First, I have to say that this is a welcome opportunity for me to keep my head sharp about subjects I too seldom consider alone. And though it is a likely poor substitute for a chat over organic pizza (or even Pizza Hut), I'm excited by the prospect.
That said, it would be wrong of me not to remark on the artificiality of the scene. Rather than speak spontaneously, composition is by its nature calculated, considered. There is a double-absence to it, in that I am not physically present nor may my ingenuousness be assumed. This is especially true as I consider that we are hardly writing a private discourse. I'm thinking of my composition as much in terms of potential student writers/readers as I am its benefits for us.
To one degree or another, this cannot be helped and would be true even over bites of zucchini and feta. As much as words are weighed, the presence of the spoken word is illusion. It pretends an openness it cannot sustain. All this is simply to say that what we write here is done with some measure of calculation as is all discourse, and readers would be wise to note it.
There's a dialogue, then, between writer and reader even before the reader enters the scene--or rather, a dialogue between writer and "expected reader." The writer attempts to anticipate readerly response and compensates accordingly. Readers encounter not a writer's intent, then, but a framed effort by a writer to cue that reader to intent, not quite the same thing at all.
It's this cueing that I'm interested in, this strategic push of signifiers into forms which we hope will evoke the meanings we wish. These forms look like structure, like syntax, like diction certainly; but they also look like their mediums: papyrus, cuneiform, No. 2 lead, wikis, lasers, Denny's napkins, and magazine clippings.
As a writer, I have a broader range of tools for composition now than ever before. I can juxtapose more signifiers in more diverse media than ever before, slamming together historical film clips and Hindu poetry, contemporary soap opera with the sounds of calculus. And somewhere in all of this lie my readerly cues.
I'm wondering now what that means for readers. Where before we would see a form (i.e. a sonnet) and we would therefore know how to decode it (and we called this literacy), now the forms approach the limitless, and what as readers are we to deduce?
This makes the notion of literacy a little more complicated than only 10 years ago. It cannot merely mean the "reading" of words but the deconstruction of symbols, what Toffler in Power Shift
said in the early 1990s would be the new distinction between classes: those who could move symbols and those who could not.
Illiteracy is not just about failing to read but a political disempowerment. And if all I do is teach my students to compose essays on paper, I have rendered them illiterate while pretending the sincerity--the ingenuousness--of literacy.