Quick entry—it’s late and kale sweet potato soup is bubbling. And I’m still in the late stages of moving, turning in keys and parking passes at the old place this afternoon, scooping expired field mice from the attic of the new place, fetching groceries, hooking up laundry machines, chopping onions, and so on. But a project several years in the works dropped yesterday at https://wac.colostate.edu/books/practice/try/: Try This: Research Methods for Writers, a textbook we hope sees uptake in rhetoric and writing classes. I could say A LOT about this book’s development. Once it was in the hands of Mike Palmquist and the editorial team at WAC Clearinghouse, its shape and timing were never clearer or crisper. I didn’t realize it, but I read today that this book is the 150th free, open access publication of the nearly 25 years WAC Clearinghouse has been operating. So it’s an honor and a wonder and a credit to so many that this book is circulating now, as it is. [N.b., not a ninety, but hope to get back to a few more of those soon, like tomorrowsoon, or the nextdaysoon.]
Step back, consider how it’s going. Recline in an overpriced chair. Pause to sit on a bench outside if the weather allows. Walk. The practices of writing research and doing research thread ends into a knot, and the knot’s beginning-point and ending-point conceal themselves, each indistinguishable from the other. What researcher takes the time and care to label writing as writing and doing (otherwise, anything) as doing? Unwinding later will make for a difficult puzzle. Or else with a shrug and carry on attitude it won’t be necessary.
Appealing are the sense-making motives in the Berlant-Stewart exchanges, with a nod echoic to Jenny Rice’s variation—gorgoylean methods—in Awful Archives where the generative tenets follow, 1) What is going on? and 2) What accumulates as being rhetorical figuration? and 3) How does it (fail to) add up? Not anchored entirely in story nor narrative, in description, in data nor database/collection, the gorgoylean approach hearkens maybe to positional disruption: What is for me phenomenological is for you empirical is for Earl not even worthy of inquiry.
Synaptic, the Berlant-Stewart exchanges, base 100 writing, volleys dealt in increments (or multiples thereof). For the spring grad class, maybe 90s or within five words. An 84 word blurb is not a ninety. At 96, it must reach elastic band to 180. Or 175. A ninety can be one sentence. Or up to 90 sentences. It is meant to conduct a tiered practice. At once, measured habit, self-aware; at once, expressing questions as questions or connections as connections. Woe omicron variant whispers, though, What even is teaching now?
I’ve held for what months or longer this excerpt from Ram Dass, posted at Revoked some time before they shed space suit for some alternative astral way of being around. On contentment as method:
In yoga, one of the methods is called ‘contentment’. That’s not a goal, that’s a method.“Words of Wisdom,” Ram Dass, Revoked, August 14, 2019
I can be content this moment, and the next moment I’m moving toward something else. When I am here I am content, when I am here I am content, when I am here I am content. So even though you are going to change something the next minute, that doesn’t mean you change it out of discontent. It changes because it changes.
That is the basis that you do everything in yoga.
Contentment as method. Contentment as above-path, quagmire hovercraft; in yoga, yes, I can find this. The good enoughness of a pose right now. The satisfieciency of this, here-now, floor and mat, gravity and breath. With contentment as method, for work (research, teaching, administrating), for non-work and all that it entails, there is in this relief from straining and striving. Go sit on a shelf, goals. Agency is fatiguing and sometimes needs quieted. Contentment says enough, have an exhale and a pause, surrender to the entropy, have a break from so much reaching.
I am teaching a research design class this semester. And too, of course, we’ve been visited by a pandemic, which has meant IRB suspensions, workaround-thinking, making do, resignation to changes that are out of our hands. We shift online. We Zoom. We grant flexibilities such that everyone can to the extent possible adapt and adjust. Lives are different from waking until sleeping again. Yoga intersperses, walking yoga, reading yoga, cooking yoga, Netflixing yoga, and relationship (the most difficult of yogas). And, too, research goes on–wondering and inquiry that sometimes involves others and sometimes involves only writing, processing, sorting things out. I’ve been thinking a lot about the friction (that edge, almost touching) between career and contentment, between inquiry and contentment, between rhetoric (as compositional, making, striving for change) and contentment. About motive(s).
Contentment as method (in yoga) risks hinting at passivity. In one way of approaching this (perhaps too difficult, perhaps needlessly difficult) pose, motive lapses, disperses. Contentment seems to abandon motive, doesn’t it? I’m not interested in sketching an argument with Ram Dass; no jousting at evacuated space suits. Where’d they go? But I am wondering about that something-more, the fire whose heat is felt in yoga as in motive as in inquiry. Contentment, too, draws on some kind of spark that is not exclusively passive. I have enough, yes, and I am enough, yes. This here-now is enough, yes. And then some–always a paradox. Even so, wonder and inquire, reach and breathe.
