Words, Shm-ords: The Question of “Writing” and The Possibility of Other Literacies

By January 18, 2011New Media, R is for Research

(Gotta love a good colon title, yeah?)

When one commonly thinks of ‘Writing,’ the idea usually looks something like this.  (‘this’ being what you’re looking at right now, words/sentences/paragraphs/punctuation.)  ‘Literacy’, then, seems tied to the ability to understand and communicate in writing and, consequently, the avenue by which we achieve a higher literacy is through reading and writing (because its all “words, words, words”).  But this hasn’t always been the case.  As some thinkers like Walter Mignolo, Mircea Eliade, or Levi-Strauss have acknowledged, pre-alphabetic humans had an entirely different means of communication usually through image-based communication (a la Hieroglyphics, pictographs, or even, one could argue, Art).

If we acknowledge that there have been other literacies (even though Microsoft Word does not as it is currently telling me that ‘literacies’ isn’t a word..Ha!), then, perhaps, we are merely far too comfortable with our current paradigm to consider other forms of writing, rhetoric, or even literacy may exist (dun Dun DUN!).  (This is the basic presupposition for the continuation of my research that will, hopefully, be documented on WordPress.)

With the growth and spread of mediums of communication like photography and film (although I think art and music could also fit in as well), I think we have reach a point where we can, once again, be able to form meaning, purpose, and argument through an image-based system.  I think that to say that mediums like art or film do not convey an argument severely limits the art form and is simply untrue.  These forms create meaning is different ways, but nonetheless Meaning is created.

For example, I intend to examine how film goes about creating meaning and argument.  I am going to try and stay away from the actual words of the script (as that would involve words again), but inevitably, they will come into play.  Nonetheless, I intend to focus on how the placement of images next to each other (whether by comparison or juxtaposition), the use of editing, and the manipulation of score (and other more technical aspects of film/art) create an alternative rhetoric that doesn’t use words at all, yet somehow functions in the same ways of the traditionally conceptualized idea of “rhetoric.”

Perhaps I should define some terms? (’cause isn’t so much of the pain/pleasure of academic writing about finding the right words..even though we know that words will ultimately fail us.  Yet, the chase of the doe continues on…)

‘Meaning’ is the hardest.  ‘Meaning,’ to me, seems to be the result of intent.  However, this intent is purely based upon the subjective gaze of the viewer and can indeed differ from original intent by the artist (if such a thing exists….).  ‘Argument,’ then, is the construction of ideas to get at Meaning.  We have all sorts of different genres of arguments, but I’m aiming to be broad here.  Alas, then we have the tricky question of Art.  I’m going to leave you to decide what Art is, but throughout this process I will working with what I consider Art (and if you disagree, let me know and we can dig a little deeper).

Did I cover everything?  I’m totally just throwing these definitions out there and consider them to be entirely working definitions.  As I/we (for writing is a collaborative process) begin to dissect what it means to “write” or “using rhetoric,” there is going to be an obvious need to rework a lot of definitions. But my brain is all I have to start with, but with helpful comments (wink, wink, nudge, nudge), maybe we can create something better?

Please, comment.  Tell me what you want to know more about, where I fall short, where I’m right on, and provide any ideas that you may have.  If you’re too shy to comment, then I hope you will at least be entertained by my silly musings!

Until Next Time!

– Ben

Join the discussion 4 Comments

  • Mia Amélie says:

    What a post! At first I worried that I could not communicate my reaction to this maze of wonder in ways other than the written word. But the comment box, despite its limitations, also contains vast possibilities. To demonstrate those possibilities, I will provide you with some modern hieroglyphs:

    😯 <3 :mrgreen: 💡

    That said, I have one question for consideration: is "meaning" dependent on author's intent alone? Perhaps, just like many things, "meaning" is codependent on author and audience, a collaborative effort if you will. Is an audience member's projected meaning any less valuable than an author's intention? I feel this codependent relationship that Meaning taps into may be highlighted by the fact that "authorship" is often collaborative itself: films have many "authors" (directors, screenwriters, novel writers, etc.), politicians have speech writers, etc.

    But, of course, this may just be a load of words. 😉

  • What’s wonderful, Ms. Mia, is that sans words, I still would have understood your emoticons “comments”. (I have subsequently added a section on emoticons to my research project, because they get at the same questions I’m asking.) (…thank you for such lovely faces by the by!)

  • (Aside:)
    In response to your questions of authorial intent and meaning, I shall craft a post on the very subject. But, alas, I don’t have much time this week as to properly address it now. Stay tuned for the response. Same Bat-Time. Same Bat-Blog.

    (“Exit: Pursued by Bear” with heavy questions to think about)

  • David S. says:

    May I suggest that if you engage in a study of film, you restrict yourself to silent films only? If the films you use contain dialogue, you are engaged in a verbal language that has not only meaning, but sound beauty and connotation. How could you approach creating a storyboard for a silent film of your own?