The great thing about rehashing debates over whether writing programs should be teaching multimodal composing is the way it swings our focus back on the word. Metaphors and models of the world combine to bring our attention to the materiality of words. Written or spoken, phrasings and stylings with words make the earth say grass or give the rhapsodist and actor paths down which to follow their intuitions.1

But we can't imagine some special foundational status for words and written texts. We can't pitch debates about the appropriate priorities for composition instruction as choices of terminology. Figuring either writing or composing as labels for creating meaning does privilege the word.2 Words are fine, but we need "a new realm and another channel for [our] activity" (Nietzsche 89). We need now to rescue the word from all those who would save it.

We can begin by composing with words, images, and sounds, taking the tinkering approach of the organic mechanic3 and borrowing metaphors of circulation and transportation. Words are mixed. Voice is cast as textual and aural. Both are layered over moving images and sounds like water. The point is to celebrate words and engage the syntheses made possible by creative flows among modes of composing.

  1. The earth saying grass is from Thoreau, although he is talking about gardening when he writes to "[make] the yellow soil express its summer thought in bean leaves and blossoms [instead of grass]" (105). And I have Nietzsche in mind again when looking to words to help us toward intuition and the "creative pleasure" that comes from seeing "the stream as 'the moving path which carries [us] where [we] would otherwise walk,'" a vision that helps us throw away "the token of bondage" (90). back

  2. For more on the priorities of composition instruction, consider the exchanges between Cynthia Selfe and Doug Hesse in College Composition and Communication. Selfe describes a history of composition in which at one time "observations rendered in the visual medium of print revealed truth" (622) but which currently sits within a world where "communications [can] take advantage of multiple expressive modalities" (637). Hesse worries that selecting umbrella terms like rhetoric or composition over writing can represent shifting toward sound or image "the fundamental boundaries of our curricular landscape and our sense of its stakeholders, interests, and purposes" (605). Yes. Hesse also notes the linkage between such shifts and engagement, particularly that of students. (For more on engagement and new media composing, see Anderson 2008.) back

  3. Jennifer Edbuaer Rice makes the mechanic her "figure of choice when thinking about rhetorical invention and enactment," explaining that "[a] good mechanic does not simply change your brakes or fix your drywall; she prepares you to enact" (2008). Matthew Crawford also sees the mechanic as adept at discovering insights and at acting in the world. Crawford posits that the materiality of the mechanic's work translates into an embodied knowledge that "has implications for the way we come to know the world" (163). Paraphrasing Heidegger, he explains that "the way we come to know a hammer is not by staring at it but by grabbing hold of it and using it" (164) and that "things actually show up for us . . . as equipment for action" (164), helping us develop an "expert knowledge" that is materially situated. back