Kopp and Stevens

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The Visible Pathos of Digital Video

If WPAs wish to unsettle a hegemonic network of commonplaces, they should remember the value of emotional appeals; more conventional, rational approaches have limited effectiveness when rhetors and audiences do not share a basic set of premises. As Sharon Crowley (2006) argues, liberal epistemology relies on reason because it assumes that any reasonable being will respond according to the necessary development of rational argumentation. However, this position fails to include or address the realm of rhetorical and emotional reasoning, from which general premises derive and become the "primary motivators of belief and action" (Crowley 2006, p. 59). Ideology, fantasy, and emotion are particularly suitable when strategically re-articulating the fundamental terms of deliberation because the connections and relations between various positions are arbitrary, not necessary, not logical.

Digital video is an excellent medium for developing pathos. Rebecca Moore Howard (2003) argues this point, enthusiastically recommending writing programs use digitized video because it produces "an emotional effect on its audience and thus has a heightened potential for effecting change in the premises, the assumptions, that people hold about the nature of writing and writing instruction" (10). Howard builds her argument on Ernesto Grassi's (2001) rhetorical theory, which posits that an emotional response is the primary aim of the most effective rhetoric: "To resort to images and metaphors, to the full set of implements proper to rhetoric and artistic language...merely serves to make it 'easier' to absorb rational truth" (p. 26). Like Grassi, Howard (2003) claims that visual imagery speaks directly to the emotions in order to fundamentally alter the premises upon which any further dialectic reasoning is based, and she notes that digital video is a particularly effective medium for this type of visible rhetorical appeal (p. 14).

Howard (2003) also stresses that the rhetorical effectiveness of her videos are enhanced by rhetorical strategies that make students in the video appear genuine and authentic, such as the use of unrehearsed, unscripted footage (pp. 15-16). Howard finds this documentary-like approach effective for her primary audience of upper-level administrators, but the very same principles may apply to other audiences. In fact, digital video may have even greater, more far-reaching effect when its audiences have the potential to identify with those who appear in the video, such as when students or instructors appear in a video shown to others in these groups. Through the combination of a diversity of "authentic" voices within one space and a short span of time, the multi-dimensional efficacy of well-made video presentations promises an immediate, emotional response in viewers that permits identification with the positions the video invites those viewers to inhabit. For example, in the above clip, a first-year writing student and an elementary school writing instructor both share how encounters with writing pedagogy challenged prior conceptions of identity. A premise rooted in pathos emerges in the background for the respective audience who witnesses the impact of this challenge: in sharing a similar understanding of writing or teaching, the audience too will likely have to cope with this challenge and perhaps develop agency as a college writer, or as a writing instructor.

When identification does occur, it involves a disarticulation and re-articulation that in turn shifts the ideological fabric viewers inhabit, as they must account for the difference the inclusion of new primary premises generates. Through this process, the writing program may begin to interpellate a particular subjectivity into existence, such as the subjectivity of a first-year composition student prepared for the challenges of writing in the university. Any secondary audiences must then account for the emergence of this new subjectivity and for the new premises it identifies with, namely the premise that writing is a complex social practice.

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