Spitting Images

A passing tribute to having wrapped up Dan Roam’s
The Back of the Napkin
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
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]