Revolution Lullabye

May 26, 2011

Fleming, Becoming Rhetorical

Fleming, David.   “Becoming rhetorical: An education in the topics.”   In Bahri, Deepika; Joseph Petraglia (Eds.), The realms of rhetoric: Inquiries into the prospects for rhetoric education. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2003.

Fleming shows, through an investigation of the topics (topoi), how there is true rhetorical knowledge and how that knowledge can push students to develop in discursive ability. He calls for scholars and teachers of rhetoric to turn back to the heart of rhetoric, which depends upon a multiyear curriculum where students have the opportunity to develop, naturally and deeply, as rhetoricians influenced by ethics and virtue towards civic, responsible ends. He warns against rudimentary definitions of rhetoric  – “checklists” of terms and ideas divorced from a larger ethical base – and also all-encompassing theories of rhetoric that, in their largeness, make rhetoric also meaningless. The goal of rhetoric, Fleming argues, is not so much to transmit a certain kind of knowledge but to develop a certain kind of person, an ethical, productive, civically-minded, knowledgable leader. That development depends on practice, imitation, exercises, and repetition.

Topics depend on understanding the commonplaces of a particular culture – what that culture values, what opinions are generally accepted, the “endoxa”  of a community, what allows people to meet together on the same ground.

Rhetorical education, Fleming argues, can’t hope that students will absorb a rhetorical sensibility through mere exposure to many different disciplines and ways of knowing, the foundation of liberal arts education. Rather, rhetorical education needs to help students develop a rhetorical self-consciousness, flexible but still concrete in vocabulary and purpose, “an art that, once learned, confers on students a genuine practical and ethical ability” (105).

Fleming, with this goal in mind, proposes a richer, teachable theory of the topics that includes five broad categories of rhetorical knowledge: 1. circumstantial knowledge; 2. verbal formulae, 3. common sense; 4. models of textual development; and 5. logical norms.

Notes and Quotes

“The topics we organize this way shuold be infinitely malleable, capable of being adapted and used in multiple ways in different situations. What I am after, in other words, is a theory that can accomodate diverse kinds of resources, one that is focused on situated practice in particular communities, and one that sees the words and things of those communities as practically plastic in the hands of its speakers, hearers, writers, and readers” (104).

rhetoric can’t be taught in one course – it needs to be infused into an entire curriculum

“Where classical rhetoric took a remarkably precise language and dedicated it to an ambitious political-ethical project, the new rhetoric takes a highly elastic vocabulary and puts it to rather trivial ends” (93).

topics: “an ancient set of pedagogical resources designed to help speakers and writers invent arguments for public debate” (94): “My appraoch will be to see the topics as a species of political knowledge that, through theory and practice, can be made part of the student’s very character” (94)

“Rhetoric is at once overburdened and underburdeded with content” (94) – the challenge is to find a place between particularilty and generality (95)

the topics are commonplaces – places to go to discover arguments, a set of heuristics to help invention

connection between Toulmin’s warrants and Aristotle’s topics.

modern rhetorical theory has taken out the content and context of the original topics in order to create a more universal form of rhetoric.

Problem: “A theory of argument situated at the intersection of politics [specificity] and logic [generality] will always elude us; the best we can do is choose one path or the other and stick to it, hoping that our students, at least, will learn to merge the two in their practical lives” (103)

need something more substantial than the rhetorical triangle

Fleming’s theory of topics:

  • circumstantial knowledge – context, history, people, places, familiarity
  • verbal formulae – discursive resources and languages of the community, through wide reading and listening
  • common sense – values, truths, preferences that exist in that community
  • modes of textual development – the structures of everyday arguments in the community, patterns, modes, things that direct and shape thought in that community
  • logical norms – the norms that authorize arguments, warrants, inference

The problem of the paper cycle in typical freshman composition classes: (110)

  1. they are too long for close work but too short to do real work: “they are neither the kind of discursive chunk that constitutes an utterance, a move in written or spoken discourse, nor the kind of project that results from weeks, months, or even years of active engagement with real intellectual or practical problems.
  2. they aren’t sequenced developmentally, to build off each other
  3. students work on them too slowly, tediously drafting over and over again

Draws on the ideas of the New London Group: inquiry into a specific text or situation, recursive thinking and writing. Gives example of Brown vs Board of Education  sourcebook


April 25, 2009

Hawk, A Counter-History of Composition

Hawk, Byron. A Counter-History of Composition: Toward Methodoligies of Complexity. Pittsburgh: U of Pittsburgh P, 2007.

Hawk argues that in modern composition, vitalism (equated with romanticism) is seen in opposition to rhetoric, especially in terms of how composition scholars and teacher talk about and teach invention. He centers on 1980 as a pivotal year, analyzing three articles published that year (Richard Young, James Berlin, and Paul Kameen) to show how they positioned the field to take an oppositional approach to vitalism. He argues that vitalism is a powerful, important philosophy with roots in Aristotle and developed in science and philosophy over centuries. It is at the root of complexity theory, which is an increasingly relevant and important theory today, as digital technologies are rapidly changing the cultural context, showing the inadequacy of methods and techniques rooted only in mind-driven logic. He argues for vitalism to take a central role in reconfiguring composition and rhetoric scholarship and pedagogy, because only through vitalism is the body and experience brought together in concert with the mind. Vitalism also prevents teachers from having a set agenda, a set desire for their students to fulfill, placing instead the onus on the students to develop and find their own relations and metaphors, drawing on all possible means and resources in our complex, dynamic, and ever-changing ecology.

