Theoroses 🍎

Photo by Nazarizal Mohammad on Unsplash

In what will be the fourth new grad class prep for me in two years, in seven more Mondays, I will begin teaching ENGL6524: Theories of Written Communication. 6524 is one of four required core courses in VT’s rhetoric and writing PhD program. The course description, which I would carbon date back to the program’s launch in 2007, reads, “Studies in theories applied to written communication. May be repeated twice for credit for a total of 9 hours when the topic varies.” Two sentences. The first sounds quite a bit like tautology, or maybe even doublespeak because the repetition isn’t varied enough: theories of written communication is a class that promises studies in theories applied to written communication. Notable here is that this graduate program also features an MA-level (5xxx-numbered) class called “Composition Theory,” and by implied design, I guess this means that theories of written communication and composition theory are demarcated well enough that these are two classes but not one and the same. The second sentence from the course description suggests that the class could be repeated not once, but twice, for a total of nine graduate credits. Trouble is, the class is only offered once every other year, or one time in each two-year cycle of coursework. So it hardly seems possible to repeat it even once, much less twice.

As I’m prone to doing with most classes I teach, I have been mulling over possibilities for several weeks albeit in a low-key, backburner sort of way. I notified the bookstore on Tuesday that I will not be ordering any books for the class. Instead we will sift then trace theoretical antecedents from shorter units of scholarship: 1) published articles, 2) book introductions, and 3) dissertation introductions (or first chapters). In practice, several weeks (~9) of the semester will entail reading the article or chapter along with the theoretical referent and, as such, learning to alternate similar to the way theater-goers might, between actors and props, and a cyclorama, or backdrop. Finding and following theory’s antecedent traces should, if things go well, reward us with a repertoire for theory-finding and, in turn, for theorizing. The approach is similar to the one taken in Cultural Conversations: The Presence of the Past, a textbook that I happen to be familiar with not only because I taught with it a few times but also because a professor and mentor in my MA program at UMKC, Stephen Dilks, was the book’s co-author and co-editor. Cultural Conversations laid out a two-step archeology: a historical-archival text, a contemporary uptake, and then contextualizing pieces that drew connections and filled in gaps. Our upcoming fall semester is fifteen weeks long, but some of the weeks will focus on short-form presentations, or pitches, conferences, workshopping one another’s work, and so on. The class will include weekly writing and a larger project designed in the spirit of anthologics, or assembling and introducing an album of theoretical favorites, influential and inspirational beacons for scholarly offerings students one day hope to create, whether with their own dissertations, with articles or chapters, with teaching materials, with all of it, and so on etcetera.

I want to begin the class with some consideration, together, of our experiences with theory, especially if there are any adverse reactions to theory. I am thinking here both of fear and loathing. Under what conditions, if any, has theory been scary? Are there theories that you loathe? That elicit worry? Why? Like distasteful foods, how many times would you suggest trying a theory before disqualifying it, ruling it out, casting it aside, or dismissing it altogether? This opening segment, then, points to the title of this entry. With theoroses, or something like theory’s neuroses, we might begin to parse why and to what extent theory designated as such may be offputting, difficult, time-consuming, perhaps even abruptive, steep, hazardous-seeming, or even upsetting, dare say violent. Part of this line of inquiry is meant to open up a greater awareness of our dispositions toward (or against) theory and what has formed that disposition. And part of this line of inquiry is meant to reset theory with a light-admitting aperture of possibility. If there is a third part to this line of inquiry, it rests in a few questions I don’t know the answers to yet: Must theories be named to be useful? Must theory be communicable to be useful? Can scholarship proceed with unnamed theories, and might there be any advantages in (or rationale for) shedding antecedents? Can scholarship in rhetoric and writing be theoryless?

Paired with the theoroses check-in, I want us to read Eve Tuck and C. Ree’s “A Glossary of Haunting.” The glossary is a list of keywords, and these keywords are followed by vignettes, images, and microhistories/microanalyses. The set is referential, naming other texts, but it is also personal, heeding gravity in the co-authors’ standpoints, which intersect in their collaboration but also outwardly to their respective and sometimes overlapping ways of being, knowing, and acting. So I am imagining this as an imitable text; each project (theory microanthology) will include a custom glossary of haunting and an introduction to the contents, including some engagement with the question-led threads above: fear? loathing? named? unnamed? possibilities opened? foreclosed?

