Notes: Rhea Estelle Lathan, Freedom Writing: African American Civil Rights Literacy Activism, 1955-1967

Lathan, Rhea E. (2015). Freedom writing: African American civil rights literacy activism 1955-1967. Urbana-Champagne, IL: Conference on College Composition and Communication.

Summary:

Logan considers the pedagogical and literacy acquisition strategies of African Americans of the Civil Rights Movement, locating histories in interviews both personally conducted and archive-located.

Keywords: social histories, literacy, rhetoric

Quotations:

“Finding redemption, for my purposes, is a means of explaining how deep cultural resources that develop in the church and spiritual life transfer to a secular context as intellectual and spiritual strategies that enhance literacy activism” (p. 24).

“Finding redemption is the overarching theme of gospel literacy. It’s a theoretical interpretive concept centered on recovery, a means of dispelling the myth of grassroots literacy acquisition and use as basic, simple, or mechanical” (p. 106).

Questions:

One of the things that I’m struck by in this book is the “Memory itself can be considered composition” (p. 109). For Lathan (2015), memory can give “special attention to illogical, supernatural, spiritual, or otherwise unexplainable events” and “puts the unexpected, unpredictable incidents and directions of our lives into perspective” (p. 109). This allows for “making intuitive connections to articulate truth that cannot be directly spoken” (p. 109).

This made me think of Castiglia and Reed’s (2012) If Memory Serves about gay culture and the AIDS Crisis in which they discuss cultural imperatives to forget the ‘crisis’ and to cast the past in the light of sexual irresponsibility. Instead, they argue, a queer counter-memory would allow for the radical sexual potentialities without painting the past as utopian: rather, queer counter-memories allow for productive disruptions and imaginations within dominant cultures. This makes me think, too, of “the refusal to submit to the burdens of history” (Lathan, 2015 p. 25).

These two texts seem to tend to the ways in which memory can be a productive way to conceive of histories in that they encounter the rhetorical constraints and material conditions that surround ideas of remembering and forgetting—which is making me think of Enoch’s (2013) idea of feminist memory studies approaches as attending to scholarly inattentions and also the rhetorical act of forgetting.

We’ve read a lot this semester about encountering forgetting or recovery projects, but I’m not sure that we’ve talked so much about negotiating forgetting with power, which is something that I see this text trying to do by both highlighting how the subjects themselves were writing those negotiations within their daily lives but also how larger culture forgets these figures due to elements of power.

Notes: Carolyn Skinner, Women Physicians & Professional Ethos in Nineteenth Century America

Skinner, Carolyn. (2014). Women physicians & professional ethos in nineteenth century America. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press.

Summary:

Skinner discusses the complications of women physicians in nineteenth century America creating professional ethos.

Quotations:

“[E]thos often is not crafted in response to a coherent and identifiable set of audience values but instead is composed in a dynamic context that includes multiple competing ideas about the “best” virtues; consequently, ethos formation frequently involves value negotiations as well as reciprocity between rhetor and audience identity constructs” (p. 175).

Reflection:

This is becoming a bit of a recurring question, but I’m wondering about moments in which these cordial appeals for acknowledgement are not possible or only perpetuate problems. I’m not trying to say this is a gap in Skinner’s text as it was not a part of her project—her work contributes a great deal to reconsidering ethos and particularly a feminist ethos in complicated and nuanced ways. What I’m wondering is how, within that framework of a feminist ethos that she offers us, is there space for rhetoric’s insufficiency or failure, or a rhetoric of refusal.

We learn a lot of how the conditions of women physicians and how they negotiate ethos and/through professionalism. This negotiation happens in locations that are hostile to these women. But still, what we see is a mutual engagement that is inherent in the word negotiation (p. 175).

If we must attend to the conditions that allow for persons to engage in rhetorical negotiation, what conditions need to be present for refusal? For, what the only rhetorical term I have at my disposal for this, kakoethos?

I’m still working on this project looking at ACT UP activists and what’s striking is their refusal to participate in negotiation. What they perform instead is an ardent insistence that they be seen and heard on their own terms, silencing the dominant discourse that systemically silenced them. What conditions need to be met for this mode of rhetorical action that refutes traditional conceptions of how ethos participates.

 

Notes: Garlough, Christine L., Desi Divas: Political Activism in South Asian American Cultural Performances

Garlough, Christine L. (2013). Desi Divas: Political Activism in South Asian American Cultural Performances. Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi.

Summary:

Garlough discusses, through case studies of cultural performances, South Asian American grassroots activism, highlighting the ways in which calls for acknowledgement operate in their diasporic rhetorical practices.

