Tag Archives: invention

Unexpected: Positive affective energies

UPDATE (3/31): The Syracuse U student paper, The Daily Orangeran a story on HappyCUSE on March 31, 2014, including a brief quote by yours truly.

I ran this workshop for a 400-level community writing class yesterday and it went pretty well. It took longer than I imagined (about 90 minutes as opposed to the 60 originally allotted), but the variety of mini-zines that came out of this workshop was impressive. I copied their zines while they moved on to another activity with the instructor (this is a 3-hour class) and dropped off the pile of 100 unfolded zines before I left.

Most useful to me was to discover yet another way to experiment with experiential circulation, but without dedicating an entire unit or course to DIY or zines. I didn’t say much to the students in terms of what they could(n’t) or should(n’t) write about. I only suggested that if students were stuck, that they could imagine where their zines might be shopdropped; that is, by imagining the possible publics who might read their zines, they could think of the various messages they wanted to circulate. The original plan was to exchange multiple zines in class and work together to shopdrop all 100 zines around campus. The exchange also made it so that if they did have ideal drop sites in mind, they could make them explicit through their content (a zine with a card catalog number on it for example, might suggest placement at the library). 

Also interesting was the fact that students improvised a range of tools and invention strategies when they were asked to physically make a zine. Some used stats or images they got from their smartphones and copied them with pens; some ran downstairs to grab a newspaper to cut and paste using the scissors and glue stick we brought; others dug in their bags for different sized pens or used ours; and yet others still  simply talked through their ideas in groups.

At least one writer took it to a pretty amazing, and surprising extreme, shopdropping more than the expected five zines around campus:

Over the last 10 hours, @happyCuse has tweeted over 45 times and gained 62 followers by shopdropping what appears to be at least a dozen zines all over campus. And while I assumed shopdropping was a critical act of dissent, it was interesting to me that @happyCuse circulates what Catherine Chaput would call positive affective energies: “pathways that invite human connectivity and constitute knowledge as an ongoing, creative pursuit” (22). Folks who found the zine must have seen the hashtag and handle because they tweeted back once they’d found the zines. This is the kind of exchange that happens all the time in zine communities, but I didn’t think it could approximated in such a short workshop.

Anyway, I’d love to explore this connection further in the future, and think about shopdropping as a teachable, everyday circulatory practice, but for now, I’m simply going to accept the unexpected and look forward to the second workshop next Monday.

Histories and Counter-Histories

In the afterward to A Counter-History of Composition, Byron Hawk articulates several conceptual starting places for constructing a “sub/versive history,” a methodology that opens up historiography, that “moves beyond the binary designations and teleology of revisionary history to produce multiple counter-histories” (260). That is, Hawk’s interest is not to replace one history with another as a revisionist historiographer might do (i.e. Kitzhaber, Berlin, Crowley, or Connors), but to multiply histories to open up possibilities for the field that respond to exigencies of his time. As far as Hawk’s is concerned, our present time requires ecological, vitalist theories of composition. His counter-history thus revisits how vitalism has been positioned in order to create pedagogies centered on environments over specific subjectivities that develop from tactics like hermeneutics or heuristics. In other words, Hawk’s perspective on history is that it always already fulfills a rhetorical purpose.

In theory, historiography in comp/rhet has consistently acknowledged this point — in various Octologs, essays on methodologies (especially feminist ones), or in other monographs. That said, the degree to which our histories have been framed as rhetorical has varied considerably. For example, throughout Invention in Rhetoric and Composition, Janice Lauer uses four pedagogies to stress the ways scholars and practitioners have traditionally approached invention: as natural ability pedagogies, imitation pedagogies, practice pedagogies, and art pedagogies. She revisits this typology throughout Invention, but doesn’t explain how or why this lens makes the most sense for her history. Though she admits that sometimes these pedagogies are integrated, this typology is found throughout her work (see “Instructional Issues: Toward an Integration” from 1988). Lauer is certainly aware of the limits of history; she calls her approach merely “illustrative” in the face of the long historical record; but she does not imply that Invention is a work of rhetoric itself.

