Wednesday, October 15, 2008

He who does not write...

Text-centric composition has been privileged all my life. I speak here of the process of writing with letters that form words that form sentences, etc., and that can be (re)produced with ink on paper. From the time I was in grammar school with my Blue Horse Writing Tablet to the time I produced my first Five-paragraph essay, the "paper" has been to ultimate mark of scholarship - and of literary production.

However, a recent conversation with a colleague cast a new light on this "beatification" of writing. The conversation is represented by the following fragments:

Most famous, highly esteemed literary figure in the English language? Shakespeare.
Did he write? Yes. Was he famous because people read his writing? No. (Most of his audiences were textually illiterate.)
Shakespeare was known for his plays. He composed a product that was, at heart, multimodal. He incorporated aurality, visual rhetoric, pageantry, ritual, drama, evocative spaces, and high-tech (for 16th-17th c.) special effects to engage his "reader" who was no "reader" at all.

Through some forgotten seque, my colleague mentioned Jesus, who didn't write text, but rather presented his teachings in a sort of narrated 3D graphic presentation of sorts. Here's a sample lesson from the multimodal composition of Jesus:
"See the lilies of the field? (Cue real lilies as visuals.) God takes care of them.
See the birds? (Cue live birds as visuals.) God takes care of them.
You are more important to god than flowers or birds. God will take care of you, too." (Matthew chapter 6)

I noted that Jesus was "one who did not write." (His followers did - notably ones like Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.) This reminded me of "he who does not write" - Socrates. Socrates teaching was not delivered in print, but live and in person. (Think Improv or Stump Speeches or Live Podcasts.) Transcripts and commentaries would be produced in print later, by others.

We didn't even touch on composition by asking who the greatest "composers" were. If we had, we might have brought up Bach or Beethoven or Mozart.
Did they compose? Yes.
In printed words? No.
Their compositions were not "read" by the audience, but rather enjoyed apart from the printed word.

Theologian Karl Barth said, "The word became flesh... and then through theologians, it became just words again."

Is it possible that "Composition" is more than ink on paper?

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Clear Cups: Making the Rhetoric Visible

In Science in Action, Latour makes the rhetoric of science visible, like Penn & Teller make the rhetoric of magic visible. The formation of "facts" in Latour's revealing treatment does not make science any less interesting, to the contrary, it encourages a fascination with the process of knowledge-making. (Just as "magic" becomes no less fascinating when Penn & Teller do the cups and balls trick with clear cups.)

If one views these resulting scientific "facts" as sausage, and science as sausage-making, Latour's work might be considered "bad," and Latour considered the Upton Sinclair of the Rhetorics of Science.

If one views the work of Latour as revelatory/apocalyptic, and sees the resulting understanding of "scientific knowledge" as new knowledge itself, then surely, Latour is the Penn & Teller of the Rhetorics of Science.

Penn & Teller's Cup And Balls Routine - A funny movie is a click away