Blog Post

Striking a Multimodal Chord?

Last week, I used David J. Staley's On Violence Against Images: A Visual Chord in my Professional Writing class to get students to think about ways beyond print writing to forward an argument or a message.  Staley's visual argument in the composition is one where the audience constructs meaning through juxtaposition and association.  He calls this the use of a "visual chord," where "juxtaposed images create a meaning that is established extralinguistically, before language."


Screen shot of Staley's composition that argues through juxtaposition. 

My students werent quite as enthusiastic about the article as I was.  One thought the composition was interesting visually, but came together "by accident."  Another asked, "why doesnt Staley just state what he wants to say instead of trying to imply his point with images?"  A third refused to call the composition argument at all, instead categorizing it as "art."  Clearly, my students weren't used to reading this kind of work for school.  To them, Staley's composition wasnt logical, was vague, and even unclear. 

To me, though, this piece does represent logic, but perhaps a new logic of new media, of the image, of juxtaposition and association--not linear connection and subordination.  Geoffrey Sirc calls this writing logic "serial composition" in a 2010 essay of the same name, noting the "short, staccato bursts" of todays digital writing.  He points to 1980s mix tapes as a location where we once used this logic of "short, well-chosen bricks of meaning coming together to form a rich whole."


Insert 1980s mix tape play list here.  Mine starts with Rick Astley's "Never Gonna Give You Up," for sure. 

The supposed richness of this whole, however, is what my students reacted against in Staley's composition.  They claimed that the whole wasnt really whole without the written explanations.  Did my students just miss the point? 

I think their reactions are a reflection of the ways they've been trained in school to see logic.  Staley's logic is a logic of assemblage--it's the logic of the Internet, really, where hundreds of images, sentences, sounds, movements, and effects are juxtaposed.  This is Bolter and Grusin's hypermediated logic, a logic that is multiple, repeated, and consciously aware of itself and its mediation. 


A version of this blog post written in my notebook!  This medium is clunky compared to the computer, but I had the notebook with me when I came upon 15 extra minutes to jot down some ideas. 

My students know this logic, and they use it every day on the Web.  So the big question remains: how do we get students like mine to begin to recognize, discuss, and analyze the use of juxtaposed logics in the classroom, and then to use and extend these logics purposefully in their own print and digital writing? 

I'm not sure of the answer, but I do know that I'm going to keep looking for and sharing examples and asking questions.  And I'm going to keep making my students do the same. 


1 comment

Hi Crystal.  I really liked your image of the mixtape and the shot of your handwritten notebook pages.  It's interesting to consider what "experiments" might be done with students when it comes to silent writing on paper, writing on computers in the classroom, and then the ways in which students compose when they aren't in the room with us. 

I've got a podcast / blogpost coming up tomorrow, Dec. 21, in which some colleagues and I talk about some of these issues.  I'd love for you to drop in and leave us some comments or give the podcast a listen.  I'll bet you know of a lot of texts that we ought to consider.

Glad to find you here.