Bequest

In an interview with Andrea Lunsford, Gloria Anzaldúa reveals “ [I] was always gotten after for being too curious, for reading. I was being selfish for studying and reading, rather than doing housework. I was selfish because I wasn’t helping the family by reading and writing” (1405). What does that kind of passion feel like, I wonder? Such hunger a child must feel to endure familial censure in order to fill the need.

A college education was my birthright. Paper, pencils, crayons, a paint box, and endless trips to the library – all of the prerequisites – were a given. My mother read to me when all I knew was the rhythm of language and sound of her voice. Meaning emerged later, and I begged again and again for Goodnight Moon, Curious George, The Cat in the Hat, and, later, Amelia Bedelia. Her voice kept peace on the long car trip to my grandfather’s funeral as we celebrated the triumphs and suffered the misfortunes of the Gilbreth family in Cheaper by the Dozen.

Because we could not afford to buy books, we treasured the ones we received as gifts. The Christmas I was six, my grandparents gave me a collection of illustrated fairy tales. Each illustration was a photograph of posed dolls. The dolls were soft and rounded, dressed in finery and draped with jewels. I couldn’t read the words yet, but I didn’t need them. There was the Little Match Girl, ascending to heaven with her grandmother. And there, breathtakingly beautiful, was Cinderella, transformed by her fairy godmother. A socially awkward child, I escaped into the lives of the characters and imagined myself rescued by a benevolent old lady and handsome prince.

It was the 1960s, and I lived in a traditional home. I wanted to grow up and either get married or be a stewardess on international flights. My parents told me it was important to go to college, though, no matter what, just for the experience. My dad had graduated from Duke on a NROTC scholarship. My mother had dropped out halfway through her junior year to get married and regretted not graduating. Just about everyone else in her family, for generations back, had a degree from Princeton, Harvard, or both. The question was never, “Are you going to college?” It was, “Where are you going to college?”

I wanted my parents to be proud of me, and they were, as long as I did my best. In high school, it was pretty easy to make my parents proud with a modest amount of effort. Then, spring of my junior year, I was selected for a six-week summer residency program. Eight hundred students from around the state would live on two college campuses during the summer. My counselor advised me to apply for early admissions to college, as many students were unhappy with the return to a high school environment. (Remember, this was way before high schools had open campuses.)

I took her advice and, shortly after I turned 17, began my freshman year of college. The first two years went well. My college was small with a maximum class size of 25. Professors taught first and published second. It was still fairly easy to have fun and keep my parents proud. My junior year, though, I was ready to leave the South. I transferred to Utah State and experienced extreme culture shock. My classes were large and impersonal. I was well into my major and wasn’t prepared for the rigors of organic chemistry, physics, and cell biology all at once. I was used to getting good grades, though, so I began dropping classes and lying to my parents.

I finally decided to take a break from college. Friends told me I was making a mistake and predicted that I would never go back. I knew they were wrong; I had destiny on my side. I just needed some time to grow up. While I hadn’t been too young to leave high school, I was too young for where I found myself now. I worked and played for a year, then went back and took all of those classes I’d been dreading, mostly enjoying myself. I had mixed feelings when I graduated, though. It took me five and a half years, not four. It was from Utah State University, not Princeton. I had pretty much met the minimum requirement. My parents were still proud of me; they have always been my cheerleaders. However, there was also the self-imposed life in the shadow of cousins with degrees from Vanderbilt and resumes of founding respite centers or Ronald McDonald houses in their hometowns.

What does this mean? How does it relate to Anzaldúa? I was aware as I read her narrative how keenly, regardless of intent, parents affect their children’s perceptions of who they are and who they are meant to be, for better or for worse.

Lunsford, A. A. (2009). Toward a Mestiza rhetoric: Gloria Anzaldúa in composition and postcoloniality. S. Miller (Ed.), The Norton Book of Composition Studies (pp. 3-29). New York: W. W. Norton. (Original work published 1998)

Can I use cat mutilation to sell, as long as it’s artistic?

I sat down today with the intent of creating a shocking image, something truly offensive. I thought about cutting up a picture of a baby, splashing the body parts with red, sticking them on spikes, and arranging them artfully, like table settings. You know, something Vlad the Impaler might have enjoyed. I went so far as to Google images of concentration camp victims, thinking I could place them around the table as diners. It shouldn’t have been too difficult to follow the design principles of contrast, repetition, alignment, and proximity, right?

