for social media – take that unbundling seriously.

We live in a period of unbundling. The newspaper has been unbundled into RSS aggregation (Google News a prime example, but Huffington Post, Aldaily, and others, as well, aggregate so that you don’t have to read one bundle). Pinterrest unbundles interests into appropriated items. The Weblog unbundles events and ideas into posts. Facebook and Twitter unbundle our day into short statements. The university – which Shirky alludes to – bundles learning into majors or departments. We don’t really need a complete unbundling, but we might consider types of unbundling that more properly address a given situation or moment or object of study which cannot fully be accounted for without unbundling.

I’m drawn to unbundling stories. Unbundling makes visible the components of larger items in order to either utilize those items or learn how there is no whole, only a series of aggregations . I used to reference this profile of Will Wright in the New Yorker because it unbundled The Sims as a number of disciplinary moments juxtaposed as invention: a family moment, architecture via the book Urban Dynamics,  the Game of Life biological simulation, the book A Pattern Language, Abraham Maslow’s 1943 paper “A Theory of Human Motivation,” and Charles Hampden-Turner’s Maps of the Mind. Invention is unbundled. The Sims is a video games (bundled) but also a process of other moments brought together by Wright (unbundled). The unbundled items are distributed (in various ways) as broken pieces until aggregated by Wright into something called The Sims. Wright picked and chose among the parts of influence he was exposed to.

I often feel the need to unbundle. I see the world and its various moments as parts in constant distribution and circulation. Rather than say I wrote a book about Detroit (bundled), I’d rather say, I wrote a book about

  • Detroit
  • Networks
  • Rhetoric
  • Myself
  • Decision making
  • Interfaces
  • Maps

and so on. In this way, I present the unbundling (the items that make up the thing) rather than the bundle (the grand narrative or the thing). I pick and chose among the parts of Detroit to do so (Woodward, Maccabees, Michigan Train Station, 8 Mile). Both Digital Detroit and The Rhetoric of Cool were organized as unbundling moments networked (the ways I performed the chapters). The thing about Napster, despite Shirky’s enthusiasm, is that it didn’t totally unbundle music. To use Napster, I had to download a song – as is – from someone else. It wasn’t a complete unbundled process even if the song was removed from the album.  Eventually and post-Napster, bittorrent broke that song into little pieces and unbundled the process from a complete object sent from another, complete individual to a bunch of pieces sent from a bunch of pieces.The pieces are reassembled at the user destination (unlike the Napster song which was never broken apart, and, thus, took longer to arrive as is).  It’s still not clear how MOOCs unbundle education. From what I’ve seen so far, those classes offered through MOOCs are mostly reproductions of lectures (how else to accomodate so many people at once). The Coursera course hyped by professor X is not really unbundled either since its presence is based on the reputation of the professor’s university (a complete, unbundled ethos). Coursera is promising a type of educational aggregation – a course from School X, from School Y, from School Z – but it’s not a complete aggregation since the courses are basically individual pieces meant to stand as is and on their own (instead of part of a whole). That’s not to say that an unbundling won’t happen; but it really hasn’t occurred yet.

There is no doubt that university education resists unbundling. I come from a discipline, after all, whose pedagogical gestures are typically interpreted at the first year level as having students bundle an entire idea or concept into a single sentence strategically placed somewhere in a first paragraph. Ideas are taught as unbundled moments, unfortunately. When I wrote “I am McLuhan,” I imagined a type of homage unbundling, a process of unbundling those items that construct me as McLuhan. Of course, I am not McLuhan. I am an aggregation of various items (pick and choose) that cause me to relate to McLuhan, to see a type of heritage in myself (a gesture I’ve written about again with Jim Corder for an upcoming Rhetoric Review).  Critics of MOOCs have tried to perform a critical unbundling – pointing out the economic issues, the business creep in higher education, the legacy of distance education that precedes the MOOC. But critical unbundling is not what Shirky is after, and I often find – in the spirit of Latour –  that it has run out of steam. I don’t need to critically unbundle MOOCs.

In pedagogy, we usually turn to critical unbundling over any other kind of unbundling activity. We have always, it seems, been bundled structurally and ideologically. .

  • Our semesters HAVE to be 16 weeks (not 4, 8, 10, or any other staggered study).
  • Our areas of study are bound to the fixed major (and now that we shift more to Value Based Budgets (or whatever the new phrase is), there is no incentive to have students enroll outside of that bundled object for learning purposes.
  • We are bound to place (classroom place or campus place as opposed to non-places such as online environments or even Auge’s vision of places without apparent relationships or history).
  • We are bound to Distribution of Effort models.
  • We are bound to majors in terms of as is learning.
  • We are bound to General Education.

