Ideology of Wording

Don Angel’s viejito repertoire, it seems to me, implied a relationship to words that is distinguishable from the ideology of wording that is common in mainstream life to the extent that such life has been shaped by schooling. In this sense, there is much in schooling that encourages logos at the expense of the theatrical, distance at the expense of involvement. I am reminded of my own markings of student papers or my own student papers marked by teachers: “exact word?” “shift in diction,” “redundant,” “too wordy, tighten up,” “clarify!” “verb tense shift,” “awkward,” “dangling modifier,” “your thinking is not coherent here,” “is this logical?” “verb agreement problem,” “what?” and so on. During such practices the word, phrase, sentence, paragraph, and discourse become objects of consciousness and begin to create what I am calling here an ideology of wording whose ultimate goal is the mastery of both discourse and the lifeworld that the discourse points to. An aspect of this ideology of wording is that the theatrical becomes a set of effects, important in their own right and in certain contexts but potentially deceptive in knowledge-making contexts. Indeed, much of Don Angel’s knowledge—curanderismo, stories of the supernatural, and divining practices—were so far off the professional logos map as to be considered merely theatrical. In this sense, Don Angel’s narrative style reinforced the marginalization of his narrative content from the professional and mainstream styles of the modern world. (65)

Ralph Cintron, Angel’s Town

Over the two-week break between semesters (more on the front end of it, actually), I spent a few minutes with Cintron’s Angel’s Town, mostly because I wanted to trawl back through a good ethnography to refresh my sense of why ethnography is so demanding, so time and methods intensive. The First-year Writing Program I direct now has a number of instructors who frame research as ethnography, which is another reason I felt compelled to pick this up.

Cintron’s “ideology of wording” has stuck, this passage has held on, since I read it a few weeks ago. The viejito—here set in relief against a schoolish ideology of wording—is a punning language game with so much vernacular nuance and layered innuendo that Cintron freely admits how incomplete any representation of must be. Nevertheless, this tension between viejito and an “ideology of wording” stands as a terrific example of the hard-to-mix qualities of academically situated discourse practices (i.e., writing, speaking, and “reading” in school) with their legacy logoi, and, on the other hand, the everyday rhetorics that operate powerfully and cogently elsewhere.

In both classes I’m teaching this winter, a grad seminar in Computers and Writing focused in particular on “ecologies of practice” and an undergraduate class in style and technology, I have felt like this passage is trailing me around, shadowing me. Cintron’s account of viejito parlays gets at something akin to an “ecology of practice” for how the exchanges bloom, transcending and exceeding mainstream language conventions. Grasping this, then, by studying the viejito up close, requires what Richard Coe would have described as an eco-logic, because their systemic manifestation that cannot be explained by analysis of isolated parts. And in the (online) style+technology class, there has been quite a bit of discussion wordiness (Holcomb and Killingsworth 47). Concision has its time and place, of course, but wordiness (or the charge of wordiness) constrains the kind of theatrical, involved wordplay Cintron notices and calls our attention to.

Finally, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about Cintron’s contrastive pairings of logos vs. the theatrical and distance vs. involvement in the second sentence. The pairings accomplish some of the distinction that moves his analysis forward, but it also hints at a question about the tidiness and convenience of these conceptual frames. To break from this, for a second, for example, what might the combination of distance and the theatrical make possible? Is there already a distant-theatrical quality in Cintron’s (or, to be fair, any ethnographer’s) observing and filtering for insights? I’m interested in whether the distance-theatrical can advance other methods, too (or rather, by carrying out the distance-theatrical, explore other yet unasked questions). But this—as well as the tension between viejito and the ideology of wording—seems like a big deal for ethnography and especially for the kinds of ethnography attempted in first-year writing or by researchers who are just starting out in rhetoric and composition/writing studies.

Now: Visual Rhetorics

The visual rhetorics course I’m teaching this semester is by now well enough plotted to pass along a link, finally. I haven’t taught the class before, which only means that its materials this time are spun provisionally from many influences–an independent study and qualifying exam at SU, Michael Salvo’s syllabus, Dànielle DeVoss’s syllabus, and good conversations with CGB just after the new year. Its large arc follows from photography to document design to infographics and data visualization. I remain cautiously optimistic that these three sub-arcs will fit together okay within the fourteen meetings we have. No surprise, but I’m supplementing heavily with PDFs and assigning as required texts only Barthes’ Camera Lucida, Handa’s edited collection, and Cairo’s The Functional Art. One project involves writing (and designing) Ch. 10 for the Cairo book–a “missing” chapter focused on visual rhetoric. There’s an ignite presentation set up to articulate in short-form one’s emerging visual-rhetorical priorities and interests in relation to one of the people interviewed at the end of The Functional Art. And then there is a loose-fitting, build-your-own-collection portfolio whose creation and assembly is spread as evenly as possible throughout.

