Travelling Impact

When I studied abroad summer 2009 with COE it was magical for me. Cliche to say I suppose for it was and I hadn’t read much travel writing yet so I didn’t know I was being cliche. Anyway, COE, like any education-based organization faces budget challenges and I can only assume that that is why they are asking students who studied abroad with them to fill out a survey. It might not be the only reason but, well, anymore you have to fight for legitimacy and data helps.

COE is for low-income, first-generation college students by the way; if they did not exist, studying abroad would not have been a part of getting my undergraduate degree, like I say here (I’m answering the comments part of the survey and may, or may not have gotten a little carried away…):

What was the impact? Okay, I realize that due to this being a survey, the point is to ‘measure’ things. But you can’t. Not really. You can track behavior and influence of others (ripple effect) like your questions are doing above but you can’t measure impact. Everyone had a different experience due to being different individuals. Some people have ‘stewed’ in the memories longer than others. But if you must measure, think of this for impact: not one of us who studied abroad will ever, ever forget it. No one forgets an experience like that even if and when they take it for granted and get to do it often. Also, when you are low-income it is very unlikely indeed that you will take it for granted. I would not have traveled abroad as an undergrad without the COE in Liverpool opportunity. I couldn’t afford it and I didn’t begin to know how to figure out study and travel abroad (there’s a measurement for you – lifelasting travel awareness)and finally, as a low-income student, undergraduate was survival a good majority of the time; studying abroad was something I wanted but was out of my reach. But then it wasn’t. Even if I got to travel with my current partner later, it would not be the same because I would be a dependent of sorts — I wouldn’t have learned and been empowered about traveling on my own, getting lost and finding my way, going alone or coordinating with a group of new people.

I could go on and on, and I do. Frequently. But the point is that studying abroad has intrinsic, immeasurable value. It can, but does not always, teach a person cultural relevancy and understanding in a level of depth that cannot be attained any other way — a sort of ultimate hands-on learning experience. Dr. Pamela Gay, an astronomer and professor among other things, says that, “traveling opens up understanding the sky,” or in other words the universe. Given her field of study, she means this more literally than I do. Nonetheless, the impact of my COE studying abroad experience, was empowerment, cultural depth of understanding, learning from mistakes, working in a group of people from very different cultures and backgrounds than me, and at least a little bit, broadened my understanding of the universe.

Brooke, Chapter 3, and Whaaaat?

Herma-what? Pro-pro-a-proairerer…something. My difficultly in being able to pronounce hermeneutic and proairetic aside, I am still struggling to feel like I really know what they mean; I don’t think I could craft a sentence using them correctly. Which I suppose fits in with what Brooke quotes LeFevre on in chapter three of Lingua Fracta; because my audience is part of my invention process (65), I refrain from inventing at all!

Yes, I see now that isn’t it all. So, basically chapter three was especially hard for me to understand.

This surprised me because I did my (now) usually pre-reading googling and found this video explaining things in a straightforward way:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jtjER9mK2Ns. And Preface, chapters one and two were fairly straightforward, although still interesting for me; I was never formally taught Aristotle rhetorical analysis until my junior year of undergraduate and we did ethos, pathos, logos, not the five canons. I also had the good fortune of getting to sit in on a fifty-minute Skype/webinar with Yancey, so, bring it on! I thought to myself that is.

I keep seeing the word ‘hermeneutic’ and have looked up already, but as it clearly hadn’t sunk in yet, I looked it up again like a good graduate student. [incendentially, I recommend dictionary.com over merriam-webster – compare definitions: hermeneutic vs. hermeneutic. From August 19, 2013 to present, I have looked up and added approximately seventy words to my “Vocab I learned in Grad School word doc.] Proairesis proved more difficult and does not come up in either dictionary. Kairos summarizes chapter three: http://www.technorhetoric.net/15.1/reviews/boyle/index.html and Purdue describes both terms, identifying the culprit (Barthes) in their confusing existence at all. Actually, that’s not completely accurate as proairesis, with it’s excessive amount of vowels is from Greek philosophy (a super old term, as Kairos notes) and I found proairesis in a new online dictionary that I hadn’t found yet. This (boring) process aside, I think I finally started to understand the terms better after a pint at Rico’s and a colleague and third-year ph.d explained the terms to me in at least two different ways.

