PAB #1.2: Stitching Together Events: Of Joints, Folds, and Assemblages

Hawk, Byron.  “Stitching Together Events: Of Joints, Folds, and Assemblages.”  Theorizing Histories of Rhetoric. Ed. Michelle Ballif.  Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2012.  106-127. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost). Web. 7 Sept. 2015.

Hawk’s text, here, is a chapter from the book Theorizing Histories of Rhetoric. It speaks more to the nature of writing a history within rhetoric and composition than the history of the field itself. Hawk opens his chapter by speaking about traditional historiography within the field, the desire to go back to the archives and either recite from those facts found there or to build a revisionary history with regards to finding another text or another author, previously given little regard. With this in mind, and reflecting on Sande Cohen’s work History Out of Joint, Hawk arrives at the notion that “history is an assemblage of events grounded in methods of finding, selecting, evaluating, and reassembling events judged from current rhetorical needs” (107).  Or, in short, history is rhetorically situated. Hawk gives more power to this idea with the perspective of Hans Kellner, who argues that new historiographies require “’getting the story crooked,’ looking into the various strands of meaning in text in such a way as to make the categories, trends, and reliable identities of history a little less inevitable” (109).

As a whole, Hawk’s work here hinges on complexity theory and blends the arts and sciences, particularly music and biology.  He discusses Borgo’s work on insect behaviors and their connection to improvisational jazz (e.g., performance and sound), outlining “the patterns of self-organization that operate within historical events: degrees of freedom (assemblages), strange attractors (joints), feedback (folds), and bifurcations (lines of flight).”   Hawk also calls on and applies the work of Steven Johnson (i.e., Emergence), who argues that the “’great man approach’ [i.e., a single thinker whose discovery changes history] to history and the ‘paradigm shift’ model are insufficient for conceptualizing and mapping the historical emergence of ideas” (119).  Instead, Johnson uses the entomological pheromone trail as a metaphor for memory, saying “. . . plug more minds into the system and give their work a longer more durable trail—by publishing their ideas in best-selling books, or founding research centers to explore those ideas—and before long the system arrives at a phase transition . . . “ (120).

Using Johnson’s historical model and Borgo’s method, Hawk sketches out how one would create a networked historiography on communication and composition, based on complexity and improvisation.  He sections the historiography by Borgo’s categories: freedom, attractors, feedback, and bifurcation.  As a result, he concludes that this method breaks with “the simple or causal chains of narration and story” (124) often deployed when writing about history.  Instead, the method offers a “collective, improvised, material performance of history itself and of writing history” (124).

The theme of improvisation runs throughout Hawk’s work. In this video, he connects gesture ecologies to improvisational sound art and all composition.

While intricately metaphorical and intelligently playful, Hawk’s work, here, does not offer the straightforwardness of other histories regarding schools of thought within the history of composition studies—I am thinking here of Nystrand and colleagues’ article on constructivism, social constructionism, and dialogism discussed in my previous post—however, Hawk’s great contribution here is not the content regarding the history of composition studies but the form he details. This meta-communication (and metaphorical communication) regarding the networking of history and the complexifying of theory speak to the age: its connections, intersections, and divergences.  Or to put it another way, Hawk and the authors whom he references indicate how ideas overlap, ambiguities abound, and co-evolution endures. These are the crooked stories of our time; the strands we reassemble as needed; the systems that fail to be singularly categorized.  Within composition studies, many may attach themselves to more than just one history and will therefore create more complex futures and subsequently more interconnected theory and praxis (e.g., post-structuralism does not totally throw out the idea of social construction; it builds off it). These complexities–these interconnections–certainly have been with us for decades, but Hawk gives depth to them and offers a new reading and writing about historical texts and rhetorical futures. This is the power and the allure of his work.

By the way, comparatively speaking, I could not help but think about the relationship between Hawk’s metaphors of trails and networks and Phelps’ mapping metaphor used in her “Practical Wisdom and Geography of Knowledge” (1991) article. In a bit of a twist, Hawk aims to (inter)connect multiple theories to divergent histories, while Phelps aims to (inter)connect multiple histories to divergent theories. Both have this notion of practice and/or performance, however, leading us back to theory and history in a recurring loop.

