initial states

these phantom splits. Karen Kopelson argues (can i just pause here to thank god for the online version of CCC because the print journal's print is too small for my 45 year-old eyes!), based upon surveys of graduate students and faculty, that these splits define our field. possibly. but not necessarily, and maybe not on as grand a scale as we've created for our "battles" (god, we really must do away with the militaristic metaphors. really. now. okay?).

composition -- humanistic, humane, (read Mike Rose) pragmatic, sometimes vital, and culturally relevant (read Mike Rose), drew from many fields as a way of shaping its theories of writing. that made sense, especially if we agree that composition is/has been interdisciplinary and if we concur with ID scholar Julie Thompson Klein that interdisciplinary projects work toward solving problems that have not been or cannot be adequately addressed using the theoretical and methodological apparatus of a single discipline. writing fit here. why were Harvard students underprepared? if "top-tier" students weren't writing well, what might we do to help all students, even or especially those who were/are less-than-ideally ready for academic life/work? big, troubling (ID) problem. [i love that an interdisciplinary -- ID -- problem is also an ID problem].

so we labored to find ways. intedisciplinarity made/makes sense. rhetoric made sense. rhetoric is everything, at least ID. so, where are the limits?

that teaching formed our initial or emerging states of coherence meant that our evolution would seem to be contingent upon work that focused upon teaching, or, say, work that was contextualized by teaching, or work that gestured toward teaching. funny, rhetoric was historically about teaching. teaching to live in the world (not just the classroom). teaching effective language/communication skills. teaching ethics, etc. so too, today. so but i keep hearing about the "constraints" and "limits" that are so "crippling" and otherwise frustrating, but, well, turning to teaching makes sense (to me) -- we do teach writing as context-specific; we teach and maybe practice an awareness of rhetorical efficacy that is contingent upon contextualizing discourse. that we've "used" the classroom seems to me not so much a limitation but a kind of (at times) liberating move. in early stages of my dissertation, i was just wandering like a madwoman (sorry, Joe), vibing out in the heavy, polymorphic theoretical universe i'd discovered. but why write that thing? why share my vibe? to what end?

what do you mean,
you don't follow?
it's all there.

bonnie, you have no method.
you have no context.

(totally embarrassed and ashamed
and feeling reallyreallysmall)
ouch . . .
(a beat)
okay. well, . . .
(a seriously uncomfortable beat)
um . . .
please, help me shape my context.
because i have all these things to say
and it all feels so important
and urgent and necessary
and maybe you, my colleagues
(many of you, teachers)
and maybe my students
(you have some too, right?)
feel/think/want to argue (about)
these things as well, and . . .
well, help me to find my context, okay?

of course, i'm thinking through Karen's piece by recalling my own experience of that resistance to the pedagogical imperative, to the "limits" of disciplinary discourse. and what i'm writing here is simply my initial response to Karen's piece, so i hope you'll indulge a bit of play. i don't want to treat her work as anything other than seriously useful in that her work provides context for a sense of a series of discipline-specific (and surely extradisciplinary) problems. situating and resituating these problems is in part what we do, so i appreciate what Karen has done to help us think openly about these histories, myths, and problems. i am especially interested to hear how many graduate students perceive these constructs. i do wish the "splits" could be perceived as ghosts, that we could choose to believe or not, that the material conditions of our work enabled us to dismiss the need for relative clarity and purpose and that we could all vibe out together blissfully. maybe i can choose to believe that we are [some of us, sometimes, somewhere(s)] already there.


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