More reading notes for chapter 2

Vitanza, Victor. “A Tagmemic Heuristic for the Whole Composition.” CCC 30.3 (Oct. 1979): 270-274.


Vitanza takes a new view of tagmemic heuristics and its usefulness to writers by applying it to paragraph-level structures.  Vitanza points out the importance of prewriting and invention strategies for writers, pointing out that “a serious writer spends a majority of his or her time at the prewriting stage, whether in doing research, in sifting through notes, in formulating a thesis from a given topic, in outlining, or in deciding on method and arrangement” (270).  Vitanza also points out that many teachers recognize the importance though they often feel that they cannot “systematically teach students the methods of this process” (270).  Vitanza does a nice job of defining some often-used words in invention studies:


  • Heuristics: “methods of examining and solving problems” (270). Examples of heuristics for Vitanza include brainstorming, journaling, Rohman’s “prewriting,” K. Burke’s “dramatistic method (the pentad)” (270), and Young, Becker, and Pike’s “tagmemic invention” [I really need to check out their book Rhetoric: Discovery and Change (1970)]. . .Is there such a thing as a non-heuristic invention strategy, according to Vitanza? Hmm. . .
  • Tagmemic invention (Becker, Pike, and Young): “to explore any idea or thing thoroughly (whether it be to solve a problem or to retrieve or discover information about a particular subject), one must first of all perceive the ‘unit characteristics’ of Contrast (how a thing differs from anything else), of Range of Variation (how much it can change and still be itself), and of Distribution (how it fits into hierarchies of larger systems); secondly one must view this thing from the ‘perspectives’ of Particle, Wave, and Field. . .The result is a. . .finite set of  content-oriented topics that allows students at the prewriting stage to view a thing quite systematically from nine clearly defined perspectives” (270-271). . .Are these unit characteristics potentially topoi or am I topoi-happy now??
  • Vitanza identifies what he calls “rhetorical patterns” (271) at paragraph levels. 3 basic patterns: 1. Topic, Restriction, Illustration; 2. Problem and Solution; 3. Question and Answer. Vitanza believes these patterns “can be effectively implemented as a set of form-oriented topics or contented [sic?]-oriented topics (depending on one’s perspective) for the development of individual paragraphs” (272); Vitanza also suggests that these patterns could be applied as a heuristic to the whole composition (272).  . .I worry that this could make writing too formulaic, though it is a nice way to connect the importance of organization/structure and invention/prewriting. Vitanza addresses my worries when he contends that the heuristic could be misused/misinterpreted as “rule-governed or mechanical” (274), though Vitanza stresses the importance of seeing this heuristic as a “discovery procedure” (274), not a formula.
  • Vitanza ends with an interesting (to me) quote from Kenneth Pike: “Rules and patterns cannot of themselves create a man. Something within him, beyond language forms or training, determines whether he will be highly creative of beauty or of truth. The depth of beauty of his production-or even the fact that he produces at all-may nevertheless depend on his understanding of the language mechanisms of beauty and pattern” (274).
  • I worry that this is a hindsight view of invention: Vitanza is analyzing finished products for patterns and while it might be valuable to understand rhetorical patterns, I wonder if using this as a heuristic could be too restrictive for writers. . .though I suppose the point of heuristics is to give writers some parameters within which to work.

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