Saturday, March 6, 2004

E Pluribus Trivium

I wrapped up Scholes' Rise and Fall on Monday morning while I was waiting in the auto shop.  Since then, I've been reconsidering it from a distance--the full displacement brought on by a hearty paper load, full-time work, and other important stuff-o-life.  I keep coming back to a few basic ideas set up by Scholes in chapter four, "A Flock of Cultures."  Throughout, Scholes uses a split chapter system, so, for example, chapter four has a postlude called "assignment four" in which he details--in practical terms--an application of much of the theorizing he summons in the early portion of the chapter.  Before the "assignment" section, he proposes a design  for a general education curriculum parsed into grammar, dialectic and rhetoric. Scholes introduces this threesome under the heading, "A Trivial Proposal."  He's having fun with the connotations of "trivial," enlisting it as something of lesser consequence (than the Western Civilization and Great Books canonical approaches) and also as a modern resurrection of the medieval model for foundational education--the basis preceding advanced scholarship in "arithmetic, geometry, astronomy and music." He explains the subtle differences between each of the course-types.  For grammar, a course called "Language and Human Subjectivity" would comb over pronoun usage and alienation in language structures.  A second grammar course would concern "Representation and Objectivity."  Anthropological perspective, ethnography, the objective discourses pervasive in the observational sciences: these would be done up in this second grammar course.  For rhetoric, he suggests a course on "Persuasion and Mediation," which "would obviously include the traditional arts of manipulation of audiences but would also point toward the capacities and limits of the newer media, especially those that mix verbal and visual textuality to generate effects of unprecedented power" (125).  To round this one out--and because Scholes spends relatively little time on it--I would toss in technology

Til now, I've summarized Scholes, little more.  I still have to wrestle with his course concerning dialectic. He dubs the course "System and Dialetcic."  The purpose is philosophical grounding, critical positioning, reason and logic, historical antecedents, and leverage in rich, complex, and intertwined discursive legacies.  Good enough.  But this brings me back to something Scholes writes about Hegel earlier in the chapter, and it brings me back with a sense of  thin (okay, nano-thin, but even nanotechnology can achieve conduction.) connection to parts of what Collin wrote the other day, especially on deference to "the field" or "the discipline" of Composition Studies.  From Scholes: 

As I have already partly indicated, I believe that our tendency to speak in terms of Western Civ is derived from the degeneration of Hegelian ideas into the repertory of "common sense." I call this a degeneration because, in this passage from systematic thought to folk wisdom, Hegel's ideas have been separated from the rationale that drove them.  By putting them back in their Hegelian context, I hope to show both what they have lost in this transition and how we shall have to adapt and modify them to make them useful again for curricular purposes.  Let me begin this complex process by pointing out that for Hegel the idea of studying the West without the East would be ludicrous.  The basic principle involved here is Hegel's view of history as a dialectical process, in which the new always results from the negation and sublation of the old, in which certain elements of the old are retained within the new synthesis.  By seeing the West as the dialectical heir to the East, Hegel incorporates understanding of the East as a necessary part of the study of Germanic (or Western) culture. (114)

From here, I don't want to ratchet into too-tight conclusions; this is a tentative think-through--one that I hope carries over into more questions for other days.  It's just that "negation and sublation" are variously deliberate (active) and inadvertent (passive), but they're paramount to the dialectic process of forward-moving transformations informed by history. Taken another way, I suppose we could call them corrosive to our sense of shared values (about best practices, say), of a social network, or to the field or the discipline, set apart by "its own momentum and character as an organization."  I've typed right up to a crossroads here--one that I know needs more deliberation, more consideration.  It's just that Scholes is whispering "dialectic," as I'm reading Milgram, reading "agentic shift."  Scholes is winking me back to this passage on Hegel (which rings of authority, canon, discipline, globalism), and I'm trying to play along, sputtering at times, but trusting that this will come together, that a refined understanding will come about from this search.  And maybe Scholes is there because, in proximal terms, he was there most recently--Monday--as I read and waited for the oil change.  Will he still be there tomorrow?  Will Hegel?  Will the East?  Abstraction and shift, abstraction and shift.  To what end?

A few more quick notes on Scholes and his curricular trivium.  I like many things about it, and I see ways that much of it is already taking good form in the FY sequence, upper division WI courses, and interdisciplinary parternships.  The model left me with questions about how composition already marries the trivium into a single course.  All three parts, in effect, share writing.  Or writing shares them.  Either way, the composition classroom is where all of this is going on at once, yes?  The other angle of my critique of Scholes--and I noted it earlier--is the rather buried issue of technology in his plan. 

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