Friday, March 12, 2004

From Awake on Someone's Couch, I gleaned the following link to Catherine Daly's blog. Scrolled down to entry for 3.1.2004 and found these "Course Descriptions":

Course Description

The act of writing is an act of resistance against silence, meaninglessness or meanings imposed from outside the writer. More positively, by writing, writers can seek to establish or control contexts for the reception of their writings, for the understanding of their writings, or for the way writers mediate reality itself. During this course, by examining politically and theoretically charged writings, we will explore the ways that readers and writers are activists, that readers and writers alike are challenged by the legacies of colonialism, and that readers and writers, by their acts, resist or oppose various power structures in favor of others.

Course Description

Conservative and liberal critics alike have referred to poetry as a "gift economy." Poets do not pursue this art by merely writing verse; they must read, review, research, criticize, perform, publish, teach, and otherwise passionately engage the entire range of poetry being written in order to participate in it. In this class, exchange attention and develop faculties and practices through experience with the ways poetry is made and read. This understanding is poetry's gift.

On poetry as a "gift economy" and the act of writing as an act of resistance:
As a means to share my angle or take on Daly's pedagogy; such an exchange refers to Mauss through Bataille: The Gift through The Accursed Share. Since Daly appears to aproach rhetoric via Aristotelian Way, I will follow suit here.

I don't quite agree, maybe understand is a better way to put it, how the two points of view, Daly's dual description of writing, a description of closure, work to create good critical writing and purposive and useful poetry as well as writing-about-poetry. In a gift-economy, gifts are exchanged as signs of wealth. Virtue is displayed in spectacular moments of giving that increase in magnitude of sacrifice and macho utterance with each subsequent exchange of gifts. Significant for such exchange, moreover, is that a return is demanded; for the giving of the initial gift is a form of public humiliation that feuls any further public exchange. The gift-economy depends upon an ever-increasing value of the objects exchanged. For poetry to be such an economy--we must consider where we locate value for the object-poem? Is it in the poet, and hence the poet's sacrifice? Is it in the poem itself, and hence an abstract linguistic sacrifice, maybe of meaning or of form? Is it in the reader, and hence a use value--reader as consumer?

When we critically consider an engaging public issue, we do so as individuals in front of the community in particular instances. In other words, out of original social difference we work towards common understanding. Or, the only way to see universality is through virtuous and critical exchanges within the public sphere. Consistency of action is important; but do we wish to be defined by resistance to, for or against?

For writing itself to be in itself always an act of resistance represents the act of discourse as a series of possible irruptions and eruptions but never irrupting or erupting itself. In other words, resistance as a mode of being depends upon always almost bursting in or breaking out--a continuous series of knocking against or pushing without. It is futile and begs the question of spectacle of resistance in the market.

Hence, the possibility in such a requirement for the act of writing, that it be an act of resistance, may lead to the fetishization of a particular market for writers. Small press publishing, for example, becomes a fetish object rather than anything actually motivated regardless of the intent for, by and with small press contributors and publishers.

Moving from writing as an act resistance to writing poetry as a manner of participating in a gift-economy is a form of closure. Closure itself, as opposed to aperture (a nod to Bernstein), is counter-intuitive to a rhetorical process that requires the participation of individuals who comprise a civil body constructed out of a population of distince individuals. Closure restricts multiplicity not by bleaching difference or by making it invisible, thereby creating a semblance of sameness; closure restricts multiplicity by proscribing difference within public discourse. Teaching students good critical writing resists and poetry participates in the economy through gift-ing proscribes writing that refuses to practice resistance or gifting--not as writing but as good or valuable writing. This rhetoric of closure limits how a writer should write as well as introduces a particular vantage point to offer an initial critique based upon the needs of the market not necessarily of the community of writers and their community of readers and ultimately the literary needs of state itself as a community. For example, How does writer X resist? is a question I would predict a student of mine would ask if I provided the above course descriptions because I would be demanding students see writing that way. Such proscription limits important social movements to explicit reactionary politics.

