Open… Like a Book?: Writing New Media and the Materialities of Textual Production


Amy Tuttle


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Amy Tuttle

New ideas give way to new methods. And since new media changes the way we link ideas to ideas and ideas to readers, perhaps our experiences with new media should prompt us to reconsider what we “know.” Specifically, educators might be well-served to consider the ways in which new media writing differs from traditional, humanist prose, as this deliberate differentiation could open up (rather than foreclose) epistemological and pedagogical possibilities for the digital humanities.

With new media, a text’s materiality is enacted through the practices of its composition. Thus, rather than seeing new media writing as an analysis of specific media (or of the broad tropes of formal convention that often guide writing pedagogies), approaches to teaching new media might benefit from a focus on writing as a (series of) material, knowledge-making practice(s). Investigations of material practice as it pertains to new media writing have the potential to offer rich avenues for the exploration of the complex ontological and epistemological relationships among subjects, objects, and identity, which, in turn, could lay important groundwork for understanding the digital humanities’ responsibilities to democratized knowledge and invention/innovation.

A focus on the material meaning-making practices of new media writing introduces expanded understandings of what new media texts mean or can mean. In Writing New Media, Geoff Sirc suggests that a move from prose writing and concepts of metaphor toward more open systems of freely associated “collections” of heterogeneous writing affords new media writers the responsibility to make connections (143). Thus, a new media writer can experience a fuller realm of possibility when he or she is not self-conscious about trying to follow and master formal conventions of style. In other words, some of new media’s libratory potential lies in becoming less concerned with content and more conscious of our materials.

Significantly, an increased consciousness of the material practices of new media writing departs from traditional humanist approaches to writing in that new media methodologies and pedagogies might allow for the critical analysis of both a text’s content and the means of its production. More specifically, in attending to the materiality of texts, new media writers work to collapse the hierarchical distinction between textual analysis and textual production—between reading and writing. In other words, new media writing fosters multiplicity, and the material practices that accompany new media writing might help students identify a range of literacies. Additionally, new media texts trouble the academic and disciplinary binaries of alphabetic/visual, “high” culture/“low” culture, and “real” work/“not real” work. Therefore, by refusing to position textual analysis over textual production, pedagogies of new media writing can demonstrate a resistance to binaries of normalization or centralization.

Methodologies of decentralization can untether writing from its content, and as a result, new media has the potential not only to support existing social and cultural theories and practices of writing, but also to disrupt and change those positions, leading to potentially significant (and sustainable) long-term social change. Both students and teachers (and every combination of the two) occupy a variety of subject positions within a single class setting, and, in the best possible cases, the reconfiguration processes inherent in the material practices of new media have the potential to shift the focus from what things mean to how things mean. Therefore, teachers of writing must consider how pedagogical theories of writing and the “everyday practice” (to use de Certeau's term) of writing work (or don’t work) together in relation to the larger, more systemic issues regarding the nature and value of various kinds of scholarly work.


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