To bundle, we can add, is to gather, to assemble, to group together. Tighter. And tighter. And tighter. And in this tight gathering, we assume convenience instead of unwarranted pressure (the tightness hurts). All of the items listed above are easy to perform and are convenient. They are manageable. If there is some value in Shirky’s romantic and hyperbolic vision of digital music distribution, it is in the image of manageability. When record labels had difficulty managing their products – the move from as is to broken pieces – they panicked. Steve Jobs rescued the labels – to some extent – by offering a novel managed product (Napster was difficult to manage; iTunes is not). If we yield a bit on the manageability aspect of bundled education, we will experience a bit of the online distribution (“I CAN”T FIND THE SONG”) and a bit of a novel experience (picking and choosing parts). Unbundling, in other words, may have more to do with a vision of manageability than with the points Shirky raises.


December 31, 2010

21st Century Literacy

Filed under: nu media,pedagogy,remix,writing — jrice @ 12:11 pm

Lately, we see a number of people proclaim the teaching of something called “21st Century Literacy.” But what is this idea? One YouTube video makes its point:

Cathy Davidson at Duke offers up her syllabus on the subject.  An Educause piece shares its thoughts. NCTE, of course, has a position paper on the topic.   I’m sure Alex has some thoughts.

The phrase “21st Century Literacy” is akin to  the phrase “multimodal” or “critical thinking.” Most of these phrases come with the given: critique, analyze, interpret. In that sense, a 21st century literacy is like any literacy. The ability to make sense of information and produce information, in turn, is the basic definition of literacy. Of course, the media we use shifts our abilities to do so in given contexts, and it is mostly that shift that the 21st century aficionados cling to. Davidson also lists actions she associates with this new shift (affordance, authorship, design), and I did that as well in The Rhetoric of Cool (commutation, juxtaposition, non-linearity). Still, what does it mean to compose digitally if there is some sort of 21st century literacy circulating among us?

Like one of my virtual writing mentors, Jim Corder, or real life mentors, Greg Ulmer, I feel obligated to tell a story in order to find a response.

All of this brings me back to Billy Joel. New Mexico governor Bill Richardson has made the radical decision to not pardon Billy the Kid. Unlike his contemporary Jesse James, Billy the Kid was not born in Missouri (where I currently live). The Wikipedia entry on Jesse James claims that attention to dirt led to James’ death; he wanted to dust a picture. Wikipedia, as I’m sure scholars like Davidson or groups such as NCTE would attest, symbolizes much of the so-called 21st century literacy: collaborative, open editing. Attention is also on Davidson’s list. Billy the Kid was shot by Pat Garrett. Bob Dylan played Garrett in the movie about the two (directed by Sam Peckinpah). Dylan’s famous song from the film, “Knocking on Heaven’s Door,” is about a sheriff who can no longer lie or bullshit (“take this gun, I can’t use it anymore”).  Billy Joel, who, like Dylan, is another Jewish singer, tells us much about Billy the Kid. He starts the live performance by stating, “this is one of those bullshit songs.”

What is the role of bullshit in a 21st century literacy whose focus is writing? As a fellow Jewish writer, though not a song writer, I find this aspect of 21st century writing the most intriguing. Billy Joel ends his ode to Billy the Kidd with his own tribute (“in a town known as Oyster Bay, Long Island, rode a boy with a six pack in his hand”).

Some of that bullshit is frustration, as in “THIS IS BULLSHIT” when I try to embed the Billy Joel video and YouTube tells me that embedding is disabled. I might also say, after hearing the finale of Joel’s song, that the current laws regarding shipping beer are bullshit – I don’t want a six pack but various 22s and 750s  (beer bottle sizes) sent to me when we move from Missouri to Kentucky, where it is illegal to buy beer online. How can I continue my research for the craft beer book, I want to say, without being able to buy online (social networking is the focus of the book).  The 22 is a gauge (size) associated with a shotgun. Wikipedia’s entry on Billy the Kid mentions a shotgun:

Whatever happened, Bell staggered into the street and collapsed, mortally wounded.[2] Meanwhile, McCarty scooped up Ollinger’s[103] 10-gauge double barrel shotgun and waited at the upstairs window for Ollinger, who had been across the street with some other prisoners, to come to Bell’s aid. As Ollinger came running into view, McCarty leveled the shotgun at him, called out “Hello Bob!” and killed him.[2][104] The Kid’s escape was delayed for an hour while he worked free of his leg irons[105] with a pickax and then the young outlaw mounted a horse and rode out of town, reportedly singing.[2] The horse returned two days later.[10]

