Visual Design of/and Argument

In my "Writing Technologies" class today, we spent another day discussing Ellen Lupton's Thinking with Type. If you haven't read/seen the book, it has a nice companion website that does some of what the book does.

At one point in our discussion, I held up an example of a traditionally designed classroom text—8.5" X 11" with 1" margin; Times or Times New Roman—and simply asked why? Why write this way? Why ask students to write this way? Why not something else? Having just studied how the history of the typewriter is integral to modern document production and design, I thought we were perfectly positioned to work on this question.

And we did; the discussion completely did it for me, as we moved back-and-forth between several issues and ideas centered on the role of type and design in argument and expression.

At one point in the discussion I found myself repeating something I'd said during the Q and A of a talk I gave a couple of years ago, insisting that to teach writing within the traditional design model is to teach a rhetorically impoverished form of expression. And what I didn't need to say is that impoverished rhetoric in many ways finds a home within existing structures of teaching-and-learning.

Though it didn't come up in class, I'm starting to worry a bit that the (now) broad uptake of multi-modal composition in comp studies is leaving the alphabetic under-theorized and under-taught as an expressive site for innovation—visual/typographic and in terms of form. Said another way, embracing and incorporating the multi-m can function within comp to sanction routines within the alphabetic.

It's because of days like this that I can't imagine trying to develop scholarship without teaching.

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