Scholarly article on topic 'Negotiating Memory and Creativity: Choices of Image-text Representations in the Creative Writing Classroom'

Negotiating Memory and Creativity: Choices of Image-text Representations in the Creative Writing Classroom Academic research paper on "Sociology"

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{revisioning / choices / "image-text representations" / literacy / memory}

Abstract of research paper on Sociology, author of scientific article — Zillasafarina binti Jaafar, Noraini Md. Yusof, Noraini Ibrahim

Abstract This paper discusses the incorporation of images beside text in contemporary pedagogy at higher education. This is due to the visual turn which prioritizes the visual, and the changes in technology which innovate information distribution. The interest on images and text is evident in the e-poetry created by three learners of a creative writing classroom. This paper aims to study the choices of selected representations from the context of their social memory as they interpret the past events of Malaysian Independence through their revisioning and techniques of production. The theoretical construct to support the discussion is multimodality social semiotics analysis (Kress & van Leeuwen 1996, 2006; Kress, 2010; Machin & Mayr 2013) which shows the relationship among ‘images-text, contexts and social practice’ of the multimodal resources through the interests of the learners as the sign-makers. An iconography analysis to examine the images and texts chosen is adopted and adapted to discover their multilayered meanings. Finding from the research reveals that on interpreting the idea on patriotis m based on Malaysia's historical past, the learners’ preferences over selective images and text disclose their individual identities over collective social, as the citizen of Malaysia's post-Independence.

Academic research paper on topic "Negotiating Memory and Creativity: Choices of Image-text Representations in the Creative Writing Classroom"

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Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 118 (2014) 190 - 197

SoLLs.INTEC.13: International Conference on Knowledge-Innovation-Excellence: Synergy in Language

Research and Practice

Negotiating Memory and Creativity: Choices of image-text representations in the creative writing classroom

Zillasafarina binti Jaafar *, Noraini Md. Yusof , Noraini Ibrahim

abSchool of Language and Linguistics, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, Bangi, 43600 Malaysia


This paper discusses the incorporation of images beside text in contemporary pedagogy at higher education.. This is due to the visual turn which prioritizes the visual, and the changes in technology which innovate information distribution. The interest on images and text is evident in the e-poetry created by three learners of a creative writing classroom. This paper aims to study the choices of selected representations from the context of their social memory as they interpret the past events of Malaysian Independence through their revisioning and techniques of production. The theoretical construct to support the discussion is multimodality social semiotics analysis (Kress & van Leeuwen 1996, 2006; Kress 2010; Machin & Mayr 2013) which shows the relationship among 'images-text, contexts and social practice' of the multimodal resources through the interests of the learners as the sign-makers. An iconography analysis to examine the images and texts chosen is adopted and adapted to discover their multilayered meanings. Finding from the research reveals that on interpreting the idea on patriotism based on Malaysia's historical past, the learners' preferences over selective images and text disclose their individual identities over collective social, as the citizen of Malaysia's post -Independence.

© 2013 The Authors. Published by ElsevierLtd.

Selection and peer-review under responsibilityofUniversiti KebangsaanMalaysia. Keywords: revisioning; choices; image-text representations; literacy; memory.

1. Introduction

Recent pedagogical trends in creative writing have shown an emphasis towards the incorporation of images. These images are employed to relay, elucidate and interpret information. To this end, Kress (2003:1) observes

* Corresponding author. Tel.: +0-000-000-0000 ; fax: +0-000-000-0000 . E-mail address:

1877-0428 © 2013 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd.

Selection and peer-review under responsibility of Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia. doi:10.1016/j.sbspro.2014.02.026

that over time, image presentation has gone through significant developments leading towards "the new dominance of the image and... the move from the dominance of the book to the new dominance of the medium of the scene". When used with text, the images are yet another indicative of possible semiotic resource that carry multimodal meanings, evident in the modes of communication (van Leeuwen 2005, Kress 2010). By modes, this paper refers to the means of semiotics in representation and communication by "choices"( Machin and Mayr 2012, p. 30). This selection over certain images and the manipulation of their realism send the message that creation can be to a certain point an act of awareness (Halliday,1978). This is the main argument of this paper as observed in a Creative writing class of English as Second language (ESL) learners. The 'writing task' assigned to the learners turned into carefully created and crafted representations of images and poetic lines. In this paper, however, the focus will be on the representations of images as part of the poetic representations by the learners that lend credence to the texts. Nonetheless, sporadic reference on selective text will also be included to support the representations or to enhance the arguments.

