Class Synthesis, March 8th

We began our class mapping out the main ideas introduced in chapters one, two, six, and the afterword from Hawk’s A Counter-History of Composition: Toward Methodologies of Complexity. Our conversation opened discussing the context in which both his book, and Thomas RIckert’s Acts of Enjoyment developed in 2007. At the time, the popular technique in the field of composition and rhetoric was to re-write the history of composition. Theorists thrived on evaluating past theories and reassembling them to find what may have been missed in existing theory. Hawk followed suit using this strategy, focusing on Berlin’s and Faukerson’s theoretical ideals, and dissecting them to discover what they were missing. Identifying the theories associated with each scholar, Hawk argues that the issue with each of the scholar’s proposed theories is that they are all epistemological—in other words, they place the mind over the body. Hawk wants to move towards ontological thinking, which emphasizes writing, focused on being in the world and knowing about the world. This pattern of thinking translates to Vitalism, the main focus of Hawk’s text.

The definition we discussed in class was that Vitalism “takes energy inherent to the process as its power source, rather than something outside of it.” Vitalism is as important as ever as the ecology of the writing classroom is developing in technological contexts and diverse environments. Hawk narrows his focus on vitalism because he recognizes that Berlin, Young, and Faulkerson neglected the theory in their texts, leaving it in a misunderstood state of application. From their disregard for the subject, Hawk develops his thesis, which we discussed on page 6: “transforming rhetoric and composition’s image of vitalism from mysticism to complexity provides a basis for thinking about rhetoric and pedagogy that is more attuned to contemporary texts.” How does Hawk argue this? In chapter 1, we focused on Hawk’s use of Young’s theory of “Art, Craft, Gift, and Knack (defined below), concluding that Young oversimplifies invention and leaves out expansion of ideas of art, affect, and situatedness. We discussed how In chapter 2, he focuses on Berlin’s Marxist framework. A nice conclusion we can use in our discussion about Berlin is that he “forgets history, forgets disciplinary, and forgets his own unconscious, nonrational, pedagogical desire in order to focus on the individual” (84). Chapter 6’s discussion gravitated towards the teacher-student relationship. As the instructor and the student often have competing desires in the classroom, both perspectives must be accounted for when developing assignments or curriculum. Vitalism stresses that curriculum must be developed specifically for the student and the teacher. This brought our discussion to Kameen, who focused on classroom ecologies, arguing that knowledge should not privilege the teacher’s ideology or intention, but instead focus on where knowledge emerges.

We discussed that in the end, Hawk wants multiple counter-histories to develop. He wants other composition scholars to be aware of the differences that evolve in theory, and to tackle these differences with an end-goal of understanding, so that the field can continue growing.

Art- heuristic to aid in content discovery

Craft- emphasis on form and surface features of text

Gift- innate natural talent

Knack- something learned through habit/practice

During our discussion with Rickert, Josh asked whether or not Rickert had encountered what he describes as an act in his own teaching experience. Rickert notably explained that while teaching during his graduate studies in Texas, he found a number of students taking time of their own to find ways their classroom observations manifested in their own communities—it was, for many, an outlet for transformation . This prompted Rickert to explain that he now sees an Act as anything that transforms your outlook of the everyday (a perspective that seemed to resonate nicely with Hawk’s notion of a complex vitalist approach to teaching). When asked how he would respond to a paper like that of Pierce he explained that he would try to engage with the student and identify where the breakdown in communication came about. He also asserted that the best way to get good writing from students is to promote invention, citing authors such as Shipka as significant voices. When asked how Rickert evaluates “authentic voice,” he explained that he does not see a specific “voice” as being more worthy of a privileged “authenticity.” Instead, he explained that he observes a plurality of voices that call us. Finally, he gave an example of “affirmative” invention, rather than the “negative” invention associated with critique, by discussing how he has students create their own ads or PSAs, focusing on audience and techniques for creating. He found that such an approach often made students even more critical than from critiquing an ad as they came to know the tools being utilized by advertisers. (The class also noted his wonderful, jolly laugh.)

Following our conversation with the two writers, we began discussing questions of our own. What aspects of teaching do we enjoy? Having read about joussance, how do we see it affecting our own pedagogy? We came to the conclusion that we, as instructors, should be critical of our own joussance since it might hinder students’ learning. Moreover, instructors should abandon some of their own content in order to listen, properly respond to students’ needs, and prompt students’ development. Another question that was brought up prompted discussion about students’ resistance to critical pedagogy. Instead of focusing on the resistance and how it might be manifested, instructors should shift student-teacher relation. Consequently, this shift will provide engaging and effective way of learning and, at the same time, help to avoid having resistance on the part of students. We finished our class with the following questions: What does it look like to take teaching beyond pleasurable? How do we invite “play” to the classroom? How do we employ critical pedagogy when students are already cynical?



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