I couldn’t do it, though. Which brings up an interesting aside. Even though I just wrote about the image, I couldn’t actually create it. We talked in class today about the complexity, power, and transparency of words and images relative to each other. For me, at least, this illustrates – metaphorically, of course – one case where the visual image is simply too horrific for me to create, even though I could imagine it and write it.

Of course, I don’t enjoy offensive images for their own sake. And, in this case, I decided it was too offensive to use even to make my point. So here’s what I composed instead:

 

It’s my response to Wysocki and, indirectly, Kant.

In “The Sticky Embrace of Beauty,” Anne Wysocki (2004) discusses her dual reactions of aesthetic appreciation and anger when viewing an advertisement featuring a woman who is naked except for thigh-high boots and gloves. Wysocki determines that her appreciation stems from the ad’s exemplary design, but then goes on to question why its design is exemplary. She traces our culture’s notions of beauty to Kant, whose beliefs about beauty have caused a couple of problems. First, because he thought beauty was a universal quality, determining the essential beauty of something became an analytical process in which the form of that thing was divorced from the actual thing (the content). This led to detachment on the part of the judge, which, in turn, devalued the object of beauty.

Because beauty, itself, is a value-laden term, Wysocki argues that, in order to change this objectification, especially of women, we need to change the way we evaluate visual images. In part, this depends on constructing ideas of beauty in reciprocal relationships.

So why did I make this image, albeit a very conventional one in terms of design principles? Wysocki’s essay brought up interesting and important points that I’d never considered about the cultural values in something that, on the surface, seems neutral, such as the visual pleasure to be found in contrast and repetition.  However, her essay also left me wanting. She didn’t address content to my satisfaction. I tend to live by the principle “form follows function.” An equivalent would be something like, “form serves content.” The main reason I care about form in my image is that I want people to find it arresting enough that they will linger, hopefully catching the message.

That’s why I abandoned the cut-up baby idea. It would get across, probably better than my elephant picture, that content matters. However, I decided it’s really not an image I want to create and share, even if it sells my point.

Source

Wysocki, Anne F. “The Sticky Embrace of Beauty.” Writing New Media: Theory and Applications for Expanding the Teaching of Composition. Ed. Anne F. Wysocki, Johndan Ohnson-Eilola, Cynthia L. Selfe, and Geoffrey Sirc. Logan: Utah State UP, 2004. 147-73. Print.

A Picture for Daniel and Tasha

Two of my students have been on this site and pronounced it boring. They think a picture might spice it up. Being a teacher, it goes against the grain to just post a pretty picture, so I’m posting a picture that is a result of playing the exquisite corpse drawing game.

For Daniel and Tasha: You know how we’ve written exquisite corpse poems in class? You can do the same thing with drawing. Instead of writing a line of poetry, you draw a “row” of a picture/character. You leave just a bit of the lines showing when you fold the paper down, just enough for the next person to connect to. We’ll have to try it sometime, maybe as a reward after spring break for reading a novel in four days.

By the way, I missed y’all. I can’t believe I got sick right before spring break.

http://mslk.com/reactions/exquisite-corpse-aka-the-drawing-game/

Link to “How Are Schools Supporting the Net Generation?”

While working on my journal analysis assignment, I decided to check my email (just one of the many distractions available on my computer). There was my daily ASCD SmartLinks; the first alluring title, “How Are Schools Supporting the Net Generation?,” grabbed my attention. I had to follow it, of course, and was rewarded with a brief article about an address Don Tapscott gave at the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development’s (ASCD) annual convention (Tapscott is the author of Wikinomics and Grown Up Digital). The article is much too brief, but Tapscott apparently discusses strengths of the digital generation, the need to change pedagogy, and the need to do more than just let kids have at it (digital media) in the classroom if we expect good results. Here’s the link:

http://ascd.typepad.com/blog/2010/03/tapscott.html

A First-Person Summary with Occasional Commentary on the Introduction and First Chapter of “Radical Feminism, Writing, and Critical Agency”

Rhodes believes rhet/comp can learn from the “critical writing and literacy practices” used by radical feminists, both in manifestos of the late 1960s and early 70s and in online sites of today (p. 1223).

