Review by Jack Hennes
Read more about session H3 on the C&W conference site.
Jill Morris, Frostburg State University
Branden Hess, Frostburg State University
Vera Pastor, Frostburg State University
Vincent Morton Jr., Frostburg State University
As chair, Jill Morris opened this panel by providing context for the diverse mash-up of presentations. Working toward new conceptions of how genres can bend, mix, and remix, this panel explored new paths for understanding the diversity of student voices in the Computers and Writing community. Though Vera Pastor was not in attendance, Morris introduced the work of two undergraduate students, Branden Hess and Vincent Morton, who share a passion for refusing to be silenced by rhetoric as they explore, in their own unique ways, the work of composing, remixing, and technosophistry.
Techno-Sophistry and Electro-Swing
In her self-proclaimed “strangest” presentation ever given at Computers and Writing, Jill Morris presented a view of the conference as a sophistic endeavor instead of a rhetorical one. Vitanza’s conception of rhetoric as an exclusionary practice, one that seeks to silence voices of the community, served as her basis to advocate for sophistry as opposed to rhetoric. A mix or mash-up also serves the endeavor of a sophistic approach, through which members of the community who have struggled to find their voice may contribute. In a sense, technosophistry embodies the practices of digital natives as they compose, create, and share media content on the semiotic domain.
Remediating, rewriting, and recreating histories are central to moving toward an inquiry of inclusion, and it is through a history of swing that Morris provides context for the work of remixing and mash-up presented by her co-panelists. Swing has evolved to encompass a large and diverse range of styles and approaches, yet artists have grown to become highly-regarded specialists in our communities today. New adaptations and remixes of older work have driven the evolution of any genre, musical or otherwise. Though swing may have once boomed as a primary mode for American creativity, we now see remixing of genres that have previously been impossible without access to sound files, videos, and recording software available on a simple computer with a connection to the internet. To close, Morris notes the work of sophistry, an ironic endeavor that seeks to tie unrelated parts into a coherent whole.
The work of technosophistry, here, is one of rejecting the unplayful in hopes of diverging from guiding principles. Just as Plato led a charge against sophistry as the endeavor of any individual in Athens, so too can we see sophistry as the work, rework, and remediation offered by those empowered through the tools at their disposal. In turn, technosophistry provides a new view of participatory composing, mixing, and remixing whether in, through, or beyond digital contexts. Morris leads us to a new perspective of the value of student contributions to computers and writing as she celebrates a diversity of student voices. Refusing to be silenced by the boundaries of scholarship, student creativity has much to offer the traditional writing classroom, and technospohistry has much to contribute to the creative practices of our students.
Brony Power and Music Sophistry
A portmanteau of bro and pony, the term “brony” has recently begun to find its way into online communities. “Brony Power” represents a male fascination with My Little Pony culture, music, and artifacts. The remixing of My Little Pony songs has become a popular practice among enthusiasts around the world. Branden Hess, a leader of the movement, outlined the phenomena of recreating, remixing, and sharing pony music using simple recording software. While it should remain noted that women are also involved in this phenomena, Hess shows that the playful reworking of pony tracks can bend the relationship between material cultures and gender associations. Pony remixes often feature several different tracks from various artists, and Hess displayed a number of tracks from the most prominent artists of the movement, including songs of his own.
The practice of pony remixing is a work of technosophistry through music, in which songs from seemingly unrelated genres are brought together to create new compositions from previously original content. Several artists have been noted for their contributions to YouTube and other web communities devoted solely to pony remixes, but the topic of intellectual property rights was noted as a concern during Q&A. YouTube, in particular, has been noted as being notorious in monitoring and maintaining the integrity of digital copyright. In response, Hess noted that Hasbro has adopted the work of several pony artists, displaying that great potential lies in the creative endeavor of pony remixes shared on the internet. In a composition classroom, pony remixes help illuminate the potential of remix technosophistry to inform rhetorical, technical, and inventive approaches to writing instruction. In turn, however, the question of intellectual property initiates a call for concern that amplifies a larger issue in regard to multimodal and nontraditional approaches to writing instruction. Technosophistry, then, poses a series of implications in fulfilling the objectives of a traditional writing classroom.
The Burgeoning Techno-Writer
Vincent Morton Jr.
Vincent Morton continued the panel with his presentation, a narrative through which he reflected on his experiences in education. As a future teacher, Morton expressed his distaste for an education system standardized for the wrong reasons, in turn preventing many students, like himself, from truly reaching their full potential in that system. In regards to technosophistry, Morton reiterated the need for pedagogy adapted to the skills and abilities of students. Our classrooms should be far from pedestrian to the creative practices of students in a mix-remix culture, and a standardized education system may work to constrain this creativity.
His presentation was much more than a reflection as his passion for reform and was performed confidently and powerfully. Already involved in education, Morton drew upon his experience adapting a curriculum to better suit the needs of his students. Pushing the envelope, in a sense, was what Morton seemed to be calling for, and educators have much to learn from the voices of students who express an open distaste for the standardization of education systems they experience in all communities. During Q&A, one participant questioned Morton’s opposition to all standards in education, as standards are not inherently bad. In response, along with Jill Morris, a thoughtful clarification was made between the standardization of his experience and those implemented at the broader, institutional level. As a techno-sophist, Morton complicates the notion of standards in composition classrooms that seek to evolve with the composing practices of students in the 21st century.
Jack Hennes is currently a graduate student at St. Cloud State University. His research challenges traditional notions of composition instruction in, through, and beyond technologically-mediated contexts, emphasizing electronic contact zones, intellectual property, and MOOCs.