This video was performed at the 2017 Computers and Writing Conference. An earlier version was presented at the Modern Language Association Convention in 2016. Although the piece contains traditional academic sources delivered through textual excerpts and spoken words, a good deal of sonic and visual materials add creative layers. The video also includes a song written to interpret the poem "The Red Wheelbarrow" by William Carlos Williams, which plays in the second half of the piece.
The video contains footage from an online interview with Geoff Sirc, presented as thumbnail-sized, talking head segments. A number of quotations are also integrated into the video, either as images or as live typing. The video also includes mobile phone footage that captures the author presenting the piece. And the composition includes a recording of a projector casting imagery on a guitar, as well as other video layers that capture the recording setting.
00:00 Title on screen: "Happening Scholarship: A Response to 'The Red Wheelbarrow' Daniel Anderson UNC-Chapel Hill email@example.com @iamdan." The faint image of Anderson hunched over a laptop appears on screen, then fades. Typing begins: "So much depends / upon // a red wheel / barrow // glazed with rain / water // beside the white / chickens." The text appears, gradually, in a column in the middle of the screen, overlaid on a partially legible quote about teaching. A video of a man speaking appears simultaneously in the bottom left corner, accompanied by a caption: "Geoffrey Sirc, University of Minnesota." The figure begins speaking: "So, and this is like Longinus, you know, we don't want to persuade people when we write. What we want to do is blow their head off, and you know I get that: we want to amaze them. And so that leads Longinus to talking about the rhetorical figures. And those little snippets in those Marilyn Manson . . ." Sirc's voice trails off.
00:26 The poem scrolls in opaque font along the right of the screen, bits of criticism or speculation appear in browser windows, and an opaque video of Anderson delivering the narration is visible. The narrator begins to speak: "Geoff Sirc loves Longinus—and those short snippets that lead to the sublime. One of my favorites snippets is 'The Red Wheelbarrow,' by William Carlos Williams. The poem has been called a Rorschach's blot for the way it evokes the whole metaphysical project. What is it that depends? Anything. And everything."
00:53 A cursor is typing on screen: "The opening is based upon a rhetorical trick, a question left hanging. 'So much of what?'" An email is briefly visible, as is Anderson in a small video window in the bottom left. As web browsers and an image of an acoustic guitar, pictured on a laptop, appear on screen, the narration continues: "The structure of the poem whets our anticipation with the enjambed, 'so much depends'—pause—'upon,' white space. Then the piece pulls back with particulars that border on the banal. It's driven the critics nuts. Some say the poem is about labor. Some say, the modern condition. But my favorite: 'a certain cast of light.'"
01:24 The voice of Geoff Sirc is heard, his face slightly visible in the top right. On screen, raindrops fall and condense in small puddles, layered on text and images of grass. Sirc says: "You know the way that I would do, you know, a happening classroom, because you know, I mean students come in and immediately it's a different atmosphere. That's what you want. You want to just change the atmosphere in the room so that they're not breathing the same old college-expectation atmosphere. It's a different climate and, you know, ah, so, so there."
01:44 A video of the author delivering a presentation is visible on the right, along with a screenshot of an email message and an excerpt from an article that reads: "Official composition has persisted as a bland, sanitized pedagogy, teaching clear, correct, citation-based essay form to students, using a literarily thin corpus of nonfiction readings as prompts. This is so limited, it's unbearable. If you want to find the stuff in the field that really glitters, you've got to root through the discard heap. Your history has to be alternative or, as Byron Hawk calls his, 'counter.'" The author's voice is occasionally doubled, overlapped with another version of the same narration: "Viewing the poem as about a 'cast of light' and thinking about atmosphere leads us to the theoretical portion of this alternative response. Happenings can't be uncoupled from their space and time. They are atmospheric events, like the weather, like compositions."
02:06 Geoff Sirc begins speaking again and appears on screen. The video of Anderson lecturing is still visible on the right of the screen, his voice at times layered with Sirc's: "Let's spend like a day on the sonnet and let's just marvel at this, you know. Or whatever, because, you know, it's just . . . language I think is what's, is what's for me happening."
02:20 A block of text commenting on the discipline of "composition" or "first year writing" appears on screen. The narrator continues: "So now we've linked composing with the weather. We just need to add chickens. Let's start with a scene outside of a window."
