Thursday, September 01, 2005

Teaching Writing, "We are the Web," and "Media World"

I just wanted to point to Jeff Rice's excellent riff on Kevin Kelly "We are the Web" article in Wired. As Jeff notes, we do live in a media world and many, if not most of us, have, to some extant or another, consciously or not, absorbed the logic of the Web, of digital culture.

Why resist it? Why treat the digital as something outside the academic/professional realm? Is the digital that different from what we're used to? Does embracing our nature as "media beings," as "being/becoming the Net," dehumanize us in some ways? Is being/being in the network that foreign? Is it the openness, the lack of closure and fixed space and order, that we find disturbing?

Or to think of it another way, haven't we always been media beings? I talked with my Introduction to Literature students today about media, about what constitutes media, and I, of course, historicized. Media, I suggested, is not just movies and TV and magazines and radio and the Web. Our textbooks are media. In his day, Dickens was media and he was consumed veraciously. My lecturing, I pointed out to them, was a multimedia event. I used oral, visual, and kinetic communication.

On the practical level, we were discussing our first readings from The English Studies Book and I wanted to get across the idea of English Studies as the study of language, literature, and culture. But I'm also preparing them for the idea that we, as a species, are Homo Narrans: that one of the most basic things about us is our use of narrative to structure and organize the world. We are, and always have been, media beings. To our core.

We also talked a bit today about intertextuality and context, two words which came up in the reading and that I latched on to, not only to get the ideas themselves across, but to help illustrate the "language" aspect of English studies. We talked prefixes and suffixes for a minute or two. As I read and thought about Jeff's post, these two words begged for me to talk about them. In one section of his book, Pope constructs the following equations:

language: a series of words with meaning: rhetoric
literature: word play: intertextuality
culture: the representation of the human world: discourse

Meaning, as I pointed out to my students, is always social, always requires a set of relationships. To define something is to define what it is not. In other words, to understand something is to put in into its context. And once we've done that, we're well on our way to thinking about intertextulaity. Meaning is relational. Meaning both emerges out of and is at the same time a part of a network. Just as we have always been media beings, we have always been part of the network.

This is not to say that we have always been digital or that consciously know how to be digital. As Jeff notes, we're in the process of becoming, of being, digital, and we're still trying to figure it out. Becoming/embracing the digital requires a remediation of our media/mediated selves and a remediation of how we exist in and use the network, but neither is foreign to us.

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