Wednesday, February 15, 2006

A beginning: English departments and complexity

Saturday noon, I'll be part of a roundtable (with two colleagues, one in British lit, one in American lit) on the future of English studies. The roundtable is part of my department's English Graduate Student Association's annual conference. I've been agonizing over what to say. What to say, when so much could be said? What to say, when so much (from my view, somewhat on the margins of things) needs to be said?

And with that bit of agonizing going on in part of my brain, I sat down to take a look at what was current on my Bloglines account. And had a lightbulb moment: I'll write about this! This very activity. At this very moment. Here's a quite modest beginning, with some notes on where I'm going. (I'll be talking for only about 7 minutes or so; most of the time will be given over to audience comments and questions.) Feedback most welcome, if the notes make sense.

English Departments and Complexity

Today, the day I’m writing this, I open my bloglines account, read a few new entries from various bloggers in my field, rhetoric and composition.

Debra Hawhee, at Urbana-Champagne, reports just finishing a chapter. Her entry includes a photograph of her desk, stacked with Kenneth Burke’s Attitudes Toward History and Rhetoric of Motives. I know, from Collin’s report of last summer’s Burke conference on his blog, that she’s doing work on Burke’s theory of the body. Cool work, I think—work that links to my own growing interest in affect, habit, and Burke’s theory of motives.

[What I see of significance here: being reminded of work that will surely impact my own; the handy keeping up with what people in my field are doing that both Debra's and Collin's entries demonstrate; the link between rhetorical studies and theoretical studies that many may not be inclined to associate with rhet/comp.]

And Jeff Rice, up at Wayne State, offers this brief entry:

Is blogging like storytelling?
Then where
does this story begin?
Or: which chapter are we on right now?
I love reading Jeff’s blog. It’s often unpredictable, but I can usually predict reading it will do one of two things: make me laugh or make me think. Today, it makes me think. I’ve heard it said that the pleasure of reading blogs is a narrative pleasure. And it’s true that a kind of narrative emerged over the past year in the space between his blog and Jenny’s, culminating in their announcement last December that they’re “getting hitched.” Sure, it was fun to be part of something like an inside story, but that wasn’t what kept me reading Jeff’s or Jenny’s blogs.

[More to come: more blogs, reading blogs and connections to ideas floating in English depts: narrative theory, body theory, aesthetics—as well as ideas that may not be floating outside of rhet/comp or truly cutting edge theory: networks, production, etc. With the goal of noting complexity--that English depts. *are* always already complex, might as well more accurately reflect that complexity through hirings, course offerings, etc. Something like that. Not really trying to be polemical, however: more about trying to show the pleasure I take in my own field and how that field opens up into other areas of interest common to English dept. folk, even as some things could benefit from greater attention.]

[I apologize for the current linklessness; my computer is acting like it wants to freeze up soon, so I need to get this posted. Will add links later.]

{Update: Now with links!]


Collin said...

it will be no surprise that i would say this, but here's an angle i'm just starting to think about: think about how we use a conference program while we're at a conference, locating ourselves, negotiating a vast amount of information successfully.

what if we had the tools to generate a "conference program" of the field, ongoing, updated, organizable, searchable, that we could look at every day? Isn't that something kind of like what we do when we use Bloglines?

The analogy's not quite perfect, but there's something to that, I think, that gets at the usefulness and the connectedness I feel both from the blogosphere and at conferences...


Marcia said...

imho, one area of complexity is the recent proliferation of new PhD programs that have begun from "traditional rhet/comp programs" that are interdisciplinary in nature and also feature new media studies quite prominently.

Marcia said...

Jenny posted recently about composing while moving. On a slightly related note, one thing I've noticed about the reading that is going on for classes is that it is happening as students are walking on the treadmill. Two of the women that sit next to me in my classes have big binder clips on their books. I didn't know why so I asked. They use the clips to hold the books open on the treadmill! I find that fascinating.

Jeff said...

After reading this, I got the impression that what you are saying is that the future of English Studies will involve paying attention to the various conversations going on online - many of which occur in the still young space of weblogging. Without these conversations, we might not be aware of a variety of ideas that will never appear in journals, conferences, or other familiar venues.j

Donna said...

Thanks for your comments, Collin, Marcia, and Jeff! Yeah, Collin, the conference metaphor is right on, though I hadn't thought of it until you mentioned it. I (can) get a similar kind of spark from conferences.

And Marcia, thanks for reminding me of Jenny's post, which actually connects up nicely with Debra Hawhee's work. One of the subtle (or not so subtle) goals I'm working on is to communicate some of the really exciting work going on in the field.

And while I (clearly) hadn't articulated the purpose you mention, Jeff, I really agree with your comment and am going to emphasize that in the talk. I had only gotten so far in my thinking as noticing that there are all these ideas out there that English Studies needs to be able to negotiate, but of course it's pretty glaringly obvious (now that you mention it) that the internet is helping to make the proliferation possible and available.

So, basically, I'm thinking I'm going to offer a variety of quotes from blogs to (1) illustrate some of the exciting work going on in rhetoric, and (2) suggest that English Studies needs to get on board.

Zil said...

I'm not sure I'm going to be able to make it to the conference (in-laws require much care and feeding) but I'm really interested in what you're going to say--and how your fellow panelists will respond.
If I were to be there, I'd ask about some specifics of English Studies getting on board (though is the blogosphere so much a train as it is a kind of parallel reality?). What's different when we use our online personas to communciate rather than our physical ones? Does that always have positive implications for the exchange and dissemination of information?