call to arms

From Sirc, Geoffrey. English Composition as a Happening. Logan, UT: Utah State UP, 2002.

Elbow reminds us of the relative duration of academic-life to real-life. Just because the rest of the curriculum has banned enchantment in favor of a narrow conception of life-as-careerism that doesn’t mean we have to go along, does it? Can’t we be a last outpost? a way station for poetry, ecophilia, spiritual intensity, basic human (not disciplined) style? (28 )

I’ve been reviewing some notes for Dr. Ray’s final exam essay, trying to decide which option to pursue. Shall I write a statement of teaching philosophy? Shall I return to an argument from our discussion board and parse it out further? Don’t know yet. But I was reminded how much I like Sirc’s little calls to arms scattered through Happening, even if at times I think the polemic gets in the way of his argument–or, rather, it crops up at odd moments and creates a disjunction in the text. Although, I actually sort of like that too–it’s as though he’s latched on to an idea or image or scene that excites him so much that the thread of his argument falls out of sight for a moment, and he’s just compelled to proclaim something like the above, in spite of the body of work (like, say, Smit’s The End of Composition Studies) that insists on a utilitarian purposefulness for rhetoric and composition.

It’s not, then, that Sirc doesn’t see composition as owning utility, but rather a different kind of utility: a utility of affect, pleasure, mystification. Disjunction. It is, then, not the utility of disciplinarity, not an institutionalized utility. I note this thinking of my own writing, here and elsewhere–the M.A., the exam, eventually the dissertation, articles I don’t even know yet that I’ll be writing. I am compelled by the work of Sirc and Rice and others who have argued for a writing like this, a writing that (at the very least) reorganizes what it mans to write disciplinarily. Consider Rice:

In composition studies, rhetorical practice is often defined as acknowledgment of audience, purpose, and, even as many in the profession dispute its influence, ability to engage with one of the so-called modes: compare and contrast, definition, classification, narrative, or argument. None of these points prevents writing from being taught in constructive ways. These points’ dominant position within our pedagogical apparatus, however, is a topos of instruction in need of updating. We can no longer assume that the modes (or any variation of the modes) are appropriate for the sake of being appropriate. Chora, in particular, challenges each point’s relevance to digital writing because its focus shifts to a hyper-rhetorical method that displaces much of the fixity we currently associate with print culture. (Rhetoric of Cool 34)

While I understand that my writing is still developing (whose isn’t?), I look at the work of folks like Rice and Sirc and I’m driven mad with shame. Their work looks effortless, in some ways, even though I know that seeing only the end product of something mystifies its origins (the logic of the commodity concealing labor). This is particularly angst-ridden for me because I typically do find writing easy–or, at least, not difficult. But writing my M.A. essay this semester–my much delayed and fussed over M.A. essay–has presented a challenge that, frankly, I hadn’t anticipated. On one hand, I’m frustrated by my haphazard writing of this project; on the other, I think it’s great to go through it because I’m learning the writing process all over again, in some ways. I’m trying to appropriate something from Rice and Sirc that I find appealing, a method, a tool, a construct, and I’m not yet sure I’m deploying it as effectively as they have.

Turning back to the Rice and Sirc passages above, what I aspire to do is produce the choragraphic, spiritually intense writing that drew me into composition and rhetoric in the first place, but I keep struggling against what feels to me like a limit of imagination. Look, there’s Rice, finding rhetorical moments in P-Funk albums! Over there, Sirc’s dropping science with Situationist psychogeography. And Ulmer–Ulmer! Like a mad scientist, tossing together poststructuralists like Barthes and Derrida with the flotsam and jetsam of different discourses–hey, how did Einstein invent? throw it in!– with Hank Williams, Sr. tracks blaring as he coasts the wild silver ride of choragrapy to a transcendant wabi-sabi mood. I haven’t found my way into that space yet. The Lennon project might be a start, but I want to not just use the choragraphic method as others have before me, but I want to find the space where I can be–like Rice and Ulmer and Sirc–an Inventor, searching for, experimenting with, mixing together forms and genres and Situations to create new ways of writing. But I haven’t yet.

Don’t misunderstand me, dear reader. This isn’t one of my pity-me posts. I’m trying to articulate an ambition, a desire yet unfulfilled. Sirc, Rice, Ulmer . . . they’re not idols. They’re . . . what? Inspirations? Guides? I sort of like, if you can excuse the cultural appropriation, the image of them as spirit guides in the Native American tradition. Their work resonates with me; I identify with something they represent (even as they challenge the way writing is represented in the university); and there’s something of the way they do what they do that inspires the way I do what I do.


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