Monday, February 27, 2006

On Foot Composition

Realizing that the deadline is looming, I recorded my piece for Jenny Edbauer's CCCC podcast "On Foot Composition." My piece is a bit rough. I thought I'd downloaded some audio editing software at some point, but either I never did or I trashed it at some point. I recorded the piece using my iPod and a Griffin iTalk voice recorder, and I recorded it, appropriately enough, while pacing up and down the hallway between my bedroom and my study.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

MLA Field Bibliographer

I've just sent in my application to become a MLA field bibliographer and an application for one of the 2006-2009 MLA Field Bibliography Fellowships. I've been thinking about applying to become a field bibliographer for two or three years now, so I attended both the "Indexing for the MLA International Bibliography" and the "Indexing Scholarly Web Sites in the MLA International Bibliography" sessions at the MLA convention this past December. If I get one of the fellowships, I'll be committing myself to attending MLA through 2008, but, as I've said here before, I like the conference. While I've heard a number of MLA horror stories, I've been three times (and presented twice), and its general reputation just doesn't seem justified.

If you're interested, you can apply to be a field bibliographer at any time, but Fellowship applications are due March 1.

Two from CogNews: Brain Evolution, Speech Sound Processing, and the Whorf Hypothesis Revisited

Here's three interesting pieces from CogNews:

"Brain processing of speech sounds is different in some dialects of the same language"

This theory offers an answer human brain evolution version of the chicken and egg question. What's interesting, at least for me, is that my wife's been reading about omega-3 fatty acids and its role in brain functions (everything from mental health to memory to learning disorders to Alzheimer's treatments) and general physical health. Our brains are mostly made up of omega-3 fatty acids, and, in short, we don't get nearly as much omega-3 fatty acids in our diets as we used to, and Americans have one of the lowest levels of omega-3 rich diets in the world. This study, or at least this report of the study, plays up the importance of iodine, but this diet would have been omega-3 rich as well.

"Brain processing of speech sounds is different in some dialects of the same language

This is a report on a study of the differences in brain processing between vowel-merged and unmerged dialect speakers. It's building from the idea The topic of vowel merging is of real interest to me because I'm from a vowel-merged dialect (Western US) and I can not hear or pronounce the two low back vowels used in "paw" and "pot." Instead, I hear and say a medial vowel. A couple of years ago a graduate student who had immigrated from India joined the department and I found myself unable to pronounce her name. It became something of a game for us, but it finally dawned on me why I couldn't get it right--her name has one of those two vowels I don't recognize. I tried to explain the problem, but she wasn't buying it until our History of the English Language specialist walked by and I asked that he tell her I couldn't pronounce her name. He asked her to pronounce it, and then laughed and said, "Oh, no, John can't pronounce that."

Monday, February 20, 2006

Odd Use of My Suggested Bibliography

From time to time, one hears about some blogger lifting text from someone else's blog, and while this isn't exactly the same, and while the content is attributed to me, I'm a bit perplexed at this wiki page on Orality and Literacy. That's definitely a bibliography I suggested, but it's a very short list of suggested readings I either gave someone who asked about orality-literacy wars of the 1980s or I created when writing about the orality-literacy wars. It's not anything like what I would recommend as a bibliography for studying orality and literacy.

I don't mind a suggested bibliography showing up on someone else's site, especially when it's attributed to me, but the repurposing of this bibliography serves no one very well. It makes me look quirky in ways that I'm not, and it's not a useful bibliography for those wanting to learn more about orality and literacy.

Update (5 June 2006): I should have mentioned earlier that the bibliography intro has been changed to indicate reflect what it is, and I've finally compiled a much better bibliography for those wishing to study Ong's orality-literacy contrasts which I'm going to forward on to George Williams for Palimpsest.

Quote for the Day

Assuming, of course, one is allowed to quote their own writing in such contexts:
"OMG, etc. is an abbreviation!"
From a rant to WPA-L that argues "IM slang" is not a sign of the apocalypse, and that we all need a bit of historical awareness when talking about it.

