Notes: Sara Ahmed, “Fragile Connections” in Living a Feminist Life

Ahmed, Sara. (2017). Fragile connections. Living a feminist life. Durham: Duke University Press, 163-186.


Ahmed describes how the uneven distribution of diversity work wears and shatters nonnormative bodies and also how diversity work can be a work of breaking. Ahmed offers a different orientation toward breaking, one that holds the tension of nonnormative bodies within institutions as a site of resistance.

Keywords: bodies, critical race theory, disability studies, diversity, embodiment, feminism, feminist theory, queer, queer theory, theory


“It might be that in order to inhabit certain spaces we have to block recognition of just how wearing they are: when the feeling catches us, it might be at the point when it is just too much” (p. 164).

“Clumsiness might provide us with a queer ethics. Such an ethics attends to the bumpiness of living with difference, so often experienced as difference in time; being too slow or too fast, out of time” (p. 166).

“Bumping into each other is a sign that we have not resolved our differences. The resolution of difference is the scene of much injustice. Things might be smoother because some have had to adjust to keep up with others” (p. 166).

“Racism becomes the requirement to think of racism with sympathy, racism as just another view; the racist as the one with feelings, too” (p. 177).

“Perhaps we need to develop a different orientation to breaking. We can value what is deemed broken; we can appreciate those bodies, those things, that are deemed to have bits and pieces missing. Breaking need not be understood only as the loss of integrity of something, but as the acquisition of something else, whatever that else might be” (p. 180).

Contact(ed) Ethos

In day three of the two week graduate assistant instructor training, we talked a lot about teaching personas and how we come to these personas. We riffed on Malea Powell’s  “Learning (Teaching) to Teach (Learn)” and her CCCC address in which she asked us to consider all our relations. A gesture toward collective. A gesture toward a complexity that surrounds, fills, informs, and constitutes performances of the layers of ethos that spread across subjects, where there may have only been one visible subject. A question that may appear simple: are we not the sums of our relations?

We took a moment to make representations of some of our relations—those who we carried with us, who were never far, who were inflected in our ways of thinking. On white sheets of paper with an outline of a gingerbread person, we filled in stylized representations of those who were (not?) already there. They were collected and taped to the chalk board at the front of the room, just behind where our WPA, Derek Mueller, facilitates this workshop—now standing among the visible, no longer absent, presences.

That space is a powerful space to sit and listen to and feel the silences, the apparitions, the sense of self.

Drawing heavily from postmodern theory, the queer theory traditions that I’ve read readily discuss the fragmented self, or the instability of the “I”. This tradition has widely informed my understanding and use of ethos. While talking about our ethical responsibility to one another, Judith Butler perhaps frames this best when she says, “The “I” that I am is nothing without the “you” that you are.” Which is to say that I can only come to know my self and the boundaries of self once I recognize a boundary of other. Butler may not necessarily be talking about questions of ethos, but certainly troubles any stable same-self and places self as interrelated.

To return to the activity in this training, to have attention called to the hazy boarders of self, other, and relationship presents a necessary vulnerability and intimacy. This activity requires a sort of felt sense of who is near and around me as well as acknowledges a certain amount of slippages between where I end and another begins. For me, it was a moment of feeling, perhaps for the first time in this way, ethos as contact(ed). Rather than dissolve the self or the rhetor, feeling the touch of another as constitutive is to take seriously social responsiveness and self-positioning.


Later in the session we discussed part of the textbook that graduate assistants in EMU’s FYWP use to teach, Understanding Rhetoric. In this discussion, we talked about the third issue, “Writing Identities.” In this issue, there is an illustration of a mirror, cracked into four pieces, with four fragments of a face split across the mirror. In this illustration, selecting performances of self becomes central and visible. We adapted some of this illustration to talk about our performances as instructors. For an activity, we had four boxes in which we had to draw representations of three aspects of our self that we could perform proudly or easily in front of a class and one that we were nervous about.

While digressing from the prompt stylistically, I remember being immediately struck with the idea of Pop Art in the Warhol sense. I hastily sketched out four iterations of me with the same structure in each frame and trying to use bright colors, made-negative imaging, and simple alterations to convey, if not separate performances of self, points of slipping.

It was an endeavor that I see as inextricably linked to the first activity, perhaps drawing on Ben Rafoth’s IWCA address, which discusses Warhol, in that he suggests Warhol’s moves demand different questions “Who do we not see, even when they are present? In other words, drawing out the human potential in a writing center requires social understanding to bring about agency” (22). Rafoth suggests that Warhol’s paintings ask who the subject is by enacting his images’ multiplicity through their iterative yet fragmented nature.  It seems as though these images convey at once singularity and multiplicity: the unified image is gained through contacts of the self.

