The Rhetoric of Editing

I have always secretly thought of rhetoric and composition as a boring field with Latin names to describe shit that every reader on this blog does/knows already. One of my new friends has a Ph.D. in rhetoric.

“Um, why rhetoric?” I asked her, trying very hard to sound like I didn’t have an opinion on the matter. “I mean, what interests you in rhetoric?”

“Everything is rhetoric, baby girl,” she said. “Look at the people in the panel.” We were at AWP. “What they are wearing is rhetoric. The way they are sitting is rhetoric. The way we are sitting in the audience is rhetoric.”

And I got it. Everything is narrative, everything is text, everything has meaning. That shit is fascinating.

Yesterday I got involved in helping the same friend figure out what the fuck her editors wanted her to do with an article for publication.  It turns out that the editors had changed a bunch of things in the article without marking the changes, so that the comments they included made no sense.

It turns out I am very good at what I now call forensic editing: figuring out what the fuck someone did to a manuscript. (This comes from long, bitter experience.) I merged documents and began to go through all their changes. My friend was condensing her dissertation into an article, so there was a ton of info and the editors streamlined it a bit.

But they also toned my friend down a lot. She was analyzing a historical debate between a black woman and a white woman. The (white) editors changed the way my (black) friend talked about the white woman in the debate to make her see less racist. I don’t know if it was subconscious or on purpose. They were also condescending as fuck.

For example, everyone in academia and editing knows grown-up academics are often terrible at MLA format. Formatting references is the kind of pain in the ass that you leave to copyeditors. You’re too busy having big thoughts to italicize every single issue number in your reference section. So instead of writing, “Every reference needs a citation and every citation needs a reference in MLA” as if you’re teaching a woman with a Ph.D. the basics of MLA, you should write, “Please check your references and citations one more time.”

That’s when I realized that I am pretty good at the rhetoric of editing. And I began to see that I could very well pursue a Ph.D. in rhetoric if I wanted/needed to. It made sense to me. But I can’t stand the rhetoric of academia. I can’t stand the backbiting and the insecurity. The politics. So I’m going back to my original narrative. The Fucker is my Ph.D. And I’ve got work to do.

What rhetoric do you understand?

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6 responses to “The Rhetoric of Editing

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