Friday, February 17, 2006

CFP: Theory and Practice in the Comp Classroom (M/MLA 2006, 11/9/06-11/12/06)

Gina M. Merys and I are reviving the "Theory and Practice in the Composition Classroom" session for M/MLA which we organized in 2002, 2003, and 2004.
Theory and Practice in the Composition Classroom

Abstracts exploring the intersection, or lack thereof, between rhetoric and composition theory and classroom practice are invited for 20-minute papers to be presented in a proposed session for the 2006 M/MLA Conference to be held in Chicago on November 9-12.

For further information on the conference, please see the M/MLA Web site.

Please submit one-page abstracts via email by April 15, 2006 to:

Gina M. Merys, mahaffey [at] slu [dot] edu


John Walter, walterj [at] slu [dot] edu
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Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Ong on Time and Knowledge

Some day I'd like to edit a collection of Ong's essays titled A Preface and Postscript to Orality and Literacy. This, from the Introduction to In the Human Grain, would make a good candidate:
Man's knowledge and understanding came into being within time, though they situate man in a way outside time's bounds. In the realm of knowledge today, time is paying high dividends. In many fields of learning we now gain more ground in a decade than earlier man could gain in millennia. This is because knowledge is even more than cumulative: it is self-accelerating, and we live in an age when its acceleration has reached the point where it must be calculated in orders of magnitude entirely new in relationship to the life of the individual human being. There is no way to 'sum up' knowledge in a computer age.

As man moves through time his growth in knowledge ac- [page break] celebrates, his relationship to time itself undergoes a change. He notices time more and more. He studies it and himself in it, becoming more and more explicitly knowledge about his past. The further we get from the beginning of things, the more we know about the beginning. As knowledge of the past grows, focus on the present becomes more intent, for the present acquires a face of its own insofar as it can be both connected with and differentiated from a past circumstantially known. The knowledge explosion thus breeds the existentialist sensitivity to the present moment, felt as the front of past time, which marks our age.

Moreover, as time unfolds, the mind of man not only accumulates knowledge at an accelerating rate, but it also acquires new dimensions and new relations to the sensory world. The human sensorium reorganizes itself as the spoken word is reconstructed outside its native habitat of sound, relegated to space by the alphabet and then, this time with the aid of the alphabet, introjected into a new world of sound, the electronic world which dominates, though it does not monopolize, our modes of expression and consequently our thought processes today. The shifts in the media of communication entail corresponding shifts in psychological structures, creating new strains in the psyche while relieving old ones.

Though he was born into time and lives in its stream, man does not readily believe that time is good. Attempted repudiation of time is a theme of the second section of this book [which includes "Evolution and Cyclicism in our Time," "Nationalism and Darwinism," and "Evolution, Myth, and Poetic Vision"]. Man fears time, for it lies totally outside his control. Despite anything he can do, it moves inexorably on, never reversing itself, never allowing him really to recapture a moment of his past, even when this past grows in charm and poignancy as it recedes into the distance. Science may control genetics and even the weather, but it cannot harness time. Not the least promise shows here. Worst of all, time engulfs all our decisions. A decision once made cannot really be retracted. So-called retraction or retraction means not a withdrawal of the first decision, which has already vanished down the steady moving stream of time, but rather a second decision which we must add to the first. Instead of 'replacing' a decision, we now have two on the record. Time is beyond all persuasion. It hears no pleas. This inexorability of time tempts man into illusion: he likes to think that time is cy- [page break] clic, that it will return either to give him another chance or to show that he never had a chance at all—what happens because it had happened before, so that he has no responsibility. But this pretense is unreal, and it reveals itself more and more as unreal since the discovery of evolution, which is the discovery of the unrepeatability of all being" (ix-xi).
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Serenity and Jesse James

It might just be because I'm in Missouri, but I watched Serenity the other day (I've never seen the TV show Firefly) and I couldn't but help make connections between Captain Malcom Reynolds and the romanticized whitewash of Jesse James.

First, there's the slightly hokey "frontierish" accent, the "Volunteer Force" war service (Jesse was a Missouri bushwacker and part of the Confederate guerrilla unit known as Quantrill's Raiders), the ruthless-yet-honorable/noble soldier (the Robin Hood mythos of romanticized Jesse) still fighting the war he lost any way he can (i.e., life of crime against the government that defeated him). There's the vaguely "horsy" look to the Serenity itself, emphasized by various undershots of the ship at dramatic moments of flight that invoked "rearing" for me (yes, I know a horse can't rear in motion, but I couldn't help seeing it invoked). And, finally, there's the "going to ground" scene where they hide Serenity in an underground shaft. The James gang regularly went to ground in a number of MO's more than 5,600 caves. In fact, Jesse's Jesse's signiture has been authentically documented in a number of them.

