Play Ball!

It’s no secret that I’m a bit of a free spirit with a bad case of wanderlust. I can’t count the amount of times I’ve thrown the necessities into a backpack and left on some adventure for a day or a weekend or who knows how long. With that in mind, welcome to the chaos of this past week. A few months back, my partner and I discovered that one of our favorite bands, Bear vs Shark, were reuniting for a few shows in select cities. For years, we told each other if they ever reunited, we would travel wherever to see it, and since they’re a Detroit band, we were prepared to have to travel to Michigan. The good news? We only had to travel to San Francisco. But man, was it one whirlwind of a trip. Driving from Seattle to San Fran and back in 4½ days is no joke. Anyway, I mention that only because I realize a post talking about my depression and anxiety followed by a week+ of silence could be seen as bad form. Or maybe I’m over thinking it (which I’m prone to do). But in reality, over half my week was simply occupied with other concerns.

Speaking of other concerns, the World Series begins tonight! I love baseball. There’s something wonderful about sitting in a ballpark on a summer evening, overpriced beer and peanuts in hand, alternating between action and conversation in tune with the rhythms of the game. Moving along in three-out increments, it’s impossible to determine how long each half inning will take and what will occur in that time. Baseball, then, is a patient sport. And as a fan of baseball, I’m incredibly excited for the Cubs to be in the series for the first time in over 70 years. They’re an iconic, historic team who plays in one of my favorite ballparks, Wrigley Field. While I haven’t been fortunate enough to catch a game at Wrigley, I did have the opportunity to tour the park; I even got to stand on the field behind home plate. Looking at the signature ivy that lines the outfield wall from that perspective…it’s something I’ll never forget.

I dunno if it’s just me, but I find ballparks themselves to be fascinating structures. Every time I watch a game, I inevitably end up thinking about how the ballpark itself shapes the action and is thus an actor in the game. That is, the park in which a game is played has a tangible impact on the outcome of said game. I know some would say this is the same for any sporting event, given factors such as hometown crowds and, for outdoor sports, climate. However, most team sports are played on a regulation field. When you watch/play American football, soccer, hockey, basketball, rugby, etc., you may notice individualized aspects of the building (like the giant Heinz ketchup bottle in Heinz Field in Pittsburgh), but the playing fields themselves are all uniform, all conform to the regulations of the sport.

But not baseball, not ballparks. Baseball is different — each ballpark has its own unique characteristics that impact the gameplay itself. That’s not to say the field is unregulated; the distance between each of the bases, the distance of the pitcher from home plate (in essence, the baseball diamond itself, the infield) is absolutely regulated. However, it’s when we get into the outfield that things get interesting. For starters, every park’s outfield is different. While the general shape is the same (you have a curved wall at the back of the park, with the longest distance from home plate to the wall being in center field), the specific curve and the distance from home plate varies. Yankee Stadium is famous for the short distance between home plate and the right field wall, which leads to an increase in home runs in that park. Additionally, the height of the wall itself is a factor. For instance, the left field wall at Fenway, the Red Sox stadium, is nicknamed “The Green Monster” for its imposing height; a home run in most other parks get stopped by this wall. Even foul territory impacts gameplay. Since parks are constructed differently, the size and shape of foul territory changes. Some parks have a large amount of space between the infield and the dugout/seats; this means there is more of an opportunity for a pop up that would drift into the stands elsewhere to be caught by a player, leading to an out. Or, perhaps there is very little foul territory in the outfield, like at the previously mentioned Fenway, so nearly every shot to the outfield is fair and playable.

I mention these brief examples to demonstrate how baseball players don’t just play against the opposing team, they very much play against/with the park as well. Professional ball players must be rhetorically attuned to the way the park shapes the action and adjust their gameplay strategy accordingly. Additionally, home field advantage is painfully real – if half of your games every year occur in the same place, you’re going to intimately learn how to read and interact with the park. The sheer amount of time a team spends in their own ballpark means a heightened rhetorical sensitivity to the ways that park acts on the game.

I’ve never looked into what work has been done on ballparks, materiality, and the rhetoric of baseball. I’d be shocked if I’m original in my thinking or observations. But I’ve been musing over it for so long, I felt I had to get it out of my head and into writing. And who knows, if there hasn’t been a lot of work done to this extent, maybe I have another future project on my hands (like I don’t already have enough of those. Silly brain won’t stop being curious about things). But for now, I’ll watch the World Series, hoping to see the Cubs win it for the first time in over 100 years.

Anne Frances Wysocki: Writing New Media

Anne Frances Wysocki and company’s Writing New Media has been an enjoyable and valuable read this past week. Foregrounding issues of materiality, multimodality, and even intellectual property, it’s full of both theoretical and practical content for writing teachers/scholars. Most notably, the book contains curricular suggestions for integrating new media focused reading/writing assignments into the classroom. These activities range in depth and complexity, and most can be adapted to a wide range of classes that rhet/comp scholars can find themselves teaching. Not only do I feel like this book will be on my exam reading list, there are also a number of texts referenced within that may end up on my reading lists. All in all – fantastic, valuable read whose core ideas and activities do not feel outdated in today’s technological/compositional environments (important given that this book was published over a decade ago). In fact, I’d love to see an updated edition of this book soon, to address additional/further concerns surrounding new media that have developed since its initial publication.