This study aims to understand how the images work in wider and critical scopes of language, literary and history. To this end, it aims to investigate how the learners understand the history of Malaysia which is reflected though relevant images expressed in their creative production. Through their revisionings of the events of the past using the creative collaboration of past and present, their creation becomes contemporary as learners produce works that accentuate certain values and ideas of the post independence citizen, or in Raihanah M.M, Ruzy Suliza Hashim, Noraini Md. Yusof & Zalina Mohd. Lazim's (2011:5) words, "...will enable the young generation to channel their personal and alternative perspectives of appraising the past and to attend to "pressing socio-cultural, political and ideological concerns" . To enhance the expression and distribute it onto production, lhe learners produced a unique composition of poetry and images in their creative work by adopting the varied media to represent certain dimension of communication (Cope & Kalantzis 2009). Through the concept of multimodal literacies, these learners utilize the affordances of these media using digital technologies to build up the composition of e-poetry consisting images and texts.

To analyse the representations of images in this new genre, the visual semiotics of Panofsky's (1972) Iconography is chosen. This framework is relevant as it questions the representations and the hidden meanings of the images; or in van Leeuwen's (2005, p. 92) words, "what do the images represent and how; and what values and the people and places stand for". Iconography requires three levels of pictorial meanings, namely representational meaning, iconographical symbolism and iconological symbolism. Though iconography has been associated with conventions of representations, it is aimed in this paper that contemporary images produced by the learners may be analysed and researched further by cross reference using intertextual comparisons and documentary research on social meaning making. Interestingly, this intention may lead to a resolution that poetics can indeed be political (Currie 1998).

2. Incorporating images in a Creative Writing classroom: The Context

Creative Writing class of e-Method in Literary Production is a class that integrates e-learning in the classroom pedagogy. Learners were asked to complete a class project of producing creative writings including e-poetry in their e-portfolio as a form of course assessment. This has been outlined in the course objectives that state, among all,"... be introduced to technical presentation skills; learn the processes involved in writing and publication. They will compose creative texts by integrating computer and technological programs" (Course Proforma 2008). Initially in the previous semesters, the learners were exposed to various literary works of local and international authors in which the imbedded social, cultural and political elements are discussed. As they have also been exposed to Critical Theory of Postcolonial Literature, attended classes on Nation and Narration, and Nation in Building, which include the understanding on the nation-building construction and the related concepts such as identity and discourse/power, they are thus expected to produce works seen from critical lens. Therefore, when they were asked to create poetry that revisions events in the history of Malaysia on its independence (Merdeka), they creatively utilize the certain computer affordances such as Flash, Windows Movie Maker, Word, jpeg,

bitmap, mpeg, to enhance their representations. Selected symbolic representations to stand for their design give these learners the platform to exhibit their creativity and channel their personal concerns. It is in this paper that the chosen learners interpret the past through the symbolic representations of public displays and figures on national monuments as the social symbols (Duncan 1990). This preference is related to the learners' social memory, which in turn reflects their "identity politics" (Johnson 2002, p. 294). In other words, this much assumed shared memory is nonetheless interpreted or reproduced in a communicative yet dynamic manner. This encapsulates that solidarity may not produce unanimous understanding of the knowledge of the past.

3. Glimpses of Images in representations

The rapid advancement in technology and globalization have influenced the current trends of reshaping the landscape of communication, thereby impacting on literacy and literary work. Digitalization has significantly reconstructed images through media (Sturken & Cartwright 2009, Kress 2003) and modernized its representations for various range of professional works such as editorial, information, advertising and even literacy (Marshall & Meachem 2010). This is related to our contemporary world which has experienced the 'visual turn' and influenced by 'ocularcentric' culture (Mitchell, 1994 in Spencer 2011, p. 11), a phenomena which prioritizes vision among all senses (Banks 2007). As a result, the change in media technology has given way to different visual experiences which among others, allow "simultaneous experience of visual, audio, verbal data as fluid and easily manipulated"(Spencer 2011, p. 11) thus leading to 'polysemic interpretation' as it may have multitude definitions (Barthes, 1964). This justifies the needs to map the various representations of different visual experiences by the learners.

