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Rethinking the Canons

Lingua Fracta: Toward a Rhetoric of New Media by Collin Brooke inspires us to look at text and rhetoric especially the canons in the light of new media.  The rhetorical canons; invention, arrangement, style, memory, and delivery, Brooke describes as being “more like a disciplinary heirloom then they are part of our core intellectual inheritance” (29).  This is because while those involved in rhetoric and composition view the canons, invention and style as crucial they may not place as much emphasis on memory and delivery.  The canons memory and delivery while once of great concern have evolved into less importance.  The canon arrangement “falls somewhere in between, embodying the necessity of discursive forms, but occasionally lapsing into formulae like the notorious five paragraph theme” (29) The canons are an inherent part of our understanding of rhetoric so much so that much of the time they go unacknowledged.

With the advent of digital media our understanding of the cannons needs to evolve.  Brooke points us to “Hypertext is Dead” as a prime example.  “Hypertext is Dead” was published by the electronic journal Kairos and is an “electronic essay containing the positions and ideas of some of the leading figures in the specialty of computers and writing and focusing specifically (as the title indicates) on the vitality of hypertext” (1).  “Hypertext is Dead” passed though three layers the town hall conversation format, the online component, and the worthiness of academic publication and while it is not the only work of this type one thing that does make it “distinctive is the fact that all three of these layers are made explicit on the front page of the essay: Its emulation of the “ideal conference session” supplies the motive behind its preservation” (3). Brooke explains that the notions of “Hypertext is Dead” are “symptomatic of broader changes in the range of informational, communicative, and expressive potentials embodied in new media” (5).

Brooke explains that we need to “locate the canons more centrally” within our understanding of rhetoric and composition (35).  Previously we have used then as a guide to composing written text.  However Brooke suggests that we should rethink the canons as an ecology and that in this understanding the canons would supply a set of categories that are somehow not static or limited, delineations that preserve the dynamic flexibility of an ecological model while providing us with some ability to distinguish one practice from another” (42). In addition to the canons Brooke offers the “classic trivium of grammar, rhetoric, and logic” (42).

Lingua Fracta: Toward a Rhetoric of New Media is a call to action, among other things, for education to change and adapt to the introduction of new media.  Brooke urges universities specifically English departments to emphasis this understanding in faculty and the knowledge they provide to students.

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