Shaping Written Knowledge by Charles Bazerman

It’s not much of a stretch for me to think of scientific articles and books as being overtly rhetorical, but then again, I think on those terms. But it helps to have some organized close readings, as in Bazerman’s book, which is really a collection of themed articles, to demonstrate the point beyond question. I’m no longer thinking on a diss built around citation, but I’m still interested in the topic, so Bazerman is a necessary step for further understanding, as he is overtly concerned with citational practices.

High points include an analysis of Newton’s tightly controlled rhetoric in his Opticks and the transactions of the Royal Society, with the latter showing the rising power of recorded empiricism over mere sense experience, and the mixed roles played by the participants.

Bazerman is remarkably even-handed, as he does not come off as a positivist, nor is he entirely dismissive of it, as it is the standard position of much of the discourse that he is analyzing. He notes in Chapter 3, just before he analyzes the articles introducing the Compton Effect (which is a fascinating editorial story), that “empirical science is founded… to create symbolic accounts that will help us understand our daily concourse with the natural world of which we are a part.” It is, in the end, just another belief system, with its particular discourse community, much as the author of a pretty good article in the July College English that I read today, “Living Inside the Bible (Belt),” defines the evangelical worldview and that of her own, a professor of composition. Any objectivity is illusory; everything is argument; both faith and reason are continually present and working in tandem.

I really enjoyed the chapter on the reading habits of physicists, who seem to read very much like moi, with all sorts of personal biases, inconsistent scanning for key words, marking up of margins, and preferences toward certain rhetorical moves.

The philosophical tradition that the APA system slowly evolved out of is a rather sad tale; many empirical studies now feel completely soulless, for in their quest for objectivity and accuracy, their authors willingly strip away most of their humanity to meet APA. I constantly thank my lucky stars I’m in a field where the style standards are relatively loose and digressions are not anathema.

The next to last chapter is one of the better explanations of the intersection between rhetoric and lingusitics, and language and learning, that I’ve seen written. Go Chomsky, Go Vygotsky. I’d say more, but I’ve been reading for nearly 10 hours straight. Sleep approaches.

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