Greg Ulmer, whom I've never heard of before this (am I ignorant? Very well, then, I am ignorant. I am large, I am hella ignorant.), gave a presentation called "Writing Multimodalities within Literacy and 'Electracy': A Converstion with Gregory Ulmer." Several acolytes spoke, too, and posed a question to Ulmer. He's been around awhile--he got a Ph.D. in comparative literature with Robert Scholes at Brown in 1972. His books include Electronic Monuments (forthcoming from U of Minn. Press this year); Internet Invention: from Literacy to Electracy (2003, Longman); Heuretics: the Logic of Invention (1993, Johns Hopkins); Teletheory: Grammatology in the Age of Video (Routledge, 1989; 2nd ed., 2004); and Applied Grammatology: Post(e)-pedagogy from Jacques Derrida to Joseph Beuys. For a look at the kinds of things he does--including visually-rich genres he's come up with--check out this website: http://web.nwe.ufl.edu/~gulmer/ (if you click on the picture of the man behind the words "Florida Research Ensemble," you'll reach material about Ulmer himself).
His talk will be podcast, I believe, at this web address:
First of all, this was a very interesting, engaging, and exciting presentation. Second of all, from trying to summarize it to others even immediately afterward, I realized that I can only give a very marginal account of the presentation as a whole. So I encourage anyone who's interested in visual rhetoric to look at the presentation directly.
A couple of what were, to me at least, big ideas:
The Greeks, when they invented written language--a phonetic alphabet--invented a technology/tools (alphabet, writing); an institution, the school; and new forms of identity emerged from this fusion of technology and institution, which is to say that the Greeks moved from being a tribal, primarily oral culture, to a city-based, citizen-oriented, written culture. Ulmer notes that "ever feature of this apparatus was invented," and that we need to do the same for the visual language that surrounds us. As heirs of Aristotle, we need to take up and examine, and to a large extent, create, the apparatus--we need "to seek what they (the Greeks) sought."
He calls fluency in the visual "electracy,"--"it may not be a great word, but it's my word," he said--and says it's not just about the media, which is at this point the only apparatus we have. It's not just the digital equipment. An electrate citizenry will have a rhetoric, a logic, and a poetics to work with visual language. (For the Derrideans: you can see in the word "electracy" both the idea of electricity and Derrida's "trace.")
He thinks we need to resuscitate the idea of heuretics--the idea of using theory to invent (opposed to hermeneutics, use of theory to interpret). You can see an implicit critique here of forms of writing that merely ask students to interpret visual language; he envisions students of the rhetoric for an image technology as being able to invent and compose in that language.
Ulmer feels optimistic about the sound-image-color-motion saturation of our culture, and here's why: he feels like this maps very well to the features of the creative mind (as opposed to the hierarchical, linear, analytic organization of the left brain, which is most of what school is). He says that electracy, from the point of view of literacy, looks like a nightmare, like destruction; he argues that it will be not the destruction of literacy but its transformation.
Listen, there was a ton more, even though I realize I'm sounding like I've joined a cult. But I am going to get a book and read it, and I am going to try to find out more. However, I'm not drinking the Kool-Aid, at least not today.