All Too / Not At All


 “And yet when essays draw on the work of Barad or Haraway but do not attend to nonhuman life, environments and material agencies, the lack is notable. Feminist materialisms, especially in their posthuman forms, are worlds apart from the conventional classroom, an all too-human place cordoned off from more-than-human liveliness. The chasm between the two suggests how intrepid and inventive we must be to teach with a (posthumanist) feminist materialism”

–Stacy Alaimo / “Book Review: Teaching with Feminist Materialisms” (179)

Part I: Diffraction

I was moving the above quote, which has been tapping at my thoughts for a while, trying to find where to insert it in Chapter 4, and as I scrolled through the screen in front of me, I saw the Spacetimemattering video stutter to a close on that last frame that’s been tapping at my thoughts for a while…

I think: {Alien. Still. Powerful.}

And type my student’s words: it doesn’t have to be alive…

{Feels like its brand of alive}. {Insert the words again here:} Alien. Still. Powerful.

Powerful.   {Full.}

With something I don’t have a word for, but that light that’s always on is saying it: something like, deep breath, fill back up, they’re gone.

{You’re anthropomorphizing.}

Still. But full.

A not-at-all-human space. With that one light off to the side that never turns off and the blue computer glow and the silence of the video now stopped (the music I added gone). Designed to be, built to be, for and by humans. But, in this light, from this view, not-at-all.

Still. Matter. Full of mattering.

Elsewhere is not Terrapolis.

Part II: Calibration

Pedagogical Documentation



Separate pedagogical documentations for AL. Top picture from early in the semester shows my concern over the white space in the room; bottom picture from their Curation Project (major presentation) day at the end of the semester shows my realization that I wasn’t working with the desks but against them, indicating a tendency on my part to still try and plan first and fit that plan into the space second.



In this pedagogical documentation for AL, pictures of the students’ work for that day appear on the left of the top picture. I used the yellow legal pad paper to track student movement through space and use of texts—Composition Books (CB) and a copy of the novel Turtles All the Way Down—while they worked.




[EDIT: Below is the analysis of this video I did later for my dissertation.]

…But what isn’t shown in some of these pictures or in the actual sketchbook itself are all the ways in which the doing—the curating↔calibrating through PD (pedagogical documentation) and diffraction—is an embodied, emergent, and intra-active process that can shift the teacher (or other doer) from distant observer to entangled co-actant. For instance, in a video I created from three time-lapse captures of me working from pedagogical documentation and posted on my blog, we can see me intra-acting with the PD. Titled “Spacetimemattering,” the video shows the doing of pedagogical documentation and diffraction in ways the figures of its products shown so far can’t. And yet that view of PD in action still loses all the little and large course corrections and creations built into the end products (such as the daily activity in the first clip or the Composition Book Final Analysis in the second) as they emerge through the curation being enacted in the classroom.

In the first clip from the desk in my campus office we see me flip back to green index cards in my sketchbook as I curate an in-class writing workshop from the feedback students gave on where they were in their projects and how working in a different location (the library) worked or didn’t work for them the week before. The intra-actions with their comments led me to curate two options for class, the path I highlighted in red being my preference for our use of time. Once I could see students working, however, the actual class ran more like a mix of both options. In the second clip from my desk in my home office we see me curating an in-class Composition Book Final Analysis activity that was the first day in a three-class arc prepping to write (answer) their final exam questions. Of note in this clip is that we can see the variety of nonhuman actants that go into curating such an activity: texts, scissors, tape, PD sketchbooks, all the artifacts in the sketchbook, our Blackboard site, my Surface, markers, pen, coffee. All these things in the frame (and several out of it) contributed to the making of the assignment as they constituted the phenomenon with which I worked.

I actually made these videos for fun. I cut them together for my personal blog where I post about teaching and graduate studies but among other thoughts and workings with writing and, most especially, its materiality and intra-action. But watching them has been incredibly beneficial as a reminder that all such planning, writing, reading, teaching, etc. are indeed embodied and material-discursive acts and not the detached, cerebral doings of a mind that can produce the same no matter what “setting” its body is in. A posthumanist framework calibrated to agential realism sees in these videos a reminder that where and what we work with matters. All three of these spaces were integral to the spacetimemattering that was the American Literature Spring 2018 classroom, and the PD sketchbook in the first two clips, as one of those actants, served as a kind of wormhole or spacetime bridge that does what my human conception of linear time can’t and makes material and apparent the enfolding of spacetime. As I re-read or work with the PD sketchbook, I am back in relation to the classroom, in TH20, with my students and the nonhuman actants of the room

…Having such an archive, one curated from the phenomenon itself (i.e. with the students, with the rooms, with the objects), as an actant in such situated, embodied, and, therefore emergent onto-epistemological acts as those shown in “Spacetimemattering,” is, then, not just a good tool for observation (to course correct in the moment or to publish findings) but essential to curating↔calibrating as teaching↔as↔inquiry where larger studies (curations/diffractions) are part of a continual and purposeful calibration of praxis with and across classrooms, as we’ll see with the Diffractions following this chapter.

