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1 Introduction IN CONTEMPORARY COMPOSITION THEORY, RHETORICAL INVENtion is commonly viewed as the private act of an individual writer for the particular event of producing a text, typically a theme or an essay. Models ofprewriting and invention cited in composition textbooks and articles are frequently based on what I will refer to as a Platonic view of rhetorical invention. They conceive of invention as individual introspection: ideas are created in the mind of an atomistic individual and then expressed to the rest of the world. Invention is regarded as an unfolding, a manifestation of an individual 's ideas, feelings, voice, personality, and patterns ofthought. Like Plato's metaphor ofthe soul whose \vings unfold when it is reminded of the ideal forms it once beheld, this view of invention stresses the recovery and expression ofan individual's inner (and perhaps latent) voice or innate cognitive structures. Truth is sought through purely individual efforts.·while a Platonic view ofinvention encourages self-expression and reassures writers of their inner resources, it sketches an incomplete picture of what happens when writers invent, and it may unduly constrain the development of processes of invention. This study argues that rhetorical invention is better understood as a social act, in which an individual who is at the same time a social being interacts in a distinctive way with society and culture to create something. Viewed in this way, rhetorical invention becomes an act that may involve speaking and writing, and that at times involves more than one person; it is furthermore an act initiated by writers and completed by readers, extending over time through a series of transactions and texts. While others are thus implicated in invention, say- 2 Invention as a Social Act ing that invention is best understood as a social act neither denies an individual the possibility of creating something original nor frees her from personal responsibility for what she invents. The social aspects of rhetorical invention are significant, constituting much more than a mere setting or environment within which the creative acts of individuals occur. Invention may first of all be seen as social in that the selfthat invents is, according to many modern theorists, not merely socially influenced but even socially constituted. Furthermore, one invents largely by means oflanguage and other symbol systems, which are socially created and shared. Invention often occurs through the socially learned process of an internal dialogue with an imagined other, and the invention process is enabled by an internal social construct of audience, which supplies premises and structures of beliefs that guide the writer. Invention becomes explicitly social when writers involve other people as collaborators , or as reviewers whose comments aid invention, or as "resonators" who nourish the development of ideas. To create discourses such as contracts, treaties, and business proposals, two or more writers must invent together. Finally, invention is powerfully influenced by social collectives, such as institutions, bureaucracies, and governments, which transmit expectations and prohibitions, encouraging certain ideas and discouraging others. Before exploring what it means to adopt a social perspective, I must describe the view of the function and scope of rhetorical invention that forms the basis for this study. In contrast to what E. W. Harrington has called a "narrow" view regarding invention as a scheme for remembering or locating topics to apply to an immediate argument, I emphasize what Harrington calls a "broad" view of invention : "the problem of finding [or making, I would add] sound subject matter, of seeking to find all relationships that might exist between what could be known about the situation and the immediate problem to be discussed, in short, the attempt to be wise as well as eloquent." 1 Conceiving of rhetorical invention as a search for wisdom-a search that involves analyzing subjects, audiences, and problems as well as generating and judging ideas, information, propositions, and lines of reasoning-aligns rhetorical invention closely with inquiry or with "invention" in the generic sense: the creation ofwhat is new in any discipline or endeavor. Rhetorical invention becomes a species of invention in general. Introduction 3 While my primary aim is to gain a more comprehensive understanding of what we have come to think of as rhetorical invention, I have found that it is not easy and not always desirable to separate rhetorical invention from the other species of invention. The act of inventing-which may involve remembering or finding or actively creating something-relates to the process of inquiry, to creativity, to poetic and aesthetic invention. While these...


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