Resisting “Resisting Entropy”

Quick question: What’s the last “review essay” published in CCC you can name without searching?

I couldn’t come up with a title, much less the names of all of the books in any review essay. I recall reading Kris Blair’s piece (had to look up the title: “New Media Affordances and the Connected Life”) from CCC 63.2, but I could only remember three of the five books covered in that review: Dilger and Rice’s From A to <A>: Keywords for Markup because I already own a copy, and two others because I knew something beforehand about their authors and would claim an interest in their work. Otherwise, working from memory, I can’t come up with much–a vague recollection of another review essay by Schilb and one more by Villanueva on style. After reading the Villanueva review essay, I picked up a copy of Holcomb and Killingsworth’s Performing Prose, but that was as much motivated by a Twitter exchange with a colleague as by the review.

Thus, when I started to see an unusually high level of discussion circulating about Geoff Sirc’s “Resisting Entropy,” a review essay published in the latest issue of CCC (Feb. 2012, 63.3), my first thought was something like, “Well, this sure is an awful lot of activity for a review essay.” People were discussing it on Twitter, but I also received an email message from a student on the same day NCTE circulated the bulk email announcing the issue–an email message bringing up several questions and concerns based on things Sirc wrote. I hadn’t read the then-day-old review yet, but I hurried my pace in getting to it.

As far as I know, review essays covering multiple books began appearing in CCC seven or eight years ago. Before that reviews focused on single titles. The review essay provides readings of and recommendations for a small collection of titles, presumably titles that have come out in the last three or so years and that share a topical thread. And as I understand it, there are a few motives behind the switch to review essays: 1) they are more tightly packed than individual book reviews , 2) they promote a more rigorous appearing scope which in turn justifies known scholars to write them, 3) the known scholar bi-line gets people to read them, and 4) clustering multiple books into one review essay means readers will encounter book reviews at the edge of (and perhaps just beyond) titles they would have otherwise already been likely to check out.

I’ve read Sirc’s review essay, and although I realize it is poor cccarnival mmmanners to sidestep much substantive discussion of the article itself, all I want to say for now is that I appreciated the candor in his definitively recommending (or in not recommending, as the case may be) each of the four titles subject to review. The essay is polemic. Fine. It even toes the line between unapologetic critique and demolition-ball tear-down. But, despite however much or little I agree with Sirc in specific moments (i.e., there are points that resonate, others that trouble and confuse; I may well elaborate on a few in another entry), I know where he stands on these titles, and these titles become more decidable as a result. I want that nudge toward decidability from a review essay, and I suspect Sirc’s “Resisting Entropy” is one CCC readers will remember for awhile–both for the hot stove arguments the essay stokes and for the titles covered in doing so.

Call: CCCarnival

 First posted July 14, 2008.

Related entries:
Splitting Images
Kopelson’s “Sp(l)itting Images”
more thoughts on rhet/comp disciplinary futures
Response to Karen Kopelson’s “Sp(l)itting Images; or, Back to the Future of (Rhetoric and?) Composition”
New Echo, New Narcissus
Pedagogy of Rhet/Comp Job Market Imperatives
Carnival on Kopelson: The Pedagogical Imperative and Borrowing Theory
Spitting Images
Joining the CCCarnival: Kopelson’s “Sp(l)itting Images”

Kopelson’s Back to the Wall: Resisting Responsibility
Inversion and Dissolution
Theory and Interdisciplinarity: Kopelson Part Two
Kopelson carnival – my first take
CCC Carnival: Sp(l)itting Images
Kopelson (1): Stuck on paragraph 4
The Pedagogical Imperative: Kopelson Part I

Anyone interested in a carnival? After glancing the latest CCC
(59.4) at a coffee shop Saturday morning, I had the distinctive and lasting impression that
"Sp(l)itting Images; or, Back to the Future of (Rhetoric and?) Composition"
would be a good choice for a swarm of late July entries.  Kopelson’s
article covers a lot of ground, from a survey of grad students and faculty at
two institutions, to three of the chasms in the field (pedagogical imperative,
theory/practice split, and the brambles of identifying by varying ratios among
those two terms, rhetoric and composition), to a call for concerning ourselves
less with ourselves.  Ripe! because I endured a great range of responses
while reading it.

Here’s what I’m thinking: If you’re in, do what you can to post some sort of
response by one week from today–the 21st. I’ll try to keep tabs on all of
the links, but feel free to send a trackback. Then we can kick around
spin-offs, interjections, and retractions through the end of the month.

