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Convergences, Day 1

Here's my rundown of Day 1 of Convergences. Keep in mind that my note-taking varies in intensity from session to session--it's hard to pay close blogging attention all day. Next time round, I'm going to suggest that we each volunteer to take notes (and/or blog) for one other session. When I post my day 2 rundown, you'll see why I say that...

David Rieder started off day 1 for us with "Placeless Rhetorics and Writing: Post-Alphabetic Explorations of Non-Places." The central claim of Dave's talk was that, rather than working against the conditions that make our classrooms non-places (Augé), we should be investigating those forms of writing (potentially post- or extra-alphabetic) that might provide us with new models. He discussed the works of Franck Scurti and Teri Rueb, and encouraged us to interrogate the place-based models that ground the composition classroom.

Tim Mayers went next, and presented material from his book, which is currently (I think) in press at Pittsburgh: "Reviving the Discourses of 'Craft': Composition, Creative Writing, and the Future of English Studies." I may be projecting here, but I think Tim was working from the premise that writing studies is constrained by its long association with literary studies. His attempt to work out of that constraint was to suggest a partnership between creative writing and composition, one grounded in an expanded notion of "craft," one that extends craft beyond its current scope as technique. Such a partnership, he argued, would bring social concerns to creative writing and return a concern with aesthetics to composition.

The third session of the day was a 3-person panel on the topic of affect. In "Affect and the Times and Spaces of Change," Dan Smith argued that social transformation requires more than proofs, that critique often works through affective dispositions. Critical pedagogy fails to acknowledge its own investment in what Dan described as a "conversion ethos," one that treats the classroom as the only possible time and space for change, and places undue emphasis on our own desires to "witness" such change. More a critique of strategy than of aims, he argued that we need to think in terms of broader spaces and times--what he called ecologies of affective disposition--and come to terms with the possibility that the payoff for our pedagogical work may not always be visible.

Jenny Edbauer presented work from the second chapter of her dissertation, "Rhetorical Theory and the Affective Field of Culture." Her presentation was also a call for broadening our scope to include affective issues, but she focused on the site-based presumptions of Bitzer's rhetorical situation. She argued that rhetorical situations are located in the interactions (often affective interactions) among the so-called "elements" of the rhetorical situation, rather than in the elements themselves.

Christa Albrecht-Crane closed the panel with "Affect, Bodies, Interruption, Fear." She discussed teaching literary theory to conservative students, which caused her to reflect on the trouble that progressive educators have understanding how conservatism operates. In this case, she discussed a paper where the energy of the student's response exceeded his abilities to fully account for it in his writing.

In the interests of time, on a day where we were running a bit long, Judy Isaksen offered to forgo much of the oral portion of her session, "Worrying the Rhetorics of Whiteness." She played a DVD for us, inspired by DJ Spooky's remix of D. H. Wallace's Birth of a Nation. Judy's mix spliced together scenes from Birth, quotes from contemporary race theorists, and a wide range of African-American music.

The final panel of the day--on the place and places of theory--was a little less formal, not the least reason for which was that we were all, I think, getting a little punchy. Jeff Rice began by interrogating what he described as our field's pedagogical conservatism, the unwillingness to see ourselves implicated in the theories that we study. Particularly when it comes to new media and technology, he argued, we remain in a mode of explanation and story-telling rather than performance. Digital culture is unclear, elusive, speculative, and pedagogy (or theory) preoccupied with the clear explanations of its success makes for a problematic fit.

John Muckelbauer talked about the strategies necessary for theoretical work in a field that doesn't seem to make much room for it, one of which was the conference itself. The branding of theoretical writers and ideas has resulted in the bad habit of going to these theorists already knowing what we'll find, and then--surprise--finding what we thought we would. John advocated a strategy of non-recognition, where we draw on rhetorical vocabulary to do theoretical work, thereby enriching both.

Thomas Rickert raised several questions for discussion, related in part to the other two presentations. He suggested that perhaps we have moved from an age of theory to an age of invention or rhetoric, that perhaps the currency of capital-T theory has indeed passed. Rather than indulge in nostalgia for some golden age, though, he suggested that instead we think of the particularity of our own theoretical work as something that has yet to be discovered.

I hope that I haven't misrepresented anyone here too badly. After our first day, we went back to the Clarion and psyched up for dinner, which took quite a while at a restaurant whose name I've already forgotten. Some of us went afterwards to the Flying Saucer, but it was cold, we were tired, and it was a relatively early evening.


very nice breakdown.