Contentment as method, it’s qualitatively helpful. But fire as method, too, grasps at something important about how that change happens. Not another definition of agency (we are reading about agentic shift this week, fittingly). Not necessarily fire as raging with destructive force. But a striker strip, a spark, heat and flame and combustion, immolation as method. Fire as method. What does your research turn to ash? What does your research raise up from the embers? Fire as above-path, quagmire hovercraft; in yoga, yes, I can find this. And sometimes in research. The potential and ever-rising heat of a pose right now, in spite of being human.
One more from Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (1974) before I shelve it. On gaps:
Ezekiel excoriates false prophets as those who have “not gone up into the gaps.” The gaps are the thing. The gaps are the spirit’s one home, the altitudes and latitudes so dazzlingly spare and clean that the spirit can discover itself for the first time like a once-blind man unbound. The gaps are the cliffs in the rock where you cower to see the back parts of God; they are the fissures between mountains and cells the wind lances through, the icy narrowing fiords splitting the cliffs of mystery. Go up into the gaps. If you can find them; they shift and vanish too. Stalk the gaps. Squeak into a gap in the soil, turn, and unlock–more than a maple–a universe. This is how you spend this afternoon, and tomorrow morning, and tomorrow afternoon. Spend the afternoon. You can’t take it with you. (274)
That third sentence from the end, squeak, turn the soil, a universe, but why just one? A pluriverse, maybe. Or pluriverses. These gaps and this turning, in them hints of gap statements, which imply needed inquiry, why hasn’t anyone thought of this yet, why hasn’t anyone done this research, explored shareably this wondering?
I’m in Tampa this week for the 2015 Conference on College Composition and Communication–an event I’ve been attending every year (except one) since 1999. This year I proposed (and was accepted to present) a poster, and after several hours of finessing for more white space, shifting elements around, and tinkering in Illustrator, here’s what I’ll be standing next to for 75 minutes this afternoon.
Don Angel’s viejito repertoire, it seems to me, implied a relationship to words that is distinguishable from the ideology of wording that is common in mainstream life to the extent that such life has been shaped by schooling. In this sense, there is much in schooling that encourages logos at the expense of the theatrical, distance at the expense of involvement. I am reminded of my own markings of student papers or my own student papers marked by teachers: “exact word?” “shift in diction,” “redundant,” “too wordy, tighten up,” “clarify!” “verb tense shift,” “awkward,” “dangling modifier,” “your thinking is not coherent here,” “is this logical?” “verb agreement problem,” “what?” and so on. During such practices the word, phrase, sentence, paragraph, and discourse become objects of consciousness and begin to create what I am calling here an ideology of wording whose ultimate goal is the mastery of both discourse and the lifeworld that the discourse points to. An aspect of this ideology of wording is that the theatrical becomes a set of effects, important in their own right and in certain contexts but potentially deceptive in knowledge-making contexts. Indeed, much of Don Angel’s knowledge—curanderismo, stories of the supernatural, and divining practices—were so far off the professional logos map as to be considered merely theatrical. In this sense, Don Angel’s narrative style reinforced the marginalization of his narrative content from the professional and mainstream styles of the modern world. (65)
Ralph Cintron, Angel’s Town
Over the two-week break between semesters (more on the front end of it, actually), I spent a few minutes with Cintron’s Angel’s Town, mostly because I wanted to trawl back through a good ethnography to refresh my sense of why ethnography is so demanding, so time and methods intensive. The First-year Writing Program I direct now has a number of instructors who frame research as ethnography, which is another reason I felt compelled to pick this up.
Cintron’s “ideology of wording” has stuck, this passage has held on, since I read it a few weeks ago. The viejito—here set in relief against a schoolish ideology of wording—is a punning language game with so much vernacular nuance and layered innuendo that Cintron freely admits how incomplete any representation of must be. Nevertheless, this tension between viejito and an “ideology of wording” stands as a terrific example of the hard-to-mix qualities of academically situated discourse practices (i.e., writing, speaking, and “reading” in school) with their legacy logoi, and, on the other hand, the everyday rhetorics that operate powerfully and cogently elsewhere.
