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Appeasing the Confounded via Conciliated Wonder

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Edie-Marie Dee

on 17 January 2014

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Transcript of Appeasing the Confounded via Conciliated Wonder

Excited but still a bit without direction, I have since attempted to clarify the difference between theory and criticism, as different sources used them slightly differently. At first I thought they were interchangeable but that is not quite accurate. Jonathan Culler cleared it up for me in the preface of his book, Literary Theory: a Very Short Introduction, “Many introductions to literary theory describe a series of ‘schools’ of criticism. Theory is treated as a series of competing ‘approaches’, each with its theoretical position and commitments.” Culler goes on to discuss theories actually working together, not in competition – which brings me to my literature that I want to use.
A bit of Theory
I love creative writing, whether it’s poetry, non-fiction varieties like memoir or autobiography or witty blogs, or fiction or whatever. I love stories, all genres. So when reading Kirschenbaum’s Mechanisms I snapped back to attention upon meeting Michael Joyce and his hypertext novel, Afternoon. While Kirschenbaum’s wonder in the poem Agrippa and novel Afternoon had to do with the mechanisms behind the media, I was interested in new mediums for my craft and new ways to be delighted by storytelling.
The more I learned about Michael Joyce the more entranced I became. I got a copy of Afternoon from the library that will only run on my increasingly dated laptop. But Joyce has been busy and searching him two months ago on the internet looks different today (is he retiring? Why is he no longer maintaining a presence? Oh and I bought his new book on my Kindle). This seems consistent with his work Of Two Minds however, which has three sections – an irony he does not fail to note. Joyce does not work in the linear, “these essays and/or narratives are less a collection than a concoction,” he writes (5). Is this how I justify my ‘concoction’ of a paper piece of writing? I can’t say that I know yet. But as a person that best understand academic speak when I stand it on its head, read it backwards, and “hypertext it” (look up author history, word definitions, definitions from definitions, topics within author history and wiki pages, etc.) I have to say I find Joyce compelling:
Hypertexthas been called the revenge of the text on television since under its sway the screen image becomes subject to the laws of syntax, allusion and association, which characterize the written language. Print literally gives way on hypermedia screens to digitized sound, animation, video, virtual reality, and computer networks or databases that are linked to it. Thus, images can be “read” as texts, and vice versa. Any hypertext holds the prospect of representing on the screen the sights, sounds, and experience of movement through virtual worlds that language previously only evoked in the imagination (23-24).
Joyce write this in the 90s and held a more accurate prediction of how screen-bound we would end up being than most people could have guessed.
Steven Johnson of the online magazine Wired wrote a short hypertext article discussing why the hypertext novel never caught on despite having the real possibility and potential to:
By the early ’90s, Joyce and his hypertextual coconspirators had triggered a larger public conversation about the significance of this new form. Multiple print tomes appeared evangelizing hypertext storytelling, and a few even warned of the threat it posed to traditional narrative. The literary/philosophical world had been musing about the death of the author and fragmented, reader-centric text since the late 1960s, but suddenly all those abstract ideas were grounded in technological reality.
Johnson writes that nonlinear reading had issues, a big one being how difficult they were to write, “When you tried to make an argument or tell a journalistic story in which any individual section could be a starting or ending point, it wound up creating a whole host of technical problems,” so much so that the writing, or quality of writing petered out. But there are still quite a few hypertext novels to be read on the internet.

Michael Joyce writes of discovering, of wonder in technology and writing methods and mediums. He writes that he discovered what he really had wanted to do, to “not merely to move a paragraph from page 265 to page 7 but to do so almost endlessly. I wanted, quite simply, to write a novel that would change in successive readings and to make those changing versions according to the connections that I had for some time naturally discovered in the process of writing and that I wanted my readers to share” (31). A novel idea that Joyce made into a novel, several different novels in fact.