Some of what I’m sorting out includes, Where to start with theory? And, How well-formed a grounding case, or object of analysis, will serve us well in coming to terms with any theory? There is of course the French critical deck with cards featuring major figures from the 1960s and 1970s. There is, alternatively, a cluster of more contemporary theorists who have given language to deleterious and destructive -isms, late Capitalism, the Anthropocene, climate collapse, globalization, and colonization and its aftermath. And, too, there are earlier models, like Stephen Pepper’s World Hypotheses: A Study in Evidence , which looks into root metaphors for formism, mechanism, organicism, and contextualism, notably nodding toward but then leaving out animism and mysticism. In yet another deck, we could have theories that direct us to consider phenomena differently still, such as with CRT, standpoint theory, intersectionality, and misogynoir, though this might also include Polanyi’s The Tacit Dimension (1966). Whichever thread I begin to work with, it pulls the others, and eventually what surfaces returns to the other part of the course title, written communication.

I would like our step-back antecendent throughlines to follow a narrowed few specific choices. Early maybes are from Alt Dis, such as Royster’s “Academic Discourses or Small Boats on a Big Sea,” stepped back to Deborah Brandt’s Literacy as Involvements (1990) or Beverly Moss’s Literacy Across Communities (1994), or Malea Powell’s “Listening to Ghosts,” stepped back to de Certau’s The Practice of Everyday Life (1984) or Harjo’s The Woman Who Fell From the Sky (1994). Another possibility is Jenny Rice’s CE article, “Para-Expertise, Tacit Knowledge, and Writing Problems” (2015) stepped back to Polanyi or to Stewart’s Ordinary Affects (2007). Another is Cynthia Haynes’ JAC article (later updated in The Homesick Phone Book (2016)), “Writing Offshore” (2003) stepped back to Worsham, “Writing Against Writing” (1991), Graff, “Hidden Intellectualism” (2001), or De Landa, “Extensive Borderlines and Intensive Borderlines” (1998). Another is Paul Prior and Jody Shipka’s “Chronotopic Lamination” (2003) stepped back to Bakhtin’s The dialogic imagination (1981) or Engeström for a check-in on CHAT. And for the book introduction step-backs, I am thinking in particular of the winner, runners-up, and perhaps a few other nominees for the RSA Book Award this year: Hsu’s Constellating Home (2022), Hawhee’s A Sense of Urgency (2023), Smilges’ Queer Silence (2022), LeMesurier’s Inscrutable Eating (2023), Detweiler’s Responsible Pedagogy (2022). And this leaves as yet-to-be gathered a small set of dissertations whose introductions and/or first chapters we’ll read similarly.

I’ll pause here, this entry vining long enough and several other to-dos lingering. But I hope to return to this, to say more about the short-form weekly writing, the intervals of pitches and workshopping, the build-ups to the larger project, which I hope will find synchrony with lead-ins to our exams process at VT. I would also like to work back to first principles, to say a bit about what I understand theory to be and do in the context of research, scholarship, teaching, and writing, both within and beyond the academy, and also to revisit the commonplace in rhetoric and composition that theorein requires practice, or application, that theory without practice is baseless, harmful, chaotic-evil, etc.

Is Food Studies an Inquiry Paradigm? ?

Mid-February scatters into stolen moments as the semester’s Week Five tides rise. There are classes to prepare and teach and observe, micro-interim administrative hand-offs to receive (push exchange yields soon thereafter to pull exchange), and a pair of stout reading lists for different awards and recognitions. The hours hand waves in its dinky circles, hello-good-bye, hello-good-bye, again, though time’s passing isn’t so much doldrum-thrum as labored, more-so than usual, for three fitfully stacked oncoming weeks.

