(Re)Calibrate

 

Curating from my American Lit class archive (pedagogical documentation) to do a larger “diffraction” or calibration. Open to whatever we create together here; hoping to get some insight on the “success” of changes made for Spring 2018 after the last class (Reuse. Remix. Rewrite, Fall 2016). The goal is a continual calibration of praxis to posthumanism.

7/19/18 ~ Home Office ~”Real time”: 1 hr. 45 min.

 

 

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    Music: The Double Slit Test by Ketsa

DESK

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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Finish

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My word bracelet came the other day, and I’ve vowed to not take it off until The Dissertation is defended and Dr. Shelton I am (that’s a positive verbalization sent out into the void in now-concrete–though passively-voiced–words). I think the word is fairly self-explanatory: finish. As in what everyone says: a good dissertation is a done dissertation. Mimi would say–and I would agree–it’s missing a word that begins with the same letter, ends in -ing, and adds that little extra alliteration-driven boost that truly inspires one to kick their own bottom (going with the “not saying the actual curse-word” theme). Yet even in this Safe For Work iteration, it’s already been helpful. See, for instance, the above photo capturing (post the moment itself) a recent intra-action where I sat at my desk in Carlisle, head in hand, the plans for class in less than an hour strewn all about, worries about how any of this matters in the grand scheme of things (things being, as always these days, The Dissertation) weighing me down, and I happened to look up a bit and see my word right there, less than an inch from my nose. I sat back up (after I re-staged the moment for the picture, of course) and finished those plans which did, of course, matter in the grand scheme of things. One day/task/thing at a time (which has been a theme on here lately). Finish one, eventually finish The Diss.

As a plus, wearing it on my left wrist means it sits on or near the tattoo inspired by my Grandmother and what her life taught me about living my own. She had grit woven through all her love and laughter. And grit is what I need now more than ever. To finish. And to do it while loving myself and the work I create and the class that I teach (all while being able to laugh with that self and that grand ole scheme of things).

Dissed: That Self-Congratulatory Anecdote from MLA

Dissed are excerpts from the dissertation that have been cut, killed, excised, burned on the altar of common sense and distance before being left here to not die…

At the 2017 MLA conference I was set to talk about this very project in a roundtable called ‘Teaching as Theoretical Practice.”* There were four papers on the panel—the first and second papers were co-authored and, therefore, got a few extra minutes. I went last and had been, along with the other single author, allotted a shorter-than-usual twelve minutes. I admitted defeat before I even got up to the mic. You saw the length of the last chapter. You’re looking at the length of this one. It wasn’t going to happen. But a funny thing happened while I was listening to my fellow panelists go before me and scribbling notes on their talks in my ever-present journal. Another talk emerged. And tapped me on the shoulder. And said, “Hey, do you mind sharing me with the group?”

So I did.

In my very first time at MLA, I winged it. But that was ok, because I was supposed to talk about a posthuman classroom, about posthuman education and what it could be, and so, being tuned to the posthuman after working in my hotel room for days on that dead-in-the-water talk, I knew posthumanism at work when I saw (felt? heard?) it and I leaned into the intra-action. What I’d noticed as I scribbled my notes

[my fellow panelists’ theories and thoughts materialized (with countless other actors I’d never know about like computers, texts, other readers…) in words on a page and then sent back out (material still, waves of sound in air) via voices (some accented, some nervous, some quiet) moving through a small room where a full audience (pretty diverse, from younger than me to late sixties, more women than men) sat in hotel conference chairs (all in rows, aisle down the middle of two sides, regimental) blinking or moving or nodding or dreaming or any other number of things while these new thoughts touched their own theories here or slid by them there and I took in the words myself too (flavored with the audience’s reactions and the speaker’s intonations and a healthy dose of you’re-not-really-considering-winging-this nerves that got worse as it became more obvious what kind of cool pattern was emerging) and through an amazing series of instantly (to my human perception of the work my body-machine can do) embodied actions materialized my own thoughts on the matter at hand with a pen with maroon ink on a lined white page (starting right below my shopping list for this very trip) in a hardbound journal I’m never without]

or rather, what I’d noted as I intra-acted within the phenomenon of our roundtable (all that described above and surely more that I’m missing) was that, as the panel went from that first co-authored panel on hybrid teaching/performed theory/collaborative pedagogy to the next on collaborative teaching/collaborative research/collaborative student writing to the one before me on theater-based pedagogy/language as performance/embodied movement, the presentations dealt more and more with posthumanism and posthuman strategies in the classroom. Indeed, the presenters’ ways of talking about their pedagogy sounded more and more posthuman. The mind and the student became less and less cut off from the body and world. Relations between actors in the classroom—not all of them necessarily human—became more and more important. Movement and space played more and more of a role in the consideration of what was taught and how.

