Revolution Lullabye

April 9, 2009

Elbow, Writing Without Teachers

Elbow, Peter. Writing Without Teachers. 2nd ed. New York: Oxford UP, 1998.

First edition 1973.

The book is divided between Elbow’s five practical chapters about how to write more fluidly and construct a teacherless writing class and his appendix, which articulates his theory behind his teacherless pedagogy, a theory about how ideas are found and tested through two different methods: the believing game and the doubting game. Academia favors the doubting game (critiquing writing and arguments to find and weed out errors) over the believing game (coming up with different scenarios and hypothesis to test the validity of a given argument, to suspend disbelief and step in the writer’s shoes.) Elbow argues that there needs to be a balance between the two, and the believing game, so often dismissed, offers a valuable way to productively understand and make meaning through metaphor and relationships.

Elbow explains his pedagogy using two different metaphors: growing and cooking. Good writing grows, beginning with a lot of freewriting, then heading towards chaos, then organizing into centers of gravity, and then reforming through ferocious revision. Good writing also cooks, involving a number of competing and conflicting elements (ideas, arguments, words, metaphors, modes) which are forced to interact with each other. Noninteraction comes from an absence of conflict (static agreement) or from constant, unproductive conflict (deadlock and stalemate.) He advocates multiple, quick drafts, attacking the writing as a whole, not through parts, and unleashing energy and words through constrained, 10-minute frequent freewrites. Writing, Elbow argues, cannot be fully completed unless it is done in interaction with others, and thus he argues for a teacherless writing class, one in which a core number of writers commit to writing and responding to a draft once a week. He sets up guidelines for responding readers and writers in Chapter 4 and 5.

Quotable Quotes

“Make writing a global task, not a piecemeal one.” (72)

“Our conception of intellectual process is so dominated by critical thinking” (xxv)

Notable Notes

2nd edition begins with an introduction in which Elbow calls attention to his appendixed theory (doubting and believing games) and invites further response to it.

Believing game is what Quakers, juries have to do; it is what happens during a paradigm shift (Thomas Kuhn)

many fast drafts instead of one slow one

it’s better in responding to be honestly subjective (share the movie in your mind) than trying to be objective

human beings are most of the time not in communication with each other – people passively listen, nod, agree – that’s why a genuine teacherless writing group is so invigorating

his pedagogy is backed by his theory, specifically of the importance of the believing game to the intellectual enterprise.

the believing game allows for multiple gestalts, multiple meanings, requires waiting, patience, and a commitment to the importance of experience

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February 1, 2009

Miller, Expertise and Agency

Miller, Carolyn R. “‘Expertise and Agency’: Transformations of Ethos in Human-Computer Interaction.” In The Ethos of Rhetoric. Ed. Michael J. Hyde, U of South Carolina P, 2004. 197-218.
 
Miller explores the two complementary modes of human-computer interaction in the post-Cold War era: expert systems and intelligent agents. Using a grounding in twentieth century US history and an understanding in the computer systems and programs developed from the 1950s onward, Miller shows how the ethos in the human-computer interaction changes from an ethos interested in rational reliability (phronesis) to one concerned with interaction with the user (eunoia.) Ethos is not just a normative function; it is descriptive as well and can shed light on the kind of rhetorical community participants belong to. The shift from a rhetoric of domain-specific expert systems to one of intelligent agents happened in the 1970s and 1980s, when public trust in institutions and authority figures took a nose dive (Vietnam, Watergate) and when rapidly evolving technologies allowed for the development of a more complex, more diverse (in markets and knowledge), and more distributed world. Intelligent agents, as opposed to expert systems that are concerned with the accumulation of one domain of knowledge, are semi-autonomous, have choices, and interact with the environment. Their “expertise” and knowledge is collected in a distributed fashion. Miller argues that the ethos of rational reliability and that of sympathy are on two ends of a pendulum and must be balanced with virtues and moral reasoning (arete.)
 
Quotable Quotes
 
“A discourse…delinieates a rhetorical community and consequently an ethos – a sensus communis and a locus communis – a place where interlocutors abide, about which they contest, and from which they draw appeals. Those who dwell within a rhetorical community acquire their character as rhetorical participants from it, as it educates and socializes them. The community does this in part by supplying the Aristotelian components of ethos – the judgment (phronesis), values (arete), and feelings (eonoia) that make a rhetor persuasive to other members of the community” (198)
 
This is important because it’s about how the discourse that we create in turns creates the community – the hive. The writing that happens in blogs, del.ic.ious, GoogleDocs, tagging, etc. – imparts both a community and a shared ethos that is carried out in different projects.
 
