Sirc, Geoffrey.  “Serial Composition.”  in Rhetorics and Technologies : New Directions in Writing and Communication. Ed. Stuart Selber. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2010. Print.

  • In Sirc-like fashion, Geoff cites the problem upfront:  “since the first-year composition course began in the late 19th century, the primary instructional text, the expository essay, has remained the field’s formal constant” (56).  Or, in detail, “the whole of college writing:  generation of an essay theme, completion of a topic outline, and stock strategies and techniques for fleshing out the essay, making sure the parts all work together to inflect the whole, helping to produce that properly subordinated, proportioned, and progressive sequence” (57).
  • As S. notes, this hasn’t necessarily been the case in other “scenes” where composition is the central focus.  As such, S. intends to visit painting, sculpture, music, and architecture to consider how the process of composition has morphed and changed to meet the demands of new technological-cultural development over the course of the 1960s.  S. does so to try and uncover how prior histories of compositional change might offer Writing Studies productive ways to think about the movement toward composing in digital spaces.
  • S. first looks to seriality in the sculptures of the New York minimalist scene as a way to consider composition of a whole that simply places “one thing after another” without inflecting the whole with an overarching theme or coherent structure.  In this sense, seriality was a method of composition – not a style (a method much akin to an anti-arrangement or arrangement without teleology).
  • Next, S. turns to Kitzhaber’s seminal 1963 work Themes, Theories, and Therapies: The Teaching of Writing in College.  In addition to alluding to the important questions of labor, intuitional focus, assessment, etc. that Kitzhaber brings up in his recommendations section, S. draws attention to K.’s advocacy for “small assignments” in the conduct of a composition class.  As S. notes, we too often “offer students a curriculum in which ‘quality’ [read length] is the key criterion, a questionable goal, perhaps, for learning the craft of writing in the first year” (62).  As he mentions later, the emphasis on the complete whole of the thesis-driven essay as an aesthetic and rhetorical document (and autonomous student composition) is the real problem in composition (well, that and the idea that to persuade is the end goal of discourse).
  • S. next turns to the mixtape as proof of how minimalist citational seriality can achieve “maximum ideational effect” (66).  This seriated logic is even more pervasive (wonderfully so!) when put into conversation with the modularity of composing in new media. . . it can only be this way.  S. goes on to consider .mp3s and the mp3 blog as variants on the seriality of the mixtape.  As S. notes, “The blog, then, with its serial grammar of the cut and the commentary, acts as a textual interzone between the popular form of the mix tape (as catalog of pure cuts) and the academic essay, with its rejection of seriality in favor of a highly inflected arrangement of analytic exposition.  The mp3 blog combines the time-fluid contingency of the mix tape with the canonical autonomy of the essay” (69).
  • S. notes that the move toward seriality has been expedited by the habits of reading on the screen – especially through internet-based reading.  Instead of complete, cover-to-cover reading that would have occurred only a decade or two ago, the Net distributes texts like “a swiftly moving stream of particles” and demands a serial composition strategy for our contemporary times (70).  S. calls this new internet-based style “pithiness” and argues that we should be teaching the ability to compose “short, well-chosen bricks of meaning” that are assembled (serially) to form a rich whole.
  • What does S.’s new composition look like?

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