Jay Wootten's CCCC 2006 Address: ''Riding a One-Eyed House''

Jay Wootten’s CCCC 2006 Address: ”Riding a One-Eyed House” (CCCC 2006 Chicago — Day 2)

I won’t try to blog this in detail, since this talk will eventually be published by the CCCCs. A moment of comedy occurred when the other presenters on the dais started slipping out so they could see the screen, and Wootten turned around to see them all on their feet slipping away.

Wootten began her talk by noting that as a community, we can’t agree on the name of our profession. (Matt Johnson, sitting next to me, whispered “Rhet/Comp!”)

She noted that in our profession, we don’t read trees.. but we do read “Trees” (the poem by Joyce Kilmer) and moved into an ecological critique of the rhetorical discipline. An extended metaphor throughout her talk is the fact that even a horse that is blind in one eye can comfortably jump fences, as long as you approach the fence from the side with the good eye.

The title of her talk comes from a poem by Henry Taylor. She noted that prey animals have a much wider field of vision, but they don’t worry about consciousness.

“When we choose what to teach, there is always the allure of the new, but the new is always a re-naming, a refocus.” Thus, “visual literacy” has been around in the field of technical design. The study of film is visual literacy, and both of these areas began in English. Artists and graphic designers may know way more than we about visual literacy. There is no coherent theory of visual literacy. We argue that our students are visually literate and technologically advanced, and that we need to tap into those strengths.

She reflected on “the tyranny of the visual image” that she first became aware of while watching the local TV news. The TV news man was saying something about trees. However, it had become so necessary to fill that image spot to the right of the anchors head with SOMETHING, so a cartoonish representation of a tree appeared on the screen — as if they didn’t think we would know what a tree was without a picture. (She compared this to linguistic objectivists in Gulliver’s Travels, who first abolished all words but nouns, and then replaced all words with things. “It kind of reminds me of PowerPoint presentations.” The women, in conjunction with the vulgar and illiterate, objected. Gulliver refers to sages carrying large packs of things weighing them down, leading to a universal language. Wotten suggested our modern packs of things are computers.

“I don’t like reading into things,” said a young woman (studying medicine?).

Wootten: “Have you heard, ‘diagnose’?”

Students don’t like cognitive dissonance and they don’t like examining fences.

Showed the “Bush: One of the worst disasters to hit the US” vid cap. (The slide popped up early.) Introduced, with some uncertainty, the pressure comp teachers are feeling about the importance of preparing students to work in multimedia environments. [I personally agree that PowerPoint is not conducive to the kind of thinking I want my students to demonstrate in my classes.]

“Having students use computers as typewriters won’t create empowered users. Multimedia presentations for their own sake are not empowered users.” Showed a photoshopped spoof “Absolut Corruption” ad that showed a bottled collage of political leaders.

She described her own freshman writing experience thus: “Here, read this essay by E.B. White, or Rachel Carlson, or Mark Twain, And for the next class, write such a thing.” [Laughter.]

“I don’t see any new people coming into the profession who are luddites. I do worry about the students our aging luddites are teaching.”

Her call for professional development for all who teach received another burst of applause.