Mortensen/Kirsch, 1994, “Authority”

Peter and Gesa Kirsch. "On Authority in the Study of Writing.” On Writing Research: The Braddock Essays, 1975-1998.
Ed. Lisa Ede. New York: Bedford St. Martin’s, 1999. 321-335.

Big Idea
Clearly enough, Mortensen and Kirsch set out to complicate conceptions of
beyond the autonomous, paternalistic, heavy-handed sort long
understood to be the source of oppression, as in a hegemony of control and
order.  This essay emphasizes the role of ethics and care in
contextualized authority systems, where power is understood through community
assimilation and distrust of autonomous authoritative forces are out in the
open.  Mortensen and Kirsch urge a shift away from long-accepted connotations of authority
as the continuation of autonomous and paternalistic legacies. 
More complex variations of authority look at knowledge sources as contextual,
assumable, provisional, situated (or locally distributed), and ethical.  By
turning to feminist critique, the essay seeks to loosen and re-associate the
significance of authority in relationship to discourse, power, and
community, the buzzwords of the 90’s
in writing and rhetoric.

Wondering About
"On Authority in the Study of Writing" leads with a note about Barthes and
dead authors, followed by mention of modernity’s unraveling of authorship
resulting in language re-styling English Studies, followed by the
question, "How are we to account for the theoretical erasure of the authority
that constitutes the writers–the authors–we face every day in our composition
classrooms?".  Authors are dead; authority is dead.  Right?  That’s
the linch pin for Mortensen and Kirsch, since authority is alive and well. 
But where?  They’re certainly not faulting Barthes for his excise of
authors; in fact, his move gave us good cause to look at all of the other,
perhaps more complex manifestations of authority, various forms wrapped in
power, discourse, and community dynamics.  I’d say this essay does a
terrific job of sizing up those forms, pointing them out, and reminding me that
they aren’t all evil (which is often my suspicion).  In fact, M&K’s answer
to the question is that there are at least two predominant perspectives on
authority–assimilation and resistance–and we (with our students) ought to know
both of them as well as other, subtler forms.

I’m not ready to answer M&K’s question about "theoretical erasure" because
I’d prefer to ask it just a bit differently, replacing "erasure," I think, with
"complexity."  Of course this kind of critique can give way to endless
tinkering.  I won’t do that.  But just this one turn–complexity
rather than erasure–would allow the question to point out what I think this essay does. 
Old, autonomous authority isn’t dead; it’s just buried (read: nested, resting). 
And maybe we should be just as distrusting of new authority (contextual,
assumable, provisional, situated, ethical) because it’s more elusive, harder to
know, but potentially as controlling, power-wielding, and uncaring. 
Potentially.  And then "how are we to account for the theoretical [complexity]
of the authority that constitutes the writers–the authors–we face every day in
our composition classrooms?".  Rhetoric: running the range of persuasive,
effective, compelling postures in variously authority-laden situations. 

Continue reading →

Glenn, 1995, “sex, lies, and manuscript”

 Glenn, Cheryl. "sex, lies, and manuscript: Refiguring Aspasia in the History of
Rhetoric.” On Writing Research: The Braddock Essays, 1975-1998.
Ed. Lisa Ede. New York: Bedford St. Martin’s, 1999. 336-351.

Big Idea
Aspasia, a woman rhetorician from Miletus–what’s modern day Turkey–stood
in an improbable role during the heyday of the rhet-charged Greek polis
A contemporary of the patriarchy of better-historicized–Pericles, Xenophon,
Aeschines, Aristotle and Sophocles–Aspasia affected the public sphere and
contributed, with notable influence, to the votary of male officials. 
Cheryl Glenn’s 1995 Braddock-winning essay, invokes mapping metaphors to suggest
gendered displacements while appropriating Aspasia a legitimate place in the
rhetorical tradition.  The essay is necessarily encyclopedic; it also piles
through a fair amount of best-guesses, probabilities and likelihoods in a
successful attempt to carve out historiographic room for Aspasia.  
Glenn’s work situates Aspasia in the context of heavily patriarchal rhetorical
tradition.  In doing so, she  exposes openings and possibilities in
the sketchy historical record, and ends with a call for ongoing re-readings of
the rhetorical tradition that ask questions about representation, absence and
silence, and that accept Aspasia as a beacon for modern feminist scholarship in

Wondering About
My foothold in classical rhetoric is shaky at its most stable.  Reading
"sex, lies, and manuscript" helped me see the tradition as a contested
realm, and the trick for the scholar of classical rhetoric–it seems–is to
explore the nebulous areas, to inquire about what’s missing and why, and to see
the tradition anew by refreshing it with now-relevant questions.  It’s
clear I need to spend more time with B&H’s The Rhetorical Tradition;
I’ve plans to crack it later this summer.

