Rhetoric and the Public Sphere
The readings for my blog post are Mike Rose’s “Writing for the Public” and Jenkins, Chapter Nine: “Blog This!”
When we had our class discussion about House of Leaves, we wondered as a group if Danielewski was mocking academia with his extensive footnotes. I believe it was Ian who mentioned that academic language is often so dense, it excludes non-academics.
Back in my undergraduate years, I took a difficult class that was devoted to the works on John Keats. I wrote this hifalutin essay, connecting Keats’ medical background to his nature poetry. I thought I was pretty fancy. Upon receiving an A from a professor that I admire, I brought the paper to my Dad, who said he was proud of me, and sat down to read it.
He said, “I can’t read this.”
I didn’t believe him. How could he not get it? The man is no dummy, and he went to college himself. I asked him why.
“I understand the words individually,” he said, “but I can’t really make any meaning out of what you’re trying to say.” He added hopefully, “I’m glad you got an A!”
This brings us to Mike Rose, an academic troubled by the “linguistic bubble of our specialties.” Not only does academic writing pose problems for pedestrian access, as in the case of my outsider father, it also creates problems in journalism when non-academics use the sexy and “edgy” language to make their polemic point. Rose believes rhetoric is going to save academic writing from extinction, and offers two of his graduate courses and the start of a solution. As someone who would love to structure a freshman composition class around rhetoric, this is music to my ears.
In the class where I am a TA, the first round of papers was a disaster. One of the suggestions I gave my students was to read their paper out loud as part of the proofreading process. I’m sure you’ll be shocked to know that the rewrites were better. Hearing writing out loud forces the author to consider their audience. I’m currently writing this blog with an “out loud” voice running through my head, and often imagine how one of my parents would read the last sentence I wrote. Rose calls this “a kind of bilingualism,” and just like you change your voice between friends and dear old grandma, so should academics lighten the hell up.
Here’s the essay he was talking about, Patricia Nelson “Dancing with Professors”:
Pretty amusing, if not a little rude.
Jenkins, in Chapter 9 of our reading, takes this line of thought a step further, saying there is a gap between journalism and blogging. He uses interesting language, often lumping bloggers into a mysterious and anonymous “they” pronoun. Yet it’s clear what side of the fence he’s on when he refers to bloggers as “grassroots Intermediaries,” and not for example, talentless hacks with a digital soapbox.
Does academia have a responsibility to change, on behalf of the public? Is the ultimate goal here a wider readership, or scholastic rigor?
Would you take a rhetoric writing class during your graduate program?
How can we teach our students that not everyone on blogger knows what they’re talking about?
When you think about teaching rhetoric, what do you imagine?
These are the questions I pose to you, dear classmates.