Thursday, July 13, 2006

i hate disclaimers

So I’ve spent a day and half (yesterday and today) getting off track/schedule. Yesterday I hardly made a dent in the coverage of Cultural Studies in the English Classroom that I wanted to accomplish. I did spend a lot of time reading blogs and writing. The night before, I had sat up reading my new book, and in it she talks a lot about simply accumulating pages (much in the vein of freewriting); she encourages a lot of writing in order to think and putting down on paper (or screen) every glimmer of an idea. These are all things I know, of course, but sometimes reading a book like this is like giving yourself permission to actually do these things. My committee members have also given me this advice/permission, but it seems that for much of this experience I’ve remained paralyzed by the thought of writing.

I also know that many of the blogs I read are comprised of seemingly well thought-out and carefully constructed entries containing bits and pieces of that particular writer’s project, and maybe that will come, as I’m further along in my own process and have accumulated all of these pages of text that Bolker talks about, but for the moment, yes, this is my disclaimer; this is that start of glimmering ideas and following them no matter how seemingly silly and/or irrelevant; and this is what I thought about yesterday:

At this point much of the argument that I want to be making about cultural studies and critical pedagogy (within composition studies) is, that even with their Marxist roots, they seem primarily interested in ideology critique (the idea of “unveiling”) as opposed to focusing on the present conditions of the corporate University within which they are working. But what does the classroom in ruins—the classroom that acknowledges those ruins—actually look like? What does it mean to have a classroom that creates present value in writing? Maybe it is that the text is no longer a reader or writing handbook, but the campus and its policies—the construction of the campus itself—or a study of NAFTA, or of corporations and their increasingly trans-national tendencies. I’m just not sure…. Does picking some sort of social investigation equate to a cultural studies approach? But what about giving that investigation value in the present? This seems to be the point at which publishing student texts comes into play, but that also has its own ties to capitalism and the system that is the corporate University. Another aspect of acknowledging the “ruins” would be to work toward changing the immediately oppressive circumstances within which we work and teach: “such as the way part-time faculty and students are successfully silenced within our own departments” (CS in Eng Class 21).

I also have this idea that creating a composition classroom in keeping with a Marxist/materialist philosophy would be to have (harken back to) a current-traditional approach (and this is not a positive/answer). Here are some similiarities between Marxist though and current-traditional rhetoric:

  • the “real” is located in the material world and truth exists prior to language
  • rhetoric as science
  • truth is to be discovered through “correct” perception, through an objective examination of the material world

Here really is the problem with notions of Marxism within rhet/comp theories: Current-traditional rhetoric does seem to share these philosophies with Marxism, but of course the outcome, as Berlin tells it in Rhetoric and Reality is that “the doctors or lawyers or engineers or business managers—having been certified as experts, as trained observers, in their disciplines—felt they were surely correct in discovering that economic and political arrangements that benefited them were indeed in the nature of things” (37). Then we have the expressivist rhetoric, which could potentially be looked at as resisting the corporate structure of higher education, but which ultimately is complicit in it through its focus on “rugged individualism,” autonomy, and the private. These are two of the approaches to writing that have withstood the test of time and are the basis for much of what is thought within composition studies even today. Though there have been the alternatives: social/poststructuralist/rhetoric of pubic discourse, cultural studies, and critical pedagogy. These alternatives have come along to say—hey, what about the cultural and the social, and with CS and CP’s ties to Marxism, I expect them to say—hey, what about the economic? Only, they often fail to acknowledge the most immediate economic structure within which they are located, and that is the corporate University.

The similarities too between the social constructionist/poststructuralist/rhet of public discourse that Berlin describes in Rhetoric and Reality and his definition of cultural studies in Cultural Studies in the English Classroom are also striking:

  • preparation of students for participation in the democratic process
  • “While social reality is bound by the material, it is everywhere immersed in language…. [Reality] is the result of the interaction between the experience of the external world and what the perceiver brings to this experience” (R&R 47).
  • While subjectivity is understood differently than this (last bullet) within CS (where the subject is comprised of multiple constructions shaped by myriad signifying practices), CS is described as the “study of the ways social formations and practices are involved in the shaping of consciousness, and this shaping is seen to be mediated by language and situated in concrete historical conditions. Signifying practices then intercede in the relations among material conditions, social arrangements, and the formation of consciousness” (CS in English Classroom ix).

So ultimately the social turn of the 80s with its poststructuralist bent (e.g. Bartholomae, Bizzell) is entirely relevant to the social turn that can be described through the rise of cultural studies and critical pedagogy. Yes, CS may use the vocabulary of Marxism, but it has a particularly poststructuralist slant, which might be part of why it has been taken on by composition studies (and probably also explains why I am drawn to studying/working with it).

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