I am happy to have discovered an online version of Deemer’s ’67 essay “Composition as a Happening.” Below, my favorite passage–one easy to dismiss for seeming frankly silly, but it’s advice that I think is, at heart, well-taken:
Universities, though they often continue the unfortunate process rather than try to correct it, are continually plagued by the fact that students have been compulsorily miseducated for years prior to their university enrollment. Against this great handicap the reconstruction of English Composition after the model of the happening has certain advantages. Shock and surprise are essential features of the happening, and they should also be frequent moods in the composition course. Clear writing and clear thought follow only after clear experiences, yet the inspiration of such experiences has been virtually neglected by educators. But clear experiences never come easy. For the student who, in the classroom, is not used to participating in any experience at all, the clarity of shock will be quite dramatic when a real experience is presented to him. Let the “teacher” shock the student. Let him speak, not from behind a podium, but from the rear of the room or through the side window. Let him discuss theology to Ray Charles records. As long as there is reverence for the student and the process of education, no shock is too great.
Of course, when you’re on the third floor of State Hall, speaking through the side window is kind of difficult.
I also learn, by surfing through the site that Deemer was a pioneer in hyperdrama and is still teaching (screenwriting, no less) at Portland State. From what I can tell here, most of his work has been in literary genres (in which I include screenplays) and reviews. Curious, then, that his work in comp (just the one essay, as far as I can tell) has been a part of such interesting work–Sirc, certainly, but I think Crowley namechecks Deemer and his essay in Composition in the University as well.
If I hadn’t switched to rhetcomp, interestingly enough, I probably would have ended up studying hyperfiction and similar genres, so I might have found my way to Deemer anyway through an almost completely different path–a certain irony, that: my various paths to Deemer might be rendered as a hypertextual journey.