February 21, 2005


I've got several lines of thought I'm looking to trace out, but I'm going to start with what's a relatively minor point, one that allows me to get a little snark out of the way. The listening that Booth advocates is largely undifferentiated in RoR--in other words, there's little account here of the fact that, even in deeply committed listening, we bump against what Burke (following Veblen) calls our "trained incapacities." A kinder way of describing this phenomenon is to say that our radar is more alert to some things than to others.

Continue reading "Internettery" »

February 26, 2005

Rhetrickery = Cookery?

Mike caught me in a bit of sloppiness in a comment over at his site this past week, and I thought I'd see if I couldn't redeem myself here. While I can't claim the background in classical rhetoric that Mike has, I'd like to explore my intuition that Booth is making a move toward Platonism in RoR. The original passage where he self-identifies as Platonic is fairly qualified:

The history of philosophy has been full of debates about whether some value judgments deserve to be added to this category of hard, unchangeable fact. Saving that issue for chapter 4, I must confess here, as much of my previous work reveals, that I am strongly on the "Platonic" side: torturing a child to death for the sheer pleasure of it is always wrong, and that fact will never be changed by any form of rhetoric. Slavery will always be wrong, no matter how many cultures practice it. Though rhetoric is needed to change minds about such truths--they're only in effect discovered through centuries of catastrophe and discussion about it--they are still for me part of unchangeable reality (13).

It's fair, I think, to say that, over at vitia, I placed more weight on the word "Platonic" than it was intended to bear. And yet. And yet.

Continue reading "Rhetrickery = Cookery?" »

March 14, 2005

Let the carnival commence

This entry is meant to serve a couple of purposes. First, below, I offer a quick chapter summary of Wayne Booth's The Rhetoric of Rhetoric. Presumably, when any of us engages his ideas specifically and closely, we'll provide citations, pull quotes, etc., but for those readers who are looking for the basic sweep of the book's argument, here it is.

Second, this entry provides a hub for the discussion. Please point your trackbacks at

or add links to your pages in the comments. Obviously, we'll be linking to each other as we build on and respond to each other's ideas, but ideally, this entry will collect it all. For convenience's sake, I'll leave this entry sitting at the top of my blog for a couplefew weeks. Any questions? I refer you finally to the house rules. And we're off...

Update: John has set up a hub over at jocalo for his own posts.
Update: Byron has responded to each of the eight chapters, and provides a hub of his own.
Timing Update: I've reset the date on this entry to π day (3.14), after which I'll be blogging from San Francisco at the CCCC.

Continue reading "Let the carnival commence" »

March 15, 2005

A Final, Carnivalous Update

I want to thank everyone who commented, posted, tracked back, etc. in our discussion of The Rhetoric of Rhetoric. The post is going to be sliding down my slippery blogslope soon, and when it does, I'll add a link to it in my sidebar.

Lessons learned? It'd probably be useful to allow for a little more lag time between the announcement and the discussion itself. Several people missed the heart of the discussion because books were late in arriving. And if we weren't bumping up against CCCC and all the preparation that it entails, the tail end of the discussion would probably have been a little more lively.

In all, I was pretty happy with how this went. Anyone want to volunteer to host the next one? Chances are that we'll get to see some new books at CCCC, so maybe there'll be something there that peaks my/our/your interest.

June 28, 2005


Jeff and Donna have already begun to take up Clancy on the suggestion that we rebegin our little rhetcomp carnival, and so this is a bit after the fact, I suppose. Nevertheless, anyone who's interested should pick up Richard Fulkerson's essay "Composition at the Turn of the Twenty-First Century" from the latest issue of CCC:

I argue that examining two collections of essays designed for the preparation of new writing teachers and published twenty years apart provides some important clues to what has occurred to composition studies in the interval. Building on the framework I established in two previous CCC articles, I argue that composition studies has become a less unified and more contentious discipline early in the twenty-first century than it had appeared to be around 1990. The present article specifically addresses the rise of what I call critical/cultural studies, the quiet expansion of expressive approaches to teaching writing, and the split of rhetorical approaches into three: argumentation, genre analysis, and preparation for “the� academic discourse community.

