Kinaesthetics, Intensive Gatherings and Bodily Arts

The body itself becomes a sundromos, an intensive gathering of forces
(of desire, of vigorous practices, of musical sounds, of corporeal codes),
trafficked through and by neurons, muscles and organs.  Entwined with the
body in this way, rhetorical training thus exceeds the transmission of ‘ideas,’
rhetoric the bounds of ‘words.’ (Hawhee 160)

Yesterday I attended a Writing Program mini-seminar on the relationship
between the writing center and athletics and the presence of
student-athletes in writing courses. As a part of ongoing professional
development, most writing teachers at SU attend two mini-seminars each semester. 
The speaker–a graduate student in rhetoric at Arizona–brought many insights;
he’s been instrumental in launching a satellite writing center in the athletic
department at UofA, and so the four-hour session was aptly named "Home Turf:
Defining Access and Success for College Student-Athletes."  Early on, the
conversation hinged on the spatial quality of athletic performance; for
pre-reading, we looked at Hawhee’s "Bodily Pedagogies: Rhetoric, Athletics, and
the Sophists’ Three Rs," from College English, Andrew Zimbalist’s chapter
"The Student as Athlete" from Unpaid Professionals, Wilfred Bailey’s
"Summary: Time Constraints, Or Why Most College Athletes Cannot Also Be
Students," (College Sports, Inc.) and a few articles from
on whistle-blowers. We also talked through perceptions of
student-athlete privilege, so-called "problematic sports" of men’s basketball
and football (with no direct justification for crediting this commonplace to any
particular institution, much less SU), and part-time faculty bearing added labor
because of support measures (email check-ins from coaches, mid-semester progress
reports, etc.) initiated from athletics.

I was generally in agreement with the speaker’s take on several of these
complicated problems, and I would like for these notes to reflect such a stance,
as well as to support efforts at broader recognitions of the false and damaging
commonplaces circulated about student-athletes–athletics as anti-intellectual,
a contradiction to scholarly rigor, a kind of unfortunate burden on the
institution’s already-burdened, or a merely exploitative money-maker.  If
anything is clear from yesterday’s talk, it’s that institutional situations are
vastly different from region to region and from one governance level to another
(NCAA, NAIA, DI-DIII, etc). Generalizations about student-athletes or athletics
departments circulate with great frequency, but many of them plainly don’t hold
up here or there.

Kinesthetic literacy–or a kind of bodily/performative intelligence–came up
early in the talk, but with twenty-five of us in attendance and so much
conversation, we didn’t have adequate chance to develop this line of thought. 
Judging only by her article (I haven’t read Bodily Arts yet), Hawhee’s
stuff, which examines the overlaps between the bodily and the rhetorical arts in
the classical tradition, leads us to a question:  how might composition
embrace kinesthetic literacy?  How might writing pedagogies account for the
kinesthetic?  Citing Sirc’s work on Pollock, she explains the approach of
composition as "inhabiting, an immersive approach wherein the lines
between (and definitions of) artist and work become less clear" (159). 
It’s a difficult question to answer, but I appreciate that Friday’s speaker
brought it up through references to Hawhee and (in turn) Sirc.

More from Hawhee:

"As locations of physical training–young boys learned and practiced running,
jumping, wrestling, and boxing, for starters–the gymnasia were already
important sites for the production of citizen subjects, and moreover, the
production took place in a decidedly corporeal style.  From this
spatial intermingling of practices there emerged a curious syncretism between
athletics and rhetoric, a particular crossover in pedagogical practices and
learning styles, a crossover that contributed to the development of rhetoric as
a bodily art: an art learned, practiced, and performed by and with the
body as well as the mind". (144)

I’m still thinking about two other issues from the session.  The first
(-1-) concerns the idea that athletics departments take on attitudes of eligibility maintenance rather than
embracing a spirit of intellectual rigor and
excellence.  I’m snagged on excellence (and no, I haven’t read
Readings’ U. in Ruins…all second-hand knowledge of it).  Here too,
athletic programs involve a mix; it’s knotted–the need-a-C-to-be-eligible power
forward sits in class alongside the straight-As setter.  So maybe there is
an ethic of grade survival (yeah, something like that), but it doesn’t mean that
anyone (coach, AD, etc.) in an athletic program wouldn’t prefer to hold up a 3.9
average GPA for a program (rather than 2.4, say).  Still, it’d help to
situationalize this…name names, point to this program or that one.

