Making Use of the Medium: Ways of Doing Digital Writing and Reading

I mentioned in the first class that we would be focusing in the course on ways that we could develop and strengthen our writing by paying more attention to, and making better use of, the medium and multiple media of writing–getting behind the curtain. The blog postings you are doing in response to reading and discussion (and on your way to the larger writing projects) are a good example of how to pay rhetorical attention to our ideas, the texts we read, the texts we write. So here are some tips, offered in response to your initial posts, for ways to develop a stronger response and to experiment with future postings. These include examples from previous classes you could consider for some models.

  • Provide a  focus for your response–both in terms of summary (what the reading says) and analysis (what you say, your critical thinking in response to the reading). Some simple ways to develop focus:
    • title: at the end, or while writing the blog (I suggest you save or publish the blog before finishing, and then update it once or twice while writing), use this to ask yourself: what am I getting at.
      • at the very least, don’t title it “blog #1”; start experimenting with some creative thinking–will need a good title for your essays.
    • summary (what you hear the reading say): think 2-4 sentences, an initial paragraph that summarizes in a way that will allow you to later dig in to a key point and elaborate further.
        • Here is a good example of the way a simple blog title can focus the reader’s attention onto the argument, even before it begins (just like Graff does with his title, or Berry)–and then in the opening section, moves into effective summary.
    • elaboration (what you notice; what you want to say about the reading): dig in by providing a  quotation; use the quotation tool (in toolbar) to highlight this. This quotation can be a full sentence or passage that you then discuss; it can also be keywords and phrases that you pull into your conversation and use to elaborate your response to the argument. This is what Joseph Harris will call “forwarding.”
    • basic paragraphing: though the posting need not be fully edited or as formally organized as an essay, consider some basic paragraph breaks to move from summary to analysis, to distinguish different main points; this will also allow you to do some practice with transitions.
    • tags: after finishing the draft, the tag function invites some reflection on what the focus has been, what some key ideas and keywords are; tags can also be effective later when working on an essay and looking for material–to remember or be surprised by some associations (two different posts that turn out to be related by a tag); tags can sometimes lead to interesting associations to other blogs. Some of the WordPress formats will actually suggest automatically other blogs out there that might relate to your post. For example, this artificial intelligence (AI) feature suggested a link in Tim’s blog (about ‘Hidden Intellectualism’) to another that also discussed Gerald Graff. Thus are associations made in the digital world.
  • Advance your focus by making a link
    • the basic links we will use (and mainly use in writing) are quotations and citations.
    • consider digital quotation: a link to a site that offers definition or explanation or example for your focus.
      • use the link function in the toolbar
    • consider linking/inserting an image or other media, if relevant and effective for your focus
    • think of this as a digital means of forwarding and countering (two key elements of academic writing we focus on in the course)
      • Isabella provides a good example of the ways making a link can serve more than a source of information, it can enhance the rhetorical effect that your writing is in conversation with the texts and a larger audience.
  • Look ahead: to discussion in class, to the next section of the reading, to your next posting, to the next writing project where you could delve deeper into the ideas.
    • one way to conclude effectively (wrap up, but not entirely–since a blog by definition is not a finished product, should have more to say): ask a question. A good example of that–note the concluding section of this blog, that opens larger questions that could lead to further writing (perhaps material for another blog, or the writing project).
  • Do some practice revision and editing. You will be doing quite a bit of revision and editing for your writing projects. I don’t expect that level of revision here. However, this is a good place to practice. I suggest after an initial drafting of your blog response, turn back to it with a good revision question: What else might I say (further elaboration, connections, counter-positions)? What else should I say (have I responded thoroughly to the texts)? And then do at least one reading where you edit for sentence clarity, starting to work on some things that are on your grammatical to-do list.

What about new ways and means of reading texts in the electronic age? As I also mentioned, when you are assigned a text that is on the web or a pdf, I still want you to do the sort of active reading that you do with a print text. I don’t want you to come into class on those days empty-handed. The question is, what are better ways of doing that. I experimented with Scrible  for our first two texts, a tool for making annotations on web texts. See what you think:

Graff, “Hidden Intellectualism”

Berry, “In Defense of Literacy”


The Message of the Medium

I mentioned on the first day of class that we would be focusing in this course on ways that we could develop and strengthen our writing by being more aware and making better use of the medium of writing. The glogs (reading logs) you are doing in response to reading and discussion (and on your way to the larger writing projects) are a good example. As you continue to use the blog in the coming weeks on the way to the writing project, focus on the medium of your message.

