So the Dalai Lama Walks into a Pizza Shop
and asks them to make him one with everything.
I watched a clip of a news anchor guy actually tell the Dalai Lama this joke. He did not get it.
Anyway, here’s the rough draft.
Post of what’s going on in my research
So I’m tempted to just put up my rough draft for my comp theory paper, but I’ll try and condense and just get the most important stuff out.
Basically, I start with Jeff Rice’s Rhetoric of Cool as a schema for the nature of digital composition, and then either agree or (mostly) disagree with what he says.
What he wants to do is really cool. There is a tradition in composition studies that he wants to break with, because he feels that they have too strong a hold on the direction of the discipline and they’re stifling new growth and possibilities (the Grand Narrative, the tradition that becomes dogmatic and the right way to do it). He’s a revolutionary. And he thinks that digital composition is at the forefront of new compositional studies, and can provide a model for the forms composition should take.
So old composition places an emphasis print logic, a linear path, Aristotle’s topoi, and clarity. He believes the very structure of computers and data will change all that was dictated by our reliance on print; for example, the hyperlink makes chapters following one after the next unnecessary. So the interactivity (a huge part of being ‘cool’) increases greatly, and we begin to get an idea of what his project entails.
He makes a list of these functions, or skills, or methods that will serve digital literacy and change the nature of composition:
Despite the fact that he’s arguing for brand new methods of organization and grouping, his book follows a pretty standard hierarchy: a thesis statement, main concept first, everything else follows. Chora is that main concept, which is (more or less) a repository in which concepts we don’t ordinarily associate might be placed against each other to find out what sort of insights they present. And the idea is cool, if not earth-shattering; when we open our minds, we think of things in new ways. Synthesis at its best.
Appropriation and juxtaposition are implied in the concept of chora: you appropriate concepts from a wide variety of sources, say the history of fast food and quantum physics, and then juxtapose them. If you imagine the world wide web as a vast, interconnected net around the earth without a beginning and end and no direction beyond what interests the user, it is easy to see how the idea of chora and appropriation lend themselves to digital composition.
However, Rice departs from print logic, at least in certain points, in very significant ways. The most glaring of these, at least in the beginning, is the complete disregard for any sort of organization being requisite for composition; if we told a machine to clip random pictures out of a magazine and create a collage, this would constitute a composition. And while it would be something, and possibly reveal insights, I have a problem with the poetry of Robert Frost being chalked up as the same kind of thing as little Billy’s refrigerator magnet poetry nonsense. We expect the author or composer to do more than put random images together and have a masterpiece; we expect there to be some deliberate meaning there that did not, as it were, simply happen to pop up.
Rice seems to anticipate this objection of mine by listing a few sources of new media that rely on mixing from various sources with that “deliberate creation” of an author obtaining. He lists Weblogs and hip-hop music. After almost an entire chapter of hearing about how new media is held back with concerns like organization or clarity (or even that organization and clarity will be reconceptualized by digital media), I was a bit underwhelmed. Certainly weblogs and hip-hop have their traces of the avant-garde, and are not novels or country western music (respectively), there was no revolution that I was expecting. Writing a blog still has a beginning, middle, and end, albeit it usually is briefer than a story. More like a news article with a more personal touch to it. Rice tells us it’s the hyperlinks that can be added to the blog, that the user is able to reference different sources; but I have yet to be to a blog that included links that had nothing to do with the main topic of the blog. The songs, as well, are always recognizable as songs. They feature samples from every genre known to man, which are then processed and turned into hip-hop music. Hip-hop music, which features a chorus and a verse and often-times a bridge and is about as traditional in structure as you can get.
I don’t disagree with Rice’s appraisal that the internet is going to broaden our abilities to compose. I just don’t think that these compositions are going to be so off-the-wall that our MINDS ARE GONNA FREAKIN’ EXPLODE, MAN!!!! Sure, we have infographics and flash presentations and rather than make notes in our encyclopedia and flip to another reference later I can just click and open another tab and never in my life finish an entire Wikipedia entry. But that blasted reliance on linearity seems to be sticking around, and for some reason all that organization and coherence and need to make sense to one another hasn’t quite fallen out of practice. It’s probably because we’re all neanderthals and don’t understand the internet beyond google, but what it really seems to come down to is that digital composition isn’t quite as earth-shattering as Rice wishes it were. It’s definitely as cool as he thinks it is, and being open-minded about things is a great principle to live by. Computers have sped up communication and broadened our lines of communication so that we have a billion people talking. But whether it’s a billion or just two, it’s still people communicating, and people haven’t changed that much since Homer told them about this big war that happened across the ocean.
So what does it have to do with the visual? Toward the end, Rice begins to talk about the use of images—that seems to be the new major inclusion in multimodal and digital composition—and while I use Wittgenstein mainly to criticize Rice (and some Barthes), I think these two together have some interesting things to say about the nature of images.
Wittgenstein, in brief, is going to say that language is a social act, that meanings have to be learned by participating in this social act (what he calls a language-game), and that all language-games have certain tenets we’re going to have to abide by. Hence, trying to make up new rules to play the game by winds up with you playing by yourself, and according to Wittgenstein, there is no playing by yourself (his argument in private language). I’ll have to enter more into this discussion in the paper.
Images enter with Barthes definitions of signs. According to him, images can have both a denotation and a connotation, but do not necessarily contain a denotation and still have meaning (or can they? This will be part of what I’ll have to tease out, but I’m pretty sure the answer will be yes). Barthes already references images, but if they do not necessarily denote anything, then the role they play in the language-game should be of interest to someone (if only me). For all other images, e.g. infographics and the like, Rice talks a big talk but goes just a bit too far; digital composition has to participate in the language game, and though it might look a bit different, it’s going to have to play by the same rules as all the rest of our language.