If we were to explore ethos as contact(ed), what does that even mean or look like? How does that map on pedagogically? What would it mean to enact a pedagogy of contact—that embraces the vulnerability and intimacy at the hazy, messy slippages between self and selves? I’m not sure. I am still trying to listen and feel. Nor am I necessarily convinced that the rough, drafty space of this blog is the right venue for a deeper exploration.

An contact(ed) ethos may necessarily be responsive to the others present, absent or not, and feel them touching back. Understanding ethos that way means being adaptive and ethically and etheticly responding.

A Brief Listing of Citations

Banks, William P. “The Values of Queer Jacketing: What Happens When Student Writers Go Gay?” MEAT Journal 1.2 (Winter 2005–06)

Butler, Judith (2015). “The Ethics and Politics of Nonviolence.” Presented at Oakland University.

— (2009). Frames of War: When is Life Grievable. New York: Verso.

Powell, Malea (2012). 2012 CCCC chair’s letter. College Composition and Communication, 64(2), 423-431.

Malea Powell (2006). “Learning (Teaching) to Teach (Learn)” in Peter Vandenberg, Sue Hum, and Jennifer Clary-Lemon (eds.) Relations, Locations, Positions: Composition Theory for Writing Teachers. Urbana Free Library: 571-580.

Rafoth, Ben (2016). “Faces, Factories, and Warhols: A r(Evolutionary) Future for Writing Centers” The Writing Center Journal 35.2, 17-29.

Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky (1990). Epistemology of the Closet. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Notes: Jacqueline Rhodes and Jonathan Alexander, “Mobilities” in Techne: Queer Meditations on

Rhodes, Jacqueline, and Jonathan Alexander. “Genealogies.” In Techne: Queer Meditations on Writing the Self. Logan, UT: Computers and Composition Digital Press/Utah State University Press, 2015. Web.



Rhodes and Alexander discuss techne in terms of an queer embodied self and the rhetorical canons of memory and delivery.

Keywords: Queer, Queer Rhetorics, Multimodality, Technology, New Media, Ecology, Embodiment


Brooke, Collin Gifford. Lingua Fracta: Toward a Rhetoric of New Media. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton, 2009. Print.

McCorkle, Ben. Rhetorical Delivery as Technological Discourse: A Cross-Historical Study. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 2012. Print.

Porter, James E. “Recovering Delivery for Digital Rhetoric.” Computers and Composition 26.4 (2009): 207–24. Print.


“Porter’s theoretical framework for digital delivery consists of five components: body/identity, distribution/circulation, access/accessibility, interaction, and economics… Such synergistic tension opens up spaces to act, write, and perform embodied rhetorical action” (mob2).

“[H]e notes that our modern, commonsense understanding of “delivery” sees it as a transitive process, something that always happens with a delivered, discrete object (“delivering a pizza,” for example); he argues that “we need to think in terms of an intransitive, constitutive performance, rather than transitive or transactional delivery, when it comes to new media” (170–71)” (mob3).

“In this chapter, we juxtapose—mash up and remix—delivery and memory with orientation in the service of productive play. Such play lets us develop and explore a critical consciousness that becomes aware of the orientations that shape memory and subjectivity as well as the potentiality to reorient them, even if through disorientation. As a techne, our call for such dis/orientation emerges from and extends a long line of queer aesthetic practice” (mob4a).

“What draws us queerly to such work is its often embodied delivery (and memory), its working through the body—wandering, following instincts, tracing desires, reacting in the flesh, coupling strangely and unexpectedly and even grotesquely—as well as its questioning of normative modes of production (wander!) and its orientation to potentialities as opposed to (heteronormative) reproduction” (mob4a).

“What we have been proposing through this work is a reorientation of memory and delivery that serves as a multimodal techne of self. Such a technerelies on the constant re/negotiation of memory and ecologies of delivery, of allowing for but also stumbling upon embodied encounters with what we think we know and what’s coming at us” (mob5b).

“Graffiti is often itself an act of dis/orientation. Some of it just tags the environment, designed to mark a space as owned in a subterranean geography. But much of it disrupts the nearly seamless flow of corporate colonization of public spaces. We think, for instance, of Banksy or Keith Haring, whose work posed material interruptions of spatial narratives that otherwise kept us moving along—nothing to see here, get back to work, go shopping. “Live Here, Work Here, Play Here.” Graffiti can dis/orient the spatial spectacles of our everyday lives, tactically turning attention to cracks in the narrative, contradictions and incommensurabilities in the paved-over stories we otherwise tell ourselves to get through the day” (mob6).

