Overview: Though it was neglected by Aristotle in traditional rhetoric, as well as by early compositionists in the United States, delivery remains an important canon for the digital age. We have valued delivery by different metrics throughout history, but digital spaces complicate this valuation through issues of access, circulation, distribution, ethos, and the potential for invention and remix.
Historical Roots Delivery (Latin: “actio,” or “pronuncio”; Greek: “Hypokrisis”) is the fifth canon in Aristotle’s Rhetoric (Porter, 208). Aristotle outlined delivery as an oral practice connected to poetry and theatre, though he said that it was “not properly regarded as an elevated subject of inquiry” (3.2). Rhetorica Ad Herennium valued delivery more highly than did Aristotle for its potential effects on listeners, defining it as “the graceful regulation of voice, countenance, and gesture,” (1.2.3.) and attributing to it both voice quality, [volume, stability, and flexibility (3.11.19)] and physical movement (3.15.26). As composition-rhetoric, with its focus on written rather than oral language, gained prominence in the United States in the nineteenth century (Connors, 6), orality (and its corresponding memory and delivery) fell out of favor [though “elocution drills” remained part of some curriculums (Brereton, 102)].
Theoretical Grounding Though not explicitly mentioned, some of the early work to recover digital delivery came through critical media scholarship. In their influential and controversial 1967 treatise, The Medium is the Message: An Inventory of Effects, Marshall McLuhan and Quentin Fiore privilege the medium (mode of delivery) as the defining characteristic of a communication, claiming that “societies have always been shaped more by the nature of the media by which men communicate than by the content of the communication” although this deterministic stance has been widely challenged (8). Likewise, in Writing Space, Jay David Bolter examines delivery through hypertext, which creates networks and layers of information. According to Bolter, hypertextual delivery grants users more freedom to develop new rhetorical relationships between elements (36). It also connects delivery to space by imagining networks as “topographic,” in which information appears as spatial (instead of hierarchical), thereby challenging logocentrism (36). Bolter additionally argues that hypermedia (and by extension digital delivery) redefines the relationship between text and images (40). Text has traditionally explained images in ekphresis; however, Bolter contends that hypertextual delivery enables “reverse ekphresis” in which images explain words (56). Digital delivery may also challenge the expectations of readers through “hyperbaton”, Greek for “violation of the expected order” (129-130). Finally, Bolter claims that digital spaces redefine the relationship between audience and author, requiring readers to actively create a text. Collin Brooke’s treatment of digital delivery in Lingua Fracta also later espoused this position (Bolter 72). These media theorists’ early work in recovering delivery values the concept for its expanded expressive capacities.
Application/Praxis While digital delivery changes rhetorical texts and expression, it must also contend with access. Bolter claims that the Web provides a democratizing space which eliminates the “gate-keeping” capacity of publishers and allows a plurality of voices (119). He acknowledges that this “democratization” is limited by access but does not account for the exclusive effects of the delivery interfaces themselves (205). In 1994, Cynthia and Richard Selfe critically examined interfaces as “linguistic contact zones” that perpetuate offline power dynamics (482). Specifically, interfaces perpetuate a white-middle class culture of professionalism that commodifies information, thereby perpetuating capitalist values (Selfe and Selfe). Likewise, in Reading Writing Interfaces, Lori Emerson expands on the power dynamics implicit in the interfaces of delivery. As web-texts are increasingly multimodal and include video and audio elements, Yergeau, et al., argue that access is also limited to normative bodies, reflecting ableist ideas that may exclude people with visual or hearing impairments. As such, delivery begins to be understood and valued as a process imbued with power.
In 1999, Kathleen Welch explicitly recovered both memory and delivery in Electric Rhetoric, in which she claims that the omission of both memory and delivery was politically motivated and privileged certain discourses. Others, including Ben McCorkle, have worked to recover delivery as both an oral and a written practice where historically both functions reciprocally inform one another. Just a year after Welch’s work, John Trimbur’s understanding of circulation incorporates materiality, production, and labor into digital delivery through cultural studies and Marxist theory (190). He claims that as a commodity, writing cannot be separated from its material conditions of production, distribution, and circulation because to do so would divorce it from its inherent ethical and political implications (190). Trimbur also claims that limiting distribution within certain groups renders isolated communities (211-212). Other theorists share this concern, including Eli Pariser, who theorized the problem of “filter bubbles”. Rather than valuing delivery for its expressive capacities, these theorists understand delivery as a mechanism of power.
