Journal of Literacy and Technology
Volume 1, Issue 2
Electric Rhetoric: New and Challenging Ways to Re-Read Discourse
Book Review by Noemi Marin, Assistant Professor, Department of Communication, Florida
Atlantic University (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Kathleen E. Welch, Electric Rhetoric: Classical Rhetoric, Oralism, and a New Literacy. Digital
Communication Series, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1999. 240 pp. Bibliographic references, and
index. $35.00 (cloth), ISBN 0-262-23202-2.
Kathleen Welch's Electric Rhetoric is a timely and intriguing articulation against traditional
rhetorical venues for practicing discourse in American education. Clearly a manifesto for
Sophistic rhetoric in the new era of Web literacy and visual or screen discourse, Welch provides
ample deconstruction of the metaparadigms dominant as traditional practices of old rhetorical
concepts in the classroom. Bridging, as the title announces, classical rhetoric, in particular,
Isocrates' Sophistic rhetoric with digital communication in contemporary US practices of
television and computerized screens, Welch enrolls in a rigorous rhetorical crusade. Her aim is to
realign rhetorical practices of the old (and new) times to the novel challenges that electric
literacy posits for students and educators alike. Basing her position on the experiences of
Rhetoric and Composition Programs on writing in the American academic system, Welch's main
focus is twofold. On one hand, as Welch reinstantiates Isocratic rhetoric as the locus for new
challenges of the 21st century, the author revises and "rehistoricizes" rhetorical concepts (to use
her own term, as "it acknowledges the subjectivity of the writer and distances the writer and her
writing from the still dominant history writing produces by purportedly neutral historian," p. 24).
Meanwhile, she articulates on a side the limitations of Isocrates' views for complex, multiple
rhetorical discourse in current times. On the other hand, Welch demonstrates that such a