Also, here is how I will measure the success of the carnival:

12-15 participants: Wow.  There really is living comp/rhet blogosphere.
9-12 participants: Terrific.  Something told me the article was carnival
6-8 participants: Just great.  There is a value in reading what others
think (esp. while out to sea with the diss).
2-5 participants: Um, it’s late July.  What are you, on vacation?
0-1 participant: Witness spikes in traffic at E.W.M.


Kopelson, Karen. “Sp(l)itting
Images; or, Back to the Future of (Rhetoric and?) Composition.” CCC 59.4
(2008): 750-780. [Carnival]

New Echo, New Narcissus

Kopelson writes,

Yet, as composition studies is distinct in its penchant for ‘borrowing,’
we are also, in my opinion, unrivaled in our proclivity for
self-examination. I am not arguing that this is an unimportant
activity, but only that the costs are indeed high when self-scrutiny comes
at the expense of taking up other critical concerns and of making other,
more innovative and far-reaching forms of knowledge (775).

This appears in the final section of the essay, the part titled "Conclusion:
Banishing Echo and Narcissus." Here, Kopelson takes exception with the
field’s self-reflexivity, the growing heap of self-interested and self-absorbed
assessments of where we are or where we are heading. There is an
unidentified villain here, and I wondered as I read whether Kopelson has any
favorite ‘misses’, accounts that get it terribly wrong or that are built up on
marsh-lands of mushy data.

Reading this section and the quotation above in particular, I had the
sense that Kopelson wasn’t as interested in "banishing" Echo and Narcissus
as in giving them overhauls, in renewing them, even in teaching them how to
and reflect less recklessly. In other words, what is
wrong with many self-reflexive disciplinary accounts (or "discipliniographies"
to lift and bend a term Maureen Daly Goggin introduces in Authoring a
) is that they succumb to a localist impulse. That
is, they un-self-conciously extrapolate from local experience and anecdotal
evidence onto the field at large, projecting some local knowledge onto the
expansive abstraction that is the discipline (however we imagine it to be).
The localist impulse can take many different shapes; often it is akin to reading
patterns through the course of an individual career (i.e., "in my thirty years
at Whatsittoyou U.") or by cherry-picking from an exceedingly thin selection of
data (titles of conference presentations or tables of contents for teacher
training manuals). We all do this to some extent–making sense of the field at
large through our local, immediate experiences, but it is dangerous to arrive at
conclusions about the field (or world) at-large solely by examining one’s own

What I’m getting at is that I don’t have any beef with the disciplinary
practice of self-examination. Perhaps there are more than a handful of
fields in the academy that would benefit from more of it. I hold history (the calling of others who’ve navigated this canyon) and
reflection in high regard (perhaps not to the ill-fated extremes of Echo and
Narcissus). Resonanceresonanceresonance and reflection are valuable, especially for newcomers,
for the "new converts" Kopelson mentions. But they will not be successful–or
very useful–until they get beyond that localist impulse, until they involve
earnest field-wide data collections and collaboratively built databases. I
don’t know how well this matches with Kopelson’s "innovative and far-reaching
forms of knowledge," but it is increasingly where my own interests lie.
If those far-reaching forms of knowledge included disciplinary data (even simple
stuff, like how many programs offer undergraduate writing majors), they could
generate insights about disciplinarity. In the meantime those full-view
insights will continue to elude us as long as we leap from local knowledge to
widespread pattern, without addressing sufficiently the intermediary scales.

Kopelson, Karen. “Sp(l)itting
Images; or, Back to the Future of (Rhetoric and?) Composition.” CCC 59.4
(2008): 750-780. [Carnival]

Spitting Images

A passing tribute to having wrapped up Dan Roam’s
The Back of the Napkin
night, I figured why not throw down a few images in the spirit of keeping things
carnivalesque. Roam is a marker-carrying whiteboarder whose core premise is that
we spark insights into complex problems by treating them to a simplified and
illustrated version. I doubt that I have played strictly by the heuristics
he introduces in the book; nevertheless, I do find some of the stark
oversimplifications in these first four images helpful for thinking through some
of what Kopelson sets up in the article.

Continue reading →

Clouds, Graphs, Maps

A couple of days ago Mike posted notes on

CCCC talk
from late last month, and I was reminded that I’m at least ten days
past due on the video
I said I would
following the conference.

I recorded the talk to an mp3 yesterday afternoon and went to
campus last night where I planned to use iMovie to sync the audio with jpegs of
the slides. Because the slideshow includes text, I needed to get the
resolution right, but, well, it started to get late. I started to get impatient.
I was able to output a reasonably readable mp4 file, but for whatever reason, I couldn’t get
Google Video or
Daily Motion to encode it.
Finally Jumpcut accepted the file, so it’s
available below the fold (even if much of it suffers from jaggies). The original mp4 is available for download

Continue reading →