Understanding this is pretty important as it is all throughout chapter three. Another element that hindered my comprehension that I didn’t realize until rereading chapter three was that Brook spends a fair amount of time recounting ideas that he either partially or entirely disagrees with but without prefacing that so you have to switch gears pretty rapidly with them as he writes all the ideas and then counters said ideas, beginning with the end of the chapter introduction or first section: “In the context of Barthes’ analysis, the hermeneutic and proairetic codes complement one another, as they must necessarily do to produce a satisfying textual object. However, when we shift our attention to interfaces, I would argue that proairesis takes precedence under certain circumstances, and that it is this type of invention that our discipline must account for as it considers new media” (63). Remember also, that he acknowledges that it’s difficult to talk/type/consider new media because there is not a consensus for what exactly the definition of new media is.

Brooke walks through LeFevre, Barwashi and Dewitt with concepts of audience in the invention or a ‘networked’ audience, rhetorical ecosystems, genres as structures and more words for my vocab document: synchronically and diachronically which according to Google, frequently come as a pair. And while Brooke values their views, thus including them, saying, “the three contribute[s] valuable insights to our discussion of invention that need not be forgotten in a discussion of new media, only augmented.” These three don’t quite do the trick for him, however, because they are striving toward the basic goal of theorizing about a finish product that isn’t going to continue evolving (unlike a wikipage or a sandbox game like Minecraft, say).

Hey, I think I maybe get this now! It’s too bad that hypertext or ‘new media’ don’t get academic respect. But there is a part of me that wonders if that is ever possible, academia would have to alter hundreds of years of a way of doing things in order to meet new media with ‘legitimacy’ in such a way that it wouldn’t compromise or alter new media. Though, I suppose new media is all right with evolving. One thing for sure is I seem to learn best by doing or remediating an idea.

Cool.

More for English 548

As the semester progresses and Mike confirms that that some/many of our readings aren’t meant to possibly be fully understood on the first, second, or even third reading, I find myself sifting through for what I can understand and what might be relevant to me. I have given up understanding the philosophy and theory  behind digital humanities within this semester. With The Two Virtuals by Alexander Reid I find understanding both with the help of some of his youtube videos and website blog entries. Given my background in student services, social media for my student services program and teaching one-time workshops and small-group tutorials, the pedagogy parts of what I’ve read in the digital realm make the most sense (though my courses focused solely on pedagogy also make my head spin). Reid touches on pedagogy many times and places throughout his book. I like Reid for his priority on pedagogy. He ends his book with a subsection entitled “Whatever Discipline” culminating ideas of cybernetics, pedagogy as a material space and conflicting ideas on how the realm of digital humanities will evolve. As teachers this raises a lot of challenges and questions; Reid specifically names, “Without a clear method or response, the question remains in our discipline and others: how to response to technology? How to response to growing corporate influence?” (189). He continues with the ‘two’ or binary theme of technology as a savior of the field of English versus technology as “evidence of the growing crisis” (190). It is the seemingly eternal debate that comes up, usually lighthearted though always earnest, almost weekly in our English 548 class and without a doubt it comes up weekly as some point, some time in my graduate seminars (particularly the point of access and utilizing technology). I find it interesting that even as he recognizes corporate influence he follows with pedagogy not being about control.

Reid is absolutely embracing technology though perhaps not blindly or without critique. But I have to wonder about pedagogy not being about control. On the one hand I think he is merely recognizing that we cannot possibly have one pedagogy that will address and properly teach and/or filter without error. Pedagogy cannot protect our classrooms from corporate influence perhaps. But I wonder if he is bringing this up as a sort of justification in using technology even though there are issues of power, influence and control and within that, issues of access.