I’m still trying to figure out the role of in-class workshop blocks devoted to self-paced attempts with Photoshop and Illustrator. And I can’t quite decide how formally and explicitly to dwell on technical matters and rationale related to different image file types. Against these uncertainties (or yet-unmade decisions), I count as one advantage that I have had all but three of the fourteen students in class before, and it’s a terrific bunch who will assert their preferences whenever I’m slow to decide.

Digital Rhetorics: Simply Too Complicated a Phenomenon

Cross-posted at the SDRC.

Digital rhetorics1 provide a vast suite of generating principles. These principles are difficult to collect into a simple model, much less to name, substantiate, and prioritize. Fortunately, difficulties like these are much of what motivates digital rhetorics scholarship (some of which was reviewed by others in previous entries), and they are also what I find both exciting and challenging about the field. Digital rhetorics often draw on reasonably well-traveled rhetorical theories (Aristotle’s appeals, Burke’s dramatisms, stases, etc.), but they also subject traditional concepts to renewal and reinvention. Collin Brooke’s Lingua Fracta comes to mind as a terrific example of this renewal for the ways it reconceives rhetoric’s five canons in light of new media, but also because it explicitly recognizes ongoing change as inevitable. Thus, it stands to reason that we must refrain from settling too comfortably into static definitions lest we appear monolithic in how we think about digital rhetorics, how we enact them. Where rhetorical principles–new, established, cultural, applied–converge with hypertext, blogging, SMS, sonic mixing, still image and video editing, and more (a comprehensive list remains forever out of reach), distinctive practices emerge, and with them come abundant opportunities and responsibilities for teaching and learning, for rhetorical education concerned with composing across screens. Underscoring circulation, participation, contingency, and immediacy, digital rhetorics shift, intensify, or subside with particular tools, materials, and media. So digital rhetorics, as I think of them, tend to follow a crosshatched pattern, a meshwork similar to the boat wakes Burke noticed in the WWII gallery photograph (see Spread 7): one set of threads responsive to rhetorics, the other responsive to new media, and among them multiple junctures due for exploration.

Yet, considering all that digital rhetorics make possible, the quick sketch above remains an incomplete response to the carnival call: “What does digital rhetoric mean to me?” Perhaps another approach can enter a bit more definitional richness into play. For this, I turn to Googlism is a playful site (also rather like a para-site) that has been around for almost a decade. Basically, with search terms entered, it draws upon Google’s indexes to retrieve a list of equative phrases (e.g., [search term] is […]) related to one of four designated conditions: who, what, when, or where. A Googlism for the what of “digital rhetoric” yields this:

  1. digital rhetoric is characterized by many new genres
  2. digital rhetoric is similar to the classical rhetoric of ancient
  3. digital rhetoric is ?rhetoric? that is ?digital
  4. digital rhetoric is would you like a KML file to go with your fine map
  5. digital rhetoric is more of a disciplinary nebula than a field
  6. digital rhetoric is Jeff Rice’s Grammar <A> contending with English A, Grammar B while creating a curricular opening for Grammar PHP
  7. digital rhetoric is at once exciting and troublesome
  8. digital rhetoric is not such a new idea
  9. digital rhetoric is the sattelitization of a lost dog found with an embedded RFID chip
  10. digital rhetoric is capacious: the parlor as Tardis
  11. digital rhetoric is this concept of genres and media
  12. digital rhetoric is to me
  13. digital rhetoric is a Roland Barthes hologram annotating images of his mother and more in a Flickr set called “Almosts”
  14. digital rhetoric is less about technological devices and more about a process or
  15. digital rhetoric is Yancey’s “Composition in a New Key”
  16. digital rhetoric is that it has the potential to completely change or even slightly alter the purpose of discourse
  17. digital rhetoric is a bridging mechanism between digital consumers and producer
  18. digital rhetoric is worthy of greater attention by rhetoric and communication
  19. digital rhetoric is databasic literacy
  20. digital rhetoric is especially important now that so many citizens rely on official websites as sources of information
  21. digital rhetoric is simply too complicated a phenomenon to be able to figure out so swiftly
  22. digital rhetoric is unavailable designs available
  23. digital rhetoric is a course designed to engage online composition and push the edges of theory and practice
  24. digital rhetoric is objects by which I mean units by which I mean things by which I mean nonhumans
  25. digital rhetoric is wasted if those same students aren’t also able to see the relevance of digital rhetoric to their own lives once they leave
  26. digital rhetoric is appearing all the time from scholars in communication
  27. digital rhetoric is about writing ?clearly
  28. digital rhetoric is a book
  29. digital rhetoric is that it is inferior to extended argument
  30. digital rhetoric is especially important now that so many citizens rely on official websites as sources of information

The core list (21 of the items here) comes from “digital rhetoric is” strings appearing in various places on the web. But I’ve also embellished the list with a couple of add-ons of my own. Without cross-referencing, can you guess which ones they are? Which of the statements do you find most useful? Least useful? What “digital rhetoric is” statement would you add? Which one would you place at the top of this list? Why?

[1] I think it is fitting to assign the ‘s’, thus making digital rhetorics plural.