Before I realized that I needed to enjoy the struggle and difficulty I was completely terrified and at a loss. This was in no small part because a big reason for coming to graduate school is because I was not feeling challenged in while simultaneously estranged from that which I most love to contemplate and immerse myself in, writing composing and creating, the latter the most. Taking on a master’s in composition and rhetoric was closer to the things that I loved and did easily or, naturally enjoyed the struggle of, such that I don’t really identify it as a struggle – because struggle is a negative thing to be avoided (so was my thinking a couple of months ago). That is, a master’s was closer but not it. I never have liked theory. I didn’t like anything I was reading; even the good ideas were a chore to unbury through draconian and dry academic-ease and/or translated text. Quitting was never really an option per say, but when I found myself cornered by Kirschenbaum or Martin Heidegger’s The Question Concerning Technology; the thought did cross my mind.
It was with much relief that I heard that there was such a thing as reader-response theory, because it was a theory that was actually applied to my creative writing in the past; how will my reader respond? How do I want them to respond? How does such and such piece make me respond? While creative writing does have an interest in being true to oneself within the writing, the study of creative writing as I experienced it was focused on the reader experience whether I was the reader or I was focused on my invented audience and hypothetical, hopeful-future readers. This, I thought on discovering of reader-response theory and skim reading the Wikipedia entry on it, would be my home base. It’ll be just like Minecraft, I thought, or near enough.
After my initial Wikipedia reading on reader-response theory, I started looking up all I could on the major players. I must explore and understand this theory fully to utilize it. I think of it of learning a new language and they say once you learn one new language; it is allegedly easier to learn another new one after that. I also started research Michael Joyce as I found his Afternoon a welcome legitimate distraction from Kirschenbaum’s heavy theory and attention to detail in various mechanisms for writing. I was delighted to find Joyce reference Haraway within the first few pages. I revisited Haraway and looked again at who she cites. It was only the weekend before the midterm was due, steeped in writer’s block or an ignorance of what to do next, that I finally got the citation mapping we did in class. I spent some time on this in a program I found called Wordy Up that I wouldn’t recommend because of cost (you can only use it once and only you can view it unless you shell out some digital bank numbers) but it is interactive.

Confounding: Early Exploration and Struggle

When I first tried Minecraft it didn’t go so well. I got a copy of the game from a friend of my boyfriend who wasn’t playing anymore. My boyfriend hosted a network so he and his friends could play together. I joined in and I was in way over my head. I had difficulty going up and down stairs and kept falling into the lava moat around my boyfriends castle. I tried practicing a bit on my own before playing with the group – like I used to do when I was much younger with a card game called ‘Nerts’ that my family was really into. I practiced by myself so I could keep up and by the time I was twelve I was the second fastest Nerts player in the family. I didn’t have the same kind of time availability to learn Minecraft. It was so overwhelming to see others’ works, creations and meanwhile I could barely move around in this world successfully. Nerts and Minecraft both fell by the wayside.
This semester, my first semester of graduate school, there was a frustration strangely familiar. And I had heard my programmer boyfriend criticize my impatience with learning and failure enough times that I was beginning to think he might be on to something. Meanwhile, I needed a stress reliever and digital humanities kept bringing up things like World of Warcraft and similar games. I remembered Minecraft and its 3-d yet simplistic graphics and partly has a procrastination tool, I started playing again.
This time I actually read the Minecraft wikipage on surviving the first night and successfully setting up a homebase. The Minecraft wikipage is huge and not only that, there is a British guy that is super into Minecraft and has countless instructional videos.
I am historically bad at this game but have come to enjoy it anyway and picked it up again after not playing for a year as a way to cope and procrastinate my graduate reading. I’m playing solo and have named my world Gradearth (Grad Earth). I have figured out how to not get lost and have made a ‘bed’ for home base and even if it is not an ideal location, it works for me to come back to when I get overwhelmed or, get myself killed. Reader-response theory is my home base for this semester, even though I know there are others out there and maybe some that’ll fit easier to my way of thinking, I have to start somewhere.

