Yancey, “Made Not Only in Words”

Yancey, Kathleen Blake. “Made Not Only in Words: Composition in a New Key.” CCC56.2 (Dec. 2004): 297-328. (32 pages)

Yancey defines the exigence of her address around a question of what is writing. She notes, particularly, two factors that complicate this question: “Never before has the proliferation of writings outside the academy so counterpointed the composition inside. Never before have the technologies of writing contributed so quickly to the creation of new genres” (298). She then begins to define composition in four quartets that mark the tectonic shift in composition studies toward the convergence of writing in and outside of school as well as a consideration of the technologies and materiality of writing (these latter concepts having already been embraced in writing contexts outside of school).

Quartet one: Yancey describes the creation of 19th century reading public as a parallel shift to the 21st century writing public. As she writes, “new forms of writing—the serials, the newspapers, the triple decker Victorian novel—encouraged new reading publics who read for new purposes…Today, we are witnessing a parallel creation, that of a writing public made plural” (300). The writing public of the 21st century is marked by “overlapping technologically driven writing circles, what we might call a series of newly imagined communities, communities that cross borders of all kinds” (301). However, like the 19th century reading public, the public of the new writing forms have largely developed outside of the instruction of compositionists—in response, Yancey considers whether our instruction, thus, is anachronistic for its time. She then proposes (via Elizabeth Daley) that in addition to oral literacy and print literacy, screen literacy appears to be a necessary requirement for all undergraduates. Since the screen appears to be “the language of the vernacular” (305), without including it into curriculum, we run the risk of irrelevancy.

Quartet two: In many ways, composition is already digital despite the presumed preponderance for print: in the production of print, we often use a digital word processor. In this sense, “we already inhabit a model of communication practices incorporating multiple genres related to each other…this is composition—and this is the content of composition” (308). In other words, the ways we compose should be the content of what we teach and research.

Quartet three: Yancey organizes the development of a new curriculum of the 21st century around three points: circulation of composition, canons of rhetoric, and deicity of technology.

As a meta-comment, she positions this new curriculum in post-process: she challenges the neo-Platonic mode of process. In other words, school contexts embody “the narrow and the singular in its emphasis on a primary and single human relationship: the writer in relation to the teacher” (309). The embrace of circulation, then, breaks from the lens of single student subject.

For circulation, she notes a couple different kinds. First, she alludes to intertextual circulation: “the conversation, of course, occurs through genres and is really many conversations, with texts circulating in multiple interrelated ways” (312). In thinking and teaching with circulation, Yancey notes that it enables students “to understand the epistemology, the conventions, and the integrity of different fields and their genres” (313). This, in other words, is in contrast to the learning environment that students are typically used to: textbooks of fact often occlude the conversations, genres, and contingency of consensus whose process circulation appears to take a large role. She also alludes to the movement from one medium to another (remediation) whereby the new is created in the context of the old (vice versa)—here she advocates for students to remediate their projects to notice how the movement of medium is a movement in epistemology. She also considers learning transfer, moving students from one learning context to another.

Yancey further calls for the reconsideration of the rhetorical canons for composition, but points out, namely, the interactivity of the canons. She draws particular attention to the connections between arrangement, invention, and delivery. Arrangements—particularly the arrangements that certain technologies invite—define the scope of invention. In so doing, the choice of technology or medium becomes an epistemological choice. This potential of arrangement, then, is a function of delivery.

Finally, she considers the deicity of technology: the ways the meaning changes via technology as it enters different time and space. She points to three sources of deicitic nature of literacy: (1) transformations of literacy because of technological change; (2) the use of increasingly efficient technologies of communication that rapidly spread new literacies; (3) envisonments of new literacy potentials within new technology. The first two are familiar to composition: they lend themselves to the emergence of new genres as well as the change of social networks due to change in circulation channels. However, the third source relates to “the ability of someone to take a given technology and find a use for it that may be at odds with its design” (319).

Quartet four: these structural changes “signal a re-formation in process, and because we exist on the borders of our new tectonic plates…we are at the very center of those tremors” (321).


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