02:30 An image of a laptop screen appears, and then the scene pans up to show a view of grass and trees outside of a window. The narrator continues: "This is looking out from my house on the front yard. And now let's add some trickery. This is my laptop set up to record a performance of some music. And a projector set up to cast images of moving hands upon the surface of a guitar as the music plays."
02:52 On screen, windows show a projector, a red guitar, wheat, and a video of moving hands. The narrator continues: "Now let's add a video of those moving hands. And let's add some moving wheat with a certain cast of light. Let's gather ourselves. Let's breathe in deeply. And breathe out together. Let's see what happens."
03:21 On screen, images of moving hands, a guitar, a scene outside of a window, and wheat are shuffled. A hand appears in the image of the guitar and places a mobile phone in front of the guitar, filming outward. The hand begins strumming the guitar and music plays.
03:40 The narrator begins singing: "I walk in the rain from time to time / I feel the drops upon my face / and see them as they glisten / in the light, / so bright, / on the wheelbarrow."
04:12 On screen, the narrator appears, singing, arms open, opaque beneath images of wheat, hands, the guitar, the laptop, and excerpts of scholarly writing. The narrator continues singing: "The smell of sweet gardenia in the air. / There's a scratching in the dirt nearby / and you wonder why. / And you turn to hear / and your eye is clear / as the birds appear."
04:45 A video appears in the bottom of the screen, showing a pencil underlining a passage in a book: "One of the subtexts of Composition as a Happening is the realization that art criticism in general offers more compelling theory than Composition's canon, particularly (in this case) in relation to the sublime."
04:53 Images and videos continue to overlap. The phrase "this machine performs critique with compassion" is legible on the desktop of the laptop. Scholarly text appears in the foreground and is variously highlighted. The narrator continues singing: "I will walk beside you ‘til the end. / And we will just grow closer / with each tender hour we spend, / looking out upon the garden as it reaches toward the rain shower, / like a friend. / 'Cause on you and I together / and the chickens and the weather, / so much depends."
05:33 A sound snippet from a documentary film can be heard in the background: "weather, on the other hand, refers to the day-to-day conditions of the Earth's atmosphere." The video of bright white hands appears in the center of the screen. The narrator continues singing: "I whisper your name from time to time. / I smell the drops upon your hair / and I take your hand in mine. / And I hold you tight. / I find your smile. / And we both sigh."
06:08 The sound of a chicken softly cooing can be heard. Images of wheat, a laptop, hands, and a guitar shift on screen. A cursor typing text moves up and down the screen: "English Composition as a Happening is Student Text as Blue Balloon. Where is the space for spiritual intensification in Mainstream Composition's curriculum?" (280). The narrator continues singing, his voice doubled: "And the clouds open like islands in the sky. / And the birds are scratching here nearby / and a silver light it shines, / on the colors in your eyes, / and the water-covered sides / of the wheelbarrow."
06:40 Text is revealed along the bottom of the screen: "Even in the most radically challenging Modernist art, there is an aesthetic, a sense of formal interest, a shimmering sheen." The narrator continues singing, visible beneath layers of guitar, wheat, text: "I will walk beside you ‘til the end. / And we will just grow closer / with each tender hour we spend, / looking out upon the garden as it reaches toward the sunlight, / like a friend. / 'Cause on you and I together / and the chickens and the weather, / so much depends."
07:22 A cursor appears on screen in a text document and deletes the words, Works Cited. The text on screen begins to scroll through a list of citations. The narrator continues singing: "On you and I together, / on you and I together, / on you and I together, / on you and I together."
07:45. The guitar stops playing. The narrator sings, arms outstretched: "So much depends." The images on screen fade out to show the desktop of a computer. Across the desktop is written: "This machine performs critique with compassion." A cursor moves to the top of the screen and opens a dropdown menu. The cursor selects an item from the menu that reads "Stop Recording." The video stops.
The bulk of materials are videos and sounds gathered from the internet. The videos "SUNLIGHT" and "Self Massage" offer motifs of wheat and hands. Other items contribute to the visual and sonic ambience in the piece. These include time-lapse footage of weather, snippets from a documentary, and several audio clips with sounds of nature or weather.
The text of "The Red Wheelbarrow" appears in the video. In this project, the analysis reproduces the work it discusses. In the video, audio snippets and performed composing of the poem are remixed into the response. The remaining materials are used in typical academic ways. Excerpts from scholarly articles or personal interviews are woven into the discussion to illuminate the text and support conclusions.