In this study, the representations chosen by the three learners basically works on the theme of patriotism. The images of the monuments and displays are appropriately chosen as they are acknowledged as 'rhetorical topoi - those civic compositions that teach us about our national heritage and public responsibilities..."(Boyer 1994:321). The monument becomes their representations that connect creation with the idea on patriotism. By definition, patriotism means the deep love for one's nation that one is willing to stand for and fight for its independence (Kamus Dewan 1992). This suggests that the learners' selection of images underlie their civic orientation to declare their feelings of patriotism towards Independent Malaysia. However, this can somehow be questioned. As they are the post-independence generation, whose social memory of Independence constitutes mainly secondary or even tertiary experience, their understanding may be based on representations of events in the past such as, the commemoration of the dead warriors and the parades which may be seen political through the national elites's invented rituals which ' continuity with an appropriate historic past..."(Connerton 1989:51). Therefore, the chosen images and texts can be varied thus lead to the dynamic interpretation of the events. It is in this paper that such variation is discussed through the examination of the composition and interaction projected by the symbolic representations in the poems.

4. Visual interpretation of symbolic historical images - the methodology

As the learners had had background knowledge on nation building and its related concepts, the collection of schemata provides them with the ability to produce poetry that firstly revisions their reading of a specific event in the Independence, and secondly, accommodate this verbal language representation with the visual. Because the creations take into consideration that images are semiotics, this in turn indicates that meaning making is a matter of preference (Kress 2010), Hence the selected verbal and visual languages would reflect the choices of individual people of different interests and background.

Using Panofsky's (1972) iconography, questions on the representation and on its covert significance are posed through the layering of representational meaning, iconographical symbolism and iconological symbolism. These layers are respectively work firstly, on the recognition of the individual or object; secondly, denotation on individual, object and concepts attached; and finally, on the ideological meaning of the representations. . Significant techniques in the design of the images are utilized, such as perspectives and circumstances that give

context to the narrative and cropping as the effective technique of maximizing image potential by choice. Likewise, interactional metafunction to create an imaginary relationship of the reader with the images has been chosen and this is signified by eye contact, social distance and involvement/detachment (Kress 1996, 2006). The use of colour as affordances is evident in both metafunctions to accentuate meaning to the viewers.

4. E-poetry under the critical lens

The e-poetries produced by the three selected learners are the products of human and technology configuration. Their images created are engineered using the technological affordances in order to complement the verbal language. By encoding the images of the National Monument and its statues against the strategies to appreciate Rukun Negara (Jumali at al. 2012), the theme on patriotism re-emerged. The images appeared in the form of a digitalized computer image, a photograph of a re-enactment of the monument and an abstract representation of the theme are semiotically analysed. The representations are negotiated products of the social memory which redefine the task on nation building.

Firstly, the historical image of the National Monument is selected in a poem entitled "A Moment of lying Down" by 'Anis' (2008). The e-poetry is basically her remembrance of the patriotisms of the national warriors, who had died while fighting for Malaya's Independence. Her poem reflects her appreciation of their sacrifice, and her retrospection of the present if Malaysia were still colonised. Her memory that links the past and present is crafted carefully thus validating "...creative collaboration between present consciousness and the experience of expression in the past"(Boyarin 1994, p. 22).

For a long time ^^r

As a mannequin of the National Monument

Makes me think

Makes me feel

Looking back 51 years ago

When our warriors

Fought for our freedom

When they died In the battle

Fighting for our nation.

For a long time

As a warrior who died in the battle Makes me choked

Thinking of their sacrifice Thinking of their perseverance To defend our rights To save our country.

Lying down For a long time

Makes me ask myself

What would it be without our warriors?

/ould we have peace???


