Choreographing Memory: Performance and Embodiment in Multimodal Narrative

Bourbonnais, Alissa. Choreographing Memory: Performance and Embodiment in Multimodal Narrative. 2016. University of Washington, PhD dissertation.

Drawing from a body of philosophical and theoretical reflection about movement, Choreographing Memory explores the embodied dimensions and inherent performativity of writing and reading multimodal texts situated in late twentieth- and twenty-first-century remix culture. Multimodal texts use multiple modes--textual, aural, linguistic, spatial, visual, etc.--to produce a single composition. Analysis of performance and embodiment in multimodal texts highlights the role of emotions in memory and the ways that memory is just as much about the body as about the mind. I introduce an interdisciplinary theoretical framework that brings together media studies, affect theory, performance studies and dance scholarship on the body, disability studies, and social science studies of cognitive and cultural memory. I take as a case study an original assignment in my literature-based composition course on trauma and cultural memory that asks students to remix an element of Octavia Butler's novel Kindred (1979) into another mode for a contemporary audience. This practical application and demonstration of reading method through reflective composition and literature pedagogy bridges my theoretical foundation with the following textual analysis, which takes up different multimodal genres through texts concerned primarily with memory and the body. These discuss e-lit and digital storytelling through Shelley Jackson's Patchwork Girl (1995), graphic memoir through Alison Bechdel's Fun Home (2006), and photography and documentary film through Mark Hogancamp's Marwencol (2010). These authors deliberately insert themselves into narratives remixing a variety of other source texts in what I argue is inherently a performative, embodied act of composition. Likewise, the experience of reading these multimodal texts is also a performative, embodied act that expands a traditional conception of the static, finite text into a dynamic, ever evolving performance. I suggest that taking choreography as a critical term uniquely illuminates the connection between writing, memory, and performance.

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