CTW: Humphrey and Hulin

“Where can we find authority in a book with multiple authors working in different modalities? (Humphrey 5)”

In his comic “Multimodal Authorship and Authority in Educational Comics: Introducing Foucault and Derrida for Beginners,” Aaron Humphrey explores the idea of authority and how it is embodied through multimodal texts with multiple authors. He does this by examining various examples of “An Introduction…” and “For Beginners” books, specifically those that speak on the theories of Foucault and Derrida. Experimenting with writing in a comic and analyzing collaborative comics allows Humphrey to question how we have previously viewed academic writing, and his techniques aid in decentralizing the voice of authority that is so prevalent in the academic sphere.

Rachel Hulin pioneers a new kind of composition in her novel “Hey Harry Hey Matilda.” One of the captivating elements of her work is that it exists in two spaces: Instagram and a blog-style website. Her story follows twins Matilda and Harry Goodman as they navigate adulthood together; their dialogue features everything from relationships and psychological states to genetic testing and aging. The secret to their relationship, though, is that they seem to be fighting feelings for each other. Their conversations are nostalgic, yet modern and laced with anxiety. Hulin posts new segments of their story on Instagram every few days or so, sometimes every day, but it varies; alternatively, on the website, Hulin provides segments in posts that the audience can scroll through in chronological order.

How do these pieces interact?

Hulin’s work directly embodies Humphrey’s decentralization of authority. Whether the audience is looking at the story through Instagram or through the website, it is difficult to identify one solitary author. The dialogue is constantly shifting between Harry and Matilda, and the audience has to adjust accordingly.

Humphrey’s text literally engages the reader; an audience of this comic cannot be a passive learner. Much like Hulin’s work disrupts our search for authority, Humphrey’s use of handwritten text and thought bubbles forces the reader to navigate between different voices. He or she must engage with the text because it is written in a non-linear fashion, and the use of images, thought and speech bubbles, and handwritten text keeps the reader constantly working to comprehend  the message. We’ve been trained to read in a pattern: left to right, top to bottom.

Flash mobs totally disrupt our way of viewing texts and performances. We look for a pattern, a system, or an order, but flashmobs take that from us. Irish dance, especially combinations of  hard shoe and soft shoe dances like the one shown here, send dancers in so many different directions that the audience’s way of viewing the performance is disrupted, much like Humphrey’s comic disrupts our method of reading. 

Why analyze multimodal texts?

Multimodal texts are arguably more difficult to compose; the author has to find or create visual elements that flow with the text (if text is present at all), and likewise the text must be composed with regards given to its spatial layout. Additionally, any images used by an author will have a spatial component, and images of living things will contain a gestural element as well. Hulin’s use of cover photos not only draw the reader in to the story, it also distorts the authoritative voice that readers have been trained to look (or listen) for.


Multimodal texts are often constructed like pottery in a children’s class: it takes more than one set of hands to build a container.

When reading Hulin’s story on Instagram, the first thing the audience sees is the photo. The caption is positioned under it, but users have to scroll down to see it. On the website, Hulin disrupts our linear way of reading with hyperlinks. Readers can choose to explore characters through their own stories, or they can simply read the description that Hulin provides.

Deconstructing My Personal Biases

Since I am a Millennial with a preference toward social media, I was utterly enamored with “Hey Harry Hey Matilda,” while I will admit that Humphrey’s comic disrupted my way of reading. Navigating through the comic forced me to examine how I interact with texts, and I found that even though I am comfortable with web-based texts, I have a tendency to favor linear reading styles. Humphrey did not compose his comic to be easy to read; rather, he wanted his audience to think about the text that they were interacting with.

When I was composing my portfolio, I chose a layout that still encouraged my audience to read my posts similar to how they would read a book. If a reader chooses to navigate my site “out of order,” so to speak, the portfolio still makes sense. Engaging with Humphrey’s work and comparing it to my own made me realize why I struggled with reading the comic: I cannot read the comic linearly, but I cannot rearrange it either. I have to read it a certain way, but before sitting down and working with it, I did not know what that way was. Reading Humphrey’s comic allowed me to reflect on how I view multimodal texts and revealed to me what I need to work on in regards to reading and composition.

Before reading Humphrey’s piece, I was not sure how to feel about academic writing in a text like  his. I had been trained to recognize academic writing as bland and primarily linguistic, perhaps with a graph or other visual aid thrown in for good measure. Engaging with Humphrey’s comic allowed me to reflect on how I previously viewed academic writing, and I’ve realized that to truly embrace multimodal composition, academic writing must start to engage all the modes.


Multimodal texts disrupt the way we have been taught to read texts. They are immersive; they fascinate us and encourage us to reevaluate how we view multimodality and academic writing. Multimodal texts allow us to reflect on how we’ve composed in the past, and they help us develop our own multimodal composition skills. Hulin and Humphrey embody the shift toward multimodal composition by creating works that transform us from passive learners to active readers.


Cover image: Kate Reed

Hulin, Rachel. Hey Harry Hey Matilda. Web. 20 Mar. 2016.

Hulin, Rachel. “Matilda and Harry Goodman.” Instagram. Web. 20 Mar. 2016.

Humphrey, Aaron. “Multimodal Authoring and Authority in Educational Comics: Introducing Derrida and Foucault for Beginners.” DHQ: Digital Humanities Quarterly. The Alliance of Digital Humanities Organizations, Sept. 2015. Web. 19 Mar. 2016.

Image: Cameron, Melanie R. “Conflicting Voices: Why Parents Choose Not to Bring Their Children to Mass.” Catholic365. 4 Sept. 2015. Web. 23 Mar. 2016.

