Inventing Zin/ography


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Inventing Zin/ography toward a method of identification
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viii, 322 leaves : ; 29 cm.
Glaros, Susan Michelle
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English thesis, Ph. D   ( lcsh )
Dissertations, Academic -- English -- UF   ( lcsh )
bibliography   ( marcgt )
non-fiction   ( marcgt )


Thesis (Ph. D.)--University of Florida, 1996.
Includes bibliographical references (leaves 315-321).
Statement of Responsibility:
by Susan Michelle Glaros.
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University of Florida
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aleph - 026310258
oclc - 36645576
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No dissertation, particularly one this experimental in nature,

represents a singular effort. In fact, this work is highly

collaborative. I owe enormous debts to the many people who have

made this work possible. I am particularly grateful for the

encouragement, support and prodding of my committee members,

who have taught me a most important lesson: the avant-garde arts

can be used as liberal arts research strategies. I am indebted to the

teaching of Robert B. Ray, Scott Nygren, Don Ault, and Gregory L.

Ulmer. Also, the dissertation seminar organized by Gregory L. Ulmer

has also proved to be quite useful to the completion of this project.

I have been able to complete this project in a timely manner

thanks to three generous doctoral fellowships. Both the College of

Liberal Arts and Sciences and the Mary Neal Kirkland Foundation

(twice) have provided the financial support and fiscal peace of mind

necessary to such an endeavor.

While my committee has provided some rather overt guidance,

another invaluable source has arisen from my colleagues and office-

mates in the Film Studies Suite at the University of Florida. These

colleagues provided late night and early morning bull-sessions on

many of the ideas contained in this project. Without their support,

encouragement and intellectual challenges, this project would not

have come together. In particular, I would like to acknowledge Paul

Dever, Barry Mauer, and Michael Laffey as collaborators. In addition,

my girl friends from FemTV and elsewhere have also proved

invaluable to the success of this project. Not only have they

consulted on the ideas and forms of this project, but they have

provided the social antidote to the gang of boys who circulate

through Film Studies.


ACKNOW LEDGEMENTS .................................................................................................ii

ABSTRACT.......................................................................................................... ..... v


1 INTRODUCTION.......................................................................................1

Cultural Studies..................................................................................4
Film Studies..................................................................................... 5
Com puters and W riting............................ ................ ................ 6

2 BEING IN PICTURES...................................................... ................ 8

The Socially Constructed Subject.................................. ... 10
Stars....................................................................... ............................. 23
The Subject of Academic Writing............................ ........... 42
Zine Subjectivity.............................. ................. .............................53

3 GRAMMATOLOGY IN ELECTRONIC SCHOOL...............................65

Practicing Academ ic W riting.......................................... .... 68
Print Literacy............................. ......................... ............. ..........78
Electronic School.................................... ............. ...........................89
Electronic School: A Social Machine......................................117

4 SHE TALKS IN STEREO................................................................. 128

Left Channel................................ 131
Right Channel...................................................................................153
Notes ......................................................................... 169

5 STAGING THE IMAGE-REPERTOIRE............................................ 173

Detachm ent................................................................... ...........174
Fan W riting..................................................................................1. 84
Selective Mem ory........................................................................... 187
The Text: Pulling It Close.............................................. ........192
Transform ing Texts....................................................................... 194
The Poetics of Fan Writing........................................... ........200
Zin/ography.................................... ................. ..........................209

6 LAYING MY CARDS ON THE TABLE.............................................229

Teaching Zin/ography............................. ........... ........................ 230
Com position.................................................................................. 244

7 CONCLUSION................................................................................. 313


BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH..................................................................................322

Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy



Susan Michelle Glaros

December 1996

Chairman: Gregory L. Ulmer
Major Department: English

My students at the university, while technically literate, are

functionally illiterate, and they are functionally illiterate because

the discipline of knowledge which proposes to teach them to read

and write is in the midst of a pedagogical crisis. A shift in the

technology with which we now read and write triggers this crisis.

Whereas in previous decades literacy was exclusively alphabetic,

today literacy is both alphabetic and electronic. The humanities'

pedagogy, however, remains exclusively alphabetic. Herein lies the

crisis. My dissertation project, Inventing Zin/ography: Towards a

Methodology of Identification, generates a new pedagogical strategy

for teaching literacy in today's university setting.

This dissertation is a grammatological project; that is, it is a

study of the history and theory of writing. The humanities' current

pedagogical strategies are geared toward teaching alphabetic

literacy -- the book, the essay, the treatise -- while our student's

personal and professional worlds are now also organized by

electronic literacy -- the computer, in particular. As humanities'

scholars, it is our responsibility to understand how we read and

write differently with computers while teaching our students to

navigate the electronic as well as the alphabetic worlds creatively

and intelligently.

This study investigates Cindy Sherman's Untitled Film Stills

and Roland Barthes' A Lover's Discourse as a liberal arts mode of

research and writing, not just as objects of study. Reading these

projects as a discourses on method, Inventing Zin/ography adopts

Sherman's and Barthes' strategies for researching the nature of

electronic literacy in order to generate a new pedagogy. This

dissertation project uses these projects to generate a set of

instructions for understanding the electronic literacy of today.

Inventing Zin/ography suggests a method for teaching students to

learn how to learn by demonstrating how to invent new research

strategies from old.




My students at the university, while technically literate, are

functionally illiterate, and they are functionally illiterate because

the discipline of knowledge which proposes to teach them to read

and write is in the midst of a pedagogical crisis. This crisis is

triggered by a shift in the technology with which we now read and

write. Whereas in previous decades literacy was exclusively

alphabetic, today literacy is both alphabetic and electronic. The

humanities' pedagogy, however, is still exclusively alphabetic.

Herein lies the crisis. The project that follows uses heuretics to

invent a new pedagogy for teaching literacy in today's university



This dissertation is a grammatological project; that is, it is a

study of the history and theory of writing. In Orality and Literacy,

Walter Ong considers the logic of electronic literacy, a stage in the

history of writing which Ong describes as secondary orality. Ong

suggests that electronic literacy is a secondary orality because the

logic of electronic writing is hybrid; it crosses the

associative logic of oral tradition with the linear logic of alphabetic

tradition. The humanities' current pedagogical strategies are geared

toward teaching alphabetic literacy -- the book, the essay, the

treatise -- while our student's personal and professional worlds are

now also organized by electronic literacy--the computer, in

particular. As humanities' scholars, it is our responsibility to

understand how we read and write differently with computers while

teaching our students to navigate the electronic as well as the

alphabetic worlds creatively and intelligently. So, how do we teach

electronic literacy? In answering this question, I develop a

pedagogical method that investigates and teaches the logic of

electronic literacy while demonstrating the complementary nature

of research and teaching.


The history of this project is very much tied to my familial

history. I grew up in a house with two Elvis fans. Some of my

earliest memories are of my mother waiting in seemingly endless

lines to buy concert tickets -- only to sit a half mile away from the

stage, watching the performance through binoculars. My mother

always said that it didn't matter -- all that mattered was breathing

the same air as Elvis.

While most of my colleagues could identify common themes in

their graduate work, I never felt sure of my interests in that way.

My hesitation to commit to any one 'object of study' was, for quite

some time, a problem, I thought -- until it occurred to me that what

was common to my work was an attitude rather than an object. Most

of my work was colored by a fannish attitude. Fandom ties together

my fields of interest: cultural studies, film studies and computers

and writing.

My attraction to and interest in practice, which initially

introduced me to video production, suggested not only a medium for

this project (hypermedia) but also a methodology: heuretics. That is,

I wanted my project to not only involve fandom, but to also involve

doing something with the things I've learned about research,

schooling, entertainment and technology while studying at the

University of Florida. Thus, in the project that follows, I work

heuretically with fandom. What would it be to make something with


Cultural Studies

Although, at first glance, it may not look like it, I consider

this project to be a cultural studies project, or to be a project that

offers something to the field of cultural studies. With Inventing

Zin/ography, I am interested in making something with various

lessons of cultural studies. Applying an heuretic attitude, I ask: how

can I make cultural studies knowledge do something? My interest in

cultural studies as a discipline has never lain with explaining

popular texts or their functions, but rather with imagining what

things cultural studies' understanding of popular texts might allow

us to do. While I have been able to explore this approach in my

teaching and video production work, with this project I wanted to

extend these explorations. I thought, cultural studies knows a lot

about fandom, so what can I do with what we already know? How

can I make that knowledge useful? In some very serious ways,

zin/ography issues forth from this desire.

Film Studies

Yet, I also consider Inventing Zin/ography to be a film studies

project. Not only because my engagement of fan writing depends on

the fan/star equation, but also because my film studies training has

directed my approach to hypermedia in a way that I think is fairly

unique. In the project that follows, I think about hypermedia as a

social machine and about visual aesthetics in ways I have learned

from film studies. I suggest that some of the founding lessons of

film studies are indeed applicable to hypermedia.

For instance, with this project I wanted to generate a method

which would unlock some of the theoretical promise of hypermedia.

Film studies teaches us that the technology will not do anything in

particular on its own. To make the technology function, you need a

method -- institutional practices. Left to entertainment, cinema

(the apparatus) produces realism with the technology of film by

using a particular method: continuity editing, centering, etc. With


hypermedia, entertainment reproduces "journalistic" writing (which

is linear and expository). We now see that most screen design

mimics the layout of slick entertainment industry magazines. With

Inventing Zin/ography I attempt to generate a different form for

hypermedia writing -- one which engages the decentered, multi-

linear, multi-vocal promise of the technology.

Computers and Writing

Most clearly, this project looks like a computers and writing

project. My sense is that for various reasons (which have little to

do with education or research) many writing departments have found

themselves possessing a lot of technology that they don't know

what to do with. Certainly, such was the case at the University of

Florida when the College of Liberal Arts and Science received a

grant from IBM to build several online computer labs. What might

we do in the face of this new technology?

Cultural studies' analyses demonstrate that entertainment

knows exactly what to do with these machines. I found that my

desire to work with fandom dovetailed nicely with entertainment's

use of the web. That is, entertainment has the commercial end

which tries to sell you things on the web (including "subscriptions"

to particular sites) and the fan end -- which generates the bulk of

"amateur" web writing. Fan desire -- whether it be media fandom or

a porsche club -- drives the most of the web writing we see today

when surfing the Internet. What do my students want to do on the

first day of class? They want to put Hootie and the Blowfish images

on their homepages.

With this project, I wanted to harness this fan energy to fuel a

different kind of writing machine. How can we, I asked myself,

make these online labs work as useful machines? As a computers

and writing project, zin/ography tries to do two things: engage the

kind of socially constructed or postmodern subject that computers

and writing suggests is writing with this media and engage the

theoretical promise of hypertext. Not unlike its relationship to

cultural studies, where computers and writing is concerned,

Inventing Zin/ography tries to make use of some particular kinds of

disciplinary knowledge.