Throughout the semester I remember struggling students who I used to advise in my old job. One student was struggling with trigonometry but majoring in computer engineering. Her academic adviser was telling her she should quit; if math is hard for you, engineering is not the path. I confess, I agreed with his sentiment but I was in the business of believing in people and empowering them to come to their own conclusions. And, I confess again, that she was one of my favorites that I’m not supposed to have. “Just because something is hard,” she told me, “doesn’t mean it isn’t worth doing.” Indeed, when something is hard in epic stories, usually that means it is worth doing; everything from taking the ring to rule them all to be destroyed in lava to standing up for equal rights among our fellow men. Conciliation with difficulty for me, finally sunk in this semester when I looked up Mariolina Rizzi Salvatori, recommended to me after one of my discussions with Professor Mike Edwards.
Salvatori was recommended to me actual for some of her pedagogy work. The Elements (and Pleasures) of Difficulty is a collaborative work with Patricia Donahue. In the “Preface for Instructors” they talk about the importance of read into student texts and reading student texts closely, “yes, we do read into student texts, the same way we read into established literary texts, with similar pleasure, and for similar reasons: looking for clues, directions, signs of work begun” (xii). This is important and a sentiment that came up in a graduate course for teaching composition, but it is the next part that blew many of my preconceived notions out of the water, “When students realize that their teachers ask the same questions of student texts that they ask of the texts they have assigned for class reading and when they understand that those questions are asked not to punish or slight them, but to foreground their work of reading, they begin to take tremendous pride and great pleasure in the kind of inquiry” (xii). It never, ever occurred to me that I could reproach printed “legitimate” texts in the same way I have with grading students’ papers or with tutoring. In our society of hierarchies, it didn’t seem allowed. On the one hand, I tend to look for the positive in students’ writing, so I think that tendency would transfer over to reading scholars anyway. I have noted by compared reading styles with one of my cohort that she latches on to what she disagrees with or doesn’t understand (clearly, she gets that difficulty isn’t a bad thing) whereas I latch on to what I agree with and/or understand. But I know it is more than this tendency, it is also a belief that struggle was bad and difficult meant I was inept. It was assuming that even though scholars have biases and errors, noticing them for my own benefit was not the same, not at the same level as ‘correcting’ biases and errors in students writing.
This informs both my future teaching and my future learning. As this project is focused on my learning rather than my pedagogy, I won’t wonder-wander into pedagogy. Instead, I move into confounded or difficulty viewed as wonder, and wonder, as Delegrange posits, as a very good way of learning indeed. “[T]rust,” Salvatori and Donahue write, “that when [you] experience difficulties, there might be good reasons for it” (xxii).