Feel free to trackback this entry to alert us to contributions in your own space(s), or drop a link in the comments. Or Jeff's. Or Donna's. Or Derek's. Or Jenny's. etc.

September 4, 2006

Collections vs Conversations

Derek's citation of an entry over at Paul Matsuda's blog tripped a bit of a switch for me this evening, and the result is probably going to be a sizable post. Buckle your seat belt.

What I want to take issue with, ever so slightly, is the tried and true bit of wisdom that entering academia is a matter of "joining the conversation." We're fond, in rhetcomp, of Kenneth Burke's passage from Philosophy of Literary Form, as a metaphor for disciplinarity:

Imagine that you enter a parlor. You come late. When you arrive, others have long preceded you, and they are engaged in a heated discussion, a discussion too heated for them to pause and tell you exactly what it is about. In fact, the discussion had already begun long before any of them got there, so that no one present is qualified to retrace for you all the steps that had gone before. You listen for a while, until you decide that you have caught the tenor of the argument; then you put in your oar. Someone answers; you answer him; another comes to your defense; another aligns himself against you, to either the embarrassment or gratification of your opponent, depending upon the quality of your ally's assistance. However, the discussion is interminable. The hour grows late, you must depart. And you do depart, with the discussion still vigorously in progress.

There are critiques of the Habermasian character of the Burkean parlor, but that's not my concern. My concern is with the ease with which "putting in one's oar" is translated into the nominalism of "publication." As in, I need a publication, or to get a publication, or I don't have enough publications. I'm being somewhat specific here: I'm objecting to "publication" as a thing you have as opposed to "publishing" as an activity you engage in. And thus my concern is also with how we translate "listen for a while," because I think that's key for publishing (and perhaps less of an emphasis in publication).

For the past couple of years, I've been handing out Paul Matsuda's chapter "Coming to Voice: Publishing as a Graduate Student," from Casanave and Vandrick's Writing for Scholarly Publication (Amazon). In fact, I wrote about it, almost exactly a year ago, in the context of a discussion about the ongoingness of blogging. So it was kind of cool to see Paul repeat some of that essay in a blog entry a couple of weeks back. And it reminded me about why I hand out his chapter in the first place.

I wrote a year ago that "What's important about the essay is that it narrates a process that's not about acquiring disciplinary content so much as it is learning about the conversations, about seeing publication as an ongoing process," but I want to amend that statement slightly. I'm now beginning to wonder if even the metaphor of "conversations" pushes us too quickly towards the "publication" end of things.

As I mentioned early on, over at Rhetwork, the idea of collection has been gathering steam for me for a while. And so I want to contrast collection with conversation as a guiding metaphor for academic/intellectual activity, particularly at its early stages, i.e., in graduate school.

I'll add some citations to this eventually, but this summer, at RSA, I gave a paper where I suggested that collection, as Walter Benjamin describes it in "Unpacking My Library," operates as a hinge between narrative and database, in part based upon our affective investment in it. I may look at my big wall of books and see all the various connections among texts, in terms of their content, chronology, and my own encounters with them. In short, I may perceive it as a big wall of conversations, of disciplinary narratives. Someone else may happen upon it, and simply see a library, a database of rhetoric, critical theory, technology studies, et al.

The value of the collection, of having all these books here, is that I'll never know what's going to be useful. I can't predict, when I begin an essay, what will find its way in and what won't. I have the luxury of being able to work my way through my collection, following up on dimly perceived connections, my own added marginalia, etc. And the wall enacts on a material scale what's going on in my head as I constantly add articles, books, ideas, etc., to the collection of disciplinary knowledge that occupies a certain portion of my mind.