Moving forward without much transition, I am unclear as to his reference to ‘the whatever’ (191-92). Is this the same ‘whatever’ we read from Alexander Galloway in Interface Effect last week? (I didn’t really understand the concept). On corporate influence and the ‘whatever’ (maybe the whatever?): “Corporate culture may indeed come to shape the logical organization of the university (as if there were a time when the university did not serve the state), but with such topological processes of knowledge production at its foundation, discipline can never be anything except whatever it is” (192).  I cannot decide if I despise what he is saying or if it is pragmatic and empower – you can beat the system once you understand it, type of thing.

Chaotic Twos

What follows is an ‘almost’ connection of ideas.

I wouldn’t post as an informal response except that I did in fact like what I was puzzling through. I anticipate going further with this…

Two minds: what I easily cognitively digest and what is difficult to find (in text)

Two mind/virtuals: reader and author

Two mind/virtuals: Galloway and Reid

“…if the computer were a formal medium, then perhaps our analysis of it could be too. But my position is that it is not excusively or even predominantly formal.” (Highlight location 543-544).

This week I had the strange experience of reading parts of Reid’s Two Virtuals and Galloway’s introduction of Interface Effect in a secluded yet frequently sought out hot springs in the Idaho’s Selway Bitterroot Wilderness area. It’s nearly six miles hiking to get to the hot springs. Two Virtuals is damp and curling not from reading while sitting in the hot springs but from being too close to all my wet gear on the hike out. The Interface Effect is unscathed as it is on my kindle.

Book versus ebook, seclusion meets 20-30 other people (a story unfortunately not easily made relevant to these reading and this 548 class), not to mention my highly tech-heavy camping trip: digital recorder, kindle, digital camera, heart monitor plus GPS watch. This is if you don’t count high-design backpacking packs, stoves, sleeping mats and sleeping bags (which really, how can we not?). It ties in with writing as a technology and the idea that writing itself is inherently technological (Reid, and numerous times in 548 discussion both google docs written and oral).

Maybe it was my state of cyborg (surviving nature via all my technology and/or reading a kindle in a natural hot springs, harnessed by man but only with rock and log placement) that led me to finally understand what Haroway was talking about, about what Joyce is talking about in Of Two Minds, about what it might mean on a less superficial level what two virtuals even is.  (Double take, double check on Kittler – because they both mentioned Kittler I feared I was forgetting a reading we’d already done this semester). My realization which is perhaps not academic is that simply, I continue to have this bias that technology is good and with a birth date falling in 1985 have constantly been blending pre-computer tech boom with post… or more accurate concurrent computer-tech boom.

I think I like where Reid is going as well as the other Alexander,  Galloway.

Believe it or not, I am improving!

English 548

October 7, 2013

 For graphics see pdf: Appease or confound

Appease or Confound vs. Conciliate and Wonder

Introduction: I can’t read

Delagrange talks about an old way of learning and of wonder. Using Wunderkammer she shows both how exploration and a sort of ‘writing’ or at the very least a transfer of information can happen pre-digital age and how that same experience has been adapted to digital with the impressive interactive website documenting it (Delagrange). Delagrange posits digital texts need not be formatted with the simplest structure or the easiest transmission of information possible; that digital is not just for the masses but also capable of serving the academic, the contemplative, and to accomplish a sense of wonder.

I keep thinking about this in combination with an idea that has really stuck with me from English 323: English for teachers. It was directed at struggling readers grades six through twelve in a book called, When Kids Can’t Read, and how to “think aloud” to show them how to “struggle successfully” (Beers, Kylene).  And indeed I and many of my fellow graduate students have commented on how we are not used to struggling with reading and writing. That’s our thing – the classes we were good at as undergraduates – it’s what we majored in. It’s why we chose to be studying in graduate school in the first place.