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Monday, February 13, 2006

Vitanza Quote Found While Marking Time in the Archive

from Vitanza, Victor J. "'Notes' Towards historiographies of Rhetorics; or the Rhetorics of the Histories of Rhetorics: Traditional, Revisionary, and Sub/Versive." Pre/Text: A Journal of Rhetorical Theory 8.1-2 (1987): 63-125.
An 'emerging field' will be short-lived especially...if it continues to think, read, speak, and write propaganda,...if it insists on living An Illusion, ... if it insists on an homological discourse (which is sterile) over an heterolo-/gical one (which fosters 'difference').
Just a little quote to turn to when the "we're an emerging field" and "what is our common ground" threads pop up on WPA-L.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

I'm a headline for the "Angelina Jolie News"?

My "Googling Angelina Jolie Naked" entry has been picked up by a number of Angelina Jolie feeds including the "Angelina Jolie News." And when one such feed picks you up, apparently, they all start doing so. I realize it's all due to crawlers, but that makes it all the more amusing that a post which I wrote to make fun of people looking for naked pictures of Jolie is bring in greater and greater numbers of people looking for naked pictures of her.

As I followed a couple of referring links back to these Jolie sites and was thinking it couldn't get any more weird/creepy/pathetic, I saw a link to my post in an Angelina Jolie site Google ad. Presumably, someone is paying money to send Angelina fans to my blog.

All I want to know is what I need to do to get my cut.

Notes for "The Orality-Literacy Wars," RNF @ CCCC 2006

While I don't think I was at first, I've been a little uncomfortable with Ong's essay "Orality and Literacy in Our Times" ever since I learned of the orality-literacy wars, and I think I've been uncomfortable with it because I was misreading it, as a good number of people do (a quick skimming over sections of it seem to support what I'm writing here). Many people, I think, read the essay as a defense of Thomas J. Farrell's application of Ong's thought to basic writers, especially to African American students, and it's not. Rather than a defense of Farrell, it is, I want to suggest, a correction. Or, maybe better, it is Ong's statement on the subject delimiting exactly to what extent he believes Farrell's ideas useful and, at the same time, suggesting a better line of inquiry into the subject.

This would not be the only time Ong had done something like this. In reference the controversy started by Farrell's essay "IQ and Standard English" (CCC 34 (1983): 470-484), a friend wrote to Ong about the abuse being heaped upon him in relation to the essay, he responded that "Writing and the Evolution of Consciousness" would set the record straight as far as his position on the issue was concerned. [I need to double check it is this to see if I've got the right essay -- and if you're reading this aside, don't assume this is the correct essay.] I was strongly struck by the fact that while the essay did indeed "set the record straight" (I reread it upon reading this letter), there was no indication that it was a response for anyone looking one. Ong wasn't into direct confrontation beyond the occasional short correction when he was being directly attacked--see, for instance, his response to Beth Daniel's "Against the Great Leap Theory of Literacy" (PRE/TEXT 8.1-2 (Spring-Summer 1987): 155), a fact which is supported by comments people have made to me about him and comments I've read in letters. He was in his 70s by then and he notes that he believed his efforts were better geared towards new issues rather than directly fighting against what he believed to be misreadings/misuses of his work.

There maybe something along these lines in relation to "Orality and Literacy in Our Times" and I'll look, but until we have a finding guide with keyword searching (something that's going to take a long time after the finding guide itself is done -- it's going to take me the better part of three years (at least) to get the basic work done so that people can start worrying about issues like going through the material and tagging for keywords), I'll be hit or miss. I might stumble upon it, or Ong may have put it in the "Orality and Literacy in Our Times" file, but it's just as likely that if something like it exists it is a minor comment in a letter that's filed under some other topic such as someone's correspondence file or in a response to a request to give a lecture or in some other publication file.

