[Contents] [Index] [Home] [Heuretics Defined] [Morphology of Method] [Genealogy of Mystory] [Student Mystories] [Signature Experiment]

Writing Mystory

"Mystory" is Gregory Ulmer's coinage for an emerging, hybrid genre. It dramatizes the shift that occurs when writers forground invention (heuretics) instead of interpretation (hermeneutics).

Constructing a mystory, Ulmer suggests, helps us anticipate or actually invent a rhetoric or poetics for electronic space, for it leads us to practice the "picto-ideo-phonographic writing" fostered by electronic technology and theorized by Derrida. Of his own experiments with mystory (many of which are published at his homepage), Ulmer writes:

They were designed to simulate the experience of invention, the crossing of discourses that has been shown to occur in the invention process. Realizing that learning is much closer to invention than to verification, I intended mystoriography primarily as a pedagogy. The modes of academic writing now taught in school tend to be positioned on the side of the already known rather than on the side of wanting to find out (of theoretical curiosity) and hence discourage learning how to learn. (1994: xii)

Mystory, then, is not intended to simulate a "real life" writing experience; it is not a lesson in narrative, this year's way to encourage student writers to share personal experiences. Rather, mystory should be regarded as a laboratory experiment, a pedagogical exercise that requires students to practice the art of speculation and invention.

Instead of concerning themselves with topography--with revisiting the places or topos traversed by storytellers--mystorians chorograph. Between being and becoming, chora--a word developed by Plato in Timaeus and defined by Francis Cornford as "space" or "receptacle"--is maddeningly resistant to interpretation (1994: 63). Still, through a route that I shall not retrace, Ulmer finds a powerful simile for chora in the musical term "riff," and he recommends that mystorians learn to write with patterns that function more like music than like concepts" (1994: 91).

Eureka! James Sears was a chorographer. He forsook melody and harmony for riffs, the endlessly repeated rhythmic figures of James Brown. Or as Barthes might have put it: James symbolically dropped the sequential codes that order classical narratives--codes that reveal truth and codes that coordinate actions--for the reversible codes that characterize modern texts (1974: 29). Ulmer would simply say that James found an alternative to "the logic of classical reasoning" and "the interest of problem solving" (1989a: 50). Instead of playing the role of analyst or cultural critic, he served as a channel, patterning and relaying information. He is emblematic of the cyberwriter.

    But the question remains. How exactly does one make a mystory? What follows is a recipe:

  1. Appropriate a popular icon, a figure become mythical, as an object of study (e.g., James Brown).

  2. In the form of an anecdote or short skit (perhaps modeled after a scene from a medieval "saints" play), write out his/her/its story.

  3. Research the icon in detail. Mystorian and jazz musician John Zorn says to "read books and articles, look at films, TV shows, and photo files, listen to related recordings, etc." (1987: 9).

  4. Sift through the materials accumulated. Pick out an image, one that is especially striking. ("Riff" is a good example.) Set it aside; let it ferment.

  5. Compose a ground-zero narrative. Model it after the scene, in The Commitments, where band members respond to James Brown performing on the T.A.M.I. Show. Compare it, also, with my anecdote about James Sears. Your ground-zero story should tell how you, the mystorian, first learned about and became interested in your icon. More importantly, it should dramatize how, for all intents and purposes, this icon called or solicited your attention and affections. (Louis Althusser's labels this process "interpellation"; individuals are constructed as subjects when they answer the call of ideology.)

  6. Allow the image selected in Step #4 to ferment long enough and it will become readable as a grammalogue (a trope or metaphor one can write with). It will suggest a specific method of arrangement.

  7. Rewrite the story composed in Step #2. Using all of the materials gathered (including the ground-zero anecdote), order them in a manner suggested by the grammalogue. This means that you should follow "pictogrammatical," not ratio-analytical, logic. Treat your grammalogue as a hieroglyph or rebus that confuses the verbal and the visual.

To find out even more about mystory, see: