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.

Notes: Byron Hawk, “Stitching Together Events: Of Joints, Folds, and Assemblages”

Hawk, Byron. (2013). Stitching together events: Of joints, folds, and assemblages. In Theorizing histories of rhetoric. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, p. 106-127.

Summary:

Hawk models an approach to historiography that tends to the emergent to answer to some of the theoretical issues that arise from traditional conceptions of revisionist historiographies by turning to jazz improvisation as a way to discuss the role of networks.

Keywords: networks, historiography, histories of rhetoric, archives, methodology

Quotations:

“[H]istoriography requires not mourning, memory, or nostalgia but continual production, which is the only thing that can outpace dominant claims to truth by names and narratives” (p. 112).

“A networked historiography based on complexity and improvisation involves a break with the simple or casual chains of narration and story” (p. 124).

Reflection:

It appears I drew on a connection too early! In my previous post (see Enoch), I worked through connections I saw to Enoch’s work and Clary-Lemon‘s, who is asking for networked-material approaches.

I am admittedly still trying to think through a complexity-theory, post-human, OOO, actor-network historiography. A distributed history answers to many of the issues Hawk outlines at the top of 110, but I’m still thinking about the central premise of generating “as many persuasive models as can possibly be fashioned” (p. 110). There is room to allow for the emergent, but I’m not sure I can put my finger on my reticence.

Alexander and Rhodes (2015) explore networks and ANT in their Techne: Queer Meditations on Writing the Self. They write

[A]ctor-network theory seems to presume a sort of intentional innocence among its nodes and has been “forcibly reminded of its non-innocence by Donna Haraway in her own much more explicitly political material semiotics. . . . We make realities, she said. They only question is: what kind of difference do we want to make?” (Law 154). We might add to that question another: How do we recognize in these webs possibilities for making difference, for making a difference? And how do we do so purposefully? (intro3b1).

The advance something more phenomenological than the flat ontological. On the Deluezean rhizome that underscores many of the texts Hawk draws from, they write:

The rhizome works flatly through lines rather than static point, but rootstock might dare ask Deleuze’s “useless questions,” for that reaching is part of an identity. Longing. This longing, too, is a tangled line. Indeed, we might say that a feminist rhizomatic or rootstock most resembles Rosi Braidotti’s nomadic subject, a vision of subjectivity that embraces simultaneity and multiple, sometimes contradictory layers of identity (rhizome4).

I’m wondering what a feminist rootstock, or a queer phenomenological turn in the network, would ask of “as many persuasive models as can possibly be fashioned“. Surely, they wouldn’t lose the complexity of systems that seems to be the central idea, but perhaps ask an extra step toward towardness, maybe? Not the telos that we’re avoiding here, but eros. 

Desire and becoming: history as a network of erotics. Certainly Hawks use of Cohen to discuss the finding of other nodes and creating new openings feeds into the continual generation he discusses (p. 121) is extremely productive and useful to think about.

 

Notes: Jessica Enoch, “Releasing Hold: Feminist Historiography Without the Tradition”

Enoch, Jessica. (2013). Releasing hold: Feminist historiography without the tradition. In Theorizing histories of rhetoric. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, p. 58-73.

Summary:

Enoch questions the dominant work in feminist rhetorical historiography to reclaim women rhetorical figures or reread canonical texts and instead poses rhetorical approaches that call attention to the rhetorical work of gendering and creating public memories about and for women.

Keywords: feminist rhetorics, historiography, histories of rhetoric, archives, methodology

Quotations:

“Rather than use the archive to recover women, a feminist memory studies approach to the archive prompts scholars to see it as a site that creates and shapes public memory for and about women” (p. 66).

“[T]heir work is predicated on the idea that the process of gendering is deeply rhetorical in that it relies on discursive, material, and embodied articulations and performances that create and disturb gendered distinctions, social categories, and asymmetrical power relationships” (p. 68).

Reflection:

I’m deeply interested in Enoch’s work in articulating the rhetorical work of the archive and of archival scholarship. I can see connections readily available to some of my concerns in approaching an archival project that sits somewhere between queer theoretical work and LGBTQ histories. Particularly in how Enoch discusses how a feminist memory studies approach calls attention to the rhetorical work of remembering women—but also the rhetorical work of forgetting. She discusses the archive itself as something of scholarly inquiry and its sustained (in)attention (p. 66). These seem like promising premises. Enoch poses questions of how historiographic work is done, but also offers theoretical inroads into performing historiographic work (in part by doing a historiography of feminist rhetorical histories).

I’m reminded a bit of Jen Clary-Lemon’s “Museums as Material: Experiential Landscapes and the Canadian Museum for Human Rights“, which perhaps is an extension of some of this conversation, arguing that the museum is itself a textual site performing rhetorical for interrogation. She discusses rhetorical accretion as a means to examine

museum interiors and landscapes as both housing and being different “core texts” that can be seen through a lens of material rhetoric can encourage complex understandings of the layers that are formed from objects, spaces, architecture, and affect from a range of different subject positions, and disturb the bifurcation of inside/outside that emerges from considering museums as object repositories—instead opening these landscapes to see inside and outside as connected in a network of place (para. 6).