Feminism, for example, would be closed into a space of a voice resisting anything not supported by the popular form of feminist rhetoric being applied by the writer. Feminist discourse, in this case, is not a critical practice but an authorized form of productive speech within the public sphere used to define a specific type of reactionary feminism. Social critics like Ann Coulter and Christina Hoff Sommers come to mind here. They use the pedagogy Daly describes quite effectively; and, their consumer base and pundit supporters praise their writing as good because of it limitations, its focus, its closure, its resistance towards or against meanings opposed from outside the writer. This quality is valued very useful as a sign of self-legitamizing power. In a gift-economy, seen as a powerful display of public speech that must be met and overcome in order to live up to the demands of such exchange. The problem is that their writing is awful and full of lies and attempts to distort democratic practice; it is misrepresentational by definition. (If I was writing about the rhetoric of resistance I would address the need to inform students in the following manner of speech: "Conservative and Liberal critics alike..." Such deferrence to a limited representation of American culture is already flawed and, I would argue, does nothing but limit the perspectives to two from which a student could address important questions-at-issue in any community.)

A lot going on above, but I have opened the discussion by presenting three concrete problems with the pedagogy Daly describes above:

1. Daly implies that good writing is activist and positivist. May be so. I counter that writing need not be considered positive in this way; good writing need not colonize public space; good writing can go under not go over.

2. Describing the rhetoric of writing to students only just learning rhetoric and critical theory as first, "writing is an active form of resistance", and second, "poetry is a gift-economy", is problematic. Many (good/successful/valuable) writers do not desire to nor ever have participated in the discourse of writing, in the critical practice of poetics. And this isn't reducible to a form of resistance--that's another topic, though. In addition, teaching students that good writing must always be the most informed writing seriously limits the democratic potential for a writerly community to those who have the best education and better accessibility to the community. Nevermind language issues, so important to the discussion of who is permitted to speak in the US presently, such a requirement reeks of elitism.

3. Daly's description of writing implies a heirarchy within the market. (If writing must be an act of resistance, then it is likely that there must always be an oppressive hierarchy to resist...other questions are begged as well.) From writing about writing to writing poetry, a specific closure is distinctly stated. I submit that from Aristotle, though his rhetoric and ethics benefits the wealthiest white men when read literally, to present (writers like Bernstein, Perloff, Andrews, McCafferey, Irigaray, Kristeva, et al) a key to rhetoric is the ability to crank open the available space to allow individuals access to produce more space--such production of space in literature is the result, then, not of merely a resistance to a number of factors we face within the marketplace, therefore, a result of the instances our bodies experience irruption; we erupt, rather, into the market through love, solitude, absence, presence, abjection, hate, apathy, activism, refusal, acceptance, obeyance, etc. This may sound obvious--so apparent it ain't a worthwhile mention.

I am not attacking Catherine Daly, she most likely is a good and succesful teacher, but criticizing a prevailing method for implementing radical pedagogy in the writing classroom on college campuses nationwide. Paolo Friere was quite clear that a true radical pedagogy is not possible until a teacher is willing to give up power and truly enter a classroom and be in media res. To teach, then, is not to instruct how to look, to provide for students; to teach should be to work with students to ask questions about the communities we share. Radical pedagogy challenges teachers to resist presentation and ideologically defined ways of life as ways to live, instead living together with students as part of a community. Teachers making pronouncements and stating concrete themes as necessary elements in classrooms directly and indirectly refuse radical presence in the classroom because they pre-defined its space and impose demands for active participation.

A poem below, for your critique...

stuck mantra for a radical poetics

say it to
see it to
write it to

form it to
do it to
use it to

produce it to
publish it to
exchange it to

value it to
consume it to
destroy it to

replace it to
construct it to
restore it to

demand it to
practice it to
instruct it to

belove it to
believe it to

pass it      .

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