Thrash Old Concepts

Didn’t have time enough in Indianapolis to attend any of the sessions about threshold concepts, but I did hear about them in hallway and dinner conversations. I’d encountered the phrase before in this article, but at #4c14, it seemed like an awful lot was coming up threshold concepts, seemed like there’s a growing gusto for this sort of thing. Threshold concepts as their own sort of threshold. The oncoming threshold concept turn.

Home-ish now from the convention, tonight I was reading to Is. before bed, near the end of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, a book we’ve been chipping away at for, I don’t know, a month or more, every other bedtime. Harry and Hermione are advancing “Through the Trapdoor” (the 16th chapter’s title), in front of them a dead troll:

“I’m glad we didn’t have to fight that one,” Harry whispered as they stepped carefully over one of its massive legs. “Come on, I can’t breathe.”

He pulled open the next door, both of them hardly daring to look at what came next–but there was nothing very frightening in here, just a table with seven differently shaped bottles standing on it in a line.

“Snape’s,” said Harry. “What do we have to do?”

They stepped over the threshold, and immediately a fire sprang up behind them in the doorway. It wasn’t ordinary fire either; it was purple. At the same instant, black flames shot up in the doorway leading onward. They were trapped. (285)

Is. interrupted here to ask, “What’s a threshold?” And, attempting with a weak shrug to reach across connotations both referring to door trim and limits, I said, “It’s something like an edge, a boundary.”

That thresholds trap, enclose, bound, constrain, pen up, etc. and that they simultaneously, by doing so, protect, focus, and intensify a domain is at least part of their paradox. And I should be clear that I look forward to learning more about this idea emerging in service of disciplinary bona fides. But I’m also wondering where the idea (toward common disciplinary articulations) maps onto or butts up against rhetoric, which seems especially with invention and memory to by constituted by a kind of thresholding–if we can verb TC for a second–the re-articulations that themselves ignite and also extinguish flamewalls like the ones sandwiching poor Harry and Hermione in Rowling’s narrative telos.

Just wondering now which narrative telos “our” threshold concepts will flamewall in and flamewall out. Wondering how (im)permeable and how burning-hot the flamewalls will become and how much will char in their proximity.


This 1978
Joel Sternfeld photo
(via) stands
up nicely-analogous alongside the collaborative writing I’ve been working at
sporadically in recent weeks.

The unfamiliar process taught me a great deal about collaborative drafting
that I didn’t know before. Often it seemed like dabbling on the edges,
often like plunging in–designations that captures the uncertainty I felt
at times, the turn-taking, and the refreshing experience of opening a Google Doc
to find that someone else had poured an hour’s worth of smart work into the
manuscript since the last session. Sure, I’ve read a little bit about
collaboration, talked about it, even asked students to work together, but until
now I can’t honestly say that I’ve undertaken anything quite like this before.

When I first saw the above photograph turn up via TriangleTriangle’s RSS
feed, I was at a point when it cried out: There’s this raging fire to put out.
My colleague was intensely engaged in knocking out the flames while I was, like
the pumpkin shopper standing in the foreground, basically shitting around. So
many pumpkins! I’d flagged the photo for its commentary on collaborative
writing–something I was both doing and also thinking of blogging about–and its
significance shifted. Not an all reversal of studium and punctum
here, but an identity-urgency, an itch: I, too, sought a turn on the ladder.
Turn after turn came later, authorial identifications shifted as if caught in a
turn-style, and the chapter draft took shape, coming more or less solidly
together. This has left me thinking about collaborative writing as worth trying
a few more times for the way I now conceive of the process via something like a
post-dialogic dual occupancy, standing in the foreground (Which pumpkin?) and on
the ladder, happily and at once.