CCR 711: Narrative and Rhetoricity

What struck me most from the readings in Disability and the Teaching of Writing by Cynthia Lewiecki-Wilson and Brenda Jo Brueggeman is the role of narrative.

For some, like Mark Mossman and John Hockenberry, stories are sites of vocalization. Indeed, Mossman stresses the political impact of stories, arguing, “telling stories. . . is doing something, making something happen, for telling stories, in the social context of disability, articulates the rhetoric of social change” (165). The “rhetoric of social change” arises from vocalizing a subjective experience that  normally lies hidden or marginalized.

And while Hockenberry evokes a less deliberate position, the power of his narrative traversing the subway, especially the way the white passengers consistently ignore him, in itself is a rhetorical assertion of being. Coming back to past readings, like Pendergast or Yergeau, this rhetoricity allows an existence of sorts that may otherwise get unacknowledged or ignored by those in power, much like Hockenberry himself.

Michael Berubé points out a similar need for recognition in the context of the possibility afforded by disability legislation for his son Jamie with Down Syndrome. He critiques the idea of “intrinsic human rights and human dignity” by pointing to a blunt reality: “what would it mean for Jamie to ‘possess’ rights that no one on earth recognized” (241)? Framed more in the context of narrative, what would one do if no one listened to the stories of Hockenberry, Yergeau, or Mossmann?

A similar silencing takes place in Audre Lorde’s reflections on prosthetic breasts. Rather than reflect on (and help make sense of) “the feeling and fact” (254) of her lost breast, Lorde gets encouraged to simply get a prosthetic one. In this case, Lorde’s attempt is not only ignored but encouraged into silence,  “glossed over” as “not looking on ‘the bright side of things'” (252). Instead, other narratives of womanhood, focused on outward normality, get reinforced. As a woman, one should look good (and normal) regardless of inward understanding.

Dominant narratives also get examined by David Mitchell, who describes how many texts use “narrative prosthesis,” grounding narrative in “a desire to compensate for a limitation or to reign in excessiveness” (187). In this way, disability has a ubiquitous presence, yet remains invisible and filtered out, explained away or dealt with in the story.

Tobin Siebers futher highlights the political importance of these aesthetic dimensions. Though less grounded on narrative, Siebers focuses on the larger symbolic web that informs attitudes toward bodies. Here, description is central: “Human communities come into being and maintain their coherence by imagining their ideal forms on the basis of other bodies. It is no accident, then, that descriptions in disarray summon images of the disabled body” (264). Bodily associations and significations  infuse practices and spaces, like architecture, excluding abnormal or undesirable bodies in aesthetic–we don’t wanna see it–and pragmatic–we don’t serve it–ways.

Thus, as Ben Okri writes, “It is easy to forget how mysterious and mighty stories are. They do their work in silence, invisibly. They work with all the internal materials of your mind and self. They become part of you while changing you. . . . subtly, at night, beneath the waters of consciousness, they are altering your world.” Evoking change or promoting silence, stories, especially in a disability context, have power. Often, just being heard–or being heard in discord to demeaning ideologies–does feel like an important step. A method and methodology for change.

But at the same time, I’m curious about the broader politics of listening. Like Bakhtin–and many others–have pointed out, the listener is also part of the communicative act. They are also part of rhetoric and sense-making. So is the broader ambience, to use Rickert’s approach, of “matter and meaning” that inform a latent affectability in the rhetorical ecology.

I think my guiding question this semester has been: what if that “listener” or the ambience of a situation is not open to the voice of people with disabilities. Silence occurs, subjectivities erased behind a static of terministic screens and world-weaving narratives, but this is not simply vocal silence. It is ontological. It’s the erasure from public life, politics, educational paradigms, paradigms of mind, rhetoricity. But at the same time, embodied subjectivity–bodies in and for themselves–“are,” like a palimpsest trying to get read.  But the etchings and rubrics of another are already trying to speak for them, be they laws, procedure, or ideologies, burying the deeper rhetoric that is already there.

