Invention—Social or Individual?: A Practical and Theoretical Investigation

I recently watched Steven Johnson’s TED talk “Where Good Ideas Come From.” Johnson’s thesis is that good ideas are generated best within a social network, which echoes the concepts that I explored in my seminar paper for ENG 581, History of Rhetoric. This topic of finding good ideas, I realize, is infinitely fascinating to me, which probably explains why I decided to investigate the classical canon of invention for this paper.

The most significant revision I would make to this paper would be to be more careful in attributing different invention strategies to the proper “school” or “period” of rhetoric. In rereading this paper, I found that I had in places conflated (in various ways) contemporary rhetoric, modern rhetoric, current-traditional rhetoric, and expressivism. Not having taken ENG 584, I didn’t have as strong of an understanding of what modern rhetoric is and how contemporary rhetoric isn’t necessarily modern; contemporary rhetoric in many cases should more accurately be called postmodern rhetoric. I also made the assumption that because current-traditional and expressivist invention strategies are still in use in the classroom today that they are “modern.” I would want to make clear the point, echoing Andrea Lundsford and Lisa Ede, that there are “compelling similarities” (38) between New Rhetoric and the classical conceptions of rhetoric, and that both are distinct from those of current-traditional rhetoric and expressivism. I found that rereading Berlin’s article “Contemporary Composition: The Major Pedagogical Theories” helped to clarify these concepts for me.

Rereading another article, “Is Expressivism Dead? Reconsidering Its Romantic Roots and Its Relation to Social Constructionism” by Stephen M. Fishman and Lucille Parkinson McCarthy, helped me to view the relationship between expressionism and social constructionism differently. In this article the authors rebut the claims that expressivist pedagogy rests on the assumption that writers draw exclusively on inner resources when writing, focusing on personal growth while ignoring the social aspects of writing. I also have found enlightening the approach that Paul Kameen takes in “Rewording the Rhetoric of Composition;” he attempts to reunite rhetoric and expressivism by proposing a “synthesis of competing modes of thought” (23). I would want to address these articles as I think they offer necessary naysayers to my thesis.

Near the end of my paper I would insert a section in which I would contrast expressivist and current-traditional inventional strategies with those of contemporary rhetoric. I would show how contemporary invention strategies are very closely allied with those of the classical period, giving examples of how contemporary rhetoric views invention as socially oriented, much as did classical rhetoric. A quote from James Berlin would provide an overview of this section:

“Current-Traditional and Neo-Platonic Rhetoric deny the place of invention in rhetoric because for both truth is considered external and self-evident, accessible to anyone who seeks it in the proper spirit. Like Neo-Aristotelian Rhetoric, the New Rhetoric sees truth as probabilistic, and it provides students with techniques—heuristics—for discovering it, or what might more accurately be called creating it.” (776)

I would focus primarily on Chaïm Perelman and Lucie Olbrechts-Tyteca’s revival of the social component of rhetoric in their New Rhetoric. In their theorizing of rhetoric, argumentation involves making claims in relation to audience values; the universal audience is a “metaphor which functions as an inventional tool” (Foss, Foss, and Trapp 89). The New Rhetoric has distinct ties to classical rhetoric, according to Barbara Warnick: Although Aristotle’s topoi and the New Rhetoric’s schemes are distinct, they are both based on societal ways of making knowledge. I would also use Marshall Alcorn’s interpretation of Lacan’s theory of the four discourses in relation to stasis theory to shows that this classical invention strategy has contemporary relevance. Because the questions raised by stasis introduce “a space for the emergence of desire” (91), he posits the process of inquiry as critical to the health of society.

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