I am thinking of Andrea Lunsford’s guest lecture on performative text as I try to tie together some ideas that have come up after reading “New Literacies: Research and Social Practice,” (Lankshear & Knobel’s plenary address) and Jessica Hammer’s “Agency and Authority in Role Playing Texts” (New Literacies Sampler, Knobel & Lankshear, eds).
Like many children, when my friends and I were young, we entertained each other by writing stories set in the worlds of other texts, especially Star Wars, inserting each other as characters. I didn’t realize there was a term for these texts we created: fan fiction or fanfic. We spent recess at school acting out Star Wars-based stories we made up spontaneously, complete with sound effects. This too was fanfic—the multiplayer kind. As teenagers, we became serious D&D players, often playing all-night, sometimes making up our own rules, donning costumes, and running around in the woods while in character. Hammer would say we had the psychological agency (the sense that we were empowered) and cultural agency (the power recognized by others, namely our group) to exercise agency over the text (the D&D world) and the narrative (the scenario in which we played). Strangely, I was a reluctant writer of school papers, though out of school I wrote constantly in the service of my favorite texts (Star Wars and D&D).
In their plenary address, L&K discuss the growing recognition of preteen fanfic authors within the fanfic community and decry the lack of investigation of fanfic writing in the primary classroom because “it is rarely considered in terms of intertextuality, ‘media mixing’ and the like, notwithstanding the importance attached to such literary techniques within high school English classes in relation to ‘the canon.’” Consider this in light of Lunsford’s comments about the power that composition in any media can have when it is inspired. The subjects in the Stanford Literacy Study did not ask for permission to compose. They used composition outside of the class because they wished to. They exercised authority, borrowed images for flyers, integrated their words into the poem of another, and made professional-grade, multi-media learning tools.
If we accept as fact that the more literary events you engage in, the more literate you become, then isn’t it strange that we limit the variety of literary events valued in school? What if all acts of composition were at least encouraged and acknowledged? Think of the effect it might have on a student’s sense of agency and authority, as well as supporting the development of an understanding of one’s own idealogical situatedness as a writer and a reader, and general textual saavy.