Saturday, September 9, 2006

Trimbur, "Essayist Literacy and the Rhetoric of Deproduction"

Trimbur, John. "Essayist Literacy and the Rhetoric of Deproduction." Rhetoric Review 9.1 (1990): 72-86.

Trimbur works through an indictment of the "monological regime of silence and facticity" implicit (albeit with paradoxes and contradictions) in essayist literacy (72). Consider the difference between literacy studies' framing of essayist literacy (text as "self-sufficient vehicle of communication, a non-indexical account that supplies the contexts necessary for interpretation within the text itself" (73)) and that of composition studies (essayist text involving a "self-revelatory stance, flexible style, and conversational tone" (72)). The former, Trimbur explains, manifests (infests?) schooling through textbooks and consequently sustains a prevailing mythology tying the essay to natural modes of communication which make use of direct, factual language rather than figurative or abstract representations.

Trimbur historicizes the (causal?) precedents of the banality of essayist prose in its presumed rhetorical vacancy. The ubiquity of essayist literacy has ideological implications reproduced through systems of schooling. Trimbur introduces what he terms a rhetoric of deproduction, which anticipates that essayist literacy inheres an arhetoricity: the text is merely to be decoded (treated as authoritative; read in school for comprehension only); traces of authorship and persuasive effects are removed.

"Our students read essayist prose, that is, in an undifferentiated way, much as they would read a newspaper or their textbook in a sociology or microbiology course, for comprehension, to extract meaning and information" (72).

"My argument is that the ideal text of essayist literacy results not from inherent or 'natural' properties of literacy per se but from the fact that essayist literacy positions readers and writers to treat written texts as if they were transparent reflections of the natural order of things" (75).

"Text, as Olson defines it in opposition to utterance, is monological; It has the capacity to speak for itself" (77).

"In other words, the rise of essayist literacy involves the historical struggle for a cognitive order to replace the personalism of traditional authority with a new method of verification based upon empirical evidence" (79).

"The discourse of essayist literacy thus codifies the apparent artlessness of the plain style into a systematic concealment of the social processes of producing and using texts. Texts appear to stand alone and to speak for themselves because they have been, as it were, deproductionized" (81).

"The transformation of statements into fact-like entities in contemporary scientific discourse employs and extends the rhetoric of deproduction we saw at work earlier in the formation of essayist literacy" (82).

"Like the scientific essay, textbooks result from a larger set of historical pressures to create a public sphere of universal reason and civic discourse" (83).

"These gestures [giving quizzes and referring to the text], moreover, are disciplinary in character: They connect our students' reading of texts to the teacher's gaze and in subtle ways reinforce the culture of silence in the classroom by positing a moment of semantic closure when students comprehend what the text means and there is nothing further to be said" (85).

* Enlightenment "natural order of things" (73), ideal text of essayist literacy as given (74), frictionless prose (80),

Related sources:
Foucault, Michel. The Archaeology of Knowledge. New York: Harper, 1972.
Latour, Bruno, and Steve Woolgar. Laboratory Life: The Social Construction of Scientific Fact. London: Sage, 1979.
Olson, David R. "From Utterance to Text: The Bias of Language in Speaking and Writing." Harvard Educational Review 47 (1977): 257-81.
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