Trajectories of Persons and Practices: Sociohistoric Perspectives of Disciplinary Development. The Case Study of Lindsey Rachels

Chapter 5 | Doing Two-Dimensional Design, Arranging American Literature, Crafting Creative Writing:
Resituating the Development of Discursive Practice

Arranging American Literature: “A Hands-on Patchwork Feel”

While taking courses in her graphic design major, Lindsey was also enrolled in a number of general education courses, including two introductory literature classes. Beginning with the second of those courses, which Lindsey was enrolled in concurrently with Two-dimensional Design, Lindsey was required to produce detailed analyses of literary works informed by secondary scholarship. As much as she loved the study of literature, Lindsey stated that researching and writing these analyses proved to be very challenging, particularly in regard to developing her own argument about the primary sources and using information from multiple secondary sources to support her interpretations. Lindsey stated, “The arguments, arrangements, and discoveries do not emerge as easily from texts and literary criticisms as they seemed to for my classmates. This sort of emergence requires hard study and work of digging into the research until I bump into something useful.” As a way to address these challenges in the analysis of Homer’s Odyssey that she did for her Introduction to Literature II class, Lindsey stated that she borrowed the discursive practice she had been using for her visual designs: “I was working on the paper on the Odyssey, and I had all of these different quotes. So, I took different quotes from all over and I taped them up on my window blinds in my room by my computer. I had them all over. I had them on the windows, I had them on the blinds, and I had them on the floor. And I just re-arranged them, and as I re-arranged them I started numbering them, then lettering them.”

In order to get a better sense of how she assembled her literary analyses, we asked Lindsey to select one particular paper that would serve as the focus of a series of process- and practice-based interviews. She chose a task she encountered for the American Literature course she took while earning her MA in English literature, some three years after taking Two-dimensional Design. The task asked her to analyze two major novels and support her analysis with information from secondary sources. Lindsey chose to explore the treatment of “the feminine ideal” in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury and to support that analysis with half a dozen journal articles addressing Faulkner and Fitzgerald’s female characters. For Lindsey, the main challenge she faced was in finding a way of “talking about women in these two texts in a way that wasn’t trite and obvious.” Elaborating, she stated,

It was really hard for me. The first thing I had to do was figure out what they [the two novels] had in common, what each text was saying about the feminine ideal and how that fit together. To have to try to stick it all together was hard. I had never written a paper about more than one primary text before.

As a way to discover her argument and how it might be arranged, Lindsey stated that she found the practice she employed for creating visual designs in Two-dimensional Design to be very productive, and she recruited this practice into the invention and production of the “feminine ideal” paper in a number of ways.

As a first step, Lindsey repurposed this practice to develop a workable structure for her argument about the feminine ideal. According to Lindsey, this was one of the most difficult aspects of working on the paper: “I couldn’t get how to structure the paper. I just kept getting messed up when I had to keep jumping back and forth to talk about Daisy, then Caddy, then Daisy, then Caddy again.” Lindsey met this challenge by spreading pages of passages1 she had copied verbatim from primary and secondary sources out on the floor of her room and then re-organizing them into different piles dedicated to particular topics relevant to her analysis. “When I assemble papers,” she stated, “it’s like I read all of this stuff and I put, like I’m looking through these texts and they don’t go together, and then I’ll spread them all out on the floor and start putting them together in groups.” In the brief video below, Lindsey describes and demonstrates her process for sorting her pages of notes into different piles.

Video Transcript

As Lindsey indicates through her words and gestures, her process involved spreading the pages of notes she took from her primary and secondary sources across the floor in front of her as a way of more readily seeing which topics they addressed. Having determined the objectification of women as a key point she wanted to raise in her argument, Lindsey then describes looking over the pages of notes arrayed in front of her to identify which pages made a reference to women as objects and then picking up those pages and placing them together in a pile.

Once she had organized her notes loosely by topic, she began arranging them into a tentative framework for the structure of the paper, working to determine in which order she might talk about the recurring topics she had identified while browsing her notes.

