Every week in AL805 we’re asked to write a critical response on the plethora of readings we do.
“Critical responses should formulate a provisional response to the readings, explore issues which especially interest you by engaging with the readings, begin to synthesize that day’s readings with other course readings/discussions, or offer/articulate a question about that day’s reading that you’re willing to share in class discussion.”
While that may seem over-broad, whenever I’m slogging through pages of high theory and ridiculous discursive critiques (I’ve been out of academia for two years so diving back into this sort of reading has been incredibly… frustrating) there tends to be one or two ideas that really strike me. This week I responded to an idea from Bender and Wellberry’s “Rhetoricality” that posited the “demise of rhetoric” during the Enlightenment. And of course I ALWAYS have to connect my work to comics. This time I reference one of my all-time favorite comic book villains, Judge Death 🙂
The “demise of rhetoric” that Bender and Wellerby elucidate on in their paper “Rhetoricality: On the Modernist Return of Rhetoric” seems to me an entirely impossible topic because rhetoric can’t die. Based on what we discussed last week rhetoric is an idea, a practice, a construct, a theory, a system of rules and guidelines specific to a particular time and place. When you look at it in that light rhetoric seems both immortal and transcendent but also mutable and tangible. Frankly it reminds me of a quote by the infamous Judge Death, “You cannot kill what does not live.”
I appreciate the irony that comes with our historical hindsight, especially regarding Kant and Descartes’ diatribes against classical rhetoric during the Enlightenment. Rhetoric to us, our definition (whatever that may be), is markedly different from what they believed it to be (or not). To these rational gentlemen rhetoric was a way to disguise the truth and to limit the freedom of an audience. It was a style of speech, a way of writing that clouded the judgment of men. These beliefs stemmed from Enlightnement mentality, that transparency and neutrality should be the goal of communication. Both Kant and Descartes wrote vehemently against the practice of classical “subjective” rhetoric and the latter went so far as to condone the teaching of it!
What’s so interesting is that in their lengthy written attacks on rhetorical speech and writing, they themselves are the prisoners of their own historical rhetoric. Instead of seeing the Enlightenment and the Romantic period as having slain rhetoric, we should note that they acted as a sort of mutagen, transforming the styles and rules of classical rhetoric into something more modern and in-line with the thinking of the time. In denying rhetoric and embracing arhetoric, Kant, Descartes, and their contemporaries were really laying the groundwork for a new rhetorical style all it’s own.
Another really interesting topic I picked up during this week’s readings was the thought that “Rhetoric produces ‘[mere] belief without knowledge,’” which coincides wonderfully with Kant and Descartes rejection of classical rhetoric. Before their detached and neutral approach to communication, which established the modern method for law and scientific discourse, you had oral trials without a detached, neutral defense or the possibility of scientific evidence. There, in their eyes, truth that should have been objective and definite was marred by pretty persuasive words.
I can’t help but think of all of the readings we’ve been doing thus far. It’s rhetoric on rhetoric trying to convince us of subjective rhetorical beliefs. Not to say that these works aren’t grounded in a knowledgeable base or contain things worth knowing, but they’re not transparent or objective and the critiques and reviews lack empirical evidence to support their ideas.
I’m going to be posting a lot of my grad school writing assignments up here, especially when I manage to time them into comics. In my Digital Rhetoric course we were asked to read this paper by Philip Agre, “How to Be a Thought Leader in Your Field” and work through one of his exercises. Our instructions were such:
Pick an issue using the technique described by the letter in step one that you’ve been assigned from the Agre Thought Leader article.
Explain how you used the technique to move from a broad, general description of an issue to a more narrow definition of an issue that field insiders will recognize and that you can contribute to.
Your post will consist of a clever title and three detailed paragraphs of text.
And here’s my response:
Abstracting Comics Across the Digital Divide
Picking an issue for Agre’s “How to be a Leader in your Field” exercise is the easy part. Seeing as I’m a comic book journalist and comic creator hopeful, the big issue concerning my profession seems to be more a question – What’s the best way to take advantage of comics in the digital space? Like I said, the issue picking is easy, it’s the alphabet work that gets tricky and Letter E has two parts: 1) Redescribe one of your profession’s existing functions in an abstract way, and 2) identify other activities to which the same abstraction could be applied.
Comics are a form of entertainment and in the most basic sense they’re a type of visual narrative that aims to give it’s audience an intellectual escape. Entertainment to escape, not exactly an abstract leap is it? For the longest time I couldn’t get my head past the idea of comics as escape. However while watching a talk given by Scott McCloud, the legendary comics scholar, he posits the idea that comics, while they absolutely provide an escape from the rigors of daily life, create a window through which we look back at our own world. Suddenly I had my abstraction! From there one might say, as McCloud does, that every media, not just comics, gives us this special window. Whether we recognize it or not, it’s a part of their intrinsic appeal. Youtube clips, movies, music, magazines, novels; the abstraction applies to every one.
Logically then, if all media (hence all entertainment media) reveal this window, only the genre of transmission matters, and if only the genre matters, comics need only look to other genres of digital entertainment to leave their paper shells behind. But how best to apply this idea? Marvel Entertaiment has recently released a series of digital motion comics that synthesize digital video production and comic storytelling. They’ve also transferred thousands of print comics to the digital space through Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited, a viewer that simulates the physical process of reading comics. It seems that every comics company is trying to find a way to bridge the digital divide, but no one’s found a consistently effective or profitable way to do it yet. The industry needs to research, experiment with, and embrace the benefits of preexisting visual digital genres before it can carve out a place for comics all their own.