In 2007, Krimmage and Ridolfo examined the potential wide-ranging influences of circulation through the “amplification effect” (61). They claim that the internet offers diverse forms of delivery through different platforms (46) and that materials are moved across platforms by users, potentially spreading a message to thousands of people within a relatively short period of time (61). Digital linguist, David Crystal, complicates this understanding of circulation, suggesting that different internet platforms require different linguistic varieties so that the amplification effect also must contend with different delivery practices on different platforms (75). Through the lens of circulation, popularity determines the force of delivery, which gains value and power based on attention. As texts (especially popular texts) circulated, questions about the ethical use of these texts arose. In What Algorithms Want, Imagination in the Age of Computing, Ed Finn claims that algorithms turn human attention into income for marketing companies, valuing clicks rather than content (172). In their examination of Napster, DeVoss and Porter claim that filesharing as a means of digital delivery challenged the print paradigm ethic of balancing rewards for producers and consumers as it became difficult for companies (not artists) to control their digital property (190). This ethic allowed companies to frame users as “good” or “bad.” Further complicating our valuations of delivery, DeVoss and Porter suggest a new ethic and approach to plagiarism that embraces “collaboration, sharing, and Fair Use” (200).
Implications Collin Brooke also examines distribution and circulation and claims that, unlike traditional delivery, digital delivery may be performative and intransitive (without an end) thereby challenging traditional valuations of digital delivery, in which the end is the effect (170). While previous scholars situated themselves within materialist and Marxist understandings of circulation, Brooke claims that the “stuff-ness” of commodity is absent, thereby moving away from Marxist theory (173-174). Likewise, Douglas Eyman writes that circulation is a part of writing’s production, distribution, exchange, and consumption, but he does not see circulation as a “container” for them all (73). This “stuff-ness” of digital spaces is contested though. For example, Matthew Kirschenbaum insists that digital storage (and therefore delivery) is inherently material, while compositionists such as James Porter and Brett Lunceford assert that the body (“stuff-ness”) remains present in digital spaces and, as such, an important aspect of delivery (213).
Concerns regarding credibility have haunted delivery since its conception, with Rhetorica Ad Herennium connecting delivery to the apparent ethos of the speaker, in that “good delivery ensures that what the orator is saying seems to come from his heart” (3.15.27). To resolve this, Brooke embraces a new kind of ethos for digital spaces, claiming that credibility is “distributed” and that websites become credible through their design (185). However, recent concerns about fake news have challenged this view of design as a source of ethos in digital delivery. Laquintano and Vee examine how algorithms and bots, (automated life) change the context in which writers encounter information. As with Jenny Edbauer, they posit digital spaces as ecosystems that shift consumption and delivery from an editorial model to an algorithmic model, leading to a diminished content quality. Likewise, Hito Steyerl has argued that as images circulate, they depreciate in quality and pixels (though Steyerl claims that this reduction in quality reveals the marginalization and material conditions of the image’s neoliberal production). For Laquintano and Vee, these hidden algorithms and bots perpetuate prejudice, confirmation bias, polarization, false claims to popularity (social capital within networks), and spread fake news, thereby affecting public political discourse. This echoes Trimbur’s earlier connection of delivery with politics. In contrast to Brooke then, Laquintano and Vee claim that, considering the consequences of fake news, the use of news story design alone cannot count as credibility.
Future Considerations This further exacerbates questions about how we value delivery in online spaces. Because theories of circulation implicitly posit popularity as a factor in determining digital delivery’s success, Ridolfo and DeVoss suggest rhetorical velocity (strategically composing for recomposition) to address this value. For Ridolfo and DeVoss, rhetorical velocity is inherently an inventional concern, thereby tying the fifth canon (delivery) back to the first canon (invention) and illuminating a theory of remix. Likewise, James Porter also sees digital delivery not as an endpoint, but as a part of a process. Porter claims that delivery requires techne, which more than an art, is a type of knowledge that brings form to material in order to make a thing with a purpose (210). As such it is inventive. Brooke also sees delivery as intransitive but denies the “stuff-ness” of it, while Porter retains “stuff-ness” in his common topics (“koinoi topoi”) of delivery (Body/Identity, Distribution/Circulation, Access/Accessibility, Interaction, Economics), which are only useful in tandem with one another (220). For Porter, the canons’ value lies in their usefulness; delivery must entail practical judgement or ethical phronesis, Greek for the wisdom or intelligence of practical things (220-221). This reciprocal model points to a possible new valuation of delivery, not through popularity, but through its potential for invention and remix.
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