Tag Archives: Jeff Rice

What it is….electracy.



<div style=”width:425px” id=”__ss_2962224″> <strong style=”display:block;margin:12px 0 4px”>Electracy: A Theoretical Framework for Interactive Media</strong> <object id=”__sse2962224″ width=”425″ height=”355″>


Read my review on The Rhetoric of Cool


  Rice, Jeff. The Rhetoric of Cool: Composition Studies and New Media. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 2007


Jeff Rice recounts the emergence of composition in The Rhetoric of Cool: Composition Studies and New Media. At the 1963 Conference on College Composition and Communication, studies shifted from just discussing student habits to instructors growing more theoretical about the skills they were imparting (12). Rice contends that new technology was kept out of the conference’s target and focuses on the writings of William S. Burroughs, Marshall McLuhan, Jack Kerouac and Kenneth Anger to point out various rhetorical moves made by these compositions that are useful for digital media. Rice defines the typical definition of cool associated with anything that has become popular and contends that his cool has nothing to do with that through various examples. Cool is a concept that is used by various authors that believe that “the culture is getting more demanding…so are the pedagogical practices needed to engage with new media…” (7).

Rice breaks his book up into chapters that reflect the principles that provide “a model for the rhetoric of cool” (27). Each chapter after his introduction contains pedagogy that helps incorporate “ ‘electracy’, which is to digital media what literacy is to alphabetic writing” (x). He points to various rhetorical moves made by these compositions that are useful for digital media but often ignored when composition studies focuses on student writing (8). If only the organization were as clear cut as it sounds. Rice spends an inordinate amount of time in his introduction defending the premise of the book by comparing his use of cool against what it isn’t. Additionally, “the grand narrative” subsection in Chapter 1 doesn’t come across as such, a narrative, that is. He breaks down the development that occurred at the 1963 conference into theoretical analysis about knowledge and the attainment of it (13-14). Reading through the section, a lot of name dropping ensues, as it does throughout the rest of the book, for that matter. Rice includes so much information that his writing starts to overwhelm the reader.

            In Chapter 2, “Chora,” Rice describes “chora” as being the space that information in digital technology occupies that “…teaches [him]…to bring together disparate events and texts from 1963… [and] how to make connections” (35). By presenting a Gap ad, he shows how cool can be adopted in media forms. The Gap ad has people dancing in their “…‘cool khakis’…” mimicking West Side Story but “…replacing the film’s street toughs with khaki wearing teenagers dancing against a sanitized prison backdrop to Leonard Bernstein’s song from the movie,   ‘Cool’ ” (30). He also employs the Aristotelian term “topos” to refer to the place for cool to reside but what follows is more of the statements that cool makes (31). The ideas he presents are more about what place in theory cool resides in rather than the actual space in the technology. The rest of the chapter Rice illustrates more examples and their relationship to rhetorical theory. It isn’t until he states, “Media is the choral thread…that unites…” his ideas together, that he makes sense (44). He actually provides classroom instructions for an assignment where students “locate and research [online] other meanings associated with that term [a word that relates to their field of interest] from other disciplines, events, moments, and media” (44). Online research provides students options to “…further explore the choral moves they discover through hyperlinks and image placement” (45).

            In Chapter 3, “Appropriation,” Rice explains how he finds inspiration outside of academia to inspire his writing. He goes into great detail about where cool is found, yet again, and then cites even the city of Detroit as being a place where he finds cool. Governor Jennifer Granholm’s 2003 “ ‘Bright Future/Cool Cities’ ” campaign is explained as a way to attract successful suburbanites into run-down Detroit neighborhoods by offering developmental grants to participants (49). It also has its own website. Rice connects the “technology connection Detroit makes with the Cool Cities plan” as an “appropriation” of “a generic meaning for a purpose of categorization” (50-51).  He then goes on to differentiate ways that the campaign makes Detroit cool (52). Appropriation hits home when Rice makes a strong analogy comparing the process of DJs remixing sounds to create fresh hip-hop sounds. He said, “Mimicking may occur in an assignment…” (72). The point Rice makes is to lead students to their own realizations about what influences in their lives they can borrow from to create a relationship with electronic writing. They should be able to make connections that they might not have been able to otherwise.

            In Chapter 4, “Juxtaposition,” Rice quotes Douglas Engelbart’s words regarding the “idea of ‘composing and rearranging text’ into a series of window -like boxes.” Rice calls Engelbart’s 1963 methods cool “for how it replicates the same logic behind Marshall McLuhan’s…1963 insistence that cool media involve the rhetorical act of juxtaposition” (73-74). Rice explains that since the reader is forced to mix ideas, words and images that “scholarly prose often cannot” that electracy can lead readers to making new connections (74). Then, he references the “Burroughs writing machine… [which] mirrors the types of cultural, social, and technological” pairing writing interacts “with in the digital world” (75). Basically, any interaction with the Web today adheres to this model. The 1963 decision to keep “…communication studies…” out of composition studies is to blame, Rice points out, for the reason why “print based rhetoric” lacks association with technology (77-78). Coming back to his DJ analogy, Rice says that the test for composition studies is to decode the “…theoretical principles of juxtaposition…” to instruction suitable for electronic writing, a “hip-hop pedagogy.” Just as hip-hop DJs borrow music from various inspirations, compositional studies needs to borrow “…rhetorical strategies centered around juxtaposition, which are often found in digital sampling and which can be written within new media like hypertext.” The configurations encourage readers and writers “to find unrealized connections among disparate events and material things.” Essentially, writers don’t worry about trying to master any topic but rather work a variety of them together in order to compose (91).

