Tag Archives: response

All White Remix

When I walked into Alison West 206 on February 11 for my first day as an English instructor, I expected to have at least one black student in my section. But no. When I called roll, white person after white person said “here.” And when they look at me (and heck, even at the headshots of the people whose writing we read), it’s all whiteness.

Image

Why does this matter?

It matters because that isn’t reality.

So when Banks writes in Digital Griots: African American Rhetoric in a Multimedia Age that his purpose is to scratch and interrupt, to play between two disciplinary conversations, one about African American rhetoric and one about composing in multimodal forms (2), I want to go with him. I find his writing to be self-reflective, engaging, and inviting.

But I also feel hypocritical because I haven’t figured out, as a white person teaching white students, how to talk responsibly about race and power. Or more importantly, how to do the work that Banks writes about in his compelling social commentary about rhetorical strategies used by digital griots.

How can DJs’ creative and rhetorical moves come into play when I’m teaching white first year students how to enter the scholarly conversation? Or to see the bibliographic essay as a mixtape, as Banks suggests? How can I help students try “sampling” through their use of someone else’s idea that is vital enough that they don’t just cite it but make it a “looped” and “continually repeated” part of their own creations (26)?

I feel convicted because I know that Banks is right that the “acts of writing, the social networks and cultural contexts in which they occur, and the technological networks in which they take place and are disseminated still involve systems of power, still reflect relationships  between individuals and groups within those systems” (154). My own writing as well as the E110 writing I assign are embedded within a “system of power” that unconsciously excludes or dismisses voices and perspectives of minorities, even as the academy tries to make room for people whose voices were silenced for much of history.

In short, I am utterly persuaded of the richness and possibility in flow, layering, rupture, and remix of hip hop. That process (and indeed, the product of a remix) appeals a great deal more than the staid and patchwritten research paper drafts that cross my desk.

On the positive side, the technologies available to us and to our students can open up startlingly rich combinations, as Banks deftly and creatively discusses (and indeed, performs) in his book.

The question I am left with is this: if “black griotic traditions call for an approach to writing that is committed to the range and flexibility to ‘teach in the idiom of the people'” (155), what can we do if the people in the classroom are. all. white? What then?

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The Horribly Static Codex

For my digital essay project, I want to engage with the dark side of having a published book.

Earlier in March I got the word from my publisher, Rowman & Littlefield, that my book, They Were Still Born: Personal Stories about Stillbirth, is coming out in paperback later this year. As Katie (who was in the office when I found this out) can attest, my initial reaction was profound relief and joy. The first print run of my book has sold out and now it’s going into a trade paperback printing. This is great for a lot of reasons.

But if it was all sunshine and roses and happiness, I wouldn’t have much to take on in a digital essay, would I?

I’m conflicted because the essay I wrote for the book is fine; it was true when I wrote it. It was “right” for the collection. But it’s not where I am now, or even who I am now. It certainly doesn’t capture the most important elements of what I learned from my daughter’s death.

Yet it’s what goes out between covers anytime someone buys my book. Amazon ships it out, people read it, and that piece of writing represents, in some limited capacity, the story of Beatrice and what I learned from her. (Not to mention that I was 26 when I wrote it. I thought I was so wise then. I imagine I’ll look back chagrined at my current self 6 years from now…)

Of course, I knew even at the time that I had to choose a particular entry point for my essay. It’s not possible, in a few thousand words, to show it all. In picking a specific angle, I closed the door to all the other stories I could tell, all the other shades of significance. I said no to a lot of things to say yes to one.

That’s why I’m so frustrated with the book form. I celebrate the book’s continued life, but I also resent it. I resent that it isn’t a website instead (though that wouldn’t be nearly as much fun to say as having a book!), where the stories could link to each other, and readers could add their own narratives. I wish the book was somewhere, like one of my book’s contributors prompted and wrote on her own blog, contributors could share where they are now, several years further down the road. This wouldn’t change the original stories, but it would enable some addendums and follow up materials to be published, too.

This digital essay is my space to do this work, to ask those questions, to write another story, to say yes to something else. This is the form I wish my book could (have) take(n).

  • Texts/Materials: My essay will take for its genesis the text of my book, They Were Still Born. I will also bring in collaborative text that is newly generated among myself and a group of the book’s original contributors.
  • This new project will take up the question of what happens to stories born of trauma after they have been published. What are those texts afterlives? How do writers relate to their words after they are cemented in time, unchangeable, and sent out into the world of readers? Is it possible to reopen those texts and do new things with them even if they are published in a form that is unmalleable? Can people collaborate anew and what kind of product might better reflect the ways in which our work has informed or conflicted with each others’?
  • I think that Google documents will be the most apt platform for writing some sort of shared document. I then envision doing short video podcasts reflecting on the process, and posting the longform reflection on WordPress.
  • Can you identify a text that could serve as an approximate model for the sort of piece you’d like to compose? No.
  • What questions do you have at this point for me and your colleagues? I mostly would love to hear any feedback you have about this idea. Is it too self-referential? What aspect of what I’ve written intrigues you and what aspect(s) could you do without? What would you most want to know about that I’ve alluded to here? Finally, and possibly most importantly, I haven’t done much significant collaboration before, so I’m not sure how to best capture the versions we write collectively, or even how to show that in the final product.

I hope you’re all enjoying your break, and I look forward to hearing back from you when you have the time to respond.