In the last few years, the rhetorical canon of delivery (actio) has received heightened attention in rhetorical scholarship. In effect, scholars have sought to “resuscitate” delivery for our digital age (Porter). Those who seek to redevelop a theory of delivery note that it has largely been treated as a bemoaned rhetorical canon (especially since the advent of print), but argue that a robust canon of delivery is needed now. Here, I want to 1) unpack why delivery has been received as unworthy of theoretical labor and 2) express why delivery deserves more theoretical attention in our present moment.
Why has delivery been a relegated canon?
One answer deals with its original equation with the speaking body—with tone, inflection, body language, dress, and so on. As literacy began to be more widespread, discussions of delivery (with its focus on the speaking body) had trouble enduring. Delivery was deemed irrelevant, or at least unimportant, for rhetorically theorizing written communications. (Scholars, of course, have taken this claim to task, noting that written communications indeed have implicit theories of delivery—what we might now call design).
Another related answer deals with technologies of delivery. As Ben McCorkle argues, delivery has historically been theorized alongside technological innovations and change. That is, when new technologies impact they way we communicate, we have to rethink delivery. In fact, McCorkle maintains, using the logics of immediacy and hypermedicay as articulated by Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin, that when a medium becomes naturalized (such as print media), our need to theorize delivery seems to diminish. On the other hand, when the appearance of a certain technology becomes readily apparent (what Bolter and Grusin would call hypermediacy), there again instantiates the need to re-theorize delivery. This is not to say, however, that there doesn’t always exist an implicit theory of delivery (what McCorkle calls a “hidden” theory of delivery).
In this way, scholarly works that seek to historicize the technologies of writing (i.e., Bolter; Bolter & Grusin; Eisenstein) are especially useful in expressing the question of why—that is, why does the importance of delivery ebb and flow? And how does the writing space, to borrow Bolter’s term, impact how we think about delivery?
Why is a productive theory of delivery needed today?
Simply put, it’s needed to assist writers make decisions about how to distribute their compositions, an argument Porter helps to illuminate. These choices are integral to the design and reception of the discourse. Put another way, delivery choices are tied to invention concerns. And these choices are, whether conscious or not, impacted by a myriad of concerns (economic, political, ethical, etc.), as scholars like James Porter, Jim Ridolo, and Danielle Nicole DeVoss attest. These scholars reach back to rhetorical treatises on delivery in order to inform contemporary lines of thought.
How do we develop a theory of delivery for today? First, we need to stop thinking about delivery as the last step in rhetorical production. As mentioned, and as Porter maintains, considerations of delivery are an integral part of invention. He thus develops five topoi to aide writers/designers in rhetorical production. These are:
- Access/accessibility: do viewers/participants have the material resources to access my composition? Am I designing/distributing it in such a way that aims toward including all individuals? (Side note: the concept of retrofitting is especially salient here. An ethical theory of delivery should attend, or at least try to attend, to accessibility issues at the outset of the compositing process.)
- Identity/body: how can rhetors make decisions about how to represent themselves in online spaces?
- Distribution/circulation: what channels to release online texts; basically, when, where, and how to distribute a message? How might my message be further recycled, reused, appropriated? (Side note: I’d also think about circulation a bit differently—not just how a rhetor might create circulation, but also how a rhetor might intervene in the path of text already in motion (i.e., remixing/appropriating/re-distributing).
- Interactivity/Interaction: how will viewers/participators be able to access my composition? At what level do I want others participating?
- Economics: what are the intellectual property issues involved in delivering a text in a certain writing space?
In addition to Porter’s topoi, which have been picked up recently in pedagogical contexts (Adsanatham, Garrett, and Matzke), scholars have developed other frameworks and concepts for theorizing digital delivery and its consequentiality (Brooke, Sheridan et al, Ridolfo & DeVoss). Key among these is Jim Ridolfo’s notion of “rhetorical velocity”—a concept attuned to speed, timing, and circulation. For Ridolfo, rhetorical velocity is generative a concept that allows rhetors to theorize how their texts might get picked up, remixed, and spread further. As such, building a text with an eye toward its future remixability becomes a key concern for delivery.
Work to be done
A question that remains unresolved (or perhaps unsatisfying), for me, is delivery’s relationship with circulation (a topic I will cover in a forthcoming blog entry). It’s a sort of chicken-and-egg (see Michael Warner) relationship that can become tricky to define, especially in digital contexts where remixing, appropriating, and redistributing material occurs all of the time. Is a rhetor delivering a composition and thus creating circulation? Maybe, but this surely does limit one’s rhetorical potential, as reworking and redistributing texts has become the hallmark of living and writing in a DIY, participatory, and remix culture (Lessig, Jenkins, Dubisar & Palmeri). A question that I believe should more thoroughly teased is this one—how might a rhetor intervene in the rhetorical velocity (Sheridan et al; Ridolfo & DeVoss) of text that is already in circulation? This slight turn of question, to me, helps delivery connect to a remixed notion of authorship, where in Alex Reid’s formulation, a rhetor is ripping, mixing, and burning from the existing cultural milieu to transform a text or set of texts into something new.
Bolter, J. David, and Richard A. Grusin. Remediation: Understanding new media. Cambridge: MIT P, 2000.
Bolter, Jay David. Writing Space: The Computer, Hypertext, and the History of Writing. Hillsdale: Lawrence Erlbaum, 1990.
Dubisar, Abby M., and Jason Palmeri. “Palin/Pathos/Peter Griffin: Political Video Remix and Composition Pedagogy.” Computers and Composition 27.2 (2010): 77-93.
Eisenstein, Elizabeth L. The Printing Press as an Agent of Change. Vol. 1. Cambridge UP, 1980.
Jenkins, Henry. Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century. MIT P, 2009.
Lessig, Larry. Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy. New York: Penguin, 2008.
McCorkle, Ben. Rhetorical Delivery as Technological Discourse: A Cross-Historical Study. Carbondale, IL: SIU P, 2012.
Porter, James E. “Recovering Delivery for Digital Rhetoric.” Computers and Composition 26.4 (2009): 207-224.
Reid, Alex. The Two Virtuals: New Media and Composition. West Lafayette, IN: Parlor P, 2007.
Ridolfo, Jim, and Dànielle Nicole DeVoss. “Composing for Recomposition: Rhetorical Velocity and Delivery.” Kairos: A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy 13.2 (2009).
Sheridan, David Michael, Jim Ridolfo, and Anthony J. Michel. The Available Means of Persuasion: Mapping a Theory and Pedagogy of Multimodal Public Rhetoric. West Lafayette: Parlor P, 2012.
Warner, Michael. Publics and Counterpublics. New York: Zone Books, 2002.