Keywords: diasporic rhetorics, social histories

Quotations:

“In performing a desire for acknowledgment and by making claims of vulnerability, a petition for future relations and a stake in one’s own being is made. These diasporic performances by South Asian American women—what I will call diasporic performances—keep trauma visible and testify to the suffering of others” (p. 15).

“Of course, not everyone wants to hear this story or feel her pain. She is performing as a parrhesiastes—speaking at great risk, in front of an audience where power relations are unbalanced, freely confessing the truth of her experience, although the threat of retribution is quite real” (p. 128).

Reflection:

One of the things I’m thinking quite a bit about, probably because I’m steeping in this project is the ways that her conception of “passionate acknowledgement” (p. 174) and her discussion of recognition/acknowledgement throughout the text is activism in the ‘AIDS Crisis’ and particularly the activism of ACT UP.

When she discusses Roopa’s performance and the rhetorical moves being made that center around call and response and that ask for and give welcome, I’m thinking of the relationship that this establishes between a ‘rhetor’ and an ‘audience.’ For one, the construction of recognition and acknowledgment itself troubles such a boundary: here we have two possible rhetorical actions the audience can make—which is to say that the audience is agentive here. This troubles boundaries of rhetorical subjects and questions or performs in many ways who has agency within a rhetorical situation—by constructing the audience as having agency that influences the trajectory of the performance, not only is the audience moved (perhaps in both senses of the word moved) into the subject role that experiences the suffering of the performer, but the audience is also questioned as to who actually has agency in this situation. The performer’s agency is acknowledged here as conferred to her by her audience. We can see this running through each of her case studies.

What we don’t necessarily have an answer to is what the boundaries or effects of acknowledgement are. Acknowledgement and recognition both are modes of response that position the audience as having different power, privileged locations, but to what extent does this have to be confronted in order to constitute one response or the other?

This is what brings me to late 80’s AIDS activism. When ACT UP occupied streets in New York to call attention to the crisis, they were giving a call for acknowledgement. They needed governments, institutions, and people to acknowledge the crisis, to acknowledge AIDS, to acknowledge gay people as people, to acknowledge that people were dying. However, their zaps, or their protests—though a performance—was not made to make others experience suffering. The appeals were not made to have the general public feel them but to hear them: their work was an active refusal of systems designed to silence queer people and AIDS. In this way, agency was something held hostage in the same way that the queer community was held hostage. This is not to say that pathos didn’t operate at all—the act of disruption is a felt experience—but that something in the power, reciprocity, and purpose behind how Garlough discusses acknowledgment seems different than these performances.

Notes: Josue D. Cisneros, The Border Crossed Us: Rhetorics of Borders, Citizenship, and Latina/o Identity.

Cisneros, Josue D. (2014). The border crossed us: Rhetorics of borders, citizenship, and Latina/o identity. Tuscaloosa, AL: The University of Alabama Press.

Summary:

Cisneros argues that both registers of borders, the geographic and the civic, have historically defined citizenship in racialized terms, crossing and (re)crossing Latina/o communities. Cineros traces the use of vernacular performances of citizenship and border rhetorics throughout Latina/o rights struggles.

Keywords: rhetoric, social histories, history, borders, Latina/o

Quotations:

“[B]ecause they faced not only institutional barriers but also cultural and historical antagonism and outright persecution, the aliancistas deployed a tactical subjectivity as both citizen-subjects and noncitizen radicals. This border rhetoric oscillated between enacting citizenship through civil rights discourse and reformist appeals and performing a separate identity through ethno-nationalist discourse and radical activism” (p. 78).

“Vernacular enactments of citizenship are always momentary and confluent; vernaculars are neither wholly liberatory nor constraining but enact complex relationships of agency and identity” (p. 106).

“That border rhetorics and particular civic imaginaries are naturalized through rhetoric masks the fact that the border moves and materializes differently across space and time, that the borders of citizenship as they are conceived in any one space and time are unnatural” (p. 147).

“A backlash against identity and identity politics (on the right and the left) contributes to the difficulty of speaking of identity in concrete political terms and occludes the fact that identity is a reality of social location and part of a potential program for liberation and social change” (p. 152).

Reflection:

Cisneros, in many ways, does the kind of social history work that I would like to do. The work that he does highlights the rhetorical performances of Latina/o activists in key moments of Latina/o struggles for basic rights. He writes about how the Latina/o identity is constructed by coloniality  and deployed strategically in these moments he examines. Borders are material/social space of contestability and citizenship is performing belonging within bordered spaces: performing a racialized Latina/o identity in particular ways is performing as well as challenging that bordered space.

