Visual/Verbal Integration #2: Academic
Writing as Grunge
The February, 1997 issue of College Composition and Communication announced an interesting experiment. Geoff Sirc's article, "Never Mind the Tagmemics, Where's the Sex Pistols?" would be published simultaneously in the traditional print journal format of CCC and in the online format of PRE/TEXT.electralite. The textual content is identical in the two versions. One of the principal differences, however, is that the online version attempts to communicate the meaning of the article both through words and through visual media, whereas the print version is purely verbal. To reduce Sirc's rollicking argument to a simple sentence or two, the article is a discussion of how the rebellious mood within composition studies in the 1960s gave way to the staid process orientation of the 1970s. Sirc demonstrates how Comp 68 was closer in spirit to the zeitgeist of Punk rock, than Comp 77, although Comp 77 was Punk's contemporary. Although Sirc wrote the article and has the byline in the PRE/TEXT version, it's probably more accurate to say that the piece is co-produced by Sirc and Vitanza, since Vitanza prepared the article for the Web.

The visual elements I want to note in the Web version of the Sex Pistols article, are the use of layout and typography. The text uses a number of visual effects including color (the screen background, for example, is lime green), enlarged type, unusual screen layout (you scroll across, not down), and indentation to highlight certain points in the article. One effect of the background color and typography is to disrupt the reading process. The lime green background creates considerable noise, and it's difficult to move in and out of the large or other-colored text.



Figure 1: from "Never Mind the Tagmemics"

Because it's almost impossible not to skip from one highlighted section to another, in a sense the reading process is "delinearized." Another effect is that the highlighted text provides a kind of map through the material, an interpretation, a gloss on what this piece is really about. For example, at one point, in describing the nihilism of punk, Sirc asks, "What about the rhetoric of the middle finger?".



Figure 2: from "Never Mind the Tagmemics"

In the print version, this phrase is deeply buried in the text, in the middle of the article, in the middle of a long paragraph. In the online version, you can see how it is treated. While the in-your-face graphics of the sex pistols article is a bit of a visual cliché, it's an appropriate cliché for a discussion of an in-your-face musical/cultural movement. It too resembles pop-up video in that the original genre, academic writing, is destabilized and begins to look like something else - maybe a grungy beer advertisement or an entertainment zine.
Looking AT and looking THROUGH
The Visual as Invisible in Online Journals
Visual/Verbal Integration #1: Webtext as Visual Text
Visual/Verbal Integration #2: Academic Writing as Grunge
Visual/Verbal Integration #3: Visual Structure and the Online Journal
  Works Cited