Matthew Levy, Pacific Lutheran University
(Published January 13, 2012)
This video was created for a 2010 presentation at the Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC). Each member of our panel remixed a College Composition and Communication piece from years past. The title of my choice, Virginia Burke’s 1959 article, announces its purpose with a shrug: “Why Not Try Collage?” A shrug is an ambiguous gesture. It could be a lively “Why not try collage?” that says, “This is working for me. You should get in on this.” It could be a shrug of exasperation, as in, “After all we’ve tried, Johnny still can’t write, so we might as well try this.” A shrug can also announce a humble victory. My initial idea for this video was to explore each of these shrugs visually. When I searched for shrug images, a frequent hit was Michael Jordan sinking his umpteenth three point shot in a row and shrugging at the camera as if to say, “I can’t believe it either.” Maybe Burke was just in the zone. In any case, I’ve decided to read her shrugging title instead as a kind of challenge, as if Burke tells people she is using visual art projects in her first year writing classroom and people respond by looking sideways at her innovation, just because it doesn’t match their current-traditional expectations. And she responds: “Why shouldn’t I? What do you know?”
I imagine Burke’s discussion of using visual art for writing pedagogy as a challenge that was not then successfully provocative because it was untimely. Collage is almost literally iconoclastic, in its breaking of images. Collage also bends images, though, remixing them in bricolage, giving them new meaning and life. And so, "anaclastic" is a better term for her essay than "iconoclastic." Anaclastics bend and break light. It happens in water and in lenses. And it happens in anthropology. Claude Levi-Strauss adopted the term to describe his approach to understanding myth in The Raw and the Cooked. A direct representation of myth is not possible because it is impossible to say conclusively what is and is not myth. Because the primary sources have often been destroyed by colonialism, drawing geographical boundaries around one’s focus is difficult, and established categories of myth can be counterproductive for understanding their significance. Levi-Strauss’s alternative, his anaclastic method, is to take one available myth and compare it to others that are plausibly related to extrapolate backward in time and recreate a hypothetical myth that could have been the origin of all of these variations.
In my effort to understand Levi-Strauss’s anaclastic metaphor, I made a drawing, and that drawing answered for me a question I have long had about Jacques Derrida’s “Structure, Sign, and Play.” Namely, why does Derrida choose the term “center” to name the origin or end that is both inside and outside of structure, that guarantees that structure’s stability, that enables it to ground and withstand play? It had not been apparent to me before creating my drawing that Derrida is not only using Levi-Strauss’s work as a crisis event in the history of the human sciences. He is also using Levi-Strauss’s anaclastic metaphor as a model for visualizing the entire structure or episteme of the Western human sciences since antiquity.
Collage provides a radically different model for making knowledge that does more than allow for play within a structure. It encourages us to see continuities and discontinuities and acknowledge the eclecticism in rhetoric and composition that fuels creativity. Burke’s piece, coming as it does early in the disciplinization of this academic field, supports an admirably broad conception of composition, both with regard to how we make knowledge as scholars and with regard to how we may challenge and encourage students in their own works of composition.
Sounds and images for the musical remix and video were downloaded from the internet, paid for, or found freely available. When possible, I have written to obtain permission, such as from EducaThyssen.org, which produced the video on collage that I accelerated, and Natalie Merchant (Nonesuch Records), who recorded the song I remixed, Carnival.
Burke, Virginia M. "Why Not Try Collage?" College Composition and Communication 10.4 (1959): 231-234. Print.
Derrida, Jacques. Writing and Difference. University Of Chicago Press, 1980. Print.
Levi-Strauss, Claude. The Raw and the Cooked: Mythologiques, Volume 1. University Of Chicago Press, 1983. Print.