So I’m thinking a little about what citizenship means as an archive, as an archive of belonging and an archive of belongings. I’m finding this to be a productive metaphor for me to think through. I’m thinking about Enoch’s (2013) “Releasing Hold: Feminist Historiography Without the Tradition” that suggested inquiry into how the archive does the rhetorical work of remembering, but also the work of forgetting. I’m wondering how this might be useful in thinking about citizenship as being constructed toward particular identity performances even as Cisneros (2014) notes Latina/o identity has been prevented from developing concrete identity terms. This could explain that inability to discuss “identity in concrete political terms” (p. 152).

But I’m also thinking about this in terms of Archive Fever and the anxiety that surrounds this archive. The dust. The dust as these contestations, right? So how is the archive constructed in such a way to mask the rhetorical work of that archive? Of sustaining citizenship. Of collecting dust of the same in the fear of ‘death.’ Borders as the materialization of these anxieties. How might Steedman’s treatment of Michelet’s fever of the dust that kills complicate that? I think she, in seeing everything in the archives as having no beginnings, but seeing them ‘in medias res’, could highlight some of the ways that borders are contested and how citizenship, far from essentialist, is shifting.

But this is just a metaphor to help me process some of this.

There are easy connections to some of the work that I’m doing myself, looking at queer activists between 1987-1990, where I can see similar rhetorical moves being made, where what does it mean to be an American citizen is contested, where there’s a move to develop concrete terms to discuss identity—to perform identity in particular ways to address needs of basic human rights. There are similar differences in performances by activists within ACT UP as performing radical activisms and other LGBTQ activist organizations who wish to perform activist activity framed heavily in ‘civil disobedience’ discourses that heavily appeal to the dominant culture’s sensibilities of what it means to be a citizen.

My Long View is Broken. No Hope, No Answers, No Answerability.

I’m in the basement of H.B. Crouse, where hope goes to die—maybe not die, maybe where I realize that hope is so thin that fluorescent lighting can pierce it. I’m in the basement of H.B. Crouse, where hope mixes between students and faculty and staff and the air vents that never turn off and the shivers that run down your spine because it’s hot outside in September and the sweat meets the bone in the cold. I’m in the basement of H.B. Crouse where I’m surrounded by white walls and neutral blues, staring at some rainbow pins and a pin with Judith Butler’s face on it that ask me to believe—to hope in the work that I’m doing, in survival, that the world won’t be flooded (but global warming and it’s hot outside in September). I’m in the basement of H.B. Crouse—

I spend a lot of time in the basement.

And I’m talking with a new friend, and we’re talking about how our minds are elsewhere, about how we’re checked out of this PhD work project that we’re both involved in and he says to me “My long-term view operating system is busted” and I can hear it in my own heart that same beat that I didn’t download that patch either.

And I say yes, yes there’s a certain amount of irrelevance to the work that we do. When I can’t see the future, when I can’t see the long view that this academic project is, when hope isn’t, what is teaching, what is research, what is the doing of being here when here is always out of reach in this academic enterprise?

Our work has no answers. It shouldn’t. But what are we doing if we aren’t answering to? Or what is it that we are answering to? What answerability does our work have? What hope can we have—and for what can we have hope–when we do not answer to?

At least 21 trans lives have been taken in 2017. Mesha Caldwell, Jamie Lee Wounded Arrow, JoJo Striker, Tiara Richmond, Chyna Doll Dupree, Ciara McElveen, Jaquarius Holland, Alphonza Watson, Chay Reed, Kenneth Bostick, Sharrell Faulkner, Kenne McFadden, Kendra Marie Adams, Ava Le’Ray Barrin, Ebony Morgan, TeeTee Dangerfield, Gwynevere River Song, Kiwi Herring, Kashmire Nazier Redd, Derricka Banner, Ally Steinfeld. But I’ve wrote smart things.

What haunts our work? Are the ghosts of lives that we lose what sustains the answers we look at?

How does our work answer to our presence? Our absence?

Notes: Shirley Wilson Logan, Liberating Language: Sites of Rhetorical Education in Nineteenth-Century Black America

Logan, Shirley W. (2008). Liberating language: Sites of rhetorical education in nineteenth-century black America. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press.

Summary:

Logan locates means through which nineteenth century black Americans engaged rhetorical education to advance community literacies, political work, and to “negotiate a hostile environment” (p. 3).

Keywords: histories of rhetoric, history, rhetorical education, social history

Quotations:

“I rely primarily upon records left by the learners themselves or, where silent, by those who worked among them, to develop a sense of these internal activities, and upon the histories of plantation missions, for information on externally sponsored activities” (p. 11).

“Yet these facts do not diminish the contribution of literary societies to black rhetorical education, especially when we consider that much good abolitionist work came out of them” (p. 69).