An ongoing effect of cultural studies research has been
to destabilize and de-essentialize standard categories of
identity -- race, class, nationality, gender, sexuality,
ethnicity. But such a deconstructive effect is not an end
in itself for cultural studies, for its goal is not to arrive
at fractures, fragments, and differences which can
themselves in turn be fetishized. Cultural studies
undertakes the much more difficult project of holding
identities in the foreground, acknowledging their
necessity and potency, examining their articulation and
rearticulation, and seeking a better understanding of
their function. 1

I would like to begin by borrowing a concept from film studies

-- that of the apparatus. As a discipline, film studies understands

the apparatus of cinema to be comprised of the technology of film,

the institutional practices of film, and the subjectivity film

proposes. Cinema represents a particular organization of these three

points. Writing too, I would like to suggest, functions as an

apparatus, as there are particular technologies, institutional

practices, and subjectivities that comprise the phenomenon that we

call writing. Various organizations of these three points produce

different kinds of writing such as journalism, academic writing, and

electronic literacy. In part, I interest myself with the similarities

and differences between these latter two types of writing to the

extent that this comparison provides direction for inventing new

institutional practices of electronic literacy. (Currently, electronic

literacy is practiced most prolifically by the entertainment

industry. My interest lies in developing practices of electronic

literacy for institutions of higher learning.) Having borrowed the

concept of the apparatus, I would like to reiterate that as an

apparatus, writing is made up not only of technologies and

institutional practices, but also of concepts of subjectivity. In

what follows, I focus on elucidating the characteristics of these

subjectivities and their relationships to the institutional practice

of academic writing. Chapter two, Grammatology in Electronic

School, returns to the concept of the apparatus to address questions

of writing technologies and institutional practices.


Academic writing posits a rational and autonomous individual

as its subject. Correspondingly, its school practices both assume

and work to replicate this subject. The electronic apparatus,

however, posits a constructivist theory of subjectivity. This more

postmodern subject is most thoroughly theorized by the work of

cultural studies. Corresponding institutional practices, however,

are yet to be invented. Herein lies the goal of Inventing Zin/ography.

The differences between subject formations, in part, determine

what is and is not an appropriate institutional practice for any

particular apparatus. In conjunction with electronic technologies of

writing, this shift in our concept of the subject demands that we, as

educators and writing instructors, reimagine and reinvent the

practices of Schooling for a changing apparatus.

The Socially Constructed Subiect

How is the subject socially constructed? What does it mean to

say that? In order to understand these questions, to understand

what it means to imagine a socially constructed subject, Inventing

Zin/ography looks to the discipline of cultural studies for

explanations. For while cultural studies has always theorized just

such a subject, the discipline continually rethinks the particular

nature of this social subject; through this rethinking cultural

studies brings its own orientation to traditional forms of analysis

like sociology, economics, and critical theory. For instance,

although cultural studies often uses ethnographic surveys, the

discipline has always jettisoned the positivism of the social

sciences. Despite cultural studies' adaptation of traditional forms

of analysis, Simon During's "Introduction" to The Cultural Studies

Reader explains that two features have characterized cultural

studies from its inception: a focus on subjectivity and an engaged

form of analysis. Cultural studies' investigation of the relationship

between culture and individual lives marks its break with

positivism and its involvement with the political. Thus cultural

studies differs from both the 'objective' social sciences and

traditional literary criticism which assumes that texts maintain a

constant value across time and space -- that is, those modes of

analysis which assume that who you are socially can be put aside

and made not to enter into what you think and how you understand.

While modern Western culture values a form of subjectivity which

suggests that there are 'deep' selves which cannot be reduced to the

subject positioned by external fields and discourses, cultural

studies proposes that subjectivity primarily consists of practices

and strategies which engage those fields and discourses.

Because zin/ography proposes to stage the socially

constructed subject, it is useful to understand what cultural studies

theory says and has said about this subjectivity. One way of

understanding the development of cultural studies' thinking

concerning the subject is to look at its anthologized history. Simon

During's "Introduction" to the Cultural Studies Reader provides a

brief history of the discipline with which we can better understand

the development of this idea of subjectivity. Early in the life of the

discipline, cultural studies moved between culturalist and

structuralist types of analysis. The culturalist strands emphasized

forms of everyday life while the structuralist strands were mainly

semiotic, that is they focused on analyses of codings and recodings

rather than uses, practices, or feelings. Structuralist analyses

looked to texts as objects while culturalist analyses considered

relationships between texts and readers. Nevertheless, both forms

of analysis assumed that the subject was socially constructed.

Initially, cultural studies took interest mainly in the effects of

class interests on people's everyday lives. For instance, Althusser

developed a structural analysis which theorized that individuals are

constructs of ideology. Ideology, he argued, is employed by the state

and capitalism to reproduce the means of production without risking

revolution. The state is not neutral (as it likes to portray itself) but

rather works to protect the exploitative means of production that

are required by capitalism. During notes that "for Althusser,

dominant ideology turned what was in fact political, partial, and

open to change into something seemingly 'natural', universal, and

eternal"2: class differences. In this instance, the primary role of

ideology is to construct an imaginary picture of civil life wherein

the nuclear family is neutral and the individual is 'unique' and 'free'.

"Ideology," argues During, "fragments real connections and

interdependencies producing a picture of social relations which

overemphasizes individual freedom and autonomy."3 Ideology is

seductive because it makes sense of the world for people by

allowing them to enter the symbolic order and ascribe themselves

power. People identify with ideology because in it they see

themselves pictured as independent and strong; dominant social

values are internalized through this identification.

While Althusser's form of ideology critique proved useful to

cultural studies for a while, this structuralist approach failed to

account for the capacity of an individual or community to act on the

world in its own terms or to generate its own meanings and effects.

Ideology critique posits that people are 'cultural dopes' who are

absolutely powerless against dominant ideology. It fails to account

for local differences and to pay attention to the actual techniques

and practices by which individuals form themselves and their lives.

In response, the culturalist tradition offered the notion of polysemy.

Polysemy suggests that a particular signifier maintains more than

one meaning because meaning is an effect of differences within a

larger system. Polysemy views cultural production as a process of

hybridization and negotiation. "Concepts like hybridization," notes

During "as they developed out of the notion of polysemyy', return us

to a renewed culturalism because they enable us to see how

particular individuals and communities can actively create new

meanings from signs and cultural products which come from afar."4

In this culturalist moment, cultural studies clearly displayed its


interest in the means by which groups with the least power develop

their own readings of and uses for cultural products in order to have

fun, to resist the dominant order, or to articulate their own identity.

In the late 1970s French theory introduced to the discipline of

cultural studies the idea that individuals live in a setting

constructed of differing social fields or institutions. These fields

include but are not limited to the institutions of family, school,

work, peer groups, and political parties. Identity was not only tied

to class interests. Like Althusser's theory of dominant ideology,

each of these fields contained its own imaginary. Unlike Althusser's

theory, the French theorists (Foucault, Bourdieu, and De Certeau)

argued that each field contains choices of self-formation because

each field contains a variety of styles of belonging (for example, you

could be this or that kind of daughter). While some fields are highly

directive (school, for instance) in others individuals are able to

work out strategies to advance or reconcile themselves to their

current position. Within this theoretical model, During points out

that "the possibility also exists for undermining or transgressing

the routine and hierarchy of the fields through passive resistance,

ironic mimicry, symbolic inversion, orgiastic letting-go, or even


day-dreaming..."5 Where subjectivity is concerned, it is important to

note that in this French theory people are not wholly positioned by

the system that these fields constitute. Theoretically, individuals

can always make choices that take into account the forces that they

know are positioning them. In Teresa De Lauretis' terms, human

beings are "embodied social subjects." "An individual's relation to

the fields continually incorporates and shifts under the impact of

contingent givens (skin color, physical appearances, and so on) and

material events (illness, technological breakdowns, and so on) which

are not simply determinants of social or cultural forces."6 Because

it conceives of fields as partially autonomous, the French model

breaks with earlier forms of cultural studies by downplaying the

way economic distress operates systematically across many fields.

With French theory, there is no organized system of control. This

theory affirms forms of resistance only possible in the cracks and

gaps of larger, apparently impregnable systems.

John Fiske explains the operation of these social fields, or

axes as he calls them, in his book Power Plays, Power Works. Fiske

notes that whereas cultural studies began its work on and with a

structural world which was constituted by relatively stable

categories like class, the West is now a more fluid world. After

World War II, the identity of the working class as working class

fragmented, and cultural theorists came to realize that identity was

conflictual and political rather than simply a matter of particular

class interests and values. Prior to the second world war, class had

been the core marker of identity, of difference, and cultural studies

had focused more on how culture was organized from afar by the

'culture industry'. After the second world war, other differences

became more acutely recognizable and thus identifiable. For

instance, the influx of immigrants from the colonies brought race

and national identity to the forefront in Britain; in response,

cultural studies shifted from a structural to a poststructural

approach to culture and identity. Multiple axes of social difference

(of which race, class, gender, and age are the most prominent)

constitute the world of late capitalism as poststructural rather

than structural while the dissolution of working class identity as

the core of social identity is directly related to the emergence of

this more fluid, poststructural world. "Contemporary capitalist

societies are too highly elaborated to be understood by a structural

model," notes Fiske "and, as a result, class can no longer occupy a


position of theoretical centrality but must take its place alongside

other axes around which social identities and social systems are

organized. It is still important, but it has been joined by

race/ethnicity and gender as perhaps the core axes of social

difference."7 Even this core is uncertain; it may be joined by other

axes such as age, marital status, religion, sexual orientation, region,

or locality -- or it may be completely dislodged by one of these

others at any moment. While class still matters, it matters

differently than when it was the salient social axis.

During argues that in the context of what he calls the 'new

right' (Thatcherism and Reaganism) and French theory, cultural

studies oriented itself around the 'culture of difference' and became

a global movement. Within the culture of difference, community or

group identity changed from nation or class to include also

feminism, ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc.; there no longer was

such a thing as "society." Because the new right argues that the

affirmation of internal difference threatens national unity, the

nation is defined in terms of traditional and popular national-

cultural images (such as Englishness or Americanness). The new

right promotes an image of monoculture which requires the


devaluation of other identities. In response, cultural studies became

internationalized and moved away from a Marxian analysis based on

class. In the context of the new right, analyses of racism, sexism,

and the culture industry possess a wider appeal than analyses of

British working-class culture.

With internationalization, notes During, came theoretical

postmodernism; cultural studies criticized the notion that any

theory could stand outside the field it claimed to tell about as if it

were a metadiscourse. Theory is now conceived as a discursive

practice produced in a particular field with particular power

effects. According to During, theoretical postmodernism put an end

to the appeal of "those 'grand narratives' by which institutions and

discourses bearing the modernizing values of universal liberty,

equality and progress were affirmed in the name of a trans-

historical, meta-discursive subject."8 This new cultural studies,

inspired by work in feminism, has begun to affirm 'other' ways of

life on their own terms. "Emphasis shifted," notes During "from

communities positioned against large power blocs and bound

together as classes or subcultures to ethnic and women's groups

committed to maintaining and elaborating autonomous values,

identities, and ethics."9 The cultural studies of the culture of

difference represents the most decentered moment for cultural

studies so far. Cultural studies conceives of the relations between

these dispersed communities in two ways: new alliances and cross-

identifications can be worked out for provisional social or micro-

political ends and relations between groups will be dialogic wherein

the otherness of each interacting participant remains in tact.

