Sirc, Geoffrey. "Writing in the Post--"Man-of-Letters" Modern World." College Composition and Communication 60.4 (2009): W16-W31. Print.
Geoffrey Sirc's article revolves around these questions, which he asks himself when designing writing prompts: "what does writing count for anymore, who's doing it, why, what does it look like?" (W16). He develops his answer for what writing ought to do from a Phi Beta Kappa address given by Allen Tate in 1952. Tate describes a “man of letters,” who is skilled in communication that is also communion. This communicative communion ought to have a specific purpose. The purpose of this work is threefold: to show something new about "an unchanging source of knowledge"; to tell "the false from the true"; and to preserve "the integrity, the purity, and the reality of language" (Tate qtd in Sirc W18).
It is Sirc's intention to build writing classes that meet Tate's call to action for the modern man of letters. He hopes that by doing so, he might "give students occasions for writing that truly count for something in their world" (W17). To identify such an occasion for writing, he turns to iTunes. Sirc shows how the iTunes reviewer enacts the threefold work of the man of letters. These reivews demonstrate authentic writing occasions; as Sirc says, "this new genre of and occasion for prose proves to me conclusively that traditional school-sponsored writing is effectively over as an object of both practice and study. If we want to teach something credible, it must have this genuine occasion of participatory communion, as these new species of pulpit oratory do" (W19).
Sirc suggests that iTunes writing would allow for a kind of classical rhetoric revival in the contemporary classroom that Robert Gorrell calls for. He explains, “MP3 criticism is a true site of rhetoric, a key scene in the contemporary art of persuasion” (W22-23). He demonstrates how these reviews might be seen as instances of rhetorical rebirth in particular for their use of contemporary Attic style, using brevity, figures of wit, and metaphor, for example. Sirc demonstrates the ways in which these short jottings provide the platform for studying a variety of rhetorical techniques. While Sirc admits that some reviews are “thoughtless raves or rants,” he still maintains that they are worthy genres to consider because so many are engaged in a “speculative, rhetorical search for truth,” (W30) which is much more than we can say for many stilted, artificial genres of the FYC classroom.
Whether the reader of this article concludes his or her reading wanting to adopt the iTunes review as a genre for inquiry and composition in his or her own classroom is not important. Sirc’s writing reminds us to consider what business we’re in. Are we preparing students to be men and women of letters? Those engaged in purposeful communicative communion? Or are we content to preoccupy them with the busy work of occasionless genres? As we develop course materials, no matter what the course delivery platform, we must engage these questions.