Damian Baca’s piece presents an extremely important topic to consider in discourse on the global turn in composition and rhetoric. He introduces the idea that the global turn, spoken of by Hesford and others, is not a new phenomenon that has emerged, rather, it took root about 500 years prior, in the onset of European exploration and colonialism in the “new world.” Early on in the text, he discusses the dominating Eurocentric Myth related to the evolution of rhetoric and clearly explains its various falsehoods. In describing this myth, he writes, ‘“As seen from within a Eurocentric narrative, Composition’s rhetorical history is rationalized from East to West, ‘“from Ancient Greece to Modern America”’ (Baca 229). The United States ultimately falls within this “history” as the end stage and center point of current rhetorical authority.
Baca pays special attention to Spanish conquests in his discussion, particularly the violent, aggressive reinvention of the cultural “other.” (Baca 230) This “Aristotelian syndrome,” soon led to the destruction or suppression of multiple other native rhetorical traditions throughout Asia. In other words, the reinvention of native composition and rhetorical traditions was not merely a side effect of colonization, but an active attempt at eliminating thought processes and communication styles that the European “center” could not practice or understand. Baca cites theological reasoning of the colonization of Mesoamerica and brutal suppression of the culture, which sought to justify these actions by deeming them necessary attempts at civilizing barbarians who did not even have a system of writing. (Baca 236) He then quotes Franciscan, Diego Landa, who wrote:
These people used certain characters…with which they wrote in their books about their antiquities and their sciences; with these, and with figures, and certain signs in the figures, they understood their matters, made them known, and taught them. We found a great number of books…and since they contained nothing but superstitions and falsehoods of the devil we burned them all, which they took most grievously, and which gave them great pain. (236)
This statement clearly demonstrates what Baca refers to as, “Imperial hubris,” and shows the attitude of dominance held by the “center” in relation to the periphery or other (236). It acknowledges other forms of writing, but seeks to suppress them and ultimately replace them because of misguided feelings of superiority and enlightenment. Ironically, despite theological opinions suggesting that the natives were unaware of written communication, Landa notes that the destruction of native texts resulted in great sadness. However, it would seem that these attempts at eradicating native tradition were not wholly successful. In attempting to shed light on the global turn towards digital composition and representation, Baca suggests that colonialism fueled a similar situation in which European rhetorical tradition and Mesoamerican rhetorical tradition unevenly combined. The digital age presents a similar phenomenon in that the Roman alphabet is no longer the only option in terms of digital texts. With globalization, a heightened awareness, and the rapid advances in technology, digital composition allows for great diversity in alphabetical and pictographic composition.
However, I would like to draw attention to another important issue, taking into consideration Baca’s piece. Writing center pedagogy is undoubtedly at the center of my graduate, academic pursuits. Part of the experience of being a writing center tutor is working with students who come from a variety of national, social, and thus rhetorical backgrounds. As someone who is trained in the western rhetorical tradition, and follows the Roman alphabet, I frequently come across multiple students who come from different rhetorical backgrounds. Although there are greater implications related to writing center ethics here, I am more interested in the approach that tutors take to sociocultural and rhetorical differences. I am guilty of practicing the aforementioned reinvention within a writing center setting, more out of necessity than ignorance. As Muriel Harris notes, writing center tutors inhabit a unique role that hovers between student and teaching. In the collaborative exchange between tutor and student there is supposed to be mutual learning. However, we might often find ourselves imposing the rules we have been taught and are expected to follow ourselves, giving little thought to the rich rhetorical traditions our students often have. Thus we might perpetuate this 500 year old practice of imperial subjugation, just in a different context. As I mentioned before, this is not necessarily intentional. As tutors, we are aware of teacher requirements and because we have a responsibility to teach rather than fix, we might find ourselves devaluing other rhetorical traditions to ensure that the student does well, and can perform in their current sociocultural and academic environment. Baca calls for greater awareness of the true history of globalization and how it relates to the composition field. He also suggests that we might be able to dismantle the Aristotelian syndrome in this heightened state of awareness of the effects of colonialism on the development of composition. As useful and necessary as awareness is, it has its limitations. Dismantling the Aristotelian syndrome is no easy task in a writing center when we, as tutors, are aware of the academic expectations of professors. We are often required, not of our own volition, to continue in the legacy of forced reinvention that began in the colonial period. This limitation begs the question, how do we reconcile awareness and the requirements of an institutionalized rhetorical tradition of subjugation and suppression? I suppose we could take a similar approach as has been suggested with teaching ELLs. We could uphold the value of their native rhetorical traditions, arguing that the awareness of their cultural rhetorical traditions will be a distinct advantage in communication. However, how often, in our current social, professional, and academic settings, are we required to write in another rhetorical tradition. Occasionally, perhaps, but by and large, especially in most American, social, academic, and professional settings, we are expected to adhere to the rules of the “center.” What to do, what to do?