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April 13, 2018

My Adventures in Troubleshooting (and the Importance of Good Technical Writing)

April 13, 2018 | By | No Comments

Perhaps the most important thing I’ve learned during this CHI project is how necessary various forums on HTML and CSS are to a person’s progress on a project. Over the last few weeks, I’ve had to rely entirely on the Twine Cookbook and googling random questions online to try to understand what I need to change. Programs like Code Academy  are useful is developing a basic understanding of how to understand and use html, css, and javascript. But, in the end I’ve spent way more time perusing the cookbook and reading forums online for specific solutions for the problems I’m having. For this reason, I’ve also learned the importance of good technical writing. Which, PS, turns out a lot programmers aren’t the greatest at that.

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February 16, 2018

Project Plan Overview

February 16, 2018 | By | No Comments

For my CHI fellowship project, I hope to use the theoretical framework I have created in my previous project to begin considering how queer modes of making act as a form of world-making. In particular, I want to focus on the ways in which queer communities make “things” in order to make their worlds (more bearable). Often, in rhetoric and composition, we are understandably preoccupied with composing practices that follow linear logical progression, and thus linear alphabetic text is privileged as the primary mode for rhetorical creation. However, I wonder how might a preoccupation with lines of text—to linear logic in particular—leave out queer thinkers who see the world differently? In what ways does telling those thinkers that they are “wrong” through a constant focus on neat arguments leading to finite conclusions lead them to lose hope?

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February 16, 2018

Learning To Code….Twice

February 16, 2018 | By | No Comments

As I’ve mentioned in my previous posts, I’m working on a project that illustrates and advocates for non-linear, queer composing as a death-defying act of world-making. To do this in a digital project, I’ve been making my project using Twine, self-described as  “an open-source tool for telling interactive, nonlinear stories.” I think most people tend to use Twine to create a kind of “choose your own adventure” story-game. In this way, the platform works perfectly for my project. I want users to click through it and feel like their experience is completely random and different every time they come to the site.

The weird thing about Twine is that it has its own coding language, plus it uses html, css, and javascript. It won’t let me just code using html, but rather I’ve been doing a combination of both html and Twine’s style of coding. So, to get a bunch of overlapping pictures like this:

I have to code it like this:

Plus some css on another page.

I’m not great at coding in the first place– I knew nothing about it until starting this fellowship, so having to both continue to learn the basics of html, css, and javascript, as well as Twine’s formatting is a bit of a chore. To be frank, it took me six hours to get those pictures randomly on the screen and turn them into clickable buttons. Still, I love working with Twine because it offers up a cool way to think about creating a website/story that is random and non-linear in the way that I need it to be. This is what my collection of pages look like right now:

I’m so excited to keep working and build an even bigger web of pages. Wish me luck!

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December 12, 2017

Queer (World) Making

December 12, 2017 | By | No Comments

In my previous posts, I’ve outlined some of the ways making and multimodal composing offer up spaces for people to make in order to make their worlds. In my last post, I articulated what I think are some differences between multimodal composing and making. In this post, I want to discuss the ways in which I see queer communities already engage in the “making as world making” I discussed in my last post.

Making as world-making is enacted daily in queer communities all the time, as exemplified in the work of Qwo-Li Driskill, Malea Powell, Gloria Anzaldua, Cherie Moraga, all people who claim queerness, all people who make worlds through their own makings. Thus, I don’t want to claim that anything that I am suggesting is new. My previous post was designed to provide some examples of the ways in which I see people of color enacting multimodal composing practices that resist straight, white, Western forms of knowledge, and without enacting the baggage of multimodality as a trendy buzzword used to describe something that everyone does everyday. It was also designed to show that thinking of multimodal composing as making in order to make worlds opens up space for us all to expand what we value when we discuss multimodal composing; it also puts more weight in multimodal composition’s possibility for supporting queer and feminist making, but also in supporting all of our lives. Indeed, in my first post, I quoted Stacy Waite, who said “if oppression is really going to change, it’s our civic duty to think in queerer ways, to come up with queer kinds of knowledge-making so that we might know truths that are non-normative, and contradictory, and strange” (64). I would argue that we already do think in queer ways, enact queer kinds of knowledge-making; they just aren’t always recognizable in my field (composition and rhetoric) as knowledge-making. However, they have always been world-building.

