Clients from Hell

For more evidence of why an extensive education in rhetoric might be valuable in the 21st century broadcast society, please see Clients from Hell.


Reflections: Rickert's Acts of Enjoyment

I thought I would share a few paragraphs from Thomas Rickert's Acts of Enjoyment:

The point, ultimately, is not that we should immediately change the pedagogical road we are on. This would risk falling into the same critical mode I am discussing, whereby psychoanalytic critique becomes the new authority underwriting more sophisticated control pedagogies. Rather, I suggest that we come to see the road differently, to think about it afresh, and perhaps to try detours or other routes, not by replicating the latest new pedagogies but by reinhabiting current pedagogies through an evolving sensibility. (172)

Thomas follows by arguing that one strategy for reframing (enframing?) the pedagogy we inhabit concerns surprise. We need to both foster an appreciation for open possibility and develop open-ended syllabi that transfer control of curriculum and pedagogy to, if not the students, the kairotic moment that contains the students, the teachers, and the work. This, however, comes with strong disclaimers:

This [surprise being unpredictable and uncodifiable] means that it [suprise] violates one of composition's most dearly held imperatives--that, as D Diane Davis, following Vitanza, puts it, "every theory be immediately translatable into workable classroom practice for the pedagogue" (Breaking 222; see also Vitanza, "Three" 160-161). Surprise cannot be orchestrated in advance as the glittering pedagogical prize achieved by means of good theories devoted towards just ends. Rather, the pedagogue is just as implicated as the students in the kairotic moment(s) that may arise; further it is this mutual implication that makes of the pedagogy a unique moment beyond the possibility of repetition or control. (172-73)

I am drawn to these passages because they articulate a theoretical grounding for the ways in which I have been shaping my expository writing classroom, moving away from traditional models of composition (the default syllabus for the course was based on the EDNA model) to more open-ended and student driven projects. When this class goes right, there is a serendipitous element to it. Such an element cannot be guaranteed.

Rickert is critical towards the critical mandate that informs many composition models--the idea that students' perceptions of the [material] world must be (either) deprogrammed or reprogrammed. Through a student-oriented (I'll avoid the term centered for a moment) digital pedagogy, I am looking to increase student interaction with others, to help them integrate into a community of their choice, to teach forms of participation. There is certainly a "politics" to this pedagogy, but I would be hesitant to label it a "critical" one. The course (to borrow from Vitanza) says "yes" to students in the zones they inhabit, and asks them to say "yes" some more. Such a concern on my part does not promise "good" behavior--students are encouraged to form identities, ethos, voices suitable to their community. Thus, I am not selling a postpedagogical pill to cure the "disaffected attitudes and behavior, including cynicism, apathy, disregard for others, and violence" that marks the postmodern, critical, post-Oedipalized subjectivity Rickert traces through Faigley, Sacks, Zizek, DeLeuze, and Cobain. What I have discovered after teaching this course for several semesters, is that students often develop concern for themselves, their representation, and for others when they interact with communities of their choosing online. And I consider this a good enough thing.

If I feel that something is missing from this pedagogy, and I sometimes do, it is that I have lost virtually any nothing of what Rickert refers to as "contention"--of the interruptive (Freud might call it the disequilibriative) moment. I'll admit my cultural studies background sometimes comes calling; my desire to throw a deconstructive monkeywrench into my students ideological narrative machine hasn't gone away. But I am choosing, for now at least, to endorse civic practices over critical theory because I believe the function of the ruined University lies more with ethics than with epistemology, acting than thinking, community processes than individual scholarship.