In both classes I’m teaching this winter, a grad seminar in Computers and Writing focused in particular on “ecologies of practice” and an undergraduate class in style and technology, I have felt like this passage is trailing me around, shadowing me. Cintron’s account of viejito parlays gets at something akin to an “ecology of practice” for how the exchanges bloom, transcending and exceeding mainstream language conventions. Grasping this, then, by studying the viejito up close, requires what Richard Coe would have described as an eco-logic, because their systemic manifestation that cannot be explained by analysis of isolated parts. And in the (online) style+technology class, there has been quite a bit of discussion wordiness (Holcomb and Killingsworth 47). Concision has its time and place, of course, but wordiness (or the charge of wordiness) constrains the kind of theatrical, involved wordplay Cintron notices and calls our attention to.
Finally, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about Cintron’s contrastive pairings of logos vs. the theatrical and distance vs. involvement in the second sentence. The pairings accomplish some of the distinction that moves his analysis forward, but it also hints at a question about the tidiness and convenience of these conceptual frames. To break from this, for a second, for example, what might the combination of distance and the theatrical make possible? Is there already a distant-theatrical quality in Cintron’s (or, to be fair, any ethnographer’s) observing and filtering for insights? I’m interested in whether the distance-theatrical can advance other methods, too (or rather, by carrying out the distance-theatrical, explore other yet unasked questions). But this—as well as the tension between viejito and the ideology of wording—seems like a big deal for ethnography and especially for the kinds of ethnography attempted in first-year writing or by researchers who are just starting out in rhetoric and composition/writing studies.
Concerned with drift-states and their ends, Ramin Bahrani’s short movie Plastic Bag traces one tote’s voyage along currents, circuits, and snags as it makes its way home to the Trash Vortex, the whirling gyre of rubbish accumulating in the Pacific, which I was reminded of by Timothy Morton’s blog yesterday. Drift logics are not monolithic, then. “Adrift” is not a baggy, inclusive state, no generic circum-stance. Consider precious< - >toxic differences between drifting glass (e.g., messages in a bottle), driftwood, and drift plastics. The film’s synthetic protagonist (plastagonist?) reminds us, when hitched eternally on the reef, about a condition, for better or worse, of drift logics: they stick-unstick and thus sever (or otherwise obfuscate) and also momentarily verify trace-correlations between consequences and preconditions. And this must pose a methodological quandary for tracing the “adrift.”
Alan Liu’s MLA 2011 paper, “Where is Cultural Criticism in the Digital Humanities?” arrived this morning in Google Reader. Basically, Liu introduces the 4Humanities advocacy initiative and then argues that a lack of cultural criticism in digital humanities may thwart the growth of this emerging field. Making data and making things out of data may not matter if, when deploying these things, digital humanists have not been able to demonstrate their value.
This inquiring into the status and location of specific, identifiable ingredients, e.g., “cultural criticism,” does seem like a common enough quest when we are confronted with something new and in-becoming as is the case for digital humanities. Up for discussion, though, is whether “cultural criticism” ought to be one of the building blocks in this new domain and what, exactly, is at stake should digital humanists neglect critique. Liu positions as rivals “close reading” and “distant reading,” and while I have questions about this matchup (i.e., equivalency) in the context of Moretti’s work, Liu ends up suggesting an improved, harmonious, cultural-critical blend. Distant readings (e.g., abstractions, models, visualizations) need to be cycled back through a critical apparatus, or people will not find relevance in them. Liu puts it this way: “To be an equal partner–rather than, again, just a servant–at the table, digital humanists will need to find ways to show that thinking critically about metadata, for instance, scales into thinking critically about the power, finance, and other governance protocols of the world.” A cynical reading of this argument finds the presumed nuturalness of critical thinking and hermeneutics in the humanities overstated, and, likewise, it appears to minimize (or altogether overlook) the heuretic-inventive edge of distant reading.
Still, for traditional-minded humanities scholars given to digital treatments of rare and special texts, this makes a certain sense. These methods and insights related to them should scale into other domains. But will their value go missing if that scaling–a scaling of “cultural criticism,” at that–is not fully realized (a rhetorical challenge, indeed)? Keeping in reach the advocacy motives of 4Humanities, the talk also hearkens to broader concerns about the dwindling cultural status of the humanities in general. If humanists’ digital expertise is not valued in other domains because those folks are capable of data-mining, coding, etc., then, in one scenario, what awaits is the continuation of a value-it-how-you-will interpretive enterprise. Much is at stake in how the digital humanities goes, in other words. We can expect its failures and successes to have residual bearing on the humanities more traditionally understood. This thinking is a degree removed from Liu’s central assertion. I think it’s as likely the case that digital humanities, for its investment in computation, is not as much at risk as the non-digital humanities. If the digital humanities are going to be preservation-minded, in other words, perhaps they should be as much concerned with the heuretic and inventive aspects of their work as they are with the critical and hermeneutic aspects.