Well, I wish I hadn’t saved her piece for last. Diagrams! Charts! She lays it down with no apologies. Once this is all over, I will want to read Halliday, and put publications like “Learning to Mean” and Language as Social Semiotic on my virtual shelf.
“I will be arguing that a rhetorically sound definition of genre must be centered not on the substance or the form of discourse but on the action it is used to accomplish.” Okay with me for now. She mentions Campbell and Jameison (a good name for a bar), saying “they proceed inductively, as critics. They do not attempt to provide a framework that will predict or limit the genres that might be identified. Their interest is less in providing a taxonomic system than in explaining certain aspects of the way social reality evolves: ‘The critic who classifies a rhetorical artifact as generically akin to a class of similar artifacts has identified an undercurrent of history rather than comprehended an act isolated in time’ (p. 26). The result is that the set of genres is an open class, with new members evolving, old ones decaying.”
Those critic fuddy duddies! Just like…us. As I read, I kept thinking about Hip-Hop, and how many papers I’ve read about it, and whether or not it is dead, and what is it, anyway…
“I do not mean to suggest that there is only one way (or one fruitful way) to classify discourse. Classifications and distinctions based on form and substance have told us much about sentimentalism, women’s liberation, and doctrinal movements, for example. But we do not gain much by calling all such classes ‘genres.’ T h e classification I a m advocating is, in effect, ethnomethodological: it seeks to explicate the knowledge that practice creates.” Great, and getting better.
She then drops the term “language game” and I am having visions of Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico Phiolosophicus and Artistotelian syllogism and all the other stuff I loved in college — and continue to bring into the 1101 classroom, just because I can’t ever seem to leave them at home.
“The understanding of rhetorical genre that I am advocating is based in rhetorical practice, in the conventions of discourse that a society establishes as ways of ‘acting together.’ It does not lend itself to taxonomy, for genres change, evolve, and decay; the number of genres current in any society is indeterminate and depends upon the complexity and diversity of the society.”
Gosh, I just want to keep quoting her. It’s like discovering an ancient tomb, and you light a match and see the walls for the first time: “Hierarchical relationships of substance, form, and meaning-as-action. The combination of form and substance at one level becomes an action (has meaning) at a higher level when that combination itself acquires form. Each action is interpretable against the context provided by actions at higher levels.”
Once the dust settles on our Committee, I would totally return to Miller. At present, I am eyeball high in dust.