"Whatever the effectiveness of these solutions," argues During

"celebrations of the 'other' sounded a powerful oppositional note

where governments attempted to encourage or enforce

monoculturalism and traditional gender models on the nation."10

This new cultural studies has become the academic site for marginal

or minority discourses. It turns away from attacking mass culture

as the new right buttresses its monoculturalism by traditionalist

appeals to the canon. Instead, cultural studies analyzes various

forms of cultural production and modes of cultural reception while

considering questions of pleasure, corporeality, fantasy,

identification, affect, desire, critique and transgression. Taking up

Roland Barthes' notion that polysemous texts generate intense and

liberating pleasures, cultural studies has moved toward 'cultural

populism' which suggests that popular culture provides "pleasure in

the processes of making meaning"1

Inventing Zin/ography accepts the socially constructed subject

as a premise. As a grammatological experiment, Inventing

Zin/ography provides a means for writers to stage their socially

constructed identities. By combining a politics of resistance with a

poststructural notion of subjectivity, this project takes up cultural

studies' interrelation of areas such as gender, nationhood,

postcoloniality, race, and identity politics to demonstrate that the

so-called "self" that underpins ideological formations is not a

unified, but is rather a contradictory subject. How do people

(including students) come to know themselves as contradictory

subjects? In the section that follows, I argue that people come to

recognize their identities as contradictory in part through their

conception of and relation to stars. Zine writing is bound up with

the equation star identity/fan identification. As an expression and

articulation of fan identification, zine writing often stages the

socially constructed identity of its writers. Consider for a moment

the zine (which appears in both hypermedia and paper versions) Girls


Can Do Anything. C. Kile, the zine's author, uses her zine as a forum

for expressing her multiple identities: post-adolescent girl/third

wave feminist (these are the image-repertoires most thoroughly

explored in her zine). Girls Can Do Anything provides C. Kile a forum

for investigating these conflicting identifications. Similarly, the

collected authors of the zine Melrose Valhalla articulate a parodic

resistance to the culture's pre-fab attempt at articulating their

identity for them through the phenomenon Generation X; in Melrose

Valhalla, Generation X writes back. Zine writing affords its writers

a glimpse at their social construction because, historically, it has

been bound up with star identification. For C. Kile, her fan

identification focuses on texts like Courtney Love and the Bionic

Woman; as the name implies, Melrose Valhalla explores its writers'

fan identifications with the characters on the Fox television show

Melrose Place. Zine writing emerges at the point wherein fans

recognize the fictive construction of either stars or characters; the

notion that stars and characters are malleable constructs invites

the play of fan writing. How have we (as a culture) come to know

stars as constructs? And what effect has that knowledge had on our

concept of selfhood? Our knowledge of the star system and its

mechanisms for constructing stars tells us something about how

people are now coming to know their social selves.


What is the star experience? In Picture Personalities: The

Emergence of the Star System in America, Richard DeCordova ties

the star experience (and with it the star system) to the emergence

of a particular kind of cultural knowledge. Stars begin to occur

when audiences are able to associate particular names with the

production of films. Until audiences are able to name the people

involved in film production, stars are an impossibility. Historically,

the cultural knowledge which marks the emergence of star status

circulated around the site of the actor. Starting with the widening

of the discourse on acting (to include film as well as stage

performances), this knowledge moved through the discourse on

picture personalities and ended with the star phenomenon. The

widening of the discourse on acting, notes DeCordova, is important

to the making of stars as it superseded the discourse on the

apparatus which suggested that machines, not people, made films.


Prior to the late teens and early 1920s, most discussion of the art

of filmmaking focused on the magic of the technology to the

exclusion of human labor. The discourse on acting worked to

resituate the site of textual productivity in human rather than

machine labor, thus making that production identifiable. The

discourse on acting individuated films and invited the rise of the

star phenomenon not only by making particular filmic productions

identifiable but also by singling out particular players or actors for

audience identification.

DeCordova suggests the picture personality, a name, as the

cinema's first site of individuation. "What the name designated

above all," suggests DeCordova, "was a form of intertextuality, the

recognition and identification of an actor from film to film."12

Knowledge of picture personalities circulated around and was

produced by/about the players' professional existence, particularly

his/her screen presence. Entertainment news played a role as well.

For journalism, the name of the player was important because it

marked a site of hidden knowledge. Early on, the studios worked

hard to keep the "real" names of actors unknown. One actor might be

known by one name on the stage, another on the screen, and yet a

third with his/her family. Stage actors often desired to keep

knowledge of their "true" acting on the stage separate from

knowledge of the mere posing they did before motion picture

cameras. The studios capitalized on this desire by constructing an

elaborate cat-and-mouse game for audiences and journalists alike to

play. The secreting of players' actual names challenged audiences to

discover the true identities of picture personalities. The discovery

of identity, however, remained only the discovery of names. Where

the intertextuality of picture personalities was concerned,

knowledge about the players was restricted to the textuality of the

films they were in; it did not extend to the players' personal lives.

The site of interest and knowledge remained the personality of the

player as depicted in film.

The star, however, notes DeCordova, is characterized by the

equation professional life/private life. The star marks the

emergence of a knowledge about the players' existence outside of

film. Stars have private lives, and these private lives emerged as

new sites of knowledge and truth. As DeCordova suggests, "the real

hero was made to behave like the reel hero."13 Initially, knowledge

of the star was restricted to this analogy. Private lives were not

allowed to contradict film lives -- especially in moral tenor. The

star system augmented the power of the cinema by extending its

textual and ideological functioning into the discourse of the star.

As the private lives of players became valorized sites of knowledge,

the studios regulated that knowledge. The discourse on the star

asserted the cinema as a healthy phenomenon (as opposed to the

known debauchery of the theater). Stars were to double the family

discourse produced in the films of that era with their own lives.

The cultural knowledge which informs star status did not

emerge easily. Alexander Walker's book Stardom: The Hollywood

Phenomenon reveals the rocky history of the struggle between the

various forces in Hollywood that contributed to the creation of the

star system. Walker's history investigates the emergence of the

star system in Hollywood by tracing the shift from picture player to

star and then moves on to explore the shift from the star system to

the "new stardom" of the 1960s and 1970s. This "new stardom"

transformed stars from property to free agents. The history of the

star phenomenon is important for zin/ography because it illustrates

something about how people have come to conceive identity.

People's conception of identity in their heros and role models

reflects on their conception of their own identity.

Stars, argues Walker, are the direct or indirect reflection of

the needs, drives, and dreams of American society. In order to

insure that certain players would reflect these desires, studios

constructed personas for their players. Separate from (yet often

similar to) their on-screen characters, these personas became an

alternative self for many players. The belief that s/he is 'someone

else' was often reported as the accompanying emotion of star status

-- and it's no wonder, the studios and entertainment press worked

hard to construct alternative subjectivities for players and their

fans. In fact, the studios often constructed a subjectivity to answer

audience desire and then hired someone to play the part -- twenty-

four hours a day, seven days a week, year after year after year. For

instance, William Fox created his own star: Theda Bara. Fox

constructed a ready-made persona and later hired an actress to be

the part. While actually the demure daughter of a tailor from

Cincinnati nee Theodosia Goodman, she was remodelled by the Fox

publicity department into the image of a sex siren. Her star status

held that she was the child of a sheik and princess born in Egypt and

weaned on serpent's blood; she was to have been given in mystic

marriage to the Sphinx, fought over by nomadic tribesmen, to be

clairvoyant, and insatiably lustful. Audiences widely held the name,

Theda Bara, to be an anagram of the evocative words 'death' and

'arab'. The key to stardom, suggests Walker, lies in a player's ability

(and the ability of the system that markets him/her) to perform the

image-repertoire (stage the stereotypes) of many audience members.

Clearly, Fox constructed Theda Bara to respond to and reflect the

sexual desires of American society.

Walker notes that with the construction of Theda Bara, Fox

demonstrated two ideas. First, stars could be made without films;

they could flourish using the attributes of stardom as a substitute

for it. Before the release of Theda Bara's film A Fool There Was, Fox

sent Theda Bara on a publicity tour in which she used the props of

the femme fatale to suggest that her supernatural powers and exotic

upbringing made her sexually irresistible. Later, upon release of the

film, audiences read Theda's supernatural sexual magnetism as

explanation for the otherwise unexplained power her film character

held over lovers With this publicity tour, Fox exploited the subject

constructed as Theda Bara before releasing the film. Second,


because Theda's public image transferred itself to her screen image

so strongly, life did not imitate art so much as transfuse it.

Star status was measured by a player's recognition of his/her

power over an audience -- his or her ability to be someone else,

someone we want or need them to be. "A crystallizing moment of

stardom," notes Walker,

seems to happen when a player becomes dramatically
aware of the power that he or she wields. It is not quite
the same thing as 'popularity'. One can live easily with
popularity. The power of stardom strikes home to an
artist as a disproportion between who he thinks he is and
how other people think of him. It is bewildering,
exhilarating, depressing or terrifying. Chaplin knew he
was immensely popular early on in his first year as a
Keystone comedian, in 1914, but he did not know his
power as a star till 1916 when he took the train from Los
Angeles to New York and to his growing astonishment
found people standing beside the line as word of his
progress preceded him, packing railroad stations, feting
him at every halt and finally obliging the New York chief
of police to beg him to get off at 125th Street, instead of
Grand Central, since the crowds waiting there for him
could not be contained.14

For stars, being someone we, the audience, needs or wants them to be

means being someone else -- being a constructed person. In his

autobiography, Chaplin notes that he felt this way upon arriving in

New York and reading news of himself on the electric sign in Times

Square: Chaplin signs with Mutual at six hundred and seventy

thousand a year. "I stood and read it objectively as though it were

about someone else."15

Players like Theda Bara or Charlie Chaplin were assimilated

into the star system by stabilizing production and giving a continuity

of appeal to the product. The appearance, personality, and

performance of each star had to be standardized from picture to

picture. The public needed to know what to expect from its

favorites. "At the same time," notes Walker,

publicity about them, their pictures, activities and off
screen characteristics -- and in this respect the
establishment of Hollywood as an exotic and permanent
background played an enormous role -- could be employed
to provoke curiosity, stimulate expectation and keep film
goers coming back again and again. Participation in the
players' identities thus took root at the same time and in
the same soil as the star system.16

The studios' devices for constructing stars extended beyond

that of ready-made personas. Under the star system, the studios

often used morality clauses to control star image. These morality

clauses were meant to insure that the off-screen lives of stars

would always "match" and never contradict their on-screen lives.

Photoplay reported that in 1919 Mary Miles Minter

signed a three-and-a-half year contract with the Realart
Company, a company [behind which] is Adolph Zukor of
Paramount. She will, for the term of her contract,
receive 1,300,000 dollars. The pictures are to be divided
into four groups of five, for the first five, 50,000 dollars
each. For the second five, 70,000 dollars each, and the
for the third five, 80,000 dollars each. But the most
interesting part is that this contract is alleged to
concern itself with the star's intimate life and mode of
living. She is not to become a "public figure" except in
the ways that Zukor evangelists direct. She can be
interviewed seldom, if ever -- except as a part of the
said evangelism. She must be seen very little in public, if
at all. She is to be a real "home-body" and have an
existence only in her work. And she must not marry.17

The studios assumed control over their artists' whole lives.

Personal lives, especially emotional and sexual lives which might

conflict with the public image of a star, were seen as extensions of

public lives. In the 1930s, the 'morality code', which became a

feature of contracts in the 1920s, stretched to encompass

everything that a star might do professionally or privately. Film

journalism reacted strongly to the studios' attempts to control star

identity and image so tightly. Reporters were no longer satisfied

with stories and gossip planted by the studios; entertainment news

came to rely on investigative reporting and candid photos. The

Hollywood news media focused on the 'inside dope', 'real dirt', and

'knocking' interviews. The studios' apprehension of scandal, argues

Walker, bolstered the star phenomenon. Their mistrust of the press

further fueled the cat-and-mouse game originally played with the

secreting of picture players' names. The counter measures taken by

studios trying to avoid scandal served to heighten public interest in

the secrets held by studios about their favorite stars.