A more complicated example perhaps is James Berlin’s Rhetoric & Reality. Berlin uses epistemology as a terministic screen (via Burke) to identify three theories — objective, subjective, and transactional — for understanding how the field has approached college writing instruction throughout the 20th century. This method, he argues, should not read as a totality; he notes in the introduction that his “taxonomy is not meant to be taken as exhaustive of the entire field of rhetoric, but is simply an attempt to make manageable the discussion of the major rhetorics I have encountered in examining this period” (6). Here Berlin admits that his method is limiting, but still claims to offer a “true,” albeit incomplete, history. Later in the introduction, Berlin reflects on his role as the historian, that it is up to each “to make every effort to be aware of the nature of her point of view and its interpretive strategies, and to be candid about them with her reader” (17). Berlin’s interpretive strategy, then, is that epistemology is a means to interpret reality and exposes the rhetorical values of the time. This is especially important with pedagogy if, as Berlin notes, the very act of teaching is to provide “students with guidance in seeing and structuring their experience, with a set of tacit rules about distinguishing truth from falsity, reality from illusion” (7). The remainder of Rhetoric & Reality then uses these three epistemologies (objective, subjective, transactional) to structure and define how composition instruction has morphed since the 19th century.

The issue between Hawk and Berlin is not so much that Berlin wouldn’t accept alternative histories, but that he does very little to situate his history rhetorically. The problem with this, as Sharon Crowley argued in her review of the book, is that the taxonomy is “driven by its own inner compulsion.” In other words, Berlin’s emphasis on rhetoric as the search for truth precludes other important possibilities in his 100-year history. How then, does one come to terms with the rhetoric of history? What makes certain histories better than others? Or is that even the right question? After all, although Lauer and Berlin’s do not claim to understand history as rhetorical, as introductions to the field, their books are instrumental.

Hawk’s afterward sketches some of the basic concepts necessary for a counter-history; moreover, he borrows these stances from Nietzsche to describe the rhetorical use of historiography: history as monumental, antiquarian, and critical. A monumental stance offers first-run, archetypal histories, where authors sketch narratives of important figures who might inspire or persuade readers. The problem with such histories is that they are hegemonic. Hence, the antiquarian stance is a necessary revision to fill the gaps or to write entirely new narratives of the past; they “go back in history and bring up forgotten details, to remember those people and events that were pushed aside by historical forces” (261). Whereas Connors’s Composition-Rhetoric: Backgrounds, Theory, and Pedagogy might be monumental, Royster’s Traces of a Stream might be seen as antiquarian because it attempts to recover a history of African-American women that monumental histories exclude. The problem with both approaches, however, is that they tend to be positivist and reinforce the present. Critical stances, by contrast, resist determinism and “remembers only to forget” (261). According to Nietzsche, whereas monumental and antiquarian stances provide narrative accounts of history, a critical stance is fundamentally argumentative and “invents an origin in the past” (261).

One such example of a critical history might be found in Crowley’s Composition in the University, a collection of polemical essays that trace composition’s marginalized status in the academy to the universal requirement of the writing course. Arguing that the roots of the course are found (unfortunately) in the humanist imperative set by literary studies, Crowley shows how English departments have made various cases for the universal requirement based on taste, correctness, “liberal education,” personal moral and ethical development, or textual analysis. Through a variety of (counter-)historical methods in Composition — including a close reading of recent lit debates in the field and case studies like that of Norman Foerster at Iowa in the 1940s — Crowley seeks to remember to forget. That is, in the coda of Composition, she explicitly proposes to abolish the universal requirement.

The point of all these histories isn’t to choose one, but to place them in a particular context — and ultimately in dialogue with each other to do as Hawk advises, multiply histories. The field can only be better for it.

Inventing Invention: Anticipating the Exam Question(s)

After spending all of last week (and this weekend) reading four books on the exam list I haven’t engaged much previously, I’ve completed most of the books that could be tagged as composition “histories”:

Berlin, James A. Rhetoric and Reality: Writing Instruction in American Colleges, 1900 – 1985. Southern Illinois University Press, 1987. Print.

Crowley, Sharon. Composition in the University: Historical and Polemical Essays. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1998. Print.

Hawk, Byron. A Counter-History of Composition: Toward Methodologies of Complexity. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2007. Print.

Lauer, Janice M. Invention in Rhetoric and Composition. Annotated edition. West Lafayette: Parlor Press, 2004. Print.

As I mentioned before, I was trying to read across texts more than within categories, but I started with histories because (1) this would give me a fuller context of the field, and (2) these four books are actually more than histories — they’re an amalgamation of that plus theory and methodologies, and include key discussions of ancient rhetoric, technology, and above all, pedagogy. Hawk’s Counter-History, for example, uses a postmodern, historiographical methodology to revisit the concept of vitalism — an ontological philosophy that can be traced to Aristotle — in order to open up the possibilities for new pedagogies that respond  to contemporary digital technologies. Although Lauer’s Invention is primarily a straightforward history of the canon, she provides numerous sections on pedagogy, a few on technology, and throughout the book discusses various methodologies that have been used to study invention.


