Don’t Stop at Paper! (Rebecca Black, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and the Rhetoric of Cool)

If you have become a regular reader of our little blog, you know that we’ve posted about We Put Words On Paper’s first live event, SXSCongress Literary Celebration, several times on our site (HereHere. And Here. The Austin Chronicle wrote about the event here). So I’m not going to retread the awesome night in this post, but instead wish to discuss a personal revelation I experienced as a result.

As with any good epiphany, the seeds subtly planted themselves, unbeknownst to me, several years ago. We’re talking college, where I studied Rhetoric and Writing, in which, one of my favorite courses was Writing in Digital Environments, lovingly renamed by the professor, Inventing Electracy. I’m not going to explain the theories behind electracy, because frankly, it’s all very confusing and took an entire semester to barely scratch the surface (Check out the wikipedia page, if after reading this post you find you’re interested). Basically, electracy is:

“ . . . to digital media what literacy is to print.”

– Gregory Ulmer

The theories that form electracy are an attempt to best exploit the multimedia world we live in. What does it mean for communication when we have real-time interactive platforms that incorporate video, art, text, audio . . . ALL media into one interface? Thus far, many of these theories lack a significant amount of practical application, but they really captured my imagination at the time. So much so, that for fun, I read supplementary materials, the best of which was Jeff Rice’s book, The Rhetoric of Cool: Composition Studies and New Media. In his book, he extrapolates on the theories behind electracy and provides some strategies for communicative application, revolving around his points of chora, appropriation, juxtaposition, commutation, nonlinearity, and imagery. Here’s a taste:

Rice explains that cool can be understand [sic] in terms of chora: an argumentative strategy in which different meanings are associated and placed in tension in order to produce discourse.

– Clay Spinuzzi (For more info, check out his review of Rice’s work)

Most of Rice’s theories revolve around the same basic notion, that different pieces of media provide various meanings. His goal lies in exploiting that multiplicity for rhetorical gain. My take away was to basically look at each piece of media the same way that a DJ looks at music. Chop. Remix. Reappropiate. Reinterpret.  Utilize familiarity, but make/say something new. This happens all the time on Youtube. For instance,  look to the most recent meme, Rebecca Black and her video, “Friday”:

Deemed by some as the worst song ever written, it has spawned a flood of musical covers. has compiled an exhaustive list. Check ’em out.

My favorite cover:

It doesn’t stop there. Spoof videos with rewrites:

Then, we are given juxtaposition of previous media to create new meaning:



The juxtaposition of previous media along with integrated commentary:


I could do more . . . but you get the idea. So what does all this have to do with We Put Words On Paper’s Literary Celebration and my personal revelation?

Two Tuesdays ago, we put on a live literary reading. Various writers read their material: short stories, flash fiction, poems, and multimedia creative non-fiction. I’m very proud of the event, formed on a whim, and thrown together in only three days. It was a great learning experience and provided me with a base to build on in pursuit of better performance abilities.

We streamed the event live via We recorded the audio. We have multiple pictures. We have other video clips from the event. We plan to use these various media in the traditional way, simply providing a document of the fun time we had.

But what if we could do more?

As writers, we are often very hung up on getting our work published: the traditional route. When we go that route, our work may one day be adapted into a film, a comic book, children’s lunch pails, etc. There are no guarantees and inevitably, unless you are J.K. Rowling, you will not have creative control of those new manifestations.

But, stepping away from the business of writing for a moment and embracing the creativity and art of writing with an open mind, we could realize various interpretations of our work. Perhaps, even use the methods discussed above, ourselves, to create and discover new meaning in our work.

When reading my written words aloud to an audience, I am introducing that story into a new medium and with it, new considerations follow, like performance quality. The reading is an artistic instance in and of itself, but it is also recorded in video and audio, providing an array of new contexts and meanings. I could take that audio and remix it into a podcast. The video could become a commercial for future We Put Words On Paper events or could be remixed into another work. I could create fumetti comics by combining the images from that night with my written work. With every new context and medium, my work takes on a new and, for me, fascinating meaning. In the future, I could orchestrate readings with this fluidity of my work’s purpose and meaning in mind, creating new ways of conveying the written word.

I could share my work with other artists and invite them to do the same. Joseph Gordon Levitt’s website is already a platform for doing exactly that. Here he is explaining the exciting process:

The possibilities are endless. Usually, our work has direct meaning, form, or purpose and the measure of its success is how effectively that meaning is communicated, but in a new and social media, meaning and form are fluid. Perhaps, creating towards that intention is the best way to communicate with the world–with your audience.

In the interest of brevity, as this may be the longest post on this site, so far, I’ll sum up my revelation in one sentence: we put words on paper, but that doesn’t mean that’s where we stop.


About bneyut

I put words on paper.
This entry was posted in advice from other authors, Event, original advice, original writings, rant, Reading and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Don’t Stop at Paper! (Rebecca Black, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and the Rhetoric of Cool)

  1. Jorge says:

    Totally true and well said. The world and it’s tradition’s will have to adapt to Electracy.

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