It probably feels like I've wandered from my point. My point is that we tend to think of our disciplines largely in terms of the narratives we construct, stories of the field's progress from point A to B to C or as conversations among certain luminaries occurring in the pages of journals and books. To treat the discipline as a database (where, a la Manovich, it's just "an infinite flat surface where individual texts are placed in no particular order� ) is to foreclose, initially at least, on the narratives that we tell ourselves about our fields.

But of course, disciplines are neither one nor the other; they're both. From the outside, the publications in a given discipline comprise a growing mountain of discourse that no one person could possibly master. From the inside, even a single article may yield all sorts of narrative information about where the writer's from, with whom she studied, to whom she's responding. We become quite adept at reconstructing conversations from a single voice, and the occluded genres of footnotes, citations, and bibliographies can only help us do so.

And when faced with the conceptual metaphor of a discipline as a gathering of conversations, as a parlor, our response is to want to join it, to enter the conversation. The uber-competitive job market only fuels this desire, as if it needed feeding. When faced with a conversation, there aren't a lot of other options.

I want instead to think about collection as an alternative metaphor for what we do, or an earlier stage of a longer process. In part, I'm prompted by Brendan's Katamari Interface and by Jeff's comments about DJs as researchers. When I think of the tools that I use most often, I can see them in terms of collecting:

  • blogs, collecting my thoughts and notes
  •, collecting my bookmarks
  • Library Thing, collecting my books
  • Bloglines, collecting my feeds

and so on. In talking about why it's important to "read it all," Paul explains:

I then scan through [the library] to explore the intertextuality--which sources get mentioned more frequently and how. I then collect more sources if I don't have them handy. Without this process, it wouldn't be possible to come up with viable research questions or to know what questions or concerns reviewers and readers might have.

This is exactly the kind of data mining that we become proficient at as academics, but it's awfully tough to accomplish unless you have that collection to begin with. As we gain experience, we learn how to read articles for their intertextuality, for the differences between primary and secondary sources, etc. But the conversations emerge from collection, not the other way around. And in fact, I want to suggest that the discipline as database also emerges from collection, but that's a different essay.

I'm most certainly not trying to sneak around the back way to saying that "grad students these days are too focused on publication blah blah blah," although there are probably hints of that here. To take a course is to engage in collection, as you read texts and add them either to your active memory or your shelves. It's something we all do, period. To read a journal is to add to your collection.

I'm doing a guest shot in our gateway course this week, and what I'll be talking about, what I'm interested in here, are the logics of thinking as a collector. There are all sorts of tools, not to mention plenty of great examples, for the process of managing your collection, but it's important, I think, to make the figural leap. That is, it's important to understand that what we do in graduate school is to collect.

When I was a kid, I collected baseball cards. And for the first couple of months, I would buy the random packs of cards, always with the assurance that there'd be at least a few cards that I didn't have. As that number began to shrink, I'd start trading my doubles for friends' doubles, of ones that I hadn't gotten yet. And it would get to the point where I'd need only a few to complete a team or even a season, and so I'd go and pay premium prices at the card shop for the one or three that I needed. As a collector, it was important to have the whole set, of course. Reading the journals in a field is a lot like buying store packs, and I don't mean that as an insult. But their output is constrained by their input. Some journals are like being able to buy a store pack with the guarantee that the cards are all from the same team. That's also what taking graduate courses are like, I think. At some point, though, you have to get really specific, and spend your time strategically, to find the key elements missing from your collection, and that means going beyond course work or journals, and tracing bibliographies, asking experts, etc. It means thinking like a collector.

On the one hand, thinking like a collector means just accumulating, rolling your brain/katamari over everything and anything it can pick up. But it also means thinking about how you're going to manage it, how you're going to be able to use, in two years, what you're reading now. I can tell you from experience, "Well of course I'll just remember it" won't work. Seriously. It was just about a year ago that I was coming off of a discussion of note-taking (I taught our gateway course last year), and wrote:

One of the things that I emphasized in class today was the need to develop systems that are sustainable, things you can do (and keep doing) after the initial motivation has passed and the glow has faded.