I liked Rhodes immediately. In the Introduction, she writes:

Radical feminist textuality, with its emphasis on temporary positionality and its use of available technologies, offers much to compositionists, particularly to those seeking to revisit the issue of agency in cultural studies approaches to composition. These approaches all too often either construct the writer-agent as a site so overdetermined by cultural discourses as to preclude resistance at all, or posit the writer-agent as a readerly subject, one whose ability to act is constituted exclusively by textual consumption. The enactment of agency, especially temporary agency, through text and technology seems particularly relevant to us as we attempt to theorize and teach the negotiation of public and private discourses. (p. 1224)

Take that, Foucault. Someone who knows more than I do and argues better than I can is going to take on the “overdetermined by cultural discourses” theory. I’m looking forward to seeing where Rhodes and the radical feminists take us with writer as agent.

Rhodes maintains that much radical feminist writing challenges corrupt power structures. She also claims that the more aggressive rhetoric of the women’s liberation movement, as opposed to the women’s rights movement, has been suppressed. Rhodes believes that examining the texts of radical feminists and their role in history – that is, including them in the genealogy of feminist discourse – “will contribute to other current efforts in rhetoric and composition studies to retheorize student writers as active producers of the strategic discourses of resistance” (p. 1225).

That leads us, of course, to Foucault. Here we are, in Chapter One, at a section titled “Foucault, Feminism, and Genealogy.” Rhodes is fair, allowing that “even as they might acknowledge Foucault’s importance to the development of critical insights about power and subjectivity, feminists find Foucault’s gender blindness and his negation of agency problematic” (1226). Rhodes doesn’t try to deny these tensions; she pretty much says that Foucault has influenced our thinking and current theory, and we should both recognize that and take what is useful. In other words, don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.

Rhodes uses two collections of texts by women authors to explore how feminism is portrayed and how this portrayal affects feminist thought in composition. Feminine Principles and Women’s Experience in American Composition and Rhetoric, by Phelps and Emig, presents an essentialist view of feminism that portrays women as collaborative and nurturing (1229). That is, there exists an authentic woman who can only write through process pedagogy, when freed from pleasing the male teacher (pp. 1231 – 32). This collection omits texts by radical feminists, giving passing mention to “consciousness raising,” which radical feminists saw as only the first step to the more important goal of protest and political action (p. 1233). Rhodes refers to another anthology, Jarratt and Worsham’s Feminism and Composition Studies: In Other Words, for a more thorough treatment of radical texts and genealogy. Rhodes leaves us with lots of questions about the role of feminism in rhet/comp and the problematic nature, as always, of asking such questions. Of course, when we ask “What is women’s rhetoric?” (p. 1237), we run the risk of universalizing women. However, these are questions that still need to be asked. Rhodes writes that “the history we tell becomes the present that we value, and the resent that we tell becomes the history that we value” (pp. 1237 – 38). We need to value the role that radical feminists have played, and to do that, we need to risk looking at “where it reinforces the argument we already want to make about collaborative pedagogy, or women’s ways, or difference” (p. 1238).

Rhodes, J. (2009). from Radical feminism, writing, and critical agency: From manifesto to modem. In S. Miller (Ed.), The Norton Book of Composition Studies (pp. 1223-1242). New York: W. W. Norton. (Original work published 2005)

Questioning the Definition of Composition, in the Privileged Mode

This week, we’re discussing an issue I struggle with, both philosophically and practically: How do we define composition? Whether we’re embracing the 21st century, ELLs, students from cultures with strong oral traditions, or students with a strong visual-spatial learning preference (and the list goes on), there are many reasons to question the exclusive position that print text holds in most language arts classrooms.

Cindy Selfe (2010) argues for “multimodal composing,” and while her essay focuses on aurality, she ultimately calls for students to “have a full palette of rhetorical and semiotic resources on which to draw” (p. 645). In his response to her essay, Doug Hesse (2010), while not completely disagreeing, does raise two important questions: 1) How do we define the “curricular space” of composition? and 2) Ethically, who does the composition class serve? (p. 603).

 These two questions are intertwined. I’ll be idealistic for a moment, and answer the second question the way that I want to. I want to serve both the student and the citizenry. In other words, I want to serve the student to express herself/himself as an individual and to help give the student the resources to become whatever he/she wants. I also, however, think public schools are charged with teaching students critical thinking skills to be part of our democracy, to be able to analyze issues and make decisions so they can vote, for example, according to their own beliefs. This leads back to the first question. If this is what I want to achieve, what do I include in a composition course?

