(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.

 

 

~

    Music: The Double Slit Test by Ketsa

All the Books & Dragon Cheese

On the way home from the “Ferris wheel” (as E calls the carousel) at the mall, Eleanor and I stopped at Half Price Books to buy presents for her mom, dad, and brother. She herself requested these gifts be bought at the bookstore. Although we did have a brief falling out over her wanting to go to the library instead and me saying it was closed (so we could buy instead of check out these presents)…but all was forgiven when we entered the store and she saw “all the Bibles.” She’s in a phase where, rather than have us always read to her from children’s books, she often prefers to pull thick paperbacks, what she calls Bibles, off shelves and tell us fantastic stories while flipping through the pages. It was like we’d walked into the candy store, and she didn’t know where to even start…

But she settled on some books down on her level, settled on to the floor and in for a good storytelling. It was the most precious thing in the world…as you’ll see below.

What blows my mind is what a synthesizing machine she is; I mean, to get all scholarly for a second, she is like the human embodiment of intertextuality. The stories she tells are incredible remixes of her daily life: phrases she hears us use, stories we tell her, and, of course, the media–both books and television–that she consumes. In this video alone, we’ve got dragons–(the stars–in all shades of the rainbow–of most of her tales), peanut allergies, spit-up (what she calls vomit and which she did a lot of the week before, much of it on me), her bedtime routine, cheese which we’d been talking about earlier, the penguins I promised her we’d see at the aquarium later that week, seeing Thea tomorrow, the sailors from our Moby Dick book, mommy and daddy, shopping for them, and love, and all sorts of other bits and pieces. She’s a sponge–takes it all in, doesn’t forget a thing, and spits it all out later in her own delightfully new creation.

Obviously, this is how many children grow and learn, and I’m just seeing it for the first time (Spinster Aunt that I am*) up close. It doesn’t hurt that my love for E is immeasurable and colors all her being, doing, knowing as miraculous. (Call Guinness, as my dad would say). But I am blown away by the child brain in general and this weaving together of being and knowing with the world and all the stories–told and experienced–it tells her. Beyond intertextuality, watching her remix is watching agential realism in action. Those blank pages at the end changed her conversation, that stuffed dragon on the floor set her on a tale about dragons, the books low to the ground with pretty covers drew her in and gave her a spot on the floor to peruse them. And on and on and on…Though bits and pieces will make it into later remixes of her life and days, this story, the one in the video, will only be told once. It came out of a singular and unrepeatable space-time-mattering where its possibility was realized and recorded. She didn’t discover the story about dragons–she created it with the world, her material-discursive world unfolding through and within our unique time-space to actually create reality. And while I insert the artifact (recording) of that reality here, what you see is a different story than the one she and I experienced in that moment. It will play a new story each time it’s viewed, framed by my interpretation and creating new meaning with you and your understanding of her words and your own bits and pieces you bring to the watching of this tale. It’s miraculous, but the miracle is more than her–it’s an assemblage of past, present, here, absent, people, animals, objects, ideas, rooms, noises, smells, sights…all the things of the world working together.

And we wonder why I’m the Spinster Aunt 😉

The cherry on top of these scholarly musings is after this video stops, when she wanders over to the YA corner. And when I come up behind her, this little bit of a girl dancing within an aisle of floor-to-ceiling books, she does this Belle from Beauty and the Beast twirl, her arm up and out with a sweeping gesture and cries (happily), “Look at all the books!” I died. She killed her Spinster Aunt Say, stopped my heart dead with joyous affinity. I will never forget her smile or the love I felt for her then (I keep thinking there’s no way to love them more and events keep proving me wrong). I hope she never loses that delight. And I hope she tangles together and spins out stories for all her days and never, ever, finds the words “The End…”

belle_bookshelf

~

*I fully embrace and celebrate the Spinster Aunt title–this was not a cry for reassurance nor is that a “bad” word. For more information, see Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own.

Flashback: Coursework

It’s kind of sad that a lot (for me, most) of coursework doesn’t really find a second home, whether because of the direction your scholarship goes or just the structure/nature of the original writing. I was searching for a word in the hopes of finding a file I’d obviously not named well-enough to find it again years later, and this paper popped up. A throwback to Science Fiction and Posthumanism in the Anthropocene–one of my favorite classes. I enjoyed reading it again four years later (yikes!). I sound quite important 😉

Sarah Shelton

ENG 6370

Dr. Alaimo

23 January 2014

The Dust Accuses: Anxieties of the Anthropocene

Read together, [the articles pictured below] highlight the very instability of the “meaning” of Anthropocene. Each article explains the concept from its own angle—ranging from the debated physical evidence traced in the Zalaswiewicz article, to the “metaphoric” designation in the Robbins article, to everything in between. Several descriptions point to a change—already made or hoped for—in human understanding of our relationship to nature, one that collapses the Nature/Human binary and situates us not outside of or above a “pure,” or “wild” nature, but inside an intimately connected and now-threatened biosphere. In fact, the most interesting takes on the concept focus on how the very existence of the Anthropocene idea signals “a ‘reframing’ of normative traditions towards human and non-human life,” offering new language with which to speak about and new viewpoints from which to view human responsibility for our species’ impact on the Earth and to other species who also call it home (Alberts 6).