And that's what I'll end with this year. And probably this week in that course. Use folders, notebooks, blogs, whatever, but build sustainable collection practices that you can engage in tomorrow as well as two years from now. Collect, collect, collect.

Told you it'd be long. That's all.

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January 27, 2007

Trimbur Calling

I hadn't planned on participating until later next month, but for whatever reason, Jeff's comments struck a chord, and sent me back to Trimbur's original article. I may talk more about it then, too, but one of the things that struck me as I looked back over his piece today was Trimbur's call, the way that he frames his essay as a response to a particular debate:

...another debate is currently brewing. You can see signs of it, for example, in Gary A. Olson's response to Wendy Bishop's argument in the lead article of a special issue of College Composition and Communication. According to Bishop, the teaching of writing has fallen victim to the theorists whose convoluted prose has taken the "joy" out of writing, and self-identified "expressivists" such as herself are being marginalized by the theory machine (a claim Olson--and I--find suspect on the grounds she was, after all, elected chair of CCCC). From Olson's perspective, Bishop's complaint represents a "backlash" against the hard-earned work of composition theorists to make the field intellectually respectable.

I've included the whole passage here rather than just the bit of it I want to use. That bit is actually quite small--I'm mainly interested at the moment in the parenthetical comment, Trimbur's off-handed refutation of Bishop's claims to marginality,

(a claim Olson--and I--find suspect on the grounds she was, after all, elected chair of CCCC)

In the next paragraph, Trimbur explains that "I cannot in this article do justice to the full range of issues involved," but that parenthetical remark, in a single line, does the kind of casual injustice to the issues that is far too common in these kinds of discussions. We can't study "the social relations and bodies of knowledge" or argue about the proper scope of our variously named discipline if we're not willing to unravel these kinds of comments and see them for the problems they raise.

At issue for me here are the competing claims made by both Olson and Bishop of marginality--each of them at different points lays claim to underdog status. And Trimbur supports Olson's claim with a reference to Bishop's status as a former CCCC Chair, an elected position and probably the highest profile office or position in our discipline. Well, yes and no.

One of Trimbur's most significant contributions to our discipline, for me, is his observation in "Composition and the Circulation of Writing" that the canon of delivery has been reduced, in contemporary rhetcomp, to the submission of student writing. His essay reopens that canon to the notion of circulation, the various ways that writing travels and the ways that such circulation enables and constrains our understanding of it. The issue that I have with the backhanded, parenthetical "compliment" above is that it disregards what we know about how knowledge and social relations circulate within the discipline.

The easiest way to put this is the following: a person's election to the office of CCCC Chair only tangentially relates to the currency or centrality of that person's avowed positions. One may use certain of the privileges of that office to advance a particular position, but honestly, what happens in Trimbur's parenthesis is a non-sequitur. In fact, one could say that Olson's position as editor of JAC for many years put him in a far more influential position than nearly anyone else in the discipline.

The more complicated way to put this is to acknowledge that the discipline of writing studies or rhetcomp is a deeply-layered ecology of networks, a few of which we might isolate conceptually like this. The discipline is, among other things,

  • a scholarly network, comprised of various genres, publication venues, publication speeds, and specialities;
  • a pedagogical network, running sometimes parallel, sometimes behind, and sometimes perpendicular to the scholarly network;
  • a dispersed set of local, social networks, in the form of writing programs, graduate programs, and/or both; and
  • a national social network, taking place at national and regional conferences, driven in part by the logics of celebrity.

