Narration and the network: Postmodernism and freshman composition
Ford, Robert Gilbert
Driskill, Linda P.
Doctor of Philosophy
Jean Francois Lyotard's The Postmodern Condition provides useful tools for investigating the student-student and student-teacher relationships in a composition class conducted on a computer network via modems. Lyotard's examination of how knowledge has been legitimated in the classical to postmodern period suggests that along with the delegitimation of the grand narratives of emancipation and speculation has come a reduction in power of narrative means of legitimation, leading to the postmodern age of paralogy, in which knowledge is legitimated by local groups of experts enacting momentary rules to guide their specific discussions. Throughout this text, Lyotard dispenses with the idea that narration might hold a strong position as a legitimating structure. At best, he suggests that "little narratives" continue to exert importance, but only at the level of examples and statements made by scientists, not at the level of the laws or rules of significance. At the same time, Lyotard privileges the importance of scientific knowledge and scientific means of legitimation. Relatedly, he also privileges technology, suggesting ultimately that computer data banks will provide society with an efficient means for determining the rules needed to guide the experts involved in paralogical legitimation. Such privileging of science and technology is not fully justified, for narrative means of legitimation are still important, as is shown by the data saved from a class taught over a computer network as part of a distance education program using modems. The data from this computer modem course suggest that narration is still powerful as a force for legitimation, both in how the class is legitimated as a structure, and in how the students and teachers play legitimating roles with each other. Class members speak to each other from narrative positions of power. However, they speak from multiple narratives forming cross-cutting and blurring senses of narrative power. Thus, these narratives lead to disruptions in the class, disruptions that operate in ways similar to Lyotard's notions of paralogy, leading to a system of narrative paralogy.