Lingua Fracta – Toward a New Emerging Rhetoric?

I’m a really terrible blogger, as you can see by the lack of my posts and really no cohesive theme to content. Much of this has to do out of lack of time, but I still am not really fond of blogging anyhow. I think I’ve gotten over the whole identity/voice aspect, but I’m just not really sure I care to share my ramblings with the world. Also, my eyes start start to hurt when I’m in front of a computer for too long.

As much as I like to write, I’m not sure I need to “dump” my thoughts into a blog. Not to say it’s no useful or worthwhile because it can be a great tool to incite change, foster new ideas, collaboration, network with people, etc…list could go on forever. I’m just not a blogger.  However, the purposes of this blog is to monitor my progress for my ENGL 516 class.

In any case, the real purpose of this post is regarding my book review of Collin Gifford Brooke’s, Lingua Fracta: Toward a Rhetoric of New Media. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, but as a disclaimer, it is very academic and theoretical. It’s not lengthy in pages, but it content.  So, if you want something or many things to ponder, over and over, and over again, this is your book.

There are two ways you can soak all this rhetoric in, either through my video tapped review (which is terrible) or my more articulate formal written review that makes more sense.  Choose your own adventure!


“A multidimensional Approach to Define a New Emerging Rhetoric”

Rhetorical theory usually requires some pause, deep exploration, and a synthesizing of a multitude of devices and variables on several levels all at the same time to even understand a shred of what is going on.  It’s no wonder that you can easily get lost in an Aristolian sea of definitions and overlapping and often complex ideas of language and communication.  The old philosophical ideals of the canons and communication have met their match in a modern world that no longer relies on oral tradition, nor even conventional and traditional means of textual language to some degree. Rhetorician, Associate Professor, and Author, Collin Gifford Brooke brings together new perspectives of emerging new medias with the old and tries to redefine what rhetoric means today.  Ultimately, Brooke’s goal is to try and find a balance between traditional models of rhetoric and apply that to digital literacies, demonstrating how important it is for the humanities disciplines to understand, consider, and integrate a different pedagogical approach to rhetoric and composition by redefining the canons.

Brooke’s begins by providing a historical background to the approach of New Criticism in literature, exploring the notion that this type of thinking is often very one sided, limited and a constrained perspective that excludes the reader from interacting with the text.  Brooke’s proposes that criticism shouldn’t be a method used at all and that we should instead be focusing analyses as a way of “remediating” the text.  In other words, if we can examine rhetoric of new media through our own choices instead of through choices made by the author, then we as the reader have the flexibility to create a better understanding of the text and opening up more possibilities of interpretation.  Essentially, Brooke’s is trying to make us understand that the old methods of analyses don’t really apply to new media anymore because we interact or “interface” with text in a much different way, thus that relationship involves a different set of goals or accomplishes a different rhetorical aim than the traditional academic essay/paper.

Just because Brooke’s is trying to redefine traditional rhetorical definitions and devices, doesn’t mean he is without his own heavy-handed use of terms, theories, and research based case studies to prove his point.  This is an academic text meant for other professors and students within the humanities, more specifically rhetorical theory, to read, digest, and come to a new understanding of how rhetoric and composition is changing because of technological influences of digital culture.  Like much of philosophical thinking, there is certainly a cyclical and round about nature of connecting ideas and a level of comprehension that requires careful and thorough contemplation.  Because Brooke is writing from an academic standpoint, many outside of the humanitarian disciplines may or may not grasp his approach to redefining traditional and conventional methods toward composition.  While Brooke’s delivery method or style of writing is more approachable, this is a heavy jargon based text that would be extremely hard to get away from considering the content and context of his ideas.