PAB #1.1: Where Did Composition Studies Come From? (1993)

Nystrand, Martin, Stuart Greene, and Jeffrey Wiemelt. “Where Did Composition Studies Come From? An Intellectual History.” Written Communication 10.3 (1993): 267-333. ERIC. Web. 10 Sept. 2015.

Published in 1993, Nystrand et al. offer a lengthy (about 50 pages) yet historically synthesized article about composition studies’ rise as a recognized scholarly discipline in the 1970s, and they trace its evolving schools of thought until the early 1990s.  The authors define the field’s roots in the formalism of the mid-1940-1960s, which focused on prescriptive models, such as the five-paragraph theme of the 1950s and the works of Warriner and Strunk and White as well as the “public and objective” truth of New Criticism in literature studies (275-76).  In the formalist’s mind, texts were viewed as “autonomous units of meaning coded with their own contextually independent internal structures” (277).

The second chunk of decades the authors discuss include the late 1960s through the early 1980s, in which we not only see the rise of composition as a formal discipline, but we also observe the popularity of cognitivism and constructivism through the works of Moffett, Britton, Emig, Flower, Hayes, Fish, and Chomsky.  The constructivist view situates writing and reading as “dynamic processes of constructing meaning”; orders language and “gives shape and thus meaning to experience”; and validates “the role of mind in shaping human experience” (285).

The 1980s, according to the authors, gave rise to social constructionism and continuation of structuralism within composition studies, transforming “univocal conceptions of language and meaning into a pluralist semiotic . . . “ (286).  Ideas and terms such as writing as social act, writing across the curriculum, and discourse communities stem from social constructionism. Moreover, the work of linguists William Labov as related to Black/African-American communities’ use of non-standard English, Dell Hymes’ use of the term speech community, and Searles’ discourse analysis all influenced the swell of social constructionism.  Likewise, composition research from the likes of Shaughnessy, Bruffee, Bizzell, and Bartholomae undergird the movement. Literary theorists, such as Stanley Fish, whose work spans generations and influences various schools of thought, also contributed to social constructionism with his notion of “interpretive communities.”  Altogether, structuralism, found both in cognitivism and social constructionism, avows that “human behavior and institutions can be explained only by elucidating the mediating structure of an underlying abstract system” (292).

The final school of thought to which the authors turn is dialogism, rooted in the work of Bakhtin, which offers these words: “The utterance is a social phenomenon . . . the product of the reciprocal relationship between speaker and listener, addresser and addressee”  (qtd. in 294).  Dialogism counters structuralism, and the text, then, becomes a dialogue of sorts, where “meaning of any utterance is always relative to other utterances” (296).  Often referred to as poststructuralists, important theorists, such as Barthes, Brodkey, Derrida, and Foucault “ come out of this wave of thought and argue that knowledge and meaning are socially constructed, context dependent, political and historical—and therefore unstable, partial and multiple” (300).

Overall, Nystrand and his fellow authors synthesize about fifty years of intellectual history within composition studies, leading the reader to the central points of  the main schools of thought that have impacted composition studies (and still do) from the 1940s-1990s: formalism, structuralism, and dialogism.  The unique nature of this article is its ability to summarize each section with bullet points.  Additionally, it offers a useful table that provides critical contrasts among formalism, constructivism, social constructionism, and dialogism.

Comparatively speaking, this article provides a summative history of composition studies that takes into consideration work across the discipline of English Studies, including literature, writing, and linguistics, speaking more to what the subfields have in common than what they do not. McComiskey’s text on the discipline as a whole leads readers to observe more of a fractured nature of the discipline and proposes an alarmist view of sorts.  Nystrand, et al., on the other hand, speak to a more cohesive nature of English Studies, and to be frank, offer a more agreeable (and readable) tone.