"What we do in the classroom in any given moment depends on what we think we are supposed to be doing- what the moment calls for and what seems to be the best way to meet that call. We might say, in other words, that how one plays the game depends on what game one thinks one is playing."
(First-Year Composition, 279)
I came across this quote last semester during Lauren's class, "The Teaching of Composition," and while I originally interpreted it specifically in relation to writing, I believe that this idea signifies the way in which we should approach all possible modes of communication. The quote is particularly applicable to the ideas that Drecker discusses in her chapter, "Interpreting Visualization." In this chapter, she discusses the origins of different visual representations over time, and through this focus, she asks us to consider the different factors which shape, influence, and restrict each mode of representation. Based on these rhetorical elements, she points to the subjectivity of any given "truth." She emphasizes this idea through her explanation of a "humanistic approach” to knowledge, an approach that is "centered in the experiential, subjective conditions of interpretation." (Drecker, 130) For example, she explains that while a visual comparison between males and females may seem like a basic enough representation, even the term "gender" is subjective since there are alternative views to what "gender" actually represents in the contemporary world. Similarly, Drecker states that "The link between statistical tables and bureaucratic administration is historical as well as cultural." (Drecker, 91) With this in mind, when interpreting statistical tables, the viewer must consider how the information displayed may be specifically interpreted through this bureaucratic viewpoint, and also, what interpretive factors may have been overlooked because of this particular lens. Such “innocent” representational factors often oversimplify the complexities within data (which is often done for specific purposes), and in turn, this simplification influences the way in which we perceive the information provided. Through this analysis, Drecker emphasizes a belief that all data representations must be chosen based on the rhetorical contexts from which they are created. Therefore, in order to understand “the game one thinks one is playing,” we must consider what the rules are, why the rules exist, how these rules co-exist, and how to make decisions based on these observations.
Similarly, the article by Gunther Kress highlights such complexities, but his analysis has a specific focus on the changes caused by the digital world. In his explanation, while the author once navigated the reader through the information provided in his text, in a digital world, it is instead the job of the reader to select information “by individuals to be transformed by them into knowledge to solve a problem in their life-world.” (Kress, 10) Before technology, information was mainly portrayed through words (dependent on time and a chronological display of information), but in the digital world, we rely more heavily on visual frameworks (which organize through use of space, combining all information into a single, non-sequential depiction). While Kress’ explanation helps to differentiate many interpretive differences in word-based versus visual representation, I do not completely agree with his analysis. He claims, “on the one hand there is a finite stock of words- vague, general, nearly empty of meaning; on the other hand there is an infinitely large potential of depictions- precise, specific, and full of meaning.” (Kress, 15-16) While I agree that yes, language is subjective, I do not believe that visual interpretations are necessarily more precise- especially since Drecker emphasizes the interpretive factors involved in such representations. While the freedom of reader navigation is beneficial in many ways, I also believe that the freedoms of individual interpretation may inevitably lead to greater confusion, not less. Kress emphasizes the rhetorical aspects of visual communication in relation to writing, but unlike him, I believe that both modes are applicable to his visual-based analysis. He claims, “each occasion of representation and communication now becomes one in which the issue of my relation to my audience has to be newly considered and settled on.” (Kress, 24) As we had discussed in class, the connections created by technology allow for more varied, specialized expertise and a more efficient global exchange of information. Therefore, whether we are using written or visual data, the rhetorical factors in both instances must always be assessed and taught in relation to the complexities of the modern world.
This discussion of interpretive knowledge highlights some key challenges and questions that we as teachers must consider in the 21st century. Yes, we need to teach our students how to properly assess and navigate across the digital void, but how? To what extent should we emphasize the rhetorical analysis of information, and should we focus moreso on the rhetorics within writing or within multimodal/visual interpretation? How often should we include multimodality in our assignments? How much actual writing should be done throughout such assignments? What navigational strategies will students need in the future, and how can we help them become adaptive learners in this changing digital world? How can we ensure that students are thinking critically about the rhetorical factors embedded into any given set of data? How can we efficiently combine the basic rhetorical contexts of writing with the more complex modes of communication within a single classroom? Finally, how can we ourselves efficiently analyze the data in our field with consideration to each individual context? While I have indeed taken time in the past to consider the complexity of rhetoric in relation to the teaching of communication (mainly written communication), this week’s assigned readings offer a thorough analysis which widened the scope of my understanding- and also unfortunately caused me to experience an existential crisis regarding the meaning of “truth” in the postmodern world. While I have always acknowledged/incorporated the complexities of language and communication into my teaching, I once again find myself with more questions than answers. Yes, it is clear that we need to incorporate these new digital and multimodal communicative tools, but how can we do so in an efficient, all-inclusive way that simultaneously aligns with the basic communicative standards of our composition classrooms?