A Journal of Rhetoric, Writing, and Culture

Becoming the Shaman: A Review of Rhetorical Delivery and Digital Technologies by Sean Morey

Becoming the Shaman: A Review of Rhetorical Delivery and Digital Technologies: Networks, Affect, Electracy by Sean Morey (Routledge, 2016)

Bree McGregor, George Mason University

(Published October 9, 2017)

What is delivery? This is the essential question Sean Morey poses to readers in Rhetorical Delivery and Digital Technologies: Networks, Affect, Electracy, published in 2016 as part of Routledge Studies in Rhetoric and Communication. Through his theorization and reclassification of delivery, Morey presents a new narrative for delivery in the digital age. Taking this position, Morey addresses a wide range of digital topics for a number of audiences interested in rhetoric and composition in the digital age. Particularly though, his book extends the work of two preexisting conversations: first, it joins Kathleen Blake Yancey’s seminal argument to remediate delivery, along with the more recent works of James Porter; Kathleen Welch; John Trimbur; and Robert Connors and secondly, it extends a number of Ulmerian approaches by others, namely Dànielle DeVoss; Byron Hawk; Sarah Arroyo; Thomas Rickert; and Jeff Rice. By now, a number of scholars, notably Ben McCorkle and Marshall McLuhan, have extended delivery from its roots in oral delivery toward medium. So, what does Morey add to this conversation? Rather than suggesting we “retrofit” delivery as a mechanism of literacy, one tied to print-based writing, he proposes rethinking the language practice, or apparatus, with a focus on delivery in digital writing technologies. Morey points to the precedence of an historic evolution of medium in response to changes in delivery over time: orality and the body as medium in classical Greece; literacy and the text as medium in the age of print and writing. In doing so, he evidences the inevitable evolution of delivery and simultaneous return to the body as a visible, telepresent medium in the digital age. In his effort to retheorize delivery more broadly for composing with digital technologies, Morey quite aptly demonstrates its ineffectual relationship with literacy. This claim serves as  foundational support in Morey’s call for a new age of delivery, one recovered from orality and literacy. 

Venturing into this new age, Morey first grounds a present-day notion of delivery in Ulmer’s language apparatus, the electrate. He argues electracy, a skillset specific to digital writing and communication, is essential to rhetorical changes in delivery because of its ability to deliver affect through the network of human and nonhuman objects, creating the opportunity for hypokrisis and accessing previously obscured, unconscious moods. To do so, he draws on several established voices in the field. Morey looks to the analysis of networked delivery and the argument for a transformation of delivery in response to new media technologies within ecologies of practice, proffered in Collin Brooke’s Lingua Fracta (2009). Additionally, the sociohistorical perspective offered in Lindal Buchanan’s Regendering Delivery: The Fifth Canon and Antebellum Women Rhetors (2005), which primarily investigates the shrouded networks utilized by necessity for antebellum women orators to reach the stage, plays an influential role because it examines the alternative strategies and techniques deployed to publicly deliver messages. Perhaps echoing Morey’s own work, Ben McCorkle’s Rhetorical Delivery as Technological Discourse (2012) offers a useful theoretical foundation, as it examines the integration and naturalization of new technologies into society and the subsequent value of rhetorical practice of delivery. Finally, Marshall McLuhan serves as seminal theorist of a contemporary electrate delivery, whose insights on delivery influence Morey’s own. 

Drawing on the work of these scholars, Morey is able to make new contributions to the canon of delivery, though at times it seems he poses more questions than answers. Rhetorical Delivery and Digital Technologies is organized in three parts framed by the following questions: what is delivery, who delivers, and how to deliver.  In the process, he challenges us to reconsider the identity or persona of the deliverer and initiates a complex and metaphysical  examination of the deliverer within network technologies. Looking forward, beyond the canon of delivery from an age of literacy development, Morey instead frames his view with the advent of digital technologies in order to invent delivery practices specifically for electracy. In Part I, he delves deeply into the question what is delivery through cluster of ways that delivery has been explored, considered, and defined, and he offers some new definitions for rhetorical delivery previously overlooked. In doing so, Morey complicates traditional questions posed about definitions of delivery. In response to who delivers in Part II, Morey examines what a digital deliverer might look like and the logics that may be employed to deliver. In response to the question how to deliver, Part III initiates an inquiry into technologies more specifically, particularly network technologies and how a deliverer assembles with objects to become a delivery-machine, producing the delivery-network.

In the process of this investigation, Morey relies on the methodological approach of choragraphy, a method of non-topological invention that addresses the unique particularities and affordances of a given medium, grounded in Jacques Derrida’s theoretical grammatology and Ulmer’s conductive logics of electracy. This enables Morey to map delivery through moves of transdisciplinarity. In the course of his analysis, delivery is determined essential to electracy, a finding that is arguably critically important for theories of delivery beyond rhetoric and across other disciplines as well. 

Previous attempts to classify delivery have been limited by the use of dated concepts, which Morey disavows as being “retrofitted” for this electrate moment. He argues that delivery designed for print-based writing and simply rebranded as “digital literacy” is an apparatus rendered inadequate. If we insist on retrofitting existing paradigms of delivery into new models, we will continue to meet what Morey describes as “dead ends.” In orality, the body and the visual impact delivery; this was lost with the practice of literacy. Morey argues that even as delivery moves into a new age of digital technologies, we see the reemergence of the original medium: body and visual impact. With this realization firmly in mind, he calls for electrate practice and theories of decision-making. Electracy should replace digital literacy as a delivery skillset appropriate to digital technology.