Duty-whines aside, in and among those stolen moments, I am provisionally sizing up and laying out interlocking puzzle pieces toward a conversation and workshop session I’m due to lead in April with the Food Studies group, framed primarily by the question, “Is Food Studies a Discipline?” Provisional intuition says that it is not, or, rather, that where the Food Studies label circulates and sits, there are semi-baked artisanal cracker crumbs and runaway shreds of cheese that only almost made it into the pimento cheese, but there is not as of right now any large-scale organizing will of the sort that a cohering and widely shared theory would be useful for. I could be wrong! Depending upon how long cast is the shadow of this disciplinarity question, it’s early, and I am an interloper in that my own engagements with Food Studies are recent and probably naive, as such. Nevertheless, this question is intriguing enough to me to follow for a while. To engage it further, I have checked adjacencies (as a bowler needing bumpers might do) with Visual Studies and Writing Studies. I mean that because Visual Studies and Writing Studies have, each in their own time, rallied a not insignificant measure of attention and energy at their own disciplinarity questions, there are cross-checks and angles by which to compare, albeit lightly and with due consideration of all the ways such comparisons become complicated.

Approximately a decade ago, with the publication of Farewell to Visual Studies (Penn State UP, 2015), James Elkins sent into circulation an adapted version of an introductory lecture from 2011. The short piece consists of two elaborated lists, a list of farewells to unfulfilled promises (“Farewells”), and a list of “things [he’d] like[d] to see visual studies become.” Returning to the question I am considering, as a Rhetoric and Composition/Writing Studies academic transposing the disciplinarity question now onto Food Studies, I’ll post Elkins’ list once as it appears in Farewell to Visual Studies, and again with modifications posed as a rerig for Writing Studies and Food Studies.

List of farewells for Visual Studies (Elkins):

  • Visual studies should be harder to do.
  • Visual studies continues to depend on a relatively small, fairly fixed set of theorists.
  • Visual studies continues to look mainly at modern and contemporary visualities.

List of farewells rerigged for Writing Studies:

  • Writing studies should be harder to do.
  • Writing studies continues to depend on a relatively small, fairly fixed set of theorists.
  • Writing studies continues to look mainly at modern and contemporary composing practices and compositions.

List of farewells rerigged for Food Studies:

  • Food studies should be harder to do.
  • Food studies continues to depend on a relatively small, fairly fixed set of theorists.
  • Food studies continues to look mainly at modern and contemporary foods.

List of absences for Visual Studies (Elkins):

  • Images need to start arguing.
  • Visual studies needs to make more adequate use of its images.
  • Visual studies needs conversations about its own history.
  • Visual studies shouldn’t bypass non-art images and scientific images.
  • Visual studies should be engaged with the phenomenology of the making of images: like art history, it has yet to think seriously about what kinds of knowledge can come from the making of art.
  • Visual studies needs to resolve the unclarities of its politics.
  • Visual studies is confused about ideological critique.

List of absences rerigged for Writing Studies:

  • Writing needs to start arguing.
  • Writing studies needs to make more adequate use of its texts.
  • Writing studies needs conversations about its own history.
  • Writing studies shouldn’t bypass non-creative writing and scientific writing.
  • Writing studies should be engaged with the phenomenology of the doing of writing: like media history, it has yet to think seriously about what kinds of knowledge can come from the doing of writing.
  • Writing studies needs to resolve the unclarities of its politics.
  • Writing studies is confused about ideological critique.

List of absences rerigged for Food Studies:

  • Foodstuffs need to start arguing.
  • Food studies needs to make more adequate use of its dishes.
  • Food studies needs conversations about its own history.
  • Food studies shouldn’t bypass non-culinary foods and scientific treatments of food.
  • Food studies should be engaged with the phenomenology of the making and eating of food: like culinary history, it has yet to think seriously about what kinds of knowledge can come from the making and eating of food.
  • Food studies needs to resolve the unclarities of its politics.
  • Food studies is confused about ideological critique.

