Academic journal article College Composition and Communication

Rhetorical Carnival

Academic journal article College Composition and Communication

Rhetorical Carnival

Article excerpt

Trained Capacities: John Dewey, Rhetoric, and Democratic Practice

Brian Jackson and Gregory Clark, editors

Columbia: U of South Carolina P, 2014. 256 pp.

Political Literacy in Composition and Rhetoric: Defending Academic Discourse against Postmodern Pluralism

Donald Lazere

Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 2015. 342 pp.

Producing Good Citizens: Literacy Training in Anxious Times

Amy J. Wan

Pittsburgh: U of Pittsburgh P, 2014. 232 pp.

Not long before the Berlin Wall fell, I was in Leningrad doing critical teaching workshops for Russian educators. A dissident colleague there, Mikhail, marched me through the streets daily to witness the explosion of discourse as the Communist oligarchy collapsed. Corners and sidewalks overflowed with people handing out self-published (samizdat) materi- als-broadsides, pamphlets, newsletters, essays, fact sheets, photos, poems, stories, and so on, previously restricted to underground circulation. My colleague filled his arms and mine with documents, declaring, "Id rather read than eat!" Such moments of opposition, described by ethnographer James C. Scott as the popular "hidden transcript" erupting into the official "public transcript," are rhetorical carnivals. A carnival of rhetoric is also underway as I write now in America, with the most unruly presidential campaign in over fifty years.

Carnival means inverted power and unauthorized discourse, "the world turned upside down," as Scott wrote, the bottom overtaking the top. Rhetorical carnivals are breakthroughs against limits of public discourse. Rhet/comp is a grand place to be at such moments, if we know how to use the opening in class and out, on campus and off. This unruly presidential season has seen the corporate mainstreams of both major parties disturbed by populist challenges on the right and the left. Language is at the center of this historic moment, and for us in rhet/comp who acknowledge the inescapable politics oflanguage instruction, an opportunity to study campaign rhetoric has landed in our laps.

This opportunity to study policies, promises, and claims is helped along by the three books under review here. The first, by senior scholar Donald Lazere, confronts "political literacy" head on, building from his earlier remarkable textbook devoted to civic rhetoric. Lazeres arguments for a pedagogy of political semantics is well suited to this moment. The second text, by Amy Wan, connects to a key controversy ignited by Donald Trump's incendiary remarks demonizing Mexican and Islamic immigrants. Wan compares current policy and literacy dilemmas regarding immigration to those of a century ago, when foreigners entered in great numbers, provoking anxiety and language programs to manage them. Finally, the third volume is a Deweyan anthology edited by Brian Jackson and Gregory Clark, connecting well with the other two, first because its chapters cover time periods similar to Wan's World War I era, and second because Dewey was a prime proponent of democratic education for civic participation, two values at the heart of Lazere's and Wan's books.

Political Literacy in Composition and Rhetoric by Donald Lazere speaks to a central theme in the books reviewed here-"how to produce good citizens through pedagogy." Lazere's career devotion to citizenship informed his composition text Reading and Writingfor Civic Literacy. His new book theorizes civic literacy while comparing his method to other approaches in the field. Lazeres panoramic knowledge of rhetoric, composition, and attendant disciplines rewards a close reading. He advocates here a traditionalist method with a social justice intention. Lazere muses early in Political Literacy about his "long-running, quixotic project for broadening college humanistic study, with rhetoric and composition at its center, to foster critical thinking about politics and mass media" (4). But Lazere is more "contrarian" than "quixotic," rowing against two tides at once-conservative neoliberalism in school and society and dissident rhet/comp scholars advocating "difference," personal narrative, "postmodern pluralism," and identity politics. …

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