Wednesday, June 13, 2007

How Far Can We Drift?

I 've been re-reading Cynthia Haynes' "Writing Offshore: The Disappearing Coastline of Composition" over the past two days. I'd read it this spring, even referred to it in my CCCC paper and in my dissertation prospectus. But this time I wanted to work at it more slowly, soak in it.

This time around, I kept finding floating crumbs that made me think this is the 50-page scholarly article version of China Mieville's The Scar. I probably can't do justice to this in the time I have right now, but I will try. Considering that The Scar is an adventure on the high seas about a hybrid, hodge-podge floating city (Armada, as dappled and remade as composition studies) and the fetishistic Lovers who command the peculiar conglomeration, there are surprising tie-ins. [Spoiler alert.]

Haynes writes of her own sea-ward excursion, a whale-watching trip into the Artic Sea. This is the event that primes her call for writing offshore, for abstraction, drifting, and groundless solidarities that offset the anchor that is argumentation, the root of composition's "pedagogical juggernaut" (673). On abstraction and composition's containment of it, a "thunderous breach"!

Just there, beneath the seas of Eckhart's theological detachment and Heidegger's secular withdrawal, we witness the thunderous breach of our whale--abstraction. But unlike Melville's Ahab, we do not slaughter the abstraction and lash it to our vessel in order to preserve some divine balance between Kant's a priori and Locke's tabula rasa. We let it be abstract; we withdraw, move away, and tread in astonishment. Into its wake I would have us sail as awakened teachers of writing and rhetoric, inviting students to detach themselves from us, from the ground--and to think in the abstract, in writing. (677)

Leap from Melville's whale to Mieville's avanc, a too-deep-to-be-seen mythical underwater creature, harnessed by the Lovers in an attempt to tow the floating city and its castaways toward their destination, the mysterious scar. Preparations:

The frantic work continued, and below the water, the shape of the avanc's harness grew slowly more solid. It was ghosted, its outlines in girders and wooden supports, like an abstract for some implausible building. As the days went on it grew a little more substantial, its intricate spines and gears more like something real. It grew through extraordinary efforts of the crews. The city was on something like war footing, every iota of industry and effort commandeered. People understood that they were careening at breakneck speed into a new epoch. (345)

Back to Haynes who would have us steer "toward an abstract horizon" (671):

The diverse senses of converting argumentation pedagogy to teaching abstraction could also include teaching how to achieve distance, to detach from one's preconceptions, distill concepts, condense language, and translate meanings. Learning to abstract would involve learning the alluring nature of language, how it draws you away, how it seduces you. (715)

What are the limits of this seduction? I ask not because I'm doubtful of Haynes' push-off from the shore but because I find it reassuring, even encouraging, her discussion of abstraction. For the Armadans, including Tanner Sack, the underwater specialist given to morphing amphibious, and Bellis, the translator of many languages, containing the avanc took a turn:

The avanc is sick.
Trying to continue its mindless motion at the rockmilk engine's command, it slows and slows. It is--what? Bleeding, wounded? Fevered? Chafed sore by the alien reality around it? Too mute or stupid or obedient to feel or show its pain, the avanc's lesions are not healing. They are shedding their dead matter in suppurating clots that eddy free and drift up like oil, expanding as the crushing pressure lessens, enveloping and suffocating fish and weed, until what breaks the waves with a mucal slurp is a noisome coagulate of infection smothered sea-life.
Somewhere between two and three thousand miles into the Hidden Ocean, the avanc is sick. (491-492)

A groundless solidarity between the whale of abstraction and the harnessed avanc? Uncertain. But why not work at this in a course, say an unlikely graduate course, one piled high with ground/sea allegories for the discipline, for discourse, and so on.

