Posts Tagged ‘new media’

Coming Around

It’s appropriate that, in a class titled “Theories of Writing,” we’ve spent a good deal of time discussing the role that multiple semiotic systems and digital literacies should play in the composition classroom.

As I read the first chapter of Multimodal Composition, “Thinking about Multimodality,” by Pamela Takayoshi and Cynthia Selfe, I found myself reading every argument I’ve ever made against going multimodal, especially in the digital arena. Of course, I also found myself reading the counterargument to every argument I’ve ever made. In brief, my four major concerns have been: multimodal composition detracts attention from traditional composition, I don’t have time to teach it all, I can’t be expected to know how to teach it all, and traditional composition is more important for academic success than multimodal composition.

However, I’ve also been paying close attention this semester to how people receive information. I’ve wanted to take my own experience out of this as much as possible because I don’t think my life is necessarily typical right now. As a teacher and graduate student, I’m pretty much immersed in print.

One incident in particular stands out. (I got it from a book. What can I say?) I just finished reading Infidel, by Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Ali fled an arranged marriage on route from Kenya to Canada and, by misleading officials, obtained political asylum in The Netherlands. Within only eleven years, she gained citizenship and was elected to Parliament. She was extremely controversial and received numerous death threats because she spoke out against the oppression of women by Islam.

However, it wasn’t until she mixed words with images that things turned truly horrifying. Ali wrote an eleven-minute film titled “Submission,” which Theo Van Gogh filmed. In it, a woman in a sheer niqab appears – verses of the Koran showing through – and prepares for prayer. However, instead of kneeling, she raises her face to speak to Allah. This alone is blasphemous, but what she says marks her an apostate, punishable by death. She tells Allah that she has been devout all of her life, yet for this she has been abused by men, and He has stayed silent. Moreover, men have used the words of the Koran – Allah’s words – to justify their actions. The film shows another woman, beaten, with torn clothes, the damning verses tattooed on her body.

The death threats against Ali are more serious after this, and security is heightened. Van Gogh, though, is a regular citizen, not a Member of Parliament, and doesn’t receive protection. Several days later, a young Muslim man guns down Van Gogh as he rides his bike to work. As he lies there, riddled with bullet wounds, Van Gogh asks if they can talk about it, and the man slits his throat with a knife. The man then uses the same knife to stab a letter addressed to Ali to Van Gogh’s chest.

My purpose in telling this terrible story is this: Ali appeared on television, radio, and in the newspaper many times. There were death threats against her before this. She was outspoken before she had the protection of Parliament’s security forces. It was only once she used images – and not even a forbidden image of Allah – that someone was murdered for her message.

If I don’t let my students explore the power of images, music, video – these other semiotic systems available through multimodal literacies – then I may very well deprive them of a powerful means of communicating. As Takayoshi and Selfe write (9):

In short, whether instructors teach written composition solely or multimodal composition, their job remains essentially the same: to teach students effective, rhetorically based strategies for taking advantage of all available means of communicating effectively and productively, to multiple audiences, for different purposes, and using a range of genres.

That really doesn’t seem possible any more without including multimodal compositions.

 

References 

Hirsi, A. A. (2008). Infidel. New York: Free Press.

Selfe, C. L., & Takayoshi, P. (2007). Thinking about multimodality. In C. L. Selfe (Ed.), Multimodal composition: resources for teachers (pp. 1-12). Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press.

Writing in Digital Environments Research Center Collective. (2005). Why teach digital writing? Kairos, 10(1). Retrieved April 25, 2010, from http://kairos.technorhetoric.net/10.1/binder2.html?coverweb/wide/index.html

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