Saturday, April 21, 2012

Reading Notes: 4/2

Assignment #1: New Books Project
  • Delagrange, Susan H., Technologies of Wonder: Rhetorical Practice in a Digital World. Logan, UT: Utah State UP/Computers and Composition Digital Press, 2011. Web.

Chapter Two: (Re)Vision & Remediation

Academic Representation & Digital Media:
"Bolter and Grusin (2000) describe an underlying tension between hypermediacy and immediacy, between opacity and transparency; and this tension often becomes explicit when digital media scholars attempt to give an account of their professional lives, but find themselves stuck between the felt need to observe the conventions of traditional curriculum vitae and institutional websites, and the desire to foreground their embodied, multimodal digital work and hypermediated digital selves." (29)
This opening comment resonates with me. It reminds me of our class discussions between the traditional forms of scholarship and the products of digital and New Media studies. The older forms seem to be privileged, but as more New Media courses are demanded by the students and the work place, I think it will slowly change.
"It becomes obvious that changing the medium changes the message, and therefore content cannot be understood except in relation to its form, its material substrate." (32).

I think that Delagrange hits on another point of class discussion, and that is the idea that in order to fully understand digital media (the message), one must be able to understand the technology that created it (the medium). It has become increasingly more apparent that the ability to use technology is not enough to evaluate it. One must also have a working knowledge.


"Techné is a "making," a productive oscillation between knowledge in the head and knowledge in the hand" (35).
For Delagrange, this section of the chapter can easily be connected with the idea of proairesis. Technology or "techne" must be understood as not just knowledge of using it (in the head), but also knowledge in the production and creation of it (in the hand). A clear picture of Delgrange's attitude toward New Media is emerging as one of advocating for greater incorporation in the traditional forms of scholarship, professional representation, and the knowledge/praxis binary.

Her focus on the idea of techne as production is relevant to the definitions of digital literacy or digital fluency, which not only emphasize a person's ability to use technology but also to create it. The graphic below demonstrates this difference. A digitally literate person may be able to produce something of a very basic nature, but not equal to what the person knows is possible based on other examples he or she has seen. The digitally fluent person is able to create something that matches what he or she knows is possible; it connotes a level of mastery or expertise that the literate person lacks.

Image from the blog SociaLens


"Techne is enabled by wonder, an attitude toward the world and our experience of it that both predisposes us to be amazed and prepares us to desire to learn more about the source of our amazement" (40).

This is my favorite part of the book so far. Delagrange writes eloquently about the role of wonder in our drive to learn about technology. We should not discount those initial moments of amazement when viewing a piece of technology, and we should use that amazement to drive us to ask questions about how it came to be. In my project, I was so inspired by the database of Great Speckled Bird that the wonder I experienced is driving my desire to recreate something similar. It's an exciting way to think about approaching knowledge - for the wonder!

The following presentation connects digital literacy to passion, which is another way of saying techne and wonder. This connection has been asserted in pedagogy before, but is emerging as a powerful strategy for approaching digital learning.

"[Ours is a] discipline that vigorously critiques visual products while at the same time may engage in uncritical digital visual production, or no visual production at all. We need instead a more constructive conversation between theory and practice that restores authority and integrity to embodied visual texts, tempers the overemphasis of cultural critiques on the negative aspects of visual representation, and provokes a theoretical grounding for production of embodied visual rhetoric with our students and in our own work" (49).

Delagrange argues that sighted people privilege the visual. Technology provides a highly visual and interactive product that has been studied theoretically as a pedagogical tool, but not looking at the benefits of producing visual technology. She furthers her call for more scholarship aimed not just at the critique of digital objects, but at aspects of its production.

The Persistence of Vision, Visual Pleasure, Seeing Bodies, Seeing Bodies in Space, Embodied Arrangement:

These sections of the chapter, along with Chapter Three, deal with the importance of the visual, and thereby the body, in relation to understanding. Delagrange asks, "What does it mean to be a technological body, to engage physically with digital hardware and software, and to represent our selves through those media" (17)? She points out, for example, that prior to the development of the scientific method and rationality of the Enlightenment, visual elements such as illuminated manuscripts were commonplace. With low literacy rates, people would gather to listen in a physical space like a church or town square - the space itself enhanced by visual elements of architecture, paintings, sculpture and one another. She argues that this kind of physical interaction (the embodiment) allowed for a stronger and deeper connection to the material. However, with the arrival of rational thinking and the scientific method, these bodily connections were considered immaterial and subjective so thus excluded. The result is the kind of business model for scholarship which prizes speed and clarity of a finished marketable product over "reflective inquiry and generative ambiguity" made possible by embodied interactions. She argues that by reintroducing the visual through various digital interface models, we can reincorporate the visual and also the physical. 

The discussion correlates to the arguments made by Baudrillard in his explanation of simulation and simulacra. He explains that simulacra are objects so far removed from the organic original version that no authentic understanding can be gleaned from it. Delagrange clearly argues for the superiority of learning through visual rhetoric in the same way that the gathering of people in a visually stimulating environment allowed for authentic human connection through the physical body. The disembodied nature of non-visual, non-physical experiences leads to a mere simulation of actual connectivity and understanding. 
So I started thinking about her reference to church as having a significant role in understanding because it provides a space which can be physically occupied. I have never really thought about the importance of being in a physically in order to enhance the mental processes. As a distance student, and I negatively impacted by embodying the physical space of the classroom? Would I make stronger connections, or at least be inspired to make new connections, if I were sharing a space with other learners influenced by the tangible and visible space?

It makes me feel about my own experiences as a Catholic. Strange and unexpected connection to be sure, but when she mentioned churches and how the architecture can inspire an embodied connection something resonated with me. While I disagree with the politics of the Catholic Church, I am undeniably a cultural Catholic. I mean that as a third generation Italian-Portuguese American, religion is a huge part of my life's experiences. I still find solace in the rituals, if not always spiritual connections. However, since moving to the south in 1996, I found that I was not inspired in the same way. It has a lot to do with what Delagrange is saying here about the importance of how we experience something physically, as perceived by our senses - especially visual.
Image from Our Lady of Mt. Carmel
Here is a picture of the church I attended growing up in RI. The arch above the altar draws the eye up, there is enhanced lighting, aged woodwork, wooden pews and marble. In the back of the church not pictured is a pipe organ, and the side walls are filled with stained glass windows, statues, and columns. There is an air of solemnity here, a slightly dark space that invites reflection, connects those to the past and history with the church dating back to 1917.

Below is a photo of the interior of the church here in SC. There are no pews, just fabric covered metal chairs. The space is also used as a multipurpose parish center for other events, so the chairs can be removed and tables brought in; the projection screen to the right can be used as well. The only color on the walls is the stained glass cross. There is no organ, no windows, no columns. Classrooms flank the chairs. A commercial kitchen waits behind a door to the right. I never feel inspired by being in this space physically.

Now that I have read this, I have begin to consider all my physical spaces, seeing them not just as background to the mental process but as an integral part of it.

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