Pages from my Muji notebook

Before I begin to synthesize these texts more fully, I want to consider how best to do that. But first let me reassess how I’ve been reading this week, which has tested some of Adler’s methods that I blogged about two weeks ago. First, I’ve started reading each time with Adler’s inspectional method — reading reviews of the books, skimming TOCs and indexes, and in most cases, reading important chapters analytically while inspecting the others (there’s no way I could have read Hawk’s book analytically in full). As I read, I’ve been taking printed notes in one of my nifty Muji notebooks, mostly to try to internalize the info. My hope is that this blog is the final step and will do the real work in preparing for the exam — forcing me to arrange the arguments, methods, and evidence from the books on the list to make strong arguments about the field as a whole. This raises a few fundamental questions for me:

  • How many books should be discussed per post? Incorporating more books in a post (as opposed to individual summaries) would better approximate the requirements of the exam, but waiting to a week to write a post leads to fewer posts (and less writing practice overall).
  • How much summary should I work toward? In other words, what’s the goal of the post? Writing solid summaries are important (and could help me once I am actually writing the exam), but as I discovered from practice exams, I tend to dedicate too much space to it in my responses. Pushing efficient synthesis would be better practice for late July.
  • Perhaps the hardest question is this: what should I write about? In other words, how should I select topics or arguments to blog about as I synthesize? In response to this question, I’ve decided to do something Hawk advocates we teach our own students: to develop our own heuristics depending on our goals. I’m appropriating him here, but I think part of the point of the exam process is anticipating the questions. What conversations are being sustained in composition and rhetoric? What are our fundamental problems? What questions make sense across programs and subfields? What evidence is valued? What is our tradition?

In that spirit, I spent some time yesterday afternoon reading back through my print notes and coming up with some possibilities. I offer a few here; I’ll answer one of these in a subsequent post today or tomorrow. One last thought: I think this method is working well except for one notable drawback: I’m already behind schedule. According to my exam prep calendar, I was supposed to be rereading Cintron’s Angels Town today — and I’ve already skipped over Berkenkotter & Huckin’s Genre Knowledge in Disciplinary Communication. I’ll make up this work somehow, but this already tells me the process is too slow.

  • Lauer’s history in Invention in Rhetoric and Composition ends around 2003 — just before new media and digital writing have arguably dominated the field’s conversations on invention. How can Hawk’s Counter-History be read as a continuation of some of the major strands of Lauer’s history? How could it be read as a critique of her history?
  • Berlin, Crowley, Hawk, and Lauer each frame the rhetorical situation differently. It is essential to Berlin’s three theories of rhetoric (objective, subjective, and transactional); it’s used by Lauer to trace epistemic manifestations of invention; it’s briefly taken up by Crowley to discredit the stability of the academic essay (and hence the universal requirement for FYC); and finally, it is critiqued most explicitly by Hawk as being too static. Evaluate these positions and ultimately make a case for the 21st century conception of the rhetorical situation.
  • These four books each try to come to terms with composition’s past, but do so using various historiographical methods — and for specific purposes. Make these purposes explicit and explain the extent to which their various methodologies succeed or fail to meet them.
  • Invention, according to Lauer, was largely ignored in the first half of the 20th century because current traditional pedagogies assumed it couldn’t be taught. Hawk’s book, then, could be read as a response to the way this schism affected subsequent histories of invention and, thus, precludes an understanding of its uses for the 21st century. Explain the extent to which Hawk’s critique of Berlin supports this perspective.

Invention and Rhetorica ad Herenium

I’m resurrecting the blog this Halloween to think through some ideas on invention — and because having two kids means that I only have time to blog when I’m required to write short papers for my Ancient Rhetoric class (Hey guys!).

This week we’re pushing along, moving away from the Greeks and into the Romans by reading Rhetorica ad Herenium, which I’ve enthusiastically shorted to “RAH!” (exclamation point optional). RAH is essentially a handbook from 100 BC (late Antiquity, roughly 250-300 years after Isocrates and Aristotle). Along with Cicero’s De inventione (which contains several identical passages as RAH), it’s considered the first text from Rome on rhetoric. Despite this status, the book’s introduction in the Caplan translation characterizes the book as “a Greek art in Latin dress, combining a Roman spirit with Greek doctrine” (vii). I’m not entirely sure what this means since we’re only just beginning to learn about the cultural and geopolitical context for Roman rhetoric; however, it’s worth noting that the entire educational approach (enkyklios paideia, or “the rounded education”), and its formalist exercises in declamation (progymnasmata), emerged from the colonization and subsequent hellenization of Rome. According to Thomas Conley in Rhetoric in the European Tradition, ancient Roman rhetoric was learned from the Sophists and emulated Isoctates most of all, but standardized a curriculum for civic participation using enkyklios paideia and progymnasmata, essentially ancient skill-and-drill-style exercises.