Clary-Lemon argues that the networks of accretion in museum spaces are a material part of the rhetorical work that sustains remembering and forgetting. It would pose an interesting question to bring in an approach such as hers to each archive, to ask how “material existence constructs networked meaning out of materials, durability, reproduction, and effects on text and peoples” (para. 30).

Though different approaches, I can see how each is asking for methods that call explicit attention to the rhetorical work of creating, shaping, and sustaining rhetorical memory and forgetting.

Notes: Linda Ferreira-Buckley, “Archivists with an Attitude: Rescuing the Archives from Foucault”

Ferreira-Buckley, Linda. (1999). Archivists with an attitude: Rescuing the archives from Foucault. NCTE 61(5), 577-583.

Summary:

Ferreira-Buckley argues that rhetoric and composition, having a deep history of training in theories of history writing from literature, lacks training as a discipline in the standard methods of historians. Ferreira-Buckley contends that rhetoric and compostion needs to develop standard and deep practices with the archives in order to address this.

Keywords: archives, disciplinarity, histories of rhetoric, methodology

Quotations:

“I want to insist that traditional methodology, far from being incompatible with a progressive politics, is in fact the best agent of change” (582).

“Theoretical sophistication does not obviate the need for practical training. We lack the tools of the historians’ trade; familiar with only the most obvious granting agencies, we cannot secure the money needed to carry out research agendas that are both deep and broad” (582).

Reflection:

This strikes me as a text that is calling for the discipline to define its expertise, or shore it up, as much as it is calling for a deeper understanding of archival practices. She opens pointing to what may be a deep rift in rhetoric and composition/writing studies’s history: its connection and histories with literature. And later in the text brings up issues of funding research enterprises, which seems a symptom of that rift.

At the same time, the point that the discipline needs to take seriously the practices of the methodologies it takes up is one that needs making and reminding. The call is important to attend to methods carefully, to instruct in them carefully, and to represent them thoroughly.

I find it, perhaps, especially compelling that she writes, “I believe fully the truism that even historians who deny theory operate nonetheless from a theory” (p. 577). Though, I suppose that’s on my mind after my reading of Gaillet’s text. Ultimately, it is important here though to note that she discusses practice in a way that is not separable from the theories that operate within it, but that one nonetheless needs to develop an understanding of practice as a part of that. I’m not sure if it is because the time since then, or my own disposition, but all of this seems—is nonissue or obvious the right word?

I come to a sticking point around the emphasis of ‘traditional methodologies.’ Traditional methodologies, I have no doubt, can be agents of change—and by all means should—but I’m dubious of the suggestion that the privileged methods are the means, in the name of expertise, should be naturalized or given the superlative of ‘best’ in her concluding paragraph. For one, it seems arhetorical: best for who, in what context, to what ends—one’s methodology need not stop at one’s theory, but in the interpolation between one’s theory and one’s methods, which will occur in particular contexts.

And, perhaps simply: research is messy. Becky Rickly writes in “Making Sense of Making Knowledge” of the need for “our field become a little more comfortable with what Law refers to as the ‘messiness’ of research” (p. 266). Rickly argues that “we need to situate our methods (and our application/analysis) so that they help us understand more complicated research scenarios and questions” (p. 262). And histories and archival works are certainly messy, certainly complicated, and need methods to be situated as such.

While I understand the need for expertise as well, I’m not sure that it needs uncritically reinforced. Disciplinarity disciplines at the same time as it offers material conditions that allow for meaning making, such as funding, graduate programs, and tenure lines. Jack Halberstam writes in The Queer Art of Failure:

Being taken seriously means missing out on the chance to be frivolous, promiscuous, and irrelevant. The desire to be taken seriously is precisely what compels people to follow the tried and true paths of knowledge production around which I would like to map a few detours. Indeed terms like serious and rigorous tend to be code words, in academia as well as other contexts, for disciplinary correctness; they signal a form of training and learning that confirms what is already known according to approved methods of knowing, but they do not allow for visionary insights or flights of fancy (p. 6)

I mention this because it interrogates the assumption that the traditional modes of doing knowledge production are the best means of doing so, in some sense by asking the questions “best for who?” and also by asking “what is meant by best?”

Developing practical knowledge is important, but that practice is always situated and a rhetorical education of methods needs the work of situating to be explicit and as much a part of the research design as any other part of a method.

Notes: Lynée Lewis Gaillet, “Archival Survival: Navigating Historical Research”

Gaillet, Lynée L. (2010). Archival survival: Navigating historical research. In Ramsey, Alexis E.,  Wendy B. Sharer, Barbara L’Eplattenier, and Lisa S. Mastrangelo (Eds.), Working in the archives: Practical research methods for rhetoric and composition, 28-38. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press.

