The New Work of Composing

Scene Three: Invention is Social

In 1987, Karen Burke LeFevre declared "invention is a social act" (p. 1) to counteract what she viewed as the prevailing notion of rhetorical invention in composition studies: LeFevre argued against viewing invention as a wholly inner-directed, intuitive process of inspiration and creation in favor of a view of invention that takes into account external influences on writers as they compose. According to LeFevre, invention is a social act for four reasons: 1. even when a writer composes as an individual, "the inventing 'self' is socially influenced" (p. x); 2. writers "always act dialectically in the context of their interconnections with others and the socioculture" (p. x); 3. invention acts require an "other"—either a perceived audience for the resulting text or the writer as she uncovers unfamiliar ideas (p. x); and 4. "invention as a social act has classical precedents" (p. x) in the form of Socratic dialogues, rhetorical enthymemes in which audience members supply premises, classical topoi, Aristotelian proofs, and the concept of ethos, which requires a relationship between the writer/rhetor and her audience or community.

As LeFevre points out, viewing invention as a social act is by no means a new idea. Aristotle (c. 333 BCE) and Plato (c. 370 BCE) both acknowledge the importance of a rhetor knowing his audience to better understand and see the available means of persuasion; what's more, the topoi Aristotle fastidiously outlines in On Rhetoric are only valuable tools if both rhetor and audience agree on the importance of the commonplaces in their communities. Rhetors must use communally-accepted knowledge to reach their rhetorical goals, dialectically engaging audience members in a reconsideration of what they think they know, a point Cicero reiterates in his treatise De Inventione (c. 86 BCE). Without considering the effects one's rhetorical choices will have on an audience and the ways in which these choices will impact existing views of a subject, a rhetor's attempts at persuasion become nearly impossible. Even as rhetoric's terrain has expanded to include purposes other than persuasion, audience consideration has remained a key part of rhetorical invention for many theorists (Ede and Lunsford 1984; Jurkiewicz 1975; Long 1980; Young, Becker, and Pike 1970), whether or not a writer's audience "is always a fiction," as Walter Ong (1975) suggests.

Our view of invention as a social act also acknowledges the importance of interactions and conversations between individuals as key parts of invention processes. As evidenced by Plato's use of dialogues throughout his work (even if they are fictionalized conversations), talking to and with other people allows for a pooling of knowledge that can then be rearticulated by a rhetor to further complicate the values and beliefs of a community. Conversing with other writers also provides a space to work through new knowledge, which allows the writer to develop as-yet un(der)formed ideas as well as gain new insights she might not uncover otherwise. The use of writing groups in and out of classroom settings (Bruffee 1984; Macrorie 1988; Moss, Highberg & Nicolas 2004; Murray 1985) allows writers to respond to each other's work less as a form of critique than as a way to engage in a conversation that is beneficial to all participants.

In addition to the importance of conversation and interaction for individually-authored texts, we view collaboration as crucial to invention as a social act. Collaboratively composing a text allows for an expanded invention site in which writers invent and compose individually and as a larger entity, learning from one another even as they disagree and question the unfolding text through repeated conversations, which we have captured through audio and video recordings that appear in this text as well as the collaborative blog we created to document our process. And as Ede and Lunsford (1984, 1996) point out, collaborating on one text has ramifications for future, individually-authored texts due to the expanded knowledge and understanding of audience that each collaborator takes from a shared project.

As texts become technologically mediated, so too do the ways in which invention functions as a social act (Devitt 2003; Dewitt 2001; Sorapure & Stolley 2007; Simmons & Grabill 2007; Ulmer 1994). As this chapter demonstrates, we invent and are invented by the conversations we have on IM and Facebook, the photos and videos we post and view on Flickr and YouTube, and the blogs we read and compose: the commonplaces associated with invention that we seek out and discuss are multimodal, not only text-based maxims but also literal and metaphorical visual and audio representations of ideas and topics, which we've discovered as audience members and remixed for our audience(s). As we have invented (for) this chapter, so too we ask you to invent over the course of your audience experience with the text. Read our written words, listen to our voices, view our videos, hit the invent button and see what pops up: this text will continually reconfigure itself as it reminds you that invention is social.

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