Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A Webtext on Re-Mediating the Canons

Prior, Paul, et al. “Re-situating and Re-mediating the Canons: A Cultural-Historical Remapping of Rhetorical Activity” Kairos: A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology and Pedagogy. 11.3 (2007). Web.

In this article, the authors argue that the traditional canons of rhetoric are in need of updating. Rather than proposing ways in which the traditional canons can be re-interpreted as others have (see my prior posts on Reynolds and Porter), these authors propose an altogether new theory.

This new framework emphasizes a full range of rhetorical activities and demonstrates the means in which the classical canons can be seen as limited in their coverage. The authors emphasize that this expanded framework is not necessary only to account for new rhetorical situations brought about by digital media; instead, they maintain that these activities were always in existence, but simply not acknowledged by the cannons addressed by the ancients.

To develop their argument, the authors first identify what concepts are overlooked by traditional canons of rhetoric. First, they problematize the canon of delivery indicating that it might better be reconceived through the use of two terms: "mediation" and "distribution" because these terms would better allow "us to take a broader view of the rhetorical landscape" (8). The authors also point out that the rhetorical canons focus strictly upon the rhetor and not the audience or receiver of the message. Therefore, they explain that "reception" should also be accounted for in a framework for rhetorical activity.

Additionally, the authors explore the means in which socialization plays a significant role in the rhetorical situation; one that has previously been neglected through the traditional canons. They emphasize the need to see "making people," in a Marxist sense of understanding how people are "made in historical conditions, as shaped, though not determined, by social relations," as part of rhetoric (15).

By blending this understanding of the need for mediation, distribution, reception, and socialization with the existing features of the rhetorical canon, the authors propose a new "Map of Literate Activity" that consists of seven categories: production, representation, distribution, reception, socialization, activity, and ecology (20-21). The identification of these seven new categories then link (as it is a web text) to eleven data nodes that "present some of the spaces and paths this new mapping makes more visible and navigable” (25).

This selection opened my eyes to a decidedly different approach to the canons of rhetoric and their purpose. However, I am not yet ready to accept the proposed categories as a replacement for the classical canons. While I appreciate the argument being made, I’m not certain I yet accept one of the authors foremost assumption, which is that while the ancient rhetoricians gave us other rhetorical maps, such as ethos, pathos, and logos, the canons are unique as the only one to address rhetorical activity rather than types of discourse (2). I believe these additional rhetorical devices also contribute to the mapping of rhetorical activity because they chart rhetorical “moves”. For example, ethos, pathos, and logos are quite tied to reception in that they inspire rhetorical moves that addresses the audience’s needs.

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