Friday, February 23, 2007

Farewell, beef

(That's what Carnival means, you know. So long, meals of flesh. I'm a vegetarian, so I've got no problem with this.)

Anyway, the Trimbur Carnival is rolling along! Thanks, everyone, for your contributions so far. I think most entries have links here, either in the main post or in the comments--with the exception of Lance's contribution. Anyone else?

I'm finding myself particularly intrigued by Alex's description of what his institution's professional writing program manages to hold in balance, the dance between what Trimbur calls writing as noun and writing as participle:
In my experience, a professional writing program offers a significant means to explore writing. We study writing (both verb and noun) as Trimbur suggests. We practice writing. We study by practicing and practice by studying. We have courses like "Rhetoric" and "Contemporary Poetics" and "Evolution of Writing" where we read about writing and write and talk about writing. They are seminars I suppose. I suppose you could say we offer our students a cultural studies perspective, if the alternatives are a process orientation or a functional-transactional orientation.

However, I see it differently. In curriculum design we've long imagined courses as building upon one another, as connecting to one another. Now that network is technologically possible. Students can build and access information across courses and semesters. In terms of networking, it's nothing special. In terms of curriculum I think it points the way out of the seminar. Furthermore, it makes it easier to trace linkages rather than leap (as Latour says) from the local interaction to the specter of ideology.

And isn't that just it? The ability to offer more and connections, rather than, say, to understand all classes as doing one thing: studying writing or offering practice in writing. As Derek asks, can't we think additively rather than substitutively?

Maybe the difficulty in thinking additively, though, points to a problem in this thing we call "comp/rhet," as Lance suggests:
But saying that reveals a still deeper rift in our so-called theory wars: whereas composition is, and always has been, a deeply (and primarily) ethical enterprise, writing studies is, first and foremost, a project of discovery: it’s about “understanding how texts and textual practices in some social arena reflect and create certain social relations” (Bazerman and Prior 4). . . Writing studies does not take as its point of departure the edification, liberation, spiritual awakening, or (fill-in-the-blank) of first-year (or any) college students (orientations that both Susan Miller, in “Writing Studies as a Mode of Inquiry,” and Kurt Spellmeyer, in “Education for Irrelevance,” critique).

You know, I have to admit that the idea of composition as liberation has long motivated me. And, like I told a graduate seminar of mine a few years back, I'm under no illusions about where that articulation came from for me--I was raised an evangelical. It's hard to stop believing that I need to save people from something. But evangelism can be pretty stifling. The belief that "composition" itself has to be saved--has to be defended as an "intellectual" enterprise--that, too, seems stifling to me.

Much more interesting is the possibility of doing writing. Of being curious about composing. Of watching what it does.

Which brings me to Jeff's point:
I’d rather call to write (though I am not against the call to study) for the reasons Latour notes. I’d rather call to write as I call for the assemblage, the gathering, the mediating. To do that is not to negate the “study” of writing, but possibly to merge its study with its production, its existence as a body that we examine with a body that continues to change. Isn’t Trimbur’s argument that writing is a practice that “pervades the curriculum”? So why do we, writing teachers, need a call to study writing? What will that do? Can’t we work with this “thing” that pervades?

So, yeah, these days I'm thinking that I just want to do the work. It's strange, isn't it, how "composition" has become this thing that must be laden with value? With moral value? As if it's a person? In my graduate seminar last week we read the Hairston-Radical Guy debates (a debate Trimbur participated in and references in "Changing the Question"), and I was struck by the lack of rhetorical acumen on either side. It was a lot of posturing, a lot of empty accusations. Not a lot of listening. Not a lot of inquiry.

And I'm just finding myself more and more interested in the latter two things these days. And less and less interested in the former two.

And, to go way back to my concern in 2005 about Fulkerson's jumping to the question of what makes writing good and my desire to ask--but what is writing?--I'll say this: I'm still asking that question. But not to answer it. To push an exploration.


chris said...

Hey Donna,
i'm just now joining the party. here's a link to my response.

Lance said...

I think the not-listening you refer to is a good observation and an interesting problem. On the one hand, you'd expect people who study writing and rhetoric to write more persuasively, with the needs/desires of the "other side" in mind. On the other hand, as we all know, writing is about more than just persuasion: it's also about rallying around the flag from time to time.

After all, disciplines are ecologies of a sort, and ecologies thrive not only because of the dense tangle of interdependent relationships among their constituent elements but also because they themselves, more often than not, are constituents in larger-scale ecological systems (ecologies of ecologies). What that means is that even highly-networked systems cannot exist as pure connectivity, but rather must also engage in boundary-maintenance--lest the "constituents" blend into one chaotic (and inevitably short-lived) mass.

Maybe the rally-around-the-flag rhetoric is the boundary-maintenance part of our disciplinary ecology.

Michael Faris said...

I joined too — my post is here.