inferentialkid

10/02 – The Rebirth of the Cool

In Uncategorized on September 30, 2008 at 4:01 pm

Reading: The Rhetoric of Cool

Presentation: Cindy Mooty-Hoffmann on Writing New Media

Discussed: Actor-Network Theory; Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder; Roland Barthes; “Composition at the Turn of the Twenty-First Century”; The Conquest of Cool; Electronic Revolution; Expressivism; The Laws of Cool; Marshall McLuhan; The Morbidity of Current-Traditional Rhetoric; Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon; Three Degrees of David Bowie; Uptaught

A New Genealogy of Composition Studies: My re-presentation of a history (and not necessarily, the history) of composition studies is meant as a sub/version, for who would think to associate composition studies and cool? And when I make that connection, how am I undermining an assumed history of composition studies? By arguing for a sub/version, I want to make composition studies uncomfortable about its history because we have agreed to quickly about what that history entails. But I don’t yearn for uncomfortability merely for the sake of upsetting. By undermining an accepted history (and thus the consequences of this history), I want to disrupt composition’s commonplace assumptions regarding cultural studies, technology, and writing, how they fit into a given curriculum, and how they mesh with one another. Out of this discomfort, I hope that composition studies will come to understand and work with new positions. What I pose is one alternative, one re-presentation, one sub/version meant to draw us out of a dominant re-presentation in circulation today. Out of this alternative, I would hope others will follow as well. (18)

Digital Culture as Model for Literacy: …this book will define a rhetorical practic conducive and generalizable to digital culture. The rhetorical moves I identify as belonging to the rhetoric of cool are possible only because of digital culture: they challenge and disrupt print-oriented conventions and structural logic. Even if those texts and writers writers I draw upon to learn these practices don’t actually work with technology, the rhetorical value I find and present as part of the rhetoric of cool is the result of post-World War II American culture, a culture largely shaped by an emerging electronic apparatus based on television, film, the transistor, radio, and, of course, the computer. The figures I draw upon could not have produced the rhetorical work they did within any other kind of apparatus; their work is technologically fashioned by implicit and explicit forces. (21)

Chora, Appropriation, and Juxtaposition: When the spirit of appropriation is reduced to another corporate slogan or commercial strategy, its rhetorical value is as minimal a Elbow asking student to utilize collage for coherent meaning or Web texts always emphasizing their hierarchical order. In these kinds of scenarios, appropriation serves only to reinstitutionalize the already accepted form of discourse. Appropriation is not applied in order to make a new rhetorical turn; it is used to keep the same rhetoric already in place. My interests are in thinking about appropriation differently. […] Literate society in 1963, represented in composition studies…strucures our current understanding of literacy as framed by Aristotlean methods of logic and persuasion (how an oral delivery persuades an audience or compliments its expectations), and not as a “new physics, as McLuhan poetically describes new media. The new physics, like hip-hop’s droppin’ science, represents a nonliterate, or beyond literate, method of producing knowledge outside the parameters of argumentation in which exploration, as Ong and McLuhan claim, involves a “sounding out” of sorts in the quest to combine information in unlikely manners. Sampling signifes one kind of digital writing that puts these ideas into a composition practice. (60; 90)

Nonlinearity and the Rhetoric of Cool Contra the Conquest of Cool: Currently we find the most widely applied semantic moves in Web sites that track user usage or purchasing habits. Amazon.com and Aol.com are two of the most dominant enterprises employing semantic information structures toward information creation and distribution; these sites generate connections among user purchases based on word choice, titles of products, or associative gestures (this book you are buying sounds like this CD, so you might want it too). The writing may or may not be correct (I don’t want the CD), but such a point is immaterial. Within nonlinear threads, meaning is established. One item connects to another item in suprising or expected ways; regardless of which, there is meaning in these connections. That meaning’s specificity, of course, depends on all kinds of contexts and situations. Yet in these types of examples, we find that there exists a new media logic that allows for associative nonlinear reasoning and writing. Rather than ask how we can avoid the traps such writing poses for our consumer habits, we should ask how can we use such media for a composition-oriented cool writing. (125)