Lindsey acknowledged that this kind of arrangement would have been much easier had she done it on a computer, but stated that working on the screen did not allow her to get a broad sense of the various parts she had to work with or develop a sense of the various ways they might be fitted together. As she offered,

So by having all the papers spread out, it makes me step back …. It helps me to be able to touch it with my hands and move it rather than … cutting and pasting on the computer. That’s the other thing. I did everything by hand because once I would get on the computer you can’t see all the pages, you can’t see where all the stuff could go. … But when I have it in my hands, I can just pick it up and move it, and see where all the different pieces are and how they all go together.

Spreading pages across the floor and grouping them according to topic allowed Lindsey to take in all the various passages she was working with rather than just the one or two pages of passages she would have been able to view on a single computer screen. What eventually emerged from Lindsey’s sorting and shuffling on the floor was a rough but workable framework that first addressed the notions of the feminine ideal operating in the novels, then how those ideals were dismantled, and then the crises that resulted from that disruption. This process, Lindsey stated, “felt like [2-D design]” in the sense that “graphic design is just all about, like, doing things over and over again until it makes sense, and you can’t tell when it makes sense until it makes sense.”

Developing and supporting the three subsections of this initial framework required an even more nuanced organizing of the passages she had copied. To accomplish this, Lindsey drew on her design practice yet again to sort quotes from primary and secondary sources, this time by tearing off specific passages and assembling those pieces of paper together in smaller groups “like a puzzle” on her table and desk. In the brief video below, Lindsey describes and demonstrates her process of tearing specific passages from her notes and assembling them together as she created the section of her paper about Daisy Buchanan’s voice.

Video Transcript

Having identified a Daisy's voice as an important topic of her analysis, Lindsey explains how she read through pages of the notes she had copied from Fitzgerald's novel searching for an explicit reference to Daisy's voice. Upon identifying a specific references to that topic in her notes, Lindsey demonstrates how she would have torn that passages from the page, set it aside, and then continued scanning her notes from the novel for other references to her voice, eventually tearing off two other passages she had copied from her primary source and setting them next to the first one. Lindsey then indicates that she would have looked through the notes from one of her secondary sources, an article by Leland Person, to locate a comment he offered regarding Daisy's voice. Having identified Person's comment about "the essence of her promise is represented by her voice" on a page of her notes, Lindsey places that page next to other portions of notes she had assembled and states that she thought that Persons' comment could work together with some of the quotes she had selected from her notes on The Great Gatsby.

Lindsey would repeat this process, which she claimed “had a hands-on patchwork feel that I associate with the crafting of a piece of artwork” as she experimented with how the information she had in her notes might support the initial framework she developed.

This discursive practice also played a prominent role as Lindsey created a series of increasingly detailed outlines of her argument. Understanding and making the connections among all the passages she had assembled posed a challenge for Lindsey. She stated, “I have to take rough, bare-bones ideas and connect them using sophisticated means or the reader will not envision the arrangements of ideas that constitute my argument.” “I come up with really good ideas,” Lindsey said, “but I have a hard time connecting them. It’s one of my biggest issues [with] writing, period. I have all of these great ideas, and I can talk about it, but then when I actually have to weave it together, piece it together, I have trouble.” In preparation for making a series of increasingly detailed and elaborate handwritten outlines at an even later point in the production of the paper, Lindsey taped combinations that “worked or felt right” up on the walls and windows around her desk. Describing the process she used to stabilize workable sequences, at least for the moment, Lindsey stated, “I just started tearing them out of the pages and taping them over each other so that I could tell what the thing was going to do. What I did is fold and then rip the notes and then I took masking tape, not clear tape but masking tape because I knew it would come off the wall, and I just taped them up all over the place. I had my textual evidence taped up in order on the walls and windows so that I could start doing my outlining.”

The outlines Lindsey generated served as a means of ordering the passages into an even more precise arrangement. Figure 3 below offers a glimpse of one of the many outlines Lindsey created for the feminine ideal paper. Talking about her process of creating these outlines, Lindsey stated,

When I outline, I cut sections out, I write additions in different colored ink, and I manipulate the various portions that will make up the end product until I have something that is cohesive, logical. It’s an organic process where the final draft sort of emerges from the trying and retrying of ideas—will this quote fit best here or there? I used this quote earlier, but I think I need more of a lead-in to this portion of the text … I like this part of the novel and I want to be sure to represent it in the paper. How will I do that? What are the core ideas that will be the underpinnings of the paper?