Pedagogical documentation is certainly a gathering of “data” in that it builds an archive of artifacts and observations. But it is also a doing to produce more doing rather than a collecting to represent or generalize.

The last clip in “Spacetimemattering” is of me tearing down after AL for the last time that semester after the Semester Story class day pictured in fig. 4.2 and discussed in Diffraction #2. Though I didn’t think of it in these terms at the time, much like the Crakers*, I’d assembled from and with the students an array of objects that, on the whiteboard at the front, served as our “storytelling” devices across classes. Though not always at the same time, they worked with us on the whiteboard to ask questions about what the American story is and who gets to tell it and why. For me, they were also a way to bring color into an otherwise stark white room without windows and to push back against—to quote one student—the “prison” feel of the space.  However, I backed off doing a whole lot more than that when, through the continued use of check-in cards, I realized only about half of us disliked the room. The other half liked the lack of distractions and disliked it when we worked in other spaces like the library. This was an important check on my own biases, as the PD often was as it kept curation↔calibration running from the phenomenon instead of letting me fall back into my habit of “planning.” As we’ll see in Diffraction #1, the move to using the whiteboard as a collecting place (Sumara Private) and curating objects purposefully into the room as a way to leave traces of our work on the space came from the biggest shift across classes: to use more photos in PD and to do larger diffractions curated from the archive created.


*Crakers are bio-engineered human-like beings in Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy. In order to tell stories, they require particular non-human objects/actants (e.g., a fish offered to the storyteller, a red cap for the storyteller to wear, a watch, etc.).

    Music: The Double Slit Test by Ketsa

Sumara, Dennis J. Private Readings in Public: Schooling the Literary Imagination. Peter Lang, 1996.


Last week, I sat down with a really quiet small group in class where one student was pulling all the weight. Normally, I try to stay out of their conversations, but this was painful to watch, and I had to do something. That something ended up being me and the Student having a great conversation while the groupmates looked on in silence (no matter what we did–and Student tried just as hard–to try and pull them into the conversation). So, big fail in that sense. But there was also a win: I got to hear Student’s guess at what metaphor Thomas King might use for stories (we were talking about how Azar Nafisi calls books orphans and Neil Gaiman tells the story of Douglas Adams claiming books are sharks, and we were wondering what the other author’s we’d read might say on the matter).

Maybe stories are seeds,” Student said King might say. And then unfurled a lovely (not unfamiliar) metaphor for stories planting themselves in certain soil (people/cultures), growing a certain way, and dropping seeds that take root elsewhere and, therefore, grow maybe a little bit differently the next time and the next. 

This wasn’t the first time I’d heard this metaphor, but it was the first time someone had stumbled upon it in this particular class, had stated it in this particular way. The first time (to use the metaphor itself) it had grown into this particular flower because of this particular soil. And I got to see that particularly unique flower bloom. That isn’t just a win, but also a joy.

In the hustle of checking in with the other groups, of moving on to the next activity, I didn’t make sure Student shared their metaphor with the class. But this week, I took a walk to get coffee and had to go to a different Starbucks because the one (yes, we have two on campus) closest to my office had a line out the door. So, on the first day of real sunshine after a week of mud and rain, a longer walk than normal took me past dandelions who stood out and tall in green, green grass and triggered a memory in my head: “Maybe stories are seeds,” Student said King might say.

So, I took a dandelion with me back to the office and let it sit with me on the desk while I planned. And I took it with me to our actual classroom and let it sit on the front desk that always gets moved around–it’s never in the same place when we come in or when we leave. And I shared the story of my walk and the story of Student’s metaphor. And for our warmup we sketched the dandelion I’d taken with me, that I’d placed in my banned-books mug while I planned in CARH 402 and that now joined us–mug too–in TH 20. And the seeds all stayed on the flower, but the stories took root in new soil and unfurled through sketches and words in composition books that haven’t been the same (in both senses of the word) since the students picked them from the front of TH 20 and took them out into the world that first day.


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New Plans ~ CARH 402 ~ February 26, 2018

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New Compositions ~ TH 20 ~ February 26, 2018

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