Imagery: …when questions of “fact” are disputable – such as a government clinging to the validity of segregation – and when conclusions don’t always flow from given premises (“all men are created equal” but what to make of segregation? If all “men” are equal, why is Dexter Gordon sill in the projects?), how do writer compensate? To read or to write the Blue Note record cover is not to encounter a fact or a reliable conclusion or a logical response to tense social conditions. The Blue Note rhetoric is not a replication of traditional syllogistic argumentation. Its mix of iconic display and juxtaposition propose a more complex construction of ideas. Is Mo’ Greens Please actually a plea for African-American empowerment as I initially suggested? Or does it comment on how stereotypical African-American habits (like eating soul food) are picked up uncritically by African-American culture itself? Or can both arguments be read off of the cover? Or is the argument something else entirely? (150)

The Rhetoric of Cool and the Future of Composition: Is writing the teaching of thesis-driven representation, is it a rhetoric devoted largely to the concepts of audience and purpose, or is it only logical reasoning? Does a writer really need purpose or a sense or audience each time she sits down to write? Should she be inventing the university or media culture? Or – and possibly in addition to these items – does writing also include those items I note as central to the rhetoric of cool? These are questions for the future work of composition studies. […] Our task today is to reimagine the status quo, to reconceptualize writing so that it includes, among other things, the notion of cool. […] we can more fully realize electronic writing in our work, our teaching, our research, and elsewhere. To do all of this, we can become cool in ways we haven’t yet begun to imagine. To do any of this, we must imagine ourselves and our work entirely. (157)

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  1. Jeff Rice’s argument about the change of rhetoric brought through the injection of new media since 1963 in his text, The Rhetoric of Cool, at first seemed innovative and fresh, but it was a feeling that quickly dissipated when I began to think about my mother. My mother has ADHD. It has never been diagnosed, but after working as a school teacher for six years, it is clear from my experience with children with ADHD that my mother is a candidate for a medication advertisement. While growing up, I was always bewildered about where she found her seemingly boundless energy and her ability to skip with relative ease from one subject to another – stringing them together with connections that seemed wildly unapparent at first. But, by the end of our conversations, it was always made crystal clear how it was that she connected things. My mother’s brain works like the game the Six Degrees from Kevin Bacon. If you start talking to her about garage sale shopping, she will remember a pot she saw at one ten years ago – which takes her to a memory about my grandmother – who will make her remember a snide comment she made once about sex – and the conversation will end with a comment about my father’s snoring (which causes a lack of desire) and her dream condo in the tropics. Her behavior seems just as erratic. She skips merrily about my family home gathering and depositing items, starting and abandoning tasks, meddling with my father’s things, and riffling through the drawers and crevices of every desk and cupboard. She never seems to finish anything, but a whole heck of a lot gets touched on. With her, there seems to be no real pattern until she sits down with you over tea to tell you what she was thinking about when she was spinning about you. I have never ceased to be amused by my mother’s methodology. I have, for many years, thought very carefully about her manner of living and how it differs from those about her – making her singularly unique. She thinks in hyperlinks. My mother functions like the rhetoric of cool and both, I believe, are a little bit mad.

    The rhetoric of cool is clear to anyone who has researched a topic online. The simple act of googling a topic brings about a myriad of hits on a topic all juxtaposed together in a list. When pages are opened to examine ideas, additional links are present, hyperlinks from those related ideas to countless other places. It is an ever present string of ideas that dance throughout the ever reaching pathways of the Web. Like the collage cut-up art and writing that he discusses, Rice lays out what he calls a nonlinear methodology for composition. I am not altogether comfortable with his labeling of his idea as a nonlinear one. As an artist of collage and being married to a professional artist who dabbles in collage I can see the pathways of juxtaposition. As a daughter of a math teacher, I have grown up with the definition of a line being the most direct way between two points. If I follow this definition, I can define linear as the path of a line. If this is so, then the paths of collage, the web, hyperlinks, Burroughs, and my mother are all linear because they move from point to point. For me, the points need not all take the same path. Like stars, they can be scattered about in seemingly random facets, but if one travels from star (idea) to another, it is in a linear path as long as it is from one point to another. Wouldn’t it be more appropriate to think in terms of the Aristotelian hierarchies that he discusses briefly when discussing the argumentative rhetorical composition (on page 93) when comparing the new rhetorical structure of cool to those of classical rhetoric?

