Exquisite Corpse

I wrote about Exquisite Corpse before. It explains everything.

"Object in Fur" by Meret Oppenheim. Image courtesy of http://design-crisis.com

Object in Fur by Meret Oppenheim– image courtesy of http://design-crisis.com/?p=107

The beautiful thing about the game is the seamed and seamless collaboration of voices to create a certain effect. It can create alienation, like Oppenheim’s teacup, or a weird logic to bridge separate minds and thoughts. Above all, it is a cooperation to blend many voices into one freaky text.

Wikis are different, of course, because everyone knows the topic, everyone can see the text, and facts and reality are encouraged… so it’s not exactly a round of Exquisite Corpse. However, the two methods of writing share the same lovely collaboration. Many voices become one, with the hope that it will be better that way.

I admit, I was pretty suspicious of the whole wiki thing. I’m not a fan of non-surrealist collaboration. And though places like wikipedia are good when my desire for a sated curiosity is counter-balanced by a bout of pronounced laziness, I wouldn’t put a lot of faith in it. So I was dreading the World of Warcraft Wiki article, but it surprised me. I was fascinated by the play of voices within a text. Hunter illustrated that the WoWWiki page was a much happier and healthier place when anonymity and politeness (the two of which have enormous overlap) were maintained through the many many revisions of the pages. If someone made a mistake on the page, a member would point it out without naming names and the error was easily fixed. When egos died down to kitten meows, the site came along quite smoothly. Conflict and disarray only erupted when ownership/authorship roared across the boards. I thought about this.

I taught a lesson on The Fantastic on the 18th, and I enjoyed myself a lot, mostly because my students enjoyed it. Of course, we played a game. Can you guess which one? I hate to keep y’all in suspense. I made them play Exquisite Corpse. We played with conditionals, and then discussed logic within the fantastic world and how to create it and keep it in check. Then we did a collaborative story. It went so much better than I imagined. The students were laughing, and seemed to get a kick out of the combination of anonymity and creativity– their weird words swirled all together and no one really knew or cared what anyone else wrote. The fun part was to hear what it sounded like as one text in one voice. Representatives would read sections of the class text aloud, and we tried to find the narrative that burbled up from our collective brains. If each person had read the line that he or she wrote, it would have been awkward, stilted, separate, and a little embarrassing. It would not have worked; it would not have been a story.

I thought this applied to the wikis too, and to all collaborative work. When many writers participate in a text, the concept of ownership changes. It’s fluid, and that fluidity allows people to write without reservation. The nature of the wiki is brutal revision for the good of the cause, and when no one owns it or knows who wrote what, that ideal is closer to being realized. What if family arguments were like wikis? Everyone would mix their teary, affronted stories and chops the irreverent-embellished drama bits until something closer to reality would emerge: essentially a record of long-enduring, passive-aggressive lore that the family could peruse whenever they wished!

This isn’t a text Utopia. Things go wrong, things get weird, and egos puff up like threatened squirrels. But it’s an interesting place for voices to coexist within one space, one text, and for the one cause of writing something pretty accurate and very accessible. And the fact that we read these community texts, and believe them mostly, must say a lot about our readiness to accept a hydra-beast author, even if we may not necessarily want to be one.

Considering how to apply it to the classroom, I think I like the idea of a class notes wiki. I like what we’re doing now in this class. I have to think more about it in all of my luxurious spare time, but I see that people are more ready with their information if they think it might be slashed, and people are more ready with their slashing when they think no one knows their hand. The desire for the self to be perceived as excellent in solo publishing is translated to the desire for the text to be excellent in collaborative publishing.  There is no “i” in collaboration. Well, there is but it’s awkward and much happier when unacknowledged. That could work in my classroom.


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