The second issue (-2-) concerns a paradox: the incommensurability of
institutionally enforced amateurism and, on the other hand, what was yesterday
called "infantilizing" support systems.  I’m leaving out a lot of details,
but the discussion brought out a few concerns about emails to instructors
(inquiring about class status or grades) and attendance-checkers as being
anti-responsibility and an interference with self-advocacy.  And yet, that
roles are systematically defined in such a way that student-athletes are subject
to a kind of forced amateurism–rule-fixed laborers–justifies the related
supports and insurances.  Yet more knotty stuff, but I was interested in
the questions surrounding this issue: how do we learn to advocate for
ourselves?  how does agency form and from where or under what conditions? 
Notably, at least a few of the anecdotes shared during the session suggested
instructor discomfort in the student-athlete’s more nurturant network.  In
other words, with student-athletes our primacy as (caring writing) instructors
is set in tension with this other unfamiliar (except in myth) institutional
force–coaches who may be the student-athlete’s most trusted ally in the
university system and related academic support staff who attempt (often with
resulting consternation) to act as an intermediary wedge between the
student-athlete and unkind/unaccommodating (or so-perceived) academic policies.

A few other reading notes from "Bodily Pedagogies":

Rhythm, repetition and response (145)

"the wrestler will acquire a bodily rhythm that enables a forgetting
of directives." (149)

"What Isocrates articulates here is a pedagogy of association–a cultivation
of habits and practices by placing oneself in relation to those who practice the
arts one is pursuing; these arts were named earlier in the treatises as
horsemanship, athletics, hunting, and philosophy, or study of discourse ([Isocrates]
45)" (153).

"In other words, the ‘end result’ of such a pedagogy is not a finished
product, but a dispositional capacity for iteration–the ability to continually
repeat, transform, and respond" (155).


  1. Thanks for sharing this. Sounds like a terrific seminar. Did you talk about Linda Bensel-Meyers at Tennessee and the flak that emerged when she blew the whistle on plagiarizing athletes?

  2. We didn’t get to any of the whistle-blowers’ specific cases, but Bensel-Myers is covered in the ESPN article. It was a good session, even if it double and triple digressed into anecdotes of encounters with student-athletes. But yes, the readings were interesting, and I thought the speaker did a great job of moving back and forth between our questions and his own expertise.

  3. Yo D-Money! How kick-ass is Will B. (i imagine it was WB who did your seminar)?? Several months ago i did a review of Hawhee’s book that was supposed to be published in CCC. However, there was an editorial miscue that prevented it from seeing print (and i’ve yet to fish for another place where it or a revised version might be published). If you’d like to check out the review i’d be happy to send it along.

    I should say, though, that the book is one of the best books i’ve read in our field and would encourage all to read it. Naturally i’m a bit biased, considering the direction of my work. But, seriously, her book is great! It was her work (and Julie Cheville’s) that made me realize my work had a place in our field; she more or less inspired the case study that will do/had done a lot to inform my diss work.

    Btw, i haven’t spoken with Will since San Antonio C’s; do you know if he’s published anything? I know he does a lot of traveling for semenars like the one at SU, but does he have any text i could get my hands on??

    Great post!

  4. Hey Chris,

    You’re right that Will was the speaker at our mini-seminar; he did a great job. He has some incredible stories about the trust dynamics between student-athletes, coaches and academic consultants. I talked with him for a while on Friday evening; he mentioned you and your project, too, said that he hadn’t been in contact recently. I don’t know what else he’s written (I think he’s dissertating at UA now), but we referred to something he had in the IWCA publication called “Writing Into Bounds.” If you’d like a copy, I can track down the PDF and send it. I’d be interested in the review of Hawhee’s book, too.

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