on the blunt edge

Borrowman’s collection explores the relationship between pre-PC technologies and writing instruction: “I offer the essays that follow as both introductions to the varied field that has come to be known as “technology studies” and as launching pads for futher study – study, in some cases, of technologies that came onto the cultural scene, flourished within and beyond the writing classroom, and failed (either by being avandoned or replaced) without being subject to critical interrogation.”

“Writing Without Paper: A Study of Functional Rhetoric in Ancient Athens”

Richard Enos explores the everyday literacy practices in Ancient Greece, rhetoric that functioned in “educational practices, civic literacy, commercial transactions, and expressive writings.” The goal of this exploration is to observe the ways that writing evolved as both a craft-skill – scribing or handwriting per Yancey – and as a development spurred by the “efforts by early writers to master a technology for broad-based civic purposes.”

  1. Civic Literacy: writing necessary for the daily activity of community life, e.g. signs, clocks, ballots cast for the exile of citizens “so a record could be kept of those who exercised their voting rights (and obligations) at any time the democracy was active”
  2. Commercial Transactions: writing used in the routine business transactions and errands of Athenians, e.g. lists and records of qualities of food and animal holdings
  3. Expressive writing: inscriptions on gifts that record the name of the giver & the giver’s sentiment

“Motivations for the Development of Writing Technology”

Rawnsley discusses the relationship between technology and writing and argues that “Writing technology did not develop as a result of benevolent and philothropic purposes, but was the result of market conditions that stimulated creative minds to develop even more productive ways to write and reproduce written material for profit. ****(Rawnsley’s attention to the relationship between writing and technology mirrors Porter’s, and his attention to the socio-economic conditions of technology’s development mirror’s Selfe and Selfe’s attention to the ideology of the interface.) Throughout the chapter, Rawnsley emphasizes the idea that printing – while it can meet altruistic ends like the preservations of culture – is primary technological and economic; it’s a business first and a craft second. And second, he emphasizes the idea that writing technologies aligned publication with the writer’s needs – easy drafting, editing, and revision – when they had been separate. Rawnsley attributes the bulk of technological/writing innovations to entry: QWERTY keyboards, indirect entry via moveably type, etc.

  • Writing machine: defined as those technologies that provide an “unlimited supply of symbols for the writer to arrange, easing the production of letters and words and easing the tasks of revision and editing. Definition distinguishes presses, computers, typewriters, ect. From “pen, pencil, burin, brush, chisel, paper, clay, wax tablet, and stone
  • “direct entry” machine – the machine’s output is created at the time of input, e.g. typewriter
  • “indirect entry” machine – developed with the invention of moveable type, which created an off-line form of text storage in the form of galleys (unformatted text being prepared for printing) and forms (formatted and paginated texts ready for printing)

“‘The Next Takes the Machine’: Typewriter Technology and the Transformation of Writing”

Fullmer examines the discourse surrounding the typewriter, a late-19th century call from educators to include typewriters in the classroom: “the typewriter embodied both a means and a method for improving learning and teaching. A method of teaching characterized by a “form-al” approach to writing instruction – with emphasis on the form of letters, the form of paragraphs and sentences, and the form of accepted styles and models.” This form-al pedagogy is product-centered (see: Porter on handwriting AND by contrast, Porter on typewriter) and distinctly current-traditional (see: Hairston). Fullmer notes that while form-al pedagogies have been studied, they have not been articulated through this techno-centric frame.

“Handwriting, Literacy, and Technology”

Yancey discusses handwriting as a technology “that takes on a diversity of forms, but always with a specific defining effect.” More specifically, she traces a shift in the culture’s use and understanding of handwriting: from an expression of self to a kind of intellectual labor via the Palmer method – a handwriting pedagogy that drilled students. She calls this method “handwriting-qua-labor” designed “for corralling the masses.” This shift, Yancey notes, was a function “of a new sense of education-qua-science” that, ironically, forecasts the current educational climate – with its emphasis on sorting students by testing them and by developing new testing technologes that would make possible and efficient large-scale efforts. This handwriting-qua-labor produced the “first large-scale effort in schools, one where academics specializing in education could hone their new ‘scientific’ research skills” wherein researchers tried to find a method to understand 1. How best to write; 2. How best to teach writing; and 3. How best to measure the results of that instruction. This movement, Yancey argues, created an equation of writing as that still haunts writing instruction where there is a belief that form and content are divided concerns: grammar as writing, handwriting as writing. Futher, Yancey notes that handwriting is still in use, albeit mediated in different ways like the use of IPADs in medical offices.