“Rhetorical performances such as these that took place in parlor rooms rather than in more open spaces gave participants the opportunity to hone their rhetorical skills in alternative publics” (p. 89).

“I do not intend to fast-forward into the twenty-first century in search of claims about the implications this study might have for current teaching practices. The times are quite different” (p. 134).

Reflection:

What I see as perhaps most interesting about this text is how history and rhetoric function as epistemological frames for knowing. In most of the texts I’ve encountered so far, I’ve noticed an orientation that asks “what can history do for rhetoric?” In this, we interrogate historical narratives or recover figures in order to impact our understanding of rhetoric—whether through the alteration of canons or challenging assumptions of practices in rhetorical education or rhetorical practice. In Logan’s text, this seems inverted. She seems to be asking through this study what a deep understanding rhetoric, rhetorical education, and rhetorical study can offer history. It seems a powerful move, for one, as it implies a different relationship between the discipline and authority with regard to its methods and subject matter. In addition, this turn allows Logan to interrogate and situate the context and subjects she studies differently. It’s not that such a turn does not benefit our understanding of rhetoric—it does, certainly—but it changes power as I’ve mentioned and allows her to study the rhetorical practices of her subjects as history.

She distances herself from, what I’ve observed as typical practice to make appeals in rhetorical histories to the current practices of rhetorical study and education. She writes, “I do not intend to fast-forward into the twenty-first century in search of claims about the implications this study might have for current teaching practices. The times are quite different” (p. 134). It’s a very different relationship to history than recovering a figure for the purposes adding them to a rhetorical canon that demands that we engage in the work of history for history’s sake—that history is valuable to rhetoric by its own right and that rhetoric is valuable to history by its own right.

I suppose part of what I’m thinking of is repeated phrases from conferences I’ve attended and conversations I’ve heard where rhetoric scholars distance themselves from their methods and carefully position themselves as not a particular methodologist (e.g. “While I would never consider myself an archival specialist…”). Some of this might have to do with hiring practices that surround specialization—identifying oneself as a type of researcher may limit one’s prospects—but also seems to suggest a not wanting to stake claim in methodologies that rhetoric has inherited from history, cultural anthropology, linguistics, or sociology. That the methods are not ours to have, which to some extent they are not. But this seems to call for us to understand our methods as conversation, as a situated practice across disciplinary landscapes, or held in tension with these disciplining forces.

I’m intrigued too by how Logan represents her research subjects. Instead of hyper-synthesizing her research subjects, Logan allows each to stand on their own, woven together by methodological stitching and historical context. Her claims are consequently made looking across assembled individual narratives in situ. This allows for some interesting moves, such as her ability to highlight individual meaning or how individual subjects “recognized their right to themselves” (p. 3).

It’s been helpful to read this alongside thinking through my own project and being attentive to how she represents her work. The text is not meant to be a perfect how-to, and distributes its methodological thought throughout the text, but helpfully, at the start of each section, she discusses what kinds of materials she engages and how she valued or counted those materials. While we don’t get the full method and each detail, this helps her construct how history is framed for her text. Indeed, she also remains explicit about the silences in her research and how she worked around these potential gaps in her work.

Notes: Nicole H. Gray, “Recording the Sounds of ‘Word Burns’: Reproductions of Public Discourse in Abolitionist Journalism”

Gray, Nicole H. (2011). Recording the sounds of ‘word burns’: Reproductions of public discourse in abolitionist journalism. Rhetoric Society Quarterly, 41(4): 363-386.

Summary:

Gray highlights the use of phonography, a speech recording technology in which a writer uses a phonetic alphabet, constructs reports of abolitionist speech events, that the construction of the phonographer as accurate operated as a rhetorical tactic.

Keywords: history, historiography, social histories

Quotations:

“Ultimately, the reader was presented with a text that incorporated a self-verifying apparatus, in that it could represent itself as transparent, objective, a ‘deguerrotype’ of an event, removing the necessity for interpretation, and thereby facilitating informed identification” (p. 384).

Reflection:

Gray’s work with the phonographic reporting to interrogate the role of the phonographer as creator that expands representation to the audience interaction is smart work. Gray traces the phonographic report through its uses with the abolitionist presses and how the phonographer was utilized rhetorically to undermine arguments of pro-slavery presses. Gray notes the way the aurality of the speeches plays a part in constructing the presence of the event itself and creates moments of interpretation for the phonographer representing the noise of the audience members.

It’s helpful to read this, and other examples, before setting out to do social histories work. Getting a sense for what the scope of a social histories project and how others are incorporating the source material into the text. It makes sense, in this case, just how a close of a reading is being performed on the source material, given that Gray is discussing how the phonographers represent the speech event, in which case seeing the source material as best we can helps follow along with her claims.