AH: Let's begin with your book, Electric Rhetoric (1999), which examines the intersection of classical rhetorics and digital communication. You've claimed that electronic discourse has an "inherent rhetoricity" and that electronic discourse has made rhetoric a "compelling issue" once again. Would you mind elaborating on those points?
KW: I'd be happy to. You mentioned my book on electric rhetoric and writing practices. When I had read your first question, I assumed you were referring to The Contemporary Reception of Classical Rhetoric: Appropriations of Ancient Discourse (1990) and in particular, Chapter 6, "Electrifying Classical Rhetoric," which deals with that issue. In that book, I was trying to analyze post-1963 writing and rhetoric practices as they have been playing out with great intellectual rigor. I'm thinking of the 1963 [Richard] Lloyd-Jones, [ Lowell ] Schoer, and [Richard] Braddock book, Research in Written Communication. That book, as you know, demonstrated that not a lot of teaching of writing was taking place in most writing classes. I also made a different historicizing move with the Dartmouth Anglo-American Conference on the Teaching of Writing. Many people have looked at those texts, and I added the Edward P.J. Corbett first edition of Classical Rhetoric for the Modern Student (1965), a textbook that has remained in print. (I think it's in its 5th edition now, and the late Robert Connors was brought on for the last edition.) I looked at those three texts and the extraordinary social changes that were going on at that time as reasons for the latest wave of interest in writing and rhetoric studies.
Instead of publishing my dissertation, I wrote a whole new book, and that ended up being The Contemporary Reception of Classical Rhetoric: Appropriations of Ancient Discourse. I worked through the ways that writing was central to all classical rhetoric systems. My work in Attic Greek, Homeric Greek, and Latin was helpful there. Chapter 6, "Electrifying Classical Rhetoric," was also published in JAC and then republished in a wonderful kind of hybrid book I've taught a lot, William Covino and David Jolliffe's, Rhetoric: Concepts, Definitions, and Boundaries (1995). That chapter has found quite a few audiences.
I realized that chapter was a book, so then I launched into Electric Rhetoric: Classical Rhetoric, Oralism, and the New Literacy. You used the word "claim," in your question earlier, and I guess I thought there was a claim, a strong claim, and I worked out those conceptual issues first in various parts of Contemporary Reception. And then, sure enough, the last chapter of Electric Rhetoric—and I've got to tell you that I love that chapter. I was almost exuberant. I remember writing and redrafting it 11 times. Out of the appendix of that book came a case study that I've done on classical topoi and computer writing classrooms. I've written about that on the first scholarly blog in rhetoric studies, edited by Laura Gurak at the University of Minnesota and her colleagues (blog.lib.umn.edu/blogosphere/). I also just did a piece from that case study at CCCC . It was a great session with Writing Program Administrators. I've been looking at material conditions in computer classrooms within English Departments that have rhetoric and composition programs as well as some stand-alone programs.