“‘Making the Devil Useful:’ Audio-Visual Aids in the Teaching of Writing”

Jones traces the emergent use of audio-visual aids in late 19th, early 20th English classrooms; he argues that the demand for visual-aids had two hoped-for effects:

  • Professionalized the teaching of writing: “part of a professional identity includes determining and caliming what is necessary to do one’s work,” tapped into a belief that resources suggest specialization: specialized training combined with specialized equipment suggests a professionalism; created an orientation to students, a student-centered pedagogy where teachers had the opportunity to resist recitation and embrace student involvement
  • Established English as a school subject by way of a curriculum and the materials necessary for teaching that curriculum

However, Jones notes, that these new technologies: phonographs, postcards, etc. resulted in a traditional curriculum, one focused on taste and consuming texts, with “a mostly traditional – and enduring – view of teachers, students, and English”

“Textbooks and Their Pedagogical Influences on Higher Education: A Bibliographic Essay”

Rankins Roberson and Roen argue that “textbooks have always been the primary source of technology that has provided authority in the classroom” (see: Hairston for paradigms and textbooks, Faigley for theory and textbooks, North for research (lore) and textbooks). Rankins Robertson and Roen argue that textbooks “include language that facilitates the communication of the values and practices of discourse communities, of whole cultures”

“Disciplining Technology: A Selected Annotated Bibliography”

Kmetz, Lively, Broch-Colombini, and Black show that English studies has always concerned itself with technology (see: Jones). More interestingly, they note that discussions about technology are not uniform across journals. Those that are more pedagogy-based include a “continuous and thorough” discussion of technology while those that are more theoretical rarely include articles about technology. And seonc, they note that the teachers and scholars discussing a technology rarely “examin[e] the impacts of that technology on their individual theories or on the field’s collective praxis” (see: Faigley as an example, see: Porter “Cyberwriter” as a counter-example)

“The Rhetoric of Obfuscation and Technologies of Hidden Writing: Poets, Palimpsests, Painters, and Purposes”

Thompson and Enos argue that palimpsests can be lined to ethos: “a layering of texts and/or voices that can reveal our personal, character, hidden intention. Our studies of ethos throughout history have shown that the authors attempt at creating an image of how he or she wants to be perceived – the coding of intention – oftentimes invites the corresponding readerly intention to decode that intention and thus solve the mystery.” The theory they discuss here, a rhetoric of obfuscation, is explicitly concerned with invention (resistance to closure, embrace of ambiguity) discussed through a generative ethos: the construction of “public selves to make our private selves transparent. Thus palimpsest closely ties to ethos: a layering of voices that can be decoded to reveal our persona, character, intention.” This is a theory of composing that speaks to issues raised by women, African Americans and minorities, because it assumes a dynamic theory of voice/identity (Gilyard), provides for not knowing/intentionally not sharing (Rhodes/Alexander), and rhetorical agency (Cooper “Agency).

  • Rhetoric of obfuscation – a deliberate attempt to misdirect readers from an accurate ethos

o   They use palimpsest to describe a rhetoric of obfuscation, believing that ambiguity (uncertainty) is valuable, and a viable writing pedagogy “asks us to see our students, at least in part, as artists” (see: Gilyard re: taking writing seriously, Faigley re: overlapping discourses)

  • Palimpsest: an object or image that reveals its history, anything that has diverse layers or aspects apparent beneath its surface

This palimpsest-centric composing provides for a kairotic ethos:

  1. One that sees texts, people, and places as palimpsests
  2. One that is capacious enough to include ambiguities within, between, and among palimpsests
  3. One that attends to time – when (or when not to) speak
  4. A practice of accepting difference in a world created by the previous three ideas

Leave a Reply