In his essay "Charisma," Richard Dyer explores the mythical and

mystical attributes of stardom that the studios' attempts to tightly

control star identity created. Drawing on Max Weber's political

theory, Dyer argues that charisma combines concepts of social

function with an understanding of ideology to create this kind of

magic. Charisma is "a certain quality of an individual personality by

virtue of which he [sic] is set apart from ordinary men and treated as

endowed with supernatural, superhuman or at least superficially

exceptional qualities."18 In these terms, Dyer considers Marilyn

Monroe. Her image was situated in the flux of ideas about morality

and sexuality that characterized the 1950s in America. Monroe's

combination of sexuality and innocence is part of that flux; her

charisma is an apparent condensation of all of that within her.

Monroe represents the kernel of ideas concerning morality and

sexuality that explodes into American culture during the 1950s.

Dyer notes the importance of considering two sides of star charisma:

the ideological formations to which stars belong and those of

audiences. For Dyer, star-audience relationships are an

intensification of the conflicts and exclusions experienced by

everyone. As such, star-audience relationships often occur between

stars and people who experience role or identity conflict or pressure;

fans are often to some degree excluded from the dominant

articulation of adult, male, heterosexual culture.

WHile stereotyping helps to explain popularity, it does not

explain the common sense notions of star and charisma like magic,

power, fascination, authority, and aura. These notions depend on the

degree to which stars are accepted as truly being what they appear

to be: authenticity. Dyer argues that the processes of

'authentification' guarantee star 'quality'. As Dyer explains,

"Authenticity is both a quality necessary to the star phenomenon to

make it work, and also the quality that guarantees the authenticity

of the other particular values a star embodies (such as girl-next-

door-ness, etc.). It is this effect of authenticating authenticity that

gives the star charisma ...."19

What authenticates? Richard Sennett's book The Fall of Public

Man charts the development of immediacy, sincerity, believability,

and truth as criterion whose referent is a person's person. Are they

being themselves? These criteria are the qualities of authenticity

and they are essential to the development of humanism and

individualism. The major trends in Western discourse (Marxism,

Behaviorism, Psychoanalysis, Linguistics, etc.) that are hailed as

intellectual revolutions, notes Dyer, have all worked to dislodge the

security with which the individual holds his/her place as the

guarantor of discourse. In addition to these discursive trends, two

historical developments have endangered the notion of the individual:

totalitarianism and mass media.

What is particularly fascinating about the mass media
and totalitarianism is that, even as they are being
identified as destroying the individual, they are also
largely in the business of promoting the individual and
the claims of humanism. To get back to stars, no aspect
of the media can be more obviously attended by hype than
the production of stars; there is nothing sophisticated
about knowing they are manufactured and promoted, it is
a sense that is common. .. .Yet in the very same breath
as audiences and producers alike acknowledge stars as
hype, they are declaring this or that star as the genuine

article. Just as the media are construed as the very
antithesis of sincerity and authenticity, they are the
source for the presentation of the epitome of those
qualities, the true star.20

Marxism, linguistics, psychoanalysis, and behaviorism displace the

individual as the guarantor of discourse and posit a real beneath the

surface represented by "the individual" as discursive category. To be

authentic is to have a depth beneath the surface of the stereotyped

image; the authenticity of this depth is often a measure of

difference: how much does the real vary from the image? An ironic

contradiction was always built into the star system: producers

wanted to standardize the appeal of artists, stars wanted to

demonstrate individualism and diversity. Although the studios saw

this contradiction as destructive, the conflict between star persona

and perceived subjectivity worked to authenticate players in the

eyes of audience members. The question of a star's authenticity can

be referred back to her/his existence in the real world. Authenticity

is established by markers that indicate lack of control, lack of

premeditation, and privacy; these markers establish a place beyond

the controlled image of the star text. Features which reveal that

stars are not what they appear to be reinforce their realness by


appealing to the truth behind the illusion. Industry journalism, with

its reliance on "insiders," authenticates stars as it "reveals their

secrets." What guarantees that someone's stardom is not a con? An

authenticated individual acting as guarantor of the truth of the

discourse of his/her stardom.

Hollywood initially presented stars as glamorous yet virtuous,

privileged yet homely, and rich yet ordinary. Fan magazines worked

to reinforce the notion that stars were just plain folks. However, by

the mid to late 20s, argues Walker, fans were bored with these

depictions. Fan magazines began expressing a disenchanted hostile

attitude toward wealthy stars. During the 1930s, star making

changed in two ways, both of which had authenticating results. As

luck would have it, a technological advance, talkies, began

authenticating the charismatic magic stars already possessed.

Sound both humanized and democratized the stars.

In an astonishingly short period of time, measured almost
in months, the vocal proficiency, striking naturalism and
strength of personality had been blended together to form
the Hollywood idiom. And those who mastered it became
themselves part of the American idiom -- people whom
millions of film goers admired and imitated.21

Talkies pulled the film industry out of its slump while the studios

introduced the strategic use of scandal and sensation. The studios

slowly came to realize that their obsession with respectability

needn't battle the fans' appetite for sensationalism.

The 1930s also introduced personal appearance tours. Stars

wanted to heighten their status as house-hold names and prove their

worth in popularity to the studios. This era saw no more of silence's

isolating mystique that kept audiences in awe of stars, they wanted

to make contact with the public and beguile it with personality.

Personal appearance tours humanized stars; they facilitated stars'

identification with their audiences.

When it was all over, and if all had gone well, the
audience had felt that stars were folk like themselves
projecting ordinary human qualities, yet endowing them
with a heightened enjoyment. The films that followed
confirmed the feeling of the star as a magnified
representative of the people.22

The history of stardom demonstrates that stars never occurred

naturally, as if the magic of talent simply propelled the

predetermined few into the limelight. Although the requisite

ingredients have changed over the years, stars have always been a

construct and audiences are hip to this situation. Zine writers

exploit this knowledge by inserting themselves, their desires and

imaginations, into the star construct. Playing with this construct

allows fan writers a means of expressing the social construction of

their own identities and of continually reconstructing their

identities just as do stars. The star phenomenon instructs in us the

continual manipulation and transformation of our identities. At any

moment, any of us can become someone else. As Dyer suggests, the

concept of authentication values and validates the simultaneous

existence of contradictory selves. For today's audiences, to be

conflicted and contradictory is to be real. Today's stars embody this

conflictual mode in a way no other era has seen. Zin/ography occurs

at the intersection of these conflictual identities, providing a mode

of writing that sustains such identities.

In the post-war years, argues Walker, changes took place in

American society which violently disturbed the relationship between

stars and audience. The separation between star and audience

identity began to break down and mesh. The zine phenomenon

flourishes under and testifies to this condition. Hitherto, stars had

set goals and images for society; now the part of society that goes

to pictures sets the styles for its stars. The film audience of the

1960s turned to stars to define the counter-culture. They desired

stars whose off-screen lives and on-screen roles corresponded to

the confusion, vulnerability, rebellion, alienation, and anarchism of

that cultural moment. The star had "in fact become a superfan.

Instead of being worshipped for himself, it is he who worships the

values of his followers."23 The post-war stars, suggest Walker,

were life-style stars. The audience no longer wants to have its

needs fulfilled by an actor's personality, but needs to have its way

of life defined by a star's interpretation of it. "The members of this

audience do not want film stars who embody their dreams: they go

for stars who provide sanctions for their own behavior, attitudes and

philosophy."24 The film going audience changed from that of the

studio era. During the studio era the audience used to be based on the

wide spread of middle age, middle income, and middle class values;

it liked stars to embody appropriate qualities and to have instantly

recognizable traits that did not vary greatly from one picture to the

next. The post-war audience was younger and more complex; it was

apathetic to the whole idea of movie stars as creators of a separate

breed or more mysterious charisma than other mass media stars who

project immediacy and intimacy.

Andrew Goodwin addresses this widening of the arena of

stardom in his book Dancing in the Distraction Factory. Unlike the

stars of the early Hollywood system, today's media stars maintain

complex often contradictory identities. Goodwin argues that it is

most useful to think of the star not as individual, but as text. He

locates media interviews, imagery, on-stage performances,

iconography, direct address, and critical commentary as the sites of

star-text construction. Unlike DeCordova, Walker, and Dyer whose

interests focus mainly on the Hollywood system and its star

machine, Gordon investigates pop music stars. He argues that star

loyalty is a key element in the music industry's effort to rationalize

the impossible task of predicting public taste. The more ways in

which various people with various interests and experiences have to

identify with a star text (the more points of identification a star

text touches) the more people and groups of people can identify with

that text. Some of today's most popular star texts (like that of

Madonna or Elvis) which sustain multiply conflicted identities imply

an authenticity that flatter, more one dimensional stars cannot. How

is this so? Richard Dyer explains in his article "A Star Is Born and

the Construction of Authenticity."25 Stars attain popularity,

suggests Dyer, through the stereotyping of their image; this

stereotyping gives star images social resonance. Stereotyping

situates stars in the wider cultural discourse and allows stars to

speak to the different concerns of different audiences. By

diversifying the image-repertoire of a star, the music industry

insures more star loyalty. The more personas a star maintains, the

larger his or her share of the fan market. For instance, as long as I

understand Courtney Love to be one of the few radical feminist

artists available for consumption, I remain loyal to her and continue

to buy her products. Another fan, however, might remain loyal to

Hole (Courtney Love's band) because s/he understands it to be a great

punk band. In this way, the star construct Courtney Love/Hole

maintains fan loyalty from record to record. Star loyalty results

from an audience identification with the star text. Without even

hearing the latest release, we buy it. The persona or star text

attaches additional meanings or second-level use values (radical

feminist, punk) to popular texts thereby increasing the chances that

audiences will identify with certain texts.

Fan writers stand in relationship to the constructedness of

star identities. As a form of writing, zines allow writers to express


the social construction of their identities as they see them reflected

in media stars. Academic writing, however, maintains a radically

different agenda. In direct opposition, academic writing strives to

suppress multiple selves in favor of soliciting the unified humanist

subject. In this way, the subject of academic writing is radically

different from the subject of zine writing.

The Subject of Academic Writing

Compare cultural studies' conception of the subject to that

assumed by academic writing. In his book, Fragments of Rationality:

Postmodernity and the Subject of Composition, Lester Faigley argues

that for many years, American writing instruction was linked to the

large cultural goal of subject formation. Literacy instruction taught

students more than how to write, it taught them who they were to

be. Because academic writing has traditionally and historically

functioned as argument, it worked to solicit the student writer into

a rational consciousness. With the emergence of composition studies

in the 1960s, however, a questioning of the subjectivity of the

writer arose. Along with theory in other disciplines, composition


theory began to radically interrogate the assumed rationality of the

writer. Yet in the midst of this theoretical shift, Faigley notes that

the institutional practices of schooling remain quite unchanged.

