In Search of Ghosts: Mystory and Pedagogical Possibilities
by Christine Denecker
“Tell me your ghosts,” requests the mystory of Erin J. Mullikin … but whose ghosts?
A journey through Mullikin’s mystory suggests not only the layers of one mystory but also the potential infinitesimal layering of all mystories in their abilities to uncover yet hide; show while not telling. The genre’s riddle-like nature makes it both captivating and confounding—like a web that can at once stretch forward while simultaneously moving in no specific linear direction. Intellectually, emotionally, socially, culturally, politically, ideologically, the mystory disrupts what we know or what we think we know in order to hint at a self that we do not know or intuitively cannot know; a place “between being and becoming” (Jarrett, 2010).
Exploring this space has any number of pedagogical applications (as well as implications) across a number of academic disciplines. And in fact, crossing disciplines, conversations, and boundaries for generative purposes is part and parcel of the mystory goal. For technofeminists, in particular, the genre has a special lure in that it allows students in accordance with AAUW guidelines “to experiment with multimodal literacies and to develop digital identities that have the potential to transform larger cultural perspectives” (Denecker, Blair, & Tulley, forthcoming). Furthermore, as Judy Wajcman (2003) has argued, such “engagement with the process of technical change must be a part of the renegotiation of . . . power relations” (TechnoFeminism, p. 8)—a notion that is at the core of the technofeminist classroom. Furthermore, while the notion and growth of mystory can largely be attributed to Gregory Ulmer and subsequent scholars from English and Comparative Literature camps, its generative power—derived from the combining of mediums and of memories—is akin to theories of remediation (Bolter & Grusin) and intertextuality ( Porter) in composition studies. Thus, composition scholars and instructors along with those who espouse a technofeminist bent should consider the pedagogical possibilities mystory affords in challenging students to “learn how to write stories powerful enough to redirect their own lives and, if need be, the course of their culture” (Jarett, 2010).
The mystory form exemplifies the renegotiation and claiming of power in that it enables students like Erin Mullikin to reveal/find/create layers of self by utilizing what Elizabeth Daley (2003) calls “the vernacular of the screen.” Ulmer (1989) describes the process “discovery of direction by means of writing” (90), and as such assumes an expanded definition of writing or composing and of “literacy” to “electracy.” This notion and the mystory genre finds a kinship in arguments for “digital literacy” as seen in the work of Cynthia Selfe and her colleagues (2010) who have collected within the Digital Archive of Literacy Narratives “powerfully rhetorical linguistic accounts through which people fashion their lives; make sense of their world, indeed construct the realities in which they live” (p. 1). As with digital literacy narratives, the mystory enables writers to construct self and reality through a digital vernacular, which has the generative power to reveal and even obscure identity. However, unlike the literacy narratives which predominantly function as reflections and are thus a conscious or sub-conscious renegotiating and structuring of one’s past, the mystory reflects, creates, and projects simultaneously. As a result, the mystory derives a portion of its power from consciously generative and disruptive efforts, even as the message put forth demonstrates generative and dispruptive subconscious elements—powerful, too, in their own right.
Specifically, Mullikin’s mystory weaves images as well as implications of personal shadows, silences, beliefs, and hopes among a video popcycle of Career, Family, Entertainment, and History. Visually, these images often emerge from hidden angles, distant heights, and remote places—suggesting or fashioning a portion of Mullikin’s identity while at the same time obscuring the whole. Herein dwells the potential for that space between being and becoming, or in this case being unseen and being seen. At the same time, this obscuring of self that occurs within and across the mystory begs—from a compositionist’s viewpoint—the question of audience. To return to Mullikin, the query, “Tell me your ghosts,” might function as an internal question, one that puts the audience in the position of voyeur. To be fair, since mystory foregrounds autoethnographic invention, perhaps a discussion of audience in regard to mystory should be a moot point—or perhaps the assumption should be that audience is author. However, to share or publish a mystory is, in effect, to request an outside audience, which moves the mode from being specifically interested in invention and memory to also carefully considering arrangement, style, and delivery. This movement also presents a direct disruption to the public/private dichotomy and suggests an additional space beyond “being and becoming”; a space where pieces of individual narrative and human metanarrative might intermingle.
Any pedagogical tool that opens new spaces, creates new meaning, fosters new connections, and disrupts the traditional way of “knowing” stands worthy of exploration. For composition instructors and technofeminists, mystory can empower through the act of creating versus reacting, while simultaneously serving to stretch, well, everything: instructors, students, and scholars as well as notions of self, others, writing, literacy, creation, and audience. Also expanded and redefined through mystory is the locus of power—contextually, politically, and ideologically along with the appreciation of an alphabetic, visual, auditory, poetic=artistic experience. These many layers and the “ghosts” within mystory’s spaces promise much, and this particular discussion merely hints at a few of those possibilities. With that said, let the discussion and the disruption continue.
Daley, E. (2003). Expanding the Concept of Literacy.EDUCAUSE Review, 33-40.
Denecker, C., Blair, K. & Tulley, C. (2010). The Role of Narrative in Articulating the Relationship Between Feminism and Digital Literacy. In Selfe, Cynthia L., DeWitt, Scott, and Ulman, Louie H. (eds.) Literacy Narratives that Speak to Us: Curated Exhibits from the Digital Archive of Literacy Narratives. Logan, UT: Computers and Composition Digital Press. Forthcoming.
Jarrett, M. (2010). Heuretics Defined. Retrieved September 20, 2010, from http://www2.yk.psu.edu/~jmj3/defheu.htm.
Selfe, C., Ulman, H.L., Brueggemann, B.J., Moss, B., Corner, K., Herman, J., Kazawa, D., & Quade, P. (2010). Stories that speak to us. In Selfe, Cynthia L., DeWitt, Scott, and Ulman, Louie H. (eds.) Literacy Narratives that Speak to Us: Curated Exhibits from the Digital Archive of Literacy Narratives (1-50). Logan, UT: Computers and Composition Digital Press. Forthcoming.
Ulmer, G. (1989). Teletheory: Grammatology in the Age of Video. New York: Routledge.
Wajcman, J. (2003). TechnoFeminism. Cambridge: Polity Press.