Brooke’s ideas of renaming the canons to achieve the ideal ecological model of approach to composition are difficult concepts in and of themselves.  He dedicates each chapter to a different canon, even extending them to be more inclusive and all encompassing.  Instead of the big five:  invention, arrangement, styles, method, and delivery, Brooke’s suggests:  interface, ecology, proairesis, pattern, perspective, persistence, performance.  While some of these terms may be obvious, others are not.  The most complex of these new definitions is or are his models of ecology, which he defines as, “Vast, hybrid systems of intertwined elements, systems where small changes can have unforeseen consequences that ripple far beyond their immediate implications.”  To get away from linear models of communication and thinking and the old “trivium” of grammar, rhetoric and logic, Brooke’s structures his ecological model into three parts.  Ecologies of code consist of the linguistic rules and objects of grammar.  Ecologies of practice consist of directed activity and a combination of the ecology of code to create a more expansive, wide-ranging effect.  The ecologies of culture include multiple discourses and disciplines.  By approaching the canons through this understanding of an ecological system rhetoric becomes, “…less as a set of static absolutes and more as a collection of situated responses to the kind of generalized cultural imperatives.”  His overall scope, however, is to not get rid of the canons, but to simply reintroduce them in a different framework that is more collaborative, open, and ever evolving.   Brooke’s explains is ecology model as a way that, “Each of the canons can be described as an ecology, a complex system of people, sites, practices, and objects; taken together, the canons form what I am describing as an ecology of practice and culture” (p. 52).  With that understanding of ecology he carries that into redefining Roland Barthes definition of hermeneutic code, any element in a story that is not explained and, therefore, exists as an enigma for the reader and proairetic code, the other major structuring principle that builds interest or suspense on the part of a reader or viewer.

Brooke’s takes Barthes proairetic code and re-conceptualizes it into an ecology of invention.  He approaches this model as more of a social act, meaning it is not one-sided anymore and that digital literacies and cultures encourage both reader and writer to interact.  There is less of an individual attention on the writer as an isolated individual with the authorial agency, but as an experience or set of experiences that, “…reinforcing certain connections, adding new ones, and expanding the network in small but important ways.  It enables a process of associational research and exploration that resists closure” (p. 85).  Invention propels us into practices that are “not closed, idealized and privatized transactions” anymore, creating a new set of interfaces that help us move into and beyond the text itself.

This by far in Lingua Fracta is the most intense and complicated framework of theory that Brooke’s tries to expound and explore upon.  So, he builds a solid foundation of understanding that sets the reader up for being able to apply and connect these models to new media by then bringing in visual aspect of rhetoric through perspective, patterns and persistence.  Because new media has changed how we interact with the text, what information we pick up is depending upon how it is organized, presented, and delivered to us.  The nature of this interaction is a non-linear relationship that goes back and forth, to and from, here and there; constantly in motion and movement.  Digital medias can be linear or can be non-sequential because of how we decide to interact with the text.  Brooke’s relates this choice to a way of our own personal data mining, space, and mapping of information that rearranges our perception of the non-sequential structure of text to hypertext that, where he quotes Mark Bernstein, “Provides balance between the notion of indoors and outdoors, between the intentionality of design and chaos of nature…it is the artful combination of regularity and irregularity that awakens interest and maintains attention” (p. 97).

 As Brooke shifts away slightly from the canons and into visual rhetoric, he examines the use of metaphor and style and tries to literally position us to distinguish the difference between how we read digital text and printed text.   By using an example of a video game called World of Warcraft, Brooke demonstrates the idea of transparency and how we tend to either look at or through something and how perspective is constantly changing.   Using a computer as one level of metaphor, Brooke explains, “It may well be that the desktop has diffused sufficiently into our culture so as to become invisible, that it has become the perspective.”  The lesson here is that we must reposition ourselves to look from both a micro and macro perspective or a “panoptic perspective” that encapsulates and fits in with Brooke’s ecology framework.

 As previously, mentioned Brooke’s borrows and infuses many classical philosophical ideas from Aristotle, as well as, modern thinkers from Barthes, Des Cartes, Derrida and many other current digital literacy researchers like David Weinberg, Cynthia Selfe, and Anne Wysocki, which makes for a great resource for a compilation of essays, books, case studies, and history of digital media.  It does not follow a steady stream of consciousness, delivering the reader from point A to point B and tidying everything up into a nice and neat little package, but rather in its entirety, demonstrates that which it is trying to explain and understand.  However, in case the reader got lost in the midst of a vast expanse of information, Brooke realizes this and concludes with a, “What exactly is it that this book does do again?” Lingua Fracta stands alone as its own ecological model of rhetoric trying to understand the effect of technology on how we read, write, process, synthesize, and comprehend new media and reposition, rearrange, and redefine the old in with the new.


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