Thursday, July 17, 2008

Inversion and Dissolution

Obviously I am interested Kopelson's revisitation of ages old and still going tensions for the field of rhetoric and composition. The margins of my copy bear out busy strings of alternating yesses and questions; I suppose I'll focus this entry on a couple of the questions.

Any time I come across suggestions of the field's dissolution, I want to go as directly as I can to the evidence. What are the forms of evidence supporting this or that impression that the field is gradually changing toward some state of (presumably undesirable, even disastrous) dissolution? Also: What idyllic disciplinary model is lurking as the milk and honey benchmark against which judgments of dissolution are alleged? I mean that the suggestion of a trend toward dissolution conjures up an idealized state of the discipline. From when? Where? And just how abstract is it? (I have monkeyed with this idea in the diss, but also in some of the material on the side that won't make it into the diss, like the stuff on the Golden Age).

Kopelson puts it like this in one spot:

But whatever your particular vision of the divide [between theory and practice], and wherever you lay blame (or praise) for it--with the elitist, ponderous, past-dwelling rhetoricians, or the professionalizing, pragmatic, present-dwelling compositionists--there is evidence that the seeds of dissolution are indeed being sown. (770)

About the evidence: In this article, it amounts to (x? number) of survey responses from graduate students at two institutions--programs in the Consortium, I would guess, and a sampling of sources that have dealt more or less directly in reflections upon or critiques of disciplinarity: Dobrin, Spellmeyer, North, Swearingen, Mulderig, among others. Perhaps this is adequate for establishing dissolution, perhaps not. This is not to cast doubts on Kopelson's evidence (it is, after all, reflective of pocketed perceptions of dissolution), as much as it is to say that the change is more of situated (daresay anecdotal?) degree than of field-wide kind. And so I wonder how new this perceived sowing of "the seeds of dissolution" is, and just what does it put at risk? Following this evidence--surveys and selected sources, the next line carries the claim further: "the field of rhetoric and composition is, in the most extreme cases, gradually evacuating itself of its first term (if not explicitly in name, then implicitly in institutional practice) or, in other cases, is undergoing an interesting inversion of its titular terms" (770). The possibility of evacuation and inversion calls to mind the necessary ratios between theory and practice. Is the target ratio 50:50? Might be, depending on whether we are talking topical focus (i.e., research motivated by theory or practice) or activity itself (i.e., time spent theorizing versus time spent teaching). For graduate students, of course, these ratios vary, too. In our program, we have fellowships designed to relieve students of their teaching appointment so that they might devote greater time and energy to reading and writing (if executed well, the ratio becomes 100:0). But there are also program-level constraints on these ratios, right? Some places prefer a 70:30 split. Others, 80:20. We do not always determine them independently, nor are they constant over the arc of an appointment (through a graduate program of study or otherwise).

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

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