So I refer back to Beers as a pep talk to myself – I have a handful of personal factors that amplify my self-doubt in my abilities – reminding myself that I chose this challenge and I need only find a ways of struggling successfully to succeed.

The problem is that the struggle is avoided unless imposed. Digital media can encourage a reader response of wonder and exploration where plain texts will not for a majority of its readers. I propose to explore this problem of reader struggle through various theorists’ perspectives under the reader-response theory and through looking at the theory and creative pieces of Michael Joyce.

 

Early Exploration and Struggle

Before I realized that I needed to enjoy the struggle and that a big reason I came to graduate school is because I was not feeling challenged in addition to being estranged from that which I most love to contemplate and immerse myself in (that would be writing, composing and creating specifically), I was completely terrified and at a loss. I never liked theory. I didn’t like anything I was reading; even the good ideas were a chore to unbury through draconian and dry academic-ease and/or translated text.  Even though quitting was never really an option, when I felt cornered by Heidegger or Kirschenbaum, the thought did cross my mind.

It was with much relief that I heard that there was such a thing as reader-response theory. While a creative writer (and I would presume an academic writer as well) does write best when being to ‘true’ to the one writing, the study of creative writing as I experienced it was focused on experience – it was focused on the reader. This, I thought, this would be my home base. This would be how I would struggle and enjoy it. Like the home base created in my procrastination/sanity break/creative release device known as Minecraft. I am bad at it, even though I enjoy it (perhaps not unlike reading theory and philosophy at the graduate level and pace). But I have figured out how to not get lost in the world I have named “Gradearth” (Grad Earth). I have made a ‘bed’ for home base and even if it is not an ideal location, it works for me to come back to and as a way of practice, understanding. Reader-response theory is my home base for this semester (until I find a better one, as I already seen potential for areas of contention with one of the main theorists, Mr.  Stanley Fish).

 

After my initial Wikipedia reading on reader-response theory, I started looking up all I could on the major players. I must explore and understand this theory fully to utilize it. I think of it of learning a new language and they say once you learn one new language; it is allegedly easier to learn another new one after that. I also started research Michael Joyce as I found his Afternoon a welcome legitimate distraction from Kirschenbaum’s heavy theory and attention to detail in various mechanisms for writing. I was delighted to find Joyce reference Haraway within the first few pages. I revisited Haraway and looked again at who she cites. It was only the weekend before the midterm was due, steeped in writer’s block or an ignorance of what to do next, that I finally got the citation mapping we did in class. I spent some time on this in a program I found called Wordy Up that I wouldn’t recommend because of cost (you can only use it once and only you can view it unless you shell out some digital bank numbers) but it is interactive.

Excited but still a bit without direction, I have since attempted to clarify the difference between theory and criticism, as different sources used them slightly differently. At first I thought they were interchangeable but that is not quite accurate. Jonathan Culler cleared it up for me in the preface of his book, Literary Theory: a Very Short Introduction, “Many introductions to literary theory describe a series of ‘schools’ of criticism. Theory is treated as a series of competing ‘approaches’, each with its theoretical position and commitments.”   Culler goes on to discuss theories actually working together, not in competition – which brings me to my literature that I want to use. The following is not a review yet and not even quite an annotated bibliography. I do not know if it is realistic to use all of them but it is what I have to understand hypertext, reader-response theory and theorists, and tie it with the course theme and goals.

Literature

1)      Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction Jonathan Culler

This work may not be cited directly but is as easy to navigate as Wikipedia but with reliable, complete information. I am reading through it as needed for reader-response, which pulls together nicely how that might look through a feminist lens, or post-structuralism for example (63). He also explains the existence of so many theories in a way that makes sense to me in this way, “Treating contemporary theory as a set of competing approaches or methods of interpretation misses much of its interest and force, which come from its broad challenge to common sense and from its explorations of how meaning is created and human identities take shape” (preface).  I anticipate reading this in full by the end of the school year if not the semester as it has not been the priority of any of the graduate courses to expound on this though they all use theory.