But what I do know is that while "Orality and Literacy in Our Times" is oft times read as a defense of Farrell, Farrell himself is frustrated buy the essay. I don't remember if he uses these exact words, but it was clear from his comments during the April 2005 Ong conference here at Saint Louis University, Farrell doesn't believe Ong went far enough in that essay and he's quite disappointed that Ong never actually ran with Farrell's ideas. (All of this is on video, during, I think, the discussion to the Friday, April 8, 2005 "Current Research" panel held from 10:00 - 11:30 AM).

To my mind, the orality-literacy wars are as much about misreading and misunderstanding as anything else, which is why I'm approaching this topic not as a partisan continuing the fight but as a case study in academic error. I get a lot of mileage out of both Daniel and Farrell, and while there's plenty of others to deal with, they've become (and fairly so, I think) my operative symbols (mnemonic cognitive images) of the "war."

More notes for this talk. [Note to self: see also the WPA-L archives for June or July 2005.]

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The Talking Book, 2.0: "Flash Memory Distribution of Digital Talking Books"

[The above title is, of course, a allusion to Ong's essay "The Talked Book," which is different than a talking book, but there you go. While I'm titling this post "The Talking Book 2.0," that's probably a term better used for books on CD-ROM. And now that I think about it, there's also .mp3, .wav, etc. audio books, and now those self-playing digital audio books from Playaway. But as this is the second generation talking book for accessibility issues, I'll leave it as "The Talking Book, 2.0."]

The Library of Congress' National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) has a series of white papers on digital talking books, the most recent of which is "Flash Memory Distribution of Digital Talking Books." In addition to explaining what they'll be doing, the paper explains why they've decided to go with flash memory as opposed to other digital storage options. From the introduction:
In 2008 the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) will begin to replace its existing cassette-based talking book system with a new system based on digital talking books (DTBs). These books, recorded and played back using digital audio technology, will provide the same top-quality narration NLS patrons have come to expect.

Along with digital audio must come a new medium to replace the analog cassette. This new medium must be as easy to use, as durable, and as simple to duplicate as the cassette. Ideally it would also hold far more audio, be reusable, and still be of reasonable cost. For these reasons NLS has chosen the USB (Universal Serial Bus) Flash Drive for the circulation of DTBs

This choice was made after considering alternative digital media carriers such as CD-ROM and the miniature hard drive. [Read more.]
Via TechRhet.

Cross posted to Notes from the Walter J. Ong Archive.

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Googling Angelina Jolie Naked

While it shouldn't come as any surprise, my earlier "Random Collection of Links and Comments" post, which contains both "Angelina Jolie" and "naked," drew a lot of traffic even though I wasn't referring to her being naked at all .

The comment was about a mistaken news report that Anthony Hopkins had to perform naked while doing the filming for his role as Hrothgar in the upcoming Zemeckis/Avery/Gaiman Beowulf movie, and I linked to a picture of Jolie, who plays Grendel's mother, dressed in the kind of performance capture suit Hopkins would have been wearing as he was filmed. While I don't expect much in the way of thoughtful engagement from an entertainment reporter, automatically equating "no costume" to "performing naked" without even as much as a follow up question to verify the assumption ought to get someone fired.)

So, all you people who've ended up here while googling for naked pictures of Angelina Jolie, do yourself a favor and use Google's image search.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Bibliography Formatting Software: An Evaluation Template

The Bibliography Formatting Software: An Evaluation Template is now in its 12th edition.

via the Digital Medievalist mailing list

Via CogNews: Words help deterimine what we see

The language we speak affects half of what we see, according to researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Chicago.

Scholars have long debated whether our native language affects how we perceive reality � and whether speakers of different languages might therefore see the world differently. The idea that language affects perception is controversial, and results have conflicted. A paper published this month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences supports the idea � but with a twist.

The paper suggests that language affects perception in the right half of the visual field, but much less, if at all, in the left half. The paper, "Whorf Hypothesis is Supported in the Right Visual Field but not in the Left," by Aubrey Gilbert, Terry Regier, Paul Kay, and Richard Ivry � is the first to propose that language may shape just half of our visual world.[Read more.]

