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Invisible Effects

Rethinking Writing through Emergence

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Chris Mays

Invisible Effects directly engages systems and complexity theory to reveal how the effects of writing and writing instruction work in deferred, disguised, and unexpected ways. The book explains how writing and language that exist in "writing systems" can indirectly (though powerfully) affect people and environments in sometimes distant contexts. In so doing, the book takes on a question central to rhetoric and writing throughout its long history but perhaps even more pressing today: how do we recognize and measure the effects of writing when those effects are so tangled up with our complex material and discursive environments? The surprisingly powerful effects explored here suggest new ways of thinking about and teaching writing and the applications, lessons, and examples in the text precisely model what this thinking and teaching might look like.

This book is primed to serve as an important addition to reading lists of scholars and graduate students in Writing Studies and Rhetoric and should appear on many syllabi in courses on writing and writing instruction and on rhetoric, both introductory and advanced. As well, the book’s advocacy for the unrecognized potential impact of writing instruction makes it appealing for writing program directors and any potential university faculty, administrators, and non-academics interested in the importance and the efficacy of writing instruction. This book is also a useful resource for scholars and graduate students specializing in Writing Across the Curriculum, as the text provides a useful way to shift the conversation and communicate about writing across disciplines.

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3 Systems Theory, Non-dualism, and the Emergent Commonplace

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The opening section of this chapter is meant to illustrate the unique function of rhetorical commonplaces in writing and rhetoric systems. While more details of this function will be explicated in the rest of the chapter, this section zeroes in on one particular commonplace that has enjoyed heavy circulation in popular culture over the past two decades: “Freedom Isn’t Free.” The phrase, which is engraved on the Korean War Veterans Memorial, has become quite prominent in contemporary U.S. culture—as one measure of its prominence, the phrase has its own Wikipedia page. On that page, many popular references are mentioned, including the somewhat heavy use of the phrase in popular music as a patriotic rallying cry. As the Wikipedia entry explains, “freedom isn’t free” states “implicitly … that the freedoms enjoyed by many citizens in many democracies are only possible through the risks taken and sacrifices made by those in the military, drafted or not” (“Freedom”).

On first glance, the basic Wikipedia-endorsed meaning seems clear enough. The “implicit” nature of that meaning, though, is worth noting for the purposes of this chapter. Specifically, this implicit-ness highlights the way that commonplaces direct thought into pre-determined channels by constraining what can be said about a topic. A commonplace presents an argument ←101 | 102→as so obvious as to be uncontestable—a situation that effectively stifles dissenting lines of reasoning. As Sharon Crowley and Debra Hawhee put it in their rhetoric textbook Ancient Rhetoric for Contemporary Students, many commonplaces are so “thoroughly...

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