The standardization of a curriculum especially in times of colonization is likely to lead any comp/rhet scholar, let alone anyone who took as few humanities classes in the last 20 years, to endless examples where language was used to limit, shape, control or contain groups based on race, class, or any other sociological category. Perhaps it was for this reason that Roman leaders initially resisted the enkyklios paideia, as it was meant to meet the “bureaucratic needs of Hellenistic governments” (Conley 31). However, learning rhetoric must have been seen as influencing cultural power as Latin speakers quickly learned that speech is what separated the Greeks from uncivilized barbarians in the hellenized world (Conley 32). In fact, RAH states from the outset that “[t]he task of the public speaker is to discuss capably those matters which law and custom have fixed for the uses of citizenship…” (5). In short, the eloquent orator — the good man speaking well — lives on via Cicero and RAH and invites citizens of Rome to join the ranks.

On one hand if the goal of the Greeks were to colonize, then the style of RAH makes perfect sense. Its didactic approach proceeds as an outline (i.e. “First, I will talk about X and Y. Of X there are three features, A, B, C. Of A, there are four subfeatures: 1, 2, and 3…”); reading it persistently requires rote recursive maneuvers and echoes some of my least favorite, domesticating moments from school. At times, it was more prudent to study my edition’s Analysis section which simply summarized these points and frequently employed tree diagrams, like the one below, to do so.

From the Analysis section of RAH

One can imagine an ancient reader studying RAH and knowing it as the only way to speak and, therefore, think. In fact, we inherit from Aristotle that invention (which RAH dedicates more than half of its space to outlining) is thought.

On the other hand, a large portion of the book covers invention for judicial causes (as opposed to epideictic or deliberative which are briefly discussed in Book III) and should be read in that context. That is, RAH acknowledges other occasions for speaking, but privileges the judicial because it argues it is the most difficult (read: bureaucratic?) of the three causes. One could imagine that the power of RAH as a handbook might empower aspiring orators (sponsored or self taught, I’m not really certain) if they could only learn how the more advanced speakers of the colony (e.g. the Sophists) wielded their oratorical power.

Of course, I realize I’m reading as what Edward Schiappa might call a “rational reconstructionist,” looking at RAH too closely “within [my] own philosophical framework” (194). But, frankly, as an introduction to ancient Roman rhetoric, how else am I to read it? If we can’t read it as rational reconstructionists, of what use is the treatise to contemporary audiences? I’m finding this to be a pattern in my ancient rhetoric course, as it is my one and only primer for ancient rhetoric.

My sense, though, is that while using postcolonial theory or even simply good-old-fashioned historical reconstruction to unravel the complex relationship between the Greeks and Romans would be fruitful, it’s beyond the scope of this post. Rather, because RAH reminds me so vividly of prescriptive pedagogies, I think it’s an interesting challenge to consider the degree to which it is actually still like contemporary writing pedagogies. As RAH tells us more than once, invention is “the most important and the most difficult” of the canons (59). I agree — and I’d argue so does the field. We still have hundreds of contemporary composition handbooks to help students invent (They Say/I Say, for example) and many of our writing programs still prescribe, even when we obscure the prescription as “heuristic.” And, of course, we have multiple debates from our scholarship that posit prescriptive approaches against more subjective ones (Bartholomae v Elbow, Connors v Berlin, Flower v Bizzell, and more recently, Miller v Sirc). For the remainder of this post, then, I’d like to briefly consider the degree to which RAH’s methods of invention are compatible with contemporary perspectives.

Although RAH is laid out linearly, I imagine aspects of its use weren’t all that different from contemporary handbooks, in didactic and autodidactic situations alike. By didactic I mean a teacher probably helped explain certain theories and structures, modeled them frequently, and led the student through the exercises, with frequent guided practice (as with the traditional 14 progymnasmata). By autodidactic, I mean a learner maybe memorized the book’s precepts and perhaps practiced sections alone or with a peer (this probably more true in later periods when texts circulated more readily). In fact, Book I states that its canons are best learned through “three means: Theory, Imitation, and Practice” (7-9) — an approach inherited from Protagoras. What separates RAH from contemporary handbooks, however is the former’s centrality to the curriculum. That is, implicit in RAH’s three means is the notion that learners will imitate and practice the structures though constant speaking and listening. How many of us who require handbooks put them at the center of our courses (assuming we even use them)?