Thus, the question is not simply speaking or listening, but getting others to listen, and getting those who need to be heard into positions above the “chatter,” to use Heidegger’s term, where their own rhetoricity resonates. It’s about creating a system where kairos takes place and things change.

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IST 700: The Research Life

After a productive spurt this past week, this weekend has been a bit of an up-hill trudge. But one continues. I have my favorite tea and a door open to a sunny spring day. This is good.

First, an update on the current fanfic project. I’ve started hearing back from people. Just two for now, though one asked for a more set deadline for responses. I probably should have given an earlier day, like this weekend, so that I could reply, but I feel odd about imposing, as these questions are an intrusion I’d imagine. Like a lingering survey, stuck in an inbox because you may do it and win the free gift card–one day.

Only, I don’t have any gift cards.

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CCR 711: Early Thinking on the Final Paper

think my larger question/interest is based around seeing the “institution” as a rhetorical agent. I’m still moving to more fully define what I mean by institution, but at this stage, I see it as an organization or custom that persists through time and helps care for, manage, or direct a particular issue–here, disability. I guess what drew me to this particular question is the sort of “banality of evil” that we discussed, the way that fairly good or neutral people end up perpetuating oppressive actions.

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CCR 611: Avoiding Neutrality

I found a lot of rich material from today’s readings, so I guess I’ll just pick a thread and run with it: neutrality.

As Horton notes, “Neutrality is just following the crowd. Neutrality is just being what the system wants us to be. Neutrality, in other words, is an immoral act” (102). In this context, neutrality is immoral because structures remain in place–be they of racism, classism, etc.–that thrive on the status quo. Thus, to remain neutral, one perpetuates the problematic momentum that already exists.

This resonates with Kynard’s observation on the rhetoric of student “need” that often gets invoked by teachers and administrators in the face of more radical critique. As she writes, “the trope of what students need is usually claimed as politically neutral territory for
a rather conservative mode of curriculum and instruction” (93). Such needs, argues Kynard, “are for the monolithic student, the monolithic kind of college writing requirement, the monolithic argumentative essay, and the monolithic college assignment” (93). In this way, doing nothing, one is siding with the status quo.

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IST 700: Interview Angst

When it comes to interviews, I come back to my journalism background. My first interview was as a freshman writing a profile piece about a tennis player for the sports section–a mysterious assignment, as I don’t really like sports.

I talked to the player and a few of his teammates for a few minutes, recording the conversations in a tape recorder and making meaningless notes in a spiral notebook.  I was terribly nervous, nervousness only matched by gawkiness, gawkiness only matched by social anxiety.

Overtime, I got good at interviews. I got better at putting people at ease with small talk, at taking short notes, quoting accurately. I built a whole ecology of interview practice–of ritual and method. Most of these interviews were face-to-face, short, with one or two meetings, often in a public place, and with largely innocuous conversations. For some stories, I did need to be careful, and often had long interviews that I transcribed. Some were outside and on the run. Others were behind closed doors. Some were relaxed. Others tense.

So when I started to prep for interviews this semester, I was confident. But, oh, experience is an unwieldy beast.

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CCR 611: Citizenship, Affect, and Literacy

As Amy Wan highlights, citizenship is a messy word, a word that comes up in many discussions about writing but rarely gets interrogated or defined. It exists as a “ambient” term.

At its most reductive, it’s a legal status, as Wan points out. But it also has a cultural element infused with literacy. As Wan notes, “it [citizenship] is not simply a conferred legal status, but cultivated through a number of civil political, and social rights and obligations” (27).  Literacy training allows one to “cultivate” these abilities, letting people who lack literacy–like the immigrants whom Wan discusses–enter as “productive” members of society.

Here, once again, literacy instruction is tied up with gate keeping. Instructors of writing, as part of the ambient cohort of literacy training, do citizen training. And the roles of this citizen, while having many contradictory forms, closely align with economics in Wan’s view: “Through an emphasis on productivity and economic survival in literacy training, immigrants were taught the importance of literacy as a habit of citizenship and as a marker of productivity” (41). And this productivity was further aligned with the habit-training of literacy. “Good” citizens are not only literate and productive, but honest and clean.