Rhetorical Delivery and Digital Technologies offers a way of rethinking delivery that is appropriate for the digital age, one in which electracy replaces digital literacy, and delivery is reconceptualized not through print-based practices, but through the human and nonhuman nodes and networks of communication in a digital age. Perhaps one of the most fascinating moments in Rhetorical Delivery and Digital Technologies takes place in Chapter 4, “Becoming Shaman--Delivering the Invisible,” in which Morey presents a new deliverer, one he coins the digital Demosthenes. Recognizing the orator as a public figure of classical Greece, Morey nominates the shaman to serve a similar role within modern society. Shamans, present in many cultures, act as conduits between the visible, physical world and the invisible, spirit world. Just as the Greek orator was mediator between two worlds, the shaman is mediator of multiple worlds, with keen awareness of the intersections of these worlds. Morey compares the shaman’s spirit world to the image-laden, networked society. The shaman represents the ideal deliverer in the electrate age because his delivery is ecological. Rather than one delivering to many, the shaman instead serves as a medium -- as mediator rather than author of the message -- facilitating what Morey describes as collective group invention. The shaman -- like an artist -- must create, be at the forefront, tinker, and deliver what others cannot yet see. Morey depicts the shaman as an innovator who sees what others cannot and delivers for the audience’s interpretation. The shaman reclaims the body from both oral and written traditions of rhetoric, and the performance of the shaman is embodied, one in which sensations are experienced with the audience. What is particularly compelling about the idea of the shaman as deliverer is the shaman’s ability to navigate physical and invisible worlds. This begins when the individual answers the calling to become a shaman, which Morey explains in shamanistic cultures requires a journey into the underworld, the gruesome dismemberment of the body, and a physical reassembly that enables the shaman to occupy multiple worlds, embodying what Deleuze and Guattari call a schizophrenic logic. The shaman provides a useful case study for Morey because, like electrate delivery using technologies in digital environments operating in mobile networks and virtual realities, the shaman operates in multiple worlds in service to one another. 

The machines a shaman uses for delivery are the tools of the craft: the drum, the costume, and the fringe, and Morey offers a singular analysis of these tools with the embodiment of delivery in mind. The fascinating shamanistic process of hypokrisis described by Morey becomes more applicable to electracy as the shaman elicits hypokrisis in others through the delivery-machine that is the drum, whose beat reverberates through the community, creating a compelling rhythm, guiding them towards collective decisions and actions.  Drawing on Ulmer’s mystory and electronic monument, Morey asks how we might also find or create totems in electracy, making visible the invisible. 

In addition to delivery-machines, the shaman needs a spirit animal as a guide into the invisible world. Morey suggests the spirit animal be re-envisioned in the electrate age as an insect, such as the search engine spiders used to draw knowledge from the Web. Yet the shamanism of hunting and oral societies does not fit perfectly into the age of electracy. Morey argues its cross-cultural adaptability, however, suggests its relevance as deliverer, and Deleuze and Guattari’s (1983) schizoanalysis posit the shaman’s ability to inhabit both physical and spirit world as a necessary skill for the electrate deliverer.   

How do we become the shaman, the deliverer in an age of electracy, inhabiting both the visible and invisible worlds with the ability to be telepathic and deliver across space? Morey locates a tentative answer in the shaman’s gut: yackay, a white viscous phlegm, that represents knowledge and the power it bestows when passed on to others, power for good or evil. Modern deliverers, like shamans, can harm or help, depending on how they use their power, the crux of oral delivery once lamented by Aristotle. Morey argues that the first step towards becoming a digital deliverer is becoming a digital shaman, fostering an interaction in which delivery is mediated and invention becomes a collective, facilitated event.

Rhetorical Delivery and Digital Technologies offers a sound argument for a rebirth of delivery in the digital age. However, what the text doesn’t offer readers is a framework or guidelines useful for electrate delivery. Morey warns readers they will not find a proposed set of specific delivery practices. Nor does the text offer an argument fleshed out of examples tied to specific digital technologies. Instead, he illustrates the need for an in-depth account of how particular technologies may function as delivery devices within an electrate model of delivery. He also points to a large gap in the field regarding research on accessibility and delivery. How does access to delivery change depending on race, gender, ethnicity, social issues, cultural norms, and socioeconomic status? These questions remain unanswered, and Morey urges scholars to take up this research, particularly in respect to individual devices and ableist assumptions about delivery access.

If we are to deliver online, what opportunities do the Internet and digital technologies offer? What role will the larger network play in delivery? Morey wants readers to believe that as the deliverer becomes the mediator and the machine is subsumed into the network, the deliverer becomes posthuman, becomes shaman. In doing so, we as deliverers enhance our being, extending and expanding our presence and participation in the delivery process. In the postscript, Morey examines the uniquely enduring relationship between delivery and death, leaving us to ponder both the history and the future of the canon and its role in rhetoric, and inviting scholars to continue his work.

Works Cited

Brooke, Collin Grifford. Lingua Fracta: Towards a Rhetoric of New Media. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press, 2009. Print.

Buchanan, Lindal. Regendering Delivery: The Fifth Canon and Antebellum Women Rhetors. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 2005. Print. 

Deleuze, Gilles and Félix Guattari. Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Translated by Robert Hurly, Mark Seem, and Helen R. Lane. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1983. Print.

McCorkle, Ben. Rhetorical Delivery as Technological Discourse: A Cross-Historical Study. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 2012. Print.