Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Path-ing Reflection #2

Sources read:

George, Diana. "From Analysis to Design: Visual Communication in the Teaching of Writing." College Composition and Communication 54.1 (September 2002): 11-39.

Kress, Gunther. Before Writing: Rethinking the Paths to Literacy. London: Routledge, 1997.

Kress, Gunther. "Design and Transformation: New Theories of Meaning." Multiliteracies: Literacy Learning and the Design of Social Futures. Ed. Bill Cope and Mary Kalantzis. London: Routledge, 2000. 153-61.

Kress, Gunther. "Multimodality." Multiliteracies: Literacy Learning and the Design of Social Futures. Ed. Bill Cope and Mary Kalantzis. London: Routledge, 2000. 182-202.

This week was Gunther Kress week, with a little Diana George thrown in to spice it up!  I know this is not what I was pointing towards at the end of my last post, but it is where I ended up going because ODU’s amazing ILL sent me two of Kress’s books.

I began with Before Writing because I wanted to get a sense of his literacy theories. Kress’s first main idea is that we do not use meanings that already exist around words but we create meanings in the ways we use the words (7). His second is that children come to the formal process of literacy already experts in meaning making and they never separate form from meaning (8-9).  These two link in that Kress says from the earliest stages of our learning to communicate, we are making meaning and therefore practicing how to do so with modes that do not even include the written word at first. Kress then splits meaning making into two areas: representational and communicative.  I want to quote extensively about this part because it links to what I have been thinking about with academic and nonacademic writing: “There is an important distinction between representations on the one hand -- 'What I want to say, show, mean' -- and communication on the other -- 'How can I get across to you what it is that I want to say, show, mean.' … The requirements of communication are that the participants in an act of communication should make their messages as understandable for a particular person in a particular situation as it is possible to do. This makes it necessary that each participant chooses forms of expression which are at least in principle as transparent as is possible for the other participants ... The requirements of representation are that I, as the maker of a representation/sign, choose the best, most plausible form for the expression of meaning that I intend to represent. ... The interests of makers of the representation/sign leads them to choose one aspect of the thing they want to represent as being critical at the moment for the representation of an object; they then choose the most plausible form which is available to them for its representation. These two aspects of a message, the communicational (focused on the audience) and the representational (focused on the maker), are central to any understanding of the form and meaning of messages, written, drawn or otherwise" (14-15). This fits my thinking from last week about how a sense of conversation and orality can be brought back into writing through digital composition – that digital composition is a communicational mode while traditional academic writing is representational.

However, Kress’s use of the term transparency is different than how I was playing with it.  He says transparency is required in communicational modes so that the audience can access the meanings most readily.  I am not sure I would call this transparency (and Kress might agree since he qualified his ideas: “are at least in principle as transparent as possible”) versus choice of style.  The form is what makes the meaning accessible to the audience, so the form is a choice of the speaker/writer based on audience needs.  This allows for differing forms, while academic writing accepts only one form as the one that conveys meaning the best.  Ultimately, I agree that form should not block meaning (unless the author intends such a collision), but I believe the goal should be clarity in meaning not transparency.  I think I could imagine times when a lack of transparency made for clearer meaning.  When Iago steps out of the play and talks in an aside to the audience, for example.

I also think the idea of transparency changes for the essay/academic writing. The accepted form means it can fade into the background for those audience members who are familiar with the form, but what about a new audience? The form gets in the way as it is not created for ease of access to a broad audience.  So, other forms can be developed that can become transparent to a different audience OR are intentionally not transparent to help someone remember (like bringing in old oral conventions like poetics).

Kress continued to explore these ideas of materiality in “Design and Transformation,” particularly that we are makers and not mere users.  This was intriguing: “our interests in representation and communication at a particular point are never readily matched by the existent semiotic resources, but rather that we choose the most apt forms, the forms already most suited by virtue of their existing potentials, for the representation of our meanings. As there is never a total 'fit', the resources are always transformed" (155).  Digital composing is offering many more resources for this constant pursuit of fit.

“Multimodality” veered off into a visual grammar theory, one that I had read about last semester and that is not something I see connecting to my ideas at this time.  I turned to George then to finish off my week’s reading.  She turned out to be a great read in that she was applying Kress’s ideas about how children learn first through visuals to the composition classroom. As she looked at the common visuals of a composition classroom, I loved the irony of the main one she saw; "And, of course, even today, the one visual reproduction we can count on in even the most contemporary texts is that snapshot of the research paper, complete with title page and works cited. In these lessons on producing the research paper, such visual marks as margins, page layout, and font size take on the utmost importance, again, in visually representing the seriousness and thoroughness with which the student has approached the assignment. In effect, they become a sign of academic decorum. For many years, in fact, the research paper section was literally the only place in a composition textbook where we might encounter any reference to page design, layout, or font choices; primarily, we found a reminder to double space, choose a readable font appropriate for serious work (12-point Times, perhaps), and use “normal” margins" (25).  The research paper allows for no design decisions but is the only place where the materiality of the page is recognized.

I am ending this week thinking about how the roots of the essayist traditions and the many modes Kress promotes link with my prior research.  When you maximize the affordance of delivery in digital writing and let it take on the nature of oral language and communication, you maximize the new literacies practiced plus allow the literacies of both writing and orality to create a new stronger literacy. Kress’s views of literacy as originating in images and speech can support my idea that digital composing brings the traditions of speech into writing – links what are seen as two separate forms of literacy.

I still have Kress’s book on Halliday to look through; maybe that is where the coming week will take me.  I am also awaiting Laurie Gries's chapter on new materiality. In addition, I would like to step back and find more divergent paths (and maybe Halliday is divergent).  I have explored a great deal about the materiality of literacy and the root of accepted forms.  I think combing through my digital resources would be a good step to take soon.

(Image Source)

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