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October 12, 2006

EL236 Fisking is to Critical Response, as Blogging is to Writing

I've really been thinking about this concept of "fisking." It's bothering me that there wasn't an academic/rhetorical term for this prior to the blogging age. What's bothering me more, though, is the idea that fisking could be substituted for genuine critical thought.

I know that there are disciplines whose main rhetorical strategy is to analyze and criticize. Philosophy, science, art, literature--none of these would advance without looking at the work of others and agreeing or disagreeing and saying why (rhetorical argument).

Since rhetoric is generally known as a persuasive art, this is the sort of thinking that changes the world. There's nothing like a little controversy to fan the fire in some people's hearts and minds, though. I'm not expecting that fisking is all placid or all turbulent. A balance between the two would be nice--there's the gray area I mentioned the other day. Fisking seems to be more like tough-love, when considering one definition I came across:

fisking: n. [blogosphere; very common] A point-by-point refutation of a blog entry or (especially) news story. A really stylish fisking is witty, logical, sarcastic and ruthlessly factual; flaming or handwaving is considered poor form. Named after Robert Fisk, a British journalist who was a frequent (and deserving) early target of such treatment. See also MiSTing, anti-idiotarianism found via David M

A fisk seem like a one-sided argument against a one-sided argument. Not to mention that many of the "fisks" I've come across are pretty scathing. Some say it's not flaming (or even that flaming in fisking is "bad form"), but I'm wondering which definitions are being used for comparison. It depends on how one defines "flaming" as to where "fisking" falls on the scale of flame-to-flop.

Perhaps this presents another weakness in students: the ability to carry on a discussion. In my opinion, without the basic skills of discussion, students are scraping bottom when it comes to critical thinking on a holistic scale. How can they be expected to write critically when they can't address an argument in class? Maybe it's just me, though. It might be because I was given rules for discussion by the high school English teacher who I had for both 9th and 11th grade. (Her name is Deborah Wright, and she's written a book about Student-Centered Discussion (SCD).)

In trying to instill critical thinking/analysis skills to students, I can see where fisking might be a good idea for students who already show a grasp of basic rhetorical concepts. Imparting this task on students who have difficulty with argument, though, is unfair. Expecting them to be able to demonstrate skills they might not have (or be capable of developing though taking only one side of an argument) is almost mockery.

Also, from what I've seen, fisking seems to permit the "fiskers" to ignore any and all information we've learned about writing for the internet. Writers disregard paragraph length, post length, the bolding/chunking concept. the scrolling no-no, and basically any other tips we've discussed in "Hot Text."

Nothing is inherently 100% good or bad, so while I do have a problem with its rhetorical purpose, I'm giving fisking a chance. I think that we could all benefit from more rhetorical discussion of issues; however, I don't think that fisking necessarily teaches the critical skills necessary to refute a point and introduce one's own argument.

Weakness has many faces; so many that none of us are exempt. However, I think that students who are weak at face-to-face discussion can't be expected to succeed at something like critical blogging (or even just plain writing).

Posted by KarissaKilgore at October 12, 2006 11:19 AM


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