Just punching out some ideas for a paper; read at your own risk, and feel free to comment or ignore at will. This is certainly a blog-as-scholarly-invention process type of posting. This is ubermessy, and I’m only putting it here because I feel like I’ll gain an element of perspective through publication.
Here’s where I started:
The topic I’ve been circling and referring to since early in the semester is generative elegance as a tool for not only developing style, but even for inventing content (generative elegance’s heuristic function). Supposedly, I’d like to connect this to the generative role of templates/boxes in participatory Web techs. A couple of questions I keep coming back to: What is the role of templates in discourse acquisition? in normal (student?) writing behavior? Can I tie this (beyond an anecdotal level) to theories of generative elegance? Is such an approach useful ( or even needful) for writing instruction? What’s Frances Christensen’s 1960s generative rhetoric of the sentence got to offer here? [Connors offers a good historical revisit to FC and others in “The Erasure of the Sentence” (CCC 52.1, 2000); Hillocks refers to this group of strategies as ‘sentence construction’ in Research on Written Composition (1986).]
Back to templates–is “what are you doing” (i.e. from Twitter) a technological thing or a serendipitous thing? That is, what’s more influential here–the text input box or the template that Biz or Ev (or whoever) decided to put in front of it? How much of a role does either/both play in the style of tweets? The same goes for other social net sites: Facebook’s implicit “is”; Buzz’ “Have some thoughts to share?” and etc. (I sense a tangent coming on here, potentially.)
[I’d like to make a further tech link to networks, social media, and participatory web stuff; the purported, actual, or potential impact on young & experienced writers’ sentence patterns (and even evidence patterns). This is an area I’d like to go, one I could work up a weenie lit review for, but don’t really think the project fits in the timeframe for this semester. Would be a cool empirical study, nonetheless, and there’s a good link to my purported dissertation work here, as well.]
What’s giving me some problems is the thing I still want to try to work into all of this–“naturalness” as it’s connected to technology, materiality, and stylistic/textual value judgments. (That “natural” is a kind of false value, an ideological stand-in for “traditional” or “preferential”–or simply “technological” as Baron points out.) Lanham makes an interesting point in Analyzing Prose, that cyberspace and electronic prose style “is instinctive with the voice of live prose.” (118) It seems that he claims electronic prose is more voiced, which roughly could translate to “more natural,” I think. (he understandably but fallaciously lumps everything together into one massive category)
This ties in to the impact of “naturalness” on what discourse communities value in prose style. What we value is different from what others value; what are the technological grounds for these value judgments? (This would lead inevitably to a teacher/student thing, I imagine; could be an interesting study of stylistic changes in scholarly discourse as well.) How aware are we, really of our techno-textual biases? What are the implications here for composition instruction?
After some trimming, mulling, and emailing, here’s the messy (if somewhat more focused) spot I’m stopping with tonight:
1. Stick Generative Elegance on the backburner.
“Natural ” a False textual/stylistic/technological Value.
Whatever becomes used and ubiquified is natural. Naturalness is a false value because writing is unnatural, text is unnatural, typing is unnatural. (only speech is really natural, biological.)
The value “natural” enacted in discourse communities it tied to Formal, Traditional. To other values and truths. “[My] ideas about the “natural” as a false value reminds [Rich] of Plato and views of text as false rhetoric.”
How is the informal becoming commodified as the formal? Is this a meaningful change or a flash in the pan? Is this a discursive shift or a form of Marxist reassignment or hooksian “eating the other”?
To what extent are we (with some of the issues I’d laid out up top) playing out a new Gorgias/Phaedrus?
Should we be teaching the composition of text boxes beside (if not rather than) sustained essays?
Do we work from what’s “natural” or do we work from what’s contextual?
Do we teach formal or informal?
Do text boxes invite formal or informal?
Is social text becoming naturalized?
Impact on reading?
What’s my context?
the informal, the “just-in-time” writing, the hot idea that is rapidly entered into text, the text that isn’t stable but can be remolded and revised after the fact of publication.
kairos or impulse?
The Natural–The True. Are we being little Platos in sticking with the Formal? Can we realistically teach the formal in composition courses, in discourse communities other than our own? Can a style truly be said to exist outside of its place as a living, working text?
Commodification (1975, origins Marxist political theory.) is used to describe the process by which something which does not have an economic value is assigned a value and hence how market values can replace other social values. It describes a modification of relationships, formerly untainted by commerce, into commercial relationships. commodification–the transformation of goods and services (or things that may not normally be regarded as goods or services) into a commodity.
bell hooks: cultural commodification as “eating the other”