Academic journal article College Composition and Communication

Around 1986: The Externalization of Cognition and the Emergence of Postprocess Invention

Academic journal article College Composition and Communication

Around 1986: The Externalization of Cognition and the Emergence of Postprocess Invention

Article excerpt

In a 2011 article, John Whicker describes the meaning of the term postprocess as "something we all seem to know but haven't yet clearly explained nor seemed to understand the same way," and goes on to demonstrate "the diverse and often contradictory ways" that compositionists have employed the term (497-98). For Whicker, this indeterminacy presents serious problems. He states, "Through this now dominant casual use of 'post-process,' the term becomes a great obfuscatory conflation of conceptualizations" or, stated more pointedly, a "power-move," intended to support any number of experimental institutional or pedagogical programs and deny other, more traditional ones (523). While I disagree with Whicker that the principal function of postprocess is to provide the shibboleth through which certain compositionists identify themselves as "members of the dominant clique in the field," I agree with his larger point (521). Whatever the adjective postprocess may denote when attached to composition theories or pedagogies, it doesn't resolve into just one thing. Inevitably, compositionists have neither understood its implications uniformly nor reached precisely the same conclusion(s) concerning its applications.

The terminological confusion that Whicker identifies may have produced the "puzzling" silence in postprocess scholarship previously noted by Matthew Heard as well. Heard writes: "Part of why postprocess theory may have lost its foothold in composition is that we know its name but not what it really means" (285). Whicker and Heard hold substantially different views toward the utility and prospects of postprocess approaches, of course, with the former skeptical and the latter hoping to clear a space for pedagogical applications within the "unique environments of our situated classrooms, composed as they are by the values and backgrounds of our students" (Heard 301). But, even so, both fixate on the question of meaning, suggesting that its absence presents serious hazards to both postprocess scholarship and pedagogy. I find this common tendency understandable; in most cases, one cannot overstate the importance of terminological clarity. Yet, for both theoretical and practical reasons, defining postprocess precisely may not be as crucial as one might imagine.

To ask what a thing means is to attempt to pin it down, to resolve its complexity, to gain some form of mastery over it, to translate it into something more recognizable-that is, to deny the thing its singularity or uniqueness. But, postprocess is rightly described as a rejection of mastery (Breuch 141), and it is a theory about attending to singularities as such. Postprocess theorists argue that if two things are not precisely the same, they are radically different. Therefore, the names we give to things often inhibit our ability to attend to them. As Gary A. Olson asserts, "When you mention 'prewriting,' say, you mean something very specific, but your notion of prewriting-what it is, how it works, how to teach students to engage in it-will be different from someone else's notion.... Nevertheless, we ignore this fact and treat aspects of writing as if they have a solidity that they just do not have" (424-25). If statements like this are true of prewriting, then they are equally true of the theory or theories one brings toward that act, including postprocess itself. In this light, one need not lament the polysemic nature of the adjective postprocess; rather, it is a necessary, even integral component of the theory itself. The sound and the fury are not simply smoke and mirrors; a lack of clear signification does not amount to deception.

Making no pretense toward explaining postprocess theory as a whole, in this document I trace its genealogy within a single subset of composition scholarship: the body of work concerning rhetorical invention. In doing so, I hope to shift the scholarly conversation away from definitional concerns and to continue the intellectual project admirably begun by Heard, Lee-Ann M. …

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