A moment of lying down »

Figure 1. Poetry and Images: A Moment of Lying Down

At the representational level of the text, the images comprised the embedding or composite of two elements: the picture of statues of warriors in many positions and actions taken from the low angle perspective, and the silhouette of the national flag, Jalur Gemilang as the background. In reality, the statues represent the different branches of the Malayan Security Forces, all in combat uniform. The five figures represent the victorious Security Forces. The top most central figure, who is also the only one unarmed, is holding a staff from which the Malaysian flag flies. Lower down, to the left and right of the central figure are two servicemen clad in attack attitude, one armed with a rifle and the other, a bayonet. In the middle, between the two, are two service-men, one wounded, while the other is giving him aid and comfort. Below are two figures lying prone and dead, bodies of the Communist terrorists (Kementerian Penerangan dan Penyiaran 1966, p. 9), long recognised as enemies of the state. At the top of the representation is the title, "The Moment of Lying Down" . One can read the title as attributing to the memory of the dead soldiers, who have died in their sacrifice for the home country. This

combination of images and text functions as "primary or natural subject matter" that connects the recognition of what is seen and meant. This also brings to the level of iconographical symbolism where the 'object-signs', as in Barthes' term, denotes the theme of patriotism.

At the iconological symbolism level of analysis, the ideological meaning is discovered. A major finding of the study reveals that while the five warriors were physically in close proximity there was no eye contact between and amongst them. This is because each one of them is respectively representing different values of patriotism, as declared by de Weldon, the creator of the Monument,

The top most figure will show leadership, as he holds the flag which is the symbol of leadership, which is the symbol of unity and strength as well as the ideals of Malaya. On each side of the figure are two powerful men of the Security Forces ready to fight for these ideals and they have won a victory against great odds. This monument will typify the unsurpassed gallantry of all men of the Security Forces of Malaya. In the central front a man is aiding and giving comfort to a wounded soldier whose facial expression portrays his suffering. This symbolizes the sacrifices made throughout the ranks of the fighting forces for the maintenance of peace and freedom. On the ground are two figures representing the defeated forces of evil, vanquished and dead.

(Kementerian Penerangan dan Penyiaran 1996, p. 13)

In the text, values are signified by their corresponding act of sign significations through body language of the voiceless statues and the materials they have. The heroic good is signified by the upright or vertical positions on the platform with significant weapons whereas the defeated evil by horizontal positioning, being dead and unarmed. Likewise, the image of the colourful flag on the left, which is cropped in vignette as its borders is shown to fade into the background. Interestingly, the use of grayscale or monochrome grey, white and black soften the tragic representation of the fighters, who are seen more humanized due to their deeds. The height of the horizon marked by the limitless sky gives us the sense of looking up to these images, and this connotes respect. This again accentuates the representations of national unity being part of the frame of nation building.

However, the learner's decision to exclude the images of the two dead 'bodies' from the frame is ironical to the title of poem, "A Moment of Lying Down" (Refer to Figure 3: The National Monument) . Her referral to the dead body of the Communist who "Lying down... as a warrior who died" is thus questionable. The images of body positioning chosen to signify victory and sacrifice against the verses of poetry to depict the learner in a pensive mood are therefore a mismatch. As the learner cropped the picture in adherence to suit her creativity, these images-text are somehow relationally contradictory. Her initial conformity to the idea of reappraising Independence is by choosing the Monument as a conventional symbolic representation on the idea of patriotism; nevertheless, her creative technique makes her interpretation of Independence unclear.

Figure 2: The National Monument

In another poem with a similar theme on love for the country, the National Monument again became the object of study. However, here, the second learner (Ruth, 2008) chose to re-enact the scene and capture the

statue-like positions of six learners' playing the role of the soldiers of the National Monument. In this interpretation, Ruth had six soldiers and not seven (of the values) as represented in the Monument. This representation is therefore similar in terms of research background as with the previous poem, although, at the analysis of iconographical symbolism, one notes that , the army fatigue worn by the 'soldiers' are contemporary and its representation is closer to the colour of the nature.