  • Provide a  focus for your response–both in terms of summary (what the reading says) and analysis (what you say, your critical thinking in response to the reading). Some simple ways to develop focus:
    • title: at the end, or while writing the blog (I suggest you save or publish the blog before finishing, and then update it once or twice while writing), use this to ask yourself: what am I getting at.
      • at the very least, don’t title it “blog #1”; start experimenting with some creative thinking–will need a good title for your essays.
    • summary (what you hear the reading say): think 2-4 sentences, an initial paragraph that summarizes in a way that will allow you to later dig in to a key point and elaborate further.
    • elaboration (what you notice; what you want to say about the reading): dig in by providing a  quotation; use the quotation tool (in toolbar) to highlight this.
    • basic paragraphing: though the posting need not be fully edited or as formally organized as an essay, consider some basic paragraph breaks to move from summary to analysis, to distinguish different main points; this will also allow you to do some practice with transitions.
    • tags: after finishing the draft, the tag function invites some reflection on what the focus has been, what some key ideas and keywords are; tags can also be effective later when working on an essay and looking for material–to remember or be surprised by some associations (two different posts that turn out to be related by a tag); tags can sometimes lead to interesting associations to other blogs. Some of the WordPress formats will actually suggest automatically other blogs out there that might relate to your post. For example, this artificial intelligence (AI) feature suggested a link in Tim’s blog (about ‘Hidden Intellectualism’) to another that also discussed Gerald Graff. Thus are associations made in the digital world.
  • Advance your focus by making a link
    • the basic links we will use (and mainly use in writing) are quotations and citations.
    • consider digital quotation: a link to a site that offers definition or explanation or example for your focus.
      • use the link function in the toolbar
    • consider linking/inserting an image or other media, if relevant and effective for your focus
  • Look ahead: to discussion in class, to the next section of the reading, to your next posting.
    • one way to conclude effectively (wrap up, but not entirely–since a blog by definition is not a finished product, should have more to say): ask a question.

By the way, the title of my blog is intertextual, an allusion (or reference) to a famous line by the media theorist and critic Marshall McLuhan–the one we are reading in the course. In arguing that the content of any medium is ultimately the medium itself (the how, not the what), he wrote “the medium is the message“–and in a related form (the title of one of his books), “the medium is the massage.” I encourage you with your blog postings to do some massaging of your thinking and reading, on their way to your writing projects.


Writing and Reading Film

Our third project extends and elaborates our close/slow reading focus from the last project into a different medium. We do so not only to explore critically the way Shelley’s “hideous progeny” lives on in film, but also to explore and practice the ways we, as critical readers and writers, need to be specific about the medium we are reading and writing.

The reading assignment (“Writing About Film” from the Dartmouth Writing Program site) provides a basic introduction-as well as a glossary. I don’t expect you to become an expert film critic in the space of one reading assignment, or even one writing project. However, I do want to emphasize that we need to deal with the complexity of film–just as we have been dealing with the complexity and complications of Shelley’s print novel (language, intertextuality, multiple frames to the narrative, etc). Film, as the site informs us, has “elements of composition.” We need to read those–and as it suggests, pick one or two that seem particularly important. And we need to give our attention to writing about those elements in the essay, showing them to your reader in your effort to elaborate your argument. The site recommends annotating a shot sequence in a key scene you will be looking at. It is a good strategy; you might begin to use some of the terminology (jump-cut, etc.), but don’t worry so much about the terms. Pay attention to what you notice going on with the filming (and not just in the plot of the film). Be specific, as we have been emphasizing, with the medium.

As an example of a scene to do some media specific analysis–and notice the various elements of composition, consider the famous cyclone scene from .


making use of the medium: some ways to develop a blog posting

I mentioned in class Wednesday that we would be focusing in the course on ways that we could develop and strengthen our writing by being more aware and making better use of the medium (and in some cases, multi-media) of writing. The blog postings you are doing in response to reading and discussion (and on your way to the larger writing projects) are a good example. So here are some tips, offered in response to your initial posts, for ways to develop a stronger response and to experiment with future postings.

  • Provide a  focus for your response–both in terms of summary (what the reading says) and analysis (what you say, your critical thinking in response to the reading). Some simple ways to develop focus:
    • title: at the end, or while writing the blog (I suggest you save or publish the blog before finishing, and then update it once or twice while writing), use this to ask yourself: what am I getting at.
      • at the very least, don’t title it “blog #1”; start experimenting with some creative thinking–will need a good title for your essays.
    • summary (what you hear the reading say): think 2-4 sentences, an initial paragraph that summarizes in a way that will allow you to later dig in to a key point and elaborate further.
    • elaboration (what you notice; what you want to say about the reading): dig in by providing a  quotation; use the quotation tool (in toolbar) to highlight this.
    • basic paragraphing: though the posting need not be fully edited or as formally organized as an essay, consider some basic paragraph breaks to move from summary to analysis, to distinguish different main points; this will also allow you to do some practice with transitions.
    • tags: after finishing the draft, the tag function invites some reflection on what the focus has been, what some key ideas and keywords are; tags can also be effective later when working on an essay and looking for material–to remember or be surprised by some associations (two different posts that turn out to be related by a tag); tags can sometimes lead to interesting associations to other blogs.
  • Advance your focus by making a link
    • the basic links we will use (and mainly use in writing) are quotations and citations.
    • consider digital quotation: a link to a site that offers definition or explanation or example for your focus.
      • use the link function in the toolbar
    • consider linking/inserting an image or other media, if relevant and effective for your focus
  • Look ahead: to discussion in class, to the next section of the reading, to your next posting.
    • one way to conclude effectively (wrap up, but not entirely–since a blog by definition is not a finished product, should have more to say): ask a question.