2)      Hypertexts: Twelve Blue and Afternoon by Michael Joyce

It is not surprising that Professor Joyce studies and/or writes poetry after reading excerpts from these hypertexts. They are intensely visual scenes that draw me in. I may not have time to fully critique both of them, for the interactive format and visual stimulating writing actually makes for a slower, more contemplative read (compared to other recreational reading, it is on par for academic writing for me).

3)      Moral Tales and Meditations by Michael Joyce

I hope to compare his written for text short fiction to his hypertexts. He qualifies his writing the first line of the introduction stating, “I have never considered myself a short story writer (and it may well be that these short-short stories confirm that opinion) but the stories here came to me almost as visiona dn in a way, over the course of a spring and summer, I could not resist” (ix). It was published in 2001.

4)      Of Two Minds: Hypertext Pedagogy and Poetics by Michael Joyce

This is the book upon investigating that inspired me to reread as best I could Haraway. This book, as the title suggest very much investigates coming together of two seemingly very different forms.

5)      Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: the Reinvention of Nature By Donna Haraway

On first reading I thought, “cool, but what am I to do with this?” Joyce’s application helped my writer-biased mind to combine theory, love of sci-fi and composition. I am not certain if I will add on feminist theory to critique the problem of struggle deterring wonder and reader responses and expectations. It seems like most readings we have done so far stick to one theory so I don’t know if it would be too difficult to include two perspectives. However, she is often cited and works heavily with technology and I discover new things each time I read over Cyborg Manifesto. I do not know what my end product looks like as I am bumbling along and learning as I go.

6)      Technologies of Wonder by Susan Delagrange

Delagrange, like Haraway, I find I start to understand with further application and rereading. Again, it is feminist theory but her close inspection of what is happening with digital works indirectly and directly addresses what is happening with the audience, whether it be the general population or (more often) the audience/reader of academia.

7)      Mechanisms: New Media and the Forensic Imagination by Mathew Kirschenbaum

Kirschenbaum of course will be used in the study of Afternoon. I don’t think that I will utilize it much beyond that however, because while the reader is aware of the mechanism with hypertexts especially, I don’t think that readers think about the art of the minute parts and the effects, big and small that is has on text and its experience. I think that is Kirschenbaum’s point, to draw attention to that which is being ignored by most because even though sometimes the details get a little boring, it is pretty amazing what is possible (…off topic).

8)      Modern Criticism Chapter 3 “The Specter of Relativism: A Critical Review of Norman Holland’s Models of Reader-Response.” By Nouri Gana

This was a find in multiple way: first that I learned how to request a part of a book not on campus through Illiad, second that it both expounds on an early theorist of reader response, Norman Holland, and references many theorists I already read a bit on or heard of. Gana connects the pre-founder I.A. Richards and also afterwards/simultaneous, Iser and Fish. Gana gives a detailed account of the psychoanalysis that was behind Holland’s reader-response critiques. This is both informative and interesting; it pairs up reader-response theory so that I have multiple angles to analyze within one theory. Also, this matches with my own work of an investigative poetry project on depression as an illness (which I attempted to put on my website but had issues with formatting – among other things). Psychoanalysis applies to content and to reader-response. It is unlikely that I will utilize said poetry project as it is very incomplete, however, this brings home to me the importance of a sort of home base theory to get working with.

 

The next five texts will be to understand reader-response theory. They are books but I do not anticipate reading or using them in their entirety.

