Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Multimodality: A Polemic

"Man, I wish we had a floppy disk"

After reading this article, I have decided to scrap the final writing assignments for my class, and instead, implement a final project based on textures, sounds, scents, and even tastes. I am thinking I will ask my students to choose a word, explore its etymology, and create a fragrance that represents the misconceptions a modern audience may have about it. Though, in the event that this assignment is too prescriptive, I may allow them to bake a casserole.

Kidding aside, I find the radical posturing of anti-written word sentiment expressed in this article to be off-putting. Maybe it's because I haven't spent years in the field of pedagogy, but I find it far-fetched to think of the written freshman composition essay as this hegemonic beast that must be slayed by the multimodal revolutionaries. The marxist struggle invoked by the epigraph confuses me: "By privileging composing as the main site of instruction, the teaching of writing has taken up what Karl Marx calls a 'one-sided' view of production, and thereby has largely erased the cycle that links the production, distribution, exchange, and consumption of writing" (Trimbur). "[T]aken up" seems to imply that this is a recent development. Maybe I'm wrong, but hasn't written composition always centered the teaching of writing? Didn't Karl Marx use the power of written rhetoric to expose a "one sided" view of production? Writing is what college students do. Whatever field the students of our rhetoric 105 courses choose to pursue, odds are strong that they will be forced to write. That is what sets the agenda. They will be forced to write throughout their college career; we try our best to teach them how to write for the occasion. What's so bad about the written word anyway? I quite like it.

This article reminds me of something Spencer mentioned in class: in these journal articles, do the authors only present the things that work while concealing some of the negatives? While reading this article, I was thinking two things: either the author is an inspirational figure, able to lead her students to stunning intellectual heights, or she is teaching cream-of-the-crop students. I seriously doubt the results she presents are typical. In my wildest dreams, I can't imagine my students putting in the effort of the students written about in this article. Then again, maybe I'm partly at fault in that regard.

One final thing: These articles always seem to conveniently leave out who teaches freshman composition classes. If every large state university was stocked with freshly minted Writing Studies PhDs, up-to-date on the pedagogical cutting-edge, tasked with teaching freshman comp instead of upper-level courses, and with a stake in the outcome of this kind of project, maybe this utopian vision could flourish; however, the reality is far different. Underpaid, overworked adjuncts and (particularly literature) grad students have more pressing concerns than the dismantling of the oppressive written word.

*This post was written in a state of high fever.

1 comment:

  1. Off-putting is right. Surely, there's a balance where writing can be taught and done more creatively without eliminating it (which I don't think she's entirely advocating but there's a danger it could be interpreted that way). Furthermore, I'm fairly certain that my students would shit bricks if I assigned them something like the etymology task. Gosh, I love that one student's project, the mirror IQ test --what a sadistic, retributive, empathy-building thing to give to an instructor who caused her so much anxiety --motivating anxiety, I suppose.