Conversation about H.T.M.L.
Style in the Presentation of Writing
Part of Morgan Gresham's and Mike Jackman's Interactive Review of

* * *
by Beth Baldwin

Return Conversation HTML Style Adjective Process

There's an odd effect when bringing a book online--a three dimensional object becomes two-dimensional, flat. In the case of Conversations, currently each chapter is in a separate file and has links to it from a contents list. There's also a handy warning in the contents of how large the file is in kilobytes. Even so, reading down a chapter is like descending into a mineshaft - you don't really know where the bottom is, but sense it is far away. Kind of scary, and kind of claustrophobic.

What we feel would help are more links between chapters, and breaking up the chapters into further sections. When you lose the solid, three dimensional quality of the book, you lose the ability to know where you are by feel. And in the book, knowing where you are in space is related to knowing where you are in the argument. So it seems even more imperative in hypertext to give lots of context, lots of navigation. This is assuming you want hypertext to retain the conventions of academic argument, we guess. Part of the freedom of hypertext is the freedom to get lost in it, and we suppose this applies to being lost in a vertical mine-shaft of text as well as lost in a horizontal labyrinth of links.

But we prefer, in this type of writing, as much help as the writer can give so we can navigate the text as well as the argument. Icons, subheads, links, smaller units to fit the screen, transitions, summaries, topical organization.

This applies especially to the sections of conversation between Beth and Bob. Though the experience for the conversants had many moments of sartori, brought about by the power of conversation, we found the effect on us as readers was disorienting. We appreciated the inclusion of electronic conversation examples so we can partake of the process. We think readers can participate in the process (or perhaps have the illusion they are participating in the process) more successfully with less conversation and more interpretation by the writers. After all, since readers really are not sharing in the moment, except vicariously, the moment is hard to recreate. In Kenneth Burke's terms, the writers can help the reader become part of the scene and purpose, and help them be agents who act (Hypertext aids the latter by offering the chance to respond, as Eric Crump done with his rhetnet forum on this subject). If response links are added directly into the text and updated, this will help even more.

Mike, who teaches creative writing, notes that the difference between transcribed conversation and contextualized conversation is like the difference between drama and fiction. Drama exists as a blueprint for action, and is hard to read in print, but fiction adds a narrator who orchestrates things for the reader.

Here's some of our conversation on the subject:
MIKE:Chap 1: Conversation between Bob & Beth: I found it long, and after about half gave up. Missed a condensation and a narrative to pick out what was pertinent. As an onlooker, I have impatience with long conversations - this is just as true with email in listservs. And I think the counter hit list shows that most of the readers didn't stick around after tasting the first chapter. Move it to the side? Make it a collateral choice? Yet form is part of content here. Producing conversations entire -- doesn't that help show that a conversation is somehow more natural, more immediately social constructed than a winnowed narrative or an argument? My position is that all writing is contrived and stylized, and I would prefer one that conforms to some winnowing down to bring out essentials. Of course, to do this is to disagree with Beth Baldwin's point that conversation is the essential and that writing is an artifact of conversation, and that conversation should be the foreground, not the background, of pedagogy .

MIKE:It's a good way to get your dissertation read - we should point this out.

MORGAN:Yes, very often the dissertation stays shelved in the library

MIKE:Five people reading this so quickly is probably more than you can usually hope for - that's a positive thing we should point out.

MIKE:Note that you can't cite pages, because there aren't any. It's odd that the three dimensional book has become the two-dimensional "deep screen." The chapters are like mine shafts that descend into a bottomless darkness. There is no reference. I suggest breaking them up into subsections and also giving some location markers. It's too bad that other computers are not designed like Unix X-windows screens - there the little square on the scroll bar expands to show how much of the text your are looking at in proportion to how much is not yet in the window. It's hard to describe - you have to see it to experience it.

Greenperson, Boldperson, Blueperson and Boldblueperson

In Beth's online dissertation, sometimes her conversation was green, and Bob's was bolded, or hers was bolded and Bob's was blue. Perhaps deliberately, little indication was given to who was who. However, in class practice, Bob and Beth were referred to by name, and their students had anonymous handles based on mountains and rivers. Why the difference between class practice and dissertation form? It is oddly disembodied, with the advantages of disorienting, but there are also disadvantages. Often, in reading the conversation, we forgot who was "bold" and who was "green," etc. We started referring to Beth and Bob as Greenperson and Blueperson and Boldperson. Mike had the odd experience of constructing the bold text as "male" and so couldn't help thinking of it as "Bob". It is odd that font weight creates a gender identity, but probably not surprising and Mike hopes not to be criticised for his unconscious social construction which he reveals to readers in the interest of science.

MIKE: How do you feel about not knowing who it is?

MORGAN:I'm not real comfortable with that. I don't know that it should look like a script or anything, but if we're going to talk contextualization then maybe we should have a better sense throughout.

MIKE:I'm not comfortable with it either. Like I said I Think it makes assumptions about power relationshiops.

MORGAN:What is the power relationship, do we know that?


MIKE:Regarding a recent CCC article: "Postings on a Genre of Email" - odd, it works very well on print!

MORGAN:It's very "crafted", like some Joyce novel that looks not crafted, but it is.

The idea of "craft" came up many times in our talks, so we must identify strongly with the role composition class has of teaching the craft of writing. We consider it crucial that conversations be summarized, deepened, discovered, explored, refined, tested, "revised." To us this writing step is one of the advantages of literacy. To us, this is part of the conversation. One can then continue the conversation in many ways. For instance, you can Mail us with your comments, which we'll put on file!

Return Conversation HTML Style Adjective Process