I’ve been in enough workshops to not worry too hard about how my writing represents me… for the most part. This Saturday I’m taking part in a different kind of workshop as part of the Rhetoric Society of America‘s conference’s Research Network. Three of us graduate students have been in contact with a rhetoric scholar for the past couple of months, and we’ve already been through one round of critiques. Last week, I submitted an updated draft based on some of their comments and we will be discussing those drafts in person at the conference.
And I can’t help feeling like I’m going to disappoint my group with my changes, mostly because I didn’t follow many of their suggestions. Their comments were primarily urging me towards further entrenching the theoretical portions of the essay, and when I sit down to write more on it, that’s just not the part I’m interested in. Which, ultimately, is a problem, given there’s not a whole lot of nonacademic venues for a piece that focuses on using Kenneth Burke for analysis. FORTUNATELY, rhetoric has some really awesome publications that are not quite as worried about the theoretics as traditional journals – Harlot is primarily what I’m thinking of, although both the KB Journal and Kairos are also significantly different in tone and expectations than somewhere like Rhetoric Society Quarterly. I love Harlot – the articles are so fun to read, but are also connected to the field in a meaningful way and illuminate something new with each piece. I plan on working hard and trying to make my piece work for Harlot, but I’m not sure if I can get the tone right. We’ll see.
Anyway, it’s hard not to feel bad about the whole thing. On a small note, I want to impress these people. The other students are PhD candidates, the professor is well-published and works for RSQ. More importantly, though, the comments I got from the first round of drafts were super excited about the possibilities of my paper and all the directions it could go in, and they offered examples of things for me to read and such. I did read them, but just wasn’t seeing it, and I know that’s okay. I’m also fairly sure that they’ll see I’ve done some work on it and still be excited for what I’m doing with it and respect my decisions and all that jazz, but … guilt.
No small part of the guilt is me feeling like I should already have read most of the stuff they were suggesting for me to connect my piece to, and the fact that the pieces I did read lead to me feeling like I needed to read even more, and so on, and so forth.
Also, being on the internet makes me more interested in how a master recording is translated to vibrations on a needle which carve grooves into lacquer. Bad for business.
If We Talked about Architecture like Writing… (My favorite – “This particular building really surprised me. I mean, I designed it, and I approved it, and I oversaw the construction of it, but it still really surprised me. My buildings are always surprising me.”)
And, finally, a note to graduate programs about job training (that could also easily carry over to undergrad programs that train primarily for grad school instead of jobs).
My thesis, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. My-the-sis: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at two, on the teeth. My. The. Sis.
Does not work as well as the original, but close enough.
I sat down to write a blog entry two or three weeks ago, and it turned into a 2,000 word screed on the ridiculousness of the tropes within academic writing, specifically the premise-setting (My topic has been around longer than man’s use of fire but I’m the first person to approach it from this angle) and the overwhelming use of subtitles. Also included was a rant about the unnatural divide/false binary between academic and creative writing. Naturally I’m going to try to get it published and ruin my chances at a serious academic career.
That said, the premise above feeds into my thesis for two reasons. As a reminder, my thesis topic is the use of personal writing (I-writing, to borrow from Karen Surman Paley) as a rhetorical device within (within meaning the personal writing is not the topic/prompt) essays of first-year composition students.
Reason 1) Part of the question I’m asking within this thesis is whether or not personal writing has become an accepted rhetorical maneuver to use within the academic tool/trope box. Stated otherwise, can personal writing coexist with academic work for the professors who actually teach first-year composition (not just the ones who write about first-year composition)?
Reason 2) A lot of the things I’m making fun of in academic writing? Yeah, they’re in my thesis. Coloned subtitle? It’s there. Overt repetition of self? Oh yeah. Subtly implying that my work is a unique shining star? Well, I haven’t made myself do that yet, but it’s probably coming.
I think everyone goes through moments like these, especially with jobs and sometimes with social groups, where they think the rituals of that group are a little ridiculous/overly esoteric but you end up doing them anyway because membership within that group is more important than defiance against the rituals. One of my professors talks about this a lot, about how he believes strongly in allowing people the right to use their home language as their dominant language within the classroom and society at large, and yet he still requires his essays to be turned in in English, or if they include other languages, with English translations. I don’t mean to imply that me thinking coloned subtitles are a little silly is on par with the linguistic oppression carried out in pedagogy, but rather that we all make small sacrifices to be where we want to be, I think.
Tell me your stories about the divides between the academic and the creative, or the esotericism of your groups. And while you’re doing that, watch this animated interview with David Foster Wallace, as well as the other amazing interviews on the Blank on Blank website.