In each list for Writing Studies and Food Studies, I have boldfaced the rerigged lines that seem to me to be worthy of entertaining, even momentarily, and I have italicized the lines that suggest instead a hint (or greater) of dissonance, surfacing a quality or condition that just doesn’t quite seem congruous with the network of activities and materials that correspond with the named field of study (albeit from my own small, humble, and unavoidably limited standpoint).

Having stepped through the exercise, it leaves me with doubts about whether it generates much in the way of new insight or possibility. Might not be map to follow if we want to venture farther into the maze. Heck, it does more in service of recalling the questions about what it means for Visual Studies to have given up the ghost, so to speak (coincidentally? not conincidentally? at the same moment when Visual Rhetoric was still gaining curricular and researcherly traction, almost as if Visual Rhetoric, even if it did not get big time sustaining uptake in any of the field’s prominent organizations or journals, was untroubled by the overtures about Visual Studies’ end). And so the light turns green on the EMF meter, but I don’t know if it blinkers toward anything significant for these other two pairings, writing and food.

I don’t know yet whether I will return to Elkins’ lists or make new lists of my own for the April workshop. I am thinking that I might instead switch to an approach influenced by Steven Mailloux’s 2000 RSQ article, “Disciplinary Identities: On the Rhetorical Paths between English and Communication Studies,” where he cited Janet Emig’s 1982 CCC article, “Inquiry Paradigms and Writing.” Here’s that long excerpt from Mailloux, citing Emig:

The changed rhetorical conditions of disciplinary formation become strikingly evident in the 1982 volume of College Composition and Communication. The February issue alone contains Janet Emig’s “Inquiry Paradigms and Writing” and Maxine Hairston’s “The Winds of Change: Thomas Kuhn and the Revolution in the Teaching of Writing,” as well as reviews of rhetoric and composition collections that refer explicitly to disciplinary paradigms.’ Addressing her fellow researchers in composition studies, Emig argues that “our responses concerning the nature, organization, and evaluation of evidence reveal our inquiry paradigms, both those we elect to inhabit, and those we may even help to create” (64). She then goes on to elaborate the most important characteristics of an inquiry paradigm:

1) a governing gaze [a steady way of perceiving actuality]; 2) an acknowledged, or at least a conscious, set of assumptions, preferably connected with 3) a coherent theory or theories; 4) an allegiance to an explicit or at least a tacit intellectual tradition; and 5) an adequate methodology including an indigenous logic consonant with all of the above. (65)

Emig demonstrates how these characteristics inform disciplinary research into writing and how such phenomenological and ethnographic paradigms contrast with traditional positivistic paradigms, which sometimes are “simply, globally, and, of course, mistakenly” identified with “The Scientific Method.” Not only does Emig cite Kuhn in explaining her notion of “paradigm,” but she also clearly distances composition from traditional notions of science out of which came the scientific rhetoric used by teachers of public speaking earlier in the century.

The phrase “inquiry paradigm” rings nimbler than “discipline,” in part because inquiry paradigms haven’t imposed their ordering functions so deeply into the higher ed org charts (i.e., stabilizing, yes, but also overdetermining to the point of entrenchment in many cases the delineations walling off common questions by walling off departments and programs), and so it may turn out to be a better choice for inviting engagement on the question(s) about Food Studies and what, if anything, coheres its domain of activity. The governing gaze can refer, simply, to an in-common-ish attention structure sufficient for cooperative guidance (and corresponding leadership). Each of the other criteria–set of assumptions, coherent theories, an intellectual tradition, and an adequate methodology–steer me more toward uncertainty and less toward crisp, identifiable anchors, whether the ponderables are posed for visuality, food, or writing.

For this preliminary go-round, I’ll let this end with a ‘good enough’ nod; it’s gotten me thinking in ways I wasn’t before. Nothing conclusive, not yet. Senses of new and reshaped possibilities. And there is time, pocketed in dips and dives intermittent throughout the next couple of weeks, yet with sufficient momentum that I can pick these ideas up again with the goal of chilling the aspic for setting it more firmly by mid-late March.

Science, Etc.

