Thursday, February 14, 2013

Digital Storytelling and Resisting the Scriptural Economy

"What is a digital story?" Alan Levine began this week's Etmooc session asking that question and repeated the question at the end, after having presented many possible answers from his 50+ Web.20 Ways to Tell a Story.

His question kept niggling at me after the session--or rather my curiosity at his reason for repeating it, even as I tried out some of the tools I hadn't encountered before. Why was he so insistent about this definitional uncertainty? Was this a rhetorical strategy? Resisting the authorial mantle? A hope that we in Etmooc would just try doing something different rather than seek to define what we were doing? Or was he attempting, by embracing the uncertainty, to pull one small thread out of the tightly-woven "scriptural economy" that legitimates modern Western knowledge claims? I'll assume this last one--at least so I can think about it out loud.

Michel de Certeau's concept of the scriptural economy --a "triumphal conquista of the economy, that has, since the beginning of the ' modern age' given itself the name of writing p. 131) -- helps us think about how writing has shaped the way history is recorded by those in power and oral culture displaced as a source of legitimacy in knowing. While digital storytelling (what is that?) arrived on the scene after de Certeau's death, I think his assessment would resonate with Alan Levine's claim that "the story is not in the words but in the relationship; a picture doesn't tell a story but leads us to story."

But the question remains. If the written word is the standard for stories with a claim to truth [approved historical chronicles, legal depositions, articles published in peer-reviewed journals), what do we make of the picture that leads to story but will not yield a "truth" without our co-creation?

That I even ask this question suggests that we often forget the enormous power of the story as a shared creation. Instead story suggests something trivial or lacking in legitimacy: the "spin" of a politician, gossip and anecdotes, lies and yarns--in contrast to the scientific, "evidence-based", measurable, credible--stories that follow the conventional rules.

But creating stories together does not mean there need be no rules for co-production. Today, for example, Jesse Stommel invited us to collaborate in writing a poem during the Etmooc session, using the Google Doc program. There were six rules, and most of us followed them. The rules guided but did not determine the outcome, especially when someone added a seventh rule: "You can break the rules." I especially enjoyed hearing Jesse describe another poetry writing collaboration where people followed the rules in creating the poem, but went wild revising the rules themselves (there had been no rule about that!).

Writing rules can obviously be useful as guides. And I know there are whole fields of study devoted to debates about how much (or even if) the conventions and rules should determine the outcomes, and the legitimacy of the knowledge produced. But this week, I've had fun, and I think my students will too. I'll try to embrace that whimsical uncertainty. In the words of storyteller, Dr. Seuss: "Will you succeed? Yes, you will indeed. (98¾% guaranteed)."

De Certeau, Michel. (1974) The Practice of Everyday Life. Translated by Steven Rendall (1984), Berkeley: University of California Press,

Dr. Seuss. (1990) Oh, the Places You'll Go! Random House

revising Suess's story in a downer sort of way: The Places You'll Actually Go.

1 comment:

Linda said...

truly enjoyed your post Rosemary. As a person who lives in a place where the authority of oral traditiosn have been usurped by the authority of the written records, recorded by those in power, I appreciate your reminder of the "enormous power of the story" This course and the opportunity to learn about digital story telling has been such a positive experience for me. That is why I so admire the people in the project who are using new media to tell Inuit storiees using new media.