Review of Rhetorical Delivery as Technological Discourse: A Cross-Historical Study
by Ben McCorkle 2012; Southern Illinois University Press
Mariana Grohowski, Bowling Green State University
(Published: October 10, 2012)
In “Re-situating and Re-mediating the Canons: A Cultural-Historical Remapping of Rhetorical Activity,” Paul Prior et al. single out the fifth rhetorical canon, delivery, as a way to “illustrate the kinds of fundamental problems that we (and others) have found with the classical canons” (n.pag.). In their view, not only are the canons grossly outdated for contemporary use but were flawed from the start, leaving out valuable rhetorical strategies they claim can only be accounted for in “a new map of rhetorical activity” (n.pag). The impetus inspiring their undertaking is our field’s renewed interest in the role delivery plays in our rhetorical practices, an interest stimulated by the growing cultural reliance on digital communication technologies developed over approximately the last decade.
Ben McCorkle’s work also focuses on delivery. However, McCorkle is not interested in changing the rhetorical canons or in drawing attention to the shortcomings of delivery. In fact, McCorkle wants quite the opposite: McCorkle, unlike Prior et al., never shakes a finger at delivery for being faulty. Instead, his work Rhetorical Delivery As Technological Discourse: A Cross-Historical Study examines the role of delivery in moments of transition in the history of rhetoric. According to McCorkle, such transitions were brought on by the advent of communication technologies that subsequently influenced rhetoricians’ awareness (or lack thereof) to the canon of delivery. McCorkle’s work surveys our fluctuating awareness of delivery among transitions brought on by the technological advances of the printing press, mass media, and digital technologies.
It could be said that McCorkle’s work addresses the need Collin Gifford Brooke points out in his 2009 book Lingua Fracta: Toward A Rhetoric of New Media, by providing a much-needed critical examination of the canon of delivery. Whereas Brooke only briefly examines the canon of delivery (Chapter 7), which he renames “Performance,” both Brooke and McCorkle share an interest in delivery’s importance, both positing that the canon has been, and continues to be, shaped by advances in communication technologies.
However, unlike Brooke and Prior et al., McCorkle considers delivery to be a technological discourse shaped by the processes of remediation. His survey of the rhetorical tradition thereby develops and employs a heuristic for understanding rhetorical history in order to facilitate a more accurate understanding of how material and cultural forces during a given era influence our rhetorical practices. McCorkle acknowledges networked understandings of epistemology, as influenced by the theory of remediation, developed by Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin in their book Remediation: Understanding New Media (also discussed in Bolter’s Writing Space). The theory of remediation accounts for changes in technologies over time through the joint processes of hypermediacy and immediacy.
Hypermediacy can be understood as an exaggeration of the mediated form to the user/viewer, while immediacy renders the invisibility of the mediated form to the user/viewer. Whereas Bolter and Grusin focus on the formal, structural aspects of media forms, McCorkle shifts that focus to the discourses, institutions, and practices surrounding those forms, specifically zeroing in on the fluctuating awareness of delivery. To McCorkle, the recursive dance between hypermediacy and immediacy “is the key to understand how new media transform old media” because of the affects occurring “not only at the technical level but also how we ‘read’ or otherwise decode the symbol system of the medium in question” (24). McCorkle explains immediacy as a means of naturalizing delivery in communication processes. The naturalization of delivery by technologically mediated communication practices has prevented our critical examination and strategic employment of the role of delivery as we engage in rhetorical practices during a given era with a particular technology. This lack of awareness subsequently serves to “promote the acceptance of new [communication] technologies” (11). McCorkle’s ultimate aim is to prevent our falling back into familiar mindsets of our rhetorical past: that which neglects or takes for granted the role of delivery in our rhetorical and technological practices. To do so, McCorkle advances a heuristic for critically examining how and why the canon of delivery has been remediated by technological and cultural shifts by illuminating the various revisions made to the canon of delivery over time, thanks in part to our appropriated use of a given communication technology.
In Chapter 2, “Reading Rhetorical Delivery as Technological Remediation: A Rationale,” McCorkle’s cross-historical examination begins by analyzing how changes from spoken to handwritten rhetorics in ancient Greece influenced understandings of delivery. Chapter 3, “Pressing Matter: The Birth of Print, the Decline of Delivery,” examines the medieval and early modern era. McCorkle’s inspection of this era demonstrates how the naturalization of print, thanks to the mechanics of the printing press, resulted in the invisibility of delivery. In Chapter 4, “Harbingers of the Printed Page: Theories of Delivery in the Nineteenth Century,” McCorkle surveys centuries eighteenth and nineteenth, as the title signals, and forwards an alternative view of what scholarship has claimed as a tension between belletristic and elocutionary epistemologies of these centuries. In McCorkle’s view, elocution and belletrism “worked in tandem as parallel educational and cultural forces in order to naturalize the printed page” (93). In Chapter 5 “Delivery Disappeared in the Age of Electronic Media,” McCorkle scrutinizes the first half of the twentieth century, a time in which our cultural preoccupation with television, radio, and film fostered neglect to the role of delivery. Chapter 6, “Reviving Delivery, Remediating Hypertext” analyzes the twenty-first century’s use of hypertext/digital rhetorics; McCorkle examines how and why our field’s interest in the role of delivery has been revived and how this has influenced rhetorical and technological advancements.