the medium is the workshop of the message

I mentioned in our visit to the print shop Marshall McLuhan’s Understanding Media, a famous book from the 1960s by a so-called media guru. I want to follow up the reference in order to think a bit more about how/why I am hearing in Shelley’s “workshop of filthy creation” echoes of the medium of writing and print.

McLuhan defines media in that book as “extensions of man.” Contrary to someone like Birkerts, who neglects the medium of the book and tends to view media only as the new, the electronic, McLuhan understands that a medium is anything that extends the capability of a human who uses it. Thus any and all forms of communication tools are media, starting with language itself: writing, pencil, book, printing press, variety of computer mediated forms of writing and language. And in this book he extends this notion of extension: literally any tool that can be considered an extension: clothing, wheels, houses.

In the same book, McLuhan repeats a saying he made famous (perhaps you have heard of it): the medium is the message. He means in large part that the significance of any  medium  is the mediation it provides; he also means that a new medium contains aspects and traces of the old medium it supposedly replaces. A bit later in the course we will get back to this idea that has come to be called “remediation.”

Perhaps another way of putting this is to say that  a medium such as writing (print or electronic) is significant and meaningful in part (McLuhan a bit more boldly might say entirely) for the way it pulls back the curtain on the communication (or extension) it provides. This foregrounding of the medium is on my mind in the readings this week. We have Birkerts who is focused so intently and intensively on the privacy of print and writing, on the qualities of a book to be a medium of transport and self-extension–yet thinking very little about the medium (machine) of the book or even the writing that goes into it. At the other end, with Hayles the initial pages of Writing Machines, we find an author similarly transported by literature and the private life of reading, yet who insists upon the material encounter with the medium of writing, of print, and of electronic text. And in the middle, Frankenstein. A story, it seems to me, about the mediated nature of creativity, authorial and biological; about being consigned, as humans, to the workshop of filthy creation.

McLuhan highlights for me the ways that Birkerts neglects to define and consider and reflect upon and understand the mediated nature of new media (instead of generalizing, too quickly brushing them off). And though he does do a better job being more deliberate and reflective regarding the media of print (all the reading and writing he discusses), there is still this problem. He gets, I think, the medium of print wrong. Consider this paragraph from McLuhan that evokes Birkerts’ senses of passivity vs. activity, except it locates the passive not with television but with the technology of literacy.

Western man acquired from the technology of literacy the power to act without reacting. The advantages of fragmenting himself in this way are seen in the case of the surgeon who would be quite helpless if he were to become humanly involved in his operation. We acquired the art of carrying out the most dangerous social operations with complete detachment. But our detachment was a posture of noninvolvement. In the electric age, when our central nervous system is technologically extended to involve us in the whole of mankind and to incorporate the whole of mankind in us, we necessarily participate, in depth, in the consequences of our every action. It is no longer possible to adopt the aloof and dissociated role of the literate Westerner. [Understanding Media, 4]

I see a good bit of Birkerts in this image of detachment. Ironically, McLuhan gives us to imagine this scenario at home: parent yelling at child to put down that book, stop being so lazy, and get on the internet and do something real.

Does Victor make a similar mistake? What do you think?


ethos, pathos, logos

Some thoughts and links that emerged from our initial discussions of Birkerts. I thought we made a great start in dealing with his ideas and his text deliberately–beginning to hear him for those ideas but also beginning to notice how the writing works, where it is compelling and where it is less so.  I used the terms in class: ethos, pathos, logos. These are Greek words for three things that are at issue and in play in making a presentation (originally oratory, now to included writing) rhetorically powerful: the credibility represented or established by the speaker (ethos); the sympathy or empathy generated by the writer/rhetorician (pathos); the logic and sense and order of the argument (logos). On Friday, we began to see that if we take Birkerts to be hypocritical at points, it may be a problem with his logos: he argues one side and neglects or generalizes for the other. It may also be a pathos problem: he insults us or diminishes us (“non-reading horde’), not a good way to generate sympathy. At the same time, in the example I pointed to where he reflects back on his parents’ rural upbringing and distinguishes such reflection from shallow nostalgia, I would argue that the passage is compelling in its pathos: I can empathize with his understanding of slow time and can begin to share his concern for the speed of the electronic world.

