Saturday, June 02, 2007

Rhetoric of Cool

Just finished Jeff Rice's Rhetoric of Cool; got it Thursday and went cover-to-cover pretty quickly. I have been very interested in Jeff's work ever since I dreamt about him about 3 years ago; he has brought McLuhan and Ulmer together more consistely than any other scholar I am aware of.

Because I was familiar with some of the content of the book through his earlier journal contributions, what I liked best was actually the repetition--seeing/hearing him re-iterate the historical argument that composition missed an opportunity in 1963 to ground itself in the emerging technology, the emerging new media, and ultimately in "cool rhetoric," but the field in general chose to stick with print, not just in products but in logic. He makes some really compelling arguments that even the most visual texts and scholars in our field who embrace the "visual" do so from a print-logic biased.

I am frequently struggling with how to frame an argument for the role of McLuhan in composition studies, and what Jeff's book seems to do for me (after one quick read-through) is help me more clearly articulate his reading and use of McLuhan, which in turn will help me articulate my position. By linking McLuhan to cool rhetoric, and by really pushing the envelope for digital and electronic thinking, I can see that Jeff, like his mentor Ulmer, is a little more thoroughly immersed in the logic of electracy than I tend to be. I have been using and playing with the idea of "working at the interface" a lot lately, and by "working at the interface" I mean that I see myself working at the interface of literacy and electracy, print culture and visual culture, text and image, visual and acoustic space. Where Jeff offers the cool compositional strategy of juxtaposition in one chapter, I tend to use Scott McCloud's six patterns of word-picture relationships as a more detailed, and probably print-logical, way to approach the general strategy of composing through juxtaposition. Where Jeff emphasizes the rhetoric of cool, his articulation of that made me realize that I try to teach the rhetoric of hot and cool, and that I think students gain an understanding of both by seeing them placed side-by-side: working at the interface.

I'm looking forward to dipping back into Jeff's earlier "textbook," writing about cool, which I am sure will seem like a whole new text now that I have read The Rhetoric of Cool.

6 comments:

Doc Mara said...

I actually think that he's onto something here. I've been arguing in the halls that electracy should have its seat at the table in English departments. I know that orality is generally owned by Communcation depatments, but I'm convinced that electracy is still open for grabs (whether or no we invoke McCluhan).

Jeff said...

Thanks for the comments, Kevin.

Interesting that you should note the "interface" since in my new project on networks and Detroit, I've been thinking about that idea as well. Interface serves as one aspect of network culture. Using Detroit as metaphor for the network, I take up William Mitchell's idea that buildings will become interfaces in digital culture, and (in one chapter) focus on the building I work (or as of now "worked") in as an interface.

Not that the world doesn't have enough blogs or wikis, but given the work you all are doing at ND State, maybe the time has come for another type of electracy-collaborative space that brings together folks in composition (where Invent-L is not really a composition space)?

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