    I also want to pause briefly to reflect on a topic that moves away from my mother and linear/nonlinear composition. I would like to think about how educators, like myself, ought to approach composition as educators if what Rice writes is true with these two passages in regards to plagiarism:

    “… all writing involves some degree of theft, particularly when writing is introduced into the digital, an area that relies to a great extent on the ‘borrowing’ logic associated with appropriation” (56-7)
    “…. the rhetoric of postcritism, critical writing based on collage where copyright indicates the right to copy” (61)

    Is plagiarism defunct? Can we really define this as a modern act of thievery if we all appropriate sections of other writing in order to reassemble it in another composition or has new media made this into permissive act? Wouldn’t it instead be more appropriate to teach students how to document these ideas correctly through proper documentation techniques or do the rules for documentation have to readjust in order to make room for modern cut and paste techniques? If the rules for MLA, APA, and the Chicago style continue to grow in complexity (like the IRS has complicated our taxes) to adapt to new media instead of simplifying, wouldn’t we be breeding a cult of deceit for those who would abandon ethical composition practices who might otherwise attempt to utilize them? I think this is a legitimate concern.

  2. In The Rhetoric of Cool, Rice attempts to engage with what he feels is missing in contemporary pedagogical practice. He gives specific emphasis and deserved attention to that which new media technology necessitates of the instructor and the field of composition more generally; specifically, a more thorough understanding of the tenants of new media writing or “cool”. Here, Rice moves not only to complicate the history of composition’s glorious reemergence and to propose various methodologies for bridging the increasing divide between classroom practice and the rhetoric of digital space, but he also works to inscribe the initial errors of an earlier tradition on the facade of current pedagogical practice. Rice’s move, quite simply, is to say that just as scholars missed the boat in 1963, contemporary theorists, professors, writers, etc., have also been left standing on the dock watching departing passengers wave.

    This criticism, of course, is leveled at the discipline rather than the individual practitioner. As Rice notes in chapter seven, “The fault is in the ways the discipline itself-as a whole-imagines writing and writers…The fault is large scale and ideological, not personal” (Rice 154). And, it seems that this is where Rice’s work differs from some of the texts that we encountered previously. In the course of The Rhetoric of Cool, he criticizes those that hail new media as well as those that decry the eventual decline of the printed text. He critiques both tech-mongers and neo-luddites. The insufficiencies that Rice observes relate to Composition capital “c”, not just the resistant linear strategies of a couple of professors attempting to hold out.

    And, it seems that this argument is warranted, at least in the capacity that it encourages instructors/writers to revision what type of work should be done. As he argues in the first chapter, composition studies should be made to feel “uncomfortable about its history” (Rice 18). Ultimately, this text questions whether courses that focus on thesis, linearity, and the word can properly equip students for interaction with the ambiguous, non-linear, and image based. The answer, in the strictest sense, is “no.”

    Fortunately for the reader, unlike many of his predecessors, Rice alludes to specific methods for dealing with the problems that instructors face. What is promising about this text is the effort Rice makes to provide not only a different theory of writing (“cool” writing), but different modes and methods of enacting the approaches that his theory hints at. For those of you more familiar with Rice’s practice, these approaches manifest in his classes as the “My-story,” and other assignments that ask the student to research and write particular spaces, identities, etc – to follow the associational threads. Here, though Rice is attempting to bridge a significant gap by bringing new media practice into the classroom, he is also working towards innovation. Returning to chapter seven, one finds that not only is Rice emphasizing, in McLuhanist fashion, that we become acquainted with the divergent forms of writing that are already out there, but that we also become involved in creating the forms: “Composition cannot perceive new media’s role in writing if the field is not involved in new media innovations” (Rice 143).