Two examples of this kind of world building enacted by queers are the Lesbian Avengers, an activist group that began in the 1990s, and the drag ballroom community. Both of these communities enact “multimodal” composing as world-making in their everyday action. For example, in the documentary film “The Lesbian Avengers Eat Fire,” a group of Avengers marched on Washington in 1993 to protest a hate crime committed against a lesbian woman and gay man, whose home was set on fire. At this protest, the avengers practiced fire-eating to show that fire had no power over them. In the film, as they take the fire into their mouths, they claim “We take the fire of action into our hearts and we take it into our bodies. . . our fear does not consume us.” This act of eating fire is a making, a making both of a protest and of a community but of a space, even if for a moment, in which fears of being killed for being queer are literally consumed.

Another example is the creation of drag balls, in which queer communities of color walk, dance, and perform in drag for trophies. Drag balls are not just spaces for queer self-expression, but for community and home-building, for making a world in which being a queer of color is celebrated and loved. In the film Paris is Burning, interviews with those who participate in the drag balls highlight that the balls are not simply pageants, but home spaces where people find and join their own chosen families in their “houses.” Drag balls, then, become more than just a making, but a home and a world that is more bearable for queers of color.

I want to be clear that I understand that queer communities are already engaged in making as world-making; I know I’m not discovering something queer people don’t already do. Just as Angela Haas is careful to acknowledge that she is not claiming that wampum is the origin of hypertext (in her piece “Wampum as Hypertext”), I want to acknowledge that I am not calling for queers to start making things and making worlds; I know we’re already doing this work. However, in both the cases of the Lesbian Avengers or in the drag balls, none of these communities are claiming to be doing multimodal work; they may not even choose to claim that they are “making” anything necessarily, certainly not for the means of world-making. These communities are just doing it (as Harjo writes, dancing it, being it) because it makes the world more bearable. What I am arguing is that a cultural rhetorics orientation to queer and feminist multimodality includes this story as a means “to make one absent story present in our discussions” of queer, feminist multimodal composing, “and the addition of this story may lead us to better understand the theory of discovery” (Haas 96).

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December 1, 2017

Multimodality vs. Making

December 1, 2017 | By | No Comments

As we prepare to submit our proposals for our projects, I’m still working through my own thoughts about queer multimodality as a means to “defy death” through a resistance to linear composing and therefore neat, tidy, death-like conclusion. This resistance is also an actionable way to create more bearable worlds for queer thinkings and creators. The trouble I’m encountering, which I mentioned in my last post, is about the concept of “multimodality” as a whole, vs. simply the act of making.

“Multimodality,” just like the phrase “new media” is used to describe practices of making that existed long before linear, alphabetic text was seen as the most legitimate form of discourse among Western scholars. Jody Shipka suggests that an embrace of the word “multimodality” or phrase “new media” becomes just another limitation: “in an attempt to free students from the limits of the page, we institute another, limiting them to texts that can be composed, received, and reviewed on screen” (11). In this case, Shipka describes the limitations of understanding multimodality as just the digital, and I agree.

However, I also argue that the concept of multimodality that includes non-digital composing is still limiting in the sense that it becomes a buzzword, an experiment, a means to a still very Western, very traditional, very white end. Indeed, Shipka later argues “when our scholarship fails to consider . . . the complex and highly distributed processes associated with the production of texts (and lives and people), we run the risk of overlooking the fundamentally multimodal aspects of all communicative practice” (13). In essence, long before the word “multimodality” was being used, every means of making and communicative practice in which we engaged was already multimodal. It is slapping the word “multimodal” onto that act of making that limits the concept and demarcates it as a signifier for white, Western, neo-liberal and academic logics. This issue is reminiscent of what Malea Powell et al argue about cultural rhetorics: “the project of cultural rhetorics is, generally, to emphasize rhetorics as always-already cultural and cultures as persistently rhetorical” (1.1). Rhetorics have always been cultural, before they were named as such; to demarcate some rhetorics as cultural and others as not suggests a neutral territory that does not actually exist but is usually coded as unbiased (read straight, white, hetero, male). Thus, just the word multimodal seems to miss the mark in the same ways.