We’re wrapping up Kevin Kelly’s What Technology Wants Tuesday night in 516. I won’t offer a full-blown review here; maybe another time. For now, it suffices to characterize this as a precarious read for how out of the blue and underdeveloped some of these ideas are. That is, Kelly’s discussion sometimes advances solidly for pages and then, suddenly and without forewarning, it plunges into the quicksand. I am saying this even while I continue to hold much of Kelly’s other work in high regard, yet I have found in What Technology Wants more of these soft spots than I expected I would.

For instance, there’s this:

Yet there is one legitimate way in which we can claim that Columbus discovered America, and the French-American explorer Paul du Chaillu discovered gorillas, and Edward Jenner discovered vaccines. They “discovered” previously locally known knowledge by adding it to the growing pool of structured global knowledge. Nowadays we would call that accumulating of structured global knowledge science. […] Columbus’s encounter put America on the map of the globe, linking it to the rest of the known world, integrating its own inherent body of knowledge into the slowly accumulating, unified body of verified knowledge. Columbus joined two large continents of knowledge into a growing consilient structure. (336)

That this turns up near the end, in a chapter called “Technology’s Trajectories” and a section called “Structure,” and, as well, that it is fitted between an ever-more-conciliatory argument for technological determinism and a large-scale, large-tarp theory of everything-technology called the Technium leaves me wishing for just a slightly tighter linkage between Columbus and science—if that linkage must be attempted in the first place, especially by putting Columbus on stage with du Chaillu and Jenner. Stepping sof…quicksand, possibly worse.

Here’s another puzzler, two pages later:

The evolution of knowledge began with relatively simple arrangements of information. The most simple organization was the invention of facts. Facts, in fact, were invented. Not by science but by the European legal system, in the 1500s. In court lawyers had to establish agreed-upon observations as evidence that could not shift later. Science adopted this useful innovation. Over time, the novel ways in which knowledge could be ordered increased. This complex apparatus for relating new information to old is what we call science. (338)

Maybe it’s adequate for Kelly to trace the origin of “facts” to Europe in the 1500s. But I read this and feel unsatisfied, fatigued: the linkage is too crude. Again, this is in a brief section called “Structure,” which is, in effect, a tale of science as beholden to the Technium’s build-up. And that I am impatient with the idea of facts being invented the way Kelly says they were is all the more aggravated by the unnecessarily grandiose flourishes in the book’s concluding chapter, e.g., where this theory inflates to include (or assume correspondence with) God: “If there is a God, the arc of the technium is aimed right at him. I’ll retell the Great Story of this arc again, one last time in summary, because it points way beyond us” (354). The circuit from science to facts to God: that’s a lot to expect from one unifying theory of technology.

UL

  • How is the resolution to blog every day in 2011 going? Not too shabby. Not too shabby, at all.
  • Shabby or shabbily? Shab. Shabulous.
  • IHE today reports that distance ed critic David Noble died last week at the age of 65. I read an article or two by Noble in 2004, but I never did get around to picking up his book, Digital Diploma Mills. I should, though. In fact, it undoubtedly connects with work I’m doing lately (and in the semester to come) to shift EMU’s UWC into online consultation. Also, for that matter, stuff like power adjuncting (a topic of fascination for me more than anything else) and, too, the dissoi logoi that for all of our belly-aching about automaticity in higher ed (in the humanities, particularly), there are a whole lot of ways in which we could better adopt and apply automation to some aspects of our work, especially where long-term data-keeping is at issue. Anyway, I live in an Automation Alley county, surely indicative of something.
  • Winter semester begins Wednesday. I am teaching a Tuesday night grad class, ENGL516: Computers and Writing: Theory and Practice (the titular colonpede tempts me to add another segment: 011000010111011101100101011100110110111101101101011001010000110100001010).
  • That we meet on Tuesday the 11th for the first session leaves me no other choice than to assign two articles for the first class. Right? Right! I am mildly concerned the articles will be met with a chorus of “Shabulous!” Besides the grad class, I have a faculty consulting appointment in the UWC (mentioned that earlier) and then a course release carried over from last semester from an internal research grant. My plan is to make this the hardest working semester ever and actually get a couple, maybe three, of these two-thirds finished projects sent off by May.
  • Ph. flies back to Kansas City on Saturday, ending his month-long visit. I guess this can only mean I owe him a day snowboarding at Alpine Valley, probably tomorrow.
  • Will put together a slow-cooker lentil soup so that everybody has something hot and good to come home to. They might be thinking this tastes shabulous, but their mouths will be too full to say it.
  • Last thing: Weird about the fallen birds in Arkansas, right? I mean, 1,000 birds within one square mile? The question I can’t put down is to what extent this is rhetorical–a rhetorical happening, perhaps purely of nature’s precarious course. We don’t know a cause. But then! A school of fish were found belly up in the Arkansas River a few days later, and, according to one report, “Investigators said there is no connection between the dead fish and the dead birds.” No connection? If these are rare events whose cause(s) remain(s) unknown(s) and they are geographically proximate, why assert that they are disconnected? Even if it is too early to identify a causal connection, their coincidence does foist upon them at least a choral connection. Then again, what better than “no connection” and “this happens all the time” to suppress panic. (Reminds me of this entry on dropping paper messenger “birds” during wartime)