    Unfortunately, although Rice thoroughly outlines various techniques for integrating new media into contemporary pedagogical practice, there is some oversight concerning the related issues of assessment and evaluation. This is to say that although Rice proposes a variety of methods for immersing the student in “cool” writing practices, he fails to explain how an instructor might assess the work that students are doing. Considering my experience in Rice’s class before, I can attest to the difficulty a professor might experience assessing new media work. Undoubtedly, certain approaches are going to be more effective than others; students are going to perform better or worse depending on how they engage with the material, how well they follow instructions, and how well the professor gets through to each student. The problem arises in response to these works. Whereas more traditional linear and image-devoid texts provide accessible forms of assessment and response, new media forms are harder to evaluate. Returning to Rice’s emphasis on the database, how might a professor say that one student’s image choice is better than another? Does a student receive an “A” just for including a few images, or posting to a web-log?

    This, of course, is not an attempt to argue against the methods that Rice teaches, for I feel as though there is great import in exploring new approaches to new media. Instead, it seems as though the issues of assessment, evaluation, and response, would have to be considered more thoroughly.

    On the meta-level, I’m interested in a reading of Rice’s text that emphasizes the primacy of juxtaposition and conflict. If the point of chapter four is to propose juxtaposition’s valuable disruptive power as a response to the “information and cultural overloads” we experience in society, might Rice’s text, as a whole, be geared towards a similar end? Here, one might argue that Rice is taking Burroughs’s method of the “nova technique” and extrapolating, as he positions his text in almost direct confrontation with the tenants of composition studies: clarity, linearity, and order. The value, following on Rice’s suppositions in chapter four, is that such a move creates rifts that, in turn, spark (positive) ambiguity and innovation.

  3. For the last few weeks I’ve been studying to take my Florida Teacher Certification Exam to teach 6th-12th grade English. Unlike Michigan, Florida does not require its high school teachers to hold a teaching certificate obtained through a degree program. Possessing a bachelor’s degree in the subject you’d like to teach is sufficient to obtain a temporary, three-year teaching certificate, while passing the FTCE results in a permanent teaching certificate.

    Like Michigan, Florida public schools get funding based on students’ standardized test scores in state-mandated tests. Unlike Michigan, however, Florida students are required to obtain a specific score or higher on each subject section of the test; students who fail to do so are held back, regardless of how well they perform in their classes on a daily basis. Of course, as Mike Rose and so many pedagogues make clear, teaching to rote, culturally-specific knowledge as standardized tests tend to do is detrimental to the ultimate academic achievements of many students. Even the ones who perform well on these tests are left without an ability to analyze, juxtapose, think for themselves. The entire high school curriculum is geared toward FCAT advancement, and the multi-literate skills and practices that Jeff Rice pushes for in The Rhetoric of Cool are never cultivated.

    To turn briefly toward some of the “un-cool” practices suggested by the practice tests in my FTCE study guide, I cringed at many of the “correct” answers, as they reflect a staunch McCrimmon-esque stance on the cut-and-dry process of writing. Fluidity in composing is rejected in favor of compartmentalized steps and the idea of multiple literacies is thrown out the window: “In order to create good writers, teachers must develop proficient speakers.” Listening, visualizing, even reading take the backseat to speaking, while cool composing takes all of these, as Rice reminds us.

