Digital Rhetoric, Kairos, and Loss


Digital Rhetoric
When I was invited to participate in this blog carnival a few weeks ago,  I chose to accompany Kris Blair, figuring that she and I would end up discussing digital scholarship in some fashion. Since I’ve never done a blog carnival before, I waited to see what Doug and Troy and Kris would post during the first week or so, to figure out the genre conventions, and then write something appropriate. But the conventions were (rightly) all over the place: Doug‘s and Kris‘s more formal and academic posts combined with Troy‘s more informal and familiar/familial post (with Dan Anderson and others’ responses across the board…).

I’m not an academic blogger by nature, in part because the standards are so damned high (Alex, Steve, Clancy, Mike, and the other Kairos John Lovas Memorial Weblog Award winners) and I don’t naturally think/write that deeply without a lot of effort. So — left to my own pragmatism — I turned to what comes naturally for me: talking about Kairos. My plan was to create a screencapture ‘reading’ of a webtext, to talk about the rhetoric of digital media compositions as they are performed in scholarly spaces. But several things interfered with that plan:

  1. The project seemed more “work” than a blog post should be. It seemed article-length-ish, and while I want to do this screencapture project as part of my sabbatical book on editing and composing scholarly multimedia (with Doug and Kathie Gossett), I wasn’t prepared to do it in the time I had to write this blog post. While kairotic with Kris’ discussion of digital scholarship and digital dissertations, the moment would pass before I had actually completed the thing. Mostly because of #2…
  2. I have Dan-Anderson-screencapture-envy. (You do too. Admit it.) I’ve never done an edited screencapture and I knew that whatever I put out there on this topic needed to at least be somewhat edited, but also good. And, referring back to #1, I didn’t have the time to make it good.
  3. But #3 is the most important reason that my plans changed: Life changed.

At 9:30pm Monday night—Memorial Day—the call came in that Genevieve Critel, a beloved Computers and Writing colleague in her early 30s, had died unexpectedly in her sleep over the weekend. I spent the next few hours hovering on her Facebook account, looking through the photos, her status updates, anything… trying to conceive of this loss. Stupidly, in that hour of grief, I noticed that her profile had been Timelined, and its visual presentation lent me the opportunity to see her latest/last Status Update next to her latest Activity: her impassioned reflection on teaching first-year composition as her last class at OSU (having just defended her dissertation two weeks prior) paired with her timeline additions (organ donor, her new tenure track job) and friending (this press)—the irony was too much for me.

Although my first professional job was as an obituary writer, I couldn’t articulate, still can’t, any words to write on her wall. I’ve never been good at crafting written text meant to stand in as a memorial for someone’s entire life (others are), at least not someone I know and love. At the newspaper, the obits were so generically formulaic as to be laughable: Name comma age comma died <or family-provided euphemism for dying> day date comma year comma <insert funeral-home-provided location or cause, if available> period.

That was so long ago. And obits are so multimedia now. In the age of Facebook, friends are as present virtually as they are physically, and grief happens, perhaps more so, in virtual spaces. It had been a day, perhaps two, since she had passed away and, in respect for her partner who requested privacy, no one had posted to her Wall. Then it began. By the next morning, it was Gen’s own voice (and pictures) that spoke the loudest on her wall, thanks to her friend Anne who posted this video.

I still don’t know what to say, except that I will miss Genevieve, who let me mispronounce her last name for three years because she was such a kind, forgiving soul that she didn’t feel the need to correct me. (It’s Crytle, not Cry-Tell, as much as my southernness wanted it to be.) And I love her video. As a digital story, it’s a powerful personal narrative. Gen was a daddy’s girl, perhaps (something I can relate to), who lost her father so unexpectedly, just as we lost her. And the story itself is made all the more powerful by Gen’s composition: her use of pictures that perfectly capture the spirit of her narrative voiceover; her exact timing of the music to transitions in the voiceover, pictures, and written text; her use of silence to draw attention to the written words, which contained the most reflective lessons; and the seemingly accidental trailing off of her voice at the end.

In 2008, when she created this story as part of the Digital Storytelling workshop at the Watson conference, maybe that conclusion was the result of a workshop-out-of-time, a rushed rendering, an ending that snuck up too quickly and didn’t allow for editing…. What more fitting analysis could there be, which makes the content (both narrative and design) now doubly meaningful? Painfully so (but perhaps also joyously, in memoriam). Is there a word in (digital) rhetoric that explains all this? Does it matter?



  1. Pingback: Cheryl Ball’s Post | In Memoriam: Genevieve Critel

  2. Suzanne Blum Malley on

    This is a fitting, appropriate, and timely (a Kairotic) remembrance of and tribute to Genevieve. Thank you. So, so sad. So, thank you.

  3. Ah, finally got the video embedded correctly.

    Thanks, Suzanne, for the thoughts. This week’s events have also reminded me how our digital rhetoric lives beyond us in so many ways. And now is as good a time as any, for all of us, to consider the rhetorical velocity of our texts when they extend so far beyond us.

  4. Pingback: Defining Digital Rhetoric with 20-20 Hindsight — Digital Rhetoric Collaborative

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