Quotable Quotes

“Composition theorists should be striving to develop methods for situating bodies within ecological contexts in ways that reveal the potential for invention, especially the invention of new techniques, that in turn reveal new models for action within those specific rhetorical ecologies” (206).

“An ethical goal for pedagogy, then, would be to design occassions in which students are more likely to create compositions rather than decompositions. A pedagogical act would be evaluated based upon the relationships it fosters and the relationships it serves – on its ability to increase rather than decrease a student’s agency, power, or capacity to produce new productive relations” (256).

“To desire an outcome for them [students] is to commit a certain violence to them” (257).

“Heuristics do not function in a vacuum; they function within complex and specific rhetorical situations. Importantly, the body is the critical, epistemological link between situation and invention. It is the interface.” (120)

Notable Notes

a counterhistory (drawing on Feyerabend) – “a counter-history is an additive paratactic aggregate rather than a recuperative manuever” (123)

distinguishes between 3 forms of vitalism: oppositional (electronmagnetic forces); investigative (scales of influence and organization); complex (events, cooperation)

dissoi logoi – new ways to group texts and to read them

Young – concerned with disciplinarity, so rejects vitalism

Berlin – concerned with his own political Marxist agenda and can’t see anything else, and so rejects vitalism

all the work in comp/rhet on vitalism seems to stem from one dissertation, Hal Rivers Weidner “Three Models of Rhetoric: Traditional, Mechanical, and Vital” (2)

vitalism became the scapegoat term

February 1, 2009

Miller, Expertise and Agency

Miller, Carolyn R. “‘Expertise and Agency’: Transformations of Ethos in Human-Computer Interaction.” In The Ethos of Rhetoric. Ed. Michael J. Hyde, U of South Carolina P, 2004. 197-218.
Miller explores the two complementary modes of human-computer interaction in the post-Cold War era: expert systems and intelligent agents. Using a grounding in twentieth century US history and an understanding in the computer systems and programs developed from the 1950s onward, Miller shows how the ethos in the human-computer interaction changes from an ethos interested in rational reliability (phronesis) to one concerned with interaction with the user (eunoia.) Ethos is not just a normative function; it is descriptive as well and can shed light on the kind of rhetorical community participants belong to. The shift from a rhetoric of domain-specific expert systems to one of intelligent agents happened in the 1970s and 1980s, when public trust in institutions and authority figures took a nose dive (Vietnam, Watergate) and when rapidly evolving technologies allowed for the development of a more complex, more diverse (in markets and knowledge), and more distributed world. Intelligent agents, as opposed to expert systems that are concerned with the accumulation of one domain of knowledge, are semi-autonomous, have choices, and interact with the environment. Their “expertise” and knowledge is collected in a distributed fashion. Miller argues that the ethos of rational reliability and that of sympathy are on two ends of a pendulum and must be balanced with virtues and moral reasoning (arete.)
Quotable Quotes
“A discourse…delinieates a rhetorical community and consequently an ethos – a sensus communis and a locus communis – a place where interlocutors abide, about which they contest, and from which they draw appeals. Those who dwell within a rhetorical community acquire their character as rhetorical participants from it, as it educates and socializes them. The community does this in part by supplying the Aristotelian components of ethos – the judgment (phronesis), values (arete), and feelings (eonoia) that make a rhetor persuasive to other members of the community” (198)
This is important because it’s about how the discourse that we create in turns creates the community – the hive. The writing that happens in blogs, del.ic.ious, GoogleDocs, tagging, etc. – imparts both a community and a shared ethos that is carried out in different projects.
Looking at ethos “can help us determine aspects of our community and our communal character” (198)
Notable Notes
Distrust in authority is historically and culturally grounded, leads to these bottom-up, more user-need sensitive human-computer interaction systems. People aren’t (usually) crazy domain experts. Their expertise is distributed and can be documented and used most efficiently in more of an intelligent agent system.
Ethos is normative and descriptive.

February 17, 2008

Arrington, Phillip and Shirley K Rose. “Prologues to What Is Possible: Introductions as Metadiscourse.”

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Arrington, Phillip and Shirley K Rose. “Prologues to What Is Possible: Introductions as Metadiscourse.” CCC 38:3 (Oct 1987): 306-318.

Introductions are both text about text, or metadiscourse, and text about content, and contemporary composition textbooks do not do an adequate job teaching students about this dual role of introductions. Arrington and Rose use Aristotle’s description of the purpose of introductions, situating the text in a greater context and identifying the audience and speaker, and Grice’s maxims to analyze four student-written introductions. One of the main problems for students is that the formulas they are given for writing introductions do not help them balance writing for both the teacher and a larger audience, and teachers should show students how to understand the constraints and contexts of the writing situations they will encounter.

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