Bishop, Olson, and by extension Trimbur, are engaged in a debate and locating it within the scholarly network, but in the case of the parenthetical remark, evidence for the quality of the scholarship network is being drawn from the social network. Is there some relationship between the two? Of course. But that relationship is not nearly as straightforward as I think we assume. There are multiple paths to celebrity in our field, and it manifests in different ways.

So I don't find it suspect in the least that someone who was elected CCCC Chair might feel that her beliefs are being marginalized--the two things have very little to do with one another. Our names as scholars and the ideas we advance circulate in different ways; each of us may experience those circulations, when it comes to our own names and ideas, as entirely paired and parallel, but they're not. There are people who know me who couldn't tell you the second thing about what I believe, and likewise, there are probably folks out there who have read an article or two by me who couldn't pick my name out of a list.

And that's really just author function. In fact, I may simply be arguing that our particular disciplinary identities are intermixes of various functions that correspond to the different networks that mesh to produce the discipline. And in the case of the capital-d Debates that Trimbur references are capitalized in our field because they combine functions. They get at the heart of the (knowledge) enterprise, but in part, this is because their participants already occupy a fairly central place in the (social) enterprise.

Why make such a big deal out of a prefatory, parenthetical remark? Because at the root of that remark is what I take "writing studies" to mean. Like Jeff, I'd like to see us more sensitive to the multiple networks that inform the practice of writing in any context. And the practice of framing our discipline in terms of Debates over Ideas conducted by Celebrities is one model of circulation that remains fairly invisible to us. It's a model that privileges a particular scale or network while occluding others. And at the heart of Trimbur's essay is a call to draw on our beliefs in one network (a broader conception of the scope of the scholarship of the discipline) and translate them to our local, pedagogical networks in the form of writing majors--"the question "Should writing be studied?" suggests a shift in symbolic space from the workshop to the seminar room," he writes. But shifts like those are never seamless, nor should we trust those who treat them as such. (Nor am I arguing that Trimbur does, by the way--he does admit that this shift can be "wrenching.")

For me, the shift to "writing studies" necessitates the awareness that such a shift ripples across our different networks in various ways. Which is obvious enough, I suppose, except that ours is a discipline where that kind of awareness isn't always on display, to put it kindly.

I fear that this post has become far more about me than about Trimbur. Ah well. I'll try to follow it up with something a little more on point, later in Feb.

Until then, that is all.

March 1, 2007

The How of Writing Studies

I thought I might return one more time to the carnival and add a couple of more thoughts. Be warned, though. I suspect that this will be more a loose affiliation of thoughts than a careful essay. It was prompted most recently by an entry over on Cara Finnegan's blog, wherein she asks whether method chapters are strictly necessary anymore. Of our own neighborhood in Rhetopia, she writes:

And I could be wrong, but it doesn't seem that my friends on the rhetoric/composition side of things have anxiety about "methods" in quite the same way.

I started a reply over there, but followed the 2 paragraph rule (when a comment gets much longer than a couple of paragraphs, I tend to copy and paste it into an entry here). First things first, I disagree with her observation. Or rather, I agree with it only in a certain way. She describes the work of "rhetorical critics and historians" thusly:

The obligatory methods section feels to me more and more like a prehensile tail, something rhetorical critics evolved at one point because it was institutionally useful (particularly in communication departments concerned with questions of legitimacy in the academy). First of all, does anybody really work that way? Aren't most of us using a variety of "methods" and approaches in our work? Most rhetorical critics and historians approach discourse more or less inductively, and adjust their critical approaches accordingly.

I wouldn't call this "a variety of methods," but rather a variety of perspectives informing a single method. I don't say this to be critical, because I do think that this is a nearly overwhelming default position in rhet/comp as well. So if indeed our field enjoys a lack of anxiety over methodology, that lack itself strikes me as a worthy cause of anxiety. As much as I tease friends for going meta with their neuroses, this is a case where we should be worried about not being worried.

This is not a direct engagement with Trimbur, but I think it's one of those layers that we might add to the questions that he discusses. To the question "Should writing be studied?" then, my gut response is to ask instead, "How should writing be studied?"

