Posted by edsouza at 07 July 2017

On the network of storytelling

This post is about the rhetorical ecology of storytelling. It’s the theme I gathered from webtexts authored by Kyle Stedman, Lauri Goodling, and Jacqueline Rhodes and Jonathan Alexander.

Storytelling, surely, has moving effects on its readers, viewers, and listeners. Stories bear the fruit of communal action, often, the kind that Goodling describes–especially those that have life, native or otherwise, in online ecology, and those that are multimodal, multimediated. Our real and imagined capacities for multi-everything now is one of the more powerful affordances we have– where sound meets text, beauty meets efficacy, input meets output, linearity meets nonlinearity, hyperlinked, layered, copied and pasted, and where not just many individuals but the many corners of our own brains, the many facets of our own minds, selves, and identities are all engaged.

These readings all prompted me to question and essentially doubt the import of individual agency in all of this, however. Shiny digital surfaces seem to yield nice, clean, blank space for me and my words, my story, but behind that interface, the digital is made up of so many moving parts, scattered, dispersed, literally and figuratively… beneath the veneer of shininess and clarity there’s chaos. An ecology I can barely comprehend.

Stories brought to public exert power in myriad rippling effects, beyond any one person’s control. As Kyle Stedman said, our compositions are “[s]eeds that grow into plants that look something like what we expected, but which outgrow our expectations too, dazzling us with their color and height and bumps and tendrils…” They’re “like vines that were planted but grew in unpredictable directions.” Similarly, in their discussion of posthumanism and activity theory, Alexander and Rhodes cite Louise Rafkin about the subjugation of self to larger, wild, unpredictable network; “The work that I put out in the world goes mainly without me. I can be pleased or dismayed by the reception it gets. But my work is not me. Once my work goes out it has a life of its own.”

But what about the echo chamber? Those failures of the ecology, where flows are stopped? Yes, words and images had networked effects but they were all… internal. Circulated internally, like bruises.

Who listens to our kind of research? What does research do? People listen to stories… but even those seem superabundant. Maybe we are always replicates, replicating. The dream of individual heroism in academia is giving way, for me, towards something myriad. Ecological.

There’s no one most magical form of communication, but… I’m thinking about blogging. I’ve made blogs before but never maintained them. Maybe through blogging, like a shooting star or a spit in the ocean, I (a piece of me, something begotten of me) can soar outside the body of the academy. Just as the star or the spit dissolves in the whole, the work blends and hybridizes. The work will never be, anymore, my own.

My work can reach new worlds. And others will reach me, too.

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