            In Chapter 5, “Commutation” is defined as “…the exchange of…” symbols with no concern for “…referentiality.” This means when a writer learns about various media formats that might not seem like a reliable source, the writer learns to classify those formats without being judgmental (Rice 93). Rice points out that each part of the country has different kinds of students who will not have the same compositional experience. Furthermore, he says that this flaw causes composition instructing methods to be stagnant when it comes to digital technology. “In fixed places of argumentation…composition studies argues that substance [writing experience] can be located and made permanent [not changed].” Specifically, he points the finger at Dartmouth as being the “…thesis for the rest of higher education” (94). If composition studies included the cool of rhetoric it wouldn’t have that problem of fixed meaning. Rice says, “Cool signifies technology and cocktails; it can be morphed; it’s twenty-first century and 1950s” (98). Avant-garde films from the 1960s are described as a way to show how digital writing doesn’t have to be tied in to a traditional storyline (102-104). These examples, while obscure, do prove his point. For the third time, the DJ mix is used to illustrate yet another point. This time he focuses on digital sampling stating, “… [It] has become the most recognizable writing space for the mix.” Sound bites are captured from various artist tracks and are compiled into a rhetorical practice that is highly recognizable and successful—“…Kool’s Mixx and Sprite’s Remix [ad] campaign” (106). Rice points out that since “Sprite does not appear worried that mixing and remixing its product meaning will affect sales” that composition studies shouldn’t be afraid to “…be visual [use online images and]…also…desire to write commutative practices, much as advertising strives to accomplish” (107). As a classroom application, Rice describes a “Dead Elvis” assignment where students aren’t allowed to use their own words to “write” about the important figure they have chosen to research (110). This assignment really ties all his ideas thus far in the book together—a digital collage of sorts.

            In Chapter 6, “Nonlinearity” challenges the traditional approach to writing in in a straight forward fashion (Rice 110-112). Rice presents various theories that argue the point of keeping composition studies linear. He states, “Since the invention of the World Wide Web,” non-traditional writing has been highlighted as the cause that “…‘the end of linear writing is indeed the end of the book.’ ” Many opponents of including cool media in composition studies agree with this theory that by allowing nonlinear progression to ensue, the format of book writing would cease to exist as it wouldn’t make sense (112-113).  Rice cites Shelly Jackson’s Patchwork Girl as being a literary work that makes several nonlinear references [“Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein, and Shelly Jackson’s own narrative”] but still makes sense. Moreover, he comments, “Narrative paths are chosen through one’s reading experiences (reading of texts and other cultural phenomenon).” The routes that readers take are like the routes that clicking on hyperlinks can take readers on. He contends that composition studies needs to be open and go beyond offering different routes (114). This means offering a variety of narratives at the same time, to be read, so that a full range of responses can be explored. Rice dismisses calling computer media “ ‘interactive’ ” as being too simplistic citing critics who proclaim that composition studies needs to “explore interactivity beyond its ‘literal interpretation’ of clicking on pages, pressing buttons, and…following ‘pre-programmed, objectively existing associations’ ” (114). Jack Kerouac is identified as an author who breaks away from linear writing and “…poses the…process as a method of composing in an information economy dominated by too much information to reasonably navigate through individual strands” (120). Applying this idea to the Web, Rice cites Amazon.com as a site that does just that—‘generates[s] connections among user purchases based on word choice, titles of products, or associative gestures…” (125). Additionally, Hewlett-Packard’s project called “Cooltown” is a failed attempt to try to “…mix…education and corporate investment” (125). Rice commends HP for trying the project but berates them for using the traditional linear approach to education and not interconnecting the online classroom communities for a more layered learning experience (125-130).

            Lastly, Chapter 7, “Imagery,” is written as the culmination for all the tropes Rice thoroughly describes. Rice points out verbal and visual components aren’t part of composition studies because “the role of cool” is ignored. Academia is still too focused on print words (135). He suggests combining them as working with media doesn’t need to replace any other discourse (136). Next, Rice describes the invention of a Sketchpad that allows a person to draw with an electronic pen and how McLuhan claims that “…electronic visuality opens up new types of senses and awareness that cannot be accounted for in alphabetic literacy. Because of its cool status (its ability to generate involvement at greater rates of print)… [it] has the potential to transform ‘fragmented and specialist extensions into a seamless Web of experience’ ” (137). Sketchpad is likened to Adobe Photoshop as a cool writer’s tool for being able to go beyond the print word (138). The invention of the typewriter is even described as a way that composition studies could have utilized it for educational purposes. It was advertised in 1882 as being a tool to “ ‘aid in learning to read, write, spell, and punctuate.’ ” Unfortunately, it was never adopted as a serious means of teaching (139-140). Rice states, “The connections, commutations, and juxtapositions the rhetoric of cool teaches are meant to produce a type of new media writing while also altering a perception of what composition entails” (143). Going back to the Sprite ad, Rice says, “Image is everything” meaning that composition studies needs to look at all avenues to make sure it is imagining writing in general (157).

            This book, although not very readable at the first run through, does provide an interesting and fresh perspective on why composition studies is the way it is today and offers a varied approach to incorporate modern technology into traditional pedagogy. One might never know that one single conference altered the course of composition studies as drastically as the 1963 4C did if one doesn’t read Rice’s book. The reader needs to be aware of existing pedagogical views or otherwise be prepared to have to reread sections in order to make the necessary connections that Rice presumes his audience already knows. Hopefully, enough has been said to forewarn interested readers about what to expect. This book is definitely suitable for any serious instructor looking to understand why incorporating digital media into the writing curriculum is important.


Reviewed by Kimberly Clark, University of Michigan-Flint