And above all, this citizenship bore the odd paradox of becoming part of something–the state, the market, the culture, etc.–but had whil being individual. One chose to be productive, good-natured, and American, says the narrative, by pursuing literacy.

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IST 700: Sentiment, Affect, and Twitter

This week’s readings brought me back to my time teaching in Egypt, during the election of Morsi and the coup the following summer that put him out of power. Though my Internet access was limited both summers–largely relegated to communal computers and one dodgy PC in the prep room–I often tried to check in with Twitter.

My second summer, the day of the military takeover, a few tweets entered the stream about tanks in Cairo and the Presidential Palace. I saw journalists and activists positing frantically, while others were trying to get confirmation. No one knew what was happening. For a few days, protestors for Tamarod had taken to the streets against Morsi. Meetings both with and without Morsi went on amid these protests. For my part, the seminary where I was teaching was on lock down, preventing anyone from coming or going without approval. So beyond the nightly sounds of protestors gathering for nearby hot spots, Twitter was my only window–or “stream”–on the action.

I felt surreal during the take sightings. Seeing the news pour in on “real time.” None of the networks had anything, but across Twitter, people were mobilized and locked in.

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CCR 711: Bodies, Subjectivities, and Being

As Nirmala Erevelles writes in her article, “it is the ‘ideology of disability’ which has been used to justify the sexual division of labor that constructed gender as a political and economic concept, the production of class/caste differences. . . the production of racial categories. . . and the upholding of compulsory heterosexuality” (104).

In other words, at different historical times and spaces, different bodies have been disabled. During colonialism, slavery disabled African bodies, for example And more broadly, disability connects to the surplus of labor inherent to the system, as such subjects lack the ability to “produce” or labor in the capitalist economy. This excludes them from the role of producer and consumer, erased into surplus and further marked as disabled.

This sort of historical materialist grounding helped guide more post-structuralist and post-human theories in Erevelles’ account, I thought, the section on cyborgs being particularly clear. Initially, the promises of hybrid and human, technological and flesh, and the different assemblage-based bodies afforded in this paradigm seems ideal for people with disability. But such a paradigm still has divisions among social classes, with many of these bodies out of reach for most. Moreover, the production and technology needed for these cyborg bodies often arises from capitalist labor and the hierarchies that follow with that, a material reality often missed by theorists.

Thus. as Erevelles writes, “By locating their emancipatory practices within the space of the social imaginary, as opposed to the actual materiality of of economic conditions, poststructuralists continue to uphold a utopic vision of emancipation” (98-99).

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CCR 611: Discussing Remedial Writing

I’m not sure what to take away from the readings. Perhaps that’s the byproduct of my own frazzled ontology as of late, but I also think part of the difficulty arises from the complex, fraught nature of the debate.

Kynard, I think, presents the most dynamic critique. By redrawing the history, she presents a completely new insight, approach, perspective, tear in the curtain. As she says:

“When I stopped looking for black folk in basic writing scholarship and in the history of open admissions and instead placed basic writing scholarship and open admissions into the already existing history of African American education and literacy, lo and behold, I got a whole different kind of story” (189).

And indeed, that story was different. Protest, tension, ransacked offices, Jim Crow and bodily danger at the heart of literacy. The voice of student. The bodies of student. The structures–both physical and conceptual–making walls and red lines. The pilling up of de jure and de facto discrimination. The hard-fought challenges. And Kynard goes on to vocalize an approach:

“The issue here then is not to insert black teachers into the basic writing paradigm, but to deliberately see black compositionists’ practices, research, politics, and discourses inside of the much longer standing protest tradition of black teaching” (189).

In other words, this “whole different kind of story” needs to keep going, not just in the way composition constructs or tells history, but in how it in enacts it. In how it makes history. How it orients itself.

In other words, composition has a lot to think about.

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