Visual Rhetoric/Multimodal

I was really taken by many of the assignments outlined in Arola, Sheppard, and Ball, and by the comment in the intro where they stated: “writing thrives in and outside of our classrooms and to interact with texts and writing processes in (re)productive ways” (3). The latter notion was really profound and had me thinking upon ways in which the processes and approaches in the writing class can wriggle into other realms for them. And the assignments within the manual really seem to capture the ability to do that. The assignments for the 100-level class were really innovative and seem to enact the kind of writing they call for that strives to be beyond the classroom. The interview project seems fabulous in its ability to do a lot of things at once, particularly framing questions that can generate further ideas. I also thought that perhaps a brief kind of writing before the interview, like context that you see in magazines or articles that occur before the interview, would suture together the audience and beyond the classroom approach nicely. To be honest, however, the PSA for the first assignment seems rather bland and I don’t know if students would be compelled by it. I say this because they need a reason to invest themselves in the course, they need to be able to see themselves gaining from it, which I believe a personal essay really is the outlet to do this. Or something like the personal essay that allows for experimentation. Perhaps the PSA could be inflected with the personal, or structured as a personal essay in some form. Otherwise, I’m not sure if I, as a student, would be enticed by this kind of first project. I remember having something like this in a public speaking course in undergrad and I and the other students particularly found it drab and monotonous.
I also was really enthralled by the Edbauer Rice piece on the defense of mechanics, initially, that is, until she utilized the case study. The case study, to me, was not representative of the kinds of dynamics within our classrooms. Particularly, the dynamics of mandatory composition courses. The fact that she elects to use a study in which the participants are in fact willing participants, or indeed participants who actively want to engage and learn the material, is problematic. I can perhaps name one student in my class at the moment who would genuinely opt to take this course. Everyone else knows it’s a mandatory class, and that manditoriness is felt. Not to mention the fact there is a grade and that constant looming thing clouds the dynamics of the classroom and the willingness to experiment and fumble. Therefore, this sheer difference in space that Rice does not account for significantly undermines the defense of mechanics as one where rhetoric production is able to foster: “imagination, improvisation, and enactment.” I do not disagree with her at all that. In fact, I agree with her analysis. However, does that method of engagement to process and fiddling with mechanics necessarily translate across to a composition classroom? Where students do not have the same interest, or motivation for that matter, to learn as those students Rice takes as her study? Ultimately, I guess, my biggest apprehension is the process will be overlooked for the product since students are more focused on hammering out something quickly and efficiently as possible to get the grade/get the product for review. Altogether, I did take the “exploratory pedagogies” and “personal projects to think with” as very tantalizing for a composition course and can perhaps open students to the process and the mechanics of things.


America’s Got…

This post is a total digression into pop culture. I started out writing something else, but I kept veering towards the following subject, so I’m just going to post it in case anyone’s interested. I really ought to have my own blog for this sort of thing.

Yesterday, curious as to why Gwendolyn D. Pough’s white students were offended by Alice Walker’s “Each One, Pull One,” I took another look at the poem. I didn’t find it offensive, of course—far from it, but I did think about what a powerful poetic image the whiteness of the White House is in this and other poems and literary works (cf Tupac), and the effect that Obama’s election and reelection has had on the impact of those works. I’m sure plenty has been written about this subject, but as I was mulling over ways to approach it, last night’s episode of The Voice came on and cleared matters up for me.

I sometimes get invested in talent shows like The Voice and America’s Got Talent, maybe because I have a network TV antenna and no cable, or maybe because these shows are an antidote to graduate school—but I think the real reason is the pleasure of watching a performance, forming my own opinion, and then immediately getting to see four different critical reviews of that performance. I get to compare my own tentative, half-formed thoughts about aspects of the performance (e.g., Miccichi’s “but something about this bothers me”) with those of the judges right away, which is a fun and productive process. I keep trying to think of ways I can incorporate something similar into my teaching. I also enjoy watching the judges’ often fine execution of what graduate students call “shaped speech”—structured, economical, critical interpretation designed to be both candid and kind, brutally insightful yet encouraging, taking into account all the nuances the speaker needs to recognize to be sufficiently thorough. The speech appears to be authentically extemporaneous given the live format, but who knows. As a scholar, I find it a fascinating window into a contemporary mode of popular rhetoric. I generally like the example that Adam, Pharrell, Gwen (though frankly I prefer Christina’s insights), and Blake set for how to be both honest and kind on the fly. “Honest and kind on the fly” sounds easy, but I’d argue it’s a skill, and one that requires study and practice closely tied to our goals in the composition classroom.