In the “Afterword: Rhetorical Delivery on the Technological Horizon, ” McCorkle looks ahead to our technological and rhetorical future—advancing present and future implications for delivery’s role already emerging in the touch-sensitive interfaces of the iPad and smart board. The Afterword calls teacher-scholars in rhetoric to continue to scrutinize the processes of remediation upon technologies, rhetorics, and systems of communication. As is his aim throughout his work, McCorkle urges us to move forward as “critical readers of newly emerging technologies of communication,” finding ways in which we can “interrupt our society’s compulsion to render its tools invisible” (171). According to McCorkle, it is teacher-scholars in the field of rhetoric that are of specific importance to advancing his goals of critiquing and calling attention to the ways in which “delivery is and has been inherently a technological discourse—that is, it has historically served as a site that helps foster the cultural reception of emergent technologies of writing and communication” (13 emphasis original). In the Afterword, McCorkle champions multimodal pedagogy and embodied rhetorics, urging us to continue examining and employing critically engaged uses of delivery in our technologically mediated communications in order to foster user agency.
As previously noted, the book is organized by key historical periods in the rhetorical tradition—the book begins in ancient Greece and leaves us at the still hazy intersections of our future. Each chapter follows a similar pattern: McCorkle reiterates the claims driving his argument; reminds us of what he’s already argued (in previous chapters); tells us what will be discussed in a particular chapter; at the chapter’s end, he restates the argument and focus for the given chapter; and shortly thereafter foreshadows the argument and purpose for the subsequent chapter. This clever and reliable organization pattern is appreciated not only for networking chapters (and thereby creating cohesion among several centuries in rhetorical history) but also because it facilitates a stand-alone quality for individual chapters that readers may find helpful. It should be noted that an earlier version of chapter 4 was previously published in Rhetoric Society Quarterly, and this chapter alone might provide students with an increased understanding of genre and important epistemologies, which gave shape to the establishment of rhetoric as a discipline. I also found the Afterword to be particularly captivating as an emerging teacher-scholar in the subfield of computers and composition, in that it inspires a call to action for possible trajectories for use and understanding of delivery in my own work in technofeminism.
Mindful of potential criticism, McCorkle is upfront about the purpose and nature of his work. In fact, McCorkle clearly articulates what his work is and is not attempting. His work neither intends nor does it claim to be an exhaustive examination of the history of delivery. As he reveals in the book’s Introduction, his work prizes “the value of sacrificing depth for breadth” in order to uncover commonalities shared during particular times in or rhetorical history" (8). Author Steven Johnson’s writing style (Where Good Ideas Come From; Interface Culture) supports, and has admittedly inspired, McCorkle’s appreciation of brevity and in “laying out a long-zoom foundation for looking at the question at hand, this project anticipates much more sustained studies to come and suggests a future arc of scholarship that I intend to take up in subsequent work” (9). In anticipation of potential opposition, McCorkle's forwardness and thorough literature review helps situate his argument as in-between or as alternative to other scholars and scholarship taking up these conversations.
However, some readers may find his style of frontloading repetitive, thereby detracting from his argument. I personally considered the consistent patterns of the book and its chapters to be a product of remediation. Thanks to McCorkle, a la Bolter and Grusin, our present socio-historical era of information overload, brought on by our engagement with digital-communication technologies, has had an interesting effect on our writing and reading practices. As reader of screen, page, and phone, I have unfortunately developed a fleeting attention span. Thanks, or no thanks, to communication technologies, I now scavenge for key information. Luckily, McCorkle’s explicit and direct style allows readers of both long and short attention spans to follow his cross-historical analysis without running the risk of misunderstanding.
My recognition of the ways that writing style is constantly remediated as a technology against many is not unique. In fact, as one of the voices in the co-authored College English “Symposium: How I Have Changed My Mind,” Marilyn Cooper, quoting Geoffery Sirc, acknowledges how a writing style can be remediated through technological and cultural imperatives. What could be viewed as a rhetorical shortcoming (Prior et al.) of a particular socio-historical era can also be considered a sign of the times; if we as readers do as McCorkle hopes—that we critically examine our rhetorical history and practices—we come to a more inclusive understanding of our cultural reception of communication technologies and communication practices. Such practices facilitate greater user agency in that we harness the ability for seeing how delivery as technological discourse remediates rhetorical practices like writing style. McCorkle’s aim is ultimately one of agency—to equip teacher-scholars of rhetoric with the imperative to understand the processes of remediation on our writing and our thinking, to harness a greater understanding of our otherwise enculturated communication practices.
Bolter, Jay David. Writing Space: Computers, Hypertext, and the Remediation of Print. Mahwah: Erbaum, 2001. Print.
Bolter, Jay David and Richard Grusin. Remediation: Understanding New Media. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 1999. Print.
Brooke, Collin Grifford. Lingua Fracta: Towards a Rhetoric of New Media. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press, 2009. Print.
Cooper, Marilyn. “Symposium: How I Have Changed My Mind.” College English 74.2 (Nov. 2011):106-130. Print.
Johnson, Steven. Interface Culture: How New Technology Transforms the Way We Create and Communicate. New York: Perseus, 1997. Print.
---. Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation. New York:
Penguin/Riverhead, 2010. Print.
Prior, Paul. Janine Solberg, Patrick Berry, Hannah Bellwoar, Bill Chewning, Karen J. Lunsford, Liz Rohan, Kevin Roozen, Mary P. Sheridan-Rabideau, Jody Shipka, Derek Van Ittersum, and Joyce Walker. “Re-situating and Re-mediating the Canons: A Cultural-Historical Remapping of Rhetorical Activity.” Kairos 11.3 (2007). Web. 27 March 2012.