Barthes, Roland. S/Z: An Essay. Translated by Richard Miller. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1974.
Burns, Elaine. "Hand Massage—Easy to Follow Step by Step Massage Tutorial." YouTube, uploaded by Homespa Beauty, August 20, 2012, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=168lKIyc3lw
Deleuze, Gilles. Cinema 2: The Time Image. Translated by Hugh Tomlinson and Robert Galeta. London: Athlone Press, 1989.
Hochman, Will. "New CCC." Received by firstname.lastname@example.org, February 27, 2015.
Kristeva, Julia. "Revolution in Poetic Language." In The Kristeva Reader (Oxford: Blackwell, 1986), 89–136.
Logan, William. "The Red Wheelbarrow." Parnassus: Poetry in Review 34, no. 1/2 (2015): 204–31.
Manning, Erin. Relationscapes: Movement, Art, Philosophy. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2009.
Modern American Poetry. "On 'The Red Wheelbarrow.'" Department of English, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, accessed June 3, 2017, http://www.english.illinois.edu/maps/poets/s_z/Williams/wheelbarrow.htm.
National Geographic. "Earth: Climate and Weather—National Geographic— 24hToday." YouTube, uploaded by 24hToday, August 11, 2012, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zz_CRzcIT-Q
"Rain Sound and Thunder—2 Hours Sleep Meditation Sound." YouTube, uploaded by 321 Relaxing, October 16, 2014, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fm0sToWtatw
"Rain Turning Sunny Time-Lapse." YouTube, uploaded by MegaMysticalGamer, July 25, 2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cU9KFtA13zQ
Rickert, Thomas. Ambient Rhetoric: The Attunements of Rhetorical Being. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2013.
Sirc, Geoffrey. English Composition as a Happening. Logan: Utah State University Press, 2002.
Sirc, Geoffrey. Personal Interview. May 25, 2017.
Sirc, Geoffrey. "Review Essay: Resisting Entropy." College Composition and Communication 63, no. 3(2012): 501–19. http://www.ncte.org/library/NCTEFiles/Resources/Journals/CCC/0633-feb2012/CCC0633Essay.pdf
Stardust Vibes [Elita and Sean]. "Thunderstorm Sounds for Sleep & Relaxation | Thunder & Rain Ambience | HD Nature Video." YouTube, uploaded by Stardust Vibes—Relaxing Sounds, April 3, 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dWoIljGEOQ4
"SUNLIGHT." Vimeo, uploaded by Nicolas Bro, July 21, 2014, https://vimeo.com/101266112
Williams, William Carlos. "The Red Wheelbarrow." Poets.org, Academy of American Poets, https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/red-wheelbarrow
William Carlos Williams's edict "no ideas but in things" makes a perfect credo for using images in screen composing. Just as word-things become vehicles for ideas, image-things carry forward their messages. Of course, we engage these visual materials differently. Images, Gilles Deleuze explains, "constitute a malleable mass, a descriptive material loaded with visual and sound features of expression" (154). So Much Depends complicates this rich delivery by blurring visuals with their contexts and with sounds. Images projected on instruments, cameras filming outward from the composer, and scenes outside a window point toward the circumstances that situate creative expression. Thomas Rickert offers "ambience" to note how "affect, habituation, sensation, intuition, environment, and accident, to list a few elements, are equally part of the genesis of ideas" (60). Composed in part while looking out a window responding to a poem about looking, the video uses images to share a sense of atmospheres.
At several moments in the video, the screen is opaque and contains an email message that reads: "I love the red on the new cover design." Beneath the message is email header information: "----- Original Message ----- / From 'Hochman Will' / To: WPA-L@ASU.EDU / Sent: Friday, February 27, 2015 4:48:17 PM / Subject: New CCC." Geoff Sirc suggests that "our composition must change materially" (English Composition, 115) and that material changes can represent "heretofore unseen" (115) realities. Disruptive changes provide missing vectors that challenge the "predictability" of traditional academic modes, that reinvigorate "composition as a material gesture" (113). The reference to the color red emerged as part of an online discussion of an editorial change for the major academic journal in the field of composition studies. The sender of the message, Will Hochman, was well aware of debates about creativity, disciplinary divides, and screen writing. Hochman was a poet who also studied and taught digital composition. The email message offers a small celebration of a change in cover design. The screen shot of the message offers a material gesture through the banal particular that opens meaning and evokes the larger dynamics of a surrounding field.