Looking at ethos “can help us determine aspects of our community and our communal character” (198)
 
Notable Notes
 
Distrust in authority is historically and culturally grounded, leads to these bottom-up, more user-need sensitive human-computer interaction systems. People aren’t (usually) crazy domain experts. Their expertise is distributed and can be documented and used most efficiently in more of an intelligent agent system.
Ethos is normative and descriptive.

January 5, 2009

Helfand, Six (+2) Essays on Design and New Media

Helfand, Jessica. Six (+2) Essays on Design and New Media. New York: William Drenttel, 1997.

Helfand’s essays, which all first appeared in Print and Eye Magazines, ask how our ideas are being shaped by new digital media and vice versa, how new digital media is shaping our ideas. She writes as a designer, calling in each of her essays (some more overtly than others) for her fellow designers, whose formal training probably did not address programming code or hypertext or moving visuals, to take up the challenges presented by the internet and digital new media and find appropriate, responsible design solutions instead of leaving the digital landscape open to chaotic, untrained interpretation. Her argument (which she admits is a bit elitist) takes her from an analysis of electronic typography to the relationship between information and form and from questions of access to a discussion of the physical, hardware and software constraints of digital design. Her first essay, “Design and the Play Instinct,” claims that responsible and thoughtful play is an essential component of the design process, and the computer has made play easier and more efficient because of the possibilities of erasing and reverting to previously-saved, “uncorrupted” drafts. She warns against designers relying on old design paradigms, such as those developed for the printed page, calling for designers to find ways to accurately present the overload of information and non-linear narratives found on the internet in ways that allow for clear communication without making complex concepts and relationships overly simplistic. The technology might limit the design, but the concepts a designer can communicate are not limited. The text is a little dated to the new media debates of the mid-1990s (lots of discussion of CD-ROMs.)

Quotable Quotes

Interaction design: “It demands, instead, more comprehensive thinking that involves cognitive, spatial, and ergonomic considerations” (59) Interface designers can’t just rely on traditional design training; they have to branch out and collaboarte with software engineers, psychologists, and other experts who can help them with the unique design challenges of new media.

Designers need new ways of “visualizing stories in multiple layers, for designing with mulitple points of entry” (60).

The problem with websites that “dutifully mimic the form and structure of a paper publication, which is its own restrictive model” (49). Instead, we need “more ambitious thinking, more inventive models, and, undoubtably, more inspired design than presently exists” (49).

“The internet is a dialectic hybrid: a utopian archetype at once pragmatic and mythical, borderless and structured, it is a potentially infinite space with no geographical, political, or otherwise material boundaries” (47).

“Texture is complexity made physically manifest” (22).

“As information overload tips the scales, the demand for editorial and design direction will become more and more critical” (45).

“Thoughtless computer-aided (or driven) design maximizes shortcuts. It delights in gimmickry and exploits for effect. Here, in the land of the gratuitous filter, it is a celebration of bells and whistles, uninspired form and negligble content…This is the play instinct gone awry – devoid of imagination, brain-free, giving way to the loathsome gravitational pull of mediocrity” (10).

Notable Notes

Essay Titles:
1: “Design and the Play Instinct” – play is essential to the design process. Computer and technology facilitate it (and allow it to happen.)
2: “Electronic Typography” – typography is now asked to represent spoken, time-sensitive word, can disapper and appear in the 4th dimension, need for visual literacy to develop, emails are constrained but serve all purposes.
3. “The Pleasure of the Text(ure)” – digital new media is often pushed into linear forms when that doesn’t make particular sense because it gets rid of the texture. CD-ROMs discussion.
4. “The Culture of Reciprocity” – access to new media is limited around the world, how educational institutions are teaching and using new media, new media is formed by and for those who participate in it.
5. “A New Webbed Utopia” – the internet is controlled by its constraints: html code, upload times, ambiguous target audience
6. “The Lost Legacy of Film” – new media designers should look to film designers to help unlock the power and potential of narrative and drama. New media has more choice and participation; the audience become the authors.
+1. “I Design, Therefore I Am” – avatars as identity, one that can be manipulated and edited constantly.
+2. “The Myth of Real Time” – our world has equated real with efficient, and the potential of leisure time as productive time is ignored. Also, digital media seems by its very nature ephemeral, not as a comglomerate of building layers over history.

blue underlined hyperlink developed by U of Illinois for their Mosaic project – now ubiquitous in website design (49)

information highway should be reconceived as an information landscape – by MIT research team

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