But more to the point. Last night, the 24 judge-selected semi-finalists were cut down to 12 finalists; viewers voted on 8 finalists, and the judges chose the other 4. In spite of the diverse races and balanced representation of gender among the judge-selected semi-finalists, all 8 of the viewer-selected finalists were white and 6 out of 8 were men. It’s too complicated to get into the details, but suffice to say that the voters passed over some extraordinarily talented women and African Americans in favor of young white men. It was obvious and egregious, although I’m not inclined to blame the show itself. While NBC is certainly pulling the show’s strings, the fault seems to lie squarely with the voters; I don’t know statistics on the show’s voting demographic these days, but it would seem to be largely adolescent, white, and heterosexual. Is it also female, and this group is voting for the youngest, whitest boys it finds the most sexually attractive (or accessible)? Incidentally, all 10 acts in the finals of this summer’s season of America’s Got Talent consisted of men, and 9 of them were white (viewers also voted for these). Are the demographics of these audiences askew because these shows have been on for so many seasons and significant portions of initially interested viewers have moved on? Could this be a red state/blue state phenomenon somehow?

Oddly enough, these shows arguably also offer a forum for some marginalized groups to gain more acceptance. Drew Lynch, a comedian with a rather severe stammer, was first runner up in this year’s America’s Got Talent, and I daresay his success challenged mainstream perceptions about disability for anyone watching. At least two current The Voice finalists diverge from traditional, rail-thin pop-star body types. One of these two, Jordan Smith, is also a white man who defies gender norms in multiple ways, most notably by singing Beyonce and Adele songs, and he’s the clear frontrunner. On the other hand, Jordan Smith’s skill is so irrefutably superior to the competition, perhaps he’s an example of someone who has had to work twice as hard and be twice as good as the heteronormative, more conventionally-embodied contestants. At the same time, both Drew Lynch and Jordan Smith are white men, and I wonder if they would have been washed out the door if they were not. Or, would they simply never have tried to walk in the door in the first place?

The point is that the White House may be less white, but whoever out there (besides me) with the time and interest (and dorkiness) to vote on prime-time American talent shows still votes white and male. Of course, massive institutionalized forms of racism and sexism continue to pervade society and the nation has much bigger problems than who wins The Voice. But this voting audience probably includes people who are sitting in our classrooms, and people who will eventually grow up to create and implement policy. Plus, Shelley was right when he said that poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world; now instead of poets, we have pop stars and people on TV.

Why am I writing about The Voice instead of other examples of primetime network TV that suffer from far more racism and sexism? The Voice really seems to be making an admirable effort to not be racist or sexist, so when the voting public violates the show’s own ethos so outrageously, it feels really sinister. And the show really does make an effort. The judges initially admit contestants onto the program via “blind audition” where they accept or reject each singer before seeing her face and body. The most famous judges are Pharrell and Gwen Stefani—the black man and the woman—and their star power easily outshines that of Adam Levine and Blake Shelton, who have to ham it up to get attention. Before the show jumps the shark in the hands of viewer votes, races and sexes are represented quite well, and the show depicts so much mutual respect and admiration between different categories of people, it’s almost a little utopian. Plus, unlike American Idol or America’s Got Talent, the show takes a decidedly feminine approach to competition. The judges are coaches before they are arbiters, and a good deal of the show focuses on the interactive, intersubjective coaching process itself (process pedagogy, anyone?). Contestants have some power to choose their coaches; selection is mutual, rather than top-down, and the show suggests that the coaches participate in winning and losing alongside their “team” members. The judges/coaches repeatedly advise their contestants to find their confidence, trust themselves, let go, take risks—e.g., find their Voices. Wait, is this show really a composition class?