In part, my thinking on this is motivated by the fact that I'll be teaching our methods course in the fall, and I'm already thinking about what I want to do there. But it's also motivated by own lack of training in methods beyond the textual (which is what I take Cara to be describing in her entry). And finally, it's motivated by my perception that at one time, rhet/comp engaged passionately with questions of how we might study writing, but now we do a lot less of it. I could be wrong, of course, but here's a little evidence:

First, Chris Anson's talk last year at WPA (discussed by Becky here and here) Follow that second link, and you'll see a list of activities, almost all of which strike me as necessary in order for us to claim the study of writing as our province.

Second, Rich Haswell's essay, which Anson cited in his talk, on the "NCTE/CCCC’s Recent War on Scholarship." Although there's a part of that essay that I've critiqued, the essay overall is an important one. The consistent devaluation of replicable, aggregable, and data-driven scholarship in our field is interesting to me, as it supports the emergence of celebritocratic, reading virtuosity as the coin of the realm.

Third, I'd point out a couple of interesting projects, neither of which was "published" in our field, but both of which strike me as just the sort of thing that scholars in writing studies could and should be doing. The first is Joseph Williams' "Problems into PROBLEMS: A Rhetoric of Introductions," (PDF) which is one of those 'tweeners, too long for an essay, too short for a book. "Problems" attempts a structural account of introductions (as opposed to the inductive work of Swales and others), supported with several small-scale studies. (I've gushed about it before) I'd also point out one of the winners of last year's Ig Nobel prizes, Daniel Oppenheimer's "Consequences of erudite vernacular utilized irrespective of necessity: problems with using long words needlessly" (Wiley), an essay that combines various small-scale studies about whether using longer words makes a text more effective. It's a little statisticklish, but nevertheless understsandable, and worth the read.

The thing about projects like these is that I can see them functioning as dissertation topics, but I could also easily imagine tailoring the studies so that they could be conducted in a graduate classroom, or even an undergraduate classroom. Another thing about them is that they take writing seriously, which strikes me as the sine qua non of answering the question of writing studies affirmatively.

This is to say nothing of my own methods, which increasingly take new media both as object and as an influence on method. And there are plenty of other methods I'm passing over here, from ethnography to activity theory to case studies, that might be more appropriate for writing-as-verb rather than writing-as-noun.

And finally, I should note that I started drafting this a couple of days ago, but only just got around to looking it over and touching it up. In the interim, I got a copy in the mail of Raul Sanchez's The Function of Theory in Composition Studies (Amazon). It's a fast read, but a good one, wherein he writes, among other things:

Globalization and the proliferation of technology make it imperative that compositionists develop a new kind of composition theory, one that understands its object of study very broadly and is conscious of its methodologies (72).

I couldn't have said it better myself, but have tried to say it somewhat longer here, I guess. My answer to the question "Should writing be studied?" depends in large part on what we mean both by the word "writing" and the word "studied." Not all our answers would be the same, I suspect.

That is all, except for the brief postscript that I've started brainstorming texts for the methods course (and am already at 25 books at the time I post this). Feel free to take a look--I'm using an Amazon Listmania list to do it, but may switch over to Library Thing if the list grows too big. You'll find it listed as CCR 691. Feel free also to suggest additions.

Now that is all.

November 30, 2007

Re/Visions are Live

I'm assuming that the issues themselves are going into the mail soon, but if you visit the NCTE site (which I seem to be doing a lot lately), you'll find the most recent issue of CCC available, which includes the Re/Visions piece from Anne, Jeff, and I.

The issue index is here, and the article itself is available here. You'll need to be a subscriber to download it, though. If you want a free copy of the Janangelo article, it's available on the front page of the CCC Online Archive.

I'm just heading out; otherwise, I wouldn't violate the rule against deictic linking. Sorry about that.