Going Digital: A Beginner’s Cautionary Tale

Going Digital: A Beginner’s Cautionary Tale

Elizabeth Hodges (Virginia Commonwealth University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-5150-0.ch006
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Abstract

The author reflects on an exploration into the genre of multimodal writing, examining issues of the genre’s accessibility for herself and her students and its relevance to writing pedagogy. She examines, too, the need to establish a broadly accessible digital community in sites that seek to foster rich and purposeful multimodal abilities.
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Introduction

In the summer of 2006, I acted on my decision that it was time I learned more about digital writing and, in car fully packed, drove from Richmond, Virginia, to Columbus, Ohio, where I unpacked my car into the carts I had often watched students at my school use to move into their dorms and moved into a dorm room of my own for the two weeks of the summer course I’d registered for. What I recount here are my thoughts about writing during and after this digital boot camp immersion and my experiences working to implement what I learned that summer in writing workshops the following academic year.

Thoughts on writing first: I am going to start with a premise that is fundamental to everything I think about style in writing: the best writing, regardless of genre, results when form and content are so inexorably wedded that a writer’s stylistic choices, minute or grand, become a performance of meaning.

When this premise began to form, I am not sure, but the moment I articulated it I had just finished reading Wesley McNair’s poem, “The Abandonment” in The Atlantic Monthly in the spring semester of 1989:

  • Climbing on top of him and breathing

  • into his mouth this way she could be showing her

  • desire except when she draws back

  • from him to make her little cries

  • she is turning to her young son

  • just coming into the room to find his father my brother

  • on the bed with his eyes closed and the slightest

  • smile on his lips as if when they

  • both beat on his chest as they do now

  • he will come back from the dream he is enjoying

  • so much he cannot hear her calling his name

  • louder and louder and the son saying get up

  • get up discovering both of them discovering

  • for the first time that all along

  • he has lived in this body this thing

  • with shut lids dangling its arms

  • that have nothing to do with him and everything

  • they can ever know the wife listening weeping

  • at his chest and the mute son who will never

  • forget how she takes the face into her hands now

  • as if there were nothing in the world

  • but the face and breathes oh

  • breathes into the mouth that does not breath back.

The poem, twenty-three lines, one sentence of 192 words, no punctuation, tells the story of McNair’s sister-in-law trying to resuscitate her husband, McNair’s brother, with their young son as witness. Unlike long sentences that work because the sentences have a logic as well as places for readers to breathe, McNair’s single-sentence poem works because its enjambment and lack of punctuation leave a reader quickly out of breath, accomplishing both that physical reality and logic of the wife’s and child’s staggering, resistant, mental denial of the fact of death that lies so clearly before them. The poem leaves readers gasping in some shock, I suspect, about the narrative, but gasping also because of McNair’s evoking of an authentic mix of physiological and emotional confusion. The sum of McNair’s stylistic choices, thus, perform his content, drawing readers in as can any exceptional enactment of meaning.

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