Which is all to say that when “America” took over last night and decided that THE Voice is The White Male Voice, the judges’ faces seemed to register significant disappointment, and that was at least some consolation. I wonder why the viewers don’t get it.

Wow, much longer ramble than I intended! Much more to say, but I’ll take it to a different forum.



I thought Pough’s piece was the most interesting because it showed the ways in which encountering feminist discourse (or any discourse written by a minority) can—and many times does—make us uncomfortable. As Pough rightly points out, the students in her class reacted more favorably towards pieces that were poignant but did not explicitly denounce the perpetrators of injustice. There is such a divide, I believe, also in the writings that came out of the AIDS epidemic. “Grief is a sword, or it is nothing,” writes Paul Monette, in a eulogy to his deceased partner—a piece in which he ferociously attacks the US government for its initial indifference to the crisis. “Go without hate, but not without rage,” he also wrote. 


I believe that such emotional and angry responses are not only valid and understandable, but also needed. Always keeping in mind how delicate these issues are, I think it is fruitful to expose students to this kind of writing, inviting them to step out of their comfort zone. Pough did well, I think, to present other writings alongside Walker’s poem, since by doing this, she let her students know that this is not the only possible reaction to the issue, but that it is still valid. In other words, I think we must always contextualize these works.


In the face of blatant and continued oppression, decorum is seldom effective. Offense is bound to be taken in the reception of these texts, and it is in the hands of professors to make sure that offense is taken in the most productive way possible.   


11-12 Response

What struck me the most about Beth Daniell’s argument in “Diossoi Logoi” was how similar it was, in essence, to Scarry’s and Miller’s essays that we read for last week’s class. Of course, the authors all used different rhetorical and methodological approaches, but their argument shared a central core: that some of the traditional elements of the composition classroom—the academic essay, for example, along with other pedagogical practices—do not foster the sort of creativity, critical thinking, and inquisitiveness that we wish to produce in our students. Scarry and Miller posited this issue in terms of its limitation on student—we might even say human—creativity and intellectual development: the closed, circular structure of the standard college essay, with its emphasis on arguing one definitive viewpoint, prevents students from making mistakes, experimenting with forms and ideas, and challenging closely-held beliefs. Daniell does not directly take on the academic essay per se, but she does echo many of Scarry and Miller’s sentiments regarding discursive writing and intellectual experimentation:

“Our anonymous sophist plays with words—and play is the operative word—to trick, surprise, confuse, and amuse…Over the last few years I’ve found this notion to be more and more significant in my classroom practice, calling into question, as it does, received opinion and challenging old assumptions…Consciously and intentionally inviting diverse propositions can contribute to a feminist pedagogy that helps students write and speak and so acquire and create knowledge” (83).

Like Miller, Daniell wants to challenge and question her students’ assumptions and beliefs; and like Scarry, Daniell seeks a new mode of writing that prioritizes exploration over classification.

However, Daniell differs from Miller and Scarry in that her primary interest in reinventing (or at least restructuring) the writing classroom is to encourage marginalized voices to participate more fully in the learning experience. Although Scarry does insist that the teaching of literature is the teaching of social justice (and therefore would most likely be sympathetic to Daniell’s argument) her essay feels less grounded (for lack of a better word) than Daniell’s. Incorporating diossoi logoi in the classroom allows for students, particularly marginalized ones, to consider, propose, and explore contrarian positions without fear of being penalized for doing things the “wrong” way—Scarry’s essay, in contrast, did not address the ways in which discursive writing can provide a way in for minority or non-traditional students.

I say this less to criticize and more to point out the many different ways in which the traditional argumentative essay can stifle or otherwise suppress certain voices, viewpoints, and modes of experimentation. It is for these reasons that I’ve been reconsidering my students’ final research paper—I’m not sure exactly what I would do in its place (and I know that I’m quickly running out of time to decide), but I want to assign them something that will encourage them to think in unique ways.