“Graffiti offers an ephemerality of consequence. It is a public techne of reorientation. It is the trace of others’ engagement with the world, with an attempt to leave a mark, to make an impression, to divert, to disrupt, to affect, to make our collective landscapes affective, to tell another story. It reminds us that someone or some people were here. It is memory and delivery. And, in its often unknown authorship, it performs a rhizomatic scattering of the self, an ecology of subjectivity that narrates otherwise, that draws attention to its difference from everything else around it” (mob6a).

Notes: William P. Banks, “Written Through the Body: Disruptions and ‘Personal’ Writing.”

Banks, William P. “Written Through the Body: Disruptions and ‘Personal’ Writing.”The Personal in Academic Writing. Spec. issue of College English 66.1 (2003): 21-40.



Banks explores an embodied writing and its challenges to the assumptions compositionists often make about making texts through his attentiveness to texts and composing bodies, and using non-fiction essay styles and fragmentation.

Keywords: Composition, Queer, Queer Theory, Queer Rhetorics, Pedagogy, Teaching of Writing, Embodiment


Fleckenstein, Kristie S. “Bodysigns: A Biorhetoric for Change.”JAC 21 (2001): 761-90.

hooks, bell. Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom. New York: Routledge, 1994.


“I’ve begun to think that “personal” writing (which may or may not be explicitly narrative) is more complicated than “the narrative.” It requires more confidence than I had assumed, and it requires a greater knowledge of “self,” regardless of whether that “self” is unified or fragmented, Cartesian or postmodern” (22).

“[T]he clamoring to get away from an epistemology identified as “expressivist,” the term critical-meaning variously “distant,” “epistemic,” “socially responsible”-has be- come so commonplace as to rival process as the controlling god-term in composition studies. A discussion of “critical thinking” blazes, again, across the WPA-L discussion list even as I sit here editing this text for the last time before I surrender it to the editors of CE. The assumption, I suppose, is that the “personal” isn’t critical, isn’t socially responsible because it encourages a solipsistic narcissism of knowledge production” (22).

“First, violence is always already embodied. The violence, once inscribed on the body, is difficult to erase and, as such, may control the readings we do of ourselves, our experiences, and others. Second, and more important to this essay, embodied writing hedges because the body hedges, moves in fits and starts, pushes toward puberty and holds back, has days without knee pain and days with. Writing through the body lets writing make the same (often) tentative steps the body does, and as readers, we recognize those movements as metaphors of our own lived experience (Turner; Lakoff and Johnson; Fleckenstein, “Bodysigns”)” (25).

“It’s funny how bodies behave … or don’t. When I presented an early draft of this paper, I wanted to look at my audience, but I got nervous. I could feel my ears getting red, especially while reading about Steve and Michael. My body began to take over; it reasserted itself, even though I had thought that, in such a professional context, I could control it. Ah, Kristeva, how right you have been: no matter how we abject our bodies, particularly in the academy, they come back to haunt us. They make their claims on us/for us/in us/outside us. I can’t tell the story above and not know my body and mind are connected, intimately” (28).

“I realize that in sharing my stories, which also make possible the stories of those like me, I could offer these new colleagues and friends lenses through which to revise their own thinking, possibly even the embodied “arguments” they write. My em- bodied writing may require reflection and theorizing in others, the same way theirs makes me constantly reevaluate my understanding of the stereotypes I create for their positions. But the price seems so incredibly high that I often choose not to pay it” (30).

“The value of embodied rhetorics, as opposed to “personal writing,” rests on this distinction: it is, quite simply, impossible (and irresponsible) to separate the producer of the text from the text itself. Our belief that we could make such a separation has allowed masculinist rhetorics to become “universal” in modernist discourses because the bodies producing the discourse have been effectively erased, allowing them to become metonymies of experience and knowledge” (33).

“Embodied writing, which I’ve tried to manifest here, doesn’t follow the form of academic argument necessarily, may even stand starkly against it, or may incorporate it. It’s more like an amalgam of creative nonfiction and critical autobiography, where pieces of the puzzle stick out and the reader must pull them together with careful attention, feeling over the body of the text for symmetries, unities, coherences-which may exist in the most tenuous of ways, or not at all. It speaks to disciplined audiences and goes through a strenuous process of critique and revision. Likewise, the embodiment of my experiences in writing requires different metaphors, different (dis)organizing methods” (38).