For some time now, as a matter of fact, here and there, by a gesture and for motives that are profoundly necessary, whose degredation is easier to denounce than it is to disclose their origin, one says "language" for action, movement, thought, reflection, consciousness, unconsciousness, experience, affectivity, etc. Now we tend to say "writing" for all that and more: to designate not only the physical gestures of literal pictographic or ideographic inscription, but also the totality of what makes it possible; and also, beyond the signifying face, the signified face itself. And thus we say "writing" for all that tends to give inscription in general, whether it is literal or not and even if what it distributes in space is alien to the order of the voice: cinematography, choreography, of course, but also pictorial, musical, sulptural "writing." One might also speak of athletic writing and with even greater certainty of military or political writing in view of the techniques that govern those domains today. All this to describe not only the system of notation secondarily connected with these activities but the essence and content of these activities themselves.

- Jacques Derrida, Of Grammatology, 1967
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Why Theory? Affordances and Constraints

Theory is a loaded term, particularly in academic environments. It means different things to different pe​ople in different communities. So much so that different theorists' names take on added meaning. Just as pop icons carry semiotic weight, so too do theorists and philosophers.

Coming from the ancient Greek word, φεωρία, "a looking at, viewing, contemplation, speculation, theory, also a sight, a spectacle" (OED).
Theory can be seen as resisting modes, which are more action oriented and imply a position already taken, or theory may also be seen as a mode itself. Theory is often contrasted against praxis, or the implementation of a theory. But it is especially important to consider theory as a position-centering space from which one can approach different modes of communication.

Theory often moves slowly. By taking a step back, one does not buy the latest technology, one risks being “behind the times.” That is one of its constraints. It can be obtuse and difficult to understand. It takes a certain patience to understand the language. Because of this, it may appear to be elitist, and people will not always engage with it. Oftentimes, theoretical writing intentionally resists the kind of easy-to-ingest packaging and audience-centered writing we find on the internet and in commercial spaces.

We live in a time where there is much blurring of the distinction between production and consumption. Everyone with access to the internet becomes an author, producer, writer, consumer, audience, filmmaker, etc. It is interesting to consider, at the biological level, when are we ever not both producing and consuming?
What happens when we think of our bodies as both tools for inscribing and places of inscription? Does that sound like self-helpy fluff-talk? Why has the past century seen such an explosion in self-help books, programs, etc.? Why are tattoos so common in America today?

Theory helps us develop frames for these conditions, and what at one time may appear obtuse or be hard to understand may, over time, seem quite reasonable. In the quotation above by Jacques Derrida from 1967, a notoriously difficult theorist, seems to quite accurately describe multimodality as it relates to notions of writing.

I am particularly interested in ways of conceiving gestures as writing. Derrida speaks of athletics. Are Tai Chi, Pilates, and yoga kinds of writing? What about a quarterback’s plan? What about Bruce Lee’s Tao of Jeet Kune Do, which emphasizes the use of improvisation to integrate different martial arts forms?
While a constraint of theory is that it can sometimes make different things like writing an essay and planning a trip to the gym sound similar, one of its main affordances is its ability to provide a place for integrating knowledge.

At the basic level of any compositional process is the distinction between form and formlessness. In a way this is akin to ways we think about life and death. Bodies only last so long. We can tweak our medical skills to live longer and more healthy lives, but no one has yet escaped mortality. Time ultimately imposes form.

Technology Resources

Your brain and anything it can come up with.

Recommended Reading

Baudrillard, Jean. Simulations. 1983.

Derrida, Jacques. Of Grammatology. Trans. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 1974.

Jenkins, Henry. Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide. 2006

Kress, Gunter. Multimodality. London: Routledge, 2010.

Harvey, David. Spaces of Hope (2000)

-----------------Spaces of Capital: Towards a Critical Geography

Ong, Walter. Orality and Literacy. 1982.

Assignment Ideas and Initial Projects

1. Pick your favorite band, artist, writer, or filmmaker. Write a short description of his or her style and personaility. What makes his or her work unique or distinctive? In a medium other than the original work, try to recreate that work by employing the characteristics of that artist.

Theory in Action: Examples / Links

Consider Anthony Braxton's musical compositions:

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Bruce Lee's Jeet Kune Do:

Consider Christian Marclay's Record Playing:

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Michael Wesch's Anthropological Introduction to youtube:

Consider John Zorn's Musical Composition Cobra:
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