Richard Ohmann analyzes these institutional practices with his

survey of fourteen composition textbooks. In English In America: A

Radical View of the Profession Ohmann argues that composition

textbooks work to reproduce the rational, autonomous subject for

political, social, and economic purposes. From his research, Ohmann

concludes that writing is generally taught as "a series of routines"

which "divorce writing from society, need, and conflict."26 Writing

is both taken out of and directed away from social life. Faigley

argues that this push toward rationality is not the work of textbooks

alone, but rather that it is imbedded in a long history of institutional

practices and discourses. For instance, the disciplinary regime of

composition studies involves the preservation of a rational subject

through its writing pedagogy. In spite of certain changes, even

radical theoretical changes, many of the minute practices of

composition studies that work to construct a rational subject have

remained in place.


Ohmann argues that a pseudo-politics runs through the ideas of

writing presented in freshman English textbooks. This pseudo-

politics lays claim to objectivity. "The writer" these books posit

works in the interest of truth and general welfare; economic and

social afflictions do not influence him/her. In the world these books

assume, social choices are made by rational debate in which all

people have an equal voice. Choice is determined by the cooperative

action of all participants while power, and the relations between

ideas and material circumstances, are ignored. Ohmann's analysis

suggests that the ideal language of freshman composition holds

action and conflict at a distance.

How did freshman composition come to be conducted in this

way? In the chapter "Freshman Composition and Administered

Thought," Ohmann points out that in the modern university (as

opposed to the old aristocratic college) English composition was

intended to train American professional and managerial elites.

Historically, the course has had a double focus: select those who

display the verbal signs of the governing class and teach them the

verbal skills necessary for governing. While this double focus was

blurred by other ideals (such as introducing students to literary


culture, teaching the principles of rhetoric, or fighting corruption in

thought and language), Ohmann suggests that the way we present

composition to students still "has something important to do with

how America does politics and makes decisions."27 Writing well

helps students succeed in college not because it teaches students to

be critical and creative, but because it teaches them to be of

service, docile, and limited. Students approach composition classes

as time to be served; composition classes reinforce this expectation

with their focus on tasks like number of words or pages to be


Freshman composition, of course, has seen dramatic changes.

Yet, Ohmann wishes to consider the assumptions that remain

constant to method and style despite the varied history of the

course. He begins with two guiding questions: to what extent is our

work in composition governed by social needs and cultural

assumptions and what do textbook authors propose to do for


Generally, the fourteen textbooks in Ohmann's survey propose

to improve student's writing. This aim is universally stated; writing

is not presented as specific to its circumstances but is rather


presented as Writing, a generalized competence that can be applied

to a variety of situations. In these textbooks, "the" student who

writes is anyone. "'The' student," argues Ohmann, "... is defined only

by studenthood, not by any other attributes. He is classless, sexless

though generically male, timeless. The authors assume that writing

is a socially neutral skill, to be applied in and after college for the

general welfare."28 Writing is not allied with any particular social

end or group of users; it is directed toward the individual student

who is abstracted from society.

Ohmann argues that students often approach composition

courses as a matter of serving time because textbooks address the

students as a homogenized mass of individuals. By "abstracting 'the'

student away from society and history, and in treating composition

as an activity apart from politics, the textbooks very narrowly fix

the students' imagined circumstances and the possibilities for action

there."29 Whereas these textbooks imagine the student to be

someone who is being trained to take up a place in society, a free

citizen, they do not see him/her as being in society now. The student

assumed by traditional composition textbooks is far from socially

constructed; s/he is in fact culturally void. "They see him," argues

Ohmann "as newborn, unformed, without social origins and without

needs that would spring from his origins. He has no history. Hence

the writing he does and the skills he acquires are detached from

those parts of himself not encompassed by his new identity as a

student."30 This student of composition is conceived of as an

individual who acts outside of time and history; s/he acts alone,

never with others for a common purpose. S/he has a past, but no

history; that is, s/he has accumulated unconnected and unpatterned

experiences. These experiences neither connect with one another nor

with what the student does next. This approach individuatess the

student, dividing her experience from that of other people and asking

her to find what is most personal in it. She is to cultivate

uniqueness."31 Textbooks generally ignore the social context or the

politics of style and instead assume that style comes from the

unique individual psyche. They fail to open up the possibilities of

style rising out of difference or alterity (such as race, class, or

gender) so richly developed in recent critical discourse. For Ohmann,

the condescending tone of textbooks testifies to the alienation (a

separation from one's self, estrangement from the fruits of one's

work, and powerlessness) produced by these assumptions.

Keeping with their ahistorical bent, freshman English

textbooks place argument in an idealized setting; they see rational

persuasion as almost the sole means by which people change people.

This type of persuasion is limited to a shoring up of propositions

with the right kinds of support; it depends on lifting the dynamic of

argument out of the lines of arguer and audience. "Generally," writes

Ohmann "they envision no prior alignment of people and forces in

society that cannot be overcome by a well-conducted argument; and,

if they do, they put it under the rubric of 'closed minds', regrettably

beyond the reach of argument."32 Ohmann is careful to point out that

although the ideas concerning argument presented in these textbooks

are not wrong, their appeal to abstract rationality presents a naive

view of how minds are changed:

I don't deny that rational argument plays a role in
changing minds; obviously it does. But to understand how
it does, and within what limits, one must surely consider
how the ideas people have relate to the ideas they need to
have, not because of logic but because of their material
and social circumstances. Argument divorced from
power, money, social conflict, class and consciousness is
pseudoargument. ...

The study of abstractly rational persuasion (a) plays
down materially rooted conflict of interest, (b) supports
the ideology of the open society with decisions
democratically and rationally made by citizens all of


whose arguments have equal chance of success, and (c)
trains students to be skillful at putting into a standard
and 'objective' form arguments in which they have no
great personal stake -- arguments, in fact, that someone
else may have required them to construct.33

In the textbook world, ideas that come from nowhere interact in

arguments; if they are arranged correctly, they change people's


To understand better specifically how the rational subject is

formed and replicated, consider the sections of mainstream

rhetoric (such as The St. Martins Guide or Writing With a Purpose,

two of the most popular textbooks) that teach clarity and coherence.

Ohmann notes that instructions that demand students to use

'definite, specific concrete language' push student writers toward

language use which reproduces immediate experience and away from

language that might be used to transform and understand that

experience or relate it to others. Such instructions clearly have

ideological consequences as clarity and coherence both work to

minimize conflict. The controlling topic sentence functions

similarly. Rhetorics often call on students to use language that

allows them to express unique selfhood. Such an expression

indicates that s/he is a sincere and purposeful writer. Faigley

argues that "the notion that the student writer is a rational,

coherent, and unitary individual"34 follows from the assumption of


Prescribed behaviors such as focus, purpose, and objectivity

not only make the student writer appear to be a rational subject,

they also supply the writer with confidence in his/her own

rationality. Even those textbooks which conceive of writing as

aimed at self-discovery do so in order that the writer might then be

able to move outside the self; this approach teaches the writer how

to objectify him/herself. And, when textbooks address uses of

literacy for social or personal ends in society, they do so to improve

a student's ability to function as an individual -- because democracy

depends on the idea of independent, objective, rational thinking. "The

authors," asserts Ohmann "see their craft functioning within the

status quo. They see the users of that craft as pursuing mainly

individual goals against an unchanging social backdrop."35 Because

the textbooks operate without an analysis of politics and literacy in

a technological society, students are imagined as undifferentiated.

Faigley notes that even "personal disclosure" narratives, which

seem to challenge rational subjectivity (by approaching emotional

excess), are managed by requiring emotional distance. These

autobiographical essays not only assume that individuals possess an

identifiable "true" self and that the true self can be expressed in

discourse, they also assure the reproduction of this concept of self.

The student selves that academic writing allows us to encounter are

selves that achieve rationality and unity by characterizing former

selves as objects for analysis. The student writer's skill in

representing his/her life experiences as complete and

noncontradictory is taken as confirmation that the rational

subjectivity of the author is identical with the autonomous


Furthermore, according to the authors of The St. Martins Guide,

the significance of the personal disclosure narrative is in locating

the "universal experiences of humanity."36 Although these

traditional rhetoric now encourage students to write about

controversial social issues, they moderate responses to these issues

with practices like "emotional distance" which is achieved by

employing "a reasonable tone."37 When instructed to write about

controversial social issues, student writers are instructed to

present both sides of the issue objectively in order to locate the

universal human value that underlies the dispute. This push for

objectivity does not encourage students to question or examine the

assumption that they are rational subjects, instead, it aims for the

presentation of self as reasonable, authoritative, and objective.

Postmodern theories of subjectivity, however, question the

existence of a rational coherent self and the ability of the self to

have privileged insight into its own processes. The emphasis of

assignments that produce academic writing is on writing about

unified and rationalized past experiences rather than confronting the

contradictions of present experience. Schooling has neglected to

adapt its methodologies to the postmodern theories of discipline

studies; the two domains are at odds with one another. Faigley notes

that "to ask students to write authentically about the self assumes

that a unified consciousness can be laid out on the page. That the

self is constructed in socially and historically specific discursive

practices is denied."38 Zin/ography suggests an alternative writing

practice to the autobiographical essay of composition studies. This

alternative method deploys a postmodern theory of subjectivity

through a writing practice by asking: if identity is constructed in

social training, is it possible to learn how to intervene in this


process? Ohmann closes this chapter by asking a question important

to the project at hand:

How would we write our composition manuals to escape
this kind of criticism? Each book would have to define
its audience in quite unaccustomed terms: working class
black students, upper middle-class white students
heading for the professions, etc. Each book would have a
clear social aim, with a twofold job of raising social and
rhetorical awareness (theory) and teaching composition
as social and political practice, seeing the English
classroom and the university as arenas of struggle.39

Inventing Zin/ography invents an answer to Ohmann's closing

question with two experimental fields: the practice of zine writing

and a theory of what to do with such identification, A Lover's

Discourse. This project develops a writing pedagogy which accounts

for the socially constructed subject of cultural studies; it uses

fanzines as one means for doing so in part because of the kind of

subject zines stage.

Zine Subjectivity

In what could be read as a response to Ohmann's call for an

alternative kind of writing, Judith Williamson proposes the fanzine

as a mode of writing which escapes the distanced, disinterested

criticism of academic writing. Her discussion, "Engaging Resistant

Writers Through Zines in the Classroom," articulates the ways in

which zines prompted her to reconsider the subject positions of

student writers in the classroom. Noting that student writers are

often put off by and uninterested in classroom writing assignments,

Williamson suggests that such uninterest is a form of resistance.

Students are often unjnterested not only because academic writing

solicits a disinterested subjectivity but also because classroom

writing assignments have little if nothing to do with their particular

interests. As Ohmann notes, academic writing is usually taken out of

and directed away from the specific experiences of social life. In

some instances, argues Williamson, student uninterest indicates a

social and political resistance to the particularly sterile way in

which writing instruction is institutionalized in American culture.

That is, student uninterest is evidence of the problems articulated

by Ohmann.