A few of the readings:
Haynes, Cynthia. "Writing Offshore: The Disappearing Coastline of Composition Theory." JAC 23.4 (2003): 667-724.
Royster, Jacqueline Jones. "Academic Discourses or Small Boats on a Big Sea." ALT DIS: Alternative Discourses in the Academy. Christopher Schroeder, Helen Fox, and Patricia Bizzell, eds. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook, 2002. 23-30.
McComiskey, Bruce. "Introduction." English Studies: An Introduction to the Discipline(s).
Neel, Jasper. "Reclaiming Our Theoretical Heritage: A Big Fish Tale." Olson 3-11.
Mieville, The Scar.
Deadliest Catch, season I.
Sid Perkins on "Flotsam Science." Week of April 28, 2007; Vol. 171, No. 17 , p. 267.

Haynes, "Writing Offshore: The Disappearing Coastline of Composition Theory"

H aynes, Cynthia. "Writing Offshore: The Disappearing Coastline of Composition Theory." JAC 23.4 (2003): 667-724.

Haynes calls for composition-theory in motion, a willingness to drift all the while cognizant that "so much defies reason" (669). If composition's theoretical currents are akin to waters upon which we float, in much that same way Haynes was when she launched from the Norwegian shore into the Artic Sea in the scene that opens the essay, argumentative writing with its commitment to ground/reason is the anchor that has dragged "until it took hold among the bedrock curricula of grammar and style, aims and modes, claims, grounds, and warrants" (668). Haynes sets out "dissatisfied with teaching writing that is primarily argumentative writing qua reason" (669). Invoking Crowley, Haynes expresses skepticism toward the "discourse of needs" (i.e., "students 'need' to write and think in particular ways" (668d)). Composition, is, in effect "rotten with reason" (668)--poisoned with a mindset in relentless pursuit of "the why, the reason, the rationale" (668). Writing offshore desires the disappearing coastline while acknowledging a need for movement; "it is suggestive" (670), preferring something like Elam's "groundless solidarity." Haynes writes, "Equally charged and similarly moved, I mean to probe the ground beneath teaching argument (née critical thinking) that compels us to teach good writing as the invention of good reasons" (670).

Unlearning a Pedagogical Apparatus (671)
Haynes creates a polarity between argumentation and abstraction, preferring the latter, but not as something the belongs exclusively to the authority of the teacher and not as something that stirs in smoothly with the "discourse of needs" (viz., "students need abstraction"). That is, as we move away from the shoreline of composition theory, we would move toward an "abstract horizon" (671), shifting our relationship to ground, footing, and finitude. The "pedagogical juggernaut" (Ong) composition has inherited suffers from a Ramist attachment to logic and reason; teacher training (replication of the juggernaut) collapses ars (art) and doctrina (teaching), reducing pedagogy to argumentation: "Reason is perfected in pedagogy, for pedagogy, by pedagogues" (673). Haynes argues for "unbuild[ing] this pedagogical apparatus" (673), for unlearning as the "defamiliarization vis-à-vis unquestioned forms of knowledge" (673). With a Derridean willingness to "disturb the doxa in its slumber", Haynes acknowledges the chance that she will be charged with "irresponsibility," but she is willing to bear this charge if it allows her "to probe the depths of a more responsive relation to students, to each other, and to each Other" (674).

The Ground of Reason (674)
Haynes "prepare[s] us to need the sea" (674), as she works at the joint between argumentation and abstraction. Reason, logic, and ground are the anchors, the root system of too much composition theory; Heidegger's turn on Being (from anchor, a release toward Being as "the principle of ground itself") moves such thinking offshore: "Just there, beneath the seas of [Meister] Eckhart's theological detachment and Heidegger's secular withdrawal, we witness the thunderous breach of our whale--abstraction" (677). But abstraction requires yet more training: "We need to hear this word, and we need to tread slowly" (677) (sounds like Latour on slowciological accounts). Abstraction risks "the fallacy of misplaced concreteness" (677) (i.e., going aground where determinate meaning is built). "We cannot leap from ground to ground unless we keep moving; and we cannot build castles in the air on solid foundations" (678). Still, from the withdrawal/detachment, we drift away from "representational thinking." Persistent problem: "Resting in our not-leaping poses the ultimate hazard: we become so rooted in reason that our feet sink deep into the sand at low tide, and each attempt to step out and up is futile" (680).

