What is Exposition?

John Maguire in his Atlantic Article argues that student writing often is not the best because it gets too caught up on ideas and forgets that all ideas come from physical things. Exposition is focusing on the world outside of your own head. As Kineavy writes in Expressive Discourse: One of the requirements for writing expressively (aka with style) is that you take into account what Sarte calls Being in the world, which he explains is the broader cultural context of you and your actions. How you relate to the world. This is important not only in writing, but also in regular everyday actions.

No man is an Island.

-John Donne

We sometimes have this cultural image in our heads that great writers and creators were all isolated geniuses that took nothing and created completely original innovation, like a fly spontaneously generating out of dead flesh. However, much like flies, writing does not come from nothing. Every poem, manual, or novel was situated in its own cultural and historic moment.

Material culture studies is about using expository writing practices to uncover and demystify that moment. This is important because as I have learned through out Exposition 3140, a piece of text, a  bottle, a civil war belt buckle, or a pair of wooden die are so much more than just trash. They have so much information contained within them that could be written. Exposition takes that information and puts it in a mode of communication that is useful and appealing to people.

The idea of expository writing being used to help people understand each other better reminds me of my favorite quote from E.M. Forster :

Only connect
-Howards End

It is such a short quote but it always felt so meaningful to me. And its message is probably at the heart of why I study writing: to connect with people, to understand others and make myself understood. And exposition is an important part of understanding. In many cases, the best (and only) way to convey a feeling or experience is through describing it. And not just with words.

I’ve come to realize through working on my object analysis that multi-modality is critical to exposition. Like Writer/Designer points out, all text is multi-modal, so it is best to work with multi-modality and fully explore different mediums to communicate information. The object exhibits on Atlanta Artifacts would not be nearly as interesting without the visual images and 3D model and the gestural Timeline. While the different modes can give different information about an object, multi-modality also just makes exposition a little more fun.

I’m reminded of the first scene in Lewis Caroll’s Alice in Wonderland

“And what is the use of a book,” thought Alice, “without pictures or conversation?

To conclude, exposition is about replicating an aspect of the world or of yourself to other people. It’s about connecting. And it’s about using diverse ways of communicating to preserve the wonder of a piece of the world for other people to enjoy, experience, and learn from.

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