New Dimensions of Dialogue

I had a difficult time following Digital Griots central argument. I think Adam Banks devotes a great portion of his book to his own academic complaints, authorial doubts and personal stories which are not that much connected with African American Rhetoric in a Multimedia Age. I can see how he has been trying to play the role of one Griot himself, stimulating the obstacles that one digital Griot would face, by explaining his own pre-writing predicaments when the first voices he heard were not his own (41); Still, the sudden appearance of literature reviews in middle of his personal stories, or the sudden appearance of personal stories in middle of literature reviews, undermines the general narrative and makes it hard for the reader, or for me as the reader, to explore new dimensions of African American narratives in the multimedia age. However, what I like the most in his writing is the basic idea of building “two-way relationships between universities and communities [which] requires something far more than the traditional one-way service model” (67).

Two-way relationships between academia and popular culture could result in ideal moments when neither universities nor communities play the role of mere generators or mere consumers of intellectual debates specifically the racial ones. Banks criticizes the existing gaps between academic theories and people. He desires to “take intellectual work to the people themselves” in a new space “where the vernacular and the theoretical came together and where would be taken seriously” (57). Symbolically enough, although not really intended to be symbolic, this statement challenges any kind of discrimination that prioritizes one community over the other one in having the ability of narrating, analyzing or even preserving the history of a particular culture. Creating new Dimensions of Dialogue (I take this phrase from an astonishing short animation made in 1982) between two potential authorities, academia and communities who not in direct relation with each other, could definitely be a great challenge in the world of established hierarchies.

Dimensions of Dialogue by Jan Švankmajer
Dimensions of Dialogue by Jan Švankmajer

UD’s online community the Colored Conventions is a good example of a new digital space aiming to gather scattered database from different resources on a specific subject, that is “Black Americans and political organizing during the nineteenth century”, in order to “brings buried history to digital life”. The introduction page of this website tells us that “the Colored Conventions team comprises a diverse group of dedicated and energetic scholars, graduate and undergraduate students and librarians at the University of Delaware”. That means there are new dimensions of dialogue and cooperation going on between different levels of academic positions in various disciplines. I talked to Jim Casey, an executive committee member, to ask about the possibility of non-academic communities’ direct participation in this project, and I learned that the process of proving the authenticity of the gathered data would be really complicated. However, it’s interesting to see how this digital resource is going to offer classified pedagogic materials to instructors who are interested in integrating African American debates with other courses, even Eng110 (those of you who had ENGL688 last semester would remember Sarah Patterson’s introduction to this section.) The introductory page asserts that “you  will  find  all  of  the  resources  necessary  for  your  class  unit  on a convention, including sample assignments for lower and upper division undergraduate classes  as well as for graduate seminars.” I think practicing such assignments might generate new materials to be submitted to the same resource. That means having an online community designed not only to collect related materials but also to expand its territory to new spaces by generously sending out its collected, proved and categorized materials to other sections of academia, and even beyond that in the future, hoping to get back new generative responses. Of course not all attempts would receive an instant response; what really matters is to keep the dialogue going on without facing a huge definitive full stop.

Dimensions of Dialogue by Jan Švankmajer



3 thoughts on “New Dimensions of Dialogue”

  1. Nagmeh,

    I’m glad that you connected Banks’ book to the Colored Conventions project. I agree with you that it can be hard to follow Banks. His aim often seems less declarative than performative—that is, he seems to be trying less to state an argument than to enact a stance.

    That stance would seem to center on access and inclusion, on respecting the work of non-academic, organic intellectuals. That’s where your comparison to Colored Conventions seems most telling—which, in your telling, seems to want to represent the voices of vernacular intellectuals from the past without including those of contemporary non-academics. There thus seems a tension between two positive values: academic rigor versus inclusion. I wonder if there is a way in which we might use digital media—with its more or less infinite spaces or representation— to include the voices of both academic professionals and ordinary people?


  2. I also love that you brought in the Colored Conventions project, because the project itself, as well as the historical movement it traces, represent so well the kind of work Banks is advocating in his book.

    When you say that Banks “undermines the general narrative” with interruptions such as lit reviews, I see that as exactly the point. Banks is arguing that African American rhetoric is largely built on the idea of the skipping into and out of grooves between disciplines/discourses. I found reading a text that does so disorienting, but in a good way, a productive way. His writing reminded me that the “general narrative” structure we accept as proper academic discourse is itself a social and discursive construct.


  3. Naghmeh,
    I also struggled with this book, mostly because of, as Joe put it, his “aim often seems less declarative than performative.” I felt like it was very meta, in that he spent so much time talking about people who communicate in a certain fashion while using that same framework to write for us. It’s a wonderfully artistic book in that sense, and as Janel says, really showcases his point about African American rhetoric and discursive tradition, but it was extremely hard to follow.

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