While RAH is arranged linearly, the approach obscures the sophistic influence that many feminist scholars (Crowley, Vitanza, Jarrett, etc.) have embraced so far in our ancient rhetoric course. That is, RAH actually reinforces a core value of composition: the idea that truth is slippery. We require a discourse that avoids “confus[ing] language with reality” (Crowley 328) — even if that discourse must be rigid, as is the case with something like legalese. We need such rhetoric, as Berlin argued in the first Octolog, because we frequently disagree on reality. Whether the speaker is a lawyer or historian, rhetoric leads to closure, as a “stay against chaos” (33). This is why arguments require disagreeing parties to enter into a structure that provides a stasis — “the basic issue in dispute resulting from the positions taken by adversaries in a debate” (Conley 32). Stasis is the starting point in argumentation and RAH’s treatment of invention is essentially a theory of stasis in such discourse. Speakers sort this out via the Division, Proof, and Refutation stages of invention and come to some kind of closure, “for when we have submitted our arguments and destroyed those of the opposition, we have, of course, completely fulfilled the speaker’s function” (33).

Violence aside, the contemporary pressure to invent is a similar pressure: to produce a text under a particular timeline, to win, and to move on. A rhetorical occasion, especially when it comes to the composition classroom, has a start and an end that is dictated largely by the exigence (and ghosts) of print genres. I am most comfortable with RAH when I reflect on my own teaching of business writing (WRT 307), for example. Although the course is rooted in rhetoric via audience, it’s accountable for a genre-based pedagogy. Students need to leave the class having learned short forms (memos, letters) and longer forms (instructions and reports). Although I try not to teach the class in this way, those genres lend themselves to more objective structures than, say, the academic essay. In other words, RAH is not altogether different from the superstructures listed in Anderson’s Technical Communication. In fact, its suggestions for deliberative causes echo the kinds of guidelines my students follow when writing a feasibility report. That said, more experienced, practiced writers invent by being immersed in what Collin Brooke calls (via LeFevre and Bawarshi) ecologies.

As Brooke argues in Lingua Fracta, “The question ‘how do I start?’ that dominates pedagogical considerations of invention is more precisely a question of getting to the right answer (“How do I write something that will meet with the approval of my evaluator?”)” (85). For this reason he envisions a “proairetic invention,” which is a more generative approach to invention that respects endless renewal of new media because it resists closure. This blog, as an example of new media, is endless by definition. And with it I am drawing from whatever is available in my current ecology, which, as a maturing graduate student will change significantly from now until, well, forever. Having just read Brooke last week, I use my current ecology to make meaning of RAH, which I also read last week. If I read Bartholomae, I would be writing a different blog post.

Another example of a different approach to invention can be found in Jeff Rice’s “The 1963 Hip-Hop Machine: Hip-Hop Pedagogy As Composition,” where Rice brings juxtaposition to bear on sonic and alphabetic texts. Experimental arrangements of samples from more or less arbitrary texts can still yield interesting and productive meaning by way of syntheses. By reaching into whatever is available, composers can place these texts up against each other in order to look at patterns and relationships. This method helps address the common problem of invention for the novice and professional writer alike — just to get something to talk about and mess with. I’m paraphrasing Rice liberally here, but the point is that these more experimental, open approaches can be quite useful when writers can’t seem to get more prescriptive, dominant voices out of their heads.

Personally, when it comes to academic writing, I find Rice and Brooke’s approach to invention more in line with my own practices than I do RAH’s. Part of the reason for this is that invention is different in the 21st century not so much because we no longer require stasis or structures for our civic discourse (clearly we do!), but that the available means (information and modes/media) has grown and continues to grow exponentially. At the same time, I don’t fully discount the value of its approach in particular and specific scenarios. Stasis theory is important to civic discourse and argumentation. We need a stay against chaos. The question RAH reminds me of is not only when, but how to use more prescriptive, genre-based approaches to composition over the more experimental, open, endless maneuvers suggested by Brooke and Rice.

Questions for discussion:

  • How might we use elements of RAH in our classrooms? When is it appropriate to provide linear, didactic approaches versus more experimental ones?
  • RAH argues that invention is the most important canon and the most difficult part of rhetoric.” Why could we imagine this to be true in 100 BC and is it still the case today?
  • How is RAH relevant? Why should contemporary scholars and writing instructors read it beyond simply history for its own sake? If we were to image updating the arrangement of the treatise from a print text to a hypertext, how might that help us see its affordances?
  • Handbooks are central to an autodidactic pedagogy. But how do its users interpret, practice, and otherwise engage them effectively? How do our own students use handbooks, other than to copy and apply formatting (like MLA)? Can we embrace proairetic invention and hip-hop pedagogy as long as we have handbooks? How might we use them in the classroom in ways the Romans used RAH?