Along with such instability comes anxiety. What do we make of a concept that can be interpreted and used in so many different ways? Is it already defunct because of our inability to agree on a productive way to use it or is the very debate it inspires the very point and what really matters? Zalaswiewicz et al. warn that the Anthropocene “has the capacity to become the most politicized unit, by far, of the Geologic Time Scale” (2231). Are we doomed, then, to lose the positive and generative power that such a reframing offers to the quagmire of politics as usual? Will we become stymied as Robbins and Moore claim scientists caught up in anthrophobia* or autophobia** are, unable to make progress toward our desired goals because of anxiety over what it means that humans have become “geological agents” as well as biological ones (Chakrabarty 206)? Or will we find a way to come to terms with what is (despite what we think should be) and (though it requires a “human collectivity” or “universal” that Chakrabarty says we can never understand) develop a “global approach to politics without the myth of a global identity” (222).

Though Rigby claims that writing “in the mode of prophetic witness” is one way to overcome such anxieties, such endless debates and fruitless back-and-forths, or what she calls “idle chatter,” her article exemplifies the Edenic language that gave me pause in several of the articles (174). For instance, in Proctor’s review of McKibben’s book, McKibben refers to the planet as “violently out of balance,” implying that a planet older than my brain can comfortably comprehend has a “natural” and defendable “balance” that our human science can pinpoint and prove (88). Rigby, in analyzing Wright’s “Dust” as an ecoprophetic poem, determines that “the cry, which the prophet apprehends and mediates, is an indication of something drastically wrong.” “The speaker of Wright’s poem,” Rigby says, “hears the earth sighing all night” (181). Such a reading—and Wright’s own language—strikes me as an anthropocentric view dependent entirely on assuming we had—at some point—a harmonious and “good” relationship with the Earth. That there was an Eden-state where Nature was pure and wild and outside of our interference. Something can only be drastically wrong, the earth can only be violently out of balance, if we consider the Earth’s Edenic baseline to be the biosphere in which humans can survive, if we consider the “very conditions, both biological and geological, on which the survival of human life as developed in the Holocene period depends” to be the natural state of the planet (Chakrabarty 213). Considering the relatively short duration of the Holocene as compared to the other periods of geologic time, I find the human assumption of our time as the Earth’s “true” state incredibly problematic. How do we begin to take responsibility for ourselves and fulfill any ethical obligation (if we have one, which I think we do) to the other inhabitants of the current biosphere if we can’t get our heads around the idea that there is no going back on an always-already altered planet that won’t miss a step in its own evolution—no matter if we can’t speculate on a “world without us”—once we’re gone?

When Rigby claims that (in such contemporary places as sub-Saharan Africa) “the dust accuses,” she’s transferring to the planet human nostalgia for the past and human fears that we can’t or won’t adapt in time to the new world our actions have triggered. The desert doesn’t accuse us of anything. It doesn’t care what we’ve done. We care. We don’t want to be buried beneath elements we can’t survive. But the Earth itself doesn’t deal in human emotions. Personification here is certainly a powerful, persuasive tool when trying to convince others of “the catastrophic consequences of continuing on our current ecocidal path and…the possibility of another way of thinking and being” (Rigby 173-4). But to imply through figurative language that the Earth itself emotes in a way that any species could understand, to romanticize nature via the human construction of “natural,” seems too much like the human hubris/essentialism that brought us to this point in the first place.

Perhaps I have a touch of autophobia myself. I certainly don’t disagree with the arguments Rigby sets out; borders between human and non-human others must be breached if we’re going to live according to and move forward with an interspecies ethics that I can get behind. But I also see Earth’s agency as beyond any personified relationship with us. Suggesting the Earth is angry with us or seeking revenge seems too much a convention of a species only concerned with its own recorded history and not aware of its deep history. A species that needs to realize it is “dependent on other species for its own existence, a part of the general history of life,” not the origin of it (Chakrabarty 219, my emphasis).