Street-Smart Writing Students (682)
Haynes is skeptical of calls to "connect the text and the street" because such gestures tend to conjure up the flaneur as the prototypical city-goer, along with its problematic "attitude towards knowledge and its social context" and its "writing safely hidden by anonymity and insignificance" (683). Here, the dismissal of the flaneur feels too deliberately pursued; he never stood a chance! But this particular framing of flanery, although it doesn't account for how such an attitude might be an improvement on certain other attitudes (some of this in the flaneur's preference for social realities as preferable to the hermeneut's disposition)...this particular framing is used to "glimpse an unhappy association in whose folly we are unwittingly complicit by connecting 'the text and the street'" (683). Haynes puts it bluntly: "'the street' serves as a metonymic substitution through which the old 'bait and switch' of 'reinventing the university' is accomplished" (683). "Street smarts" flattens into argumentation, keeping with "Hellenic male ceremonial combat" traditions, in which conflict is performed in such a way that maximally manages tensions. Haynes works through a series of references--T.R. Johnson's "School Sucks," ETS research on "Extending Intelligence," and a program called Reason!able that supports argument maps--visual renderings of a text (Haynes is especially critical of this; it's not clear that she has much tolerance for visuality, especially where technology is concerned).

What Should Not be Built (686)
Check the foundation. Is it rotten? In this section, Haynes works from Virilio's notion of the "trajective" (rather than objective or subjective) to explore the mode of being that involves "movement from here to there" (686). The nomad, transcience. She couples the trajective to questions about architecture (and ground), borrowing from Rajchman: "What would an architecture of such trajectories and movements look like?" (686). Here, Haynes also recombines the flanuer (taken apart previously) and replaces him with the refugee as "the figure of the dispossessed" passing and dwelling different "zones of intensity" (687). Citing Sirc, she mentions the change he articulates, drawing on avant-garde architects, artists, and theorists, from street "as mere topos to the street as event" (687). Clearly she prefers the latter, aligning with Sirc in "groundless solidarity." Lebbeus Woods comes up, too, as Haynes draws up a "rhetoric of the unbuilt" (688). Woods' work is that of speculative, imagined architectures, the pre-concretized abstractions that peel layers from reality with uncertainty. More examples follow, of a "peace park" between North and South Korea proposed by Natsios and Young, and of Libeskind's proposed model for the World Trade Center memorial: "Such projects remind us that a rhetoric of the unbuilt must also consider (and rendered in in/visible textures) unqualified hope" (691). Haynes calls this section an "attempt to locate (and appropriate) permissible isomorphisms between theoretical architecture and composition theory" (693) in such a way that can "bridge the expanse between reason and refuge" (695). "What clearly was needed were not new objects, but a new orientation toward a phenomenal field of events and interactions--not objects, but the abstract regimes of force that organize and deploy them" (84) (694) [Read this alongside Latour's renewal of objects; could this be taken as an undesireable sort of abstraction compatible with the sociology of the social?]

Pedagogy and the Refugee (695)
"One answer, then, to the question of what an architecture of trajectories would look like is: a boat in an intensive zone" (695). Instensive why? What puts a boat in an intensive zone? (Piracy, mutiny, scurvy?) The density is sharply up in this section; Haynes works at the problem of the "tourism experience" as relates to invoking refugee-as-figure for "abject forced mobility" (696). The irrationality (unreasonableness) of refugees primes an ethical muddle: "It cannot go without saying that removing the ground has profound implications for re-moving students into the murky waters of border politics" (697). Agamben, Agamben. Can't be oblivious to matters of the un-reason-able. Heidegger, Derrida (slow down!). Quarantining terms. Reason threatens to turn us away from Being itself (701). But a poetics of the trace remains (some hope in this): Heidegger: "What is presumed to be eternal merely conceals a suspended transiency, suspended in the void of durationless now." Haynes finds in Heidegger a revived current (charge, voltage) for the poet, still, "Thus far we have scarcely issued a reading that can properly stand beside the refugee without addressing the incongruity of poetizing in the face of their immediate and devastating dangers" (703).

