Writing. Design. Social Change.

Posts tagged ‘Wysocki’

Wysocki, Anne Frances. “Impossibly Distinct: On Form/Content and Word/Image in Two Pieces of Computer-Based Interactive Multimedia.” Computers and Composition 18 (2001): 209-234.

In this article, Wysocki makes the argument that we need to rethink or expand the conceptual categories that we are currently using to better understand (and teach) the visual aspects of texts. Wysocki questions why we still hold onto so many common assumptions regarding (the teaching and understanding of ) visual elements. She argues that when dealing with the visual, form is not always separate from content, word is not always separate from image and information is not separate always from design, and when we do so, we seriously diminish our returns. She compares two interactive CD-Roms on modernist art to demonstrate this argument.

Wysocki claims that “the differences between the visual presentations of these CDs are differences of assertion and thought.” (224). She makes an argument for The Foundation Maeght CD because it encourages a kind of thinking about the role visual representation plays in meaning making, whereas the other CD (Barnes), took things at face-value/took much for granted in how meaning is constructed with visual elements. In other words, it simply gave the user the information in a kind of straightforward way and couldn’t escape from a prefab user experience. Wysocki describes in a close-reading of the two texts why the Maeght CD-Rom does a better job of “pulling her in.” Some of what Wysocki is doing is talking about aesthetic engagement.  She prefers the Maeght CD because: …”it is up to me to determine the relations between the parts; I have to think about why the CD has been arranged as it has; if I want to feel I have any sort of hold on the presentation, I have to make my own paths through it; they are not handed to me. Although the CD is not asking me to question my relationship to art—or to artists or to art foundations—it is encouraging me to question how the arrangement of the CD contributes to my understanding of it…a first step in encouraging me to be aware of my interpretative part in moving through such a piece” (230).

I find the following quotes useful:

“It is because the Maeght CD encourages me to consider how its structure contributes to my experience and understanding of the CD that I find it more appealing.” (231).

“We should be asking, along with other people in our classes, how the visual aspects of these texts work to compose us and how we go about composing pages and screens that encourage us to be responsible and critical readers.” (231).

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Wysocki, Anne Frances. “awaywithwords: On the Possibilities in Unavailable Designs.Computers and Composition 22.1 (2005): 55-62.

In this article Wysocki seeks to find what is gained and what is lost in communicative practices and is an extension of Kress’ article “Gains and Losses.” Specifically she focuses on how the digital age has changed our awareness of the visuality of texts. She reflects on our material choices in writing and how those choices can in/form us. She states: “I have learned in the process of developing communications that it is always worth asking how our materials have acquired the constraints they have and hence why, often, certain materials and designs are not considered available for certain uses” (Wysocki 2005: 56). Asking about our constraints, our assumptions “can help us understand how material choices in producing communications articulate to social practices we may not otherwise with to reproduce” (56).

This article is helpful in two ways:

1) It discusses the push toward a more rhetorical focus on teaching new media: Wysocki engages Kress’s scholarship on word and image and agrees with his call to promote a more rhetorical focus on teaching. As Kress writes: “In this social and cultural environment, with these demands for communication of these materials, for that audience, with these resources, and given these interests of mine, what is the design which best meets these requirements?”

2) It discusses another trend—the theme of design: “As the New London Group described the design process, communicators draw on available designs in designing (which includes ‘reading, seeing, and listening (New London Group 2000: 22) which involves re-presenting and recontextualizing available designs in order to develop the redesigned, which is always a “transformed meaning,” “founded in historically and culturally received patterns of meaning” (New London Group 200: 23). It would seem appropriate to link this with Kostelnick’s Shaping Information. Wysocki sys: “this process can imply certain circularity, with the redesigned then becoming itself an available design for the next go-round.” (Wysocki 60).  

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Wysocki, Anne Frances, Johndan Johnson-Eilola, Cynthia L. Selfe, and Geoffrey Sirc. Writing New Media: Theory and Applications for Expanding the Teaching of Composition. Logan: Utah State UP, 2004.

This is a collection of six essays by Anne Frances Wysocki, Johndan Johnson-Eilola, Cynthia Selfe, and Geoffrey Sirc. In addition to the theoretical essays, this book offers practical assignments for composition teachers. In the introduction Wysocki explains why she thinks that new media needs to be opened to writing: new media needs to be informed by what writing teachers know, precisely because writing teachers focus specifically on texts and how situated people (learn how to) use them to make things happen. Such consideration is mostly lacking from existing writing about new media.

In the essay “Toward New Media Texts: Taking up the Challenges of Visual Literacy,” Cynthia Selfe claims the route to understanding new media is to gain a better understanding of visual literacy. (Selfe’s argument is supported by The New London Group, Gunther Kress and Theo van Leeuwen, Sean Williams, and Diana George). Selfe argues that we need a better understanding of the visual in order to understand how students are communicating and reading/viewing in a rapidly changing and “image-filled” world.

In the chapter titled: “The Sticky Embrace of Beauty: On some formal relations in teaching about the visual aspects of texts,” Wysocki argues that many common and accepted approaches for teaching the visual aspects of texts are “incomplete and in fact may work against helping students acquire critical and thoughtful agency with the visual” (149). She uses the popular The Non-Designers Design Book to analyze an advertisement to illustrate her point that “what we make when we shape the visual aspects of texts is reciprocal communication” (Wysocki, 2004,149). In short, Wysocki’s point is that everything we make does communicative work. She recommends that “we don’t teach students formal vocabulary and principles for visual analysis and production unless we also consider the visual aspects of texts through the lenses of specifically gendered (and so on) material lives. She suggests that we couple the formal aspects of design with a critical consciousness.

Writing New Media is helpful to me in setting up the argument that the aesthetic in rhet/comp is often imagined in lackluster or anemic ways—if at all. Here the authors provide questions and opportunities for reflection that would allow the field of rhet/comp to go beyond the technical and functional aspects of the aesthetic in terms of the production and consumption of texts. In “The Sticky Embrace of Beauty,” Wysocki asks: “How might we develop senses of beauty and pleasure that allow us to see that beauty is something we construct together, that it is a way we can reciprocally share with each other the pleasures of being with in the world together, of appreciating what is particular about our lives?” A good, generative question.

One of the key points Wysocki criticizes is how our aesthetic/design analysis tools in rhet/comp tend to separate form from content. Wysocki criticizes this point forcefully but I don’t ever see her do anything differently. Her critique of the Peek advertisement in “The Sticky Embrace of Beauty” never moves beyond the form of the composition. I find this really strange. At first I thought she might be confusing/mistaking the woman’s body for the image’s “content”—but certainly the woman’s body is actually one more element in the design of the overall image/package. The image is not really about the woman’s body. The content has to do with the fact that this image is trying to sell a book. One of the first things we would do in an aesthetic encounter with the advertisement would be to read the image and the text. We would want to know: what is this an advertisement of? This might sound obvious, but in her analysis, Wysocki did not approach the content of her selection—only the form. Perhaps this is one reason why Wysocki’s reading seems unsatisfactory, and disinterested. And why she reads the composition out of context, and becomes angry at culture’s objectification of women’s “aestheticized” bodies. What is wrong with this reading is that the subject at hand, the advertisement, is not an advertisement for advertisement’s sake. Her incomplete reading sounds strange, feels hurried. I can only guess that this is her point. Her very point. Our tools are limited. We need new tools that can help us deal with form and content.

Her critique does do a good job however of accessibly dealing with Kant’s aesthetics via Bourdieu’s  and I find this useful, (besides I am sure it cost her a headache or two to write, which in turn saves me one or two less when I too must turn to Kant).

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