This layer offers evaluative commentary on the text.

Joddy Murray's 2009 Non-Discursive Rhetoric is a book for our rhetorical and technological moment—and perhaps one for all moments.

Faster and cheaper, more-and-more-muscular, increasingly versatile—even as you read this, the tools available for composing digitally are multiplying and diversifying. For scholars and teachers of composition, the pace of technological turnover can be as exhausting as it is exhilarating.

Compositionists usually respond to these changes in one of two ways. The first, radical approach—I'll call it the early adopter—is to adapt one's thinking and teaching for the ever-shifting rhetorical landscape. Early adopters, for example, pick up, theorize, and teach with the medium-of-the-moment, whether that medium is a MOO or a MUD, a MySpace page or a YouTube video.

The second, conservative approach—call it stick-to-your-guns—is to label technological shifts ephemeral or trivial, and then concentrate on fundamentals: rhetorical appeals or figures, process or voice, invention or arrangement—and assume that these fundamentals will carry over the medium-of-the-moment.

Each approach has its advantages and limitations. Early adopters render their own hard work obsolete, as they call for new rhetorical models seemingly by-the-week. For example, early adopters have insisted that we need distinct vocabularies and theories for visual rhetorics (Hill and Helmers 2004), sonic rhetorics (Goodale 2008), video and cinematic rhetorics (Blakesley 2007), game rhetorics (Bogost 2008), even three-dimensional-object rhetorics (Sheridan 2010). Those who stick to their guns, on the other hand, risk missing the very real changes to rhetorical praxes that attend technological change and diversification.

The great beauty and value of Non-Discursive Rhetoric is that it shakes off both the early adopter or stick-to-your-guns approaches, while, in a sense, embracing both—by developing a rhetorical theory intended to be both foundational and infinitely flexible. This rhetorical theory is built around the image, which in Murray's hands becomes the atomistic unit of all perception, consciousness, and communication. Importantly, image here is not to be confused or conflated with the visual image:

the term image refers to what the mind forms and stores, not just what our eyes convey to the brain. Consequently, image is not beholden to any particular single sense but is instead a cognitive placeholder made up of a maelstrom of sensual experience. (p. 58)

While all rhetorics revolve around image, not all rhetorics are the same, Murray acknowledges. Nonetheless, to divide rhetoric according to sense-perception is to distort our understanding:

Instead of breaking rhetoric up into visual rhetoric and aural rhetoric, et cetera (rhetorics based on their modes and media which, ultimately, are usually always already mixed or hybrid), we can talk of discursive and non-discursive rhetoric… (p. 163)

A theoretical framework like Murray's could be tremendously valuable, if that framework could indeed unify the many diverse things that compositionists research and teach. Practically speaking, this unifying framework might allow academics to more effectively collaborate within and across disciplines. This framework might empower departments to discover and articulate a common vision, to their institutions or just among themselves. Or, the image-framework might simply allow individuals to think more clearly about what exactly it is they are studying and teaching.

Having established the primacy of image, Murray hangs the other, and perhaps less well-developed, half of his theoretical framework on the concepts of the discursive and the non-discursive.

On the one hand, these concepts do the useful work of making our assumptions about composition look delightfully strange. Murray's treatment of the discursive, for example, usefully defamiliarizes the all-too-familiar genres we study and teach—especially the essay. In doing so, he reminds us that presenting a sequence of ideas in alphabetic text isn't the only way to symbolize—far from it, in fact.

On the other hand, Murray's elaboration of the non-discursiveconcept does not always deliver on its promises. Specifically, Murray's inquiry limits itself by imagining the non-discursive as a negative concept, as a lack or deficit of discursivity. Murray clearly establishes that there are rhetorics that are, indeed, not discursive. He makes a persuasive case that these other rhetorics deserve to be theorized and taught, practiced and valued. But how can we teach or study or practice or value these other rhetorics under the banner of a baggy, catch-all category like the non-discursive? Why not take that next step and start naming some of these other rhetorics?

To defend the concept, Murray might reiterate that non-discursive rhetorics do their best and most important work when they articulates the ineffable; therefore, naming them would compromise their very nature. In other words, the varieties of non-discursive rhetoric cannot be named because they are, by definition, unnameable. It is also true that some of the work I am describing as naming, Murray does in a different register, as he explores how the image-frameworks might translate into composition pedagogy and praxis.

These criticisms aside, Non-Discursive Rhetoric is an ambitious and possibly transformative book. Even if Murray's vocabulary is never widely adopted, and its practical value never fully realized, I believe his image-framework has another, equally important sort of value—an aesthetic value. If nothing else, Non-Discursive Rhetoric offers compositionists something like what Robert Frost found in poetry—a temporary stay against confusion in an ever-expanding and ever-complicating field.