A Counter-History of Composition

A Counter-History of Composition: Toward Methodologies of Complexity

Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 400
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  • Book Info
    A Counter-History of Composition
    Book Description:

    A Counter-History of Compositioncontests the foundational disciplinary assumption that vitalism and contemporary rhetoric represent opposing, disconnected poles in the writing tradition. Vitalism has been historically linked to expressivism and concurrently dismissed as innate, intuitive, and unteachable, whereas rhetoric is seen as a rational, teachable method for producing argumentative texts. Counter to this, Byron Hawk identifies vitalism as the ground for producing rhetorical texts-the product of complex material relations rather than the product of chance. Through insightful historical analysis ranging from classical Greek rhetoric to contemporary complexity theory, Hawk defines three forms of vitalism (oppositional, investigative, and complex) and argues for their application in the environments where students write and think today.

    Hawk proposes that complex vitalism will prove a useful tool in formulating post-dialectical pedagogies, most notably in the context of emerging digital media. He relates two specific examples of applying complex vitalism in the classroom and calls for the reexamination and reinvention of current self-limiting pedagogies to incorporate vitalism and complexity theory.

    eISBN: 978-0-8229-7331-7
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. INTRODUCTION: From Vitalism to Complexity
    (pp. 1-11)

    Composition has been haunted by an unseen ghost. Since the 1970s, its disciplinary discourse has been operating on assumptions that have gone unquestioned. Coded under the umbrella of romanticism—a category often used in the discipline for identifying and excluding particular rhetorical practices—vitalism has been mischaracterized and left out of most scholarship in the field. So in order to bring vitalism as a distinct theoretical body to light, this book literally begins from the margins, from two footnotes in Paul Kameen’s “Rewording the Rhetoric of Composition” and one footnote in Victor Vitanza’s “Three Countertheses.” Kameen points out that Richard...

    (pp. 12-48)

    In the history of rhetoric and composition, the year 1980 is unique: it solidified one historical trajectory, started another, and covered over a third. Throughout the 1970s, rhetoric and composition was growing as a discipline: theories from the history of rhetoric were coming back to inform composition and composition was developing its own knowledge base through scholars’ cognitive and ethnographic research on writers. By 1980, Richard Young had summed up these developments and set the tone for their expansion in his article “Arts, Crafts, Gifts, and Knacks.” But also in 1980, James Berlin wrote “The Rhetoric of Romanticism,” which, unbeknownst...

    (pp. 49-85)

    Following Richard Young’s 1978 NEH seminar, James Berlin accepts Young’s articulation of current-traditional rhetoric and folds vitalism into this category while at the same time revaluing Coleridge. In three articles that appeared in 1980, Berlin establishes his debt to the seminar but also turns the discourse of the field away from the more social-scientific basis that Young uses to ground the discipline. Initially, Berlin reads the concept of vitalism as natural genius and moves it from romanticism to current-traditional rhetoric via the work of Hugh Blair and Richard Whately. Though he starts out using the term vitalism in conjunction with...

    (pp. 86-120)

    Because he was teaching at the University of Pittsburgh at the time, Paul Kameen was a part of the academic milieu surrounding Richard Young’s NEH seminar at Carnegie Mellon University in 1978. William Coles and Otis Walter, also from the University of Pittsburgh, were guests at the seminar, and Kameen was very much aware of their work regarding the composing process and rhetorical invention. Like James Berlin, Kameen was wary of the dubious connection between Coleridge and the characterization of vitalism that Young was putting forward in the seminar. Kameen also published a key article in 1980 that put forward...

  8. 4 A Short Counter-History
    (pp. 121-165)

    Rather than place Coleridge in the narrative of rhetoric’s retreat and return, either in retreat as Richard Young does or in return as James Berlin does, Paul Kameen’s reading seems to place Coleridge elsewhere. Certainly Kameen is interested in the ways Coleridge can expand the field’s conceptions of rhetorical invention and the composing process, but his rearticulation of Coleridge goes beyond the revaluation of the romantic individual. If Coleridge is read as espousing a complex relationship among the world, the body, the mind, and writing, then his importance clearly goes beyond mystical genius. But simply placing Coleridge into the return...

    (pp. 166-206)

    A key development in the 1990s changed the way rhetoric and compositionists look at the concepts of technê, rhetoric, and heuristics. Neither Richard Young nor James Berlin could have anticipated the emergence of digital technologies in the mid-nineties and their cultural dominance in the first decade of the twenty-first century. Young’s understanding of technê operates on a more strict definition that ultimately nudges technê toward rigid, formalist practices. And Berlin’s heuristic opens pedagogical practices to the dialectical procedures that Young aspires to achieve but cannot attain because his definitions of rhetoric and technê hold him back. But even so, Berlin’s...

    (pp. 207-258)

    Most pedagogical discourse in the 1990s revolved around critical pedagogies that generally mirror James Berlin’s image of social-epistemic rhetoric. While much other work was done in the period, it inevitably evoked the social-epistemic question: does this pedagogy seek to produce the proper political subject and corresponding critical text? The emergence of technological contexts in the middle and later 1990s changed the landscape in which this question would arise. The Internet opened the way for completely new social and pedagogical contexts. Much critical pedagogy began to focus on media literacy as decoding the dominant political assumptions and values in films and...

  11. AFTERWORD: Toward a Counter-Historiography
    (pp. 259-274)

    Breaking vitalism from its current categorization in romanticism and placing it in a new category with complexity theory requires the production of a counter-history. Consequently, I would situate this book in the line of revisionist histories from Albert Kitzhaber to James Berlin and from Sharon Crowley to Robert Connors. I am building on the examination of what gets excluded from other (more dominant) histories in order to rethink received concepts and categories that at this point are more of an impediment to the growth of the field than a useful conceptual starting place or map. However, it is important to...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 275-290)
    (pp. 291-302)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 303-314)