9)      Rhetorical Faith: The literary Hermeneutics of Stanley Fish by Phillip J. Donnelly

10)   Justifying Belief: Stanley Fish and the Work of Rhetoric  by Gary A. Olson

11)   Figures of Dissent by Terry Eagleton

12)   Postmodern Sophistry: Stanley Fish and the Critical Enterprise edited by Gary A. Olson and Lynn Worsham

13)   Is there a Text in This Class? The authority of Interpretive Communities by Stanley Fish

 

Conclusions: Confounded, Wonderment, and Conciliation Pending

I think what is obvious is that this proposal or mash up of ideas and processes is in need of a lot of development to get to a critical piece of multimodal text that both shares information and potentially a space for wonder. I think on the latter, it is more realistic to say ‘play’ or explore. Whether or not my progress is acceptable is useful information for me. However, I am more concerned about conversations on a more concrete and specific thesis which I think will come with more time spent with the content. Ideally I would be further along but I see no way to skip the step of understanding theory and have theorists overlap and work together; no other way to learn how I learn at this level but trial and error.

I would love to be able to create and write in a way that recreates my process, but that is actually pretty time consuming, as it turns out. And I am aware that multi-modal does not just mean including graphics or video – or if it does, then multi-modal does not guarantee complex ideas.

 

Proper Works Cited Pending

Zotero will save me time in the long run, but as I am still learning it, and in this case the content and listed texts above is perhaps (hopefully, maybe) more important, and I am out of time and writing run-ons, it is one of the many factors that may lead to the dreaded, ‘B’.

Remember, Allison Did it First

My colleague started a wordpress blog for our technologies and the humanities class. I was embarrassed I had not thought to post via my own that I made and roughly maintained for four years (especially because before the workload got crazy I thought vaguely about writing something or other about graduate school and having an academic tab…etc.) So, I am copying awesomeness, just remember that.

“This is why we fight” By Lisa Spiro

(Week 8 Informal Reading Response)

Spiro writes with vigor. In truth, I am not quite a part of this discussion yet and if anything a part of the problem because I am a ‘division’ or category, methodology and pedagogy etc. I am in with the pin-up Milton-types or ‘look how much more I can write in the same amount of time!’ type. Ha. Typing. Anyway, after her awesome call to action I couldn’t help but be disappointed. I was ready to follow her into some kind of digital battle (which does not make sense, I realize, she’s talking about unifying!) and then, fizzle. Statement of Values? Did not see that coming based on her rhetoric. And not-so-wonderful flashbacks of ‘mission statement’ writing meeting from my recent previous occupation come to mind. Isn’t what we do more important than what we say we do? Nevertheless, I can see the need for a unified ‘banner’ to all sing kum-ba-ya together underneath, lit by the glow of our various screens, of course.

Or with our own digital avatars with mis-timed mouth movements. http://youtu.be/Ta5HnYtWBIs

Spiro addresses my doubts and concerns – known difficulties in such an undertaking, especially with the number of people and differing ideas at my old work place were so much smaller than what Spiro is talking about. Congruous with digital studies looking at what we use to produce things effecting how we produce them, Spiro posits that, “[t]he process of producing a values statement may be as important as the statement itself, since that process will embody how the community operates and what it embraces.” Process, produce and embody – all very popular words and concepts as I am finding out. I can see it now, different members of the digital humanities crashing the wiki site as they clamor to put in their critic on so-and-so’s critique of him and hers collaboration on what the values of the digital humanities should be. “Is that really values” one will say, “I feel like your statement is really more like ethics. Didn’t we agree that is was values?” It’ll be fun; of that, I am certain.

I couldn’t get the interactive text to work for some reason, so maybe in that version there is a link to the process of collaboration for said values statement that she call on her DH colleagues to create. I couldn’t find one but I did investigate her digitalhumanities.org/answers link which ended up taking me here, here, and here. I found it interesting that the last which is includes Sesame Street to cheer up the now depressed readers – I think the Spiro is fighting a similar battle. What she undertakes is so big that it will be hard to rally the troops and once rallied it’ll be like herding cats. But I suppose if any group can overcome feeling overwhelmed by the immensity of an undertaking, it is graduate school survivors (I can only imagine the amount of drugs and therapy tenure-acquired persons have to utilize). The trouble is I really don’t know if this is needed. I think Spiro addresses the naysayers pretty well and maybe she has a higher tolerance for bureaucratic meetings than I do but is still seems like something that, even if accomplished, gets left on a website header somewhere collecting dust (nobody reads it and nobody bothers to update it). Is this a genuine need or is Spiro just annoyed at people arguing semantics?

