(An idea for a paper for one of my two courses this summer, Writing for Publication. Posted here, well, just because.)
What I’d like to write about is an extension or revision of my May Seminar presentation (which itself shot off from a paper on style I recently wrote for Rich Rice). The initial paper problematized traditional rhet-comp style value systems (particularly “naturalness”) from the perspective of Media Naturalness Theory. The presentation focused down on this issue as well, asking questions about how the discipline navigates discursive and technological change. For this paper, I’d like to make a departure from style as the centerpiece and focus on some broader issues. (I think.)
The basic idea that I came to was that the general cultural ubiquity of a writing technology eventually leads to its invisibility (we might also say transparency). This invisibility—i.e. the disappearance of the materiality of a particular technology from our perception and broader conceptions of the act of writing—leads us down the path of using the notion “naturalness” to judge and preferentialize writing technologies (and styles, and processes, and genres, and so forth). This, I think, is a problem. A moral, essential value is being ascribed to a material artifact, and then disappears into a hidden ideology. Not so bad inside groups themselves, but when a) social/technological change occurs and b) non-members attempt to become group members, there are potential ethical problems.
In this paper, I’d like to treat that idea; the material/natural discussion is widespread in rhet-comp (Paul Miller, in a recent Composition Forum article, discusses a theoretical competition between external and internal models of writing, for example), and the value “natural” is used in many, many discussions of writing theory and/or technology. I’d like to use an odd quadumvirate of Christina Haas, Richard Lanham, Michel Foucault and Ned Kock to assess and problematize the value ‘naturalness’ (Haas’ empirical elaboration of materiality, Lanham’s oscillation between at/through, Foucault’s discussion of norming and ubiquity, and Kock’s media naturalness theory). Our cognitive adaptations to particular writing technologies participate in the norming of said technologies into something transparent and amaterial. This, in the end, preempts our ability to assess and distinguish between real and trivial discursive changes. In our context of rapidly-expanding and –transforming technological development, such an ability is crucial.