Monological Discourse

Nick Carbone (nickc@ENGLISH.UMASS.EDU)
Thu, 8 Feb 1996 15:06:00 -0500

Beth writes,
Beth writes, at the conclusion of her recent post:

> I say, however, that *most* adult intellectual discourse is not carried
> out in the monological essay. Most of it is carried out in conversation.

This has me wondering....

We refer to 'discourse communities' when we discuss academic writing. We
look at how writers must learn and somehow become competent in the
particular discourse conventions of their community. We teach and
practice, for example, particular conventions for citing sources--for
acknowledging and sometimes bringing into our writing other 'voices' in
the community.

Our conventions for publishing essays in academic journals includes peer
review, a system that offers some of the same types of feedback Beth
recognizes that we receive on-line (only slower to arrive). Essays in
other publishing venues often receive at least some editorial comment or

Social construction theory, in its various incarnations, points to how
even a solitary writer contends with multiple perspectives and voices.
Most of the theorists we would cite on that pre-date electronic mail
discussin lists and chat groups; many turn their eyes to printed text to
show how their theories can be evidenced.

All of which leads me to wonder if the main difference between rhetoric
in print and rhetoric in pixels isn't so much whether one is an essay and
the other is not, but the difference speed and fluidity bring to the process.

We write in these forums. We generally write in ways that recognizable
from print--same syntax and grammar applies in the actual composing of a
message. However there are differences that mark this as a completely
different genre. While it's not quite talking, neither is it the same
kind of writing.

Most e-mail in lists is one draft writing.

Most is written sooner rather than later in response to a message.
There's a short window on the life of any thread.

E-mail is generally more informal, or at least less bureaucratic, to
borrow a term from Lanham's _Revising Prose_.

E-mail mixes seriousness with whimsey: acronyms and emoticons might occur
in even the most high-minded discussions.

While writing the any particular message, even a MOO message has some
elementof the monologue to it (one writer trying to fit in), the
quickness of the messaging, the brevity (compared to most essays), and
the lack of restraint brought about by the removal of editorial filters
and the time it takes to move an idea from brain to journal in the print
world, really combine to change the dynamic of rhetoric when it moves to
electronic forums.

I suppose the trick is learning how to teach that dynamic.

Nick Carbone