While I enjoy Elaine Scarry’s approach and thoughts on the responsibilities of the literature instructor, I wonder if it’s too grandiose of even narcissistic. I understand that we are in a way shaping minds and thought processes, but it almost looks at the students as  empty vessels.

In regards to the role of research, though, I was intrigued. It is important to keep learning and to look at the processes by which we come to an opinion. It’s something I have, in far simpler terms, tried to stress to my students- that research, learning, and the acknowledgment of the way the humanities set us apart from other animals are all important factors to the expansion of our minds. I’m not quite sure that I agree with her on the footnotes bit, but I do like the idea that research must be tested, that our ideas must be put through through the he gauntlet of academia. It implies a discourse rather than a one sided idea of learning, which is something I feel very strongly about. I think the more we teach our students to not just worry about the end goal but the entire process of formulating thought and opinion, the more they will learn.





Research-based Argumentative Essay

Below are the instructions for the research-based argumentative essay, which I’ve already assigned. (Lisa looked over my guidelines before I shared them with the students). However, I’m still open to any suggestions that don’t radically alter the assignment.


You will begin by choosing a topic we have discussed in class and formulating a research question about this topic. Your thesis will make an argument that answers your research question. You will prove that argument in the body of your essay.

(After I handed out these guidelines, we compiled a list of some of the topics we’ve covered. They included racial profiling, internet privacy, the relationship between an artist’s personal life and his or her work, male and female beauty standards, expectations of gender roles, the effect of social media on a person’s public and personal identity. The list was not exhaustive.)


Papers should be 6 to 8 pages in length, double-spaced in 12-point Times New Roman.

You must incorporate evidence from at least 1 of the texts we have read in class and at least 4 other peer-reviewed, academic sources.

You must cite all your sources using in-text citations and a Works Cited page. Your citations should follow MLA guidelines. We will spend time on Tuesday, November 10 and Thursday, November 12 reviewing research methods; going over MLA guidelines; and discussing the best ways to summarize, paraphrase, and quote directly from others’ work. You will also create annotated bibliographies citing your 5 sources prior to the draft deadline.


Research paper proposals are due on Tuesday, November 10.

Annotated bibliographies are due on Tuesday, November 17. We will also have one-on-one meetings on this date, during which I will give you feedback on your proposals and answer any questions you may have.

First drafts are due on Tuesday, November 24. Please bring 3 hard copies to class.

Final drafts are due on Blackboard by 7:50 a.m. on Tuesday, December 1.



I often find myself leaving these weekly readings with the same question: “But how?” Miller writes:

“…we might say that we must understand that what resides at the core of the writing process is the experience of being wrong. This is always the case, whether we recognize it or not. […] How can learning happen, in other words, if being wrong is always presented as a defining characteristic only of beginners or, at higher levels, evidence that one doesn’t belong?”

I am with his assessment of the writing process and yet, I wonder, how we can make students feel comfortable being bold, inquisitive, and, yes, wrong, when they’ve spent most of their academic careers receiving grades and being told they either are or aren’t good enough (good enough to graduate, good enough to get into the school of their choice) based on their writing. How to begin to break an attitude toward writing that’s been formed through years of education? I remember what Tonianne shared last week about sitting down with each of her students to give them their essay grades and I think this is a great way to begin creating a safe environment, while also adhering to traditional evaluation methods (i.e. grades). It demonstrates a care about each student’s individual process and shows that you are not a resource, not simply someone who gives out grades. It also shows that you are open to having a real conversation with them (versus the usual format of standing in front of the classroom while they sit in their seats), which might allow them to express some bolder thoughts in their writing and in group discussions. I wonder what others have found to be useful in creating a more trusting relationship with the students (and between the students), so they can have the experience of being wrong.