Unbuilding the Logic of Containment (704)
Haynes seems to be reassembling deconstruction, re-accounting for its over-simplification, which made possible its take-down by proponents of "practical reason" (704). Haynes goes back over deconstruction with an abstraction-toothed comb, citing Caputo's explanation that "Deconstruction offers no excuse not to act....Undecidability does not detract from the urgency of decision; it simply underlines the difficulty" (704). Working through "Derrida's call for 'forms of solidarity yet to be invented'" and matters of hospitality and cosmopolitanism, Haynes works toward an assertion of "renegade rhetorics" (707), incorporating nods to Ulmer, Worsham, Sirc, Vitanza, and Davis, as she shows that "[r]hetoric as refuge rearticulates the paths of the poets and illuminates their abstract trajectories. Displacing argument is rhetoric's supreme task; disinventing logos is rhetoric's sacred duty" (707). For the concentrated push against argument and reason, this bit comes very close to sound like an assertion--an argument for the heretical. "Into these uncommonplaces, I submit rhetoric as refuge, writer as refugee, and abstract pedagogy" (708). Haynes also admits her own (t)reason: an account of the program at UTA, which was undone, some believe, by the "steady poisoning of rhetoric with the principle of reason" (708). Haynes continues to challenge the behemoth of argumentation: "Our collective (t)reason will be necessary to dismantle this edifice" (710).

Writing Nomadically (711)
"Keeping still to [her] desire to remain suggestive," (711) Haynes declares several musts in a string of manifesto-like challenges (take off the garb of the flaneur, dispossess our monopoly on abstraction, etc.). She tells about the "quasi-journal Archigram", which "rendered radical creations such as capsule apartments, walking cities (on the ocean), instant cities, university nodes, most of which were never meant to 'take up a finite configuration'" (711)--the "unbuilt spoof in response to their view of traditional architecture as hoax" (712). Receivables? Much like what Saper writes of in Networked Art (on-sendings, kits, etc.). Archigram included a course with an assignment called "depth probe" (713). Haynes correlates the depth probe to Berthoff's "abstraction as a speculative instrument" and then accounts for the discipline's tenuous relationship to abstraction (713). Although it was a "failure" in terms of uptake, Berthoff's work, explains John Clifford, "takes seriously her call to weld philosophical frames of reference to classroom techniques" (714). How much drift can we tolerate? Berthoff lamented that "seemingly broad-minded theorists...refuse to see how far from shore we can drift on theoretial currents" (714). Abstract writing, abstracting practices are overdue.

"The diverse senses of converting argumentation pedagogy to teaching abstraction could also include teaching how to achieve distance, to detach from one's preconceptions, distill concepts, condense language, and translate meanings. Leaning to abstract would involve learning the alluring nature of language, how it draws you away, how it seduces you" (715).

End: "at times I need this depth/ forgive me" (715).

Returns

  • Re: Braddocks and argumentation (707, 717). Consider uptake/notake with Hiatt.
  • Berthoff, Langer, speculative instruments (see Berthoff on speculative instruments in "Problem with Problem Solving").
  • Reason, rational, the why, etc. as relates to rigid models (rather than relays-Ulmer).
  • Detachment from representational thinking (678): rose, being without cause, knows not why.
  • Coercion (681) and reason - Tufte.
  • Argument maps (Haynes' critique); what maps then? Or maps as abstraction? Monmonier writes only of map generalization. See abstraction/generalization distinction in Haynes and Berthoff (685).
  • Virilio on trajective (686).

Phrases: (gore-texTM)ual tourists (668b), argumentative writing (668), discourse of needs (668d), groundless solidarity (670), writing offshore (670), abstract horizon (671), Ramist dialectic (672), Ong's "pedagogical juggernaut" (673), unlearning (673), violent realities (674), castles in the air (677), abstractus (677), without why (678), marionettes (680), flaneur (682), normative catachresis (683), fliting (684), argument maps (685), trajective (686), zones of intensity (687), rhetoric of the unbuilt (688), brutal foundations (693), refugees (694), abject forced mobility (696), quarantining terms (700), metaphysical homelessness (704), renegade rhetorics (707), abstract pedagogy (708), testing contradistinctions (715), aphorism (715).