Hawk's remapping of the field's histories is complicated and ambitious. He takes a romp through histories of invention, vitalism, method, and dialectic from Aristotle forward, providing, among other things, a much-needed counter-history to James Berlin and a rich reading of Coleridge's method that breathes life into complex vitalisms that the field has worked at erasing.
A Counter-History of Composition contests the foundational disciplinary assumption that vitalism and contemporary rhetoric represent opposing, disconnected poles in the writing tradition. Vitalism has been historically linked to expressivism and concurrently dismissed as innate, intuitive, and unteachable, whereas rhetoric is seen as a rational, teachable method for producing argumentative texts. Counter to this, Byron Hawk identifies vitalism as the ground for producing rhetorical texts-the product of complex material relations rather than the product of chance. Through insightful historical analysis ranging from classical Greek rhetoric to contemporary complexity theory, Hawk defines three forms of vitalism (oppositional, investigative, and complex) and argues for their application in the environments where students write and think today.
Hawk proposes that complex vitalism will prove a useful tool in formulating post-dialectical pedagogies, most notably in the context of emerging digital media. He relates two specific examples of applying complex vitalism in the classroom and calls for the reexamination and reinvention of current self-limiting pedagogies to incorporate vitalism and complexity theory.
In this original and important contribution to composition scholarship, Byron Hawk sets out to correct a crucial misunderstanding that has plagued theory and historiography for three decades: a mischaracterization of vitalism. By providing a nuanced analysis of this crucial concept, Hawk effectively rewrites our intellectual history. A must read!
Byron Hawk is associate professor of English at the University of South Carolina. He is the author of ACounter-History of Composition: Toward Methodologies of Complexity, winner of the W. Ross Winterowd Award, and coeditor of Small Tech: The Culture of Digital Tools.