Williamson opens her discussion of these problems with an

anecdote concerning her son's recent dismissal from his "Writing

Center." Although uninterested in his classroom experiences with

writing, Williamson's son and his friends were quite interested in

publishing their own zine. She offers the following account:

I was depressed that with all the promise these young
writers held, they were miserable in their English
classes, put off by sentences they had to diagram. As I
observed the social practices of zine-writing, I kept
wondering what would happen if students were
encouraged to work on zine projects in their English
classrooms. Zines seemed to offer one creative solution
for getting students to engage in substantial writing
projects. Zines would offer opportunities for writers to
invest themselves in their writing, to discover the power
of self-motivation.4

While proposing to offer a chance to learn about writing while

writing, talking about writing, getting feedback, and rewriting in a

comfortable non-threatening environment, her son's English class had

really focused on high standards, working up to par, and risking

dismissal for not meeting expectations. This course refused to

account for student interest and instead focused solely on 'The

Research Paper'. Zine writing impresses Williamson because in it

she sees fulfilled the failed promises of her son's English class.

Whereas school failed to engage Williamson's son and his

friends in writing, zines succeeded. Why might this be so?

Williamson argues that "zines offer a lens through which student

writers can examine and practice resistances."41 Borrowing a

distinction from John Timber's text College English, Williamson uses

the term "resistance" to refer to two different modes: students who

are reluctant, based on social position, to question authority and

students who elicit counter-readings of the codes and practices of

dominant culture. Zines offer opportunities to engage resistant

students as well as those who need to learn how to resist because

they offer students a way to contextualize literacy itself as a social

and political construct.

Zines are to literature what off-off-off Broadway is to
theater in New York, avant garde and about as non-
canonical as you can get. They invite strong responses to
both words and graphics, and because they are often
controversial, zines provide a way to raise social
consciousness and ask questions which require students
to think critically about power relationships between
dominant and sub-cultural groups for example.42

Unlike academic writing, which solicits an autonomous rational

subject who is completely individualized, zine writing encourages

writers to stage themselves as socially constructed subjects.

How does a person or a group of people come to write a zine on

a specific subject or series of subjects? In his book Textual

Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture, Jenkins explains

that media viewers become media fans when they are able to draw

media texts into the realm of their lived experiences. "The

difference between watching a series and becoming a fan lies in the

intensity of their emotional and intellectual involvement."43 Fan

writing articulates the process by which program information gets

inserted into ongoing social interactions. Williamson's account of

her son's experience indicates that this process is generalizable

beyond media fandom. While Williamson's son is not a media fan, per

se, he and his friends write their zine around the topics that interest

them; that is, those topics which already constitute their ongoing

social interactions or their identifications. "Through their zines,

they were able to write about what was important to them which

happened to be music, animal rights, vegetarianism, and anarchy

among other topics."44 Williamson suggests in fact that it is

academic writing's suppression of identification, its indifference,

which bores and thus fails her son; fan writing, because it solicits

writing with identification, involves her son both emotionally and


Because zines "can be about anything at all that interests its

writers and readers,"45 zines are a site for postmodern bricolage and

participatory culture. Compared to the distanced disengaged

pedagogy of most composition textbooks, zines offer a resistant

space to that of academic writing because they are characterized by

multiple layers of graphics and text which are often verbally and

visually shocking. And yet, the social process of constructing a zine

often results in the kind of collaboration often theorized, yet rarely

realized, by composition studies. While observing the construction

of her son's zine, Williamson realized that he and his friends

were informally holding their own writer's workshop,
serving as readers for each other and providing each other
with the support and encouragement they weren't getting
in their English classrooms. Through their zines, they
were able to write about what was important to them
which happened to be music, animal rights,
vegetarianism, and anarchy among other topics. They
tried out radical voices, thoughtful voices, humorous
voices, constructing arguments to defend their points of
view, their tasks simultaneously editorial, artistic and
political. They wrote with an awareness of audience,
taking stands on real issues, blending verbal and visual
texts. I watched the zine writers use many other
writerly behaviors including problem-solving techniques
that could only have grown out of critical thought. They
thought through the economics and the logistics of
publication and the politics of publishing. The zine
writers' enthusiasm and attention to detail with their
work provided a sharp contrast to their boredom with

Zines, notes Williamson, are pedagogically useful beyond their

ability to solicit socially constructed subjectivities. Because most

zines are low budget publications, they are easy to manage as

cooperative classroom projects. These texts often respond to

popular culture; they are thus appealing to students; finding a topic

is not difficult. Because zines are participatory in nature and

because they offer blurred boundaries between readers and writers,

they offer sites for reader/writer connections. "Both print and

electronic zines can be flexible and responsive to a variety of

rhetorical situations. Whether they're Whitman or Shakespeare

zines, radical lesbian zines, or fan-zines, what seems to matter

most is the blurring of boundaries between graphics and text, the

ease of self-publication and the heteroglossic quality of writers'

voices."47 Zines practice many of the theories currently offered by

composition studies, particularly as this discipline shifts its

thinking to accommodate electronic literacy. In effect, Williamson's

discussion entails an attempt to bridge the gap between the

humanist subject solicited by academic writing (what she calls

"classroom" writing) and the socially constructed subject theorized

by cultural studies (that is, the one present in our classrooms).

Although she recognizes that zines are hardly a panacea for all

educational problems, Williamson concludes by suggesting that zines

might indeed provide a much needed alternative to what she calls

"classroom" writing:

I'd encourage the timid and the bold to take a look at
zines, to see what these fragmented, often visually and
verbally shocking texts have to offer to students who are
bored and resistant to "classroom" writing. In almost any
form, zines can help a teacher decenter their classroom
and make spaces for students to encounter the other and
to experience their own voices.48

Zines, she suggests, might be adapted as a new writing practice for

the social subject.

Inventing Zin/ography works from the hypothesis that the

correlation between academic writing (print apparatus) and selfhood

enables us to predict a relationship between electronic writing and

its emerging subjectivity. I am working in this speculative zone.

How might education, as an institution, prepare people to deal

effectively with the subjectivity solicited by these new electronic

tools? Inventing Zin/ography responds by designing a specific

practice for the electronic apparatus. This practice, however, does

not consider the electronic tools in isolation. They are considered in


the context in which they are most prolifically used: entertainment.

The media, celebrity culture, and stars are all part of the subject

formation in which zine experiments occur. The star experience

stands in sharp contrast to the principle of authenticity that is the

last vestige of the humanist self. Zin/ography recognizes cultural

theory's implication that the experience of identity manifested in

media stars is coming to everyone. Like stars, we all feel the sense

of complete alienation from the individual autonomous self; we all

recognize the possibility of manipulating the look or image of "self."

Inventing Zin/ography accounts for both sides of the zine equation:

star identity/fan identification, recognizing that the fan constructs

identity in response to the "how-to" guide supplied by the celebrity



1. Grossberg, Nelson, and Treichler, eds., Cultural Studies, (New York:
Routledge, 1992) opening pages.

2. During, Simon "Introduction," The Cultural Studies Reader, (New
York: Routledge, 1993) 6.

3. During, 6.

4. During, 7.

5. During, 11.

6. During, 12.

7. Fiske, Power Plays Power Works, (London: Verso, 1993) 8.

8. During, 15.

9. During, 15.

10. During, 15.

11. John Fiske, Television Culture, (London: Methuen, 1987) 239.

12. DeCordova,Richard, Picture Personalities: The Emergence of the
Star System in America, (Urbana: University of Ilinois Press,1990)

13. DeCordova, 27.

14. Walker, Alexander, Stardom: The Hollywood Phenomenon, (New
York: Stein and Day, 1970) 46.

15. Charles Chaplin, My Autobiography, (New York: Simon and
Schuster, 1964) 192.

16. Walker, 54.

17. Walker, 195.

18. Weber 57.

19. Dyer, Richard, "Charisma," Stars (London: British Film Institute,
1979) 133 .

20. "Charisma," 135.

21. Walker, 239.

22. Walker, 249.

23. Walker, 334.

24. Walker, 360.

25. Dyer, Richard, "A Star Is Born and the Construction of
Authenticity," Heavenly Bodies: Film Stars and Society (New York: St.
Martin's Press, 1986) 32.

26. Richard Ohmann, English In America: A Radical View of the
Profession, (New York: Oxford University Press Inc.,1976) 160.

27. Ohmann, 135.

28. Ohmann, 144.

29. Ohmann, 147.

30. Ohmann, 148.

31. Ohmann, 150.

32. Ohmann, 155.

33. Ohmann, 158-159.

34. Lester Faigley, Fragments of Rationality: Postmodernity and the
Subject of Composition, (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press,
1992) 153.

35. Ohmann, 146.

36. Faigley, 46.

37. Ohmann, 161.

38. Faigley, 127.

39. Ohmann, 171.

40. Judith Williamson. "Engaging Resistant Writers Through Zines in
the Classroom," email to Rhetnet. Online posting. October, 1994.
paragraph 6.

41. Williamson, paragraph 1.

42. Williamson, paragraph 14.

43. Henry Jenkins, Textual Poachers: Television Fans and
Participatory Culture, (New York: Routledge, Chapman, and Hall, Inc.,
1992) 56.

44. Williamson, paragraph 5.

45. Williamson, paragraph 2.

46. Williamson, paragraph 5.

47.Williamson, paragraph 9.

48. Williamson, paragraphl7.



Inventing Zin/ography writes a how-to book for practicing and

inventing electronic literacy specifically in the context of a

networked writing environment -- or the internet as writing

laboratory. The question at hand: how might we adapt the current

practices of academic writing from the technology of the printing

press to that of the computer? For assistance in imagining such a

shift, we might recall the work done in inventing television studies

out of film studies. Although film studies has flourished as an

academic discipline or pursuit since the 1960s, television studies,

which is much younger, owes its birth to the ill-fitted attempt to

apply the methods of film theory and criticism to other audio/visual

media. As the collected authors of Channels Of Discourse point out,

the mechanisms that produce and regulate the production of desire

and meaning in television are quite different from those of


cinema because the apparatus of television is radically different.'

In comparing television to cinema, we see that not only are the

technology and the sites of reception different, but the way in which

the apparatuses hail their spectators or viewers varies for each of

these modes of electronic writing.

Just as the conditions that produce the audio/visual

experience of cinema are not the same in television, neither are

those that produce the textual experience in print and electronic

literacies. For instance, electronic literacy combines the

audiovisual experiences of television with the visual experiences

of print literacy in hypermedia. The experience of reading, viewing,

or listening in hypermedia is different from that of reading,

viewing, or listening to a book, film, or television because the

apparatuses of textual production are different. Recall the shift

from film to television studies. While in some instances film

theories were transferrable, in others, the experiential change

demanded new thinking. Such is the case involving the shift from

print to electronic literacy. This shift involves not only the

experiential differences wrought by the shift from the printing

press as writing's technology of production, but also those wrought

by the shift from film to video to hypermedia. In fact, one way of

thinking through the situation of electronic literacy is to understand

it as the hybridization of alphanumeric and audiovisual


Because my approach to this project is grammatological, I

assume that writing is a social machine. As a social machine,

writing is made manifest by an apparatus; writing occurs within the

constellation of technology, the ideology of subject formation and

institutional practices. For example, where today's academic

writing is concerned, the apparatus of literacy relates the

technology of alphabetic literacy (print) with an ideology of the

individual autonomous subject and the institutional practice of

criticism. Through this constellation, the apparatus manifests

academic writing in the treatise or essay. As Ulmer argues in

Teletheory, the privileging of the essay/treatise is ideological.2

This privilege is promoted by the relationship of print technology to

the notion of the individual subject; the essay/treatise masquerades

as the natural genre for critical thinking when it is but one

invention of writing. The lesson to be learned in the shift from film

to television studies is that the change in apparatus is crucial; the

experiential differences wrought by this change point the way

toward interacting with new literacies. In this spirit, the following

discussion investigates both the print and the electronic

apparatuses of writing so as to trace out the changes introduced by

the shift from one to the other and to begin to invent an answer to

the question: how might we continue the shift from older mediums

of electronic literacy such as film and video to the internet? In the

sections that follow, I elucidate the differences between the

practices of print literacy and the promise of electronic literacy; on

its heels, chapter three takes a closer look at adapting theories of

visual literacy to the work of zin/ography.