The "sex, lies, and manuscript" reference gets explained later in
Glenn’s essay (or is it in the afternote?).  I never saw the movie sex,
lies, and videotape
, so the allusion was a stretch.  I think it
might have come across more resolutely for readers ten years ago, but the
reference didn’t seem adequately sustained, sufficiently built-in for
me–especially for the juxtaposition of manuscript and videotape.
Probably would make better sense if I checked out the movie, eh?

I wondered how differently each of the characterizations–"[one who]
ventured out into the common land, [one who] distinguished herself by her
rhetorical accomplishments, her sexual attachment to Pericles, and her public
participation in political affairs"–rolled together to give Aspasia a
single sense of persona.  For that matter, did Glenn find these overlapping
identities competing?  Manipulable? Exclusive?  It’s not easy to say
with precision, but especially in the places where Glenn needles at Pericles’
legitimacy (suggesting, basically, that "Aspasia surely must have
influenced Pericles in the composition of those speeches that both established
him as a persuasive speaker and informed him as the most respected
citizen-orator of the age" (342)), I had the sense that the unverifiability
of it all encroached on Glenn’s argument. And, of course, I recognize that this
also points to an imperfect historical record and the difficulties of writing
across +/- 2,500 years. 

I picked up a few terms that I’d heard before (some of them, anyway), but
that I hadn’t explored lately:  arete and homonoia.  As
Glenn casts them, arete tends toward an elite sense of governance by
virtue–a kind of oligarchic/aristocratic democracy, whereas homonoia
called for virtue by all, no matter gender or social class, for the good of the
entire democratized polity.  According to Glenn, "Thus was manifested
the complex tension between the elitist arete and a more democratic homonoia
Another useful term was panhellenism, which points to "a doctrine
sorely needed to to unify the Greek city-states, just as it satiated the male
appetite for public display."  The term is used in a way that might
allow something like diversity or heterogeneity (especially in
relationships, I guess) stand in its place.  And the last noteworthy term
is consubstantiality.  The funeral orations aspired to this
attribute of consubstantiality, which basically means that the experience–the
rhetorical effect–would be replicated throughout time, so "the shared
experience of this rhetorical ritual linked [!] everyone present even as it
connected them ‘with other audiences in the past’ (Mackin 251)"
(344).  Consubstantiality.  Consubstantiality.

"Such challenges not only restore women to rhetorical history and
rhetorical history to women, but the restoration itself revitalizes theory by
shaking the conceptual foundations of rhetorical study" (336).

"When other women were systematically relegated to the domestic sphere,
Aspasia seems to have been the only woman in classical Greece to have
distinguished herself in the public domain" (338).

"By every historical account, Aspasia ventured out into the common land,
distinguished herself by her rhetorical accomplishments, her sexual attachment
to Pericles, and her public participation in political affairs"

"The Menexenus contains Plato’s version of Socrates’ version of
Aspasia’s version of Pericles’ Funeral Oration, further recognition of Aspasia’s
reputation as rhetorician, philosopher, and as influential colleague in the
Sophistic movement, a movement devoted to the analysis and creation of
rhetoric–and of truth" (344).

"Jarratt explains the sophistic rhetorical technique and its
social-constructionist underpinning with her definition of nomos as a
‘self-conscious arrangement of discourse to create politically and socially
significant knowledge…thus it is always a social construct with ethical
dimensions’ (60)" (345).

"Our first obligation, then, as rhetorical scholars is to look backwards
at all the unquestioned scholarship that has come before; then, we must begin to
re-map our notion of rhetorical history. By simply choosing which men and women
to show and how to represent them, we subtly shape the perceptions of our
profession, enabling the profession to recognize and remember–or to forget–the
obvious and not-so-obvious women on our intellectual landscape" (349).

D’Angelo, 1977, “Intelligible Structure”

Frank. “The Search for Intelligible Structure in the Teaching of Composition.” On Writing Research: The Braddock Essays, 1975-1998.
Ed. Lisa Ede. New York: Bedford St. Martin’s, 1999. 51-59.