This brief 21st century writing tells me something: Billy the Kid was a singer. That’s bullshit! I want to yell.  How have we not yet gauged this aspect of his influence! The lineage of Kid to James to Dylan to Joel is all about singing! When Richardson failed to pardon Kid, he failed to recognize the role of song in current literacy practices (like making sense of a gunman’s legacy 100 years later). The obvious pun here is Sing Sing, a famous prison in New York (the site of Kid’s birth), but I am also thinking about what I have previously called ka-knowledge (“The Making of Ka-Knowledge”), the calling out McLuhan and Ong associated with media literacy and that I borrow from the Beastie Boys whose song “High Plains Drifter” references and samples the Western tradition and film of the same name. I am calling out a pattern or writing (as I often do on this blog) to make some kind of point about writing, technology, new media, and being literate. My observation:


November 9, 2010

Arguing for Salvation

Filed under: writing — jrice @ 3:23 pm

The Humanities must learn to argue anew. The debates over Suny-Albany’s decision to cancel language programs demonstrate the failure of Humanities thinking. Such thinking is based on a few basic premises:

  • Knowing other languages is important
  • We might not realize today what will be valuable tomorrow
  • To be a university, universities must offer all kinds of courses and not be vocational in structure
  • Knowledge is valuable for its own sake
  • Departments are valuable whether or not they produce revenue (majors)
  • Learning cannot be measured by financial needs or shaped by financial pressures

I may agree (or not) with some of these points. It doesn’t matter, though, what I think. Even if I note that this is, indeed, a persuasive argument, it is only persuasive to me and those who think like me. I am not the audience, however, for this argument. I am not the one to make an appeal to. In fact, we can see that those who are the audience for the argument to save Italian or French or Classics or whatever are not persuaded – for the most part – by this argument. They move on with their plans. Programs will be cut.  It is time to invent a new argument.

When Rosemary Feal, and others like her, pen op-eds on this topic, they reach for commonplace ideas. Track down these recent arguments. See how little they differ from one another. We recite, as Lyotard might say, the same narratives over and over. We believe reciting is a powerful tool of persuasion. Sometimes it is. In this case, it’s not. In this case, commonplaces are not adequate for forming an argument.

What, then, is the argument to save Humanities programs under the knife? I don’t know. I haven’t done that work yet. I am fascinated, though, by the recent activity because of how it fails to see that it is spinning its wheels. Appeals to legacy, nostalgia, knowledge for its own sake, and so on do very little. Why not add “global society,” “teaches critical thinking,” and “high tech work place” as other keywords we tend to fall back on when we want to justify an area of study as worthwhile?

Ours is an unoriginal profession interested in the originality of texts. For years, we’ve seen this point played out in pedagogies devoted to the study of creative works, creative minds and creative writers but that ask students to produce banal and bland writing in response. Now we see further evidence in an uninspiring, unimaginative, unproductive argument that falls back on cliches and commonplaces in order to make a point. Not one appeal is creative in design. Not one appeal offers or suggests a new mode of thinking. Not one appeal recognizes that a new situation exists, a new exigence to respond to, a new problem that must be contextualized and understood as a 21st century problem.

No wonder the Humanities is in trouble. It cannot justify its own existence. It has no sense of time. It has no sense of exigence.

September 2, 2010

What We Talk About When We are Talking About Pedagogy II

Filed under: pedagogy,writing — jrice @ 9:04 am

We find another relevant question regarding pedagogy when we examine the Expos model. Spellmeyer does an excellent job explaining the logic behind the course:

Teaching Expos 101 from Expos the Movie on Vimeo.

The process approach detailed makes sense in many ways. Still, what we are hearing is the conflation of a few practices. Among them:

  • The legacy of Bartholomae and Petrosky’s Ways of Reading. Cultural studies inspired analysis – close readings of texts – accompanied by some element of “finding the conversation” at stake.
  • Expressivism. All the answers are unto me.

I say this because if you look closely at the sequence Expos teaches, you’ll see that, at first, the only way to do a “close analysis” is to look within one’s self. In later parts of the sequence, there is some opportunity for context (two texts, three texts) but is still limited in focus and depends greatly on a student looking within for ideas.

Writing Exercise: One Text, Close Reading

The first assignment of the semester focuses on a “close reading” of a single text—an article, essay, or book chapter. A “close reading” is a response that requires more than a cursory summary. Close reading asks students to explore the specific details of the text’s argument as well as the larger implications. Even though many of the readings assigned in Expos are challenging on the first try, students can improve their understanding through class discussion, writing, re-reading, and revision.