So, I stood up. Took my notations and the idea that had tapped me on the shoulder up to the mic, told the audience I’d decided to talk about the panel instead and then asked the panel how many of them considered what they were doing posthuman. Reactions ranged, in almost direct proportion to how “posthuman” I’d felt their talk was, down the line from 1) blank stares only at me to 2) smiles and exchanged looks between presenters to 3) a smile and a nod to me. The looks in the audience as I rolled out my plan to talk through how I saw posthumanism working in the classes they’d already been briefed on while adding a bit about my own at the end were about the same—although there was more of an equal distribution between blank stares and nods/smiles. None of this surprised me.

Nor did the last intra-action with the audience. A man in the back—middle-aged or older, white, obviously well-versed in theory/criticism (he was a name-dropper)—asked Anna (the presenter before me working with theater-based pedagogy in a foreign language classroom) about a particular theory she was using (I forget the exact question). In trying to explain her answer, she looked at me and brought up posthumanism as she talked about movement and a student interacting with a bike while I nodded and mentally prepared to engage…

At which point Man-in-Back raised his hand in a half-wave, said there are many types of humanism, perhaps a more Vygotsky humanism in this case of language development, and, looking at me, finished the wave with a “This posthumanism makes no sense.”

As I said, this isn’t surprising. This—indifferent or (sometimes) disgusted dismissal—is the most common response I get when I bring up posthumanism in a conversation with colleagues and fellow academics not immersed in the conversation. And I am 100% sure Man-in-Back was expressing the thoughts of at least half the people in the room, including the first two authors on our panel. And yet posthumanism played in that room, in those presentations, in my understanding of the phenomenon that was our roundtable. I tuned in to a different station, still in the same room, just working on a different wavelength and saw the knowledge-in-being emerge differently.

I had an opportunity, to either listen and respond to the meaning being made or to stick with the original plan and impose that dead-in-the-water talk on the room, changing the trajectory of the conversation and missing the opportunity for a more productive moment. “Winging it” here, for me, wasn’t the irresponsible move of someone who didn’t like her talk anymore but an intentional movement into intra-action, much like a listening or surfing pedagogy that decenters the teacher (in this case, speaker) and moves continuously between what was planned and what, once all actors are engaged, their intra-action needs in order to be truly productive and meaningful. It was, in a sense, though I didn’t provide this meta-commentary to the panel in the moment, performative. I was giving a talk on posthumanism, so I made a posthuman move.

The room didn’t make it easy (or, more accurately, the human arrangement of the room). Those rows of uncomfortable chairs held the audience in a state of desk-broken attention (or inattention) learned long ago in school: quiet, polite, still, ready to receive the knowledge. As academics we’re more likely to push back at that knowledge via questions (or statements framed as questions) but that’s another layer of learned behavior for learning—conference-broken. We know the drill when we come into those rooms of rows with the table/podium/screen up front. But posthuman strategies, theories, practices, thoughts, being, etc. already exist/move/are in such humanist (or designed-for-humanism) spaces. It’s like the light paradox Barad theorizes her own posthuman theories from—light, this supposed “thing” or observable object is wave and particle depending on the apparatus you use to diffract it. That room: knowledge disseminated and meaning made. Humanist and posthumanist, depending on what lens you use.

Rockysteps

Me, the day after said presentation, on the Rocky steps recreating that iconic film moment in a blizzard. Magic. Photo credit to the complete stranger strangely dressed in shorts and a thin t-shirt who asked me to take his pic for him, thereby inspiring me to ask the same.

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*January 6, 2017. Sponsored by the MLA Committee on the Status of Graduate Studies in the Profession and chaired by Caroline Eagan. The papers were as follows: “Hybrid Teaching, or the Performance of Comparative Theory” by Germán Campos-Muñoz (Appalachian State U) and Mich Nyawalo (Shawnee State U); “From Practice to Theory: Collaboration in the Composition Classroom” by Joanna Grim (Lehigh U) and Dana McClain (Lehigh U); “Performance and the Foreign Language and Culture Curriculum: Theory and Practice” by Anna Santucci (Brown U); “English Remix: Curating and Enacting a Posthuman Classroom” by Sarah Shelton. Our abstracts can still be found at https://mlagrads.mla.hcommons.org/2016/12/20/abstracts-for-csgsp-roundtable-teaching-as-theoretical-practice/