However, I’ve also been engaging in the work of scholars of color and indigenous scholars who are enacting multimodal work but don’t label it as such. For example, work by Gloria Anzaldua, Qwo-Li Driskill, Andrea Mukavetz, Malea Powell, and Angela Haas, and in these pieces I was seeing scholars engage in multimodal work without ever articulating that multimodality is what they were doing. Furthermore, their making processes were not discussed as a metaphor for something else or an enactment of a theory (like ethos, pathos, or logos). Instead, these scholars’ making was the work, and the enactment of that work was the entirety of the piece. For instance, Driskill discusses doubleweaving, a way to weave baskets where the inside of a basket is woven in a different pattern than the outside, but they are woven together. Driskill argues that they are double-weaving stories of queerness and indigeneity in the same way to create an interwoven understanding of two-spirit existence. Doubleweaving in this sense is not a metaphor; it is a practice. This practice allows Driskill to (re)build a world in which queer indigeneity is acknowledged and decolonized. Driskill’s doublewoven baskets is just one example of the multiple ways I saw the act of making a thing turn into the act of making a world. This enactment is the orientation toward multimodality that I was looking for because it engaged with the work of scholars of color and it got closer to what I feel myself when I create a video, a collage, a zine, and especially when I dance or sing.

The concept of multimodality is decidedly limiting to me because of its cultural and scholarly baggage. I’m beginning to understand what an orientation toward making instead can do for my thinking, and for this project as a whole. I’m looking forward to getting started.

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October 27, 2017

Making as World-Making

October 27, 2017 | By | No Comments

Part of my goal in the CHI fellowship has been to explore an idea I have been developing over the last year about queer multimodal composing: that the act of making things can make worlds. I’m definitely not the first person to have developed an understanding of making as world-making, and I owe much of what I know from the work (and in many cases personal mentorship) of Malea Powell, Angela Haas, Jacqueline Rhodes, Qwo-Li Driskill, Gloria Anzaldúa, Trixie Smith, and Dànielle DeVoss, Andrea Riley Mukavetz, among many others.

In this fellowship, I would like to particularly focus on how queer modes of composing and making can create more welcoming, beautiful, livable worlds for queer people. What follows is some history and background of my project, alongside some of my own art.

Queer Composing as Life-Affirming and World-Making 

As the Cultural Rhetorics Conference in 2016, I sat in on a panel on queer mentorship. At this roundtable, a director of a writing center at a women’s college told us about her writing center as a queer space. She had multiple students who identified as LGBT and she worked hard to cultivate a welcoming space for them. Still, at one point, as she discussed her students’ struggles with self harm and thoughts of suicide, she tearfully asked the group of us: “My queer students are literally dying. What can I do?” We remained silent, blinking at the enormity of the question.

How many of us had asked ourselves this? How many had asked our mentors? Probably everyone in the room. We went on to share some stories of possibility and hope, but the questions stayed with me long after the session. It still sticks with me. I want to know what I can do as a scholar, a student, a teacher, a practitioner and a mentor to defy the deaths of my queer siblings, friends, mentors, teachers, and students.

Because it is what I am perhaps best at and what I care about most, I want to think about how queer work in writing and rhetoric especially can defy death.

