Reading Geoffrey Sirc’s “What is Composition…?” After Duchamp shifts styles from theoretical doublespeak to gangsta rims like a click of the mouse on a speedy link. Negotiating the angles takes more than concentration, it takes gyration—mental gymnastics for codeswitching and mathematical (in)equalities. I’m not convinced that Sirc’s equations make sense in the inter(disciplinary con)textualization he asserts. However, when he combines his points into a sum(mary) of the whole, the his argument calls for a broader definition of composition. A shift in technology to glass-as-paper, document-replacing-product, and use-value-trumping-exchange-value (202). Sirc laments that self-replicating composition is museumifi[ed], with nostalgia for the “exchange-value as exhibition-value” (202). Sirc’s description of what composition is (or should be) at this time departs from Bartholomae’s as a proponent of process, who disappoints Sirc when Bartholomae mistakes his willingness to have students “fracture open the text” as innovation toward a new kind of text, but, rather, the resulting composition is an already privileged form of academic text (180-182). Of particular interest is a shift away from composition as “product-oriented” as opposed to “idea-generative” (195), and that Gervais’s maneuvers with hypertext are collected in the term “restricted teleintertext,” which are two or more texts written over a period of time (sometimes very long) by the same person (196).
Sirc’s extended discussion of Bartholomae’s question, “What is Composition…?” (with composition assumed to equate with and allowed to substitute for art—in the existential and eternal question, “What is Art?”) is facilitated by juxtaposing it with the art of Duchamp. Other authors take up the challenge to implement composition-as-art. For example, Kathleen Blake Yancey, in Made Not Only in Words: Composition in a New Key, adopts composition/art structured in the form of music in her CCC (December 2004) incarnation of her “Chair’s Address” at CCCC, but she also composes with visual and aural components, a truly multimodal composition. Quoting Daley, Yancey writes states:
“…The ability to negotiate through life by combining words with pictures with audio and video to express thoughts will be the mark of the educated student” (“Speaking”). Specifically, [Daley] proposes that the literacy of the screen, which she says parallels oral literacy and print literacy, become a third literacy required of all undergraduates. (305)
Later, in Quartet three, Yancey asserts that
new composition includes rhetoric and is about literacy. New composition includes the literacy of print: it adds on of it and brings the notions of practice and activity and circulation and media and screen and networking to our conceptions of process. It will require a new expertise of us as it does of our students. And ultimately, new composition may require a new site for learning for all of us. (320)
That new site is technology, and here we get back to the fundamental question opening our discussion of Teaching with Technology: What is technological literacy?
Yancey is not alone in her call for increased emphasis on “composition in a new key.” Diana George writes in From Analysis to Design: Visual Communication in the Teaching of Writing that “current discussions of visual communication and writing instruction have only tapped the surface of possibilities for the role of visual communication in the composition class. Or, even more to the point—our students have a much richer imagination for what we might accomplish with the visual than our journals have yet to address.” (12) She comments on the tension between visual rhetoric and composition, with the visual a “problematic” or “a strategy for adding relevance or interest to a required course” (13). In other words, some people think of the joining of the written word and the visual as a how-to/way-to-do-the-impossible in 11 to 16 weeks, or more to the point a gimmick. George quotes Bartholomae and Petrosky (from Ways of Seeing) in another example of the disappearing lines between sensory literacies and the written word:
Seeing comes before words. The child recognizes before it can speak. But there is also another sense in which seeing comes before words. It is seeing which establishes our place in the surrounding world; we explain that world with words, but words can never undo the fact that we are surrounded by it…(7-8)
Taken beyond the visual to sight, smell, touch, and taste—a sort of virtual world of the (un)composed possibilities that invite but do not privilege the written word because of utility, Yancey’s appreciation and use of the visual/aural and even spatial (recall the darkened room, where she seemed to float in the spotlight incognizant of the audience, not because she didn’t know they were there, but because she could not see them) position composition as a more adaptable Art, suitable for exposition and performance. (Here I think of Dene Grigar, DTC professor and performance artist at WSU-Vancouver.)
Anne Frances Wysocki, in with eyes that think, and compose, and think: ON VISUAL RHETORIC (I try here to display the visual rhetoric evidenced in her article’s title), adds Aristotelian definition of rhetoric (“the use of the available means of persuasion to achieve particular ends), extended to include visual rhetoric, to a 20th century rhetoric that is situated in culture and comes up with this sum:
I want us to be aware not only of the particular visual strategies that a composer chooses when constructing texts aimed at persuading audiences toward specific ends; I want us also to be aware of how the strategies that we choose reinforce (and can perhaps help us be aware of the question) values, habits, and structures of our places and times. (184)
Wysocki outlines justifications for including visual rhetoric for teaching (composition) with computers, emphasizing the nature, prolificacy, usefulness of the visual in understanding and affecting cultural values. Yet by concentrating her focus on the visual, she neglects the wider possibilities attendant in Yancey’s address to CCCC.
- Is composition bammer?
- Is composition in a new key, especially the visual, appropriate for academic or scholarly audiences outside composition and rhetoric?
[i] Definitions (Sirc 187-88): bad—bootsie, janky; bammer—busted and disgusted like half the definitions up on here (mod7316)