The syntagm rhetoric/composition forms a mutually beneficial tautology, and rhetoric and composition textbook publishers are ever so eager to perpetuate the slash, multiplying their investment in perpetuity.
I don't think the roots of composition instruction lie in ancient rhetoric so much as I believe that the prejudice against composition does.
In the beginning was the word and the word was rhetoric. Corbett, Kinneavy, Horner and Lauer said, 'Let rhetoric spread within English departments throughout the land . . . as
a productive theoretical foundation for teaching first-year composition.' They separated process from product. And, they said, rhetoric was good. Thus began the field of rhetoric and composition studies.
Rhetoric and composition. Damn the conjunction, simultaneously yoke, virgule, hinge: a sign of constraint and restriction, as in what might Rhetoric be were it not leashed to composition?; a mark of breadth and possibility, as in what might composition be without Rhetoric?
. . . it is as the undecidable (aporia, paradox) that our slash represents the origin of
difference and divisionthe rhetoric to our composition, and vice versa.
Somewhere along the continuum from the grammatical concerns of basic literacy to the lifelong study of a fully developed rhetorical culture there is a point at which our work takes on an importance beyond its role in the academy and becomes in itself political.
By widening our audience to a body of upper-division undergraduates through major programs in rhetoric and composition, we might imagine a future very much like our disciplinary pastone in which the study of rhetoric can be valued for and by its contribution to the composition of an articulate citizenry engaged in the pursuit of a more just and human social order.
. . . first-year pedagogies such as service learning have not, by and large, been inspired by the study of rhetoric. Hence they retain no necessary commitment to invention. For me, it is rhetoric's attention to invention that differentiates it from all other practices and fields of study.
Is the question now, The place of rhetoric in composition that wants to be a discipline? Or, The place of composition in rhetoric that wants to be a discipline?
Victor J. Vitanza
. . . rhetoric's alignment with composition courses means that rhetoric gets no
. . . the attachment of rhetoric's flag to composition is what keeps rhetoric alive in English departments, and English departments from shrinking to the size of classics and speech departments.
The questions prompting this issue of Enculturation project a crisis state: rhetoric has been left behind, the rhetorical "turn" has been re-turned, we in composition are "over" rhetoric like a fleeting relationship.
This slash should (perhaps) be historicized, and yet that would not disburden it of the will-to-privilege invariably invoked by a binary such as the "rhetoric/composition" syntagm.
Within rhetoric and composition studies, a scholar might pursue first-year English concerns, writing center concerns, WAC concerns, composition at various cultural sites, historical traditions of rhetoric, cultural discourses of gender, ethnicity, age, nationality.
. . . what rhetoric has always addressed: not the mastery and regulation of language so much as the ways in which language shapes, reflects, and changes practices among members of particular communities.
Thus, many colleges and universities respond by employing the underpaid 'fringe people' for the utility courses and the so-called 'polishing' work of composition, avoiding the expense of tenure or tenure-track faculty who teach upper-level or graduate courses in rhetoric, and who don't see language as transparent at all. The split, then, between rhetoric and composition is fueled in part by the pressure of the public to force communications studies to produce tangible, measurable results of universal competencies.
Whether or not rhetoric is in crisis, there is certainly value in reflecting on its status, not only in relation to composition studies but in the academy more
generally and in public spaces beyond, where we would hope that our rhetorical teaching and research might have far-reaching effects.