Saturday, December 13, 2008

art, artistry, and boredom

This post reminded me of some of the distance I felt during a methodologies course a few years ago. Among other texts, we read Bazerman's The Language of Edison's Light. I highly recommend this text to anyone interested in the rhetorical nature of technical communication.

So why did the post remind me of the course? My classmates were all cultural rhetoricians in training. I was the only comp track student. Compounding my alienation was my reading of the Bazerman text as a technical communicator, not a compositionist. Unlike my classmates (who saw the text as a social commentary about male chauvinism and rampant capitalism during the early parts of the 20th century), I saw the text as a case-study about the art, artistry, and skills required to create purposeful and effective technical communication.

With a complete appreciation for my classmates' perspectives, I came out of the class disappointed that such bright people could not see in the text the many analogies to modern rhetorical theories. By casting Edison's and his engineers' technical writing as forms of discourse and written expression, Bazerman illustrated profiles of technical rhetoricians within definable design and development activity systems. And if, has James Berlin has told us, the term rhetoric refers to a diverse discipline that historically has included a variety of incompatible systems, then the activity systems documented by Bazerman represent one large system--technical communication--because it involves a particular variety of rhetoric--a way of speaking and writing within the confines of specific social sanctions. That is the work of the rhetorician and artisan.

It's not that far of a stretch. I'm reminded that I should pick the text up again. I'm feeling a little less than artistic these days.

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