~

* “a fearful response to … the negative normative influence of humans on the earth” (Robbins and Moore)

** “a fearful response to … the inherent influence of normative human values within one’s own science”  (Robbins and Moore)

This weekly paper response was created with Dr. Alaimo’s curation of texts as pictured below in our syllabus:

ALaimoWeekThreeCuration

Presentation: SCMLA 2017

Agential Composition: Intra-Active Pedagogy and Writing as an Onto-Epistemological Act

SCMLA2017

Cited in the presentation:

Writing as a Way of Being: Writing Instruction, Nonduality, and the Crisis of Sustainability / Robert Yagelski

Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning / Karen Barad

Mentioned in the Q&A:

Syllabus: Notes from an Accidental Professor / Lynda Barry

Intro and End Music:

Saturday Night / Ryan Anderson  88x31

Excerpt: Center for Theory Talk

CenterforTheory

“The Agential Classroom: Tuning to a Posthuman Pedagogy”

In taking the material turn, posthumanism as characterized above and which I calibrate my teaching and work to doesn’t abandon the work done in the linguistic turn or through social constructivism, feminism or post-colonialism, but takes the theories already working through the posts and recalibrates them to the more-than-human. The decentering of the human in both posthumanism and its application to education, then, is not a symbolic move (Pedersen “Is the ‘Posthuman’ Educable?), but an actual recalibration of the way we understand our relation with the world, a recalibration that understands human skin is as porous, as permeable a boundary (Alaimo) as the one Schulz penned in ink. (Re)entangling the material with the discursive, ontology with epistemology, and the human with the nonhuman, posthumanism and posthumanist education as my teaching and work uses them are, Snaza and Weaver argue, “a continuation of the radical democratic, even utopian projects of the twentieth-century … [that] seek not only schools that are less authoritarian and oppressive, but also a global social formation that is not driven by [the] exploitations, dehumanization, and asymmetrical violence.”

 

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.

~

 

*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/

Acts of Being

golf

I love a perfect drive. In golf, at least for amateurs (and I’m a level even below that), you hit the ball, one shot at a time down the fairway, each shot a means to the green. But there are, at least for me, some shots, some moments that are perfection. Sweet. Unreal in how incredible it is that I took this club and hit this tiny ball and it went right where I wanted it to go. Hundreds of yards away. And when I played regularly those were the moments I played for. The drive that sailed, that landed right where I wanted it to go. It always amazed me how I came out of those swings not able to describe what went right. There was either in the swing or out of the swing. And once out of the swing, there was no way to recreate in words the seamlessness, the perfection, the resonance of that moment.

The golf swing is an act. An action. A moment where my physical body is. It is not just me. It is the swing, the ball, the club, the flight, the arc, the divot, the tee, the wind…When it goes right it is every part in tune and I am more than a human; I am a human within the world. In this moment, I experienced being.

How do you explain being? Sitting here, I want to stop writing. Because I can’t describe it. There is no way to share that moment with you; there’s only describing after-the-fact. But that doesn’t mean the moment wasn’t worth it. That doesn’t mean the moment didn’t exist. That doesn’t mean you haven’t experienced your own moments of being while engaging in the activity that puts you in closer contact with this resonance I felt in the swing of a club.

I believe we live for such moments of being. Chase them. Because we experience what it means, in those moments, to not be outside of and thinking on the world, but to exist within it. And it is the linking together of those meanings, those moments, the reflection upon them later, and the striving forward to get back to them that opens us out toward the other and into community instead of closing us down into the self and off behind immunity.

Writing and reading are also acts. Actions. Moments where the body physically does and physically is. The way theorists and higher education continue to theorize and use them, however, discards their physicality for practicality. Writing and reading are too often only talked about as tools. For memorization, for communication, for argumentation, for production, even for creation. Those moments where the writer writes or the reader reads are too often seen as shots along the fairway, a means to the green, to the essay, to the assessment. Students are rarely asked to reflect on who they are, how they understand themselves, what happens to them in the act of reading or writing.

They may have the moments—the perfect drive where putting words to paper or reading lives off the page resonates. Where they touch upon or experience being. But they aren’t asked to consider those moments. To reflect on them. To contemplate what they might mean. They are told that writing better or reading more will make them better citizens, better students, better employees. And yes, they might. But, as I said in my prospectus, these are intrinsic motivators at best and hegemonic moves at worst.

Not every act of writing, not every act of reading will be an act of being. Just like every shot I took in a round didn’t sing. But language, unlike golf, is not a game humans can as easily opt out of. However we engage with language—writing, reading, speaking, signing, brail—we do engage it. And that is a fact—a space for possibility—that we, as writing and reading teachers, too often fail to bring up, much less reflect on with our students.