Practicing Academic Writing

Although we all 'know it when we see it', it might be useful to

start with a basic description of academic writing. My copy of the

MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers instructs students in

"the logical steps in research and writing -- selecting a topic, using

the library, preparing a working bibliography, taking notes, avoiding

plagiarism, outlining and writing drafts."3 Academic writing is a

stepped process which aims to present information and ideas clearly

and effectively -- that is, logically. The handbook notes that this

process focuses on one central idea (the thesis statement) and

moves linearly and logically from one idea to the next -- all of

which support the central idea (thesis). The thesis statement

shapes information into a unified, coherent whole and makes sure

that the writer (and by implication, the reader) knows where s/he is

heading and that s/he stays on the right track. Outlining helps a

writer account for all important aspects of a subject and focus on

only relevant topics; the connections between ideas must be dear.

The handbook instructs the writer to delete everything that is

irrelevant, unimportant, or repetitive as this information weakens

the paper. Related material should be brought together under general

headings which are arranged so that they flow logically and linearly

one from the other. Logical development, notes the handbook, may

move from the general to the specific or vice-versa. To improve

fluency and coherence, this handbook advises the writer to add

transitions which tell the reader how one sentence or paragraph

relates to another. Finally, the MLA advises the writer to monitor

the degree of subjectivity used in a paper.

In his book, Hypertext: The Convergence of Contemporary

Critical Theory and Technology, George P. Landow illuminates the

history of these practices and the relationship between academic

writing and print technology4. Print, notes Landow, has given us a

conceptual system founded on the ideas of center, margin, hierarchy

and linearity. These ideas are made manifest in the MLA's push

toward a unified coherent whole which stays on track. Off-track or

marginal ideas are deleted. Effective argumentation requires

closure and the abandoning of certain lines of investigation in the

pursuit of unity and coherence. Academic writing is structured by a

numerating linear logic which is made comprehensible by the

features of print technology such as pagination, indices, and

bibliographies. These features not only increase the speed of

information processing and retrieval, they also make scholarship


In Rhetoric and Irony: Western Literacy and Western Lies, C.

Jan Swearingen suggests that the hallmarks of scholarship and

Western thought such as critical distance, objectivity, command

over abstractions, generalizations and logic were invented in

ancient Greece. Whereas grammatological research reveals that

print technology transformed writing practices into a series of

strict rules, the tendencies and characteristics of academic writing

descend from the Greek rhetorical masters. Print technology,

however, intensifies today's particular version of academic writing.

Today's writing practices, argues Swearingen, are actually abstract

manifestations of ancient methods.

What is read and known, tolerated and valued -- the canon
-- undergoes changes from period to period, but what is
done with what is read and known in the schools follows
an increasingly abstracted and codified congregation of
methods: definition, narration, description, analysis,
predication, linear exposition, and logico-argumentative

To begin to understand this situation, we must recall the history and

function of these abstracted and codified methods. The grammar,

rules for predication, and conventions of expository argumentation

by which most academic writing is conducted are descendants of

Aristotelian terms and methods. Considering rhetoric a science,

Aristotle established a series of rules or laws by which

argumentation could be practiced. Imparted by Aristotelian

conceptualizations of logic and rhetoric, the dominant linear,

logical, centered system of academic writing is now completely

naturalized by its pervasive institutionalization. This system

shapes the academic and literary conventions of single author and

single subject work. Aristotelian logic not only fosters today's

highly schematic and analytic logic, but also its formulaic rhetoric,

and the compartmentalization of subjects. Aristotle explicates

these conventions in the Rhetoric by presenting taxonomies and lists

of logical structures as well as lists of the modes of persuasion.

These modes help to direct the choice of subjects and arguments;

they include the speaker's apparent character (ethos), the moving or

changing of the audience's mental attitudes (pathos), and the logical

or apparently logical treatment of the subject (logos). The Rhetoric

goes on to direct the reader in lines of reasoning, treatments of

style, and delivery of words and phrases all of which control the

appearance of character.

The characteristics of academic writing described by the MLA

handbook derive from the humanities' attempt to operate like a

science rather than an art. Borrowed from Aristotle's

departmentalized sciences, today's academic writing practices

represent the humanities' assimilation of empiricism. Academic

writing, imagined to function like scientific proof, tangos between

problem and solution; eliminating all random variables, it traces a

line through a body of information. Like the repeatable (and hence

'true' or correct) scientific experiment, argumentative writing is

designed to produce one predictable effect. Consider these common

practices and characteristics:

1. Logical -- Academic writing masquerades as scientific proof by

allowing its reader to witness in absentia; that is, to witness the

proof of the thing without being there for actual verification.

Logical argumentative proof demonstrates the 'truth' of the highly

abstracted analytic reasoning of academic writing for the reader by

creating the illusion of seeing the proof. Such illusions are created

through logos. Standard writing books instruct that there are two

forms of logos which derive from Aristotelian logic: induction and

deduction. Logic, for writers, is largely a matter of being able to

substantiate inferences drawn from facts which are supported by

other inferences drawn from other facts or general principles.

Inductive reasoning starts with observations of details and ends

with general conclusions; that is, induction reasons from particulars

to general truths. Deductive reasoning works the other way round.


Deduction starts with general knowledge and from there predicts a

specific observation.

As Eugene R. Hammond instructs in his book Teaching Writing,

reasons, evidence, facts, and explanations of cause and effect

relationships are the building blocks of strong arguments.6 The

more facts and general principles an argument covers, the less

vulnerable (i.e., the more persuasive or convincing) it is. Logos is so

highly valued that writers also employ pathos and ethos in such

ways that they are made to masquerade as logos. In an attempt to

help writers monitor the amount of subjectivity they include in

their writing, Hammond suggests that writing teachers encourage

inductive reasoning as it attracts attention to the facts and not to

the writer. This mode of reasoning arouses less envy, threatens

opponents far less, is more polite, and is less easily ignored.

2.Linearity -- By tracing a line of argument through a body of

information, the academic writer can clearly demonstrate the proof

of his/her argument while insuring the reader's arrival at the one

(desired) predictable outcome; the visual representation or spatial

layout of print on a page reinforces this characteristic. For

instance, paragraphing imposes a linear sequence on the reading

process; the paragraph directs the reader's attention through and

asks the reader to think about what has been said thus far before

proceeding. Pagination also directs a reader linearly through a text.

Repetition, however, irritates rather than persuades the reader. The

reader, Hammond suggests, wants to read facts, reason, and evidence

either inductively or deductively; both are linear forms of logic.

3. Centered -- Because extraneous ideas might distract the reader

from the argument at hand and thereby risk losing the reader,

argumentative writing remains centered or focused on one idea.

Centering helps the writer avoid ambiguity by anchoring meaning; it

directs the reader's evaluation of what is an important

consideration and what is not. The reader is encouraged to focus

only on the writer's point of view; centering discourages him/her

from considering other ideas, lines of thought, or tangents. Print

technology allows for closer inspection and reinspection of the

argument (as it is fixed in time and space) and thus reveals

distracting tangents as fallacious attempts at manipulation.

Academic writing furthers the illusion that the reader is

observing proof of its argument via attention to detail. By centering

of the line of discourse, the writer once again encourages the reader

to feel that s/he is witnessing proof of the argument no matter

where s/he is. In this context, centering the discourse of academic

writing provides a manageable means of dealing with highly

abstracted thinking by creating the illusion that the reader is

merely talking to him/herself. Single authorship and continuity

supplement this function by protecting the illusion of realism.

4.Hierarchy -- Hierarchical page layout, like linearity, represents to

the reader the power relationships between main text and notes.

Information that may or may not be relevant (depending on reader's

apriori knowledge of a subject) is separated from the main text and

relegated to notes. The hierarchy of main text to notes also furthers

the powerful effects of centering.

5. Distanced -- Because a writer always reveals him/herself when

s/he writes, s/he needs to concentrate on constructing a

trustworthy ethos, writer's image, or professional presentation.


Modeled on the sciences, a trustworthy writer is one who appears to

be objective or unbiased; thus a trustworthy writer maintains a

certain critical distance. By effacing the writer from the writing,

critical distance creates the illusion of objectivity and

impartiality; such distance suggests to the reader that the

information presented is Truth (or fact) rather than opinion. As

Hammond notes, to eliminate voice is to achieve objectivity because

a writer's distinctive voice detracts from his/her reliability.

Pathos, a writer's use of his/her sense of audience, can also be

used to construct a sense of critical distance. Most writing books

advise students to minimize the possibility of stirring up violent

emotions in the reader. Deploying pathos through the use of proper

grammar and punctuation, however, is encouraged as such usage puts

the reader at ease. Also, misuse of grammar and punctuation

destroys the writer's ethos or reliability (because, if s/he doesn't

know to use proper grammar and punctuation -- tasks which are

considered easy -- s/he may not know anything else).

6. Coverage -- In argumentative writing, coverage creates the

illusion that all variables have been investigated or tested; for the

humanities, this illusion translates into appeals to authority and

precedent as means of early defense. Hammond suggests that

successful writers appear to be trustworthy because they take care

to substantiate all claims and because they take into account the

potential reader's emotions. The successful writer covers each of

the Aristotelian modes (ethos, pathos, and logos) in an attempt to

direct the reader's thinking.

Print Literacy

These six practices work together with print technology to

create the general effect that academic writing represents a kind of

scientific knowledge. This representation is print literacy. The

uniformity and repeatability of print reinforce critical distance by

creating the impression that academic writing is independent and

unaffected by human agency. Skepticism, a standing back and

looking at, separates the knower from the known. This

objectification of knowledge severs the knower from the known and

constitutes the known as an object. Thus, critical distance

simulates analytic reflection. The written code also constructs a

positioning of the self in relation to others. For instance, science

and the scientific mode of writing demand an impersonality which

foregrounds 'topic' and backgrounds 'writer/subject'. By effacing

human subjects, the 'objective' science mode of academic writing

focuses on the objects of attention through rhetorical devices such

as the 'If ... then' hypothesis and agentless prose. In Social

Semiotics, Robert Hodge and Gunter Kress argue that

the possibility of assuming that position (of detached
observer/recorder) has important consequences for the
writer as subject, who need not be involved, who can be
and is 'objective' and distanced. The requirements of the
topic, the issue at hand, have become foremost. This kind
of impersonality is what is demanded by science and the
scientific mode.7

Such writing carefully constructs the writer's place as non-

existent; the goal is to create the impression that anyone could have

authored such writing, thus the writing is objective rather than

subjective. For academic writing, the text-object is the all

important thing; student writers must carefully learn to efface

themselves from the text.

With the introduction of printing, the Aristotelian conventions

of writing become even more abstract. It is through this process of

further abstraction that we inherit the highly codified version of


academic writing we know today. Grammatologists such as Marshal

McLuhan and Walter Ong argue that print education fosters an

abstraction of self through introspection and individualism.