Divisions between literature and composition have played out for decades. Some tension traces to misperceptions that align aesthetics and creativity with literature, while casting composition as utilitarian. There is some truth to the characterizations; professional aspects of language are featured in composition studies while aesthetics mark the teaching of literature. At the same time, beautiful language matters to writing teachers and professional pathways open all the time in literature classrooms. Still, divisions remain. In 2012, Sirc warned composition scholars not to forget "the power of literary art to affect lives and effect change" (511). He also celebrated "dazzling occasions for writing" (514) that include music, pop culture, lists, manifestos, and other possibilities that might "[slip] through the cracks" (513). In So Much Depends, Sirc speaks about these occasions. Teaching writing becomes less about choosing between utility and aesthetics and more about creating a productive space for composing: "You want to just change the atmosphere in the room so that they're not breathing the same old college-expectation atmosphere. It's a different climate."
At around 02:20, the video transitions to a scene outside a window. The scene is layered among several videos that bring together images and surfaces. A projector displays moving hands across the surface of a guitar. That surface is filmed by the laptop camera. The scene is also filmed from the perspective of the guitar using a mobile phone. A screen recorder also captures the visual surface of the laptop. As software creates and records these many scenes, the screen becomes an ambient space for atmospheric mixing. The images and surfaces accrue until the performances and their capturings are more like passages among layers than separable artifacts or events.
When So Much Depends was presented, a mobile phone was used to record the author-narrator speaking and singing in the lecture hall. At moments during the second half of the video, two vocal tracks can be heard. After the conference, the narration and singing were recorded again. The compilation brings together the phone footage from the conference, the video presented at the conference, and this final audio track. At select moments, the opacities and sound levels are adjusted to vary intensities and bring to the surface different elements. The video track that was played at the conference also includes background sounds—thunder, nature, chickens. These interpretive scenes are cast from "The Red Wheelbarrow." The visual and sonic layers emerge from what Rickert describes as an "environment [that] becomes a weave of musical, semantic, and visual communication flows" (138). The challenge is making sense of these flows as similar (or alternatives) to familiar ways of engaging a beautiful text.
Through the screen, we bring together "sounds and sights [that] immerse us in a multisensory, spatial environment, one pulsing with strong affective and suasive forces" (138). Rickert notes how these modes move "beyond our immediate cognitive focus" with "nonsemantic" elements that register as "emotional modulations." Sound, motion, and image extend traditional information schemes with interpretations emerging through loops and layers. Most readings of poems use prose to review what's been said by others, before offering an interpretation. The formula provides a frame for the scholarship. So Much Depends takes a similar approach. After spending time with what others have said, close reading the poem, and sorting through ideas, we craft a response. In this instance, a song blended with video.
Language, Julia Kristeva tells us, is one component among many in a semiotic network: "With a material support such as the voice, this semiotic network gives 'music' to literature" (113). Music reworks logic and ideologies as it displaces meaning into the semiotic realms of sound. The second half of the video tests the proposition that "musicality is not without signification; indeed it is deployed within it" (114). For Rickert as well, these components shift possibilities for making meaning, since "music becomes its own affective ground" (29) as it evokes emergent experiences where "various feedback loops arise—sonic, affective, haptic, performative—and transform the music at every moment" (29). Composing or reading among these loops becomes an immersive experience, one that unfolds together with "the ambient environs in which it emerges" (139).
And these loops need not be limited to sonic mixings. Describing the paintings of Emily Kngwarreye, Erin Manning notes a similar "rhythm of the land" (181) that includes "the weather, the seasons, the births and deaths, the rituals and performances" (181). Manning says that shifts in affective tone make us "feel these occasions of experience in their eventness" (64). The experience is coemergent and links composer to environment, since "there is no inside/outside to the sensations: they are as much of the body as of the land, extending synesthetically beyond all comprehension of three-dimensional space-time" (181). Video scholarship can draw from Manning's focus on the "capacity to create experiential space-times" rather than familiar notions of "content" (64). So Much Depends offers a space-time experience where—immersed among layers and affective tones as the weather changes—we encounter a wheelbarrow and some chickens, the banal particularity of an email message, and the memory of a friend.