The Coming-of-Age of Genre Study: Miller’s “Genre as Social Action” and “Blogging as Social Action”

I love Miller’s piece! Reassuring the importance of form and content, Miller emphasizes the action that a discourse aims at, arguing that rhetorically effective genre should provoke such actions(151). She holds that genre “represents typified rhetorical action”(151). I am excited to read her statement because I did genre study of female bildungsroman for my MA thesis. Miller’s analysis of genre and her references reminds us of Frye’s Anatomy of Criticism as the continuity of Frazer’s The Golden Bough and Jung’s “collective unconsciousness,”  it is also the continuity of Austin’s “performative utterances,” Searle’s theory of “indirect speech acts,” and Halliday’s systematic functional grammar. However, to Miller, it is probably a fusion of materiality and the cultural characteristics the materiality inherently situates.

It is really an enjoyment that Dr. Holmes selects all these connected writings for us. Miller’s interrogation on the core of rhetorical situation actually leads her to the conclusion that Bitzer’s exigence is the core. She says that exigence as “a form of social knowledge” according to functional linguistic theory(157), is different from what Bitzer’s definition “defect” or “danger”(157). Therefore, exigence, to Miller, is “a social motive,” “a set of particular social patterns and expectations” and “social need”(158). Interestingly, Baudrillard also mentions Watergate, but different from Bitzer’s view that it is the “protection of national interest”(158).

Contrary to Bitzer’s idea of exigence used for the interest or the expectations of the majority, Burke’s view that our era of “marked instability” explains why genre becomes a problem(158). Therefore, Burke’s “universal” rhetorical situation(161) requires the “forms of life”(160) in different cultural patterns should be studied because if we do not use symbols or archetypes, we cannot communicate human experience in different cultures(159). Only through the basic form of symbols and archetypes, can we reach a consensus, only through a collective unconsciousness can we see ourselves as the same?

I found it difficult to comprehend Miller’s levels of genres. Especially when she proposes the idea of “hybrid”(164). May I plainly understand them as different discourse registers? Such as formal literary genres, popular culture genres such as speech, blogs, and son on? My excitement of the genre got a headache when I try to understand her figures(160-162). I have to research them this weekend. Nevertheless, the implications and conclusion she arrives is brilliant and easy to digest. The conventions of a society that archetypal theory draw inspirations from focus on the collectiveness of human beings, or, at least, on a certain group of human beings. Miller sees how the conventions of society shape our group behaviors(163). Her use of the word “hierarchy” in depicting “levels of meaning” is both rewarding and terrifying, for we have to pill the onion step by step or drawing figures to illustrate the primary situations, which develops and changes from time to time. I did this in my study of Bildungsroman and its sub genre the female bildungsroman, then I had to apply it to a thick novel whose thread I lost from time to time. Therefore, I guess it is huge task to draw a figure of human history to see different cultures, or, simply how woman’s rights evolve throughout history.

I love Miller’s practical conclusion that genres help classroom education, although her conclusion seems a little lighter than her whole argumentation. In fact, my experience of study literary genre even helps me in real life. I think with a broader spectrum, rhetorical genre study should be more rewarding. Like what we do nowadays in the classroom, blogging, twittering, and other forms of social media composition can actually bring social change—the kind of recipe(Robert said this word on Tuesday) to our society and our world. Current acdemia witnesses the coming-of-age of rhetorical genre study, Miller and other pieces sort of leads us to the epiphany of genre studies. However, we also face challenges concerning the paradigms of genre study and how to evaluate different genres including composition on social networks provided that people have different cultural backgrounds. Would new media be a way to solve the problem? I mean, intercultural communication is difficult, and we probably have to go back to the most primitive symbol system, the collective unconsciousness that we share. For example, I can do a comparative study of two figures and see what symbols they apply to a certain rhetoric and how the symbols are similar or different in displaying meanings.

Therefore, these readings actually compose the coming-of-age of genre study.


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