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Random Collection of Links and Comments

No, I haven't forgotten to finish off the riff on "Language Games." I'll be getting back to that sometime soon, and it connects well with my new dissertation focus. Briefly looking back at what I've written so far, I was being much too meek at the end. The whole noetic shift that took place with the advent of literacy in ancient Greece is commonplace in orality-literacy studies and media ecology (see, for instance, Havelock). As I said, I'll get back to that soon.

I'm getting into the shift of the dissertation topic. I took back a bunch of library books on things like style in Old English poetry, the Anglo Saxon Chronicle, and the Old English Orosius (the Old English translation of Paulus Orosius' Historia adversum paganos -- as with much Old English prose translation here, of course, means both additions to and omissions of the Latin text. The travel accounts of both Ohthere and Wulfstan, standard pieces in Old English readers, are examples of such additions to Orosius' Historia), and I picked up a number of books on the commonplaces and commonplace books to jump back into Memory and the Art of Database, which is now a dissertation chapter rather than a post-dissertation project. Library books I've kept include such titles as Life of the Mind in Old English Poetry, The Origins of Drama in Scandinavia, and Interactions of Thought and Language in Old English Literature, and Rhetoric and Poetics in Antiquity. I've also shifted some books to or from dissertation shelves or to my desk. Books moved to dissertation spaces include Talking, Sketching, Moving: Multiple Literacies in the Teaching of Writing and Embodied Literacies: Imageword and a Poetics of Teaching. Fun, fun, fun.

While I've thought about oral-formulaic practice as a pre-digital database technology/practice, the idea hit me in a different way today. Until today, it's been something I've just filed away to think about at some other time. Today, however, I started thinking about the implications as a compositional technology and as a way of knowing and representing ideas. No, I'm not thinking about trying to revive oral-formulaic practices. Rather, I'm trying to think about the practice not as a literary scholar or a media ecologist but as a compositionist and to think of it in relation to a whole host of pre- and post-digital database technologies and practices and how those insights can help theorize new practices and perspectives.

Bradley has an excellent post on how he used to manage the readings for one of his courses last semester.

Ain't It Cool News has, according to Neil Gaiman, one of the best, most accurate reports of the upcoming Zemeckis/Avery/Gaiman Beowulf set to come out in 2007 (a few spoilers in the report, supposedly, though I don't think anything was spoiled by reading it). Much of the media reports about the movie are less than accurate. My favorite so far is the report that Anthony Hopkins did his performance naked because, when asked about his costume, he told then he didn't have one. He wasn't wearing a costume, of course, because the movie is being done with performance capture technology (according to various sources, Zemeckis has solved the eye issue that plagued The Polar Express). Rather than being naked, Hopkins was dressed up in a suit much like the one we see Angelina Jolie wearing. (Jolie plays Grendel's mother.)

Also Gaiman related, if you missed Mirrormask, which had a very limited release, it's now out on DVD. Rent it. Buy it. You'll be glad you did. You can see two reviews at and

And finally, if you didn't know (maybe I'm the only one who didn't?), Cheryl Ball has been blogging for a while.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Boxes and Circles on the Board

As my science fiction class and I were working our way through Samuel R. Delaney's "Science Fiction and 'Literature'--or, the Conscience of the King," I found myself needing to explicate what Delaney means when he talks about the difference in interpretive space around a "mundane" text like Pride and Prejudice and the interpretive space around science fiction, and what he means by the discourses of such texts. I jumped to the board and drew two small boxes, one to represent Pride and Prejudice and one to represent the first Star Wars movie, and then drew circles around each of those boxes, each circle meant to represent at the same time both the discourses each text partakes in and the realms of possible interpretation of each text. The spheres around Pride and Prejudice, I explained, govern how we read the sentence "Then her world exploded" if it appeared in the novel. We would read it metaphorically. But in a science fiction text, I explained, the interpretive space is much larger. It's not unlikely that "Then her world exploded" may mean just that, and, in fact, it does if we were to talk about Princess Leia in Star Wars. In fact, in her case, it's likely the sentence would carry both connotations.

As I drew those boxes and circles, I had to smile. While Jenny often explains the whole world with a box and a couple of arrows, I try to explain it with a couple of circles and a couple of boxes.