    As both Rice and Johnson-Eilola make clear in each of their texts, our everyday technologies are changing the way However, at least in regard to perhaps all hope is not lost. One of the questions in Practice Test 1 of my study guide asks, “which of the following are appropriate strategies for teaching literature?” The follow possible answers are listed: 1.) creating plot diagrams; 2.) rewriting the book’s ending; 3.) reading the book twice; and 4.) designing a jacket or cover for a book. The answer key in the back of the book tells me that choices 1, 2, and 4 are all acceptable ways to teach literature. I am apt to agree, and I think Rice would too. Each of those options would allow students to “be cool” and compose by appropriating old texts to create new ones and by playing with spatial relations to create something both informational and visually arresting. At the same time, though, they still rely solely on print, when digitally constructing these projects would create different, more significant meanings.

    To combat this problem, we could take an even bigger cue from Rice and turn these projects into cooler ones; a plot diagram could turn into a website that all students amend, not only with important passages or themes of the book (which would satisfy the comprehension portion of the FCAT), but also with personally and/or socially relevant quotations or anecdotes that students cultivate while they read. To avoid the pseudo-cool nature of sites like WebCT and cooltown, these projects would be localized, and students would compose in ways that are important to them using different texts, sounds, memories, visuals, etc.

    Of course, even with projects that stress connectivity over data transfer, teachers still have to work under the strictures of the FCAT or MME so that their students can . However, if teachers can still get students to enact Rice’s rhetoric of cool, even in short bursts, then at least some progress, if only very little, is being made. Until Kathleen Blake Yancey’s call to develop “’thoughtful, informed, technologically adept writing publics’” (157) is answered (at all education levels), this partial cool-ness will have to do.

  4. Jeff Rice posits his argument that “cool” should be the fourth “C” within the composition criteria using a framework of chora, appropriation, juxtaposition, commutation, nonlinearity, and imagery. He argues that the outline—the framework for composition to be based on research and theory – was inaccurately drawn when Composition with a capital “C” was born in 1963 at the Conference on College Composition and Communication 4C’s convention. He said if the framers thoroughly looked ahead to composition studies, there would have been—and should have been—less time devoted to composition classes focused on research and controlled, concise writing and more time spent on rhetoric involving electronic culture. “We built the wrong outline,” he said. “In fact, we shouldn’t have built an outline at all because the outline has kept us too structured and focused on an outdated (even for that time period) status quo” (25). He wants an alternative to the status quo by arguing the writer is “cool for the way she uses specific rhetorical practices to make meaning in electronic environments” (6). He wants us to no longer think of writers in the linear sense but one of media-oriented beings such as the DJ (66).

    In a justification for his position, Rice seems to use every example of the word “cool” that he’s come across since the repeated reference of composition’s birth ranging across culture, movies, music, and photos. The cool selections even come from cartoons such as Charles Schultz’s Snoopy portrayed as Joe Cool and Detroit’s former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick whom Governor Granholm called the Minister of Cool when she launched a PR campaign to try and claim Michigan as cool to recruit residents back to the city of Detroit. (And, yes, I meant to call Kilpatrick a cartoon character). I found myself thinking of the text when actor Paul Newman died and the first paragraph mentioned that he epitomized “cool.” However, Rice would be the first to argue against the word “cool” as the idea—the issue for writing. Instead he says cool is not just using the word or the various digital medium and lists wikis, Weblogs, Web pages etc., but that rhetoric has to be the focal point (19) within a cool assignment. Assignments he mentioned included visual media, hyperlink assignments and creating Web pages.

    As a freshman composition instructor, I have read –and used – the same type of text books which he argues against: those that detail the four steps of prewriting, drafting, writing, revising, editing – organized structured writing so students could learn the fundamentals of writing. But I find myself at a loss as to where would Rice’s type of class be placed. Does cool writing replace the formal structured writing currently used throughout campuses or is it an add-on class after freshman composition? Then my next set of questions involve how do we teach it? His text lacked the demonstration as to just how this should be accomplished. I found his text book Writing About Cool on the Web and found myself at a greater loss at to where Rice sees his rhetoric within a the composition outline. The text advertises that students will be “encouraged to think critically about the construction of popular culture and taught how to write critically about various popular culture phenomenon. Through the study of Web, advertising, literature, and technology usages of cool, students learn how to use HTML to write ‘cool’ themselves.” This still leaves me confused. Is his course to be used as a follow-up to the traditional freshman composition course or does it replace the course?