Students are asked not to do a summary, and Spellmeyer details the pedagogy of throwing out parts of a paper that are summary as opposed to analysis. “90 percent summary, 10 percent argument,” he notes regardingt he average assignment turned in early on. One has to ask, however, how a student can do work that is not really summary or that is more than “cursory” by only examining the text itself. First year students – and undergraduates in general – come to the classroom with limited cultural capital, or what we might call a limited database of information to draw upon. In doing a close reading, then, a student looks deep within herself, and finds some type of response (“I think….”). Without context or sources, that response can easily be cliche or commonplace. For this reason, William Coles yells at his students in The Plural I for their lack of understanding of the amateur. Coles is mistaken in his disappointment; what else can the students do but look within? They have not yet been given the opportunity to do the in-depth work he wants. Coles believes that these databases are natural, rather than built.

For me to use terms in this short post such as:

  • Ways of Reading
  • Expressivism
  • William Coles
  • Database

I have to have some level of cultural captial regarding rhetoric and composition or some type of database to draw upon. I have a PhD, so this process is not as difficult for me. I can trace a network of information without consulting sources first (and if my mental tracing is not detailed enough, I know where to look quickly). Those who are being interpellated into academic or school thinking are not yet at that level. They are left with the methodology folks like me spend much time trying to break: the writer writes based on what she already knows. What she already knows, in many cases, is limited. Writing does not become a vehicle for learning, then, but becomes a confirmation of what is known unto me. This was Expressivism’s greatest fault as a pedagogy.

This is not an argument agaist Rutgers or its own challenges regarding teaching writing across what is likely over 100 sections taught by graduate students and maybe non-tenure line instructors. I don’t believe the pedagogy I’m critiquing here is unique to Rutgers. It’s here at Missouri as well.

June 29, 2010

On Invention

Filed under: networks,nu media,writing — jrice @ 1:42 pm

Most of my writing focuses on invention. How do I come up with an idea? My mentor sent me down this path of thinking, and it has shaped the way I research and write, as well as how I teach. Whatever I do in my writing, I teach as methodology at the undergraduate and graduate levels.

We know about rhetorical situations and exigence, but we spend little time considering methodology. “Hip Hop Pedagogy” posed temporality as a method for invention. Exploration of the categories of experience found in a given year, when juxtaposed, will produce an insight not previously known.  That method produced the dissertation and eventually the book. The date I chose was 1963. Since then, I’ve experimented with a variety of methods, all of which are based on two key principles:

  • Juxtaposition
  • Networked logics (connectivity)

I’ve done this with McLuhan’s concept of sounding out or the idea of an urban mapping or the notion of a taxonomy that is not only folksonomic, but personal as well. The project on Detroit treats the city as a space of networked meanings (each meaning, when juxtaposed with other meanings of the space, teaches me something about networked rhetoric). The best way to explain this method of invention, I’ve found, is performance. Do the theory you are describing.

The principle asks writers to work with categories of experience. Ulmer points to Family, Entertainment, Discipline, School as four such areas. We can expand those categories to others. A paper I delivered last year on Ong’s noetic juxtaposes noetic (heroic) figures as informed by affective motivations (the personal) in order to invent a practice outside of argument. Here the categories came from:

  • Theory (McLuhan)
  • Writing (Burroughs)
  • Rhetoric (Plato)

The categories are informed by a physical place (St. Louis/Missouri which all three are connected to) as well as the three noetic figures for me who occupy this space, and are juxtaposed in a space (conceptual, writing space of networked narrative). A thread runs through these three categories (food) because of how I allow my research to sample details from each writer and juxtapose them with personal moments (dining in St. Louis with my daughter). The insight produced is one that makes St. Louis into a narrative about food, me, and the pattern of rejection. This essay (based on the linked talk) has yet to be fully understood by reviewers who want argument or reject the inclusion of the personal. Such is a topos of academic writing, as Ong tells us, the legacy is traced to Peter Ramus; remove the personal. The noetic, as Ong also tells us, is, however, a personal response.

A recent issue of Saveur magazine offers a similar approach toward understanding the concept of “market.”

Here the categories are film, poetry, children’s rhymes, song, fiction. Each category produces its own topos, but when networked, another meaning can emerge.  The editor has chosen to fill in these categories with these specific details because of his own personal experience. Other choices, by someone else, could have been made; the result would be a different network of meaning. From the popular to the academic, we are talking about invention. What to produce? How? I draw from various examples (Darwin, the creation of Sim City) when giving local talks to students or colleagues. But mostly, I draw from my own practices.

