Interrogating Rhetoric, Multimodality, and Text: Responding to Your Responses

I’ve enjoyed reading your reflections on rhetoric, multimodality, and text. I wanted to ask you to define terms, and then press you on your definitions, because 1) I wanted you to begin to see connections between the three; and 2) I wanted you to reflect on the limits of terms.

Language is elastic. When we define something, we’re saying what it is (to what category of things does it belong), and what it is not (what differentiates it from other things in the category?). As such, in defining things, I think we come a step closer to owning the vocabulary, and beginning to use it reflexively.

What is rhetoric, and what is not? I think that many of you had the instinct to limit rhetoric to persuasive communication. It certainly is that, but I think that if Weaver and Burke and Richards are right in thinking that all language is ideologically inflected, it becomes difficult not to see rhetorical potential (if not intent) in almost any act of communication. Of course, as I pointed out in class, I’m a rhetorician–a mathematician would probably say everything is numbers. An important point here is that both are ways of seeing–both are lenses that reveal certain aspects of the world. And obscure them–as Kathleen Yancey often reminds us, a way of seeing is a way of not seeing.

And the same goes for multimodality. I’m content if we recognize that more texts are multimodal than we think, as Matias and others seemed to realize. It’s an interesting question to consider, whether everything is multimodal. Maybe, maybe not–but regardless, multimodality is a useful construct for both analysis and production of texts, and one to which we’ll return often.

Finally, text. A teacher is part provocateur, so I confess that I was being a little sly when I asked some of you if a tree is a text. You wrestled admirably with that–Katelynn, for instance, argued that it was, while Austen remained ambivalent. I also pressed some of you about whether a text needed to be recorded. Jennifer continues to think so. I’m not so sure, but it’s not critical that we agree. The point I want to make is that we can analyze a lot of things rhetorically–a lot more, say, than a speech or an article.

Thanks, everyone, for your good work. I can’t wait to get into genre, and then into editing.