Take The Floor. “TAKE THE FLOOR Flashmob Dublin Airport.” YouTube. Take The Floor, 03 Aug. 2013. Web. 20 Mar. 2016.

CTW Response: Clemens/Nash and Rizzo

“Since the very concept of media by definition presumes that there are media, plural (for example, differentiated media), and since the digital converges all media into a single state (that is to say digital data), then by definition the concept of media simply disappears. In other words, data is the Great Leveler” (Clemens and Nash).

In their piece “Being and Media: digital ontology after the event of the end of media,” Justin Clemens and Adam Nash discuss their ideas of digital ontology. Clemens and Nash argue that the digital age has unified our media into a single medium, data, and that data is simply modulated into the various forms that we recognize today.

In “Television Assemblages,” Teresa Rizzo speaks on the multiplatform nature of modern television and how it has transformed the television viewer. She calls into question the traditional mass audience of television and uses three modern functions of television as evidence of this shift: “pay per view,  search and retrieve, and and upload and share” (Rizzo). Additionally, she analyzes assemblage theory and discusses how it disrupts typical social (and therefore, rhetorical) constructs.

The Emergence of Digital Rhetoric

The emergence of rhetoric in the digital space has disrupted the way we think about rhetoric. In their article, Clemens and Nash argue that instead of having multiple mediums, data has become the one true medium through which we communicate. This is an interesting way to think about rhetoric’s emergence because it shifts our previous conceptions of rhetoric and composition studies.

“For anything to appear in the digital realm—here, in the usual acception of ‘digital media’—it must first be digitised to data, then modulated between storage and display in an endless protocol-based negotiation that both severs any link to the data’s semantic source and creates an ever-growing excess of data weirdly related to, but ontologically distinct from, its originating data source” (Clemens and Nash).

Modern rhetors seem to be torn between two worlds: the print and oratory world of ancient Greece and the digitalized world we live in today. Perhaps, though, the two worlds need not be separated. Digital rhetoric disrupts our perception of rhetoric because it acts as a conglomerate. It allows us to gather and publish everything from Plato’s Phaedrus to YouTube videos. Is it possible that we have trouble defining the parameters of digital rhetoric because we have been “programmed” to think in terms of the binary?

Though it does not directly deal with rhetoric, this video provides a brief summary of the questions and assertions of “digital ontology.” 

The idea of the binary is something that has troubled rhetoric for centuries. Plato differentiated between writing and oratory, and even in today’s world we find ourselves separating the “real” and the digital. The problem with this thinking, though, is that it fails to account for the many forms that the digital sphere occupies. Coding, in itself, is composition. It is a form of writing, and it has the power to create various forms of media.

How do these pieces interact?

In her article, Rizzo speaks on today’s multiplatform television and how it transforms the position of the viewer into the position of a user. This thinking can be applied to Clemens’ and Nash’s idea of a digital ontology: much like users interact with services like Netflix and Hulu, modern audiences have the opportunity to interact with rhetoric in the digital sphere. Rhetoric is embodied in the digital, It is no longer confined to the written or spoken word,  and instead of simply listening or reading, users navigate through websites and interactive articles that have been rhetorically designed for a modern audience.

Much like multiplatform television, Clemens’ and Nash’s digital ontology blurs the definition between producer, sender, and receiver of content. Clemens and Nash use the example of a Facebook post, asserting that digitization “places the emphasis on a plurality of modulations of the same material. . .” (Clemens and Nash).  Digitization skews our ideas of traditional roles and operations within composition, and therefore within rhetoric.

The Assemblage Theory

Like television, the digital is a multiplatform ‘being” that allows for writing, listening, singing, moving… The digital acts as a conglomerate for our previously binary states of thinking, but it does it through 1’s and 0’s (a binary).  It is an assemblage.


Thinking of the digital as an assemblage allows us to consider modern rhetoric without having to transform it. There is a tendency to think of rhetoric in a new, reinvented sense when speaking of digital rhetoric, but rhetoric is still fundamentally the same. The canons are still relevant today, and the audience is still at the root of our rhetorical endeavors. Rhetoric has not transformed; rather, its medium has.

Are machines rhetors?

One problem that I’m having with this theory of assemblages is the concept of agency. Are machines rhetors? They process information, and we write for them, but can they study and practice rhetoric?

“These processes also affect how agency operates within an assemblage. Firstly, agency cannot be attributed to any one component or actant, human or non-human but emerges from the association of different parts. ” (Rizzo).

Although data is modulated through machines, I cannot bring myself to assign them agency. Everything that exists digitally was initiated by a human, even if that human simply entered code into a webpage. Instead of thinking of machines as rhetors, I would like to consider them rhetorical interpreters. Clemens and Nash touch briefly on the idea of the digital being performative


Digital rhetoric disrupts our perception of rhetoric because it is an assemblage. This assemblage, if embraced, has the power to distance human thinking from a binary existence and bring it to a more cohesive, cooperative state. Rhetoric as an assemblage is embodied through the digital sphere, and it emerges through modulations of human-generated ideas (code). Although digital rhetoric is an assemblage of media and agents, I believe we cannot jump to the idea of machines as agents; rather, they simply interpret and modulate performances of the human experience.


Clemens, Justin, and Adam Nash. “Being and Media: Digital Ontology after the Event of the End of Media.” The Fibreculture Journal 24. Web. 20 Feb. 2016.

PBS Idea Channel. “Is the Universe A Computer?” YouTube. YouTube, 12 June 2013. Web. 22 Feb. 2016.

Photo: Popescu, Adam. “Coding Is the Must-Have Job Skill of the Future.” Mashable. 30 Apr. 2013. Web. 22 Feb. 2016.

Rizzo, Teresa. “Television Assemblages.” The Fibreculture Journal 24. Web. 21 Feb. 2016.