map :: introduction :: core text :: authors :: what is CHAT? :: references


re-situating and re-mediating the canons:

a cultural-historical remapping of rhetorical activity

a collaborative core text


Paul Prior :: Janine Solberg :: Patrick Berry :: Hannah Bellwoar :: Bill Chewning :: Karen J. Lunsford :: Liz Rohan :: Kevin Roozen :: Mary P. Sheridan-Rabideau :: Jody Shipka :: Derek Van Ittersum :: Joyce Walker

An earlier version of this argument was presented February 6, 2005 by Paul Prior in a plenary talk at the Santa Barbara Conference, Writing Research in the Making.


Delivery problems

Re-mediating and
re-distributing delivery

The rhetorical scene

Take 1: Revising the canons

Society and socialization

Take 2: A cultural-historical remapping of rhetorical activity

Mapping literate activity

Using CHAT to form new canons

From the core text to the data nodes


map button


Delivery problems

As many scholars have noted (e.g., Crowley, 1998), current-traditional rhetoric effectively shrank the canons to arrangement and style. As Writing Studies emerged in the 1970s as a distinct site of disciplinary activity, attention to invention merged powerfully with attention to cognitive process in the formation of the process movement, a movement that linked theory, research, pedagogy, and practice. In the last decade or so, another of the classical canons, delivery, has been reanimated as the field's attention has turned to electronic and digital media. In light of this renewed attention, we take up delivery as a strategic example to illustrate the kinds of fundamental problems that we (and others) have found with the classical canons. Through an analysis of delivery, we aim to identify the broader problems deeply embedded in the texture of the classical map, and we argue for remapping rhetorical activity, for re-situating and re-mediating the canons, rather than continuing to pour ever more, and ever more alien, content into those ancient vessels.

Under the prototype of oratory, delivery was about gesture, stance, gaze, dress, voice quality, intonation, and so on. As writing seemed to overtake talk as the dominant mode of civic-legal life, the canon of delivery fell into neglect, along with memory—understood to be about recall for lines of argument in oral debate and/or memorization of set speeches. Observers as diverse as Barthes (1988) and George Kennedy (1994) could agree that the last two canons became peripheral in a literate age. (What use are gestures, dress, stance, vocalization, and memorization to a text?) Consider, in contrast, Lev Vygotsky (1997), who saw externally mediated memory systems, like those of writing, as a matter of the revolutionary reorganization of memory, a key step in human history. This fading of delivery and memory tells us much about how firmly rhetoric has been anchored in a narrow range of contexts for specific sociocultural conditions and with a prototypical mode. Rhetoric was tailored to the public life of Greece, then Rome, then the Church. Speech was the prototypical mode, though rhetoric has certainly adapted to new modes. Orality was partly eclipsed by literacy (a process obvious with the medieval ars dictaminis, the manuals of letter writing), and both now feel the pressure of the digital age. However, rhetoric has only recently and partially begun to theorize mode.

It is instructive to attend to recent attempts to rehabilitate delivery. When Robert Connors (1993) sought to revive delivery, for example, he did so in another local institutional context and mode, exploring the delivery aspects of the student research paper—the type of paper, the typography, margins, printer options, and so on. Kathleen Welch (1990, 1999) has been arguing for two decades that we should reconceive delivery as medium, understood especially through the theories of Walter Ong (1982) and Marshall McLuhan (1994). In Electric Rhetoric, Welch (1999) notes varied media, but Ong's electracy leads her to focus primarily on retro-fixing rhetoric to address television, with delivery becoming an important televisual domain—add panning cameras, newsroom furnishings, corporations, and postmodern HUTs (houses using televisions) to the old issues of delivery. In short, when delivery becomes unfixed from one set of institutional contexts, one mode, it is typically refixed in another institutional context and mode.

It is important to recognize that rhetoric was already multimodal for the ancient Greeks; they didn't need the printing press or the web. Early in Plato's (1989) Phaedrus, Phaedrus reads Lysias's speech on love to Socrates, who has guessed Phaedrus would have the written text hidden in his cloak and would have been poring over it for his studies. In fact, Socrates insists that Phaedrus read the speech on love so he can get a precise representation of it. He tells Phaedrus he has no interest in Phaedrus practicing his oratory on him when “Lysias himself is here present ”(p. 477). For Plato then (and this in spite of his sharp criticism of writing later in the same dialogue), writing was not only a familiar, expected pedagogic practice, but also a valued means of storing precise, detailed representations of discourse.