Shoes and Standards

I have a problem with Shipka’s Toward a Composition Made Whole. Specifically, I feel like I’m one of the people she’s writing against.

Shipka seems not to be writing about methods of using technology and the different rhetorical implications, so much as writing about varied and experimental ways of writing. She proudly tells of a student who wrote an academic paper on a shoe, and another who did their class project in interpretive dance. Though she considers both of these valid forms of academic expression, she worries that some people may think them too “artistic” or “abstract.”

And that’s totally me.

I can’t see the point of writing an academic paper on a shoe. Though I imagine there is some rhetorical value to it and that the shoe interacted with the subject matter in some clever way, I can’t help feeling that it would be lost on any reader simply due to the sheer difficulty of reading a shoe-written essay. The average reader would not be struck by the rhetorical implications of a shoe so much as how freaking hard it is to read a shoe. I’m not saying there’s not a place for this sort of thing—there is. But it’s in art class, not writing.

Pictured: Student’s Thesis.  In Dutch. (PC austinstar.com)

Likewise with the interpretive dance. Dance is totally a legitimate form of expression, and from the account she gave, her dancing student learned something new about writing, while the rest of the class learned something new about dancing. This is the sort of cross-discipline cooperation that is really cool, and I feel like the dance accomplished its point very well.

But it belongs in a dance class. Dance is expression, not writing. If you tried to regularly write academic papers through dance, scholars would have to start arguing about interpretations of your dance interpretation. And don’t even get me started on writing business reports or technical manuals through dance.

I like to think that I’m a fairly creative guy. I draw pictures, I write stories. When I was smaller, I built LEGO sets.

I was insufferably proud of this one,  Just ask my brother.

But I’m also a traditionalist, and in a lot of ways, a big fan of conformity. Most people aren’t. Conformity, to most people, means quashing uniqueness and individuality and so forth. But conformity also produces a common ground that everyone can meet on. People the world over know what a big Mac is.

Yay Corporate America! (pc: Mcdonalds.com)

Writing on paper is one of those things. People didn’t choose to write because of its specific rhetorical implications. They wrote because it was a useful way to transmit ideas. The movement from scrolls to books wasn’t motivated by any psychoanalytic ideals, it was motivated by practical concerns of durability. Gutenburg used paper instead of parchment not because it was more rhetorically appropriate, but because it was better for the printing press.

Likewise with digital technologies. Sure, blogs and e-books have their own specific rhetorical context, but that’s not why we use them. We take advantage of the rhetorical possibilities they offer, but at the end of the day, we write on paper and on blogs because they’re forms that everyone recognizes and can easily understand.
And that’s a lot more democratic—and practical—than writing on a shoe.


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