Summary:

Gaillet offers practical considerations of archival research in response to, and as a part of a collection edited by, L’Eplattenier’s concerns about the lack of practice-oriented texts for novice and experienced archival researchers. Gaillet addresses means of preparing, accessing, and coming to working with archival materials, as well as how to put these materials within the context of one’s research. Gaillet positions archival work both within the work of histories as a function of rhetoric and composition/writing studies.

Keywords: archives, historiography, histories of rhetoric, methodology

Quotations:

“Recovery and revision historiographical theory in rhet/comp argues that the researcher becomes a part of the project—a participant whose ethos is evident in his or her research” (p. 36).

Reflection:

I suppose one thing I’m thinking of, reading this, is how practical does something need to be to be practical? Gaillet mentions many factors that bind archival work to be project or archive-determined/specific, but offers a great deal of thoughtful considerations for working with archives. Is this text putting forth the phronesis or the techne of working with archives? What is this article doing with doing in archives? I’m wanting something here that I’m not so sure that I can put my finger on precisely. I suppose what I’m wanting is something to anchor the advice offered: to walk through an archival project with her, for this to put together its archival reflections in experiencing and learning from the work, or to construct the methods section that L’Eplattenier’s earlier article calls for. I suppose this is somewhat of a minor thing in the grand scheme, because the text offers a fantastic way to consider many of the considerations of doing archival work. But if the method is contingent upon access to the archive, or if the means of coding and organizing data are always difficult for researchers to consider, or if one’s ethos is indeed evident and participant within the research, seeing that, or in some sense doing that alongside her, situates the advice and could provide entry points into other considerations/issues/hooks in archival work.

I’m also thinking of the work that Jody Shipka has recently started asking what an archive is and who gets to determine what counts as an archive. I realize that these questions are beyond the scope of this particular piece, but they come to mind as I’m reading this, particularly when I’m thinking about her discussion of accessing an archive, the materiality of archives, and how one’s ethos participates and is evident in archival research. And if I hold these questions against Jonathan Alexander and Jacqueline Rhodes’s “Queer Rhetoric and the Pleasures of the Archive” and Techne: Queer Meditations on Writing the Self“, or Sara Ahmed’s Willful Subjects, the questions become richer for me to think about and perhaps even more vexing. Admed writes about tracing the figure of the willful child as she appears, willfully resisting her being contained in many ways: her work is in creating this archive for the willful child, or allowing her to figure herself in something we might call an archive (if the point is that the part might not want to reproduce the whole, than an archive of willfulness might not be an archive at all). Rhodes and Alexander write in “Queer rhetoric and the Pleasures of the Archive”:

“Once queer subjects begin to speak…” With what do they speak? … in the tongue we find a robust metonym of our struggle, our critique, our possibility. The queer tongue, long denied its utterances, long disciplined by legislation and normalization, long in the making of critique and the construction of queer identities, of queer particularities, of queer taste. The tongue contains our histories, and our possibilities. We have variously been tongue tied and twisted. We have bitten our tongues, but also gestured tongue-in-cheek through camp, spoken in the tongues of innuendo and insinuation, longed for a mother tongue, a tongue untied, and found just as often the tongue bath, the deep-throated kissing that articulates the desires of the body in its annunciation of alternatives to your lives, your limited languages. We are these tongues, so many tongues, speaking, depressed, suppressed, repressed, but still expressed in the plays of power that twist and bite, but also lick and delight. We reserve our right to be mouthy, to spit, to eat fire, to do things that we are not supposed to do with our mouths and tongues.

What might be an archive of tongues or that are (em)bodied, or archives of activity, that are distributed, that move (to follow Morris’s “Archival Queer”). I ask these not as criticisms, but just as things that I’m thinking about. Personally, I’m wanting to look at the late 80’s and early 90’s LGBT activism, to listen to queerness inventing (itself, possibilities, criticisms, futures, lives), how these activists used their tongues and their (em)bodied action to inscribe and be inscribed, to trace a queer rhetorical history in the face of its silencing and the violences against using their bodies.

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I need to ask these methodological questions before I come to the steps that Gaillet might put forward. How and what I approach as an archive participates in the histories that come from that research, holds some bodies and voices—Rhodes and Alexander ask “With what do they speak?”—and silences others: this is a question of access, but it is also a question of the work of the archive as much as it is a question of archival work.

I suppose this long aside is just to say that I want a discussion of practice or of doing to attend to the complexities of the work. Such a thing need not be overwhelmingly theoretical, but these things are always operating together: to not address the underlying thought or experience of working in the archive leaves its essential questions. But again, the text is a wonderful foundation, I don’t mean this to be at all a criticism. Thinking alongside the text and having questions about archival work is heavily framing my reading of it.