Self Cross-Talk and Other Graduate School Epiphanies Induced from Seeming Madness

English 501

October 1, 2013

But Then I Wouldn’t Be Me! vs. Audience

WARNING: THIS PAPER HAS BEEN RATED D- FOR LACK OF DECORUM & HAS NOT BEEN APPROVED FOR EDUCATORS UNDER 16 YEARS OF SERVICE
WARNING: THIS PAPER HAS BEEN RATED D- FOR LACK OF DECORUM & HAS NOT BEEN APPROVED FOR EDUCATORS UNDER 16 YEARS OF SERVICE

 

I admire his book’s ‘flaps’. They are still, motionless yet seem to me to flutter like feathers in a light breeze. Indeed, my colleague’s copy of Cross Talk looks like a rainbow ready to fly away from the awkward desk and drab classroom through the one window, with wings made of feathers from all the color-coded Post-its (not posteds, as I have been calling them these last 20 years or so) to mark the major points and parts of the text for discussion. I tried doing that, really I did. My copy looks like a ragged, tooth-decayed hillbilly by its irregular posteds and scraps of paper torn up to bookmark spots. Maybe it is simply a lack of having the right size of uniform Post-its; maybe it is something else. I also tried typing up notes as I read along. This seems to work okay but not great for embedding what I read by whom in my memory for independent recall later. Also I think it may make my reading pace even slower (I figured out that if I read, not skim, that I take in theory at a whopping fifteen pages per hour). I continue doing it however, because my audience expects a regular online forum offer of proof that I read and proof that I thought about it critically. The latter is harder to prove as I often feel it is a lie. Maybe not a lie, but bluff – “[h]e must learn to speak our language. Or he must dare to speak it or to carry off the bluff, since speaking and writing will most certainly be required long before the skill is learned,” (Cross Talk Bartholomae 524) –definitely a bluff.  If I find it in time on this lovely night before the paper is due[1] I will track down the article that I read sometime by someone (probably published in the ‘80s or 90’s) that quoted a student’s reluctance to learn academic-ease (or speak, or vernacular, or discourse; pick your favorite) saying if they changed, “they wouldn’t be black no more.” I already happen to be white-skinned but the root of my problem is I don’t want to change. I don’t want to speak and write like the majority of what I have been reading because I am afraid that then I won’t be ‘me’ anymore. But I am a creative writer and while it is a selfish kind of act of writing, it is also with great apprehension and anticipation of the audience that I write; so I had best change, invent my university, and compose with my audience in mind.[2]

Logically I know that I can learn to write for different audiences without losing my voice but emotionally I feel like the real me will be devoured by academic discourse that I do not love and sometimes fundamentally disagree with. Logically I know that I will be changed by get my master’s degree; I was changed by getting my bachelor’s degree and I know it do be an extremely valuable thing to me and that I value gaining knowledge, grades or degree or pay raises aside. Emotionally I cannot fathom myself becoming the perception that I have of who academics are. Logically I know that academics are not the perception that I have. I remember that I want to teach because I want to add to the voices of non-conforming academic-types; and logically I know that everything I just wrote is wrought with assumptions, egocentric perceptions, but ultimately a good, well-meant goal that requires that I circle round or run through those emotional apprehensions because, again, I cannot get there without learning the discourse. Not just because I have to get inside the system to rock the system, but also because it is obvious to me that I will be a better teacher and academic writer after absorbing even a fourth of everything that is being thrown at me. There. Now that I’ve convinced myself I can proceed.[3]