Research Paper Assignment

With the research assignment, I wanted to give the students two ways in- either research something and make an argument about it or research something that he or she has always questioned and then pose why it’s bad or good and then propose an alternative. I am using the work they have already done in their journals as inspiration- they can use anything that they have in there, anything they have wondered about. They can also build on things they have mentioned in their journals. The goal is to get them to see that research and thinking is not just a fragmented process, but a linear, almost fluid thing that takes place organically. We are always thinking, always wondering; why should we let those thoughts go to waste? It’s something I’m always mentioning in the class and half the reason why I give them journal assignments.

The full assignment is posted below.

Research assignment:

We have talked a lot about how certain aspects of our identity spring from our interests and knowledge that we accumulate over time. This aggregation of knowledge starts becoming different aspects of our identity, pieces we can slip into on a whim. For example, someone who is interested in Gothic literature might find herself looking into the history surrounding it, stumbling upon the occult, and then finding her way into that world.

Research is something we do all the time, whether we realize it or not- we look up facts about our favorite teams and athletes; we sift through stats when trying to come up with the perfect fantasy football line up; we read reviews of products we are interested in buying. All of this is research in a more rudimentary form. We all make arguments based on that research- arguments for a team, arguments for a player, arguments for a product.

Research also allows us to formulate educated opinions on things, allowing us to question the status quo intelligently and eloquently and to propose an alternative.

With this assignment, you are going to look back at your daily journal entries- your manifestos included- and find something that interests you, something you have often wondered about or that is important to you. You then have two options:

1. Maybe you want to learn more about something that caught your eye. Through that research, you are going to formulate an argument about the topic, coming up with a coherent thesis and arguing that thesis in the paper.

2. Your journal entries could also inspire you to research something you’re not happy about in the world- war, politics, the role of religion in society- and have you question it and make an argument for or against it and then propose an alternative.

For example, one of you mentioned Truman and his role in World War II. You could research it, research his relationship with the generals and then argue what that relationship contributed (or did not contribute) to the war.

Another example would be how schools are moving away from reading “great works” such as A Tale of Two Cities, A Moveable Feast, The Odyssey, and Wuthering Heights. Why did schools used to read them? Why is there a movement against such works? What is lost or gained by the moving away from literature that can even be viewed as a primary source into the past? What would be an alternative to getting rid of the great works?

Make sure whatever you research you are passionate about it. The more interested and invested in the topic you are, the more successful you will be as a writer.

You should have at least 7 sources. Sources can be documents, documentaries, interviews, sound bites, etc. You are not limited to the written word. Be creative when researching; really delve deep into this topic and come up with something interesting.

The final paper is due 11/30 with a works cited page. Your paper must be uploaded by 8AM that morning, and you should hand in a hard copy in class. I WILL NOT ACCEPT LATE SUBMISSIONS.

As always, the paper should have one-inch margins all around, size 12 Times New Roman font, double spaced.

The paper should be 8 pages or 2400 words.


11-5 Response / Assignment Sheet

Scarry’s essay was inspirational for me, in spite of Miller’s sometimes crucial, sometimes unnecessarily harsh, objections to her idealism. I agree with Miller’s disappointment and perplexity over Scarry’s conclusion—that the “cause of justice and beauty might be advanced by teaching the footnote” (146-147)—and I certainly agree with his suggestion that Scarry’s institutional affiliation may have influenced the shape of her argument:

Scarry has chosen to give her audience and then her readers a glimpse of a life of the mind that is lived by only the smallest fraction of the profession—a life of endless speaking engagements, of listening to Said lecture one night on social responsibility and on Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutte the next, of reading Plato and Hobbes, Orwell and Rawls, of contemplating truth, beauty, and justice. (148)

I think this a vital point that Miller raises—that there exists a significant discrepancy between the teaching load of an Ivy League tenured faculty member, and the teaching load of an adjunct instructor or teaching assistant working at a non-Ivy; and furthermore, that this discrepancy in workload translates into a discrepancy in the experience of both the English department and academia as a whole. I believe this issue is critical to any discussion on the future of literary studies, and I appreciated Miller’s brief but salient notes on this topic.

