Canons and Venting: Thoughts That Go Boom!


Re-mediating the Canons

My first reading for class this week was “Re-situating and Re-mediating the Canons: A Cultural-historical Remapping of Rhetorical Activity.” This publication was written by: Paul Prior, Janine Solberg, Patrick Berry, Hannah Bellwoar, Bill Chewning, Karen J. Lunsford, Liz Rohan, Kevin Roozen, Mary P. Sheridan-Rabideau, Jody Shipka, Derek Van Ittersum,  and Joyce Walker (whew!). In this text, Prior et Al suggest a new rhetorical mapping activity that ” acknowledges advances in our understanding of language, semiotics, human development, technology, and society” (pg 2). The authors feel that while the classic canons (see below) may have been sufficient in Ancient Greece , this is no longer so (though they hint on page 3 that the canons were not sufficient then either).

Five classic canons:

  • Invention
  • Arrangement
  • Style
  • Memory
  • Delivery

Key Concepts

Prior et al begin to revise the classic five by noting the fall of “delivery” and “memory.” They suggest that these two canons changed when people began writing things down instead of exercising their minds by remembering. While reading this particular section, I could not help but think of Plato’s Phaedrus, which I just read for the first time in English 539. Imagine my delight when the authors relate their observation to Plato as well! At this point in the text, Prior et al use Plato as a segway into discussing audience, a rightful canon that has been ignored until now.

Prior et al address how including audience would expand the canons into a new dimension of investigation, since rhetors often plan their orations and writings around certain audiences. A rhetor’s audience can affect how a text is delievered (orally, textually, etc.) and how the piece is taken. By page 12, Prior et al have added Distribution and Reception to the canons in light of this belief (see updated diagram below).

Screen Shot 2016-02-15 at 9.14.41 PM
Prior et al, 2005

The text and concepts develop even further, until the authors arrive at a final, and much more detailed, descriptions of the proper canons (see below). These canons are divided into subcategories of literate activity, functional systems, and laminated chronotopes. You’ll notice that “literate activity” is very similar to the classic canons, while the other two focus on either  physical or emotional elements.

Screen Shot 2016-02-15 at 9.15.17 PM
Prior et al, 2005


The basic concepts outlined above accompany an extensive list of key terms, which I have narrowed down to the most essential terms below. I included the page numbers, in case you would like to find more specific detail concerning a specific term.

Key terms:

Black-boxing: “the process of producing established facts or unproblematic elements p. 14

Cultural-Historical Activity Theory (CHAT): “the emergent synthesis that has brought together Vygotskyan psychologyy, Voloshinovin and Bakhtinian semiotics, Latour’s actor-network theoryy, and situated, phenomenological work in sociology and anthropology” p. 17

Mediated activity: “means that action and cognition are distributed over time and space among people, artifacts, and environments and thus also laminated, as multiple frames or fields co-exist in any situated act” p.18

Socialized: people are brought into alignment with others p. 18

Production: “the tools, practices, and contexts that shape the formation of text” p. 20

Representation: “the way a discourse is entextualized in talk, text, and mind”

Distribution: “the way particular media, technologies, and social practices disseminate a text and what a particular network signifies”

Reception: “actual reading/viewing/hearing and response” p. 21

Socialization: ” the making of people and the making of society in concrete history”

Activity: “the more or less durable, goal-oriented, motivated projects that lead people to cooperation indifference, and conflict”

Ecology: “the biotic and natural world”

Primary Indexicality: “getting people’s attention” p. 25

After a brief intermission of listening to and watching School House Rock videos on, I tackled the second reading for the week ( I suggest you watch my personal favorite in order to cleanse your intellectual palette before moving on).

Nobody Told Me


My second reading for the week was Liz Rohan’s “Nobody Told Me that College Was This Hard!: ‘Venting’ in the Grad Stacks.”  When I saw that this “article” was actually spread across 31 slides, I panicked a bit. It was getting late and I was afraid I would not have the energy to follow along for that many slides. I was delightfully proved wrong, as I am sure you will be too. Rohan’s presentation starts in a musty, unappealing library study room ( a place I am all too familiar with thanks to my tour in Academia). She begins to describe the wall vent, a place that has become a place for students to write and communication their frustrations with each other. Thus the term “venting” is born (full definition and context outlined below in “Key Terms”).

Key Concepts

I must say, I related very closely with what Rohan relays in this presentation (so much so that I annoyed my poor boyfriend by reading large block quotes that struck my fancy). Instead of seeing “venting” as vulgar and disruptive, Rohan sees it as a kind of time-resistant art form, a way to communicate and connect with others in other years and decades. She writes that “these very ordinary texts tell stories about what it’s like to live in a particular time and place, who might care and why” (pg 8). In other words, “venting” in that musty study room created a time machine in written form (hence the lovely Doctor Who reference above). Instead of vandalism, Rohan notes that this type of graffiti, and any similar expression movement,”is considered important cultural work and thus a persuasive genre”(pg 19). I loved how poetic and how real this connection between time and people became.

Rohan does not just focus on the artistic elements of this creative form, however, she also relates the concept/movement to Aristole’s topoi. Venting becomes almost its own genre of writing (I just knew Carolyn Miller would pop up again!), since Rohan uses the topoi as a way to categorize the comments on the vent. She writes that the topoi is shaped by the time and place the writer is in (see page 24).  Something shared with other “venters,”such as the weather, the exam they are studying for, or an overall sense of confusion at becoming an adult.

Below, as always, I have outlined the key terms in the piece (luckily Rohan kept her list short).

Key Terms:

Classic rhetoric: the rhetor is “the main agent for text production” p. 5

Venting: originally writing a feeling on the grooves of a vent. Now refers to sharing displeasure with another person, “a system of composition in which the rhetori s one agent” “A system for memory keeping and memory making” p. 25

A side note

I was also very pleased to see that Rohan mentioned Speak. I read this book in Adolescent Literature during my undergrad and I highly recommend it. Before you buy it here, get a box of tissues too.

End Thoughts

Overall I was very happy to read this weeks assignments and was thrilled to find so many connections to other readings, other classes, and personal emotion. If you would like to read these texts as well, and I highly encourage that you should, please refer to the Works Cited page below.

Works Cited

Prior, Paul, et al. “Re-situating and Re-mediating the Canons: A Cultural-historical          Remapping of Rhetorical Activity.” 2005: 1-29. Web.

Rohan, Liz. “Nobody Told Me that College Was This Hard!: ‘Venting’ in the Grad Stacks.”2007: 1-31. Web.




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