With summer drawing to a close, it’s time to get back into the mindset of school and projects and whatnot. I’ll be graduating next May, assuming I can complete a THESIS. As such, I’d like to do a little description as to what I have planned so far, but first I wanted to get some meta-blog stuff (or blog meta-stuff?) off my mind.
I’ve been hesitant to update my blog lately because the subject constraints I’ve laid out for myself here are based on the confluence of gifted education and my academic subject matter, Rhetoric and Composition, along with the idea that connects them: storytelling as persuasion/informer. However, over the summer, I’ve strayed quite a bit in my work and interests, and I wasn’t sure if I should write about that or not. I think, given the fact that most readers come here not because of the subject matter but because of their social (media or otherwise) connection to me, that it would be fine, but we’ll see how the future goes. Lots of people say the biggest pitfall for a new blogger is to jump around in topics. Although, it’s definitely possible my recent work projects are connected slightly more than tangentially. For one, I’ve been wanting to talk a lot about Infinite Jest, which I just finished, and which might be the greatest book I’ve ever read. There’s a lot of “gifted” youth content in that book, and I think there’s room for a discussion there. Additionally, I’ve been writing and thinking a lot about the South, for several reasons. I’ve been semi-obsessed with genealogy in the past year, and am writing a good deal about it, both in terms of legacy, family connections, and the impact of the neo-digital world on what the aforementioned things will look like going forward. I spent some time this summer taking pictures of graveyards in Kentucky. I also played the new indie video game Kentucky Route Zero and am pitching an article on it to a few places (it’s a great storytelling experience, very southern-inspired, and not at all like a typical video game). There’s storytelling and rhetoric and composition all over the place, really, now that I’m sounding it out. Maybe I had no reason to be scared? A handful of possible topics: Video games as a composed text, and separation of storytelling-experience-based games like Kentucky Route Zero from the typical video game text. Kentucky Route Zero as a simultaneous narrative/counternarrative about the Southern experience. Storytelling as part of genealogy, and the relationship between the two (check out the argument on Wikipedia about whether genealogy and family history are the same thing, for more on that). The rhetoric of legacy, in terms of previous/old-fashioned memorials and digital/future memorials.
SO, maybe more on that later?
Back to my thesis. As this blog shows, I’m interested in the power of narrative, whether personal or otherwise, within argument/persuasion. As someone in the academic+composition world, I know that this is a popular topic for discussion. Lots of scholars argue that students should be allowed to use their own experience in academic papers (despite lots of professors still insisting on “No first person!”). In addition, there are a good deal of scholarly texts that include personal experience, including Victor Villanueva’s Bootstraps and Joseph Trimmer’s collection Narration as Knowledge which were assigned in one of my classes last semester, but even more iconic omni-discipline texts like Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own and Gloria Anzaldúa’s Borderlands/La Frontera use authorial experience to make their case. So, given this scholarly atmosphere where we approve of and supposedly encourage this implementation of personal narrative as rhetoric, the question my thesis asks is whether this approval/expectation carries over to “novice” writers, specifically those sitting in a freshman-level composition class. I’ll do this by conducting a small experiment looking at the reactions of freshman composition instructors to texts which use personal experience versus those which do not. Don’t worry – I have no intention of making an argument one way or another as to how we should value personal experience in relation to “academic research.” Instead, I’ll allude vaguely to it and let my reader project themselves onto the page.
Outside content: A few things. Below is a track listing for a mix CD I made entitled Home(Sick) which grew out of my mind being so focused around home/the South lately. In addition, here are a few YouTube videos with music from Kentucky Route Zero: 1, 2. Compare them with their more “traditional” counterparts: 1, 2.
1. Long Journey Home – The Bedquilt Ramblers
2. God’s Country – Ani Difranco
3. Feather Lungs – Laura Gibson
4. Classic Cars – Bright Eyes
5. Paradise – John Prine
6. Fire It Up – Modest Mouse
7. Drifting – Pearl JAm
8. Whiskey in My Whiskey – The Felice Brothers
9. Merry Go ‘Round – Kacey Musgraves
10. Laundry Room – The Avett Brothers
11. Rockin’ Chair – The Band
12. Dear Believer – Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros
13. History of Lovers – Iron & Wine w/ Calexico
14. Giving Up – Ingrid Michaelson
15. To Just Grow Away – The Tallest Man On Earth
16. I Can’t Take It – Tegan & Sara
17. Mother, I’m Here – Darren Korb
18. 24 Hours A Day – Todd Snider
19. Sunday Morning Sidewalk – Johnny Cash