  5. I present to you a cut-up … I believe Jeff Rice would approve. All passages from the text are hereby appropriated and commutated, for in the age of new media, pedagogy cannot remain insular. It must be aware of all media in order to better understand the dynamics of rhetoric within digital culture—to turn things on their heads and, as the book illustrates, cool them down (or up) a bit. Know how to play scales and chord progressions, and if they can’t successfully explain musical theory in words, they can at the very least demonstrate it with accuracy … one that contextualizes digital identity as a series of appropriations and not as the authorial student writer identity she is asked to adhere to in the classroom.

    If it is indeed necessary to create a new form of rhetoric for the new media age, It must be in the order neither of the sensible nor the intelligible but in the order of making, of generating and this form of rhetoric is based on nonlinearity, appropriation, juxtaposition, commutation, imagery, and a choral mode of writing (hypertexting) … Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane were extremely talented and well-versed musicians who knew the rules and forms of jazz music up one side and down the other before they ventured out to destroy those rules. Thus this experiment in bending the language used to fit into the proposed mold of the rhetoric of cool.

    Step three was to use the ability of my computer to create new nonlinear spatiality by opening up multiple windows into which copy was randomly cut and pasted for later use in the cut up, the multiplicity of the rhetoric.

    Although I agree wholeheartedly that research into how writing is to be developed in a new media environment needs to be conducted, and that the rhetoric of cool embodies a lot of fantastic and exciting ideas as to how this could be done, we have to reject disciplinary fixation on theft and what new types of pedagogy can be developed in teaching composition in a multimedia environment. I can’t help but think that perhaps this should be reserved for more advanced instruction—that’s not how engineers write, you will never write like that in a job.

    The main question that has come to me during this exercise is whether or not Rice is putting the cart before the horse, so to speak, not causal effect but meaning relationships, however arbitrary such meanings may, at first, appear. Step one was to locate meaningful passages within the text that speak to using an overall model of nonlinearity in writing …

    Can thoughts and reactions to this new form of rhetoric be sufficiently expressed in the form of something nonlinear, choral, appropriated, commutated and juxtaposed? Teaching the fundamentals first, and making sure that students have a solid grasp of them, the typewriter, in other words, is still too experimental. Step four, obviously assembly of the text into a new nonlinear form. And it must be transferable, exchangeable, without generalization, conducted from one particular to another … This transgression is compositional, ideological, and political. Then teaching a new media structure of anti-structure in which those rules are turned on their heads seems to me like it would yield a more fruitful experience for everyone involved. Most freshman composition students, however, wouldn’t understand the rules they were breaking. Writers composing with juxtapositions do not begin with an understanding of what they will write about.

    Step two was to type up a linear response to the text.

    As a musician who has participated in “jam” sessions, I can safely say that most jam musicians I know who may go off on wild tangents of atonality or totally “freak out” instrumentally, substitute one signifier for another and you have cool regardless of your list’s subject matter. If this is the case, then, does rule breaking without knowing the rules first generate writing that is always haphazardly disconnected and nonlinear? And it grants Kerouac a cool writing experience as well.

    Step five, if there is time, to post this text online and hyperlink words and phrases to other words, phrases, and images to further nonlinearize the text and to add dimensions of appropriation, chorality, and image.

    As promised, the wiki cut-up page is http://funwithcutups.pbwiki.com and the invite code is conor. Log in and link away.