Big Idea
Look!  We, compositionists, are disciplinarily vital. We have an
epicenter, proven radials, recognizable and defensible structures holding our
work together.  D’Angelo’s essay, I’d say, is best read as a freeze frame
in composition’s becoming.  In his afterthought, he notes, "Much has
happened in the teaching of writing and literature that suggests that our
earlier emphasis on structure and sequence may have been misguided and
naive" (59). He cites a long list of folks (Leonard, V. Burke, Scully,
Stade, W. Rice) whose critiques hammered at the (perceived to be) thin, 1976
shell of the dispersed ranges of academic writing.  Toward "new unity
and order," D’Angelo diagrams the modes of discourse, partners them with
Kinneavy’s aims of discourse, and folds them together with the contention that
the field must be drawn with a sense of coherence, visible chalk

Monday Morning

D’Angelo’s essay, brief as it is, proceeds descriptively more than
critically.  It’s not an overtly political defense of the field of
composition, but by leading with the allegations that "writing is the
disgrace of American education" (Leonard) and that "many entering
students are in fact ‘functionally illiterate’" (Scully), the essay serves
up an answer as well as a call for a recentering of stray pedagogies.  In
one sense, I see D’Angelo’s Braddock as a crucial moment: it carved out a future
into which compositionists could proceed critically.  By promoting a
disciplinary structure, it also sets up a core fade to (trained) corps fade
clubhouse fade to "what you’re doing isn’t

Because I had time yesterday to take on a decent chunk of the latest CE,
I’m thinking about "Intelligible Structure" under beams of Bonnie
Kyburz’s essay on chaos theory in composition and at least one small bit of
Joseph Harris’ response to Beech and Thelin’s critique of his article on
"Revision as a Critical Practice."  First, Kyburz’s chaos theory
work probably wouldn’t have been well received thirty years ago;
"Intelligible Structure" is, in part, D’Anglo’s response to Virginia
Burke’s claim that "there is chaos today in the teaching of composition
because since the turn of the century, composition has lacked an informing discipline."
Arguing for chaos could have been like rocks to a fragile figurine–hazardous.
And I wonder: are these different brands of chaos?  In "Meaning Finds
a Way: Chaos (Theory) and Composition," Kyburz writes;

I have long been fascinated (like Taylor and Walker) by the concept of
writing as a chaotic process, and I find that this notion is encouraged by
conversations regarding "alternative discourses" and
"post-process" pedagogy.  These progressive,
"alternative" discourses–which shape-shift, form, and reform
according to rhetorical purposes, unbound by the strictures of traditionally
bland, uniform, and regulated "academic writing"–have recently
gained currency in composition studies.  Yet, as Gary Olson tells us,
there remains within the field a conservative and nostalgic presence that
denies these and other progressive discourses the sorts of disciplinary status
that can create appreciable change for the composition classroom and for our
notions of what we are about in composition studies ("Working").
Perhaps by returning in iterative fashion to the chaos metaphor–via chaos
theory–that has for so long informed ideas about writing, we may find ourselves
rethinking writing in increasingly complex and promising ways, effectively
resisting pressures to define ourselves and our students through standardized
testing and retrogressive pedagogies, among other ages practices, as the
gatekeepers and worthy practitioners of "order" (that is, Standard
Written–white, middle-class–English. (CE 66.5 505)

Retrogressive pedagogies.  Hmm.  Good stuff.  It reminds me of
Joseph Williams’ phrasal links interface shared via techrhet a few weeks
ago–loosely associated links from among the spray of web texts–discovery and
potentials in chaotic textual extension.  Wonderful.

And this clarification from Joseph Harris on his use of diverge fits
with D’Angelo, too, I think:

The verb I actually use in my essay is diverge.  I don’t see myself as
trying to head off or rebut the work of Ira Shor, James Berlin, or Patricia
Bizzell. Rather, I view us as starting out with a similar set of aims and
values, but ending up in different places, doing different kinds of
work.  Our approaches to teaching don’t conflict so much as branch away
from one another.  We need to find ways of talking about such divergences
that don’t lock us into fixed antagonisms–and especially that resist
valorizing some teachers for "empowering" students while dismissing
others as serving the "dominant ideology." (CE 66.5 557)

With this, then, I need only to note that I see D’Angelo’s essay as a
necessary, momentary assembling of the field toward "intelligible
structure" so that compositionists could, again, diverge in good
stead, loosely tied, supported, affirmed by some conceptual disciplinary
guard–a force at once beneficent and differentiating, making divergence
possible yet risky.