One of the readings that inspired a sort of, “yeah, take that traditional white-man theorists!” followed abruptly by a realization that what the author spoke of, spoke to me too (perhaps especially me because when you think you have it figured out, even if it is that everybody and everything is wrong, you are in trouble because it is still a self-convinced new theory – a skunk cabbage or marigold, by any other name, still smells bad – and as such is culturally, and individually biased. And by ‘you’ I mean me. And I actually have no idea what a skunk cabbage smells like but marigolds are stinky. And I am mocking the long parentheses that appear in many of the academic readings I have encountered but acknowledge that my tone or decorum is way off) is Mike Rose’s “Narrowing the Mind and Page: Remedial Writers and Cognitive Reductionism” (Cross Talk 325-365). Rose had me cheering as he tore down several, general theories writing, “the theories inadvertently reflect cultural stereotypes that should themselves, be the subject of our investigation” (357) and I was ready to needlepoint on a pillow his ‘theory exposé’  on the page, 358, “But a theory, any theory, is no more than a best guess at a given time, simultaneously evocative and flawed.” I still might put it to needlepoint, but I was horrified later to realize my ‘anti-ideologies’ actually fell relatively neatly under another man’s theory (Bartholomae). In reflection I realized that Rose was not imploring everyone to see it my way, but rather he was imploring me, teaching me, “[g]eneralizing to others must be done with caution” (358). Responding or rebelling to theories that I view as ‘the man’ is not enough, is not original or critical thinking even. In a way, I am carrying on the cultural biases, validating them in my condemnation and potentially becoming the tokenism flavor of racist. Rose does call for change but not the simple kind I had in mind. He does see ‘the man’ in commonly accepting theories but is not condoning ‘the man’ in his call for new, better research (and subsequently theories) because, “a theory, any theory is no more than a best guess at a given time,” but it is our best guess. And like I always[4] tell my students, “at least turn in something. Turning is something, even if it’s incomplete in some way or many ways, is at least something. You gave it a try even if it wasn’t your best try it was still a try.”

This is not enough for the students or me of course. Something is better than nothing but I will fail my students, and they and I will fail our classes if we do not keep pushing that best guess to be better. We have to rework the hypothesis until we find truth, even if, and maybe especially if, we know there is not one universal truth to be found.  As Min-Zhan Lu concludes[5] in “Professing Multiculturalism: The Politics of Style in the Contact Zone,” we, undergraduate and graduate students alike are under the influence of a big sociopolitical power that pushes us to learn new discourses and new writing style choices to be made. We did choose to be here; I did choose to be here and

“…although the process of negotiation encourages students to struggle with such unifying forces, it does not and cannot lead them to ignore and forget them. It acknowledges the writer’s right and ability to experiment with innovation ways of deploying the codes taught in the classroom. It broadens students’ sense of the range of options and choices facing a writer. But it does not choose for the students. Rather, it leaves them to choose in the context of the history, culture and society in which they live” (Cross-Talk 482).

I think if I can teach writing and audience, (reader-response theory) which I unknowingly chose as my paradigm long ago then I can empower the students practically and ideally – give them a skill but also a space to be authentic.

 



[1] For the record, I did begin and finish the Harris paper in a responsible, timely manner. But that was a million years ago, before midterms and presentations and projects, before I realized that I really do not comprehend most of what I read and subsequent despair and esteem issues exasperated and already four seminars large problem.

[2] I have learned just today, 9/30/13 that this would fall under Reader-Response criticism and will in the next week research the authors or supporters of said theories.

[3] I do worry that do to a myriad of reasons (procrastination, anxiety, frustration, more work than I know how to accomplish in the time given, etc) I will be writing too emotionally; I noticed that where my clarity faltered in the Harris paper was where I was more emotionally charged about what I was trying to express.

[4] “Always” is nearly always inaccurate, of course and this is an approximation of what I’ve told English 102/107/202/299 and UCOLL 302 groups, and students in one-on-one meetings in my previous retention counselor job. It’s super annoying how often I have to follow the advice I’ve given in the past.

[5] I do not yet have critical commentary on Lu; at present I meekly agree and hope to understand more fully and be able to converse critically, meaningfully on this piece, this author, these ideas in the near future.