  6. After Tuesday’s English 1020 class lacked enthusiasm about discussing how to perform a rhetorical analysis of Fame Junkies, I reorganized my lesson plans for today’s class in an effort to disrupt my students’ apathetic slumber.  Rather than have them sit back and listen to me complain about their lack of effort, I decided to put them to work by engaging in a choral writing practice of making and generating.  Their next major assignment is the Definition Essay, which asks them to choose a term and inquire, “What is the nature or definition of this term?”  Since the Definition Essay does not allow students to use any ready-made definition sources like dictionaries, encyclopedias, or wikipedias (to name just a few), they must challenge their preconceived notions about language and meaning-making by embarking on a research-oriented journey.  Therefore, I set up twenty stations of creative activity that encouraged exploration, contradiction, and association in an attempt to stimulate nonlinear thinking about their chosen terms.  Some stations included the following: coloring in a coloring book, doodling, looking up dream interpretations, having the term endure a session of psychoanalysis, encountering an enemy term in a dark alley, converting the term into a consumer product, recording the term’s response to a book of erotica, talking to children about the term during story time, writing a collaborative short story, and sitting back and listening to a station on XM Radio.  Lyrics like “I want to be inside of you when the sun goes down” and “Who can love you like me, who can sex you like me, who can lay your body down, nobody baby…,” electrified our sixty minute writing workout and perhaps encouraged alter egos to emerge on the page (which were unlined, colored sheets). 

    Rice’s observation about how “research has become a realm reduced to rational speculation and analysis” seems to echo how most students view the writing process, as merely a plug-and-chug method of meeting instructor-specified criteria that is controlled, thesis-driven, and predictable.  Formulaic compositions and classrooms result from this narrow discourse of rationality, coherency, and thereby reductive practices and attitudes towards writing.  Rice’s rhetoric of cool, on the other hand, encourages students to “write outside of the limitations of student writing” by performing spatial compositions that involve multiple layers, juxtaposing ideas, and data-base collections of knowledge.  My question for Jeff Rice involves further commentary about his statement, “Composition would have to accept a lack of order as one type of pedagogical directive for writing” (58) as a way of challenging the ideology of logic.  What is the current reception of your work in the Composition field at large – and how have you engaged in conversations about broadening the rhetoric of cool, beyond an emphasis on new media or electronic writing practices?  How does a graduate student navigate this transition between print and digital culture – not only with hierarchical pressures to teach composition as directed by our department – but also on the job market?  What are some professional limitations that you’ve observed regarding this reception towards a type of composing that promotes juxtaposition and nonlinearity, for example? 

  7. Last week, Johnson-Eilola’s Datacloud argued for a composition that could accommodate the demands of work under late capital and the shift from material production to informatic, symbolic-analytic work. Although JJE addresses the scenes of university composition only tangentially, we might accept this following passage as an argument for teaching forms of writing that can accommodate the demands of the information economy; JJE recognizes that “different approaches are needed. Communication and work are no longer simple, and people within these spaces are no longer crying out for simplicity. Instead, they require complexity, both in content and structure; they require contingency; and they require movement” (108).
    In some obvious ways, Rice’s The Rhetoric of Cool seems to a logical companion piece to Datacloud: overall, JR and JJE seem to be arguing for the same kinds of work but for different reasons. The rhetorical practices JR forwards here—choragraphy, appropriation, juxtaposition, commutation, nonlinearity—are, he notes, the native practices of what he names the “media shaped writer” (155). Such writers, JR argues, have been ill-served by composition and its conception of the writer; Rice contends that “[v]iewing media as a ‘counterinfluence’ works against imagining the student writer as anything but a student. Students don’t engage with media, this argument claims. They use only those forms and genres native to the university-accepted curricula of exams, essays, and other print-related assessment procedures” (156). That is, composition’s conception of (new) (electronic) media as a counterinfluence to the field’s (unquestioned) assumptions about academic correctness, form, and style efface the fact that students—writers—inhabit, consume, and produce a far broader scope of rhetorical practices than the doxa of composition allow for.
    JR’s description of this oversight as a “large scale and ideological” fault invites questions over the ideology associated with the rhetoric of cool. Last work, I suggested that JJE’s work in Datacloud might be understood, through a vaguely Marxist reading, as an analysis of the digital mode of production and in turn an opening critique in how the university might best fit into the social order derived from that base. Rereading Rhetoric of Cool, I am fascinated by how apolitical it seems—or, rather, it circumscribes its politics to the ideological concerns of composition. Rice offers his project as an alternative, not even necessarily a corrective, to the status quo of composition’s history since 1963:

    By arguing for a sub/version, I want to make composition studies uncomfortable about its history because we have agreed too quickly about what that history entails . . . . By undermining an accepted history (and thus the consequences of that history), I want to disrupt composition’s commonplace assumptions regarding cultural studies, technology, and writing, how they fit into a given curriculum, and how they mesh with one another . . . . For it is only from a preliminary discomfort that we eventually come to understand and work with new positions. (18)

    I admit that—as much as I admire JR, both personally and professionally—I find this narrowing of focus frustrating. This frustration is exacerbated by the fact that many of the sources he cites saw in their rhetorical inventions powerful forms for social and cultural critique. As Rice himself writes, for example, the work of people like Burroughs, Kennth Anger, Jack Smith was disruptive with larger purpose: “The reason is as much cultural as it is political; the 1960s avant-garde understood order and rationality as tools used by dominant powers to minimize dissent or to shut down alternative expression” (103). The lesson Rice finds here is a rhetorical one about “transgression of a structural and compositional convention”. Many of Rice’s relays—Burroughs, Anger, hip-hop—are cited for the ways their formal innovation point to ideological upset or cultural critique. Yet Rice doesn’t argue for a cultural critique, much less an explicitly political one, outside of the frame of composition studies.
    Am I wrong to find something amiss here? As James Berlin has repeatedly argued, “rhetoric is regarded as always already ideological. This position means that any examination of a rhetoric must first consider the ways its very discursive structure can be read so as to favor one version of economic, social, and political arrangements over other versions”. In Datacloud, the rhetorical practice we see JJE advocating demands new ways of teaching and performing writing within informatic environments in order to make social and economic status more democratically open to all; the university, JJE implies, faces a serious responsibility in discovering and inventing ways of teaching the new skill sets necessary for the information economy. That is, in addition to demanding a new rhetoric for symbolic-analytic work, JJE insists upon the university’s ethical obligation to prepare—to the best of the institution’s ability—students for such forms of work
    Can we say that The Rhetoric of Cool offers such an ethos beyond the assertion that composition must take students’ knowledge of and experience with media more seriously? If that is the ethical upshot of Rice’s text, we might align Rice’s work, in spirit if not in content, with the early scholars of process and expressivist pedagogies who, like Ken MacRorie in Uptaught, sought to empower students as the knowers and producers of unique and valuable knowledge; this pedagogy, what he calls the Third Way of teaching, “is to set up an arrangement which allows the majority of students in a class to find their own powers and to increase them. Making others powerful makes the teacher feel powerful. And the power of both is a fact” (88). I hear this echoed in Rice’s defense of the media shaped writer (cited above) and in his lesson that “to appropriate only to remain a student is not to fully engage the challenge appropriative gestures pose for writing. The only writing that can emerge from the student as appropriator is student writing” (72). Teachers of writing must, Rice implies, teach to produce writers, not student writers, and doing so demands taking seriously the rhetorical tactics native to the media shaped writer. But, if, as Berlin further suggests, rhetorical practices shape subjects as much as subjects shape practices, what kind of subjects would we be working to shape by choosing the rhetoric of cool? Or, perhaps, is the rhetoric of cool (as the name might imply) too cool for school—that is, is its rhetoric precisely that it does not take up the sociopolitical concerns that have occupied other pedagogical movements? Does Rice’s call for a pedagogy that can meet the native rhetorics of the media writer suggest, rather, that composition should meet student subjects on their own terms rather than affixing to them the linear, print shaped forms of the university? Is there an ethic to be derived from the Rhetoric of Cool, and, if so, what is it?

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