Respecting Rhetorical Sovereignty

This week we read an essay entitled, “The Movement of Air, the Breath of Meaning: Aurality and Multimodal Composing,” by Cynthia L. Selfe.

The main argument of the essay explores the binary relationship of aurality and writing and the limitations of this understanding in excluding multimodal rhetorical activity(p. 616). Cynthia Selfe traces the history of composition and the development of a single-minded focus on print, which in her opinion has led us to become a culture “saturated by written word.” She explains that sound is undervalued as a composition mode and aurality has become subsumed by and defined in opposition to writing. Selfe declares this a false binary which encourages a narrow understanding of language and literacy. As she clarifies, this should not be an either-or argument. We should encourage students to develop expertise with all available means of persuasion and expression.

I loved the reference to the importance of sonic environments for college students and the irony of the deafening silence faced by the English composition teacher when inviting the class to engage in discussion. I am very interested in this place as a jumping off spot for research and investigation. It is a fantastic door into the lives of the student. Also, the clarity that in most classrooms, as a result of this suffocating silence the dynamic becomes about speech expected to happen on cue. I like the reference to “guessing my conclusion quizzes(p 633).”

Remind teachers of the integrated nature of Language Arts. Hamilton (the musical)is an excellent example of integrated Language Arts. Ultimately it is another telling of the same old American history. It is an incredible integration of modalities and expression, and so sonically charged.

I appreciated the historical look at this transition. Historically there was more of a balance. “Facility in oral face to face encounters were considered the hallmark of an educated class(p.622).” Michael Halloran offers that curriculum included: reading speak, write classical language and through recitation but also standard oratorical performances: debate, orations, and declamations. The transition came with the rise of industrial manufacturing and an emphasis on specialization. The last half of the nineteenth century, departments of English became refocused around preparing professionals. Emphasis shifted to the importance of science. Therefore, “the recorded word: the visual trace of evidence provided proof and observations rendered in the visual medium of print revealed the truth (p 622).”

  • Writing became a silent process in the classroom

Hibbits observed: the most important meta-lesson became how to sit, write and read in contented quiet p623. This lesson translated into the silencing of voice and reliance on voice metaphors. The remediation of voice as a characteristic of written prose. (p630) These are such interesting points and clarify something that has been irking me. The voice metaphor is misleading in that it implies sound. I have been unable to articulate my frustration with why the metaphor ends up feeling one dimensional. Selfe shines a light on the flatness and why it is so. It’s the voice we don’t want to hear.

I loved the statement attributed to Gunther Kress: “Control over communication and over the means of representation is, as always, a field in which power is exercised (p641).” There is so much in this statement. Words and expression are power. It can be overt and dominant or,  subverted and resistant. Historically, oppression and resistance concerning composition has taken many twists and turns. Writing and reading are skills that have been used as a form of exclusion at various times to gender and race. I appreciated the opposite side also.  Literacy can be a form of resistance to oppression, and also marginalized groups can resist the literacy practices of a dominant culture by maintaining oral traditions (p 624). “Complex and community-based responses to imperialism and Euroamerican mainstream” p624

I loved the conclusion. We need to understand their motivated attempts of students to communicate with one another and ultimately respect the rhetorical sovereignty of young people from different backgrounds.

One of the biggest takeaways for me was from P633: Jeff Sommers (Mellen and Sommers). “Giving recorded oral feedback gave students a walking tour through their texts as if a reader were conversing with them and the words themselves. Meaning is revealed through tone, pacing, emphasis. I loved the description of verbal feedback and how students experienced it. I am midway through working with two groups of students in my theater program and decided to practice a different kind of verbal feedback with them at the halfway point. In the past, they only receive written feedback at the end. They were so excited about this “walking tour” of the semester. It is a structure that I will continue to build on in the future.


This essay reminded me of the work by Christine Sun Kim. She is a deaf visual artist on a mission to claim sound for herself. Her work is beautiful, vibrant and another great example of multiple modalities to support expression. “Sound is a Ghost”



I want to follow up on these people:

  • Look up Diana George (oral exchanges considered as semiotic texts) & Manual Catells
  • Noted the reference again to the importance of Lev Vygotsky: 1962 the developmental relationship between speech and writing birth of the trend for 60’s-80’s to define writing in opposition to speech
  • Jeff Sommers (Mellen and Sommers)



Semiotics: the study of signs and symbols and their use or interpretation.

Daxa: common belief always maintains its strongest hold in the absence of multiple historical and cultural perspectives.

Imbricate: arrange so that they overlap like roof tiles.

Tendential: having or showing a tendency or bias

Logocentric: regarding words and language as a fundamental expression of an external reality









Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s