general writing, major rhetorical strategies, and private compositions

I apologize for not being able to avoid the militaristic pun, but it is actually quite appropriate for the hierarchical, even hylomorphic structures we often apply in first-year composition.

Thanks to the conversation on my last post, we were able to come around to the significant recognition that the issue of the role of digital composition in composition is related to one's faith in the notion of composition as teaching some generalized mode of writing. As Joyce Walker put it in a comment on the last post

If we are still, ultimately, trying to teach a generalized essay form as "WRITING," then digital modes and genres remain an unnecessary extra. They detract from time spent on the specifics of the meta-genre of "school essay writing." But If we abandon the myth of transcendence, then exposing students to the analysis of different genres, different modes, and offering them tools to analyze, study, and compose using different frameworks becomes critical.

And I completely agree with this assessment. If we do move to the latter, one might potentially argue that digital genres are not among those we should explore, but I think that argument becomes very difficult to make.

However, I have been thinking about the idea of "general writing" in a different way in relation to the concept of general and restricted economies in Bataille. Basically the idea of the general economy is to note that there is always excess, waste, and loss in any exchange. Restricted economies focus on the immediate purpose of an exchange (i.e. profit, or in the case of writing, thesis maybe). But the cost of a gallon of gas does not account for the ecological damage burning fuels causes or the traffic fatalities resulting for an automobile culture and so on. Along this same line of thinking, one might say there is general writing, but only in the sense that all restrictive writing events include excess, waste, and loss.

Of course this general has abandoned his/her post in command of the field of writing. General writing, in this context would be specifically counter to the notion of command and control. Instead of Major Strategies who carry out purposeful orders, general writing must attract minor tactics. Here one turns to an Ulmer-esque development of grammatological techniques that take up the excesses of meaning in the always already processes of ripping, mixing, and burning compositions. That is, each compositional event requires ripping thought from the flow of distributed cognition, mixing those rips together, and burning them into a format that is accesible by others. Each step offers excesses that can be engaged heuristically for invention and the development of concepts. As a result of these minor tactical interventions, the private compositions of a restricted writing economy (the foot-soldier widgets of a transactional rhetoric that bear the stamp of labor-exchange, property, and marketplace) are inverted. They don't become "public" compositions, which are just the dialectical b-side of private property entering the market. They become compositions of externality, emergent events of the exteriorized relations of material, embodied, and technological assemblages. 

It should come as no surprise that the restricted writing economy of traditional humanistic essay writing wishes to imagine itself as being all that writing can be (another army pun, I know). Restricted economies typically create these kinds of illusions. However, they always ignore the externalities of the accursed share. The truth is that restricted economies couldn't function if they had to bear the "true cost" of their operation. Indeed we might even find it difficult to measure that true cost (e.g. how does one account for permanent damage to a global ecosystem?). However, in teaching a general writing economy one must begin with these externalities, with exposure to the outside, with assemblages or networks.

In other words, if we truly wish to teach a "general writing," the first thing we should begin with is our exposure to the digital.


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