We also began to consider ways that his hypocrisy is an issue of how he very narrowly defines reading (only books, nothing else outside of a book) and also narrowly defines technology as digital/electronic. The logos problem here is part historical: books are technology, a technology (print, movable type, mass reproduction of print) that revolutionizes writing and how we read. And before that, writing was a technology that revolutionized thought and communiation. And now, the digital/electronic reproduction of ideas is also revolutionizing how we think, read, communicate. We want to get a better grasp of the historical context for this: not generalize what book or print or reading or writing or digital means or implies. Begin to get a more complicated understanding–since all of these things are in fact complicated: complications and combinations of historical, social, technical, human ideas and things. Another word/concept we will being to use and better grasp by the end of the course: medium; all of these different things share a key characteristic–they are mediations, are media. In other words, all are extensions or machines for ideas, for thinking, for communicating. And when we work on our own writing, and work on revising that writing, a better understanding of the medium and the ways we can mediate (and remediate) the thinking and communicating is what we are after. In ancient Greece, rhetoric means an orator’s (later, writer’s) ability to manipulate the dials and levers of the machine, including those marked: ethos, pathos, logos.

By the way, I did find that Birkerts posts a blog sometimes for Encyclopedia Britannica. You might find it interesting–the ideas are familiar to what we are reading. In the post I have linked, reference is made to a recent article that asks “Is Google Making Us Stoopid?” I have a link for that article and some thoughts on it here–and would note that the author of that article begins to provide, even in brief, more of the historical context for books as technology (rather than simply books vs technology) that we are looking for.

A note on the Glog. I am using them, in part, in place of a quiz on the reading: so one things I am looking for (though not the only thing) is how well you are engaging the reading. In that sense, you might think of the glog as a self-made quiz, where you demonstrate your reading. But in addition to this, the glog is also an extension of the journal writing and discussion that will work its way into your writing projects: notes and ideas you have from the reading. Having rich quotations and your paraphrase of several chapters and your interpretation of key sections and a sense of the questions you have–all this could work its way into a future writing project. With that in mind, it pays off to be specific and thorough now; at the end of the term, should you decide to bring Birkerts back for your final project, you won’t be left with a blank slate.

Two examples you might browse for some gloggers who had a good, initial grasp of this: Devin and  Michelle.


“process reproduction”: on Benjamin and Bush

Though it may not have seemed this way, I think we began to grasp Hayles and her notion of technotext in our last class discussion. I reminded you that a key word for this concept is foreground: a text where the medium and the material/physical reality of the text is brought to the front rather than hidden or left to the background. Another way to put this, as one of you did in class: a text where the process of making the text is somehow revealed and made meaningful; where we see the process, not just the product. We see this surely in a work like “Lexia to Perplexia”–where the source code bleeds into the language, confusing process with product. But also in the artist books she writes about so lovingly. Here is a link to a digital collection of the kinds of books she has in mind (and in hand), Otis College of Art and Design.

Such process (and the processing of art’s product) is a place we can link to Benjamin’s famous essay on “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical (Technical is, I am told, a better translation from the German) Reproduction.” Benjamin has his eye on how technology is changing (he is writing in 1936) traditional notions of the work of art. Specifically, how the reproduction process (most specifically, the reproduction of photographic flim; but also earlier forms of reproduction–he looks back to the technology of the printing press and movable type) changes the aura of the singular work of art. We can talk more about some of his examples with film. A famous example comes up towards the end: how film and its ability to present enlargements and close-ups of reality reveals an ‘unconscious optics.’ There is more to our vision and perception than what we normally see. There is more there. The new art (film or photography or writing influenced by both or other forms of technical reproduction) not only reveals this ‘more,’ this revelation of a process that is normally hidden from view; it reproduces it for future and further use. In other words, it opens the curtain on (its own) artistic process. Thus, as Benjamin implies, anyone can not only be filmed, but become the maker of film. And the reader, as he says (and as I quote him on our home page) is ready to turn into a writer.

Bush and his imagined ‘Memex” certainly connects in at this general level of thinking about how new technologies of reproduction–including photographic technology–can and will and even should alter traditional methods of doing research and producing knowledge. But I am beginning to consider a more specific link, if you will: Bush, too, is thinking about and concerned about ‘something more.’ Concerned about being overwhelmed by the amount of information that one must confront and synthesize in the pursuit of knowledge–of ‘science’ (knowing). And interested, it seems to me, in the ability to recognize the hidden and fluid relations of knowledge. When we research, we ultimately need and even want to find something other than what we set out looking for; we need to grasp “something more.” Bush imagines an instrument that we help us track this, that will reflect and even reproduce the ways that our mind works in its paths of what he calls “associative thinking.” This becomes a hallmark of what will be called a few years later, hypertext.