Appeasing the Confounded via Conciliated Wonder
When I say ‘kids’ of course I mean students, and by saying students I can include all students: newly reading students as is being addressed in Kylene Beers’ textbook for English teachers, When Kids Can’t Read, struggling readers K-12, new college students struggling with academic-ease for the first time, or even, first semester graduate students, who successfully avoided as much academic-ease as possible as an undergraduate via a creative writing emphasis. That last is of course, me and I basically have no regrets for my bachelor’s degree – so much of it was survival anyway. Also, there is and always will be nothing but encouragement for being a strong writer, so many people aren’t or struggle with it, or dread it to the point of tears and debilitating anxiety – or to the level I struggle with reading. Perhaps it is a fair tradeoff, but just has everyone has to write to get a degree of any level, so too must you read. Professor Debbie Lee says academics make you a better writer (English 550 lecture November 19, 2013); she later clarified one-one-one that creative writers sometimes lack substance to their writing while academic writers lack…how did she put it? Well, no matter – in my words they lack readability or, just plain lack good writing skills.
But, this is assuming the format of your writing is to streamline the information as simply and directly as possible. This is a good goal and what most everyone would consider good communication skills very much to be desired in a world where we constantly misunderstand each other. Back to the ‘but’ part, Susan Delegrange in Technologies of Wonder discusses an old way of learning. Using Wunderkammer she shows both how exploration and a sort of ‘writing’ or at the very least a transfer of information can happen pre-digital age and how that same experience has been adapted to digital (remediated) with the impressive interactive website, in part documenting Wunderkammer, in part recreating it; making it accessible to people without necessitate them being there in person to open the doors and drawers. Delegrange posits digital texts need not be formatted with the simplest structure or the easiest transmission of information possible; that digital is not just for the masses but also capable of serving the academic, the contemplative, and to accomplish a sense of wonder. I should be very upset with Delegrange; I already struggle as a reader! But instead her perspective made me realize that perhaps my reader comprehension was failing me because I was trying to read in a straight line, every word. I would not ‘wonder’ I was confounded and pretty immediately frustrated, and then short on time and subsequently anxious. Delegrange’s Wunderkammer accomplishes many different elements to her argument, but for me and my exploration here, it serves as an example of a different or old way of learning. Learning by seeking wonder, wonder has those moments of confounding, of coming upon what we don’t know.
Beers says the key to helping struggling students is not to eliminate struggle, but to help them struggle successfully (Beers 16). She instructs by ‘thinking aloud’ for students so they can learn this process. And indeed I think I and many of my fellow graduate students are not used to struggling with reading and writing. These are our ‘thing’ – the classes we were good at as undergraduates; it’s what we majored in. It’s why we chose to be studying graduate school in the first place. But there are one or two others, (PhD candidates, usually) that know the struggle and embrace it as is discussed and promoted in The Elements (and Pleasures) of Difficulty by Mariolina Rizzi Salvatori and Patricia Donahue. This book, along with my continually referring back to Beers as a pep talk to myself to make it through the semester (struggle successfully, go fight, read a little more) have slowly broke down my expectations of what I’m reading. I’m still ultimately in trouble, because I am not practiced in the struggle and even when I read by skimming and jumping around (I’ve found that I understand texts best when I read the last first, and/or read books and chapters in reverse paragraph order) I have “possible” and “undetermined” levels of a learning disorder in the dyslexic and ADD families. Perhaps this is why I get and love Delegrange’s way of learning so well, time consuming as it may be; I am not, nor never have been or will be, linear. Finally, this draws me Michael Joyce’s work; his Afternoon hypertext novel was one of only two parts of Kirschenbaum’s Mechanisms that I found digestible.
The problem is that struggle is generally avoided unless imposed and indeed it would seem inefficient. This means there will always be a striving for efficient, clear articulation of knowledge and ideas. I am supportive of this goal. However, as a person that generally understands things better when I turn them on their head, have a significant amount of time to ponder and wonder at concepts; and as a struggling reader of the old and translated texts, of the new but still dry and lackluster writing of academic-ease; I feel compelled to explore this problem of reader struggle through various theorists’ perspectives and pedagogies. I will specifically explore reader-response theory and briefly its parent philosophy of phenomenology, Michael Joyce’s Of Two Minds: hypertext pedagogy and poetics, the already mentioned concepts of struggle and difficulty, and all the while I will not write ‘academically’ per say as I will narrate through my process and struggles, utilizing tangent technologies as a mode of my own exploration. Kirschenbaum references Joyce’s Afternoon, Michael Joyce references The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Alexander Reid references Second Life and Collin Gifford Brooke, World of Warcraft, and me? I’m really into Minecraft these days.

Works Cited
Beach, Richard. A Teacher’s Introduction to Reader-Response Theories. Urbana, Illinois: NCTE, 1993.

Brooke, Collin Gifford. Lingua Fracta. Cresskill, New Jersey: Hampton Press, INC. 2009. Print.

Culler, Jonathon. Literary Theory A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997. Print.

“Entitled Opinions.” Phenomenology with Thomas Sheehan. KZSU 90.1 Standford University. Harrison,
Robert. October 5, 2011. Access 2013. Podcast. Transcripts available: http://french-italian.stanford.edu/opinions/

Gana, Nouri. “The spector of Relativism: A critical review of Normal Holland's models of reader
response.” Modern Criticism. 2002. Interlibrary Exchange – pdf.

Johnson, Steven. “Why No One Clicked on the Hypertext Story.” Wired Magazine. Online Magazine:
http://www.wired.com/magazine/2013/04/hypertext/, published April 16, 2013. Accessed December 2013. Web.