 Now the practical part, the scared part, the overwhelmed part of me pipes up, and says, “Hey, I can’t do it all, you know. I barely have time to teach kids how to structure persuasive text, and that’s what they’re tested on, anyway. You know? CSAP? SAT? College essays?”

 Although . . . a woman who got hired at our school last year – long distance, from Hawaii – did it with a multimodal CD of her work and a phone interview. And a friend just interviewed this month via Skype. She’s going to work in Brazil.

 Two points came up in class today. The first I’ve been arguing for almost a year, but I’m starting to waver. Christine brought up the point that English departments may be overreaching again, much as they did in their early history. (Remember Parker’s (1967) description of voracious English departments gobbling up linguistics, philology, oratory, elocution, and all forms of composition, including journalism, before their “inevitable disintegration” (p. 13)?) The second point was that these other literacies, these other semiotic systems, should be an option; teachers don’t necessarily have to know how to teach them, but should simply allow their students to use them.

 Rather than making an argument of my own in response to the first point – since I still don’t know where I stand – I’m going to offer a quote I like because it addresses the issue of English department “imperialism.” Carrie Jewitt (2008) recognizes

the criticism that multimodality is a kind of linguistic imperialism that imports and imposes linguistic terms on everything. But these critics overlook the fact that much of the work on multimodality has its origins in a particular strand of linguistics: namely, the social semiotic theory of communication first proposed by Halliday (1978). This strand of research on language and communication foregrounds meaning and the ways in which language contributes to the construction of social life. The social component of this approach to language sets it apart from narrower concerns with syntactic structures, language and mind and language universals that have long dominated the discipline. From a multimodal perspective this view of communication can be applied to all modes, to gesture and image no less and no more than to speech and writing. (pp. 363 – 364)

 Which brings me to the second point made in class. If we are simply striving to accept non-print modes in composition, than allowing, but not teaching, them is adequate. However, if we think they are critical skills for success, than just allowing them is not enough. This could perpetuate existing inequities, where only those who have access to technology – and, often, tech-savvy parents (most of my tech-savvy kids have parents in engineering/software careers) – bring those skills to class and incorporate them in their work.

References 

Selfe, C. L. (2009). The movement of air, the breath of meaning: Aurality and multimodal composing. College Composition and Communication, 60(4), 616-659.

Hesse, D. (2010). Response to Cynthia L. Selfe’s “The movement of air, the breath of meaning: Aurality and multimodal composing.” College Composition and Communication, 61(3), 602-605.

Jewitt, C. (2008). Multimodal discourses across the curriculum. In M. Martin-Jones, M. A. De, & N. H. Hornberger (Eds.), Encyclopedia of Language and Education. (2nd ed., Vol. 3, pp. 357-367). New York, N.Y.: Springer.

Parker, W. R. (2009). Where Do English Departments Come From? In S. Miller (Ed.), The Norton Book of Composition Studies (pp. 3-29). New York: W. W. Norton. (Original work published 1967)

Expressivist Bookends

Here I sit, in the nether regions between night and morning – trying to sort through my thoughts on the role of Expressivism in academic discourse.

I’m charmed by Macrorie’s Engfish, or “the phony, pretentious language of the schools” (297). Kinneavy’s introduction demonstrates Engfish when, in the second page, he writes, “A fortiori, the author felt the expressionistic theory of literature to be an unfortunate historical error of nineteenth-century Romanticism” (373). After I looked up “a fortiori,” I still had to read the sentence – and the previous sentences – several times. The author? Was Kinneavy really referring to himself? I couldn’t find another author that could logically serve as the referent, and then I thought to check the copyright date –1971. Yes, the injunction against first person in academic writing really was that strong in the 1970s. “The author” must be Kinneavy. I’m so happy we’ve left behind that stilted voice, although secondary teachers still seem to require it.

Additionally, Macrorie offers a heuristic; he layers a variety of writerly advice on top of Expressivism:

  • Create tension and surprise with opposing facts.
  • Couple surprising events with sound.
  • Write with an authentic voice.
  • Use authentic voices for characters.
  • Write concisely.
  • Use appropriate, yet surprising, metaphors.
  • Use action verbs.
  • Use repetition, including parallel structure.

 Macrorie also offers exercises for finding ideas, or the “truth,” which revolve around free writes and guided free writes. Macrorie does acknowledge that there isn’t a single truth (“whoever knows surely what that is?”) (300).