Figure 3. Poetry

The soldiers are in the upright, medium and horizontal positions. In revisioning the representation of the past experience, the contemporary images in local setting situate the previous real narrative of the good against evil to become the narrative of her 'home'. All One can infer that the soldiers or warriors in the upright position connote those who have fought for the country. As the standing images signify the positive values of leadership, readiness and strength in unity due to their closeness as mentioned before, the ones kneeling and laying down or in horizontal position reflects new body positioning of comforting, suffering and sacrifice. This new representation of patriotism strongly reflects the learner's hopes as the image makers to the creation of a country, among all,"...that stood strong in the face of brutality"(Kalpana 2008). This may suggest that at the level of iconological symbolism, the partial resemblance and partial new body positionings from the conventional representations of the Monument is due to the learner's hidden ideology. As post-Independence citizens, these young learners' concept of patriotism may be based on present memory of the contemporary fighters they have seen during the Independence Day parades; whilst the Communists remain a distant and silent memory of the past.

In contrast to the earlier texts, another untitled poem by Ruth Thresa (2008) projects her fascination on abstract designs and colour permutation. This poem is another creative expression on the theme of patriotism though it does not portray the image of the warrior in army uniform. The representation has obviously adopted the use of digital technology as the image consists of an abstract figure amidst a setting adorned with significant hues of colour.

Figure 4. Poetry

At the iconographical symbolism level of analysis, the short verse of poetry located in the small and confined frame of a computer monitor screen reveals her interpretation of independence in a jerky, prose-like and unlyrical poem, "31st IS THE DATE, AUGUST IS THE MONTH, 1957 IS THE YEAR, THE ABOVE IS OUR INDEPENDENCE DAY". These lines of enjambment in a matter-of-fact tone let slip her uncertainty, unaffectionate and indifference towards perception on her country's Independence Day. As the distance of the screen is located away from the viewer (represented in oblique projection), this suggests further physical detachment away from the viewer and marks the learner's subjective representation.

In addition, there is harmony in the representation: the use of white as the background and blue as the border of the screen that complements and accentuates the 'announcement of Independence', green and blue as the analogous colours, which work in synchrony as they are located next to each other in the colour wheel (Marshall & Maecham 2010, p. 133). There is however, irony , in the image representation of the poem. At a glance, the use of Arial as the typography of the poetry in upper case seems friendly due to its well-curved and rounded letters; however , the use of capital letters hinder the reading of the text "as shapes that the words form" as they indirectly indicate individualism (Marshall & Meache:86).

Interestingly, the accompanying image of a man in corporate male office-wear (shirt and trousers in red tie) to represent the icon is insightful. Compared to the previous two figurative images discussed in which army fatigue or uniform is meant for resilience, this office wear promises lightness and thus comfort. The image of the man in a heroic act of holding the computer cable with the arm up straight also redefines the idea of victory over hurdles in life at ease - a contemporary meaning of independence. The shadowy reflection of the icon and the desktop insinuates uncertain and loose connection to Independence as it was meant in the past. This thus becomes a re-definition on the idea of patriotism based on the learner's memory of the historical events in the past.

4. Conclusion

The interpretation of images in this paper speaks of the power of images besides texts in the contemporary world. Kress (2003) has argued that 'the world shown' is dissimilar to 'the world told'. The examination into three poetries consisting of images and selected text has reconstructed the past events of Malaysian Independence which discloses their dynamic social memory as well as subjective perspectives as the citizens of post independence. Their chosen images become another form of non-verbal communication which work similarly to language as both represents the 'patterns of experience' (Halliday 1985, p. 101). This interpretation on images of the National Monument and the heroes under the thematic analysis of patriotism is not conventional as theirs are based on social, cultural and political context. Through their creative technique to creative writing, these learners challenge our anticipations by declining the stereotype representation of love for nation, which is by editing, adapting and reworking the images of National Monument and the symbolic figure. Therefore, their choices are significantly not mere representations of realism, but creation and maintenance of particular social practices. This exposes their individualism as the citizen of Malaysia's post-Independence. As such, visual literacy should be the platform of a new pedagogy that should not be overlooked in order to encourage creation and understanding of multimodal e-poetry in even a broader and critical context.


This study is part of a research project funded by Research University Grant Scheme (FRUGS). Therefore, we are very much indebted by the sponsorship which has significantly assisted the research.


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