Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Graffiti As a Case Study for a Revised Writing Model

Edbauer, Jennifer H.  “(Meta)Physical Graffiti:  ‘Getting Up’ as Affective Writing Model.”  JAC 25.1 (2005):  131-159.  Print.

Jennifer H. Edbauer expands compositionists’ understanding of writing models through her analysis of graffiti and affect. She attempts to use graffiti writing as a case study to argue that traditional models of rhetoric and composition are lacking.  In particular, she aims at demonstrating how the rhetoricity of texts results from an interplay between signification and affect, despite the fact that affect is often neglected in traditional characterizations of what writing does.  She reveals the role of affect in writing through her analysis of “three familiar topoi—context, style, and signification” (134).   This analysis reveals how the concept of affect is inherently tied to what writing does and how it should not only exist in the theoretical discussions of composition, but also in conversations about praxis.

Edbauer explains how context is often examined by considering the circumstances that brought about a particular instance of writing.  Rhetorical scenes, she explains, are the product of conversations within discourse communities.  However, she maintains that we ought to consider that which “calls” one to write in addition to that which “culls” one to write.  She explains that being “culled” means being “involved in the writing, which allows for the ‘call’ to get heard in the first place” (139).  It refers to the way in which viewing graffiti might captivate a viewer and to the bodily sensation, the affect, that causes a rhetorical scene to “strike” an individual.

In discussing style, Edbauer explains that it addresses “certain rhetorical goals by answering the call to write” (142).  Drawing from Strunk and White she indicates that style is a matter of being distinguished.  For the graffiti artist, accomplishing this task is done in opposition to the suggestions of Strunk and White—through overdoing it.  By “getting up” their work in as many places as possible, they create an “aggregate of sensation” (144).  In this way, the style of graffiti artists is seen as experiential. 

To introduce the idea of signification and affect, Edbauer builds upon one answer to the question “what does writing do?”  Graffiti, she explains, has multiple layers of significations.  However, she explains that graffiti does something beyond signification—it creates a visceral effect outside of its meaning. 

Her treatment of these topoi demonstrate “’other processes’ that are present to the writing scene” (153) that our pedagogies have previously ignored.   She proposes that an affective writing model would serve to purposes—exploring the meaning and the impact of sensation that are brought about through rhetorical scenes. 

This article provides an example of how nontraditional rhetorical scenes can inform the composition classroom and deepen understanding of how composition practices take place.  In an age when new genres are quickly evolving and becoming important to public rhetoric (e.g. Twitter), I believe it is important to understand how we might evolve our praxis through consideration of what we might learn from the “strangeness” of genres we do not often invite to our classrooms.  

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