At times, I knowingly substitute juxtaposition for network, network being the more powerful heuristic since it allows for shifts, movement, and changes among the insights and materials gathered for producing insight. Topoi, even when juxtaposed, do the opposite. The pedagogy of all this is what is at stake. It could be used to engage with critique, of course, but the decoding of representation or practice is too often a futile or self-satisfying gesture. Its pedagogical value for generating meaning, for teaching how to generate meaning, is limited (we produce generic critics or the same old same old analysis). What we need, instead, are networked pedagogies and methodologies. We need folksonomic explorations of material that motivate inventional practices, not responses to prompts or clever ways of uncovering discrepancies or refuting previous positions.

October 5, 2009


Filed under: networks,nu media,pedagogy,writing — jrice @ 12:23 pm

These photo posts, of course, name me. They interpellate me into an identity: me as child, parents, grandparents. Family is but one of several areas of discourse that call us into being. We are told repeatedly how popular culture interpellates (Adorno will have us believe in the evils of this process/Hall will not pose the process as evil, but still, he finds it problematic; popular culture cannot call us into being; it must be decoded).  Places interpellate as well. Gainesville. Miami. Tel Aviv. Detroit. Columbia, Missouri.  A memory of a Belgium trip taken several years ago on our honeymoon reveals my own sense of being “hailed.”

In this instance, food is the obvious site of naming. TV calls me further: be a top chef, roast, braise, grill. Causality does not play a role here; association does. Such accidental associations, of course, do not have to dominate our sense of identity. We can say we are named by photos and chance encounters, TV images, and celebrity culture, but also by taste. The taste can be elusive (as Barthes would have it) or literal:

Or more generally:

The moments hail me – regardless of whenever the photo was taken. Beer. Beer culture. Craft beer. More moments of identity being called into being.

These moments of being hailed return us back to the personal. For so long, cultural studies has argued that consumers of culture abandon the personal. Give up taste. Give up being hailed into being. Resist, the key word declares. Decode. Critique. The blog, naturally, troubled the best of the cultural critics because of how it foregrounded interpellated stances (“I like film,” “I like comics,” “I like Lost,” “I had this happen to me today…”). The situation of writing, as Barthes called it, became pleasure. We return to ourselves and reject the Ramus legacy of writing (depersonalization). The bloggers gathered up matters of concern (and turned their backs, at times, to the matters of fact). They offered the highly personalized experience as writing, and when Facebook emerged, they took this writing to a new place, opting to be be hailed by the status update: I get up, I go to work, I eat, I talk to so and so.

I have grown tired of mantras of resistance. I welcome the moments of interpellation (as if we can really resist such processes anyway; “resistance,” too, serves as an interpellative moment). Photographs, Chance moments. Details. Updates. I am learning to write as such.

Or to pose it in a comfortable phrase of pedagogy: I learn new media writing.

September 21, 2009


Filed under: as if,writing — jrice @ 10:36 am

Vilem Flusser: When do codes become conventions? How is the surface of the image not temporal, but rather a scene?

In this photograph, a family long forgotten. The size has shrunk to but a few by 2009. Phil, age 9, is in there somewhere.

Where are all these people now? How did convention (large, Jewish families) become convention (small, Jewish families)? A TV show like Mad Men goes out of its way to make the audience understand the convention of codes: racism, sexism, repressed homosexuality, bad parenting, smoking. At some point, the viewer must exclaim: We get it! The ’50s/’60s were no paradise! Yet family codes defy convention in subtle ways (while Mad Men beats you over the head). In this image, one hidden code is the American flag waving in the background. The convention: immigrant populations quickly embrace nationalism. The lack of convention: the symbolic gesture is almost hidden. The story is obvious, yet subtle.

Stories of lineage are stories of lines. For Flusser, this is the legacy of writing, “the structure imposed upon us.” The legacy of the image, he also tells us, is that of the surface, the structure “that has been proposed to us.”  I, like Roland Barthes, want to read family pictures as structural propositions: what ifs, speculative moments, scenes, social media situations. These, possibly, are the posthistorical moments Flusser projects. The posthistorical image is the realm of fiction (as oppose to linearity of explained fact).

What is the fiction of the image? Convention? Explanation? I do not need explanation. Following Flusser, we move from myth (static image) to progressive concepts (history) to images that order concepts (structure). I am ordering (or the image, too, is ordering) a structure through family blog posts. This gesture is “the possibilitiy of combining various histories” rather than telling one history.

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