Tuesday, May 8, 2007

"the smellies"

in my work to generate my book - on film discourses and practices in rhetoric and composition studies - i am reading a lot of old journal articles. i have a huge collection of old CCC and CE, which were given away when ASU's reading library was reconfigured and double and triple copies were up for grabs. i grabbed.

i'm looking today at this creaky 1979 CCC title: "The Full Man and the Fullnes Thereof" by Robert B. Heilman. Heilman is worried about electronic writing and reading practices, how they are making their way into English classes; he "distrust[s] the diversion of time [. . .] from the printed page to records, tapes, films, and the like. This development shows an unconscious distrust of reading, and a failure to grasp the value of the complex experience it affords" (239). He worries that "[t]he respondent is mastered by the medium instead of moving through it to the kind of mastery in which warm participation is mysteriously joined with cool detachment" (241) (i'm seeing someone tending to his nails).

Heilman's grand old style is common in early articles lamenting literacy shifts, in [then] new methods of delivery and the powerful reception witnessed in students (as though students were the exclusively culpable force behind [then] new media appreciation). i certainly understand it and have been there myself. and i'm pretty certain that similar attitudes obtain even still. and this is fine, i suppose. it's certainly not going anywhere and in many ways marks a form of disciplinary stasis; we have been talking about these things forever, and thus they provide institutional structuration; what would we talk about at conferences were it not for shifting literacies and how they affect students (or, more precisely, our careers/egos/institutional identities, blah, blah . . .)? in my book, i will be having a little fun at the expense of some of these early (and contemporary) writers, but i am mostly hoping to capture these discourses, to characterize them (awfully simple work, especially in these earlier works, where the stylistic flourish distinguished you as worth reading or maybe simply as erudite enough). in doing this work, i hope/think i may provide a sense of disciplinary history which may be useful for current work in new media (which is to say, all media -- reading and writing and experiencing and being practices). too broad, you think? ha. ha.

Heilman makes a mistake many make; he feels deeply in his bones that new media is supplanting reading, that reading is not taking place in ways that privilege a kind of permanence. but that kind of reading is often (only) supported as a tool for institutional stasis and/or advancement (which is to say, stasis); we can enjoy a piece of writing, but its staying power is related to our staying power (w/in an institutional hierarchy). i love(d) Gravity's Rainbow, but i've moved on long ago; if i had to "teach" that novel every semester or every year or even every 5 years, my sense of it would certainly shift. i can't even read Notes from Underground (which, read at 19 was massively Important and Soul Wrenching) without howling in laughter at its satiric elements (thanks, J. Clark). our readings change . . . thus, the texts change, and it seems to me that Heilman's desire to resist change ("Our most characteristic mode of change is to technologize and specifically to electronicize [electronicize? :)] what we once did by hand, body, mind, or imagination [note: i am using my hand, body, mind, and imagination at the moment]") is about resisting "the audio-visual [as] the real thing, [as if] reading were either non-experiential or not significantly experiential . . . The point is that we are deprived of something important if the audio-visual becomes the sole or chief experience and thus preempts the time and place for reading" (240). i think i'm supposed to agree, here. but i think that to agree implies that electronic or live-performance-based or anything other than solitary reading of "the printed page" is somehow less than that ostensibly "private" and "lasting" experience. and i can't agree, or, i can't agree that there is a "time and place for reading" anymore, although i think can dig up some quaint performative associations -- a certain spot in a library, a particularly slouchy sweater, a scratched pair of tortoise shell glasses and a favorite coffee beverage -- all the usual suspects. but my resistance to what Heilman is doing is more about moving beyond these static associations (static is not all bad) but it's more about seeing new media practices as moving, as moving us, as moving beyond, especially as i think about multimodal texts and my/our powerful reception of them and what it might mean. i'm thinking about D & G's views of sound in cinema as a "deterritorializing force" (which may threaten institutional status but certainly not the stasis we find in these agonistic performances . . . so no worries) and Michel Chion's observation that "sound escapes the frame but has traditionally been 'held in place' by the image" (Pisters 177-8). in thinking about these spaces of potential, which Heilman sees as destructive or capable of disabling Something Permanent, i think also of Mark Augé's non-spaces, but i'm not exactly sure that Augé sees such spaces as unworthy of reflection (well, clearly) or as completely damaging (although a crtiqiue registers). it would help if i read him directly because i'm working from what i've heard friends and colleagues say about Augé (put on list. maybe i can work that in while i'm flying tomorrow, which seems appropriate).

when i was a grad student, i could and would probably have agreed that new media is/was threatening. situated low on the institutional hierachy and living w/ my hopes for what advancement within it could mean, i had to and did agree. i would have been operating as an effect of writing about reading rather than as an active variable within a complex (not necessarily closed) writing/reading/languaging system . . . which is what we are and how we always already operate as readers and writers; but so of course our institutional status inflects this obvious state. we learn to accept our responses to and generation of certain kinds of texts as effects of writing (and especially writing like Heilman's, infused with a gentlemanly certainty of status that enables him to reject change as though he could reject change). but this can change.

note: my title references Heilman's concern for where new media is going, his concern for our potential to bring into classes electronic media that may "smell" (thanks, John Waters).

works cited

Gargoyle at Dornoch Cathedral (image). Google images. May 8, 2007. <Image:Gargoyle, Dornoch Cathedral.jpg>

Heilman, Robert B. "The Full Man and the Fullness Thereof" CCC 21.3 (1970): 239-244.

Pisters, Patricia. The Matrix of Visual Culture. Stanford, CA: Stanford UP, 2003.

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