Week 3 English 516

On Cynthia Selfe’s “The Movement of Air, the Breath of Meaning: Aurality and Multimodal Composing”:

Of particular interest to me are these quotes:

“For graduate students, oral questioning and disputation has persisted in candidacy exams, as well as in more public defenses of theses and dissertations. To pass such exams, graduate students are expected to succeed both in producing a written text and defending their ideas in disputational aural exchanges, forms rooted historically in verbal argument and display”

“Interestingly, however, none of these authors mentioned some of the more basic affordances of aural feedback—that speech conveys a great deal of meaning through pace, volume, rhythm, emphasis, and tone of voice as well as through words themselves”

“Indeed, the enactment of authority, power, and status in composition classes is expressed, in part, through aurality: how much one is allowed to talk and under what conditions.”

I can’t help but notice some underlying themes in this piece.

First of all, the history of composition she outlines seems overtly designed to keep out anyone not rich, white, or probably male. After all, written literacy has historically been a privilege of the rich. And like it or not, that has meant the rich white men in America. That changed somewhat when we needed to accommodate the growing demands of industrialization with a more educated workforce. I’m sure I’ll get accused of cynicism and overreach, but this isn’t an unexplored or non-evidentiary phenomenon. At any rate, certainly one can trace in Selfe’s article the transition in higher education from mostly oral/aural to mostly written a form of socioeconomic exclusion. This is seen in the exposition Selfe does of how academia increasingly drew a hard and fast line between speech and writing. In counterbalance, the cultures typically excluded from these written forms developed a more extensive oral/aural tradition that seems to have served to preserve some aspects of their culture and to provide them with expression that goes beyond that traditionally found in exclusively written forms. Every cloud has a silver lining?

Secondly, I see the theme of the treatment of aurality/orality in written communication as a metaphorical artifact. This could be viewed as admitting, even if somewhat superficially (for a considerable length of time), that aural forms are not to be completely ignored. This subsuming of oral/aural forms coincides with my personal experience with oral delivery in the classroom. Outside the context of occasional class discussion or speeches, little emphasis is given to oral expression up through the end of high school, which contrasts with what is expected at the university level, especially as you get to the upper level courses and on to graduate school.

Lastly, on pages 637 and 638, she explores the relationship between growing forms of aural expression and how our culture increasingly turns to them for many types of information. I wonder if this has anything to do with human inclination to perceive themselves better at judging sincerity in these forms of expression, not to mention how much richer they are in terms of stimulation, and expression of inflection.

On “Interchanges: Response to Cynthia L. Selfe’s “The Movement of Air, the Breath of Meaning: Aurality and Multimodal Composing” by Doug Hesse

Hesse makes a compelling argument for the practicality of what Selfe seems to be advocating. There are lines that exist between communication (speech) and writing (print) that serve practical purposes within our institutions. Of course, rhetoric really spans both fields and now includes media studies (besides all the other overlapping disciplines), and the actual lines between them are increasingly blurry.

Beyond these practical considerations, is another. What is important for the students? Does this involve larger considerations of what’s practical for the nation, or something related more to personal forms of meaning-making? Is it something in between, where we look at what is going to serve both the student in their career and global interests?  Just because it is what is best for the business interests of a community, does not mean it is ideal.  Aren’t we supposed to be engaged in the production of valuable social discourse? He makes a good point about how traditional writing of essays has not effected change in the world…so perhaps even though the practical concerns are nothing to be sneezed at, it’s time to consider the “true” purpose of rhetoric in the expanding compositions environments.

On Selfe’s “Response to Doug Hesse”:

Selfe makes a thoughtful response to Hesse’s response. It makes sense that one would only be touching the surface of teaching all forms of rhetorical expression in this day and age. This does not strike me as being any different from any other introductory course, in that their are always disciplinary overlaps and teachers are always forced to choose what material (out of a seemingly endless set of options) to use in their curriculum.

She also touches on a subject dear to my heart, which is scientific communication, so I appreciate her expounding on all the fields that benefit from multimodal representations. It is important to consider what each form of rhetoric might bring to the sharing of all kinds of discourse. There is no one-size-fits-all. The attempt to attach that to writing has become problematic, to say the least. Most importantly, Selfe’s argument about avoiding the hierarchies imposed with the privileging of writing are extremely compelling, of utmost importance, in my opinion. We are culturally inclined to privilege writing, often to the extent we discount valuable points of view expressed in different modalities. If nothing else, I hope this starts, and continues, to change (despite my personal aversion to making videos).


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