Greg Ulmer on Composing a MyStory

Greg Ulmer on Composing a MyStory

"The individual's biography, if she is to maintain regular interaction with others in the day-to-day world, cannot be wholly fictive. It must continually integrate events which occur in the external world, and sort them into the ongoing 'story' about the self... Feelings of self-identity are both robust and fragile." Greg Ulmer

Greg Ulmer shows readers how to compose a MyStory in Internet Invention: From Literacy to Electracy. Ulmer teaches readers how to draw a map to explore, invent, and discover the hidden secrets lurking in the shadows of their mediated lives. He introduces a method of invention and discovery that traces patterns across four discourses: family, career, school, and community. Readers learn to construct identity in a way that makes sense in the age of electracy. 

Greg Ulmer - Internet Invention

 When readers embark on this journey, they learn to tap into their unconscious and draw out what what Haruki Murakami calls the invisible in Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman.

Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari taught us “the unconscious is a producer and its product is real” in their influential work: Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia

Greg Ulmer prompts readers to write a MyStory – in which they document their relationship with their experiences across four discourses:

  • Career
  • Family
  • Entertainment
  • Community

As readers explore these four areas, they look for commonalities – taking note of which surfaces, images, words, or feelings recur, repeat, or reappear in their memories.

The emphasis is on the atmosphere or mood that readers extract from their memories – what is felt is paramount.

In part, this is why Roland Barthes’ articulation of the punctum is crucial to electracy. In Camera Lucida, Barthes differentiates the studium, the socially determined meaning of a photography, with the punctum, the tear or puncture that disrupts the experience of interpretation.

In search of a new cognitive model, Greg Ulmer’s work from Applied Grammatology (1985) to Teletheory (1989) asks whether it is possible for academic discourse to work with the logic of the unconscious. Internet Invention (2003) is his answer for the individual while Electronic Monuments (2005) offers strategies for the collective unconscious. 

“The key to the method and to the obtuse as experience, is in the relationship between the detail in the image and the memories and their associated emotions that the detail awakens in the viewer." Greg Ulmer, Internet Invention

As we explore the four areas of that constitute the mystory, remember to look for the punctum in your memory.

Career

The first stop in creating the MyStory is narrowing in on a core scene that influences the individual’s life trajectory. Ulmer believes every person possesses a wide or guiding image that is usually made up of four or five primary images.

“What if people became aware of and learned how to tap into the wide image as a resource in their career work?” Greg Ulmer

Once the individual narrows in a significant image, they can ask themselves a series of questions to refine and rework their discoveries.

Ulmer explains the importance of describing the verbal and pictorial images and how this method becomes a positive ordering operation. This exercise continually extracts the obtuse or third meaning that was always there but perhaps the signifier was flickering, floating, or even repressed. Through pattern formation and recognition, the reader constructs a map of their identity. 

Greg Ulmer on Composing a MyStory

Family

Echoing Eric Havelock’s work in The Preface to Plato, Ulmer explains the notion of the self was solidified in the turn from orality to literacy. Electrate people, on the other hand, do not experience their being as selfhood but more as a singularity.

Homesickness often manifests itself through our desires for the mood that space and the comfort that the relationships of our mothers and fathers provided.

At other times, this desire is transferred to stand-ins for our parents or might even be disrupted by the cognitive dissonance that keeps us from a narratological understanding of our memories, which contributes to absent-mindedness. In other words, that yearning for home keeps us from the here and now.

Leaving room for infinite jest or play, Greg Ulmer emphasizes that this process celebrates connection:

“An electrate state of mind includes a tolerance for nonutilitarian, inefficient, irrelevant events and experiences.” Greg Ulmer

Ulmer then pivots to the concept of the chora to help readers conceptualize the space between being and becoming. The chora was first conceived of in Plato’s dilalogue, Timaeus. The metaphor became necessary as culture moved from orality to literacy with the articulation of the self. This liminal space is often a point of vulnerability, but it is also where we tap into the sublime.

The Japanese literary critic, Kojin Katarani, reminds readers of the will to architecture – making of becoming – that still motivates construction of any kind. 

Henri Bergson The Cinematographic Mechanism of Thought

Entertainment

The process of confronting the third institution requires readers to analyze the experiences that make up the material of our intuition. When constructing a MyStory, entertainment is given an equal seat at the table because its influence on us is undeniably strong.  

Greg Ulmer references Jean Paul Sartre’s early exploration into the imagination to point to the responsibility of the reader to cultivate their imagination:

“If photos and stories that we browse in newspapers and magazines leave us indifferent, it is because we fail to fill the signs without our own imagination. Pictures, like words, must be actively read.” Greg Ulmer

The rhetorics of reading demand we apprehend the energy of language with a dynamic approach to reading. It is important to emphasize that considering these images is not merely to tap into new analyses but to new feelings

Greg Ulmer teaches that if “a literate person reasons on paper, an electrate person feels online.” Following orality and literacy, electracy celebrates the possibility of writing the unconscious because we have learned to apprehend the material produced.

Greg Ulmer on Composing a Mystory

Community

In the final space, readers interrogate the collective stories told in their national, religious, racial, ethnic, and cultural communities. This exercise relies on the ability to detach signifiers from signifieds and prompts readers to re-examine everything from power structures to ambiguities.

This step requires courage. Greg Ulmer recognizes the ideologies that shape us are not necessarily ones we agree with as adults, but they still influence how we see the world.

“An important part of the mystory is to acknowledge how one’s intuitions or body is coded or formatted with values or ideologies that one does not necessarily agree with once one becomes an adult.” Greg Ulmer

Ulmer acknowledges that punctum is still at play in this probe, but it functions differently. Readers see the logic of the collective unconscious at work from the outside:

“Here the recognition is not an experience from the inside but an admission intellectually that you are inside the belief system of the community in which you were raised.” Greg Ulmer

There is no ontological link between language and reality. Communities that are made up of individuals, thrive in the gap by creating metanarratives to reduce the anxiety that stem from confronting the unknown.

The Italian Philosopher, Giorgio Agamben points to this when he says, “the meaning of this bar or barrier is constantly left in shadow, thus hiding the abyss opened between signifier and signified.”

Once we realize this and we begin to embrace the gap, we will begin to operate as what Agamben calls a “singularity” rather than a “self.” In other words, we’ll learn to behave as an image.

We’re reminded again of the wise nugget offered by Deleuze and Guattari: the unconscious is a producer and its product is real.

The unconscious is a producer, and its product is real, but the self is an illusion, and the singularity is near and transports us in time and space.

Greg Ulmer on Composing a MyStory