Terrific, Radiant, Humble

In “Cultivating the Scavenger,” Stacy Waite writes,

I advocate for queer methodologies because I am queer, because queer teenagers all over the world are killing themselves at horrifying rates, because if oppression is really going to change, it’s our civic duty to think in queerer ways, to come up with queer kinds of knowledge-making so that we might know truths that are non-normative, and contradictory, and strange. (64)

Like Waite, I want to spend my career thinking in queerer ways, encouraging my colleagues to think in queerer ways, teaching my students to think in queerer ways. Developing and foregrounding the queer imagination is one way to counteract the normative structures in place that delegitimize and erase queer ways of knowing. For instance, Waite recalls a time in the second grade in which, as an answer to her teacher’s question, “what saved Wilbur from being killed in Charlotte’s Web?,” Waite responded “writing” instead of “Charlotte.” “I remember she said my answer was ‘kind of out there'”(65), Waite writes. Indeed, how many of us have been told our work, our desires, our thoughts, our hopes and dreams, were ‘out there?’ How many times can we hear it before we grow too weary to go on?

I wonder, in what ways can writing, composing, world-making save us, as it did for Wilbur?

Resisting Linearity, Resisting Conclusions, Resisting Death

In “Opening New Media to Writing: Openings and Justifications,” Ann Wysocki asks, 

How might the straight lines of type we have inherited on page after page after page of books articulate to other kinds of lines, assembly lines and lines of canned products in supermarkets and lines of desks in classrooms? How might these various lines work together to accustom us to standardization, repetitions, and other processes that support industrial forms production? (114)

Just as Wysocki likens rows of text to rows of groceries or desks, I think about the rows and rows of gravestones in a graveyard: we live and die by (hetero)normativity.

I believe one way to avoid that kind of slow, organized death is to move beyond the boundaries. I mean this both figuratively and literally. Our rows and rows of alphabetic texts are products of Western normative thought, and each neatly concluded seminar paper equates to a little death: a finished product. To avoid these little deaths is to embrace the death-defying queer possibilities of non-linear composing and creation. A resistance to neat death-like conclusions is a figurative act of defying death. But, at its most literal, an embrace of queer multimodal composing offers up a space in which queer ways of knowing are valued, and an embrace of queer ways of knowing has the potential to save queer lives.

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October 18, 2017

Introducing Elise Dixon (CHI Fellow)

October 18, 2017 | By | No Comments

Hi Everyone! I’m Elise Dixon and I am a third-year PhD student in the Writing, Rhetoric, and American Cultures program. I am very excited to be a part of the 2017-2018 Cultural Heritage Informatics Fellowship– it fits very well with my research interests. My research focuses on queer and feminist multimodal composing through a cultural rhetorics lens. In most of my work, I employ feminist, queer and cultural rhetorics orientations to think about the ways queer people, military wives, and writing centers “compose” themselves through writing and creating. These may seem to be disparate interests, and in some aspects, they are. However, in all of my research work, I am focusing in on how people and organizations express their identities through various composing practices.  Because of these interests, the CHI fellowship is a perfect fit.

I am working through my comprehensive exams currently and I have been ruminating quite a bit on what I plan for my dissertation. I was originally planning to make my CHI fellowship project my first foray into my diss. In my comprehensive exams, I am focusing on how multimodal composing can support queer and feminist rhetorics. What I am bumping up against is that the voices most amplified in queer and feminist rhetorics are often white voices. This does not mean that people of color aren’t doing queer and feminist multimodal composing; it means that the modes of composing discussed by scholars of color are undervalued by these disciplines that have been shaped by many multiple white people. I am trying to find ways to address this in my work, and hopefully I can integrate that into my CHI fellowship project.

 

My original plan for my CHI fellowship project was to examine some pieces of ephemera and zines from the MSU Queer Archive and Zine Archive and create a small digital archive of my own of them. I still intend to do this, but now I intend to be careful to look at the creation of these objects from a cultural rhetorics lens and foregrounding the work of people of color.  I look forward to exploring this project more through this CHI project. I think it will help me develop some direction for my dissertation and give me time to practice and learn how to code and make digital projects from scratch.

 

I’m so grateful to have this fellowship this year. Working alongside the other fellows is a highlight of my week, and I am looking forward to working hard on this project throughout the year.