Discussing Hull and Nelson, “Locating the Semiotic Power of Multimodality.”

Here’s where we’ll talk about Hull and Nelson, “Locating the Semiotic Power of Multimodality.” Sorry I’m a little late in getting the talking going here– I’m just behind on stuff, which is pretty typical for me for this time of the year/semester. Three thoughts to get the discussion going:

  • This is another example of how it is hard to find readings appropriate for this course that don’t cross that line into pedagogy, though the basic points of how multimodality works to make meaning differently is of course relevant.
  • I think Hull and Nelson kind of “tie themselves in knots” in the middle part with their theorizing, frankly. I mean the section that begins on the bottom of page 234 and goes until the top of 238. I’ll have to reread that.
  • Speaking of rereading: you might have tried to follow the link they provide to the Oakland D.U.S.T.Y. project only to discover nothing there– or a work in progress at least. But happily through the web archive (aka “the wayback machine”), I was able to find a link to the original site here, and from there, I found the video they’re analyzing, “Life-N-Rhyme:”

I’d strongly recommend watching the video first and then finishing the conclusion of the article– it’ll probably help it make a little more sense.

8 thoughts on “Discussing Hull and Nelson, “Locating the Semiotic Power of Multimodality.”

  1. Molly McCord

    Watching the video definitely helped with visualizing the kinds of patterns that Hull and Nelson talk about throughout the article. I had a hard time actually “seeing” the video through their figures. Viewing it as a whole piece was much more helpful. I also got a little lost in the theory discussion, but I did find it interesting when Hull and Nelson discussed transcribing multimodal texts on pp. 235-236. I’ve never really thought about transcription in any other way than putting spoken words into text. So thinking about it in terms of “the timescale (if there is any at all), segmentation scheme, and so on” (236) kind of blew away my traditional view of transcription. I still have a hard time trying to picture transcribing a multimedia project, but it got me thinking about the complexity of organization and interpretation involved in creating and “reading” such projects.

    1. Jonathan Furlette

      The video was helpful to me as well in understanding the “patterns” that Hull and Nelson discuss. I have seen this type of “multimodal” creation become more and more common over the last couple of years, in short, it is an extremely cheap (as close to free as you are going to get) and an effective way of presenting an idea/making a statement. Our ability to dig through large archives of info instantaneously has spawned so many new art forms. It is interesting to me that projects like the one above have sort of redefined what we think of as “transcription,” and that modern artists are able to use preexisting imagery as their paintbrush (so to speak)- borrowing, using, recycling manipulating , repurposing still images and then sequencing them to make a powerful statement. In a way it reminds me of how DJs/producers do the exact same thing with sound. I am also surprised that people are resistant to viewing this as a valuable form of literacy, to compose one that leaves a lasting impression is a difficult task to master; requiring both intellect and rationality.

  2. Molly McCord

    I was kind of fascinated by how Hull and Nelson discuss the organization of “Lyfe-N-Rhyme,” particularly the notion of the thesis. Again, I see a connection to the more traditional words-in-a-row writing through the existence of a thesis “statement.” Only in the case of Randy’s work, his thesis isn’t written in words; instead, it appears in five images and in 13 seconds toward the beginning of the video. As Hull and Nelson put it, “His words and his own destiny are fused with the historicity and aspirations that inhere in those five images, which is his thesis, no accidentally. This is quite an achievement in 13 seconds” (244). It was just interesting for me to contemplate the notion of a multimodal thesis.

    1. Lisa Pignotti

      The concept of multimodel thesis is interesting. I didn’t gather it the first time through, but after reading and re-watching the video I see it.

      It is the of the “braiding” of images, text, spoken-word, and music that really show the complex nature of multimodal texts. Through the compiling each of these components, which have meaning on their own, to “remix” and make a new meaning from them is such process. I’m surprised some people are so resistant to viewing this as a valuable form of literacy.

      1. Danielle

        I also had to watch the video a few times to really follow along and notice the patterns Hull and Nelson mention in the text. However, I can’t say that I’m surprised that some people are resistant to viewing this type of multimodal composition as a form of literacy. Hopefully this is a view that will change over time, but I think a lot of people are still focused on “words in a row” literacy. I was even talking to my mom the other day about some of the projects we’re doing in this class, and she, at first, had a hard time understanding how this class fell into the scope of a Written Communication program.

        Anyway, I enjoyed their analysis of this piece and really appreciate the tedious care and time that it must have taken to “transcribe” that video. Ultimately, I think they summed it up pretty well by claiming that, “What we hope to demonstrate is that this whole, in the gestalt sense, transcends the collective contributions of its constituent parts” (238). In other words, text alone (or video alone, or audio alone) could not have achieved the same effect as all three of them put together. This is something I’ve come to appreciate with the creation of How-To videos and PSAs as well.

        1. skrause Post author

          I think that’s right, Danielle, and that’s the passage I grabbed onto when I first decided to assign this after a quick skim way back when (still not sure I would assign this again, but that’s a different story). And I’m glad you pointed to the PSA experience (though this probably surfaced with other assignments too): if folks are at a place now where there’s more appreciation of the complexity of putting together words in a row with sounds and images, then I feel like we’ve gotten someplace this term.

  3. Seth Taylor

    I liked the discussion on 247 where Hull and Nelson point out that “Saying and showing do not automatically amount to powerful expression.” This is something I’ll admit to struggling with when analyzing multimedia compositions like this one. I feel like it’s easy, for me at least, to view the different modes as just underlining or reiterating one another. It’s important to see them as distinct but ‘braided,’ complimenting one an other by “each doing what they do well.” This misconception is probably one aspect of the rationale for the “Reading at Risk” types of endeavors.

  4. Tracey Sonntag

    This piece was a little more difficult to follow–at least, it was for me. As many of us have said, re-reading helps quite a bit! It’s so interesting to think of “transcribing” in this way; it reminds me of the interview project I’m doing in another class, as well as the one we have coming up in this class.

    When Hull and Nelson say “It is certainly the case that educators regularly rediscover the power that students experience when released to communicate and learn multimodally” (228) that was an attention-grabber. Danielle, your mom appears to be in the majority on this issue! And I noted they said “Rediscover,” as though the educators in question have known this all along, but just forget, like a skill you don’t use often enough. I wonder what Foucault would have thought of this ‘power in multimodal communication’…

    The last thing I’ll say is that like the deconstruction of any art, it causes the piece to lose its beauty and–somewhat–its meaning. I know it’s necessary to take it apart in order to be able to put it back together (or teach others how to put something similar together), but watching the video after reading the article, I’m more drawn to things the author pointed out than the images and concepts Lyfe-N-Rhyme wanted to communicate.


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