Delaney's final point, for those of you who might be curious, is that we ought to read "literature" as science fiction, a sentiment I've unconsciously shared for who knows how long. He ends:
It is possible that, on the level of values reading literature as if it were science fiction may be the only hope for literature--if, while we're doing it, we don't commit the same sort of historical ruptures that we in science fiction have already suffered at the hands of both editors and uniformed academics. And we must read--and write--science fiction as if it were really science fiction, and not just some philistine hack job purveying the same unitary values as literature but in their most debased form.
Or, to back up a bit to the beginning of his conclusion, he explicitly states his point, and I've just realized he's describing how I read: "I'm talking about the encounter between discourses, between responses, between ways of reading texts, ways of using the interpretive space around them."

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Words to Live by

"Remember -- Think Once, Think Twice, Think 'Don't Get A Tattoo From a Guy At The Door With A Homemade Tattoo gun'."
Neil Gaiman, commenting on a news story about a door-to-door tattoo saleman.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Mid-Dissertation Crisis

It may not come as much of a surprise that I've been through a couple of what could be called mid dissertation crises, this time helped by thinking about how I really want to define myself as far as the job market is concerned, about what I want to be as a scholar. While I've recently presented on medieval topics at MLA (well, one was Old Norse medievalism (see Barbarian Chic below), I haven't been to the International Congress on Medieval Studies in years. I have, however, been attending CCCC and C&W regularly. I love the idea of my dissertation topic, but I'm not sure I can do it. Well, I can, and I'm not abandoning the idea, but it's not what I think about when I'm not trying to slog through it. Given free reign, my mind, my attention, drifts towards Ongian topics and to my end goal for the dissertation: working towards a revised understanding of memory for contemporary English studies. While I was going to focus on memory practices in Old English literature, my goal has always been to better understand, revive, and adapt memory for today.

So, yesterday, I finally admitted to myself that I'm not doing what I should be doing. That trying to finishing the dissertation this summer will likely come at too great a psychological and emotional cost, and that I'm not doing what will naturally (meaning clear to most people) lead to the kind of job I want. For now, "Social Memory and Old English Literature" is no more. I'm now working on something provisionally called "Reviving Memoria: English Studies and the Canon of Memory."

This isn't as bad or as crazy as it sounds. While we still figuring out what it means in terms of committee and if we'll need to get the Graduate School involved (since my committee has both medievalists and rhetoric/compositionists my hope is if there needs to be a change it just means a change in who's chairing), content-wise there's no significant difference, or if there is, it's in my favor. The fact that I've got more than enough material to replace what I can't keep from my old project, and the fact this material is more coherent and more polished is itself a sign that I've been trying to do the wrong dissertation for a long time.

I need to write up a much better description, but here's my "on the back of a napkin" sketch of the new project:

Basic argument: memory still matters; we now know that classical and medieval theories and practices of memory were much more complex and sophisticated than we once believed (both formal rhetoric and oral traditions); and that rather than trying to reinvent the wheel we can draw from them and adapt them to use as a starting point for a contemporary canon of memory. Five body chapters will include a chapter surveying medieval understanding and practices of memory and compares them to contemporary approaches to memory (a paper I presented at TTU forms the basis for this chapter); a chapter on cognitive images and making/representing knowledge and memorial composition (the machina memorialis meets Kristie Fleckenstein and Patricia Dunn; a chapter on the technologies of memory from catalog poems to social tagging (often referred to in this blog as memory and the art of database); a chapter on literature as social memory (my Beowulf as traumatic social memory chapter repurposed); and social memory and rhetoric (the one chapter that I don't have anything written for, though I've been thinking about it for a while now).

The new project is clearly much more rhet-comp in focus and draws from classical to contemporary rhetorical theory and composition studies, with a good dose of medieval theory and practice. It now covers not just the oral-literate transitional culture of Anglo-Saxon England but memory practices from oral through digital culture. And it more explicitly bridges the rhet-comp-literature divide: Not only do I discuss literature as social memory, I'll be talking about the conscious use of cognitive images by medieval poets like Chaucer and Dante and connect that practice back to the use of imagery in oral tradition and forward to verbal, graphic, and mental imagery in composition and literature pedagogy. It's sweeping in scope, but that's what I do best. Each chapter will focus on a different aspect of memoria to show how it all fits together better than most of us realize.