If she felt fairly certain of how a passage was going to function in her discussion, she would position it within a structured outline and assign it a number or letter designating its position in the argument: “I am very particular about keeping it organized, like Roman numeral, capital A, number one, lower-case a. That’s a big deal.”

Figure 3
Lindsey's Essay Outline
(Click to Enlarge)

Lindsey's Outline; Click X in Upper Right to Further Enlarge the Image

For the passages that she was as yet unsure of, she would indicate them by writing their page number in parentheses in no particular order in the pertinent section of the outline, signaling to herself that she needed to re-visit those passages to determine which ones to omit and then play around with the physical arrangement of the remaining ones to determine how they could help her develop her point. Once she had re-read the passages to understand them more thoroughly, and had physically manipulated the passages enough to develop a sequence that worked, she would write another outline, re-copying the material from the previous one that still worked and then making the additions or deletions she thought necessary. Discussing how she wove all of these activities and practices together as she fashioned her outlines for each paper, Lindsey mentioned she thought of the process in terms of using the “rigid form” of the outlines she’d used in AP English and then “combin[ing] it with what I was doing in 2-D design where I was doing more manipulation of those materials, and then I applied it to the papers. This sort of allowing myself to physically shift things around but still maintain a kind of rigid form.” In this sense, Lindsey stated, the process was like “graphic design” in that it was “just working with pieces of things and arranging them until they make sense.”

Reflecting on her work on the feminine ideal paper, Lindsey stated, “I was proud of that paper,” and added that “it’s one of the only papers I’ve written where the argument came from me and then I went and found the criticism of them [the novels] to back up what I wanted to say versus drawing everything from the criticism and not coming up with an original idea. … I had never found a way to dovetail research with my own ideas and this was one situation where I did that.” Both the A she earned on the paper and the professor’s single-sentence comment stating that “this is actually a rather good essay that makes cogent use of the critical sources as well as the original texts” suggest that Lindsey’s physical manipulation of passages helped her to invent a suitable argument and arrange textual evidence from primary and secondary sources to support and develop it.

To “see” the argument for the feminine ideal paper, Lindsey indicates that she drew upon the physical manipulation practice she previously used to create visual designs. This discursive practice allowed Lindsey to easily view the array of passages she was working with, try different combinations of those passages, and discover how they might best be fitted together into a coherent argument. And yet, despite how suited this practice is to inventing and arranging her argument about the feminine ideal, it is important to remember Scollon’s (2001a) comments that this practice is only “partial” (p. 121), that it does not fit literary analysis exactly, and thus requires a good deal of restructuring. Lindsey’s repurposing of this practice includes semiotically remediating it, a term we introduced in chapter 2 that addresses the transformation and re-use and of practice across representational media and streams of activity, for use in developing a written argument. It also includes linking this practice with practices and tools that were not a part of generating visual designs, including the use of a highlighter, the use of outlines, and the practice of copying and recopying passages from sources on paper and notecards. It also includes linking this practice to those more local to literary studies, such as how literary analyses tend to be organized (introduction, body, conclusion), conventions for how quotes from primary sources and secondary sources are arranged to work together, and so on. Likewise, it also includes coming to understand that some tools are incommensurable, such as the digitized cutting and pasting viewed on a computer screen. These resemiotizations and linkings with other practices and tools are how this discursive practice is structured for the work of literary criticism, at least for the moment. What we see when we encounter Lindsey’s physical manipulation of notes and passages for the feminine ideal paper, then, is the result of this practice’s previous use for graphic design and its present use for literary analysis.

In this section, we've described how Lindsey repeatedly refashioned her physical manipulation practice in order to meet the literate demands of her feminine ideal paper. But, Scollon’s work invites us to see that these kinds of adjustments are also important in terms of elaborating, or preparing, this discursive practice for repurposing for future uses. In the next section of the chapter, we detail Lindsey’s further reuse of this discursive practice into the nexus mediating the invention and arrangement of the multimodal lyric essay she crafted for a graduate education class.

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