Detached Structures

"But one of the most important reasons for our inability to teach
composition adequately is that we have failed to identify the most significant
principles and concepts in the field which make intelligible everything we
do" (52).

"My thesis is that composition does not have an underlying structure
which gives unity and coherence to the field, that that structure can be
conceived of in terms of principles and forms (akin to those found in music or
painting, (for example), and that these principles and forms need to be taught
in an orderly sequence" (53).

"Virginia Burke emphasizes this point even more forcefully: ‘There is
chaos today in the teaching of composition because since the turn of the
century, composition has lacked an informing discipline, without which no field
can maintain its proper dimensions, the balance and proportion of its various
parts, or its very integrity. Consequently, the practice of composition has
shrunk, has lost important elements, has become a victim of all manner of
distortion’" (51).

"According to many critics, the composition curriculum was a loose
amalgam of separate skills and content which tried to pursue its various
objectives in a bewildering variety of ways" (57).

Braddock, 1975, “Frequency and Placement”

 Braddock, Richard. “The Frequency and Placement of Topic Sentences.” On Writing Research: The Braddock Essays, 1975-1998. Ed.
Lisa Ede. New York: Bedford St. Martin’s, 1999. 29-42.

Big Idea
Braddock’s essay on the placement and patterns of topic sentences exposes a problem of referring students to mythic truths–affirmed in popular textbooks old and new–about professional expository writing. His empirical research and methodical investigation (lots of data-counts, tables) of faulty advice about prevalent organizational patterns is an affront to the echo and reiteration of uncritical teaching. His essay calls for
conscientious attention to topical organization in paragraphs.

Terms of Import
t-unit (minimal terminal unit , Kellogg Hunt (1965)) — the “shortest grammatically allowable sentence into which…[writing can] be segmented” (31).
delayed-completion topic sentence (35)–undeclared predicate forces us to read beyond the seminal t-unit and into a subsequent sentence
assembled topic sentence (35)–infused with quoted bits from another source
inferred topic sentence (35)–implied topic that cannot be reconstructed by quoting phrases from the original text
major topic sentence (35)–reflection of the “larger stadia of discourses,” like Irmcher’s “paragraph bloc”

Monday Morning
Simply put, teachers of writing should be cautious to make unfounded claims likening work done by students to work done by professionals. If we demand students organize paragraphs by locating topic sentences at the beginning and the end of their paragraphs, we must not justify the requirement by referring to foggy,
disproved characterizations of a larger writing institution. Braddock’s research establishes that only 45% of 761
paragraphs studied used simple topic sentences; only 16% located those topic sentences in the first or final sentence of the graf. 

So, 1.) We should always be skeptical about common truths in textbooks; 2.) We should not attest to gross generalizations about expository prose or, heck, even refer to “most” expository prose working in a particularly systematic way unless we are able to attach illustrative examples; 3.) We should watch for topical variations in students’ expository writing and teach organizational variations as a controllable feature of composition (particularly calling attention to it during stages of revision, I think).

How much time and attention do writing instructors give to teaching about
t-units or topic sentences in 2004? Is the concept of topic sentences irresponsible if it leaves off the subtleties and variations? Should instruction about topic sentences in expository prose foreground
the act(ion) of research writing? When should students be welcomed to think about it? Is it inline with broader studies of textual organization (merging HTML, visual rhetorics, distributed schemes)? How do we
teach organizational awareness? Outlining? Mapping? Of students’ writing? Popular writing? How much time and energy does this deserve in a FY writing course? In an advanced expository course? Is this essay
still regarded as important (for its methods, perhaps, as much as its contribution to more sophisticated pedagogy)? Or is it rather more like a shelved artifact? 

Passages Passages
“This sample of contemporary professional writing did not support the claims of textbook writers about the
frequency and location of topic sentences in professional writing. That does not, of course, necessarily mean the same findings would hold for scientific and technical writing or other types of exposition. Moreover, it does not all mean that composition teachers should stop showing their students how to develop paragraphs from clear topic sentences. Far from it. In my opinion, often the writing in the 25 essays would have been
clearer and more comfortable to read if the paragraphs had presented more explicit topic sentences. But what this study does suggest is this: While helping students use clear topic sentences in their writing and identify variously presented topical ides in their reading, the teacher should not pretend that professional writers largely follow the practices he is
advocating" (39).