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.