Kinneavy actually hooks me at the beginning of his introduction when he writes that expressionism emerged at the end of the 19th century when “much emotional language was left unclassified, for it seemed clear that not all emotional language could be neatly parceled out into persuasion and literature” (373). Curricula and standardized tests still try to force texts into four narrow purposes: entertain, persuade, inform, and explain. I bring this up with my students, although some are a little young and it confuses them and probably lowers their test scores.  However, we read many texts – especially poetry and personal narratives – where the purpose seems to be to communicate, at a very fundamental level – an emotion, perhaps a personal connection with nature or another person or an event. I end up, rather lamely, telling my students that they should just mark “entertain” if they get this on a standardized test, but that I’m very unhappy with the limited possibilities given.

Anyway, Kinneavy loses me after this. He paraphrases Sartre and claims that “emotion is simply a way by which consciousness chooses to live its relationship with the world” (378). While emotion may be one way, Kinneavy, and most likely other expressionists, discount the role of reason.

Now, still searching for what it all means when it comes to teaching writing, I read just a bit of Bartholomae (I haven’t read all of Thursday’s texts yet) for another point of view. I don’t agree with everything he said, but I did appreciate his honesty. For example, I do believe “that there is no writing done in the academy that is not academic writing. To hide the teacher is to hide the traces of power, tradition and authority present at the scene of writing” (63). MLA, APA, thesis committees, our professors – they have the power of tradition, of convention, and they do expect academic writing with critical analysis. Even in a class that allows more freedom – one that allows papers in genres other than the critical essay, for example – we are still expected to “write smart” by applying critical theory and connecting what we write to the course texts/course themes. I don’t disagree with this. Where would the discipline be in getting to “free write” regardless of the class topic?

Where I disagree with Bartholomae – and maybe this is also where I also find room for Expressivism within academic writing – is when he rejects teaching creative nonfiction/literary nonfiction. When Bartholomae suggests the potential benefits of teaching creative nonfiction, he includes “the pleasure or power of authorship.” He then goes on to say that would also be giving students the pleasure “to write as though they were not the products of their time, politics and culture, not our products, as though they could be free, elegant, smart, independent, the owners of all that they say.” Bartholomae then rejects this, preferring to “teach or preside over a critical writing, one where the critique is worked out in practice, and for lack of better terms I would call that writing, ‘academic writing.’” (71).

This viewpoint seems unnecessarily narrow. Even Bartholomae admits that his colleagues write literary nonfiction, what he also terms “blurred genres, not free writing” (68). Creative nonfiction is not free writing. The “I” may be at the center of the text, yet the text can still incorporate critical theory. Or the “I” does not even need to be at the center of the text. Creative nonfiction is a broad category, opening up a wide range of possibilities outside the traditional academic essay, without abandoning academic thought.

A personal story — an anecdote, not research – to offer as I close. Writing about yourself seems to be all the rage nowadays. Maybe it’s to build community in the classroom. Maybe it’s to give kids a voice. Maybe it’s to help kids understand that they do not exist in a vacuum, that they are formed by their pasts, society, family, culture, choices they make, and so on. Anyway, they’ve been writing about themselves for years, and in multiple subjects. My son is in 10th grade, and he’s tired of writing about himself. He has other stuff he would much rather write about (almost anything at this point): the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Electoral College, anything he’s heard on The Daily Show. In our carpool, I asked his friend, “So Tyler, how do you feel about these projects where you –“ “I hate them.” I didn’t even get to finish the question; he knew what I was going to ask, because it’s about the only kind of project they do.

There isn’t one right way to teach. Even within a school, different years bring different needs. And, of course, individuals vary so much. Process-oriented will work for some kids. Others will freeze if they don’t have a lot of structure. Some love to write personal stuff. Others are private and don’t want the classroom to be a second home.

But I do think the ability to construct an argument is important.

Works Cited

Bartholomae, David. “Writing with Teachers: A Conversation with Peter Elbow.” College Composition and Communication 46.1 (1995): 62-71. JSTOR. Web. 9 Jan. 2008.

Kinneavy, James L. “Expressive Discourse?” 1971. The Norton Book of Composition Studies. Ed. Susan Miller. New York: W. W. Norton, 2009. 372-86. Print.

Macrorie, Ken. “The Poison Fish” 1985. The Norton Book of Composition Studies. Ed. Susan Miller. New York: W. W. Norton, 2009. 297-313. Print.