Saturday, July 19, 2008

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.

Setting aside the pedagogical imperative for a moment, here's one way I've tried to come at the problem of lingering dichotomies in the field. In this mock up, I don't mean to imply that the axes are unchanging, but I do find it compelling to ask--at this abstract level--whether they are shifting or whether we are shifting or both. Both and then some, right? Over the course of study in any graduate program, we might expect that orientations would shift. Coursework often encourages this sort of dabbling for the sake of settling where to avoid and where to be, at least for now. How greatly these orientations shift depend on many variables, of course, but it stands to reason that they are determined partially by outside factors: the shape of the graduate curriculum, the training and expertise of faculty leading particular courses, and so on.

(Endlessly?) Shifting Orientations

Forgive for a second that I'm switching from when? to who? in the image below. I have done this simply to suggest that committees, too, probably do not crowd into any one box on this (admittedly problematic) grid. In fact, twenty years ago (even ten years ago?), few programs had an adequate number of rhet/comp faculty that a full committee could coexist on this grid. Why should this matter? Well, for one thing, it seems to me there is some value in having a committee whose perspectives, in a highly cooperative and professional manner, differ. This is not meant to characterize my committee or anyone's in particular, but it does suggest how the "pedagogical imperative" comes to roost: it can be summoned by just one question: application?

Committee Composition

Another way to split this out is to change "practice" to "application," and then to expect that any proposed project that gravitates in a corner risks seeming out of touch with the other areas. Does this matter? Perhaps and perhaps not. But I would think a project in which, let's say, every chapter is concerned with rhetorical analysis (as rhetoric applied) might be strengthened by certain careful gestures to other areas. This, by the way, doesn't run afoul of anything in Kopelson's article. Maybe--if it does anything at all--it helps explain how guiding questions come about, especially when a project is exceedingly committed to a narrowly focused "corner." Kopelson writes, "Yet, as my forthcoming analysis demonstrates, reductive though it is, this account of 'the battle' nonetheless reflects a disciplinary reality: after two decades of discussion, there are corners of the discipline in which the conversation remains stalled, where the theory/practice split remains entrenched, and where its resultant pedagogical imperative holds sway" (752). Yes. Still, I am not clear about how to reckon those corners and the specialization they imply with the more wholesome, middled stances that demand a generalist's wherewithal. This tension is sharper because of Kopelson's call for "developing our own brand of specialized knowledge" (751). Should we root that "specialized knowledge" at the crossroads (incidentally, where we find the most corners converging) or elsewhere?

Out of Whack?

Below I have turned from the hypothetical dissertation-in-a-corner to my own. Chs. 1-4 are well-enough drafted that I can justify their positions. Ch. 5 is underway, and these few pages into it, I can see it moving through matters of the rhetoricity of maps to the limits of representationalism as a cartographic imperative (What? You can tell just by that line that I haven't written the whole thing yet?!). Chapter Six will do everything that remains, and so I have centered it up: bullseye. But again, beyond indulging in my own reflective moment, I am trying to get traction on the ways in which these orientations co-exist and play out with considerably more refinement in specific cases than they do for something as abstract and unwieldy as the field-at-large. Further, I anticipate questions that will ask me to explain my choices, given that my committee's orientations will not precisely overlap the orientations of these chapters (or: this is some of what happens throughout revisions; or: this is how a candidate does or does not become the spitting image of a committee).

Restoring Order to the Universe in C. 6

Finally, because by now you are impatient with the grid, one more sp(l)it image.

Will We?

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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