It was from then on that Miller and I diverged: his criticisms of Scarry’s idealism (while sometimes appropriate, as in the previously mentioned instance) seemed confusing and contradictory given the idealism of his own proposal to restructure the argumentative essay into a free-form, liberating reflective essay. His main grievance is with the conventional college/argumentative essay that produces a very formulaic and redundant kind of writing, essentially closing off the reader to unfamiliar or new concepts. Miller calls for an essay that serves as “a means for slowing thought down; as a technology for generating reflection; as a practice of entertaining other possibilities than the ones that seem the easiest to defend and substantiate” (150)—is that not what Scarry called for in her own essay, albeit in a more romanticized fashion? I understand that Scarry’s essay was something of a prompt for Miller’s text, but aside from calling out her occasional naiveté, I’m not sure why she was the center of Miller’s diatribe. The essays appeared, to me, to be more similar than different (although I wonder if Miller would balk at such a comment).


I have not yet introduced the final research paper to my students, but currently they are working on their close reading assignment:

Close Reading Essay

Length: 1,800-2,100 words / ~ 6-7 double-spaced pages

For this essay, you will look at one of the works we have read (or watched) and perform a close reading on a selected passage, ultimately making an argument about the meaning of the text.

In a close reading, you should search for some meaning behind the words themselves, some meaning that is perhaps not on the surface of the text itself but is implied, hinted at, or perhaps even inadvertently conveyed by the work. Your job is to show how your interpretation, your explanation of the work’s meaning, can be supported by details of the text itself—this involves using plenty of textual evidence to support your claims. Throughout your paper, stay very close to the text, explaining or “unpacking” important meanings that might be missed at first glance. Avoid simply paraphrasing what is said in the passage. You will of course have to include summary in your paper, but ensure that you are interpreting or saying something about the summarized passage.

Some topics that you may want to explore include:

  • The significance of a particular image, scene, or description
  • A structural or linguistic feature of the text, such as the uses of repetition, word play, metaphors, similes, or descriptive phrases
  • How a particular character is portrayed, and what the author is trying to say via that portrayal
  • The significance of certain characters and their interactions with other characters
  • Some ideological message that the author is conveying via the language, characters, scenes, etc.

Note that if you decide to analyze a film, the same concepts apply but you must think in terms of scenes and images.

Remember to structure your paper in good writing format, with an introduction clearly identifying your thesis; body paragraphs in which you present your analysis and include textual support; and a conclusion that closes your essay effectively by offering further insight into the implications of the analysis.






Research Paper Assignment to Workshop

English 2100                Fall 2015

Research Paper Assignment

In our last assignment, we worked with differing critical perspectives on film, TV, and games, focusing on the development of our own opinions or arguments. In this assignment, we continue to work with arguments and differing critical perspectives and we continue to develop our own opinions, but now we also incorporate research as evidence.

Choose a film, TV show, video game, work of visual art, novel, short story, poem, or song (basically, any art form) that claims to represent a true story. In a research paper of 8-9 pages, convince your reader that the film or other artwork you choose misrepresents some significant aspect (or aspects) of the historical events it claims to depict. Events in recent history count.

Your paper should consider why historical accuracy matters (or doesn’t matter) in whatever art form you choose. How does the work rewrite history? Do you think people believe its version of the story is true (as in “Capital-T Truth”)? What motivates the inaccuracies? Were the filmmakers misinformed, trying to make the story more exciting or concise, or did they have some sort of political agenda—or all of the above? Why should we care about the film’s inaccuracies or about the fact that its particular version of history reaches a large audience?

As you research and consider which sources to use, you should think (hard) about reliability and credibility. What makes a source credible? What are the author’s qualifications? Good qualifications can range from traditional expertise (like fancy degrees and professional titles) to close proximity to events (like eyewitnesses). In what publication does the writing appear, and does it give you any hints about a source’s reliability? Does the publication have any standards for fact-checking, accuracy, or other means of quality control? Does the author or the publication consistently produce work with a significant bias? What motives or interests—political or otherwise—might influence the author’s characterizations?


