By Kat Lambrecht , University of Nevada Reno
Le Processus de Réponse: Redefining Process in a Digital Age
“Writing calls on two skills that are so different that they usually conflict with each other: creating and criticizing.” – Peter Elbow, Writing with Power p. 7
Interest in the process of writing- from what it looks and feels like, to how we use it to teach expression, to how it gets articulated by each individual writer- is, and has long been, at the center of writing studies. Even as we explore the impact of technology on the written word, or develop theories about what it is to live and create in a post-process world, the relationship between who we are, what we make, and how—of subject and object, process and product—provides a foundation for almost all that we do when we write. This duality, so deeply embedded in our understanding of what it means to write, is also deeply embedded in the work of Alex Borowitz as he brings to life his writing process in a video production project for his “Digital Writing and Rhetoric” course.
In response to the challenge of designing an experiential video that describes “where you write, how you write with technologies, and how you move from an idea to a draft,” Borowitz reflects on the role that duality plays in his process: he states: “I realized that I would need to find a way to communicate both the order and chaos in my life.” Order and chaos are just one of many oppositional pairs that he touches on in his reflection- these include being organized versus scatterbrained, eager versus intimidated, limited vs. expressive, structured vs. destructed—he even mentions the creative tension that exists in having to fulfill the roles of both actor and producer in the creation of the project. In both of these roles, Borowitz succeeds in bringing these tensions to his production- the stark black and white color scheme of the video, the juxtaposition between silence and music, and the contrast between productivity and stagnation (to name a few) all send a powerful message about the theme of order versus chaos and it’s relationship to writing. And all this, without a single spoken word. In this way, Borowitz has made clear the tensions that exist in his own creative process, and more broadly, the tensions that exist in the act of writing—and creating–as a practice that we are still seeking to understand.
On Writing and Embodiment:
“I am proposing that we understand writing ontologically, as a way of being in the world, as an act of living.” – Robert Yagelski, Writing as Praxis p. 190
The relationship between writing and the self is complicated, though it’s largely understood to be one that is inextricable- as Robert Yagelski notes writing can be seen as a way of being in the world. The first scenes in Borowitz’s video depict him going through the daily rituals of self-care- pouring a coffee, getting ready for the day, the ritualistic ordering of his desk. When he sits down to write, this act becomes one more embodied process amongst the many that he has shown the viewer. The tempo of the music also becomes an experiential marker calibrated to the internal state of the writer, speeding up in the moments of chaos that Borowitz experiences followed by moments of calm and clarity. Similarly, his interaction with his computer mirrors this struggle, his hands typing so quickly in the chaos that he is virtually drumming over the delete button in a panic.
The connection between the fury of the keyboard, the internal chaos of the writer, and the pressure of creation blend together, inviting the audience to experience the embodied nature of the writing process along with the protagonist. Here, Borowitz has shown the audience what it means to “make the writing process your own” as his assignment asks, and he does so by showing the complicated and messy process of writing in all its rich complexity. Writing, despite many depictions of the process as an inviting recursive circle or series of steps with relatively clear and straight forward stages, is very rarely any of those things for many people. Instead, writing, like the subject that produces it, can be chaotic. But, as an embodied process, it can also be ordered, calm, and systematic—or, perhaps Borowitz invites us to consider—it can be both at the same time, a push and pull of creativity that only the subject can hold together long enough to generate a product.
On Technology and Self:
“Neither language nor technology is foreign to our nature; tools and words are us, not things we create and use.” -Marilyn Cooper, “Being Linked to the Matrix” p.18
The assignment that Borowitz is responding to, along with the class that he is a part of, involves an explicit focus on technology and digital writing- indeed, a requirement of the project is to include how you write with technologies. In depicting his relationship to his central technology- a laptop computer- Borowitz gives us another moment of contrast by introducing a scene sans technology. After the chaos of the initial writing session, Borowitz steps away from the computer and into nature, alone, away from technology, and with his own thoughts. The movement and the music slow, and Borowitz uses a brief lull into near silence and stillness to represent a light bulb moment. Suddenly, the music speeds up and Borowitz is back at his laptop, this time armed with the mediating technology of a notebook and an outline in progress.
While the disconnect between the internal self and the external technology hindered progress early in the video, the physical act of writing in a notebook acts as a bridge between the two, refocusing the writing and bringing order to chaos. In the final moment of the video, Borowitz presses “Enter”- a visual cue to contrast with the incessant pounding of the delete button, and representative of the happy stasis between the subject and the digital technology involved in the writing process. As Marilyn Cooper points out, our technologies ARE us, an extension of the self that helps facilitate, articulate, and convey messages, even if sometimes it is the very absence of the technology that enables it’s own part in the resolution of creative tension.
Cooper, Marilyn M. “Being Linked to the Matrix: Biology, Technology, and Writing.” Rhetorics and Technologies: New Directions in Writing and Communication, edited by Stuart Selber et al, 2010, pp. 15-32.
Elbow, Peter. Writing with Power: Techniques for Mastering the Writing Process. Oxford University Press, New York, 1981.
Yagelski, Robert P. “Writing as Praxis.” English Education, vol. 44, no. 2, 2012, pp. 188-204.