Anyway…

That quick overview of my impressions/thoughts/takeaways aside, I’d like to reflect on this text briefly in the context of my dissertation work. As I envision it now, my diss will focus on making delivery a (the?) central concern for rhet/comp scholars. Delivery has been chronically undertheorized, ignored for a large part of rhetoric’s tumultuous history, and while many scholars over the past few decades have called (explicitly and otherwise) for closer attention to be paid to delivery, from what I’ve seen, this work has been scattered and marginal (though this is slowly changing). As I’m thinking currently, I want to centralize delivery as the core, defining canon of the rhetorical arts since delivery colonizes every other canon; that is, we encounter concerns of delivery at every moment of the composition process. Given that I’m still in coursework, I’m a little while off from having something more concrete or realized than those scattered thoughts, but hopefully that bit of background helps me frame where I’m coming from as I reflect for a minute on Writing New Media. 

In the introduction, Wysocki makes two important moves when it comes to new media texts and the composition classroom. First, Wysocki feels that the field of new media studies, no matter the disciplinary entry point or perspective, has been historically concerned with either analyzing individual texts or writing about broad contexts and functions, with little-to-no scholarship that “[helps] composers of texts think usefully about effects of their particular decisions as they compose a new media text, [helps] composers see how agency and materiality are entwined as they compose” (6). She claims that writing teachers are in a unique position to facilitate meaningful conversations around composition/reception of new media texts, particularly because we are skilled in “[helping] others consider how the choices we make in producing a text necessarily situate us (or can try to avoid situating us) in the midst of ongoing, concrete, and continually up-for-grabs decisions about the shapes of our lives” and, thusly, “can bring to new media texts a humane and thoughtful attention to materiality, production, and consumption, which is currently missing” (7). This move is essential for my work on delivery; I intend to argue that the exact things she says writing teachers bring to new media studies are all under the domain of delivery. Wysocki highlights how writing teachers can bring attention to “materiality, production, and consumption”; yet each of these concerns deals directly with delivery. We’re so quick, as a field, to tether delivery to the consumption of a text, that we have been blind to the ways delivery is present in the production of our texts via the material concerns of the medium and modality. From the moment of exigence, a rhetor considers how to best reach her desired audience, which includes considering what practices of reading and meaning-making that audience will bring to the text. Such considerations shape decisions related to the material production of the text. Thus, delivery colonizes every part of the composition process, since the audience as well as the socially agreed upon conventions of a given genre are always already present, shaping the text in practical, material ways. And as writing teachers, we know this; we already help our students consider such things as they are composing. It’s about time we rightfully identify these material considerations as belonging to delivery so, as a field, we can begin to centralize delivery in our theory and practice.

Second, Wysocki’s definition of new media isn’t grounded in, and doesn’t rely upon, the digital. Instead, she defines new media texts as “those that have been made by composers who are aware of the range of materialities of texts and who then highlight the materiality” (15). Further, “what is important is that whoever produces the text and who- ever consumes it understand—because the text asks them to, in one way or another—that the various materialities of a text contribute to how it, like its producers and consumers, is read and understood” (15). This definition/understanding leaves room for a wide range of textualities to be considered a new media text, which is hugely important for my dissertation. My argument will be grounded in the claim that delivery has always mattered, has always been concerned with such things as materiality, we just haven’t needed to consider it as explicitly as other rhetorical canons because our composition technologies were limited. While Wysocki doesn’t frame her observations as concerns of delivery, she does notice the same rupture as I have: “we have a time of opening here, a time to be alert to how these choices of material very much articulate into the other structures that shape writing and our lives— and that being alert to these choices can help us shape changes we might want” (10). Digital technologies and new media texts, then, have exposed the importance of delivery, as well as the blind spot surrounding it, that has developed in our field over the passing millennia. By positioning new media texts as those that foreground their materiality, traditional textualities (print and performance, for instance) can still be considered new media. One example I anticipate turning to to exhibit this is the work of novelist Mark Z. Danielewski, particularly his groundbreaking novel House of Leaves. This novel, by calling attention to the materiality of the print novel, created a work of fiction that can ONLY be effectively delivered as a print novel; in other words, the text calls attention to, and relies upon, the delivery system of printed pages bound together in a portable, hand-held form. Wysocki’s definition of a new media text will, without a doubt, become critical for framing my understanding of delivery, precisely because it harkens back to an Aristotelian notion of discovering the available means of persuasion; discovering the best available means of persuasion means considering the material concerns of a given modality, which immediately takes the conversation into the realm of delivery.

So there you have it, some of my quick, initial thoughts and reactions to Writing New Media. I can tell already that this book will become an important one for supporting some of my work on delivery going forward. Good read!

All quotes taken from:

Wysocki, Anne Frances, et al. Writing New Media: Theory and Applications for Expanding the Teaching of Composition. Utah State University Press, 2004.