Polymorphous Perversity and Re-Thinking Our Relationships with Texts

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Title: Polymorphous Perversity in Texts
Author: Johndan Johnson-Eilola
Publication Date: Summer 2012

For today’s March (Webtext) Madness contribution, I (Liz, Sweetland Fellow and Michigan Doctoral Student locked in the throes of the Winter that Wouldn’t Die) would like to share a webtext that I enjoyed “reading” one summer day a couple years ago (2012). Johndan Johnson-Eilola’s webtext “Polymorphous Perversity in Texts” appeared in the summer edition (16.3) of Kairos.

As a former middle- and high- school English teacher, and as a current composition teacher and English Education aspiring scholar, I have struggled to exist in spaces that define “texts” as primarily verbal, “literacy” as primarily individual and consumption-based. Scholars in literacy studies focus primarily on the reading skills and practices of students: writing tasks are backgrounded and analysis of students’ engagements with multimodal and multidimensional texts — polymorphous texts — are rare. With a few exceptions, I often need to look outside my field for scholarship that challenges the “text-as-verbal,” “literacy-as-individual” paradigm.

This webtext fits the bill. Here, Johnson-Eilola challenges us to think about how we take pleasure in texts by interacting with them through fragmentation, unmaking, and remaking. She reframes the “reading” of texts to portray engagement as an interaction — a potentially perverse one? — that involves much action on the part of the “reader,” which I place in quotes because Johnson-Eilola’s text does not use the term, except to reference other scholarship. Johnson-Eilola says:

I want to ask what happens when we begin to take less-authorized, polymorphously perverse pleasure in our texts, when we begin to treat texts less as objects out there and more as objects that we—literally—transgress the boundaries of, fragment, unmake, and remake.

Here’s the tricky part: If we teach ourselves and our students that texts are made to be broken apart, remixed, remade, do we lose the polymorphous perversity that brought us pleasure in the first place? Does the pleasure of transgression evaporate when the borders are opened?

Before I attended C&W 2013 and listened to James Gee discuss the maker movement, and after I read about the fan fiction movement and how “affinity spaces” reconstruct our understanding of the literate practices of adolescents and adults alike, Johnson-Eilola’s text challenged me to again revisit my understanding of what it means to “read” a text, how I ask my students to “read” texts, and how the teachers I work with for my dissertation research ask their students to “read” texts — and what kinds of texts their students “read” and remake in and out of class.

So I invite you to “read,” or at the very least (re?)visit, Johnson-Eilola’s text on this March morning.

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