Tuesday, January 25, 2005

old news in the field of composition studies

In my head I am trying so hard to make all of this (the cultural studies and the composition studies) come together, but it's not. I figured it would be easier in writing. Not really. Maybe if I don't write in a way that makes sense. Maybe if I write messy it'll clean it self up--magically.

As Susan Miller addresses in Textual Carnivals: The Politics of Composition, there are really two things going on here: 1) the status of composition classes and studies within English departments--that is, marginalized, subordinate, "the women in the basement" (as Miller describes it) and 2) the subjectivity of the student subject in the writing classroom--that is univocal, self-contained, writing intransitively ("as, to, and about nothing in particular"). The two, of course, clearly reflect each other. Miller writes, "What is needed additionally is the articulation and critique already suggested, disclosing connections between specific social and textual superstructures and highlighting how writing situations construct their participant writers before, during, an after they undertake any piece of writing" (198). So I want to look at these "social and textual superstructures"--the social superstructures I see as #1 listed above--the context of the writing classroom as situated within the department AND the larger context of the contemporary University--a University I eventually hope to argue as corporatized (in more ways than one). What are the textual superstructures? Maybe the relationship between (academic--in this particular instance) discourse and power?

I suppose that it is in these instances that I see cultural studies as--not necessarily saving the day--but being helpful and relevant to pedagogy/theory within composition studies. (This isn't what I thought I was setting out to do--which was to look at compositions (mis)appropriation of cultural studies and the ways in which composition studies perpetuates academic capital. I suppose the latter part still fits into what I'm addressing here, but the first part seems to say that composition studies hasn't appropriated cultural studies enough .

A bigger gap: A bigger split seems to exist between Miller's take on the subordinated role of composition studies and arguments that John Fiske (and others) make about the role of subordinated positions within society. (Or on second thought--maybe they are both saying the same thing. I'm not sure right now). Fiske's exploration of cultural studies, in his book Understanding Popular Culture, focuses a lot on the power of subordinated groups. He writes, "A text that is to be made into popular culture must, then, contain both the forces of domination and the opportunities to speak against them, the opportunities to oppose or evade them from subordinated, but not totally disempowered, positions" (25). In the case of compositition we have two supposedly subordinated positions--the student and the field/discipline (I have to use field and discipline interchangeably for now). Sooooo....let's see: If I understand Miller's argument(s) correctly she is holding composition teachers accountable for perpetuating the "negative myth" about composition's "low" status in English departments "by assuming as assigned self-sacrificial cultural identity." To move out of this "by precisely acknowledging how it is a culturally designated place for political action" (186). Okay, so I guess she is implementing a kind-of cultural studies framework in this way. She and Fiske are on the same page so to speak. Ultimately, it seems, she is arguing for an active politicization of composition both inside and outside the classroom w/ the one reflecting and influcencing the other. And yet, I feel, this is kind of old news. I believe composition has made moves to become increasingly politicized (here is where critique needs to come in). Ah, I'm getting nowhere new with this. I could cry.... "An actually improved status depends on openly consolidating the field's internal, existing resistances to the cultural superstructure that first defined it" (186). But what are these "resistances" Miller speaks of? And we must take into account Fiske's idea that resistance must embody the thing that it is resisting. So what does this look like in terms of composition and the writing classroom? I feel so dumb. The answer is already out there. Well, first of all, the composition classroom has always been the sight for "civilizing" incoming students, initiating them into the world(s) of academic discourse(s), and "regulating otherwise questionable, nontraditional entrants to the academy" (187). So here we're (back to) using writing for social change, using writing to subvert some corporate University dominant paradigm, but again, this is old news. I need to be coming up with the new news here. And I'm failing terribly.

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