Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Role of Delivery in the Digital Age

Porter, James E.  “Recovering Delivery for Digital Rhetoric.”  Computers and Composition 29 (2009):  207-224.  Print.
This article by James E. Porter takes on the same argument and purpose posed in Reynold’s “Memory Issues in Composition Studies,” but for a different neglected rhetorical canon:  the canon of delivery.  Similar to Reynolds, Porter argues that delivery is relevant to the contemporary classroom.  To present his argument, he first traces the history of rhetorical delivery, then he proposes five areas wherein delivery is of relevance in the digital age.  
Naturally, Porter begins his history of rhetorical delivery with a look at classical Greek and Roman rhetoric, wherein delivery was characterized primarily as an emphasis upon the role of the voice, body and emotional impact of a speaker.  Porter demonstrates how concerns of delivery were equated largely with these issues of decorum throughout these classical times until a shift in treatment was seen in the 15th century, along with the invention of the printing press. 
The printing press itself, he argues through the lens of Elizabeth Eisenstein’s The Printing Press as an Agent of Change, created a new form of delivery.  Regardless of this new, non-oral form of delivery, scholars continued to refer to delivery as a physical concern (with emphasis on voice and body), and, for reasons he doesn’t elaborate upon, discussions began to overlook the role delivery played in addressing the emotional needs of an audience.  This truncated view of delivery as physical characteristics was then seen as irrelevant to printed discourse.    
To combat this truncated view, Porter turns his discussion to an argument for  how this canon can be seen as important to contemporary rhetorical study and how the digital age, in particular, makes this allowance. His framework is composed of five components which he names “Body/Identity,” “Distribution/Circulation,” “Access/Accessibility,” “Interaction,” and “Economics” (208).  Body/Identity refers to a concerns over the representations of one’s self in an online environment; for example, how one's gestures, might be represented through online correspondence.  Distribution/Circulation addresses technical aspects of delivery related to publishing and distributing texts.  Access/Accessibility raises questions of how a population might be able to connect to web-based information, while Interaction refers to the engagement between people and information in the digital space.  Lastly, Economics accounted for a concern over issues of information policy, such as fair use, copyright and the like.  
As the structure of Porter’s text mirrors that of Reynolds, the uses and limits of the text are quite similar.  Once again this text serves as a solid overview of the history of the usage of this canon of rhetoric and provides a strong framework for understanding the role of this canon in the digital age.  However, one additional asset to Porter’s discussion is his treatment of the real stakes of neglecting an important rhetorical cannon.  While Reynolds argued for it’s importance by outlining areas wherein room could be made memory, Porter outlines the means in which a weakened emphasis on one or more cannons of rhetoric can put specific populations at a disadvantage.

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