Joyce, Michael. Afternoon. Watertown, MA: Eastgate Systems, Inc., 2011. Digital.

Joyce, Michael. Of two minds: hypertext pedagogy and poetics. Anne Arbor: University of Michigan
Press, 1995. Print.

Kirschenbaum, Matthew G. Mechanisms: New Media and the Forensic Imagination.MIT Press, 2012.
Digital, Kindle.

Works Cited
When Kid's Can't Read
ATTENTION MIKE (peer reviewers too): Go to https://www.wordyup.com/account/login.aspx
Login: edithmarier@gmail.com Password: lookmike
The bubbles can be removed; you can add or subtract words, play, etc.
More static images below.

About that psychoanalytical history of reader-response theory, did I just throw that in there? I did, didn’t I. Culler talks about psychoanalytical theory but not as it relates to reader-response theory and Gana uses it but without thorough explanation. For that I turn to Richard Beach, a professor emeritus for University of Minnesota. His specialty is education and as such, once I found him, have turned to him almost as often as Culler. Beach wrote A Teacher’s Introduction to Reader-response Theories (note theories plural, for I did not when I first picked up the book). In it he explains the connection of Holland’s psychoanalytical view as being one of five lenses or categories for reader-response theory, textual, experiential, psychological, social and cultural (8, 14).
Wonder-wander for a very brief moment; through the magic of Google the internet search engine, I know that these five topics are indicative of Beach’s educational background and influence. However, I know from Gana and Wolfgang Iser – who I’ll probably get to later – that Norman Holland’s psychoanalytical work along with I.A. Richards aesthetics and literary criticism are the cited precursors to reader-response theorists Wolfgang Iser and Stanley Fish. Beach’s perspective is still legitimate in looking at reader-response theory though it is notably different from other theorists I have been reading that are in the literary and/or philosophical realm, not the teaching realm.
Back to Beach’s words; he discusses psychoanalysis of a reader’s response as a way to check their development (very teacherly) but also that the psychology of the reader is highly dependent on the social and cultural elements and therefore reader-response theory does not stand alone with the psychoanalytical, “…on social and cultural theories of response, focusing on the individual’s own psychological orientation needs to be complemented by a recognition that the meaning of readers’ transactions are constituted by their participation in social and cultural contexts” ( Beach 101). This becomes especially important when you consider that part of a students’ “psychology” or development is to, “learn to perceive the text as problematic…inviting multiple, often contradictory meanings” (74). In other words, enter ‘wonder’ to the reader-response realm. Exit reader if they have not been prepped for this shift, if along with learning texts as problematic, they have not also learned that problematic can be good. There is simply more confounding and confusion and I for one, turned away.
Oh, I still read of course, as good-to-mediocre students do for class requirements, but the confusion just festered. That’s when I started playing Minecraft again. In part because I remembered being bad at it as well as it being fun. I refused to play on peaceful mode – I thought it felt like cheating in my new world of struggle. By playing cautiously I eventually got enough supplies so that even when I did get killed by the bad guys, I was ready to go once I “respawned”. I had had many conversations with my significant other, who has been programming since he was twelve or so and gaming since he was old enough to be able to (he was born 1984). Difficulty was something he embraces; if something doesn’t work try again and solving it is the fun part. I thought about this in relation to creative writing but couldn’t identify any parallels. Yes, creating and writing was difficult, but not for me; everybody has their thing that they do well, I thought. My partner is good at academics and not letting difficulty discourage him but he comments now and then on how seemingly easily I get discouraged doing anything but creative writing and a handful of other things I’m good at. I still didn’t make the connection of embracing difficulty, even though I had stuck with Minecraft and other strategies board games that were very difficult and frustrating to learn even though I did learn them in the end and then had fun. I even figured out how to make books and quill and ink in Minecraft. But none of these things are academic or revered by them. This problem of legitimacy kept me from embracing difficulty a little longer.

Confound Wonder
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