8-9 pages

Minimum of 10 sources, including at least:

3 primary sources

3 books

1 scholarly article from a peer-reviewed journal

3 print sources not available on the internet

These can overlap; for example, if you use 3 print primary-source books that aren’t available on the internet, you’d satisfy all 3 of those requirements (but you’d still need a scholarly article).

Examples of films and TV shows you could use:

Steve Jobs, Lincoln, Pocahontas, The Queen, JFK, Shakespeare in Love, Braveheart, Gladiator, Pearl Harbor, Elizabeth, The Patriot, The Impossible, American Hustle, Marie Antoinette, The Blind Side, The Social Network, The Tudors, Reign, Cleopatra, Ray, The Doors, Straight Outta Compton



I have not yet introduced the research paper. I am starting that on Monday. Below is what I am expecting to hand out on Monday along with some more guidelines. Also, using the annotated bib assignment we looked at a few weeks ago. I was really interested to know if anyone had any ways in which to spice this up or make the paper more interesting? I feel that it is too bland as it is, or too vague.

Research Paper (6-8 pages; front and back of page, double spaced, 12 Times New Roman, 1 in margins). Many of the texts we have read discuss some aspect of reimagining identity or ways of analyzing identity that is apart from the mainstream socioeconomic-culture dynamic. Choose one topic that you are interested in and ready to think through extensively. Then go online, if you’re really daring, the library, and do some research. See what other writers are saying about this same issue. Then, in your paper, you must examine and critique several (2-3) related texts in the course, and evaluate/discuss their relevance to your topic/research. There is a six source minimum, which does not include your primary sources/texts.


“Scarry’s essay gave us something to talk about.”- Miller

Scarry certainly did gave us something to talk about. Something relevant, something related to social responsibility. Scarry’s essay was brilliant. The entanglement of the I, her subjective self, an intervention, I would even argue, for what the scholarly essay can look like, was amazing. It really gave a liveliness and usefulness into what the English classroom, and humanities study itself, can be.

To me Scarry’s essay, continuing from my statements last week about care, was literally a how-to-guide to revitalize and care for oneself in a field where any attempt at addressing injustice and modes of enacting justice is usually met with hostility, or the wonderful question of, “how does that relate to English? Literary study?” Sometimes from administration and other faculty, and even sometimes students. The latter has been the recent audience that has queried the “why does this matter?” and having to constantly reason and justify that is exhausting. So, Scarry’s essay is an excellent reminder of what is at stake and how to energize oneself to continue.

Slogging through English and literary study, in general, and the humanities, in particular, social responsibility, the classroom as a space where “beauty presses us to justice” is a rare classroom, indeed.  Many of the classrooms I have been through the call for justice is one uniquely divorced from social justice. Perhaps that is just my experience or my experience of rubbing against predominantly white professors who refused to see the points I wanted to make concerning injustice in such texts as Jane Austen, Virginia Woolf, Conrad, or the classroom cultures themselves.

Alarming;y enough, Scarry’s essay was composed in 2000. It is now fifteen years later. Her call reverberates, somewhere in the deep trenches, to those few scholars who heed it. To those scholars, though, that this call is their life, their reason for graduate study, their intervention, then the essay reverberates very differently. Issues of social responsibility and injustice in the classroom as a brown gay man is not the same relationship as that of white academics and professors. The ability to confront the impediments Scarry theorizes and implementing modes of imagining solutions to them is one that is a daunting, vexing predicament for a faculty of color. Every other day, within academia and in my classrooms I even teach, I must justify my own scholarly interests and questions, particularly ones tethered to discussing injury, redress, and injustice, always to an audience who seem “fed up” with discussing these topics. The duty of justice and implementing discussions of justice, as Scarry articulates by her call for a “commitment to justice” is one that is an especially heavy to carry and to implement for scholars of color.

Scarry’s call is still not heeded, not yet here. And I don’t necessarily know if it ever will. But, perhaps, as Scarry so hopefully notes, we can make footnotes and research that proposes, “an argument in which something actual is at stake.”