    Saw a clever tweet linking this curious event with taking Angy Birds too seriously. I’m inclined to relate it to Twitter, though, more along the lines of subjecting my own Twitter account to “lightning or high-altitude hail.” To be continued.

    More: a turn to labs for answers. Though still no speculation about zombie scarecrows.

Theory Blackmailed, or Invention Hobbled?

Yesterday–day one of teaching in the new semester–did not quite go as planned, and in the wake of a couple of surprises, I didn’t get around to posting like I intended to in recognition of the nth annual RB of September. After a few years such postings carry a some heavy, if solitarily imagined, burden of tradition. Thus, “theory blackmailed”:

Many (still unpublished) avant-garde texts are uncertain: how to judge, to classify them, how to predict their immediate or eventual future? Do they please? Do they bore? Their obvious quality is of an intentional order: they are concerned to serve theory. Yet this quality is a blackmail as well (theory blackmailed): love me, keep me, defend me, since I conform to the theory you call for; do I not do what Artaud, Cage, etc. have done? –But Artaud is not just “avant-garde”; he is a kind of writing as well; Cage has certain charm as well… –But those are precisely the attributes which are not recognized by theory, which are sometimes even execrated by theory. At least make your taste and your ideas match, etc. (The scene continues, endlessly.) (54)

Why blackmailed? Translator Richard Howard could have selected a different connotation of “la chantage,” e.g., bluff, or intimidation. When the avante-garde serves theory, theory in turn may be said to hobble invention, to wrap it in a splint, to contain it. I read in this Barthes passage a concern for theory’s disciplining of innovation. Unexpectedly, this clicks with concerns in the Introduction and first chapter of Muckelbauer’s The Future of Invention, a book I’ve just started. Related are questions about what becomes of “the attributes which are not recognized by theory,” put another, perhaps more helpful way, Can theory keep up with avante-garde performances? Must it?

Anyway, happy RB Day, twice belatedly.

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
resonate
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
Discipline
) 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
neighborhood.

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
last
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.

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Seasonal Visitors

Early in The Function of Theory in Composition Studies, Sánchez
discusses the differences between applying theory and writing
theory. He refers to Hairston’s "The Winds of Change," as a moment that
inaugurates "an enduring method for ‘doing’ composition theory: take a term or
concept from a more respected or respectable field such as philosophy and use it
to illuminate some aspect of composition studies" (12). The way of
theorizing about writing, according to Sánchez:
appropriate and apply, appropriate and apply. There follows a soft critique:
methods in scare quotes (i.e., "predominant ‘methods’") and, within a few pages,
a discussion of those who "have reasserted the importance of empirically
oriented theorizing" (13). Sánchez echoes
Linda Flower with his interest in ways "that composition theory might generate
new theories rather than retrofit existing ones" (14). I haven’t finished
reading The Function of…, but I’m wondering at the end of the first
chapter whether the retrofit and the new can coexist, whether they are hybrid
and integral.

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