Because print stresses a fixed point of view for the independent

reader, it promotes the idea of individualism. Without a fixed

technology of writing, consciousness would not have reached the

highly interiorized stages we now know. Reading and writing, as a

kind of consciousness raising, foster the kinds of analytic

production of knowledge upon which today's academy is founded.

Without this highly developed form of introspection, dissertations

are an impossibility. Print technology stands in direct relationship

to the ideology of the individual who, as an autonomous subject of

knowledge, is self-conscious and capable of rational decisions. As

such, the practice of critique is the practice of distance and rigor

which is manufactured in the treatise or essay and, what is often

considered "scientific" or "objective" is no more than the adoption of

rhetorical codes and established approaches to composition (i.e.,

ideology). Seen in this light, "scholarly" is no more than a normative

term which stands for a certain set of rules or a system of

academic validation.

Ground from this material, "the lenses of our scholarly

spectacles have fostered myopia," notes Swearingen, "'rigor' has

obscured simultaneities by insisting on focus -- on one subject or

issue -- as subjects or issues are divided into fields and

subdivisions."8 Aristotle's rhetoric, logic, and formalized thesis-

proof mode insure a separation of subject from subject and person

from person. Hence the charge that academic writing is masculinist

and patriarchal. By repressing the personal, the subjective and by

banishing the multiple and the connected in favor of the singular,

the linear, and the objective, academic writing reflects patriarchal

power structures and male socialization. Modeled on the paradigm

of patriarchal power, the scholarly dictums of specificity and

thoroughness have made it difficult to consider investigating

multiple points of intersection. For instance, Hammond argues that

the common ways of organizing material work effectively in writing

because they are the natural patterns with which we think. We

perceive such writing as naturally systematic. For the purposes

of this project, however, I suggest that because of its ideological

nature, we are made to believe that the Aristotelian model is the

natural model and hence the only model for academic writing.

The structure of main text to notes and indices reveals the

power relationship that exists between 'authors' (or more precisely,

between authors and editors). "The Author" of a work arranges his

(gender intentional) ideas in larger print at the center of the page.

The work of other authors or editors is relegated to smaller print

and arranged either at the bottom of the page or on pages which

follow the main text; such an arrangement encourages readers to

view this other writing as less important (hence my students' desire

to skip these notes). The fixity of print suggests that power lies

with writers who are autonomous individuals, not readers. This

feature of print literacy encourages the concept that writing and

ideas are property to be possessed. The author/owner maintains

rights over the use of that property;s/he guards its uniqueness.

Academic writing engenders these notions of authorial property and

authorial uniqueness because printing is costly and labor-intensive.

Furthermore, the concept of plagiarism clearly establishes the

boundary and difference between reader and writer. In Singular

Texts/Plural Authors: Perspectives on Collaborative Writing, Lisa

Ede and Andrea Lunsford argue that the assumptions that writing is

inherently a solitary individual act and that the written idea is

intellectual property suggest a traditional patriarchal construction

of authorship and authority.9 As intellectual property, the written

idea masquerades as independent agent when in actuality, scholarly

articles situate themselves within a field of relations. The print

medium, however, keeps these connections out of site because the

referenced materials are often spatially distant from the references

to them.

Hodge and Kress argue that school's meticulous attention to

and control over the 'correct' forms of production and reproduction

of cultural meanings distinguishes it as a site for the semiotic

processing of subjects. Through this processing, students learn that

'production' is highly valued over reproduction; production means

control, mastery, and authenticity. It is the paradox of education,

however, that the most valued student writer is the one who most

accurately reproduces the 'correct' forms of academic writing and is

thus constrained and confined to reproduction whereas the least

valued student writer is the most active and productive text-maker.

In representing itself, education projects a contradictory message

about creativity and constraint. In print education, learning focuses

on verification. We test students to verify whether or not they have


assimilated the information stored in books. The mode of academic

writing described above asks students to demonstrate through the

logic of cause and effect argumentation what is already known

rather than to invent something new. Composition courses verify

students' knowledge of the poetics of academic writing by testing

their mimicry of argumentative essays. Because print education is

organized around the drive towards verification, teachers as writers

are configured as the ones who know while students as readers are

conceived as receptacles of knowledge. Our relationships to

language are configured as either reader or writer. Students learn

to write critical essays, but not how to produce the theories on

which the humanities bases such criticism. Print education works

with the product of the reasoning process while ignoring the process

itself and thereby effectively suppresses other ways of learning.

Because it focuses mostly on the problem of creating and

disseminating static and unchangeable records of language, print

education is directive rather than inventive; it reasons with a linear

cause-and-effect logic, rather than an associative analogic.

As Hodge and Kress demonstrate, although the thinking of

contemporary criticism in the humanities marks a departure from

the thinking of traditional (or prestructuralist) criticism, the

performance or presentation of it does not. The institutional

practice of contemporary criticism in writing, its design, remains

the same as that of traditional criticism -- a situation that seems

odd, at best, given the radical epistemological differences between

the two approaches. Consider the theoretical split between

traditional and contemporary criticism:

the object of study is considered to be
a unified work

emphasizes the autonomy of the art

the 'object of study' is
considered to be
a text; that is, an
intersection of a
complex web of codes
and conventions

between texts and the
conventions underlying
specific textual

artist centered

looks to great art to reveal enduring
truths about the world

conceives of meaning as a property
of an art work
of an art work

functions to establish what a work
means, to separate literature from
non-literature, and to erect a hierarchy
of great works
means, to separate literature from
non-literature, and to erect a hierarchy
of great works

foregrounds the
contexts within
which authorship
occurs and the forces
that circumscribe it

considers the worlds
worlds constructed
within texts

views meaning as the
product of the
engagement of a text
by a reader or by
groups of readers

examines criteria by
which those in a
position to define
literature make which
determinations and
expands the scope of
greatness amond
works in literary
studies to include
both non-literature
and critical discourse
about texts

If contemporary criticism questions the premises and theoretical

methods of traditional criticism so radically, why do the methods of

presentation or the practice of writing contemporary criticism,

which I would argue serve to reinforce the thinking of traditional

criticism, remain the same? Why is the disciplinary shift to

contemporary criticism institutionalized by school with the same

abstract and codified methods developed by the ancient Greeks?

The charge that academic writing is patriarchal and

masculinist issues forth from the controlling characteristics listed

above. As Hodge and Kress note, these qualities strive to suppress

difference and promote sameness in an attempt to appear objective

and rational. The institutionalization of these characteristics

results in their conversion to Law. As the Aristotelian logic of

academic writing becomes too restrictive or overly abstract,

however, it prompts revolt. Swearingen argues that literacy is in a

state of crisis which may be viewed as a turning point in (rather

than as the latest downfall of) Western civilization; it is as a

turning point that this crisis both attracts and demands our

attention. Acknowledging the powerful pervasiveness of the

ideological positioning of academic writing Hodge and Kress assert


it is essential to understand how consumers/readers are
positioned as a result of their entry into semiosis:
ranging from fully aware readers who are able to

(re)construct texts for their own purposes, to readers
who are relatively at the mercy of the text's positioning
of its readers.10

Readers who (re)construct texts practice an alternative to academic

writing. As we shall see in chapter four, fan writers are amateur

writers who are highly skilled at (re)constructing texts for their

own purposes. By appropriating practices from fan writing,

zin/ography teaches student writers (who literally are amateur

writers) such skills in the interest of puzzling out a question: if

the practice of writing is a key stage in the ideological formation of

all individuals in contemporary society (as grammatologists have

extensively argued) might different practices of writing effect

different ideological formations?

Electronic literacy will not emerge automatically because of a

shift in technology. As the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research

Papersl2 demonstrates, the discipline currently sees computer

literacy as a faster, more efficient version of print literacy. The

handbook's section "Using a Word Processor" focuses on using the


computer to copy, merge and delete files in the interest of

increasing accuracy and efficiency. Such an approach fails to

understand academic writing as a form of literacy and thus as a

social machine. I propose that electronic school alters the

configuration of the apparatus of writing. No longer is print the

technology of writing, but rather computers take its place, a

postmodern subject replaces the autonomous individual and thus,

new institutional practices of writing need inventing. As a new

technology of writing, computers suggest different practices for

writing as they foreground different concepts of literacy and

learning. Inventing Zin/ography takes electronic school, not as its

object, but as its cause and accepts the challenge by inventing a new

practice of writing for electronic schools.

Electronic School

Zin/ography is a method for teaching literacy in an electronic

school -- a new phenomenon in education which manifests itself in

the humanities as the networked writing environment (this

environment exploits the tools of hypermedia, computers, and the


internet for the practice of writing). In this environment we learn,

teach, study, and research electronic literacy. The pedagogical

experiment zin/ography looks to these various interfaces as both

archives and mediums of production. Zin/ography is concerned with

electronic literacy because as computers alter the way many people

read, write, and think, the nature of literacy itself undergoes

crucial transformations. In homes and schools, market and

workplaces, computers are reshaping the environments in which

language is learned, produced, and practiced and thus the politics of

literacy are shifting. "Networks," note Ann Hill Duin and Craig

Hansen "provide one means of reorganizing classrooms and

workplaces to situate literacy within the control of writers and

workers."12 Zin/ography practices a new cultural literacy which

blurs the roles and attitudes between expert and novice, boss and


Electronic school, as defined by this project, refers to a

networked writing environment which uses the internet as a writing

lab. The internet, an expansive network of computers originally

designed by the US defense industry to decentralize operations

during the Cold War, is now an international network of computers

which supports many different user interfaces. Such interfaces

include, but are not limited to, e-mail, newsgroups, the World Wide

Web, and MU*s. What are these interfaces? What are their

characteristics? Consider the following descriptions:

1. E-mail -- modeled on a postal metaphor, electronic mail is an

internet communication system which allows users to send text-

based information to other users. Most e-mail exchanges use an

"informal" style of writing; that is, they are modeled on the chatty

discourse of personal phone calls or letters rather than the

objective, staid discourse of academic writing. Articles and

treatises, however, are sometimes disseminated via e-mail. Unlike

phone calls, e-mail is an asynchronous form of communication;

messages are stored to be read later.

2.Newsgroups -- Newsgroups, another form of asynchronous

communication, are also known metaphorically as electronic

bulletin boards, a description which illuminates their function.

Newsgroups are usually topical, but can be visited by anyone with an

internet connection who chooses to subscribe. The name of the

newsgroup itself usually describes its topic, for instance, a

newsgroup called focuses its discussion on

Courtney Love (tangents, however, are a rule). Comments or

questions which are posted to newsgroups are available for all to

see and respond to, should they so choose. Every few days,

overloaded newsgroups automatically purg old messages or posts.

3. World Wide Web -- The World Wide Web (or WWW) is modeled on

the metaphor of a spider's web. In practice, this metaphor only fits

loosely. The documents on the web are not symmetrically ordered or

linked as are the threads of a spider's web. The WWW consists of

many interlinked (hypertextually linked) documents which are

composed of text, images (both still and moving), and/or sound.

Collectively authored, the WWW is continually modified by its users

who are free to construct documents and link them to various other

documents on the web. The WWW, like e-mail, uses a system of

addresses to link documents. Each link is not in any imaginable way

like a physical link, but rather like a set of directions which tell the

user's computer where to go to access a copy of the linked document.

When a user activates a link on the WWW, his/her computer calls up

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