Instructor Reflection – Mystory (3.1)

By Jan Holmevik
Every now and again a student comes along who, through their talent, devotion, and hard work, will remind you why you chose a career in education. Cecelia Jones is such a student, and it has been a great joy and privilege for me to watch her Mystory come together as a MEmorial to the mother she lost so prematurely.

I am truly delighted to see this particular Mystory published in The JUMP, because it exemplifies so well what makes the mystory genre such a powerful self-expressive medium. I have taught Gregory Ulmer’s work on Electracy for several years now, and it is always a challenge and a humbling experience. I know that I may not be able to reach every student and persuade them to open their minds to the conductive and associative methodologies that generate the unique electrate insights and experiences found in the mystory. Nevertheless, I keep trying, and it is precisely because of students like Cecelia whose Mystory you are about to experience here, that makes me come back to Ulmer’s theories and methodologies year after year.

Cecelia’s Mystory was created in my upper division class on Digital Literacy (Electracy) at Clemson University in the Fall of 2010. As she correctly points out in her reflection essay, this class is quite different from other English classes in the way that it challenges students–not to analyze and reproduce existing knowledge–but to help invent new electrate insights through an in-depth self-reflexive study that is expressed through multi-modal digital forms. The textbook for the course is Gregory Ulmer’s Internet Invention. In this book, Ulmer discusses in depth the four discourses that he says make up the mystory; Career, Family, Entertainment, and Community. While traditional textbooks generally concern themselves with HIStory, that is, institutionalized knowledge that our culture has deemed worthy of memorialization, the mystory is an introspective exploration that is designed to help the student see their own unique position in the space-time continuum and thereby achieve understanding and insights that more traditional literate approaches cannot accomplish in the same way.

Because the mystory is such a personal genre I always let the students choose to express themselves in the medium that they feel is most appropriate for them. Cecelia chose movies as her medium in this Mystory. Other students chose photo collages, web sites, machinimas, or even more traditional narrative formats in electronic form. Regardless of medium, however, creating a mystory in my class is not a solitary activity. Peer-critiquing is used extensively throughout the course to allow students to share experiences and get valuable input on their work as it is being developed. We spend about three weeks on each of the four discourses, after which time students present the discourse they just worked on to the class. In this way they become more comfortable opening up, what for some might be very private and personal areas of their life to others and thereby gain more confidence in their own abilities. Another benefit is that they can be inspired by other students’ work, and learn both mystorical and technical tips and solutions that they can take advantage of in their own mystories.

The final element of the mystory project is to assemble the emblem. In Internet Invention, Ulmer says that the way to achieve this is to look for repeating signifiers and patterns in each discourse in order to discover the emblem that they assemble. In many ways, this is one of the most difficult tasks in the mystorical creation. Traditional scientific and literate reasoning has taught us that we must exert control over the subject matter in order to reach valid and true conclusions. The mystory, however, demands that we relinquish that control and instead let the subject matter itself show us the way. For anyone attempting to create a mystory for the first time this is a very difficult concept to grasp, and invariably students will try to force preconceived ideas of what their emblem should be on to the discourses. Heidegger reminds us that the secret to grounding is to understand that we don’t really have any grounding at all, and learning to let go is perhaps one of the most valuable lessons that the mystory can teach us.

I hope you will enjoy Cecelia’s Mystory as much as I do, and that it might inspire you to embark on a mystorical journey of your own.